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Tuesday, November 2, 2010
2010 fantasy football rankings update

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

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 9 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

• Monday's news that the Minnesota Vikings will waive Randy Moss has a devastating impact on the team's passing game, and when you're talking the Vikings passing game it's hard not to immediately get into the Brett Favre discussion. Consider his numbers pre- and post-Moss trade:

Pre (3 G's): 199.0 YPG, 2 TDs, 6 INTs, 6.2 YPA
Post (4 G's): 284.3 YPG, 5 TDs, 5 INTs, 7.5 YPA

Simply put, Moss allowed the Vikings to stretch the field and keep Percy Harvin in the slot, where his skills were most suited, and he gave Favre his best chance at looking younger than his 41 years. Now, Favre might have to return to the bland, predictable game plan in which Visanthe Shiancoe was his preferred target the first three weeks of the season, and he's going to have to do it on a foot that is clearly not 100 percent. To ask whether Favre will make it through the season -- his consecutive-games streak would reach 301 if he does -- is now a fair question, and I can't even say I completely trust him when the matchups on paper favor him, as they do in Weeks 12 (at Washington Redskins), 13 (versus Buffalo Bills) and 17 (at Detroit Lions). His No. 22 ranking might feel awfully low, partly because it's a steep drop from his No. 8 preseason draft price (among quarterbacks), but I'm not convinced his best-case scenario is even in the top 15.

• Conversely, Philip Rivers might actually have a shot at the No. 1 spot at the position by year's end, partly because Peyton Manning's receivers have been dropping like flies but mostly because Rivers is being asked to do some utterly absurd things. Consider this: He's on pace for 612 pass attempts, 5,298 passing yards, 10 300-yard passing efforts and four 400-yard efforts, numbers that would rank him 12th, first, first (tied) and first (tied) in NFL history. Rivers is doing it despite a barrage of recent injuries to his receivers, but Antonio Gates is getting closer to fully healthy, Malcom Floyd should be back in a few weeks and Vincent Jackson will be back around Thanksgiving. The San Diego Chargers also have one of the better remaining schedules. The primary knock against them is that they have yet to have their bye week, and at this time of year that means only 88.9 percent (8 of 9) of the potential production of teams whose byes have passed.

• Welcome back Michael Vick, who practiced fully on Monday and will return to the starting lineup in Week 9. Even if DeSean Jackson is absent for another game (or more), Vick has all the weapons he needs to be a top-10 fantasy option in his healthy games, the risk of reinjuring himself being the primary reason he's not included in that group. I'd only prefer Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco to Vick because I'm more confident they'd give me nine more games each.

Kyle Orton drops a spot this week, not so much because I doubt his talent but more because of Tim Tebow's presence. Orton's Denver Broncos have dropped four in a row, and there are already questions circulating about coach Josh McDaniels' job security. I wonder how long before he might begin forcing things by injecting more Tebow plays into the offense. One knock on Orton is Tebow got that goal-line score in London in Week 8, which is something Orton owners hope isn't a trend.

• While everyone might be abuzz about Matthew Stafford's Week 8, how about the continuing improvement of another sophomore quarterback, Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? He has already made tremendous strides with his accuracy and decision-making, which was most evident in his three interceptions in seven games. Here's a stat that backs up his growth: His 87.1 passer rating -- if it holds -- would be the fifth-best by any quarterback age 22 or younger. One other thing that makes Freeman an incredibly interesting fantasy backup is his playoff weeks schedule (Weeks 14-16): at Redskins, versus Lions, versus Seattle Seahawks.

Top 60 Running Backs

• So why is Jamaal Charles the new entrant to the top 10, instead of red-hot Darren McFadden? It's as simple as the schedules, and that if there's anything Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley is doing right with his backfield, it's that he's keeping his most talented weapon fresh for the stretch run (one that might actually matter, as the Chiefs are 5-2). Look who the Chiefs play the next five weeks: at Oakland Raiders, at Broncos, versus Arizona Cardinals, at Seahawks, versus Broncos. In terms of fantasy points per games allowed to opposing running backs, those defenses have afforded the fifth-, third-, fourth-, ninth- and third-most. Charles tops all NFL running backs (50-plus attempts) by far in yards per carry (6.5), and the presence of Thomas Jones shouldn't be an issue for a team that has the most rushing attempts per game (36.6) and second-fewest passing attempts per game (25.6) because there's plenty to go around for the two to be successful. Jones' value might wane come December, but there's enough here to not only make Charles a No. 1 option in every remaining week but Jones a No. 2 for the short term and a matchups/flex play for the long term.

• It's some good, some bad for Beanie Wells. The good is that he finally earned his first career start in Week 8, turning in a season-high 12-point fantasy performance. The bad is that he's averaging 3.4 yards per carry in five games this season and 3.5 in two games since the bye. Fortunately, Tim Hightower's fumbling issues have landed him in coach Ken Whisenhunt's doghouse, the Cardinals' schedule does improve from here and the further removed from September knee surgery Wells gets, the better. But Wells is going to need to pick up the pace if he's to keep getting 15-20 touches per game. His might be the most tenuous of any of my rankings within my top 20 this week.

• Among players in my top 25, consider Ryan Torain most tenuous, as while he received good news Monday that his hamstring isn't torn it's unclear whether the injury he sustained Sunday will linger beyond the Redskins' Week 9 bye. Considering Torain has a checkered injury past -- a dislocated elbow and torn ACL cost him much of 2008 and a PCL strain led to his release in 2009 -- there's reason to think the second half of Sunday's game won't be the end of it. Still, I'd probably be more apt to lower him if I had more confidence in Keiland Williams or James Davis to shoulder the load.

• It's time to officially declare the Chargers' backfield a committee, as it has been five weeks now and we still have no greater clarity on the split between Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. There's one known fact: Tolbert is the goal-line back, and a good one, as he has 12 carries from within his opponent's end zone, scoring on seven of them. Mathews is 1 for 5 in those instances. In such arrangements, I typically advise the "yardage" guy, as he's the one with a better chance at double-digit touches. He's the one with lesser downside, being that a player can't get a goal-line carry when his team doesn't put him in such a spot.

• What a miserable year for Jonathan Stewart so far, and I'm wondering how long it'll be before he begins being dropped in the 82.3 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's owned. He's averaging 2.8 yards per carry for the season, had an awful performance in his first start of the year against the St. Louis Rams (2.1 YPC) and is on a team that will be at constant risk of falling behind early and abandoning the run. Oh, and let's not forget that this is DeAngelo Williams' job when healthy.

• While BenJarvus Green-Ellis had the bigger fantasy day in the New England Patriots' backfield in Week 8, Danny Woodhead's contributions shouldn't be ignored. He's excelling in the change-of-pace/passing-down role that Kevin Faulk occupied before getting hurt, and Woodhead has 16, 11 and 11 touches the past three weeks. The Patriots are more than willing to look his way -- or merely hand off -- in the red zone, and that means the prospect of 8-10 fantasy points on a weekly basis.

• Player to track: Kevin Smith, who managed 51 yards on 12 carries while sharing the Lions' backfield with Jahvid Best, whose toe was supposed to be healthier after the bye week's rest. Smith's recovery from knee surgery might have been slow, but if he's truly close to 100 percent now and Best is not, Smith might be as worthwhile a pickup as he'll be a thorn in Best owners' sides.

Top 60 Wide Receivers

• So what of the Moss news? There's no question he drops out of the top 10 as a result of the Vikings waiving him, because the best-case scenario -- he lands with a new team and things scarcely change -- isn't any more likely than the worst-case -- he clears waivers and no one is interested in signing him. It's actually the middle ground that's of highest probability -- he clears waivers and signs a new deal with the team of his choice, albeit not necessarily in as favorable a situation to the one he enjoyed in New England, or perhaps Minnesota, either. ESPN's John Clayton had some thoughts on possible landing spots for Moss in his blog late Monday, and ESPN's Adam Schefter suggested four of those same spots, along with the Raiders. Here's a wild thought: He clears waivers -- or makes it all the way to the end of the process -- the Patriots welcome him back, and he returns to his former top-five fantasy status. More likely, though, Moss winds up somewhere with only a handful fewer questions than the Vikings had, like with the Redskins, and his transition isn't perfectly seamless. It's why he's down 11 spots in the rankings this week. There's no doubt I'd prefer any of the 16 players ahead of him. Of course with the news bound to change Moss' fantasy appeal in as little as 36 hours from now, a week from now he could be back as high as sixth … or as low as 35th. You won't find a more risk/reward player in the game right now.

• Perhaps no one other than Favre suffers as much from Moss' (potential) departure as Harvin, a far better fit for the slot than Moss' role on the outside. The Vikings might be forced to shift Harvin, throwing him out of his element, and with Moss gone opposing defenses can key far more easily on Harvin. It's no coincidence that in Moss' four games in purple Harvin totaled 19 catches on 32 targets for 287 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, he had 12 receptions on 20 targets for 106 yards and a score in three games before that.

• While on the topic of players impacted by personnel changes, Miles Austin's owners can't help but notice that since Tony Romo's departure early in Week 7, the star wide receiver has been targeted 17 times, compared to 23 for Jason Witten and 16 for Dez Bryant. Some of that can be blamed on Jon Kitna, who isn't going to look downfield his way quite as often, but doesn't Austin deserve much of the blame for what has been horrible play of late? He leads the Dallas Cowboys with five drops, and he admitted to the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday that "it's a lack of concentration right before the ball comes." Not what you wanted to hear from your No. 1 fantasy wideout, is it? I'm hopeful talent will win out in this instance, but there's a definite risk Austin's value might slide into the second tier soon.

• After back-to-back quiet weeks, Brandon Lloyd exploded for another top-shelf fantasy performance in London, turning in his fifth 100-yard receiving effort for the season and putting him on pace to challenge Michael Irvin's all-time record of 11 (1995). Lloyd's improvements this season are as remarkable as they are substantial. It's difficult to pinpoint the reason other than his confidence in McDaniels' offensive system. He has always had big-play ability, so this shouldn't be discarded as a mere flash in the pan. Half a season is more than enough evidence that he's legit, and while he's sure to cool somewhat from his absurd pace he should be a clear top-10 option from this point forward.

• How about Terrell Owens' resurgence in Cincinnati? The 36-year-old, who suffered through a disappointing season in Buffalo in 2009, has rebounded with four consecutive games with a touchdown, capturing the No. 1 receiver role from long-time Cincinnati Bengals star Chad Ochocinco. Some might notice Ochocinco's comparably productive Week 7 and his promises of a return to the "Ochocinco of old" and assume the two are interchangeable, but they're not. Ochocinco can be a wholly inconsistent fella, and the truth is that T.O. has 18 more targets for the season and is the clear preferred option in the red zone.

• I'm about ready to hop off the Wes Welker bandwagon … unless, of course, Moss somehow finds his way back to New England soon. Check out Welker's numbers pre- and post-Moss trade:

Pre (4 G's): 34 targets, 26 rec, 217 yds, 3 TDs
Post (3 G's): 22 targets, 14 rec, 102 yds, 0 TDs

With Moss gone, opponents are having an easier time bracketing Welker in coverage, something that helps explain Brandon Tate's seemingly-out-of-nowhere 101-yard outburst on Sunday. Welker should still haul in his typical 5-7 catches, but without any sort of big-play potential that might make him a stronger bet to finish in the double- rather than single-digits. In other words, if you own him in a points per reception league, you can remain confident. In standard? You should've already begun worrying.

Top 30 Tight Ends

• As noted above, Witten's value has gotten a huge uptick since the Cowboys were forced to install Kitna as their starting quarterback. He has targeted Witten in double digits in both of his appearances thus far. Remember, Witten is perhaps the game's most consistent tight end in terms of catches, and if he's a legitimate red-zone factor in Kitna's arsenal, he's going to be a top-five fantasy play every week the remainder of the year. That was his biggest knock. Remember that Witten was targeted six times in the red zone all of last season. Since Kitna took over last week, by comparison, Witten has been his intended receiver in those situations twice, plus once on a two-point conversion.

• Speaking of red-zone targets, Marcedes Lewis has quietly developed into one of the most reliable in the category in football, helping ease any worries about his 25 receptions (16th-most among tight ends) or 41 total targets (15th-most). Lewis already has 10 red-zone targets in eight games, after only five all of last season, and it doesn't seem to matter if it's David Garrard, Todd Bouman or Trent Edwards under center. It's a team rather than quarterback approach. There's no question he belongs in the top 10 tight ends the rest of the way.

• OK, now I'm prepared to call Jacob Tamme a top fantasy pickup for the week, and a player who might by all rights be meaningful on a weekly basis. As the Indianapolis Colts suggested in advance of their Monday Night Football contest, Tamme was expected to see the biggest bump in workload as a result of Dallas Clark's season-ending injury, and they weren't lying. He was targeted nine times (to 12 for Reggie Wayne and 11 for Pierre Garcon) and caught six of them for 64 yards and a touchdown. Manning made it clear he'll look in Tamme's way in every situation, and in a period of the year that has been rough on tight ends he's a welcome addition for a team ravaged by injuries. That said, I'm not ready to declare him Clark's equal, but a "lite" version, that's reasonable.

• If their past two games are any indication, the Lions evidently are shifting their focus in Brandon Pettigrew's direction, leaving Tony Scheffler less and less involved in the game plan. Check the targets: Pettigrew has 17 during that span, Scheffler has five. Stafford isn't going to find Calvin Johnson open quite as regularly as he did in Week 8 and Nate Burleson has been a major disappointment as his No. 2 wideout. There will be times in which Pettigrew is a big part of the offense.

Top 32 Defense/Special Teams

Top 100 Overall

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