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Tuesday, November 9, 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 10 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

• Apparently I was mistaken in my belief that Eli Manning's 2009 outburst was a mirage; he's every bit the top-10 fantasy quarterback he was then, and I believe he's actually a better passer today than he has ever been in his seven-year NFL career. Hakeem Nicks' development into a top-shelf deep threat has a lot to do with it, but Manning also seems to be throwing with a great deal more confidence than he had in the past. He's on pace to set new personal bests in passing yards (4,150), passing touchdowns (34) and completion percentage (65.7), and he has a chance at catching his 2009 career-high numbers in both yards per attempt (7.7 this year, 7.9 last) and passer rating (92.7 this, 93.1 last).

• It was like Michael Vick never missed time at all with torn rib cartilage (nor DeSean Jackson with a concussion); Vick was tossing bombs with ease to Jackson all day and was running with as little fear as ever. The only argument anyone could have against Vick's being a top-10 fantasy quarterback the rest of the way -- and I'd argue top-six, with only the top five names on my list better from a per-game angle -- is the risk that he'll get hurt again; remember that the Philadelphia Eagles still battle the New York Giants twice (Weeks 11 and 15). Still, as he's now 3-for-3 in terms of complete-game efforts of 20-plus fantasy points, Vick has to be in my top 10.

• For the first time all year, I've finally got some optimism with Brett Favre, and it's not simply that he's coming off a career-best 446-yard passing effort. It's also this: He promised Bernard Berrian he would get the veteran wide receiver involved again as the downfield playmaker, and he stood by his word; Berrian caught nine passes for 87 yards. And this: Sidney Rice, a much, much better fit for that role than Berrian, is making progress in his recovery from August hip surgery, meaning that even if Berrian's Week 9 was a flash in the pan -- and I believe it mostly is -- there's an upgrade coming in a couple of weeks. And this: Whether Favre actually saved coach Brad Childress' job with his fourth-quarter comeback or not, I'm still of the mind that Childress' days are numbered, being that he's making more headlines right now than his players. If Childress is indeed replaced -- presumably by defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- the distractions are gone and the players, by most accounts, get back on the same page with their coach. That's entirely speculation, yes, but rumors to the extent we've seen in recent days cannot possibly be termed positives for a clubhouse.

Matthew Stafford's ranking assumes somewhat that his shoulder injury suffered Sunday is minor; if he re-separated the AC joint that cost him Weeks 2-6, then he doesn't even belong in my top 25. Watching his Weeks 8-9 performances, however, fresh off that original shoulder separation, Stafford is an NFL star in the making (when healthy) and perfectly happy throwing 40-plus times per week. He's quietly developing into the perfect mix of quantity and quality, so let's hope he pulls out of this one with only a minor scrape. Otherwise, it's going to be hard to avoid applying the "injury-prone" tag: He has missed 11 of his first 24 NFL contests.

• Although Vince Young's Tennessee Titans were on bye this past week, he moves up thanks to the arrival of Randy Moss. Moss gives Young an even more talented downfield threat than Kenny Britt -- and Britt was a pretty solid one in his own right -- and might lead to at least a slightly more balanced offense. Remember, Young ranks second among qualified quarterbacks in both yards per attempt (8.2) and passer rating (103.1), so he's clearly capable of getting the ball into Moss' hands.

Top 60 Running Backs

• Many readers have questioned why Ahmad Bradshaw has yet to crack my top 10, the most-cited rationale behind the queries being that he, as recently as two weeks ago, was the NFL's leading rusher. Of course, experienced fantasy owners know the follies of that argument; you could run for 1,000 yards, but if it comes with zero touchdowns, then all it takes is 640 yards for the guy with six touchdowns to be that player's equal. (We're talking rough estimates because game-by-game numbers can shift fantasy totals slightly.) That's sort of what had been going on with Bradshaw; he had back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts heading into the bye but didn't score a touchdown in either and had just three scores in his first seven games. Brandon Jacobs, on the other hand, scored a touchdown in each game in Weeks 4-7 and matched or exceeded Bradshaw's fantasy output in Weeks 6 and 7. This past Sunday, however, it was Bradshaw who got the ball in goal-to-go situations, and if that's truly the Giants' new game plan, it's going to make him a legitimate candidate for the top 10. I'm not entirely convinced it's a permanent development, but if he gets the next goal-line carry, you can count on his making the cut next week.

Beanie Wells' knee is once again a concern, and although Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt told the team's official website that the reason for Wells' one-carry, minus-2 rushing performance in Week 9 was that Wells didn't receive enough practice reps in the packages the team used, one could worry that continued issues with the knee might lead to the same pattern. In addition to Tim Hightower's presence, LaRod Stephens-Howling is off to a hot start as the No. 3 man on the depth chart, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, hauling in nine passes in eight games and averaging 27.9 yards per kick return with two scores. Wells seemed to get his chance as the every-down back already and didn't impress with it, and although I'm not convinced it's his last, I'm also skeptical that he'll see another 20-carry game all year.

Joseph Addai is the outside-the-top-20 running back with the greatest upside, at least among this week's candidates. Although his neck/shoulder injury remains a concern, his chances are helped by nagging injuries to his backups, Donald Brown (hamstring) and Mike Hart (ankle), not to mention Brown's lackluster production playing through his ailments in Addai's place the past two weeks. This is Addai's job once healthy, and that's the every-down job; he's not going to cede goal-line carries whether he's 100, 90 or even 80 percent.

• The Washington Redskins might not be far off a backfield controversy, with Ryan Torain (hamstring) turning in a full Monday's practice and Clinton Portis (groin) participating in drills in the same session. Torain almost assuredly is going to start in Week 10, and after his back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances in Weeks 6-7 -- his two most recent games when he was fully healthy -- I still regard him as the most deserving of the starting job. That's the reason for his No. 23 ranking -- the other being that I'm iffier on every one of the 10 backs listed behind him -- but a quicker recovery by Portis could drop both backs into the mid-30, Donald Brown/Jonathan Stewart range of forgettable flex plays.

• I've been advising throughout the past week to take a more pessimistic approach to the New Orleans Saints' backfield, and even with Reggie Bush (fibula) on the mend, that sentiment is only increasing. Let's face facts: Leading Saints rusher Chris Ivory has averaged only 3.1 yards per carry in his past three games and has fallen short of a 4.0 yards-per-carry average in three of his past five. Pierre Thomas has yet to resume practicing after what the Saints swear up and down is not a high ankle sprain. Bush should be back come Week 11, but as inconsistent a rusher as he has been through five NFL seasons, he might be limited primarily to passing downs. That's currently Ladell Betts' role, meaning his playing time is in jeopardy, and Julius Jones has shown over several seasons that he doesn't have what it takes to handle a significant amount of the rushing chores. And here's the other issue: The Saints are on bye in Week 10, and the four teams who have yet to take their week off are at a noticeable disadvantage compared with the ones whose byes have passed; they play seven more games to the others' eight (or 12.5 percent fewer games). It's why I don't have a single Saints running back ranked within my top 40 -- because it's difficult to project their leading rusher from this point forward and I'm not sure any one of their running backs is going to touch the ball 20 times in a game the rest of the way. Thomas has the most upside, but he's also the greatest health risk; I think many people are vastly overstating what he has to offer.

Top 60 Wide Receivers

• Apparently I was too low on Hakeem Nicks when I declared him a potential top-20 fantasy wide receiver during the preseason. Nicks has arrived as one of the game's best playmakers, and he's in an offense that plays remarkably well to wide receivers. A stat that might shock you: He's sixth in the NFL in targets (84), whereas projected target hog Steve Smith has 72. There was little doubt when the Giants selected Nicks 29th overall in the 2009 NFL draft that he would develop into a top-10 wide receiver one day. That day unquestionably has already arrived.

• DeSean Jackson has led the Eagles in targets, receptions and receiving yards in all three of Michael Vick's three complete games, every one of those a 100-yard receiving effort, and Jackson has totaled 16 catches on 23 targets for 397 yards and three TDs in those contests. If I'm as pro-Vick as I have been all season, it makes no sense not to be as pro-Jackson, now that they're both healthy.

• Although the Dallas Cowboys' coaching change -- Wade Phillips to Jason Garrett -- might offer some hope to fantasy owners of their players, I can't help but worry about the long-term impact of Jon Kitna's installation at quarterback on Miles Austin's weekly production. In the 160-plus minutes since Kitna took over the job from injured Tony Romo, Austin has only 11 receptions on 23 targets for 157 yards and zero TDs, his fantasy production easily eclipsed by Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in that time span. Austin's best asset is his ability to go deep; Kitna's weakness is that his deep ball isn't nearly as good as Romo's. It's time to officially drop Austin to No. 2 fantasy wide receiver status.

• We'll wait to see Austin Collie's practice status midweek, but all indications are that his concussion doesn't appear nearly as serious as it did when he initially suffered the injury. Maybe he'll miss only one game a la DeSean Jackson; if that's the case, there's not a heck of a lot to sweat from a fantasy perspective. Collie shoots up 14 spots this week, but not based on my confidence in his health; rather, it's some "rankings correction" after he made a swift enough recovery from thumb surgery to play in Week 9. If he hadn't suffered the concussion, he actually would rank closer to 30th, and probably ahead of Pierre Garcon.

• The San Diego Chargers wide receivers were this week's most difficult to rank as they're shockingly thin in available talent right now yet loaded with talented pieces for the stretch run. Simply because Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson should be in the lineup by Thanksgiving, Week 9 sensation Seyi Ajirotutu earned nothing for his efforts other than a guaranteed roster spot through season's end. The Chargers are off this week, and I've got a feeling Floyd should be back from his hamstring injury in time for Week 11, pushing Ajirotutu back to a backup role. Jackson, meanwhile, should be available for the Chargers' final six games, and look at those matchups: @IND, OAK, KC, SF, @CIN, @DEN.

• You'll notice that the aforementioned Sidney Rice didn't crack my top 60; he again fell only a couple of spots short of the cut-off. Although the Vikings are optimistic about his chances of playing in the next couple of weeks, I'm not quite ready to proclaim him the December help that Vincent Jackson might be. For one thing, recovery from hip surgery is quite a bit more difficult than recovery from a holdout.

Top 30 Tight Ends

• I was completely wrong about Jacob Tamme. The Indianapolis Colts initially suggested that Tamme lacked comparable skills to the man he was replacing, Dallas Clark, then hinted a few days later that Tamme might be able to match Clark's output. Watching Tamme play the past two weeks, it's clear that he's similarly skilled to the veteran, and certainly has enough ability to fill Clark's role in the offense. Peyton Manning has looked Tamme's way as often as anyone else in the game has been targeted the past two weeks; Tamme has 17 catches on 26 targets for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The target tally is tops among tight ends, and it's not even close.

• Everyone is going to hop onto the Aaron Hernandez-is-a-top-three-tight-end bandwagon after the New England Patriots rookie scored two touchdowns Sunday, but it's actually the nine targets that better support the argument. Since Randy Moss' departure, Hernandez has been targeted 26 times and has caught 16 in four games. He also is regularly involved in two-TE sets, particularly near the goal line, so his prospects of weekly touchdowns have improved. Remember, this is still a pass-friendly offense, so Hernandez has at least top-eight value.

• Although he did have a long touchdown catch nullified by a penalty, Brent Celek's quiet Week 9 cements his status as a clear fantasy backup at his position. He was only minimally involved in the Eagles' offense when Kevin Kolb was the quarterback, and he's a total nonfactor when it's Michael Vick; he was targeted only once Sunday (and didn't catch it) and has seven catches on 12 total targets for 69 yards and no TDs in Vick's three complete games. You can feel free to drop Celek if you need to mix and match tight ends, as he belongs very much in the class of plug-in/matchups plays at this stage of the season.

• Speaking of disappointing tight ends, there might be none greater this season than Kellen Winslow. A few weeks ago, his touchdown drought might have elicited an, "Aw shucks, what bad luck," response. Now? It's a terribly distressing trend, as is the fact that Mike Williams has had more targets than him for three weeks straight. In his past three games, Winslow has nine catches on 16 targets for 80 yards, numbers that don't look all that much more appealing than those of Todd Heap or Greg Olsen. Winslow's status in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense definitely appears to be slipping, and he no longer can be called an automatic start in fantasy.

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.