After five weeks, one thing that jumps out at me in fantasy football is that the '08 season is lacking a headliner.
Since the 2000 season, we've had at least one player step up to claim the lead fantasy juggernaut role for the season: Tom Brady in '07; LaDainian Tomlinson in '06; Shaun Alexander in '05; Daunte Culpepper and Peyton Manning in '04; Priest Holmes in '03 and '02; Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk in '01; Faulk again in '00. These players weren't just good in the seasons listed, they were phenomenal.
The '08 season, however, is playing out like the Springsteen lyrics, "One step up and two steps back …"
Jay Cutler had the makings of being "that guy," but he's had just two TD passes combined in the past two weeks, threw for just 227 yards on Sunday and lost two of his top receivers; After scoring a combined four touchdowns in Week 3-4, LaDainian Tomlinson failed to reach 100 rushing yards or the end zone for the third time on Sunday and re-aggravated his turf toe injury; Michael Turner found the end zone and topped 100 yards for the third time this season on Sunday, but all three of those efforts have come against teams allowing at least 5.0 yards per carry – he laid eggs when faced with the defenses of Tampa Bay and Carolina, two teams yielding less than 4.0 ypc; Marion Barber had some "I'd draft him first if my draft was today" buzz bestowed upon him after opening the season with five touchdowns in his first three games, but he's averaged just 64.5 yards from scrimmage and is scoreless in his past two games, getting upstaged by backup Felix Jones (96 rushing yards, TD) on Sunday.
Adrian Peterson was No. 1 on some cheat sheets heading into the season, but he'd have to be classified as good, not great, so far – in fact, he's sitting with just 22 rushing yards on 11 carries through two quarters against New Orleans on Monday night.
Perhaps Tony Romo, or Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning, or Brian Westbrook, or someone else settles in and becomes the reliable bedrock of the '08 season. But, as of right now, the in-season hierarchy is taking its time settling into a clear pecking order. If drafts were being held today, the first round could go in all different directions. Who knows, maybe Ronnie Brown is that guy …
Week 5: Take 10
A look at 10 significant developments/situations from Week 5
1. Brown owners have to be elated at this Wildcat formation being employed heavily of late in Miami. It involves quarterback Chad Pennington splitting out wide with the snap going directly to the running back, who can either take off running with the ball, hand off to a player coming around on a reverse, or throw to a receiver. So far, the formation has been used 16 times for 167 yards and five Brown touchdowns (according to NFL Network). Brown now has six touchdown runs and a TD pass in his past three games. In his past nine regular-season games dating back to before his knee injury in '07, Brown has averaged 133.3 yards from scrimmage and has accounted for 12 scores (11 rushing, 1 passing).
Adding to the elation of Brown owners is that he's starting to pull away from Ricky Williams in the backfield workload split. In the past two weeks, Brown has carried 41 times to 29 for Williams. And, on Sunday, the split was 24-13, in favor of Brown, who headed that Wildcat formation 12 times in the upset of the Chargers.
2. The Wildcat formation reared its head in San Francisco on Sunday as well as Miami. Against the 49ers, New England third-down back Kevin Faulk, flanked to QB Matt Cassel's right, took a direct snap from center (Cassel raised his arms in the air from the shotgun formation as if the ball was being hiked to him) and ran up the gut for a two-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Faulk had scored an earlier touchdown on a more traditional two-yard plunge, giving him two scores on the day.
For fantasy purposes, the Patriots backfield is messed up in a truly Bronconian way. Laurence Maroney was back on Sunday after missing Week 4 with a shoulder injury. However, he handled just 10 carries for 26 yards, none of his totes coming from inside the 20-yard line. Meanwhile, Sammy Morris carried 16 times for 63 yards and had two red zone carries. I'll continue to maintain that Morris is the most valuable Pats running back. But, even at that, he's not worth much more than bye-week filler. With Morris healthy, Maroney's almost worthless. In the six games the two have played together going back to last season, Maroney has averaged 57.5 yards from scrimmage and hasn't scored a touchdown. In those same contests, Morris has averaged 53 yards from scrimmage and has crossed the goal line four times.
3. Aaron Rodgers' shoulder sprain was a huge concern for his owners heading into Week 5, but those concerns were put to rest early in the second quarter when he hit receiver Donald Driver in stride over two defenders for a 44-yard scoring toss. Similar to his scoring strike to Greg Jennings in Week 4 after sustaining the shoulder injury, Rodgers showed ample arm strength on his throw to Driver. And, while his performance was sometimes not pretty in an upset loss to Atlanta on Sunday, he did wrap things up with fourth-quarter scoring strikes to Jennings and tight end Donald Lee to finish with 313 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
In most leagues, Rodgers now ranks first or second (to Jay Cutler) in scoring, and he's yet to have a true dud performance – his worst effort being a 165-yard, two touchdown, three interception effort at Tampa in Week 4.
4. I predicted Ryan Grant's first 100-yard rushing effort of '08 would come in Week 5 and … well … I was wrong. He finished with 83 yards on 18 carries against the Falcons, which was at least a solid 4.6 yard per carry effort. He also didn't have a fumble after losing the rock once in each of the previous two games. Grant still hasn't found the end zone but, healthy now, you have to like his chances of finding pay dirt next week against a Seattle defense that he scored a hat trick of TDs against (as well as 201 rushing yards) in last season's divisional playoff game. The Seahawks are reeling after allowing a combined 241 rushing yards to the Giants trio of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick ward and Ahmad Bradshaw on Sunday.
5. While Cincinnati finally started to make some strides in the passing game on Sunday at Dallas – Carson Palmer threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns to T.J. Houshmandzadeh – running back Chris Perry moved closer to losing his featured role. He finished with 13 carries for just 31 yards and, while he did have a nice touchdown run called back because of a holding penalty on Housh, he had a costly fumble late, his league-leading fifth of the season. Former bad boy Cedric Benson, signed earlier in the week, handled 10 times for 30 yards and head coach Marvin Lewis has already stated that his role is likely to expand going forward. No matter what happens next week, it's unlikely to prove fruitful for fantasy owners. In Week 6, the Bengals will face a Jets defense that has yet to allow a 70-yard rusher this season. Same deal for with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Bengals host the following week.
6. I have to admit, I'm feeling validated for my preseason affection for Roddy White. He's regularly sat between 40-55 on my Big Board since I first started rating for the '08 season. Despite playing for the third-most run heavy team in the league, White has yet to log fewer than 54 yards in any of his five games. And, in the past three weeks (341 yards, 2 TDs), only Greg Jennings has been better in fantasy at the receiver position. One of my arguments for White was that he's matchup indifferent, meaning that the quality of the opposing cornerback has less affect on him than most others. He emphasized this attribute once again on Sunday, doing much of his damage (8 catches, 132 yards, TD) against Charles Woodson.
7. I've never went into a draft specifically seeking out Clinton Portis, but I might next year. His effort has been outstanding this season, and Washington really looks like it is gelling on the offensive line. Portis has been faced with tough divisional road games in the past two weeks (Dallas and Philadelphia) and he's emerged with an average of 133 rushing yards and 5.3 ypc in those contests. In one of the most physical divisions in the league, Portis has scored 40 touchdowns in 60 games as a Redskin and perennially churns out 300-plus carries and 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage. After his most recent success against Dallas and Philadelphia, Portis' fantasy owners have to be licking their chops at the thought of his next three matchups (StL, Cle, at Det). The Lions and Rams both land among the four most generous fantasy run defenses, while the Browns land among the 15 most generous in that department.
8. Carolina's DeAngelo Williams stole rookie Jonathan Stewart's thunder by scoring three times and rushing for 123 yards against Kansas City on Sunday. While Williams is good for the occasional breakout performance, Stewart owners shouldn't fret. Stewart took a backseat in this one because Williams was able to take it to the house twice from 25-plus yards and once from 10 yards out against a god-awful Chiefs defense, thus eliminating point-blank goal line work from the equation. Panthers QB Jake Delhomme found receiver Muhsin Muhammad for 47 yards to account for the team's other touchdown drive. Stewart did handle twice in the red zone, but fumbled away one of those attempts. Still, if you own Stewart, you have to feel good about a career-high 19 carries.
9. Good for you if you landed LeRon McClain. If ever there was ever a running back that fit the dirt-in-the-facemask mentality of the Baltimore Ravens, it's McClain. The 2007 fourth-round pick from Alabama has four touchdowns in the past three weeks and has at least 50 (bruising) rushing yards in each of his four games, a fact made more impressive considering he's faced Pittsburgh and Tennessee in two of those outings. Willis McGahee looks like he's getting healthier, and he ran for 64 yards on 22 carries against the Titans on Sunday. But don't think for a second that McClain is going to be disappear from the backfield workload mix. He's been too impressive to ignore. He should continue to see a steady diet of 12-15 carries a week, including the all important goal line work.
10. So much for Rudi Johnson taking over in the Detroit backfield. Rookie Kevin Smith remained the starter against Chicago, although the two Lions backs combined for just 13 carries and 54 rushing yards(Smith 8 for 31; RJ 5 for 23). Afterwards, Johnson voiced his displeasure about his (lack of) involvement in the offense. And Smith scoffed at reporters for taking him at his word last week that he'd been benched. Meanwhile, receiver Roy Williams was visibily frustrated on the field on Sunday with the offense (specifically the play of the quarterback). And head coach Rod Marinelli was very testy in his press conference after the game. This team appears headed for a major shake up, with quarterback Jon Kitna likely to be the first casualty. Don't be surprised if rookie Drew Stanton is behind center sometime in the next few weeks.
WEEK 6 SHORT LIST
Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 6
Kyle Orton, Chi (57% owned in Plus leagues)
Orton has emerged as fantasy's top quarterback over the past three weeks, throwing for seven touchdowns and an average of 267 passing yards. Still available in just shy of half of Yahoo! Plus leagues, Orton faces two beatable secondaries (Atlanta and Minnesota) before his Week 8 bye.
Matt Cassel, NE (54% owned)
Cassel, who completed 22 off 33 passes for 259 yards a touchdown and two interceptions at San Francisco on Sunday, is back on the West Coast in Week 6. He'll face a San Diego defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, thus far. The Chargers have given up 10 TD passes in their five games.
Gus Frerotte, Min (16% owned)
Frerotte, who has averaged 235 passing yards in his first two starts, faces a Detroit defense in Week 6 that failed to coax an interception from four quarterbacks who have otherwise combined for 17 INTs (Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, J.T. O'Sullivan, Kyle Orton). The Lions allow the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, making Frerotte a reasonable bye-week filler option for this coming Sunday.
Justin Fargas, Oak (52% owned)
Out the past two games with a groin injury, Fargas will make his return in Week 6. It remains to be seen how big a role he'll assume in Week 6, but there's a good chance, with Darren McFadden still dealing with a bothersome turf toe, that Fargas could resume starting duties. At any rate, he should be good for 15-plus touches at a New Orleans defense that was allowing 5.2 yards per carry heading into its Week 5 date with Minnesota on Monday night.
Sammy Morris, NE (54% owned)
Fantasy owners are still slow to accept that Morris, not Maroney, is the lead back for the Patriots – Maroney is owned in 35 percent more Plus leagues than Morris. Morris is averaging more carries, more receptions, more yards and more touchdowns than Maroney, and out-carried Maroney 16 to 10 in Week 5. In Week 6, Morris will face a San Diego defense that is allowing 4.6 yards per carry to running backs.
Tim Hightower, Ari (60% owned)
Hightower raised his season touchdown total to five after finding the end zone twice on Sunday. Despite averaging less than 10 touches per game, the rookie has managed to find pay dirt in four of five games. He'll face a tough Dallas defense in Week 6 but, having already faced several staunch run defenses, the level of competition hasn't seemed to affect Hightower's ability to find painted grass.
With Eddie Royal expected to sit out the next 1-2 games with an ankle injury, Stokley makes for a solid plug-n-play replacement. The veteran slot man has a combined 13 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown over the past two games. Jackson, who has been out since Week 1 with a calf injury, has been practicing with the team and could fill Royal's vacated starting role. If so, he'd also be a viable fantasy No. 3 next week at Jacksonville.
Greg Camarillo, Mia (6% owned)
I used Camarillo as my Hail Mary pick on the Fantasy Football Live show on Sunday, and the former Stanford Cardinal answered my pray with six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. It's not really saying much to call him Chad Pennington's go-to wideout but, nonetheless, that's what he's developing into – he has averaged seven targets a week. In Week 6, Miami will face a Houston defense that has allowed at least 70-plus yards to a wide receiver in each of its four games.
Buster Davis, SDG (0% owned)
Chris Chambers suffered an ankle injury in Week 5, making him a question mark to play next week. If he can't go, Davis, a former first rounder from LSU, would get the starting call. In a reserve roll, Davis has averaged 14.8 yards per catch on four receptions. The Week 6 matchup with New England doesn't instill much confidence, but any starting receiver playing alongside quarterback Philip Rivers definitely warrants attention.
Devin Hester, Chi (37% owned)
The return man extraordinaire has flashed some impressive skills as a receiver the past two weeks, accounting for a combined eight catches, 93 yards and two touchdowns. He remains a major hit-or-miss type, but his speed and make-miss abilities will be intriguing in Week 6 on the indoor fast track at Atlanta.
Kevin Curtis, Phi (52% owned)
Yet to play a regular season game in '08 because of hernia surgery, Curtis has a good chance to debut in Week 6 at San Francisco. Curtis was an 1,110-yard producer in this offense a year ago and should be owned in all formats when healthy. Philadelphia's next three opponents (the 49ers, Atlanta and Seattle) all rank among the seven most generous in fantasy to wide receivers. In other words, if Curtis can return to the lineup soon, he's got a good opportunity to make an immediate impact.
Greg Olsen, Chi (50% owned)
After scoring his first touchdown of '08 in Week 4, Olsen followed that effort up with a three-catch, 87-yard performance at Detroit on Sunday. Owners of Week 6 bye casualties Tony Gonzalez and Heath Miller should look to the emerging Olsen, if he's available, as he'll face an Atlanta defense that allows the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Zach Miller, Oak (27% owned)
Miller gathered some nice buzz in the preseason, but it wasn't until Week 4 (5 for 95, TD) that he finally made a fantasy impact in '08. It was a good way for the former second-round pick to head into his bye week. With Oakland showing signs of life in the passing game, there's reason to be optimistic that Miller can build on his recent momentum. His Week 6 date with New Orleans qualifies as an enticing matchup.
Trent Edwards, Buf (head)
The bye week couldn't come at a better time for a Buffalo team that saw its starting quarterback knocked out of action on Sunday by a ferocious hit from Arizona safety Adrian Wilson. Edwards suffered a concussion on the play and it's not yet known the amount of time he's likely to miss but, as mentioned, he's got a couple weeks in front of him before the Bills play again.
Matt Hasselbeck, Sea (knee)
Hasselbeck had to leave Sunday's drubbing at the hands of the Giants with a knee injury. An MRI on Monday didn't show any serious damage and the expectation is that he'll be able to play against Green Bay in week 6.
Brian Griese, TB (elbow)
Griese took a shot from a helmet to his elbow in the third quarter on Sunday and was replaced by former starter Jeff Garcia. Reading between the lines from Jon Gruden's comments in a press conference on Monday, it seems like Garcia is likely to get the call in Week 6 even if Griese is available to play.
Brian Westbrook, Phi (ribs)
Westbrook, who has been playing on a sprained ankle, broke a couple ribs on Sunday against Washington. It sounds like Westbrook could play in Week 6 if he can deal with the pain. But, with a Week 7 bye on the horizon, I'd bet the team will sit him this week so that he can return in Week 8 as healthy as possible for the stretch run.
Chris Chambers, SDG (ankle)
Chambers suffered an ankle injury against Miami that knocked him out for much of the second half. Whether he suffered a dreaded high-ankle sprain is yet to be revealed.
Eddie Royal, Den (ankle)
Royal sprained his ankle on a punt return in the second half against Tampa Bay on Sunday. He's expected to sit in Week 6, and there's some speculation that he could miss the following week's game, as well, but Royal offered some solace by revealing that he does not have a high-ankle sprain.
Tony Scheffler, Den (groin)
Scheffler suffered a groin injury on Sunday that landed him on crutches after the game. He's almost certain to sit out until after the Week 8 bye, but more will be known as the week progresses. Backup TE Nate Jackson would likely fill Scheffler's role as the team's receiving tight end assuming Scheffler is out.