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Thu Oct 15 02:16pm EDT

Early Position Ranks, Week 6

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This is a dangerous time of year, because we're beginning to think we know something. We have data, we have film. Experts are gaining confidence. Opinions have coalesced. Entire NFL teams have been written off. Analysts are starting to use "on pace" numbers, as if the rest of the season will simply be a replay of the first five weeks.

But really, if the NFL season were a meal, we'd still be waiting for the appetizers. It's very early. By the time Week 10 arrives (that's when entrées are served, unless you ordered something difficult) you'll barely remember October. Player values will change dramatically.

For example, after four weeks last season, DeAngelo Williams(notes) still hadn't scored a touchdown. He was averaging fewer than 50 rushing yards per game. Meanwhile, Jonathan Stewart(notes) had already crossed the goal line four times. If you would have redrafted a 10-team league on October 1, 2008, Williams might have gone unselected.

Of course Williams finished the season with 20 TDs and eight 100-yard rushing performances, and he punished many of us in Week 16.

Example No. 2: Clinton Portis(notes) was everyone's must-own back at the halfway point in '08, an obvious candidate for both the real-life and the fantasy MVP. He was on pace for 1,888 rushing yards and 14 TDs after Washington's Week 8 win at Detroit, but…well, the pace did not hold. Portis didn't visit the end zone in Weeks 9-15 and he managed just one 100-yard effort in the second half.

Other notables:

Pierre Thomas(notes) had just 37 total touches through eight games last year, yet he finished with 160 and 12 TDs;

Matt Cassel(notes) was a punchline after 10 weeks, but he threw 14 touchdown passes between Weeks 11 and 16, and he topped 400 passing yards twice;

Peyton Manning(notes) had thrown as many picks as TD passes entering Week 6 last year, and we were all fretting about his knees and his O-line. Over the remaining weeks, he passed for 22 touchdowns and turned the ball over just seven times.

This is really just a shorthand way to say that there's A LOT of season remaining. If you're feeling confident, knowledgeable and in total control right now, then you're [expletive]. In the NFL, everything is unsettled all the time. Five weeks? That's nothing.

Let's play 'em one game at a time, starting with a preliminary look at the Week 6 position ranks…

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Running Backs

Following his team's 41-0 shellacking at Seattle, Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) absolutely blew up. We urge you to read the entire AP recap. This is just a taste: "In a 15-minute session with reporters Wednesday, Jones-Drew ripped several aspects of his team. He even called himself the second-highest paid 'decoy' in the league, behind New Orleans running back Reggie Bush(notes)." You have to love everything about MJD's Week 6 setup. He's an elite player coming off a rant, playing at home, facing the Rams. Jones-Drew is an easy call at the top spot. … Knowshon Moreno(notes) might actually climb a little higher than No. 6 when official rankings hit the street tomorrow. He'll face San Diego in Week 6, a team that's allowing 151.0 rushing yards per game. The Chargers will be without Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams(notes) for the remainder of the season. … Strange things happen in the NFL all the time, but it's very tough to imagine that the Jets won't simply annihilate the Bills in New York on Sunday. If you can avoid Buffalo skill position players, we encourage you to do so. Jets rookie Shonn Greene(notes) made cameo appearances in Weeks 4 and 5; he could be in line for mop-up duty in Week 6. … Chicago's defense is really in a situation where they have to choose their method of execution on Sunday night. The Bears might prefer death via Tony Gonzalez(notes) to death via Michael Turner(notes). Dunno. But Turner's workload (22 carries per week in '09) and his dominance at the goal line (23 TDs in his last 21 games) basically make him a top-of-the-ranks play every week. As for Matt Forte(notes), he'll get an Atlanta defense that's allowing 4.9 yards per carry and 127.0 rushing yards per game. … Willie Parker(notes) (turf toe) may return on Sunday with protective footwear, but he's dealing with an injury that few backs simply shrug off. His workload is as uncertain as his health. Rashard Mendenhall(notes) is still the play. 

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers(notes) is coming off a bye, he's facing the Lions, and his left tackle (Chad Clifton(notes)) is likely to return. Expect big things. A healthier line should lead to fantasy gains for several Packers. Rodgers was sacked 20 times through four games as a parade of overmatched, out-of-position linemen attempted to protect his blind side. … The early Matt Hasselbeck(notes) rank (No. 8) is not a reaction to last week's performance, but to the match-up ahead. He's at home facing the league's worst pass defense; incredibly, Arizona has allowed 303.0 passing yards per game. … You might be able to convince us to bump Mark Sanchez(notes) up a few spots in the ranks, as the 1-4 Bills have been devastated by injuries to key members of the defense. Manchez was impressive in the Week 5 match-up at Miami, finding Braylon Edwards(notes) for an early TD, and nearly connecting with him for two more. (One was erased by replay, the other by a dubious pass interference penalty). … If Matthew Stafford(notes) can't play (a strong possibility), then Daunte Culpepper(notes) takes over his spot in the ranks (No. 24). Nothing to get excited about. Move along.

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Wide Receivers

Nate Burleson(notes) and TJ Houshmandzadeh(notes) are currently third and seventh in the NFL in total targets and, again, the home match-up with Arizona is spectacular. The Cardinals are the only team in the league allowing over 300 passing yards per game. They're also giving up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. … Mike Sims-Walker(notes) currently leads all wide receivers in per-game public league fantasy scoring. Now that we know the reason for his Week 5 DNP, we're no happier with coach Jack Del Rio. That might be a fine-worthy offense, sure, but deactivation? Really? If that sort of thing were to happen the night before Fantasy Football Live – purely hypothetical, for obvious reasons – it would be greeted with giggling and high fives. … Considering the way Cincinnati's defense has dealt with No. 1 receivers so far this year, the above rank for Andre Johnson(notes) (No. 14) might actually be too high. You're still starting him, but without the usual enthusiasm. If you're ranking him in the top-five this week, then you obviously expect him to overcome a worrisome match-up. … This was Donovan McNabb's explanation of DeSean Jackson(notes)'s quiet week (and Jeremy Maclin(notes)'s breakout), via the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Maclin's emergence resulted from Tampa Bay's coverage on Jackson. "They rolled the coverage a lot to his side, and you want to get your weapons going," McNabb said. "Teams are going to try to take someone in this offense out of it. They're trying to take DeSean out, and when you give [other] guys an opportunity to make plays for you, I have full confidence that they will."

For one week, against a poor pass defense, Maclin took full advantage of single coverage. He's ahead of the injured Kevin Curtis in the receiver hierarchy for sure, but let's not put him in Jackson's class just yet. … If Torry Holt(notes) is ever going to visit the end zone again (22 catches so far, zero TDs) then it's going to happen in Week 6, against his former employer. … Oakland's Chaz Schilens(notes) (foot) may finally return this week. His Raiderness makes him a sketchy fantasy play of course, but it's worth recalling that he had an eye-opening preseason

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