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Tuesday, October 26, 2010
2010 fantasy football rankings update

By Tristan H. Cockcroft

Listed below are updated rankings for the four major skills positions, defense/special teams and the top 100 players, accounting only for projected fantasy value from Week 8 forward. These rankings are published every Tuesday, meaning they won't always reflect news that breaks late in the week. For week-specific rankings to help you set your lineup, check back on Wednesday.

Quick click by position, for easy reference:
Top 40 Quarterbacks | Top 60 Running Backs | Top 60 Wide Receivers
Top 30 Tight Ends | Top 32 Defense/Special Teams | Top 100 Overall

Top 40 Quarterbacks

• Injuries, injuries, injuries. They're the story with the quarterback rankings this week, and Tony Romo's fractured left clavicle is the headliner. It's unclear how long he'll be sidelined, but ESPN's Adam Schefter mentioned during "Monday Night Football," minutes after Romo's exit from the night's contest, that such an injury generally requires 8-10 weeks recovery time. Considering there are only 10 more weeks in the NFL season, let alone the fantasy season (which usually ends a week earlier and our regular season a couple weeks before that), Romo might not have more than a couple of games of production to offer us once he heals, and that's the best-case scenario. It's for that reason he drops all the way to 26th, five spots behind the man set to replace him, Jon Kitna. Romo's per-game upside might blow away that of any of the 12-14 players ranked ahead of him, but there's a legitimate chance he might not offer you any more games. As for Kitna, 38, he's someone to watch. While he has two 4,000-yard passing campaigns under his belt, he actually has almost as many career interceptions (151) as touchdowns (154). This is one of the most talented sets of receivers he has ever worked with, and it's not completely absurd to think that he might be able to help as a matchups No. 2 quarterback in two-quarterback leagues.

Brett Favre's consecutive-games-played streak of 291 might come to an end in Week 8, as he suffered two fractures in his left ankle on Sunday night, one an avulsion fracture (in which a tendon or ligament pulls a bone fragment off the main mass of bone) to his heel and the other a stress fracture. You might recall that the left ankle is the same one Favre had surgically repaired in June, and that combined with the elbow tendinitis he has been battling in recent weeks makes him quite the health risk, at least in comparison to his past, durable self. Put aside the injuries for a second. Favre wasn't exactly lighting up fantasy box scores with his play when he was healthy. He has 10 interceptions and five lost fumbles through six games, has one game of double-digit fantasy points and has a per-game average that doesn't even crack the top 30 at his position. I don't even consider Favre close to a serious weekly consideration in a standard ESPN (10-team) league, and I think there should be some doubt about him in two-quarterback leagues when facing stiffer matchups. If not for his reputation and a solid group of receivers including Randy Moss and Percy Harvin, Favre would be in severe danger of slipping into Kitna territory.

• The other notable in this week's rankings: Tom Brady drops out of the top five. He might claim the post-Moss New England Patriots are a "dink and dunk and score touchdowns" offense (per The Boston Globe), but they sure look merely "dink and dunk." Look at his numbers in the two games since the Moss trade: 60.5 completion percentage, 5.9 yards per attempt. Those are numbers much closer to the Brady of, oh, about five years ago, before his record-setting campaign. Now, that Brady was still a valuable quarterback, but he's not a win-weeks-by-himself quarterback, whereas the five men ranked ahead of him have that weekly potential.

Michael Vick will return to the Philadelphia Eagles' lineup after their Week 8 bye, injecting some life into their passing game after Kevin Kolb disappointed in Week 7 after being given one more chance to make it a true quarterback controversy. Vick has the arm to regularly hit his deep threats, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and the creativity to make things happen with his legs. If there's any reason he remains out of my top 10, having been declared a starter once more, it's the risk he hurts himself again. To that point, he plays the New York Giants, who have already knocked five quarterbacks out of games this season, in Week 11 (and again four weeks later). If you own Vick, keep your fingers crossed he gets through OK.

Top 60 Running Backs

• I don't think there's a player for whom I've taken more flak in any week this season than Maurice Jones-Drew last week, and while I've finally dropped him a few slots in this week's rankings, I'm still not prepared to remove him from my top 10. Let's face facts. He's ninth in the league in touches per game (21.7), he's on pace for 1,486 yards from scrimmage (second most in his career and only 279 short of last season's total) and he remains one of the most used goal-line options in football (13 total touches within his opponent's 10-yard line). Jones-Drew's schedule is markedly favorable after his Week 9 bye, including games against the Houston Texans (Weeks 10, 17), Oakland Raiders (Week 14) and Indianapolis Colts (Week 15). If you give up on him now, I think you're setting yourself up to sell low.

Ray Rice has me slightly more troubled, thanks to his inexplicable split of the rushing chores with Willis McGahee on Sunday. McGahee went from unused backup to starter with nearly 40 percent of the carries (11 of 29) in a week's time, two weeks after Rice appeared to wrest every bit of the job -- passing downs, short-yardage plays, goal-line carries, first down, second down, passing downs, sundown -- from him. That paints the Baltimore Ravens as unpredictable, and while I find it hard to believe Rice won't lead in touches in every remaining game, I'm not about to guarantee it. He's as close to soaring back into the top five (if he quickly recaptures his "workhorse" label) as dropping to 15th (if McGahee's re-emergence turns out to be legit). If you're a risk-taker, this is a prime time to pounce …

• Believe in Darren McFadden the way you might in Vick among quarterbacks. They're among the most productive options at their positions on a per-game basis, but both are injury risks. McFadden, incidentally, has the most fantasy points per game in the NFL (21.2), and it's no fluke. He's fourth in touches per game (23.8), fourth in 20-yard runs (4), fifth in yards per carry (5.5) and eighth in targets per game among running backs (5.0). I don't care that Michael Bush is his backup -- and a talented backup at that -- McFadden is a clear weekly No. 2 fantasy starter.

• While the Denver Broncos might be a pass-happy offense, don't completely ignore the presence of Knowshon Moreno. He might not get 20-plus carries many weeks, if any, but Kyle Orton has made it clear he's willing to throw to Moreno (12 targets in four games). Each week removed from his hamstring injury makes Moreno a safer bet, and his remaining schedule ranks among the league's most favorable, including games against the Kansas City Chiefs (Weeks 10 and 13), Arizona Cardinals (Week 14), Raiders (Week 15) and Texans (Week 16).

Tim Hightower didn't carry the football once after losing a second-quarter fumble on Sunday, and his role with the Cardinals is in question. According to The Arizona Republic and the Cardinals' official website, coach Ken Whisenhunt has been critical of Hightower because of his running back's three fumbles in six games this season and nine in his past 21 contests (playoffs included), and might soon consider demoting him from the starting lineup for Beanie Wells. Wells had 14 carries (for 54 yards and a score) on Sunday, despite the Cardinals playing almost the entire game from behind, and he has the skills to be a certain No. 2 weekly option if granted regular touches. If you're planning ahead, Wells might safely be expected to earn 15-17 carries per week.

Joseph Addai drops only six spots, despite word of a shoulder injury during his bye week, primarily because his return timetable -- the worst-case portion -- doesn't sound devastating. As he told the Indianapolis Star, his shoulder isn't torn, and he "could come back any time between now and four or five weeks." Week 8 might present a problem for the veteran, which is a shame because the Texans beckon, but that makes Donald Brown, and to a lesser extent Mike Hart, a worthwhile pickup. There are two issues with Brown that explain his No. 37 ranking. He's still weak in blitz pickup, and he has been battling a hamstring injury that cost him Weeks 4-6. Brown is the better choice, but Hart will surely be involved.

• Speaking of coaches aggravated with their starting running backs, Sean Payton admitted to the New Orleans Times Picayune on Monday that he is frustrated with Pierre Thomas' slow recovery from an ankle injury. (We hear you, Sean.) Couple that with Chris Ivory's 6 yards per carry helping fill in the past four weeks and there's reason to believe this might remain, for the most part, Ivory's job even after Thomas' healthy return. The New Orleans Saints have never seemed comfortable handing Thomas 20-plus touches on a weekly basis, and with Ivory aboard, they don't have to. I expect a bit of a timeshare, and have ranked them accordingly. Unfortunately, that ranking is still outside the top 30, as there's the impending return of Reggie Bush, who should see plenty of work on passing downs.

• Contradictory tweets were afoot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' official Twitter feed early Monday. Minutes after posting, "RB [LeGarrette Blount] had at least 1 good blitz pickup Sunday, which is a good step towards him getting the coaches' confidence, & more playing time," the team followed up posting, "OC Greg Olson says Cadillac Williams, while obviously very good on 3rd downs, still is important to the team as more than a 3rd-down back." Regardless of Olson's comments, Blount certainly looked capable of handling starter's duties, running 11 times for 72 yards and losing a couple of other long gains canceled by penalties, and I'm about ready to pick Blount as the leading Bucs rusher in coming weeks.

Top 60 Wide Receivers

• I admit it, I went against my gut two weeks ago when Miles Austin earned the No. 1 spot in these rankings. Roddy White should have gotten the call. I felt it at the time, but concerns about his complementary receivers and what was at the time a somewhat shaky Matt Ryan had me thinking he was a top-five option but not a candidate for the top spot. Well, it's corrected this week. Look at the numbers: Tops among wide receivers in fantasy points per game (14.6), tops in the NFL in targets (82), third in targets per game among wide receivers (11.7), third in catches of 20-plus yards (10). To think, White has done all this despite a shaky rotation across from him, including Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran.

• With so many questions at quarterback for the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald's fantasy value cannot help but take a hit. He's still getting targeted as often as anyone in the game -- he ranks fifth in targets per game among wide receivers (10.8) -- but he has caught only 44.6 percent of those targets (29 of 65) and is averaging only 11.4 yards per catch and 5.1 yards per target. Fitzgerald's three best seasons came in the three years Kurt Warner was a healthy Cardinals starter (2007-09), but his production has suffered noticeably as a result of the Max Hall-Derek Anderson nightmare. Anderson's inaccuracy and Hall's inexperience appears likely to keep Fitzgerald at least slightly behind the top tier at his position.

• I've got some real questions about DeSean Jackson's health, as his concussion could quickly turn into a lingering issue, but somehow it doesn't feel right to drop a kid as talented as he is out of the top 15 without clear evidence he'll miss more than one more game. At the same time, while Jeremy Maclin benefits in games Jackson misses, it doesn't feel quite right to push him into the top 10 without that same evidence. Either Eagles receiver, as the starting, No. 1 option in their passing game working with Michael Vick, is a clear top-10 fantasy talent. But from a rest-of-the-year angle, they should be regarded No. 2 wide receivers for our purposes.

• If I'm iffy on Tom Brady, it follows I'd be iffy about Wes Welker, who suddenly looks an awful lot like everything else present in the Patriots' offense. There's no depth to Brady's pass attack. The Patriots are running shorter routes, and that's dividing up the numbers more evenly, similar to when there was some variety in skill sets between Moss and Welker. Check the stats: Welker has 17 targets, 11 catches, 88 yards and zero scores in two games since Moss departed, which would still project to a respectable 136 targets and 88 receptions over a full season but without any of the big-play potential he had in the past.

• There will be plenty of questions regarding Colts wide receivers this week, after Austin Collie was ruled out for several weeks following hand surgery and tight end Dallas Clark was placed on season-ending injured reserve following wrist surgery. Pierre Garcon, naturally, steps back into the No. 2 receiver role in the wake of those injuries, and Blair White becomes the No. 3, for what might be a month or more. Remember that the Colts are a pass-heavy team, partly thanks to a defense that constantly puts their offense in a hole, so there shouldn't be significant worry that Reggie Wayne will be the constant subject of double-teams. Wayne remains a top-10 fantasy option, and it's Garcon whose value benefits most; his six-spot boost is one of the highest of any player during his bye week so far this year.

• Wow, these Miami Dolphins sure are willing to throw. Chad Henne might make his share of questionable decisions, but with their running game struggling the Dolphins are putting it on their young quarterback to make things happen, and that's a large part of the reason Davone Bess has exploded as a viable weekly fantasy option in the past month. Bess has caught 19 of his 27 targets for 199 yards in the past three weeks combined, scoring a touchdown in each week. In a points per reception league, he probably warrants a ranking nearly 10 spots higher than this.

• It's time to get Vincent Jackson back in the rankings, under the idea that he might offer you 5-6 productive performances to end the season. If he reports to the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 29 as expected, he'll be eligible to play in Week 11, and look at his schedule: versus Broncos, at Colts, versus Chiefs, versus San Francisco 49ers, at Cincinnati Bengals, at Broncos. Keep in mind that the two best teams in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers, the Bengals and 49ers, were routed in Week 7. Jackson is the most talented wideout the Chargers have, and it's hard to imagine him not quickly rising to the No. 1 role.

Top 30 Tight Ends

Zach Miller might not feel like a top-three fantasy tight end, but there he is, after seven weeks, second at his position in terms of fantasy points for the season (66). McFadden's arrival as a force in the running game is keeping defenses honest, while Louis Murphy has done enough in his sophomore season to prevent opponents from rolling extra coverage Miller's way. Miller's target and reception numbers rival those of any tight end's, and it's silly, this season, to write off the Raiders as a black hole of an offense. They're legit.

• If you have yet to embrace Aaron Hernandez as a viable weekly fantasy starter, it's officially time to. Following the trade of Moss, Hernandez has caught nine of his 14 targets for 115 yards, numbers that might not knock your socks off but demonstrate how comparably involved he is in the Patriots' offense to most anyone but the most elite at his position. He was a large part of the reason Moss was moved and should continue to get his 5-7 catches weekly. In time -- think by next year -- he'll become a top-five fantasy tight end.

• With the recent losses of top-five fantasy tight ends Clark and Jermichael Finley, the position has suffered significantly in terms of depth, a development most noticeable this week. After the top 10, there's a noticeable dropoff and after No. 12, Owen Daniels, there's another dropoff, as after that point you're mostly talking matchup considerations.

• Speaking of "matchup considerations," I simply refuse to endorse Todd Heap as a clear-cut fantasy starter, despite his two-touchdown outburst in Week 7. I pointed out in Sunday's "Instant Replay" that he remains one of the most brittle players at his position, but the other takeaway from that performance is that it came against the worst defense at shutting down opposing tight ends. Heap, on occasion, stays home to block, and a tight end whose target total is as likely to be 2-3 as 8-9 in any given week is not one to trust blindly. He moves up six spots in my rankings this week, primarily because, as noted above, depth is thinning out at the position, but I'd term him one of the best sell-high candidates currently.

Top 32 Defense/Special Teams

Top 100 Overall

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.