Big Rotowski: Jackson, Thomas surge
(Editor's Note: These rankings are meant to capture fantasy value from today through the end of the NFL regular season. We'll publish them every Tuesday during the season to help you decide about trades and waiver-wire acquisitions; as such, this list won't always reflect news that comes out later in the week. And remember, every Wednesday you'll find week-specific rankings to help you set your lineup.)
Notes: There isn't a whole ton of news at the top. Don't freak out over Drew Brees' day in Buffalo, don't send me hate mail for (perhaps temporarily) moving Matt Schaub ahead of Tom Brady, who got better offensive line play in Week 3 but still missed very hittable throws. Donovan McNabb should be back after the Eagles' Week 4 bye. David Garrard enhanced his value with a rushing touchdown Sunday, and having Mike Sims-Walker healthy and a viable threat on the outside helps. But Garrard still isn't accurate enough, and if the Jaguars have their way, they'll run the ball 31 times, as they did against the Texans. Of course, the Titans' run defense (Jacksonville's Week 4 opponent) is much better than Houston's. Brett Favre's heroics were nice, and I think he proved that whatever else is wrong with him, he can still fling a 50-yard pass on a rope when he needs to. He's still not a great bet to get through the season intact, of course, and 25-for-46 isn't the kind of completion rate that will get your fantasy team to the promised land. But as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback? As I've said all year, you could do worse. Mark Sanchez helped his fantasy day with a rushing touchdown, too, but the Jets would probably rather never see anything like it again. Kid got lit up. It would be fun to see what Sanchez could do with the reins taken off, and someday, his team will probably do just that. For now, though, as nice a story as he is, he's not really a fantasy option. Surprise! The Seahawks were stretching the truth when they said Matt Hasselbeck might play last week. This is the same team that's been telling us Walter Jones had a good chance of playing for three weeks in a row. I'm not ready to drop Hasselbeck, because he probably will be back in a couple of weeks. But Seattle's season is hanging by a thread because of injuries. Chad Pennington is out for the year with a torn capsule in his throwing shoulder, meaning Chad Henne inherits the job. Henne was awful in relief Sunday in San Diego, but he may just wind up being a fresh breath of something the Dolphins desperately need: arm strength. It would probably be foolish to claim that this turn of events makes Miami better, because Henne will make the big mistake Pennington usually doesn't. But Henne will be able to stretch the field if his coaches let him. That could be good news for Ted Ginn Jr. Marc Bulger appears to have avoided serious injury, but it was interesting to see Kyle Boller outplay him Sunday. Bulger may or may not play in Week 4. Regardless, you don't want any piece. And another one bites the dust: a week after I had to fend off hate mail about how I wasn't high enough on Byron Leftwich, Leftwich got benched. Josh Johnson is an intriguing prospect, a physically gifted kid who can run and make every throw, but he's also just a couple of years out of the University of San Diego, and isn't likely to be given much to do. I was happy he made the Bucs after there were rumors he'd get canned this summer. Now I'm worried they're going to ruin his career before it ever really gets going. The Browns will reportedly choose between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson by Wednesday. Joy.
Running back rankings
Notes: Let's just get this out of the way. In my running back ranks, I'm giving quite a lot of leeway to players who seem to have NFL backfields all to themselves. Face it, even with his 106 total yards Sunday, Matt Forte hasn't done anywhere near enough to deserve the No. 6 spot on this list. But I can't help it; I look at the options below him, and I see built-in inconsistency. I have to believe if Jay Cutler keeps playing well and Forte keeps getting 27 touches, as he did in Week 3, there'll be better days ahead. I still think he's a buy-low guy. All LaDainian Tomlinson had to do was sit out another week, and he climbed five spots. Hey, that's what happens when you're healing while half the guys in front of you are getting hurt. I still don't give LT much of a chance to stay fully healthy when he comes back, which could reportedly be this week, but for the time he's in there, he'll be valuable. The 49ers say Frank Gore has a strained ankle and sprained foot, and that he'll miss the team's next two games. The Niners have a bye in Week 6, and Gore may be able to return after that. Glen Coffee makes a pretty strong pickup against the Rams and Falcons the next two weeks, though he won't have much value after that if Gore can come back healthy. Kevin Smith hurt a shoulder and had to come out of Sunday's game, ceding a touchdown to Maurice Morris. Smith told reporters Monday he thinks he'll be able to play in Week 4, but the player is one of the worst judges of such things. The Lions will play it close to the vest concerning Smith's status, so prepare for some uncertainty. The Lions do have an early game, against the Bears. I don't think Morris, Aaron Brown or Jerome Felton is worth adding right now. Cedric Benson probably deserves better than 15th, and if his name was "Joe Smith," we'd all probably be rushing to put him in the top five. He's been terrific, including a yeoman's performance against the rough Steelers rush defense last week. But his name isn't Joe Smith, is it? Part of me (part of all of us) keeps waiting for the bottom to drop out. I don't mind selling high on Benson, provided you're selling really high. I have to admit, I was surprised Brian Westbrook didn't play in Week 3. In retrospect, though, it was clearly the right move. The Eagles didn't need him to beat the Chiefs, and now he gets an extra week off during Philly's bye. However, Westbrook's fantasy owners have to be worried about Andy Reid's statement Monday that LeSean McCoy has earned his way toward more regular touches even when Westy is active. I'd like to drop Clinton Portis even lower than 18th, for all the reasons I talked about last week, and for the fact the Redskins barely ran at all in the first half against the Lions. But at least Portis has first and second downs all to himself. He's kind of the last man standing among quasi-useful non-platoon backs. But he's no fun to own right now. Pierre Thomas missed the first half Sunday because he was dehydrated, then went crazy in the fourth quarter. It was good to see. Reggie Bush did get a lot of touches out of the backfield, of course, and Lynell Hamilton took a touchdown that should've been Thomas', but the real hurdle Thomas needs to jump is what happens when Mike Bell is healthy in a few weeks. Don't fall too deeply in love with Willis McGahee. He's been good, but he's also a sell (really) high candidate right now. If you could get Matt Forte for him? I'd do that. Realize that Ray Rice out-carried him in Week 3 11-7. That still looks like a pretty straight platoon to me, with McGahee obviously getting first crack at the touchdowns. No, I'm not biting on Julius Jones, not yet. He did some good work running the ball against the Bears on Sunday, I'll admit. Probably his best of the season. But the Seahawks are just crushed by injuries. I think there'll be some more down days for Julius.
Wide receiver rankings
|21||Roy E. Williams||Cowboys||18|
|36||Ted Ginn Jr.||Dolphins||29|
Notes: Vincent Jackson is a beast. On any other team, he might be a 12-plus touchdown guy, but of course, the Chargers have a lot of red zone weapons. Still, there might not be a better downfield threat, especially in the middle of the field, than Jackson right now. DeSean Jackson ain't bad, either, especially considering he needed a painkilling shot in his groin (yow) to suit up in Week 3. All he did was take a short pass to the house for a 64-yard score, then flip and land doing a split. Do you know how many painkilling shots to my groin I'd need to do that? No word yet on whether Dwayne Bowe's hamstring injury will keep him out additional weeks. The Chiefs have the Giants this week, so you probably don't want much to do with the Kansas City offense regardless. Those of you who had Week 3 in the Terrell Owens Sunglasses Doofus Press Conference Pool, step up and claim your prize. T.O. didn't cry in Sunday's postgame presser, but he did act like a moron. Kudos to Rodney Harrison for calling Owens a "straight-up clown" for his performance on TV. That was funny and cool. Of course, the Bills should be throwing deeper. But it's just not in Dick Jauron's nature. Kevin Walter takes a big step up as his hamstring was obviously healthy enough for him to grab seven passes for 96 yards and a score against the Jaguars on Sunday. Meanwhile, Wes Welker was another mystery scratch Sunday morning despite the fact he partook in a good portion of Friday's practice. We'll just have to keep guessing, and keep being glad that the Patriots play at 1 p.m. ET in Week 4. Alas, two 4 p.m. ET games are coming in Weeks 5 and 6. It didn't take long for T.J. Houshmandzadeh to get frustrated in Seattle. I called this one in the winter; not that Housh would be worthless, but that he'd take some time to adjust to the West Coast offense. The irony is that with Seneca Wallace at the helm Sunday, the Seahawks actually threw it downfield quite a bit more than they usually do, and yet Housh couldn't benefit. Nate Burleson was the man, getting 12 targets to Housh's nine. I still like Housh better for the season; he's a great red zone threat. But opposing defenses are clogging the middle of the field against the Seahawks, and that's making it hard on Housh, who just isn't open a lot. Devin Hester was impressive on his game-winning touchdown. It wasn't a bomb. It was a really nice slant-in that he caught in stride, exactly where he was supposed to be, and took it to the house. Hester's speed has never been in question, but his route running is often spotty. This was a good sign. Mike Sims-Walker is someone I've been touting for a year and a half. There's still very little likelihood he'll stay healthy all year, given the number of leg injuries he's suffered over the past four seasons. But he's the deep threat Torry Holt used to be, and he should benefit when David Garrard has to go long. Laurent Robinson is out for the season with a broken leg. It's hard to assign much fantasy value to any Rams receivers right now; Donnie Avery should have a chance to reassert himself. I'm relenting a bit on Percy Harvin. He got a career-high nine targets Sunday, which foils my complaint about him during his hot streak: under-use. Sure, several of those looks came during the frenetic final moments, but still. Nevertheless, I'm getting asked a lot if I consider Harvin an "automatic start." I do not. I have a hard time imagining him scoring too many more touchdowns this year. The moment he broke that kickoff return, I was like, "Oh, great. More e-mails."
Tight end rankings
Team defense rankings
|1||New York Giants||2|
|2||New York Jets||3|
|8||San Francisco 49ers||9|
|9||Green Bay Packers||10|
|14||New England Patriots||11|
|16||San Diego Chargers||21|
|18||New Orleans Saints||24|
|29||St. Louis Rams||29|
|30||Kansas City Chiefs||28|
|32||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||31|
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.