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Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Big Rotowski: Rodgers up, Slaton down

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

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: Last week, I promised to study Aaron Rodgers' performance, and based on how he performed against the Minnesota Vikings, I'd either entrench my belief that he is ready to get his head caved in or relent and admit he's a bulletproof fantasy starter. After one half against the Vikings, the former seemed more likely. Rodgers was hit five times on his first 11 drop-backs, suffered four sacks and led his team to three points in 30 minutes. But he played much better (to say the least) during the Green Bay Packers' huge comeback. He's still constantly under siege because of a shaky offensive line (T.J. Lang was mostly schooled by Jared Allen), and I consider him a possible candidate for an injury in the season's second half. But what can I say? He scrambled, he extended plays and he threw touchdowns (albeit mostly to the immortal Spencer Havner). If a guy can once again rack up as many as 28 fantasy points while getting his butt beaten, it's probably time to believe, and so I've ranked Rodgers in the top five for the first time all year. I write a starting pitching column during the fantasy baseball season, so forgive this analogy: Rodgers is the starter with the really low "batting average against on balls in play"; the numbers tell you he is headed for a downturn, but he just keeps shutting teams out. My eyes tell me he shouldn't be this good a fantasy player. If you plan to use him, I'd invest in a backup you can live with during the fantasy playoffs, just in case. But for now, I relent. … Matt Schaub's value does suffer a bit, I think, because of Owen Daniels' injury. Daniels leads the world in targets for a tight end and might've been on his way to a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season. It's not like all those targets will just evaporate; the Texans will still make a lot of plays downfield, and I think Schaub is still a fantasy starter. But let's keep an eye on him. … I got a lot of questions from readers about Brett Favre after his four-touchdown performance at Lambeau. Is he an every-week starter? I can't definitively say "no." As I've written a lot this year, the second tier of quarterbacks goes maybe 10 deep, and not a lot separates its members. The weird thing about Favre is that when he plays tougher defenses, he throws a lot, but when he plays cream puffs, the Vikings run a bunch more. So is he a "reverse-matchup" guy? Maybe. … Last Tuesday, the Charlotte media seemed sure Matt Moore would start in Phoenix over Jake Delhomme. Didn't happen. It's not like Delhomme had a banner day (7-of-14 for 90 yards), but the Panthers won and the Snake didn't toss any picks. In his world, that's a double-win. … Vince Young didn't have to extend himself much because Chris Johnson did all the heavy lifting, but VY did make a few nice plays with his legs, and the Tennessee Titans called several other quarterback draws or rollouts that accentuated Young's ability. Of course, interceptions are probably coming. How he reacts will say a lot. … It sounds like Trent Edwards will be ready to go after the Buffalo Bills' bye, and it's hard to imagine the team thinks Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing well enough to keep that job. … The Cleveland Browns haven't named a starter after their bye, but how can it not be Brady Quinn? Derek Anderson has played as poorly over the past four weeks as anyone not named JaMarcus Russell I can remember.

Notes: It was a pretty good weekend for me, running back-wise. Two guys about whom I get angry questions all the time -- Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson -- posted terrific days. They're examples of players I don't worry about when they post a down week; they're each so talented, the odds are strongly in your favor that they'll make a positive fantasy contribution most weeks, regardless of opponent. I've written a lot about Johnson this year (and taken a lot of heat for ranking him highly through some fallow periods), and I can hear his critics now, saying he's only a top-5 fantasy rusher because of two games. Well, yeah. But those games count, too, right? And you can't name me another back who is as uniquely equipped to give you such a monster effort going forward, because there isn't one. Johnson is perhaps the fastest running back in the league. The huge peaks are a big part of why you drafted him. … Don't lose your mind with joy over Matt Forte's breakout versus the Cleveland Browns. It was expected. Whether or not he's "for real" going forward is very much at issue, as the quality of his opponents improves. But listen, Forte still isn't someone about whom you can say, "Oh, boy, I'm gonna sell high on him!" I can't imagine too many leagues where your league mates are going to say, "Forte racked up 90 rushing yards and two scores on Cleveland, I want him now, and I'm willing to pay full price!" Sure, if you can find such an animal, by all means, fleece it. But it's a lot likelier that Forte-as-trade-bait will be met with the same skepticism as those who currently are recommending him as a sell-high guy. I think you probably have to wait and hope another good game or two is in the offing. … Neither am I fooled by LaDainian Tomlinson. I wrote last week that the one thing I was surest of in Week 8 was that LDT would get into the end zone, after that embarrassing display in Kansas City in Week 7. Sure enough, two scores later, Tomlinson owners rejoice. But watching him run at this point is borderline sad. He just doesn't have the legs anymore. It's such an obvious difference (to everyone but coach Norv Turner, evidently) when Darren Sproles is in there. Unfortunately, Sproles just doesn't get the work to be an every-week starter. … There are messes brewing in Houston and Detroit. I got a ton of chat questions about Steve Slaton on Monday morning, but the truth is: Nobody outside the Houston Texans' coaching room knows what the team has planned. Was this merely a warning shot across Slaton's bow, because of his fifth lost fumble in half-a-season? Or will Ryan Moats really start to have a meaningful every-week role? In the short term, considering the huge day Moats had spelling Slaton, I can't really imagine the Texans won't try Moats again to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. He's not the explosive player Slaton is, isn't really a home run threat, and in the larger context of the season, doesn't figure to provide the upside Slaton does. But there's a really good chance we're looking at a platoon in Week 9. … As for Kevin Smith, his relative lack of action Sunday was more related to an aggravated shoulder injury, but Maurice Morris was in there a ton late, and coach Jim Schwartz says he envisions a larger role for Morris going forward. Smith didn't get healthy during the Detroit Lions' bye, and for the moment he doesn't look like one of those few nonplatoon backs the NFL can offer. As such, he's going to be mighty hard to put into your lineup until and if Morris once again takes a seat.

Notes: Calvin Johnson is a great player. But he was supposed to get well during the Detroit Lions' bye week, and he didn't. The team is secretive about injuries now, so we're probably not going to get a straight story about Megatron unless the answer is extreme one way or the other: Either he practices without limits all week, or he sits out the sessions entirely. The former seems likelier than the latter, but the likeliest scenario has him a game-time decision again, this time against a very beatable Seahawks secondary. I had to drop him out of the top 10 this week, but it's so painful, because I think he's the most talented receiver in the NFL. If and when he gets back in there, he's a monster game waiting to happen, obviously. … Anquan Boldin reinjured his ankle, so get ready for another week of "toughest player in the NFL" stories and vows to play by Q. Not that I'm doubting his toughness, but calling Boldin injury-prone is an insult to injury-prone people. He's a walking injury magnet. He barely stays inside my top 20 because it seems like he does this every year: limp around for six weeks, then get on a crazy hot streak later in the season. … Braylon Edwards made a sick catch for a touchdown, which for me saved him as a fantasy starter in a lot of leagues. Too bad he doesn't get to play the Miami Dolphins every week, huh? … T.J. Houshmandzadeh threw a temper tantrum about what he perceives as his underutilization, following the leads of Maurice Jones-Drew, LaDainian Tomlinson and others, so maybe the Seattle Seahawks will try to pacify him next week against the Detroit Lions by throwing it to him a million times. But I'm through choosing him over Nate Burleson. Burleson got double the targets in Dallas, and so what if a lot of them came during garbage time? The way the Seahawks are playing, garbage time should be plentiful. … Mario Manningham hurt a shoulder in last Thursday's practice, and wound up a game-day inactive Sunday for the New York Giants. There's no definitive word on whether Super Mario will be able to play Week 9 against the San Diego Chargers, but for the moment I'm guessing the team will use its Week 10 bye to try to get him healthy. Hakeem Nicks steps above him in this list for the moment. … I'm torn by Percy Harvin once more: He's definitely less of a "fluke" type of player than he was during the season's first couple weeks, because he's running more pro-style routes now, and not simply getting surprise inside handoffs and wide-receiver screens. But there's also a lot of competition for catches in Minnesota, and I imagine that Bernard Berrian is still the best deep threat the Vikings have when his hamstring is 100 percent. Harvin's production means he should be rated higher than he is here, though, and maybe I'm just being a slow adopter. If he's available in your league, his upside is such that I'd considering adding him almost no matter what. I don't know that I could justify starting him every week or anything like that, but his speed and ball instincts continue to impress. And if your league counts return yardage, he verges on a must-start. … The Chargers released Chris Chambers and officially promoted Malcom Floyd to their starting lineup. Floyd is still fourth in the pecking order for offensive touches, but he's a great red-zone target and is worth a pickup in many leagues for his upside.

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.