Shuffle Up and Pass: Stafford’s finger vs. Roethlisberger’s thumb

You should know the rules by now: the name of the Shuffle Up game is value from today-forward. These are not weekly ranks; they are rest-of-season ranks. In the odd weeks, we audit the passing game (QB, WR, TE). For the even weeks, we tackle the other positions (RB, PK, DEF). Assume a standard scoring system — these are not PPR ranks.

Your respectful disagreement is always welcome, but you have to defend your position. Forget the 3-5 word rants, you're better than that. Further the conversation, gamer. And remember the golden rule: a fantasy commodity doesn't gain 20 percent of bonus value merely because you own him.

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1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Drew Brees
3. Tom Brady
4. Cam Newton
5. Eli Manning
6. Tony Romo
7. Ben Roethlisberger
8. Matthew Stafford

Stafford has posted below-average QB ratings in three of his last four outings, culminating in last week's horror show at Chicago (four picks, a skimpy 5.2 YPA). The sheer volume of the day saved Stafford in some formats, but the tape wasn't pretty and the picks were taxing in standard leagues. Stafford was a hot topic on the Shutdown Corner Week 11 Matchup Podcast; Greg Cosell of NFL Films spoke of Stafford's mechanical struggles and suffering accuracy. And there's also a broken index finger to worry about now, though Stafford says it's not a big deal. If you want to hear the Cosell wisdom for yourself, forward to the 15-minute mark (though you really should play the entire thing; Cosell and Doug Farrar are terrific) and you'll hear him breaking down the Detroit quarterback.

Ultimately I can't rank Stafford any lower for a few basic reasons: we know the Lions can't run the ball at all (and hardly want to try), and the presence of Calvin Johnson limits the Stafford downside.

It pains me not to go higher on Roethlisberger, as I love where the Steelers offense is right now. Pittsburgh has a crazy-deep receiving core (a depth chart most teams can't match, Detroit one of them), and the coaching staff seems content to throw it all over the yard against most teams. But now Roethlisberger has a busted right thumb, an injury he says he'll play through. You know the Big Ben act by now, he's Godzilla and he shakes off rushers and injuries as no big deal. But we have to be realistic about this sort of physical problem; it's going to affect his accuracy sooner or later.

9. Philip Rivers
10. Carson Palmer
11. Matt Ryan
12. Tim Tebow
13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
14. Jay Cutler
15. Joe Flacco
16. Michael Vick
17. Andy Dalton
18. Mark Sanchez
19. Josh Freeman
20. Matt Leinart
21. Matt Hasselbeck
22. Sam Bradford
23. Vince Young
24. John Skelton

I'm not going to obsess too much about Leinart's previous NFL experience. He wasn't a mature or efficient quarterback in 2006-2007 with the Cardinals, we know that. Has he grown up since then? Has he taken advantage of the opportunity to learn the game at a deliberate pace, without any public pressure? Can he be effective in an offense that's going to run first and ask questions later? Has he done anything to significantly improve his conditioning or arm strength?

These are all rhetorical questions for the moment, issues we can't resolve until Leinart starts a few games. Obviously I haven't given him a terribly optimistic ranking, but it's important to avoid any rigid assumptions here. Context and system are gigantic in the NFL, and players are capable of growing and improving over time, even if we're not privy to how that's happening. Try to keep an open mind on this one.

25. Alex Smith
26. Christian Ponder
27. Rex Grossman
28. Matt Moore
29. Tarvaris Jackson
30. Tyler Palko
31. Colt McCoy
32. Curtis Painter
33. Blaine Gabbert
34. Matt Flynn
35. Shaun Hill
36. Jon Kitna
37. Kevin Kolb
38. Mike Kafka
39. Dan Orlovsky
40. Tyler Thigpen

Wide Receiver
1. Calvin Johnson
2. Greg Jennings
3. Steve Smith
4. Larry Fitzgerald
5. Mike Wallace
6. Hakeem Nicks
7. Wes Welker
8. A.J. Green
9. Brandon Lloyd
10. Marques Colston
11. Jordy Nelson
12. Dez Bryant
13. Brandon Marshall
14. Vincent Jackson
15. Andre Johnson
16. Roddy White
17. Mario Manningham
18. Antonio Brown
19. Percy Harvin
20. Jeremy Maclin

Welker has one score in his last five games and he doesn't have a dominant way to get into the end zone — he's not ideal for the red zone, where space disappears and size becomes more important, and he's not the type of player that runs by people and beats you deep. The catches and yards are safe, but beware of the scoring downside here. He's still a Top 10 guy, of course, and it's not like I'm trashing Welker. I grew up in New England, for crying out loud. But try to see the player in an open-minded light. … Nelson is a fascinating and tricky player. According to Pro Football Focus, he hasn't taken more than 46 snaps in a single game this season. The Packers have terrific receiving depth and they don't expose Nelson any more than they want to. But at some point you simply have to accept Nelson's production and not worry too much about his time on the field. He's make it to the end zone in six of nine starts, and the only full washout on his resume came in Week 5 at Atlanta (three catches, 17 yards). And there's something reassuring about being in Green Bay, tied to the best quarterback season any of us have ever seen.

21. Dwayne Bowe
22. Anquan Boldin
23. Stevie Johnson
24. DeSean Jackson
25. Victor Cruz
26. Julio Jones
27. Denarius Moore
28. Santonio Holmes
29. Eric Decker
30. Michael Crabtree
31. Laurent Robinson
32. Earl Bennett
33. Plaxico Burress
34. Mike Williams
35. Deion Branch
36. Sidney Rice
37. Damian Williams
38. Torrey Smith
39. Vincent Brown
40. Nate Washington

Maybe Todd Haley and Tyler Palko can keep Bowe in the superstar tier, but I'd like to see some proof of that first. … Decker is a spotty Week 11 play with Darrelle Revis coming to town, but you can use Decker with a clear conscience in other games, recognizing that he's the one downfield option that Tim Tebow has a rapport with. … The Ravens take deep shots to Smith every week. Unfortunately, Joe Flacco is the man throwing them. Sometimes they hit, often times they're off the mark. But Smith, unpolished rookie that he is, still gets behind the opposing secondary on a weekly basis. … Washington had a brief moment of buzz after his two-score game against the Colts, but he's managed just six catches for 68 yards in two starts since. Matt Hasselbeck is not a star-maker at quarterback, and Washington doesn't have skills that demand the ball. If he's open, sure, they'll find him. But the scheme of the offense is never going to go out of its way to feature Washington on a weekly basis. He's just a guy.

41. James Jones
42. Pierre Garcon
43. David Nelson
44. Lance Moore
45. Austin Pettis
46. Greg Little
47. Darrius Heyward-Bey
48. Robert Meachem
49. Michael Jenkins
50. Joshua Cribbs
51. Miles Austin

To be fair, ranking Austin (or any player out several weeks with no clear return schedule) is a fool's errand. Austin is unlikely to go this week and then it's Thanksgiving, so the quick turnaround works against him. Will he be healthy enough to be trusted right away? What if Robinson continues to produce, how would another mouth to feed affect Austin? What if the hamstring gets aggravated, something that's very common in this sort of instance?

I'm known as someone who's generally pessimistic with players returning from injury. Perhaps pessimistic is the wrong way to frame it, but I'll say this — I want to make sure I'm grounded in what I expect. I don't want to have assumptions that name players will jump immediately back to stardom after missing a handful of games. And remember how important reps are to receivers; timing and comfort with your quarterback is critical.

52. Jerricho Cotchery
53. Harry Douglas
54. Doug Baldwin
55. Jason Hill
56. Nate Burleson
57. Donald Jones
58. Jabar Gaffney
59. Jason Avant
60. Reggie Wayne
61. Jacoby Jones
62. Early Doucet
63. Malcom Floyd
64. Devery Henderson
65. Jonathan Baldwin
66. Steve Breaston
67. Emmanuel Sanders
68. Santana Moss
69. Devin Hester
70. Braylon Edwards
71. Brandon Gibson
72. Legedu Naanee
73. Jacoby Ford
74. Titus Young
75. Mark Clayton
76. Steve Smith
77. Preston Parker
78. Jerome Simpson
79. Davone Bess
80. Arrelious Benn
81. Danario Alexander
82. Johnny Knox
83. Kevin Walter
84. Mike Thomas
85. Dezmon Briscoe
86. Roy Williams
87. Eddie Royal
88. Mike Williams
89. Chad Ochocinco
90. Hines Ward
91. Jeremy Kerley
92. Donald Driver
93. Mohamed Massaquoi
94. Demaryius Thomas
95. Lee Evans

Tight End
1. Jimmy Graham
2. Rob Gronkowski
3. Jason Witten
4. Antonio Gates
5. Tony Gonzalez
6. Jermichael Finley
7. Aaron Hernandez
8. Fred Davis

I didn't put too much emphasis on the Week 11 byes, so Graham keeps his yellow jersey. If you're in a position where you can't afford a sitdown and you want to move Graham for Gronkowski, I could sign off on that. To be honest, differentiating between the No. 1 and No. 2 options at a position seldom has a lot of utility. You probably don't have to pick one or the other as a weekly starter (if you do, you should have traded one a while ago). I suppose it has value as a discussion point or a talk about ranking methodology, but at the end of the day we can all agree that Graham and Gronkowski are both matchup freaks and fantasy studs who should continue to post healthy numbers for us. No need for a dissertation here (and I've probably said too much, as is).

9. Owen Daniels
10. Greg Olsen
11. Vernon Davis
12. Brandon Pettigrew
13. Brent Celek
14. Jake Ballard
15. Kellen Winslow
16. Jermaine Gresham
17. Dustin Keller
18. Ed Dickson
19. Heath Miller
20. Jacob Tamme
21. Benjamin Watson
22. Jared Cook
23. Visanthe Shiancoe
24. Marcedes Lewis
25. Anthony Fasano
26. Scott Chandler
27. Zach Miller
28. Evan Moore
29. Jeremy Shockey
30. Tony Scheffler
31. Joel Dreessen
32. Dennis Pitta
33. Kyle Rudolph

Tamme, why not? Someone has to catch the ball for the Colts, and Dallas Clark won't be back anytime soon. Tamme secured six passes for 75 yards last week; meanwhile, the Pierre Garcon story has come and gone, and Reggie Wayne hasn't scored since Week 1's spike in garbage time. … At the beginning of the year I thought Colt McCoy might make something happen with his tight ends; shorter QBs often lock in on the bigger targerts. But now that we're ten weeks into the dance, let's just throw up our hands and admit that nothing in Cleveland is worth our time in a standard pool. Just look elsewhere. Watching Cleveland tape feels like staring into the sun.


Images courtesy of US Presswire

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