- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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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: Despite Philip Rivers' fast start and slow finish Monday night, I still think there's a pretty clear top four fantasy quarterbacks, and then everyone else. Ben Roethlisberger makes a good case for leaping up into that top tier, and I put him at No. 5 this week. But whereas in previous years, I feel like I was regularly writing, "He's a great real-life quarterback, but not an elite fantasy one," this season I almost feel the opposite. Against a crummy foe like the Cleveland Browns, Big Ben racked up huge numbers once again, but he makes way too many plays that make you scratch your head. It's all part of his "never-take-a-sack" mentality, but he had two turnovers Sunday that were eminently avoidable. His completion percentage is obscene, he's top five in pass attempts, he's winging it way downfield and he's got receivers making big plays after the catch. Everything you want in a fantasy quarterback. But if he plays this fast-and-loose against better teams, he'll get you beat. Last week I wrote that Tom Brady owners shouldn't panic after his bad day in Denver. Now I'm asking you not to rejoice too loudly. Listen, it was good to see Brady complete passes to open receivers. He hasn't always done that this season. But the Tennessee Titans looked so disinterested Sunday, it was hard to believe. If Jeff Fisher hadn't built up years of goodwill by getting so-so teams to play very well, he'd have been a candidate to get fired after that one. Brady has another easy one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week, but I can't say he's suddenly the '07 guy again. Carson Palmer just isn't playing well. If he's not within a touchdown with like three minutes left in a game, he frankly looks rather lost. I can't think of any throw Sunday where I said, "Hey, that's the old Carson Palmer." There are plays to be made, but he's just not accurate. I called Matt Hasselbeck's bad day when everyone else was fawning over themselves to call him and his receivers must-starts last week. I've been down on the Seattle Seahawks' offense all year, and it's nothing to do with Hass, really. That offensive line is incredibly makeshift, and Hasselbeck got punished all day. I'm sticking to my guns: I'm not starting him unless I've got bye-week trouble. Mark Sanchez's supporters have gotten mysteriously quiet in Facebook comments and questions. Hmm. I suppose five-interception days will do that. The inevitable New York overhype machine went into overdrive on the kid, and he was never really even doing all that much. For three weeks, he was a game manager, and the media bent over backwards to call him preternaturally mature. Then for three weeks, opposing defenses decided to try to stop the shorter stuff and dare Sanchez to beat them deep, and he mostly hasn't been able to do it. How dirty did I feel lifting Derek Anderson up two spots despite how awful he looks? Pretty dirty. But Trent Edwards got concussed; Jason Campbell got benched, although it looks like he'll start Monday; Matthew Stafford's knee sounds like a longer-term problem; and Josh Johnson is eventually going to lose Tampa's gig to Josh Freeman. Hell, I bumped JaMarcus Russell up four spots. Ew.
Running back rankings
Notes: Matt Forte owners are getting impatient. He had nowhere to run Sunday night, and when the Chicago Bears gave it to him twice on the goal line, he fumbled both times. I think the team's offensive line is doing a pretty good job pass-blocking, but Forte just doesn't have any holes to run through. I don't see any way out of the Forte Vortex right now: He's apt to get too many touches for you not to use him, but he's probably not worth trading for, either. Unfortunately, unless you've got super-elite running back options, you probably just have to hold your nose and keep running him out there. And the same can be said for Brandon Jacobs. I can hear the screams now. "How can you possibly still have Jacobs rated as a fantasy starter!?" I understand it. He hasn't eclipsed 100 yards rushing once this season, and has one touchdown. He also left the New Orleans Saints game with a stinger, though he did return in time to take a garbage-time pass into the end zone, only to have it called back on a holding call. Listen, Ahmad Bradshaw wasn't any better than Jacobs on Sunday. He just happened to be the guy who stuck it in the end zone. It's frustrating, but I think you have to just keep riding. Ray Rice makes a huge leap this week, but it comes with a warning. When I'm doing these ranks, I crunch a ton of numbers, but I also try my best to do a player-by-player comparison. Would I trade that guy for that guy? And Rice landed 11th. But he's got a lot of risk. I still think Willis McGahee will vulture some more touchdowns; it just so happens that Rice took a couple longer carries to the house this week, so McGahee didn't get the chance. It's awesome to see Rice get 11 targets (and catch 10 of them) this week, and hopefully the Baltimore Ravens keep doing that. But he'd topped five targets only one other time this season. I'm just saying, there's a danger in getting too high. Uh-oh. Pierre Thomas and Marion Barber each have problems. In Thomas' case, it's Mike Bell, who's back and looks like the touchdown maker in New Orleans. For Barber, it's his injured quad, which reports out of Dallas say hasn't completely healed with the Dallas Cowboys' bye week. Waiting for Cadillac Williams to get hurt might actually turn out to be a long wait. Of course, it only takes one play, and nobody said that play had to come in the season's first six weeks. Sammy Morris injured his leg Sunday and limped very gingerly off the field; in his place, Laurence Maroney played pretty well, albeit against those same disinterested Tennessee Titans. I don't mind adding him in most leagues, but all I can say is: Very few people have ever gotten rich overestimating Maroney's fantasy results.
Wide receiver rankings
Notes: Dwayne Bowe had a couple awful drops early in the Kansas City Chiefs-Washington Redskins game Sunday, and then evidently Todd Haley gave him a lashing on the sidelines. I know that a few folks in the Kansas City media have reacted badly to Haley and Scott Pioli for bringing the "my way or the highway" mentality to Chiefs camp, but it seems to work with Bowe. He went out and dominated thereafter, on his way to 14 targets and 109 yards receiving. The offensive line is still frighteningly bad, but I think I was too harsh on Bowe (a favorite of mine for a couple seasons now) when I dropped him out of the teens on this list. Anquan Boldin has an injured ankle, though how injured remains a topic of much speculation in the desert. There are no broken bones, which is good, but some reporters were throwing around the term "high-ankle sprain," which would be very bad. Boldin's fantasy owners last year remember how frustrating figuring out his medical status is from week to week. Steve Breaston would play in Q's place. Mike Sims-Walker returned from his weekend of being sleepless in Seattle, and resumed duties as David Garrard's favorite target. It won't always be as easy as it was down the middle of the field against the St. Louis Rams, but you can't ignore the nine catches on 11 targets. I'm still worried MSW will get hurt again, but for now, he's starting to look almost like an automatic starter. The Steve Smiths both laid eggs this weekend. The New York Giants' Steve Smith was wide open for a touchdown but Eli Manning overthrew him, or I'd probably be complaining less, but the fact remains: After getting 34 targets the first four weeks, Smith has gotten seven the past two games combined. The Giants don't look for him much in the red zone, either. And Carolina's version? Well, I can remember a time when he and Jake Delhomme could still make magic happen with double-teams draped on Smith. Those days appear to be gone with Delhomme's confidence. I've ranked Smith as though he'll rebound a bit later in the year, but at the moment? I wouldn't blame you at all if you decided you wanted to bench him. Sidney Rice is getting raves from Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff: a big guy who can go down the middle of the field and win jump balls. Lance Moore returns to fantasy relevance with a big game against the Giants, and his shoulder and legs reportedly made it through the contest fine. I want to be sure that Moore winds up being a mostly-every-down starter still, because it was sometimes hard to tell after the New Orleans Saints got up big. But Devery Henderson was barely involved in the game plan Sunday except for his customary deep shots, and Moore looked good. I was shocked to read reports that say Josh Morgan will lose his starting gig to Michael Crabtree this week. Wow. I'd much prefer if Crabtree replaced the burst-less Isaac Bruce, but it's not to be. This presumably means that Crabtree has looked very good in San Francisco 49ers practice during the team's bye week, and I guess he now should be owned in all leagues (contrary to what I was writing as recently as a few days ago). I'm not starting him yet, but clearly he'll be worth watching.
Tight end rankings
Team defense rankings
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.
18hEthan Sherwood Strauss