Every Friday during the NFL season, we'll review the Yahoo! weekly position ranks. If an expert breaks from the herd on a particular player, they'll be asked to show their work. We'll try to focus on players near the start/sit line in public leagues. You're encouraged to discuss the wisdom or lunacy of these opinions in comments.
With running back the eternal king of the fantasy jungle, we'll begin this week's outlier audit at that position. Three veteran names you know, but can you trust them?
Jamal Lewis (Behrens rank 9, Y! Rank 14)
Ninth might not be high enough for Lewis, actually. The Browns face the Bengals in Week 4, and they offer little resistance to opposing running backs. Cincinnati has allowed 174.3 rushing yards per game and 4.7 per carry so far, and Lewis had 350 combined yards in two games against the Bengals last year. He's been underutilized in 2008, and he's getting pretty vocal about it. Expect a much heavier workload for Lewis on Sunday. There's been lots of discussion about the Browns' passing attack leading up to Week 4, but in two of Cincinnati's three losses, they've faced teams that ran the ball more than 40 times. If Lewis doesn't get 25 carries, it's the result of criminal negligence.
Fred Taylor (Behrens rank 15, Y! Rank 21)
And speaking of teams that can't stop the run, let's meet the Houston Texans. They've been nearly as generous as Cincinnati, allowing 170.5 rushing yards per game and 4.5 per carry. Taylor leads the Jaguars in carries (49) and rushing yards (188), and Jacksonville clearly rediscovered the secret recipe in Week 3 against the Colts. Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew combined for 51 touches and 296 total yards. There's enough workload here for two. Taylor and MJD should both start in public leagues in Week 4.
Steven Jackson (Noise rank 25, Y! rank 16)
It's only appropriate that a blog entry titled "Dissenting Opinions" would have Jackson listed. Dissension is the current theme in St. Louis. And it appears Jackson, and teammate Marc Bulger, are spurring it.
Battling a tight groin, dealing with a quarterback changeover and matched against a Bills defense that devours rushers, the popular top-five preseason pick will flounder. Buffalo has suffocated tugboats this season limiting them to just 3.4 yards per carry and 114.3 total yards per game, equal to the sixth-fewest fantasy points surrendered.
Jackson is a multi-faceted weapon who'll be used extensively, which will lead to serviceable yardage totals. However, the Rams' repulsive offensive line will be embarrassed by back snacker Marcus Stroud, which makes Jackson's scoring chances unlikely. Plus, it's very possible St. Louis will be forced to abandon the run early. Jonathan Stewart (vs. Atl), Steve Slaton (at Jac), Selvin Young (at KC) and Pierre Thomas (vs. SF) are more attractive options. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Brett Favre (Noise rank 6, everyone else says 12-13)
The Noise may not house an extravagant love for Favre similar to a certain Monday night blowhard who sports a comb-over that could rival Gene Keady's. But this week, Mr. PTI and the Noise would agree, the old Gunslinger will brandish his Colt revolver.
On paper, Favre's matchup with Arizona isn't exactly favorable. Arizona has clamped down on opponents aerially, yielding just 189 passing yards and 0.67 air strikes per game, equal to the eighth-fewest fantasy points allotted to QBs. But after being humiliated in San Diego, the Jets will reverse the tables in a crucial home clash. The Cardinals' inconsistencies against the run should open up the passing game downfield. When blitzed, look for Favre to feed Dustin Keller. When unhurried, he'll connect numerous times with reliable wideouts Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Obviously he won't sling the pigskin another 42 times like last week, but with 25-30 attempts, the Wrangler pitchman will do damage worthy of top-ten numbers. Fearless Forecast: 20-29, 234 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception.
Matt Schaub (Funston rank 15, otherwise the consensus is 19)
Am I really the one driving Schaub's bandwagon this week? Alright, that's cool, I'll take the keys. Schaub is nearing do-or-die time as the Houston quarterback, and I think he'll put forth a job-salvaging effort against Jacksonville. Let's not forget that he's played just two games, thus far, and those were against Pittsburgh and Tennessee. It's justifiable that his numbers have suffered to this point. I'm still high on his receiving corps, and rookie Steve Slaton's 100-plus yard effort against the Titans last week gives the Jaguars something to think about in the backfield. The Jaguars have allowed a robust 12 pass plays of 20-plus yards. I'll assume that stud Jags corner Rashean Mathis will try to lock up Andre Johnson all afternoon, but Kevin Walter and TE Owen Daniels, who combined for 17 catches and 239 receiving yards the last time Houston tripped to Jacksonville, are more than capable of stepping up. I'm penciling Schaub in for 240 passing yards, 2 TD passes and one pick.
Isaac Bruce (Funston rank 17, Y! rank 23)
Obviously, the matchup weighs heavily into liking Ike this week. The Saints have allowed 11 pass plays of 20-plus yards and the fifth-most fantasy points to WRs. Beyond that, injuries have really cut into the depth of the New Orleans secondary, while on the San Francisco side, Bryant Johnson's sore hamstring makes it more likely that Bruce will play the go-to role for the Niners.
Aditionally, Frank Gore is going to absolutely shred these guys, and that's going to make life in the passing game much easier for all involved. Frankly, once you get past the top dozen, or so, ranked WRs for Week 4, there weren't many receivers left that I felt real good about. Bruce was one of the few left that gave me a peaceful, easy feeling.
Justin Gage (Pianowski rank 30, Y! rank 40)
He missed a game with a groin injury and that's pushed him off the radar, apparently, but he's free from the Week 4 injury report so it's time to jump back in. I like how Gage has clicked with Kerry Collins, both in 2007 and this year (their TD hookup in Cincinnati's wind tunnel deserves props). The Minnesota defense is nasty on land but vulnerable via the air; the Titans will probably have to throw a little more than usual this week. The former Missouri hoopster will rebound with 80 yards, a touchdown, and a goalpost-rattling dunk. Send it in, Justin.
Billy Miller (Pianowski rank 14, otherwise unranked)
I almost slotted Miller in my Top 10, and I'm a little surprised he didn't impress the rest of the panel. Miller is no great shakes, but he's got environment (Drew Brees) and opportunity (injuries galore in New Orleans) on his side. All across the country, desperate Jeremy Shockey owners cry out, "Billy, please be a hero." I'll give the anonymous fill-in a fair shot at 65 yards, and maybe a couple of red zone looks, not bad for a TE during the worst bye-week slate of the season. The 49ers had problems marking the tight end two weeks ago in Seattle, and I'm sure that didn't get past Sean Payton.