Big Rotowski: Week 3 Ranks

Christopher Harris
Yahoo! Sports

Note: As of Friday, updated Week 3 rankings can be found HERE

Defensive injuries were the bane of Week 2. Jevon Kearse, Erasmus James and David Pollack are all out for the season, and deal crucial blows to the Eagles, Vikings and Bengals, respectively. Meanwhile, Dwight Freeney, Gary Baxter, John Abraham, Alex Lewis, Eric Green, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Willie McGinest, Lito Sheppard and Roderick Hood are all either questionable or out for multiple weeks with potentially serious injuries.

What do we make of all this? Will the Eagles, who are missing their leading pass rusher and two of their three top corners, suddenly be more vulnerable to the surging 49ers offense? Will the Vikings' combination of excellent corners and excellent defensive ends be upset by James's departure, and help the Bears to another offensive explosion? Will the Steelers find rushing in the middle of the field easier this week against the Bengals? The truth is: it's hard to know. For as many guys who get hurt in a given NFL season, nearly as many reserves step up and play big-time. Trent Cole and Jerome McDougle will be asked to cover for the Freak in Philly, and the Eagles are relatively deep in pass-rushers. But in the secondary, things seem dire. In Minnesota, James was quietly becoming one of the league's toughest ends to block, and neither Darrion Scott (third-year) nor Ray Edwards (rookie) is really a known quantity. One or both could shine with more playing time. My point is: despite how scary it sounds that these important players are gone, we shouldn't overreact and, for example, start every single 49er we can find. Instead, let's resolve to keep an eye on these situations (can the Eagles generate a pass rush? Can the Browns defend any passes? Can the Vikes' awesome corners cover for a diminished Minnesota sack attack?), and reserve judgment for a week or two.

Now, onto the Week 3 rankings. Remember: Dallas, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego are off this week. As always, you can check back Friday for updates in my weekly rankings, as well as ratings from the other Yahoo! Sports Fantasy experts.

Quarterbacks

Notes: As much as I've pimped the Jacksonville defense, recent history shows that Indianapolis is likely to score at least, say, 24 points or so (especially on the fast track at home). I'm assuming that Manning will be a large part of that, and he's clearly been the most reliable option at QB so far in '06, so I'm sticking with him at the top spot … As much as I like Ike Taylor in the Pittsburgh secondary, the Steelers D looked beatable by the pass on Monday night, and the stats bear this out: through two weeks, Pittsburgh has allowed the fifth-most passing yards in the league (and this against Miami and Jacksonville, not widely considered the big-gun offenses of the NFL). That, along with his obvious good health, explains why I've got Palmer all the way up at the second spot … Considering he's still healthy, Warner would appear to have a sweet matchup against the Rams, but I'd rather have his counterpart, Bulger, against the Cardinals. It remains to be seen whether the real Arizona defense is the one that contained Hasselbeck last weekend, or got torched by Alex Smith in Week 1. Either way, there'll be a lot of footballs in the air … I've finally soured on Brady just a smidge. He's not doing anything wrong; he just doesn't have receivers to catch balls consistently. Doug Gabriel and Chad Jackson each had very bad drops in the end zone against the Jets last week … Big gainers of the week: Kitna and Grossman, but for different reasons. Kitna simply gets a respite because of a much easier opponent (Packers in place of Bears); Grossman still leads the NFL (by a wide margin) in yards-per-attempt, which is a measure of how much a team is throwing downfield. Ron Turner's playbook is wide open, and Grossman is making all the throws. He gets a much better test against Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot this week, though … Vick gets some love from me this week; I like the "national" stage (if ESPN's Monday night telecasts can truly be said to be "national"), and I'm highly suspicious of a Saints defense that's made itself look decent against the Browns and Packers … McNair has a really nice matchup against those same Browns this week, and he'd better make something of it, because my confidence in him is flagging. Lost in the Ravens' 2-0 start is that his Airness is at a paltry 5.4 yards-per-attempt, which puts him off the first page among NFL leaders. Simply put, he never throws deep … Brunell also would seem to have a sweet matchup against the Texans, but my heavens he's been dreadful. I've been saying it all summer, and I'm not stopping now: the Redskins would immediately be better with Jason Campbell at the helm.

Running Backs

Notes: Only one of the Big Three is active this weekend, but lest you think I'm giving Alexander the top spot simply by default, I'll tell you how close I was to bumping him. I like the Giants' rush defense. I like the "revenge" factor of New York returning to Seattle, the site of a truly ridiculous loss last season. I don't like Seattle's offensive line, which lost Pork Chop Womack for six weeks or so. And I don't like that Alexander sits 19th in the league in rushing, and boasts a yards-per-carry average lower than all 18 guys above him on that list. Other than Ronnie Brown, though, there's really no one I feel good about enough to supplant Mr. Madden Curse. So for one more week, at least, Alexander sits on top … The Titans rush defense is abysmal, which means Brown should have a big day. The problem seems to be, however, that Daunte Culpepper kind of, um, stinks just now, and Tennessee would be crazy not to load up against the run. Regardless, Brown should be a very nice play … The Rams have allowed 5.0 yards per carry. James plays against the Rams. Yes, his o-line is weak. But this is one of those weeks you'll be glad you own him … Westbrook was low on my list last week strictly because of his wounded knee; now that he's proven he's healthy, I've got him back up where I had him in all my preseason rankings … Is Portis going to play? He says so, but of course, he said so last weekend, too. However, this game is an absolute must if Washington is going to stay in the NFC East race (though you could've said that about last week's tilt, too), so I think Portis plays. Check back Friday, though … Jamal Lewis is still one of the most fragile starters in the league, but until his hip prevents him from playing, you have to ride him. He has a very, very, very nice matchup in Cleveland this week … Boy, the Vikes sure are running Chester Taylor into the ground, huh? He leads the league in rushing attempts, with no signs of slowing down (Brad Childress told reporters this week that if anything, he's going to give it to Taylor more). That's good news for right now, though the Bears defense certainly shored up whatever ailed them against Ahman Green in Week 1 by shutting down Kevin Jones in Week 2. Still, with the unbelievably frightening left side of that Minnesota offensive line, I'm betting Taylor can get some work done at home this week. What remains to be seen is if he can take a season's worth of pounding at this rate … Fred Taylor takes a jump this week because I'm highly suspicious of the Colts run defense. In terms of total yards, it's sixth-worst in the league (147 per game), and in terms of yards-per-attempt, it's the absolute worst: 5.8 yards per carry … As expected, Barlow is starting to earn the lion's share of touches, and rumor has it that Derrick Blaylock may not even play in Buffalo this week (Cedric Houston would back up Barlow). If the ex-Niner is ever going to make hay … I have DeAngelo Williams and Foster ranked side-by-side going into a must-win game in Tampa this weekend. The Bucs defense has allowed the most rushing yards of any team in the NFL, though surely they're not this bad. Last weekend was an exact split between Williams and Foster (13 carries apiece), and there's no reason to expect anything different yet.

Wide Receivers

Notes: Harrison has the second-most targets (first is Holt) and second-most receptions (first is, believe it or not, Toomer) in the NFL through two weeks, so why did I drop him from the top spot? Rashean Mathis. I think Wayne is open at least as much as Harrison this weekend, as Mathis attempts to atone for his worst game as a pro last year in Jacksonville. Harrison is still worth using, of course … Why is Chambers going up when Culpepper is so down? Well, he's still tied for fourth in targets (despite having only nine catches), so they're still looking for him a lot. And Tennessee's pass defense is fourth-worst in the NFL … Stallworth has made a believer out of me, at least when it comes to torching sub-par corners. He made Sam Madison look silly several times last weekend, and I don't see anything in the Niners secondary to make me believe Donovan McNabb won't look Stallworth's way early and often … Roy Williams talked too much last weekend, and hopefully learned his lesson. He shouldn't have a hard time getting open against a Green Bay secondary that was befuddled by Drew Brees to the tune of 353 yards in Week 2 … Our biggest leaper of the week is Branch, who will almost certainly start alongside Darrell Jackson this weekend. Oh, those Giants corners make a receiver drool, don't they? … Our next-biggest leaper is Bryant. I still don't like his personality (all the vamping and kvetching over what he considered to be mis-thrown Alex Smith passes does not win him friends in the locker room), but he made a spectacular long catch against the Rams last weekend, and all told had four catches for 131 yards. Per my own advice, I'm trying not to overreact to the Philly secondary problems. But I still think Bryant performs well this week … Houshmandzadeh should return for Cincy's big trip to Pittsburgh. I like the matchup (Housh against Deshea Townsend), but you have to be a little leery about his health … Coles has been awesome, so why am I dropping him? The Buffalo pass defense scares me. Nate Clements has been the best corner I've seen so far this year, and Terrence McGee is definitely improving … Reggie Williams debuts at No. 31. If only he would shut up … The only New England wideout I've got on this list is Brown, which means I skipped over Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson and Reche Caldwell. I certainly don't expect the 97-year-old Brown to be New England's leading receiver at the end of the year. But until someone else gets their cranium dislodged from his posterior, Brown, the tight ends and Kevin Faulk will continue to be the guys Tom Brady relies on … Amani Toomer fans, I apologize. I simply don't believe this 11-year vet has suddenly become Jerry Rice.

Tight Ends

Rank

Name

Opponent

Week 2 Rating

1

Chris Cooley

@ HOU

5

2

Heath Miller

CIN

6

3

Alge Crumpler

@ NO

9

4

Jeremy Shockey

@ SEA

3

5

Benjamin Watson

DEN

4

6

L.J. Smith

@ SF

10

7

Todd Heap

@ CLE

11

8

Desmond Clark

@ MIN

16

9

Marques Colston

ATL

(WR)

10

Randy McMichael

TEN

15

11

Kellen Winslow

BAL

7

12

Vernon Davis

PHI

12

13

Jermaine Wiggins

CHI

13

14

Ben Troupe

@ MIA

14

15

Dallas Clark

JAC

20

16

David Martin

@ DET

NR

17

Bo Scaife

@ MIA

NR

18

Anthony Becht

CAR

18

19

Stephen Alexander

@ NE

23

20

George Wrighster

@ IND

NR

21

Alex Smith

CAR

24

22

Daniel Graham

DEN

22

23

Bubba Franks

@ DET

28

24

Owen Daniels

WAS

NR

25

Chris Baker

@ BUF

19

26

Reggie Kelly

@ PIT

NR

27

Leonard Pope

STL

27

28

Joe Klopfenstein

@ ARI

26

29

Ben Utecht

JAC

29

30

Adam Bergen

STL

NR

Notes: The fact that Cooley tops my tight end list this week is either the stupidest or most genius thing ever. No doubt, I'll get tons of hate mail from his frustrated owners, but I think he scores a TD this weekend. Washington finds itself in a must-win situation, and Mark Brunell has struggled to throw the ball downfield, to say the least. Houston has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to tight ends so far this season, and the Colts had three different tight ends running wild last weekend … Shockey is bumped down solely because of his ankle. I didn't like the way he was hobbling (then again, isn't he always hobbling?) against the Eagles last week, and Eli Manning couldn't seem to find his favorite target. Obviously, you keep starting him. I've just lowered my expectations a bit … L.J. Smith leads tight ends in targets for the young season (18), and also leads in receptions (13) and receiving yards (167). The breakout year is upon us … I succumbed to peer pressure, and put Colston in both receiver and tight end rankings. This just in: he's more valuable as a tight end … Troupe has been a disappointment to me. With Erron Kinney out, I thought he'd be a pass-catching machine, but the truth is, third-stringer Scaife has been better than Troupe. Tennessee's offense is just a mess … Martin is having a better year so far than Franks, and I see no reason not to reflect this in the rankings. Brett Favre is actually looking for Martin more frequently than Franks, but really, they're splitting touches, rendering both nearly meaningless for fantasy purposes.

Kickers

Notes: Vinatieri was my No. 1 rated kicker last week, and turned in a huge game, with three field goals and four extra points. But he tweaked his groin late in the game, and ceded the final extra point kick to punter Hunter Smith. He has to be downgraded at least a little, since you never know if a mid-game kick will put him on the bench. If it's reported that he's questionable, I'll bump him down further later in the week … Koenen drops precipitously after his disastrous zero-for-four field-goal-kicking performance last week. In late news out of Atlanta (and I swear I'm not making this up), the Falcons have signed 46-year-old Morten Andersen to split kicking duties with Koenen; Mort will kick the shorties, and Koenen will kick the long ones (and continue to punt). So much for fantasy value.

Defenses

Notes: Baltimore has a much sweeter matchup than Chicago this week, but I didn't have the guts to drop the Bears out of the top spot. I do expect that Minnesota's offense will be able to score a few points, especially at home, but the Bears simply have a way of making big plays on defense. You'd do fine to start either one this week … How in the world can Carolina go up four spots after going 0-2 and turning every RB they see into a fantasy star? For me, it's all about Chris Simms. He's a turnover machine. And I'm giving the supposedly great Panthers D one more chance. If you drafted them high, I think you have to try and take advantage of the favorable matchup. If they're bad again in Week 3, I promise they'll be banished from the top 10 … New England, Washington and Buffalo all get huge bumps. In the case of the Patriots, it's because they're eminently familiar with Denver, and this is a huge, prime-time revenge game. For the Redskins, they get a banged-up Houston squad who'll be missing at least their starting left tackle. As for the Bills, well, I simply had them too low. The corners are playing wonderfully, and London Fletcher is everywhere. Meanwhile, DE Aaron Schobel hasn't really done anything yet this year. I think he'll have a coming-out party at home this week … It's not like I expect the Colts/Jags game to be a 41-40 barn-burner, but I do think both offenses are going to make plays. Regular readers know it pains me to put the Jags this low, but it's the Colts, and they're at home. As for Indy's D? I have a lot less compunction sending them south.

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