Early Position Ranks, Week 4

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The NFL's schedule makers could have introduced the bye weeks painlessly, perhaps by sitting the Raiders, Chiefs, Browns and Dolphins in Week 4.

But no. The byes are upon us and they're about to gut your fantasy roster.

The Cardinals, Eagles, Panthers and Falcons are vacationing this week. It's the Saints, Chargers, Packers and Bears next week. That's eight of the top 13 teams from the '09 Juggernaut Index.

Somewhere there's an 0-3 owner trying to manage around absences of DeAngelo Williams(notes), Roddy White(notes), Anquan Boldin(notes) and Tony Gonzalez(notes) in Week 4. If that describes your situation...well, good luck. Maybe the position ranks below can help.

If you're the commissioner of a league with such an owner, then this would be the appropriate time to collect that dude's unpaid fees.

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Running Backs

It's tempting to say that if Matt Forte(notes) can't deliver a big rushing total against the Lions, then something is legitimately wrong. But, um...we already used that line last week when Forte was about to face Seattle. He gained just 66 yards on 21 carries against the Seahawks, though his fantasy day was saved by the six catches and 40 receiving yards. Forte was clearly the priority for a Seattle defense that had been embarrassed by Frank Gore(notes) in Week 2. It's tough to believe he won't get another 20-plus carries against Detroit, so he remains near the top of the ranks. He was a limited participant at practice on Wednesday, though, due to an unspecified knee issue. Forte's ranking, like everyone else's, is subject to change. The Week 5 bye is well-timed.

OK, it's possible that I'm just being stubborn, but Cedric Benson(notes) does not look "reborn" to me. Or "rejuvenated" or "recommitted," or any of the other "re-" prefixed things that we're calling him. But after seeing way too much Bengals football, I'm plenty impressed with Cincinnati's line. Check out Cedric's touchdown run against the Steelers. Keisel and Farrior were absolutely erased.

If I owned Benson – this is a farfetched hypothetical, but let's just say – I would absolutely play him in Week 4. He gets Cleveland, a team that's allowed 184.3 rushing yards per game. Benson is also a must-start in Week 6 against Houston (204.7 rush YPG). Before you call him "a workhorse," though, recall that he's never played 16 games and he's never had 250 touches. And if you watched his red zone work against the Packers in Week 2, then you understand that there are certain limitations.

Still, Benson should absolutely have a huge day against the Browns, so there's no sitting him. My (heavily biased) advice: Prepare for a Portis-in-'08 sort of season, with a peak that isn't quite as high. If you would have shopped Clinton Portis(notes) in Week 8 last year, you could have obtained any player in the game.

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Don't take a wait-and-see approach with Glen Coffee(notes). You spent waiver priority and/or a giant wad of FAAB dollars, so get him active. He's at home, he's a full-workload back, and he gets St. Louis. (Note to Rams DBs: Don't expect Coffee to just glide out of bounds at the end of a run. He's trying to bury you. Video evidence here).

Willie Parker(notes) is battling turf toe, a disastrous injury for a running back. Avoid him if possible. In the preliminary ranks, I'm clearly endorsing Mewelde Moore(notes). The Steelers are seventh in the league in pass attempts per game (36.3) and just 24th in rush attempts (24.3) – and when they do run, they gain 3.3 yards.

Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) looked spectacular against the Bucs (14 carries, 104 yards) and he's about to face the user-friendly Chiefs. He's dealing with an ankle issue, however, so there's no guarantee he'll be active. Gartrell Johnson(notes) will rank somewhere in the 40-50 range if Bradshaw can't go.

Those Ray Rice(notes) and Willis McGahee(notes) ranks could be too high. Please discuss. New England's defense, even in a weakened state, is generally very good at containing an opponent's strength. The Ravens aren't facing the Chiefs or Browns this week.

Unranked yet worth mentioning: LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) (ankle) has returned to practice, so we may need to make room for him in the ranks by Friday. The match-up is poor (at PIT), so even if he's practicing fully by the end of the week, he won't rank as a strong play. … Kevin Smith(notes) (shoulder) is already considered a game-time decision. For now, I'm ranking as if Maurice Morris(notes) and Aaron Brown will handle the workload.

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees(notes) will clearly rank as a strong starter every week, but I can't give him the top spot in Week 4, not with the Jets on the schedule. New York didn't allow either Houston or New England to score an offensive touchdown, so that D has already success against elite passing teams.

The astonishing finish to the Vikings-Niners game masked an otherwise complicated game from Brett Favre(notes). He completed just 52 percent of his throws and he tried hard to throw more than just the one pick. We'll all be forced to attend the Favre Theater of Pain on Monday night, but you don't have to over-invest.

The Jaguars are allowing an NFL-worst 281.7 passing yards per game, and an insane 77.1 completion percentage (thanks largely to Kurt Warner(notes)). If there's ever a week to start Kerry Collins(notes)–well, then it's Week 16, 2002. But if there's another week, it's the one ahead of us.

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Receivers

Before you roll Braylon Edwards(notes) out there again, consider these facts: 1) In their last nine games, the Browns have scored one offensive touchdown, and 2) the Bengals are destroying No. 1 receivers (Royal in Week 1, Jennings in Week 2, Holmes in Week 3).

Marques Colston(notes) figures to see plenty of Darrelle Revis(notes) on Sunday, making him an awfully tricky play. Revis wrecked Andre Johnson(notes) in the opener, then ruined Randy Moss(notes) in Week 2.

Beware the vengeful drop with Eddie Royal(notes). He had nine targets just two weeks ago; he's not going to disappear. I'm probably more bullish than Evans in Week 4, and he's projecting a 13-point fantasy week.

Wes Welker(notes) (knee) was a limited participant in practice (again), but we've learned to wait until the last possible moment to make that call.

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