Rashard Mendenhall: Brian Garfinkel/Icon SMI
Not all rookie running backs are created equal in the NFL -- nor are their opportunities. While Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton, Kevin Smith, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart and Tim Hightower have already grabbed a share of the limelight in the first three weeks, Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (a first-round pick in April's draft) had no choice but to bide his time behind Willie Parker (263 rushing yards, 3 TDs) -- watching, waiting, learning and stewing about his three preseason fumbles (like that should ever matter).
But that's all in the past, at least temporarily, because Mendenhall has been called into emergency starter's duty, replacing Parker and his sprained knee for the Ravens game on Monday night. From a physical standpoint, Mendenhall (5-foot-10, 225; 4.47 in the 40) has size, speed, power, vision, quickness and a nose for the end zone -- all tangible traits of a great back. But is he ready to flourish right now -- at a time when most fantasy owners would have released him and his 39 total yards and zero TDs, if it weren't for Parker's injury?
Verdict: At first blush, Mendenhall doesn't seem like a good matchup against the Ravens, given the team's stinginess against the run and Ben Roethlisberger's five-TD night against Baltimore just a year ago. However, given his prowess between the 20s and in the red zone, he's a strong bet to score one or two TDs in Pittsburgh's impending blowout of 2-0 Baltimore (a club that's ripe for a comeuppance) -- even if he only tallies 70 total yards. In other words, Mendenhall could be the Brandon Jacobs of 2006 (572 total yards but 9 TDs) -- as long as he sees the field (and doesn't fumble).
No game on the Week 4 docket has more fantasy buzz than Cleveland @ Cincinnati -- and rightfully so, since owners and pundits are clamoring for a repeat of last year's 51-45 shootout. But my vote for Game of the Week goes to San Francisco @ New Orleans, featuring two early fantasy MVP candidates (Frank Gore, Reggie Bush), two QB locks for 3,500 passing yards (Drew Brees, J.T. O'Sullivan) and two suspect defenses.
If you own any marginal talents from the 49ers or Saints (Pierre Thomas, Robert Meachem, David Patten, Bryant Johnson, Isaac Bruce and yes, even Vernon Davis), give each one a long look. And if you own Gore or Bush -- two automatic starters from week to week -- you have my personal guarantee of 120 total yards and/or 2 TDs ... or I'll penalize myself in Week 5 by only watching Kansas City @ Carolina (including commercials), despite having the DirecTV package.
1. Cleveland @ Cincinnati
2. San Francisco @ New Orleans
3. Buffalo @ St. Louis
4. Washington @ Dallas
5. San Diego @ Oakland
Speaking of Week 5 ... in the wake of Plaxico Burress' suspension (breaking team rules) for next week's Seahawks-Giants game, the best WR options for fantasy owners then will be David Tyree, the other Steve Smith, Amani Toomer, Domenick Hixon for New York and Billy McMullen, Courtney Taylor and some random guy named Michael Bumpus for Seattle. Gheesh! ... perhaps this potential buzzkill should be my penance for Week 5, if Bush and Gore don't run wild at the Superdome.
2. Anquan Boldin vs. N.Y. Jets
3. David Patten vs. San Francisco
4. Braylon Edwards vs. Cincinnati
5. Chad Johnson vs. Cleveland
6. T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. Cleveland
7. Dwayne Bowe vs. Denver
8. Lee Evans vs. St. Louis
9. Santana Moss vs. Dallas
10. Terrell Owens vs. Washington
11. Santonio Holmes vs. Baltimore
Last week, I offered specific predictions for Week 3 -- some pure gold and others that flopped worse than Delta House, the drab sitcom-remake of Animal House, featuring Michelle Pfeiffer in her television debut (source: IMDB). Here's the breakdown:
Five Unsung WR/RB/TEs Who'll Score 1 TD:
1. WR Hank Baskett (8 catches, 85 yards -- incorrect)
2. RB Jerious Norwood (105 total yards -- incorrect)
3. RB Andre Hall (25 total yards, 0 TDs -- incorrect)
4. WR Mike Furrey (2 catches, 8 yards -- incorrect)
5. TE John Carlson (2 catches, 38 yards -- incorrect)
Five Players Who'll Disappoint in Week 3:
1. QB David Garrard (167 yards, 0 TDs -- correct!)
2. WR Javon Walker (2 catches, 18 yards -- correct)
3. RB Willie Parker (20 rushing yards, 0 TDs -- correct!)
4. QB Brett Favre (271 yards, 3 TDs -- incorrect)
5. TE Jeremy Shockey (8 catches, 75 yards -- incorrect)
Derek Anderson: AP
Derek Anderson deserves every chance to keep his starting gig with the Browns -- no matter how loud the chants for Brady Quinn get at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Why is Anderson the better short-term and long-term option? Let me count thee ways:
Trevor in La-La Land asks: Is Reggie Brown worthless at this point? With all the other receivers stepping up and filling in admirably and Kevin Curtis back eventually, should I even keep this guy on my roster in a 12-team league?
Answer: Trevor, while it's true Reggie Brown (1,656 combined yards, 13 TDs in 2006-07) will not make-or-break your fantasy season, he does have some spot-start potential (Week 6 at San Fran; Week 8 vs. Atlanta). But after that, feel free to trade him (and his zero catches so far) for a bag of balls ... or just outright dump him.
Joe in Indianapolis wonders: I am being offered Matt Forte, Drew Brees and Anthony Gonzalez for Tony Romo and Marques Colston. My running backs are Maurice Jones-Drew and Reggie Bush, but I think Brees could take over for my QB points and Gonzalez could round out my WRs (Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson and Colston.) Should I take this trade?
Answer: Joe, I know 3-for-2 trades can look really juicy to owners with little depth. But unless you can guarantee me that Gonzo will start regularly for your fantasy team (highly unlikely) -- and that Dallas Clark won't poach his catches (even more unlikely) -- than I would stand pat on the deal ... or, at the very least, hold out for a better WR (or playmaker) than Gonzo.
Chris in Cincinnati asks: I have been offered Randy Moss and Thomas Jones for Steven Jackson and Jerricho Cotchery. Is this a trade worth making?
Answer: Chris, three weeks ago, I might've accepted this deal, no questions asked. But there are too many unknowns with Moss (163 yards, 1 TD), now that Matt Cassel is running the show in Foxboro -- even trumping S-Jax (292 total yards, 0 TDs) and the dysfunctional Rams. With the Pats in a bye week and the calendar reading September, you shouldn't feel any pressure to pull the trigger on a pass-catcher with only 20 targets through three games (according to Fanball.com). My boring advice: Let things play out a little longer.
David in Memphis wonders: Trent Edwards @ STL or Derek Anderson @ Cincy? Edwards should be able to produce against the Rams, but I don't want to miss out on another TD-fest like last year's Browns-Bengals.
Answer: If it were November or December, the blustery months for the Midwest, I'd probably advise the safe pick of Edwards -- playing against a soft defense (the Rams) in a warm, toasty dome. But it's still September, a time for sun, fun and points in southern Ohio -- especially with pass-happy teams desperate for a victory. Will the Bengals and Browns combine for 96 points and 11 passing TDs again? I doubt it. But I also say ... roll the dice and don't look back!
Fifteen years from now, NFL historians will revere the RB Class of '08 in the same way the QB Class of '83 has been deified. We're talking 10 potential franchise backs -- Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Kevin Smith, Matt Forte, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall and Jamaal Charles, to name a few. Here are some Week 4 projections for the '08 class, courtesy of Pigskin Addiction:
Chris Johnson, Titans: 100 total yards, 1 TD
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers: 80 total yards, 1 TD (subbing for Parker)
Steve Slaton, Texans: 80 total yards, 1 TD
Matt Forte, Bears: 100 total yards, 1 TD
Darren McFadden, Raiders: 70 total yards
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: 40 yards
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: 60 yards, 1 TD
Tim Hightower, Cardinals: 30 yards
Felix Jones, Cowboys: 60 total yards, 1 TD
1. Marion Barber (he's due for an "off" week)
2. Philip Rivers (see Barber above)
3. Adrian Peterson (not a big fan of Tennessee's mushy home turf)
4. Michael Turner (ditto for Carolina's chewed-up surface)
5. Andre Johnson (the breakout will begin shortly)
Which QB holds the Vikings' single-season record for interceptions?
A) Warren Moon
B) Fran Tarkenton
C) Jeff George
D) Wade Wilson
E) Daunte Culpepper
F) Tommy Kramer
G) Joe Kapp
H) Randall Cunningham
1. WR Brandon Stokley (vs. Chiefs)
2. WR Donald Driver (vs. Buccaneers)
3. RB Fred Jackson (vs. Rams)
4. TE Bo Scaife (vs. Vikings)
5. TE Zach Miller (vs. Chargers)
1. Ronnie Brown (his value will never be higher than the next 10 days)
2. Santana Moss (after the Cowboys game ... sell, sell, sell!)
3. Julius Jones
4. LenDale White
5. Maurice Jones-Drew (not a fan of the O-line)
6. Eddie Royal
7. Jon Kitna (it may be too late already)
8. Le'Ron McClain (FYI: he plays for the Ravens)
9. Anthony Fasano
10. Jerramy Stevens (FYI: he occasionally catches passes for the Bucs)
1. Braylon Edwards (do this before Sunday)
2. Chad Johnson (see Edwards above)
3. Ryan Grant
4. Laurence Maroney
5. Derek Anderson
6. Larry Johnson (it may be too late already)
7. Chester Taylor
8. Carson Palmer
9. Matt Schaub
10. Todd Heap
It's a white-collar crime against sports humanity that longtime Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From 1960-79 (1 season with Cleveland; 19 with Minnesota), Marshall didn't miss a single game or start, while cultivating a stellar career that included two Pro Bowls, four Super Bowls, countless sacks (a stat that didn't become official until 1982) with the famed Purple People Eaters and the NFL record for fumbles recovered. And then there's that "Wrong Way" Marshall thing -- the one infamous blemish on his résumé that should hardly block his entry into Canton.
Marshall, along with Mick Tinglehoff, represent the last Hall-worthy remnants of the Vikings' dynastic run from 1968-80 (11 division titles, four Super Bowls) to not get inducted. But I would hope they'll get their just desserts soon -- at least before the Vikings move to Los Angeles.