Eric Mack
Sunday September 25th, 2011

Ah, the NFL. You never can truly peg it.

The Bills and Lions are unbeaten behind surprise fantasy stars Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stafford. Eli Manning, who has looked lost, threw four touchdowns on Sunday. Chris Johnson was supposed to show up, but instead looks like is still holding out -- on his fantasy owners.

Michael Vick is playing like a fantasy backup and he might be one now after suffering a broken right hand.

Also, we relearn just how inconsistent rookie quarterbacks can be: Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert all looked the part of first-year passers and fantasy disappointments.

We take our quick game-by-game look at the action of Week 3 in Fantasy Football Fast Forward:

• Felix Jones did exactly what we hoped he would do: get out of his own shadow. After he struggled against the elite run defenses of the Jets and 49ers, he went over 100 yards and chipped in 40 more on the ground. This is a promising performance for a back who could develop into a must-start fantasy option this year. He is not there yet, but he could finally be on his way.

• Tony Romo wasn't great, but he was at least able to give his loyal fantasy owners something, despite reports of a cracked rib and a punctured lung. He looks like he should be able to make it through this injury and be fine to use in all leagues still.

• Dez Bryant wasn't necessarily full go, which likely hurt Romo some. Bryant should improve health-wise as the time ticks on, and if Miles Austin isn't back, he should be a must-start fantasy option. There are huge weeks ahead.

• The Redskins learned they cannot trust Rex Grossman to win games for them. He piled up yards but he threw a pick and fumbled on a potential game-winning last drive. They need to focus more on ball-control with Tim Hightower week to week, apparently. Hightower was productive as a receiver, though, keeping him as a solid option in all leagues.

• Fred Davis took a step back, unfortunately, as Cooley stole more of the looks. This is a frustrating development for those of us hoping Davis was breaking through. Cooley will only get healthier and still more targets, though.

• Joseph Addai had a surprisingly good night against a tough Steelers run defense, a sign the Colts have learned to think run first without Peyton Manning. Manning might be shut down for the year with the Colts going nowhere, so Addai is going to get more fantasy value by the week. It is especially noteworthy Delone Carter wasn't much of a factor spelling Addai. Addai is the Colts back of choice to have and his mojo is rising.

• Rashard Mendenhall again proved to be a bust. The Steelers offensive line just hasn't helped him get anything started on the ground. This is a bad sign for Mendenhall owners. You have to keep him active unless some report comes out about him being banged up. Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman were the ones being used on the last drive, surprisingly and disappointingly.

• Ben Roethlisberger remains on a career-high pace for passing yards, mostly because Mike Wallace has emerged as one of the best deep threats in the NFL. Antonio Brown, Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders are more furniture-type pieces right now. Heath Miller had a solid day out of the tight end spot, but he is more of a bye-week replacement.

• Kerry Collins (concussion) had to give way to Curtis Painter and Painter was at least able to help Pierre Garcon show some life, even if Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie still are not getting much of anything done for fantasy owners. The Colts, justifiably, are considering going to Painter or someone else to start, even if Collins is healthy enough to practice and play. Anyone is better than Collins for the Colts' receivers at this point.

• Just when you try to bury Eli Manning, he rises up and throws four touchdowns with a banged-up receiving corps against some great Eagles corners. Manning should be a viable start next week at Arizona, a team that has given up a lot of yards early this season to far less established quarterbacks.

• The 2010 preseason hero Victor Cruz made his first start and caught two touchdowns for over 100 yards. He is a legit sleeper with Mario Manningham out dealing with a concussion and the Cardinals looming in Week 4.

• Hakeem Nicks (three catches, 25 yards) should have a much better week against the Cardinals, too.

• Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) and DeSean Jackson were seriously impacted by a mediocre Vick, who may or may not have a broken hand. It's not his throwing hand, but it is uncertain as of this writing if the Eagles will risk playing Vick against the 49ers. They need to give this time. Mike Kafka threw two picks late and likely hands the starting quarterback job to Vince Young, who could take off in Vick's absence. Monitor this situation during the week.

• LeSean McCoy faces a tough 49ers run defense next, but another 100-yard game makes him a must-start in all weeks, particularly with the quarterback situation a question mark again for the Eagles.

• Fitzpatrick continues to produce, although it was as expected in this one: coming from behind. The Bengals shouldn't scare you off Fiztpatrick next week either. He has made fantasy stars out of Steve Johnson, David Nelson ... and Donald Jones? Don't expect another week like this from Jones, so ignore him on waivers. Johnson and Nelson are just targeted too much for Jones to take off, too.

• C.J. Spiller is playing some receiver now, but it was Fred Jackson's receiving out of the backfield that was impressive for the Bills. Jackson looks like a solid every-week starter with the Bills looking alive now.

• The loss of Aaron Hernandez (knee) is Rob Gronkowski's gain. He is the best tight end in fantasy now, only Jason Witten can make a case next to him.

• Wes Welker is headed for a career season. That extra year coming off the major knee injury really looks like it has made a difference. Welker's situation makes him one of the top five receivers to have this year.

• The Pats' completely worthless running game cost them in this one. BenJarvus Green-Ellis just couldn't get anything going, but he needs more than nine carries. Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead were more effective. This mess could have been intriguing for a number of backs against the Raiders next week. At this point, though, you have to avoid them all.

• Lance Moore's return to health muddles the Saints WR depth chart a little. His performance cut deeply into Devery Henderson's production, while Robert Meachem remained about the same. It is hard to make sense out of the Saints' leading target competition, but you have to figure Moore is a great pickup off waivers, if he is available.

• Mark Ingram was decent, but he didn't get enough touches to really be worth more than being a flex option. It is clearer now Thomas is the third-best Saints rusher to have. Darren Sproles, because of his receiving, might be the No. 1 back to have. Ingram and Sproles will both be worth starting against the Jags in Week 4. Thomas is a candidate to cut at this point.

• Ben Tate didn't do anything to make the Texans anxious to rush Arian Foster (hamstring) back. The inadvisable No. 1 overall pick in some leagues, Foster, should be inactive in all leagues in Week 4 against the Steelers -- regardless of his health. Tate is going to be tough to start, too.

• Kevin Walter scored in his surprisingly early return, which could make him a sleeper pickup in deeper formats. There is no need to pick him up until after that Steelers game, though.

• The Texans' tight ends were busy here, a great sign for Owen Daniels owners. James Casey isn't worth consideration. This was a flash in the pan. Daniels is going to get those tight end routes and throws in most weeks.

Percy Harvin, strangely, continues to make more of an impact in the running game than the passing game. It is enough to consider Harvin useless outside of being a bye-week replacement. Michael Jenkins is clearly the go-to man on the outside. His targets are about the only thing intriguing about him, but he is at least more useful than Harvin right now.

• Jahvid Best struggled mightily, a sign the Vikings run defense is getting back to its pre-2010 form. It is also bad news for Chiefs backs in Week 4. The Vikings can't possibly blow another lead next week, right?

• The Lions love throwing to the tight end as much as they love throwing to Calvin Johnson. Brandon Pettigrew is one of the most unheralded tight ends in the league and Matthew Stafford's breakthrough year makes Pettigrew a productive starter in most fantasy leagues.

• Rookie Titus Young continues to improve. He is a viable pickup in deeper leagues, particularly ones with three-wide receiver formats.

• You should officially be worried about Chris Johnson. He should have taken off here.

• He is at least healthy, which cannot be said for Kenny Britt (knee). This could prove to be a huge loss for Britt owners, but a big gain for Nate Washington owners. Washington is a must-own now.

• Matt Hasselbeck needs Britt to remain a productive fantasy starter in one-quarterback leagues. He has a good matchup coming up at Cleveland, but it is doubtful you will want to use him with Britt banged up.

• Eric Decker was busy, but not necessarily productive. He remains a solid own, but you likely have better options to start before bye weeks kick in Week 5.

• Willis McGahee's value might drop back to low-to-nil, but he did get a lot of carries in Knowshon Moreno's (hamstring) absence.

• You finally jumped on the Newton bandwagon and he let you down, significantly in what should have been a favorable matchup. Steve Smith cost his fantasy owners, too. They are both bad starts against the Bears next week.

• The tight ends are Newton's favorite non-Smith targets. Greg Olsen led the way here and is a viable starter in most leagues on a regular basis. nð Blaine Gabbert didn't do much of anything as a starter, but he at least was able to make Mike Thomas show some value for fantasy owners. The absence of Marcedes Lewis really hurts. Lewis (calf) should be productive once he is healthy. He wasn't Sunday.

• You are justified giving up on D'Angelo Williams. He should have run all over the Jags here. Jonathan Stewart looks pretty useless, too.

• This, expectedly, wound up being the worst fantasy-point games of the early season, but at least Vernon Davis showed up after mouthing off about his use last week. We said he tends to rally after getting chippy about his targets. He is the only 49er worth looking at for as long as Alex Smith remains the quarterback.

• Kendall Hunter scored a clutch touchdown after Frank Gore had some bad plays, a fumble and missing a pass off his face mask. There is no controversy here, but Hunter is going to take a chunk out of Gore's carries this season, it appears. Gore should still remain active against the Eagles' run defense next week, though. Hunter remains merely a bye-week flex option when the matchup is right.

• The Bengals didn't do much of anything on offense, so stop all the Andy Dalton consideration. He isn't a fantasy option, despite his surprising Week 2. nð The 49ers' defense is fantasy-viable, particularly if Vick doesn't play next week.

• Cedric Benson could be headed for a suspension, so things might only get worse for the Bengals offense. Bernard Scott will be a popular running back on waivers this week. He stands to be busy against the Bills at least.

• A.J. Green is going to go up and down along with Dalton. It makes him a difficult receiver to trust. He should be decent against the Bills, though.

• In yet another one of the worst fantasy-point games of the year, Peyton Hillis laid an egg because of strep throat, giving Montario Hardesty some value.

• Daniel Thomas clearly will be the Dolphins fantasy back of choice. Reggie Bush is officially the least fantasy-viable starting running back in the NFL.

• Colt McCoy was better but still not quite viable for standard leagues. This mediocre performance makes him merely a low-end bye-week replacement and none of his wide receivers are worth much of anything -- although Mohamed Massaquoi at least showed some life with a TD.

• Ben Watson rebounded to be the go-to receiver and distancing himself over red-zone target Evan Moore among low-end tight ends.

• Chad Henne didn't do so many bad things as to lose his job, but he did a good job of ruining Brandon Marshall's value in this one.

Now on to the late games...

• Darren McFadden showed us why he's a must-start every week. Doing what he did to the Jets run defense elevates his status to one of the elite backs in fantasy. He was close, but to do it without a productive passing is remarkable. His groin injury is definitely something to track this week.

• Denarius Moore continues to impress as a rookie. Jason Campbell was minimally effective, as expected, but Moore picked up the score on the ground to make up for his lack of catches and receiving yards.

• Shonn Greene was significantly outplayed by LaDainian Tomlinson again. It is a broken record. Greene just might never break out as a fantasy star -- especially with Tomlinson healthy and the factor he is in the passing game.

• Mark Sanchez managed to have a big day despite Santonio Holmes getting blanked. Holmes might be one of the most overrated No. 1 receivers in the NFL. You can make a case for Dustin Keller as the Jets' No. 1 receiving threat, assuming you leave the backs out of the conversation. Keller is off to a great start and is a must-own in all leagues.

• Torrey Smith makes his first NFL start with a huge bang, bang, bang, scoring three huge touchdowns in the first quarter. The rookie had been silent for the most part to date, but this breakthrough makes him a must-add off waivers. Smith is a burner and is finally healthy. He could have some more big weeks ahead of him, even as a rookie.

• Despite the blowout, the Ravens were able to keep Ray Rice healthy with just eight rushing attempts. He was plenty productive in his limited carries and through the air, but he just didn't crack the end zone. Fantasy owners are going to be thankful down the road he wasn't used so hard here.

• Joe Flacco was outstanding once again. Tight end Ed Dickson and Smith's emergence can make Flacco an elite quarterback to use regardless of matchup. He is going to provide great production relative to his preseason draft position.

• Sam Bradford was expectedly underwhelming, but he did at least develop something with Brandon Gibson. The Rams receiving corps is deep, but it hasn't looked particularly strong. It has been a rough schedule for the Rams to start the season; there should be better days ahead. Week 4 at home against the Redskins should be a decent time to use him if you need a starter, say if you lost Vick.

• Steven Jackson was able to play, but he wasn't able to play much. Cadillac Williams did well in his place, but the uncertainty of Jackson's health will make both RBs difficult to trust next Sunday.

• The Packers finally show a running game and it comes surprisingly from Ryan Grant and not James Starks. This might actually be a blessing in disguise for Starks owners. The Packers let Grant did the heavy lifting against a tough defensive front, which might keep Starks fresh for later in the season.

• Jermichael Finley is back. He hasn't looked bad in the first two weeks, but he produces great numbers here. He looks like a must-start in all leagues.

• Matt Forte is a rare back who can have decent games against a run defense as good as the Packers', if only because he is used so often as a receiver. The Bears really don't have a go-to man and Jay Cutler is a threat for 300 yards passing no matter the opponent. If Cutler had some receivers, he would be a fantasy superstar.

• Philip Rivers sure let a lot of hopeful fantasy owners down. He didn't do much against a Chiefs team that made Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stafford superstars. Rivers will have better weeks, particularly when Antonio Gates gets back in the fold.

• Ryan Mathews is showing his talent and put some room between him and Mike Tolbert with a two-touchdown performance. He looks like a must-start in all leagues, while Tolbert is taking an expected step back into bye-week replacement status.

• Thomas Jones got the bulk of the carries, but Dexter McCluster did enough to give fantasy owners some hope for value with him. He is far more of a Jamaal Charles-type breakaway threat, even if Jones vultures his touchdowns from him inside the five.

• Matt Cassel looked better, so perhaps getting further from his cracked rib is making the difference. If this is indeed the case, Steve Breaston and tight end Leonard Pope are going to be useful options during the bye weeks.

• The Seahawks still do nothing offensively, but at least Sidney Rice showed he can be a productive fantasy option, despite a bad quarterback. It is a disappointment the Seahawks won the game with Tarvaris Jackson under center. Charlie Whitehurst could have opened this offense up a little in relief. Jackson earns at least another week, unfortunately.

• Beanie Wells (hamstring) was missed in this one. Alfonso Smith picked up the slack with the touches, but he couldn't pick up the yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) was out, too, which is why Smith and Chester Taylor got as much time as they did. If Wells doesn't play, don't bother starting a Cardinals RB against the Giants next week.

• Kevin Kolb wasn't bad here, but he should have taken this opportunity to be great. It is becoming clear he is more of a fantasy backup than a trustworthy starter. Bye weeks will help get him into lineups, but he is not a guy you win a fantasy title with starting down the stretch of the postseason. If he is your No. 1 quarterback, you might want to consider dealing for someone with a higher ceiling. Kolb is held back by a poor set of secondary receiving options behind Larry Fitzgerald.

• Marshawn Lynch gets a heavy amount of touches for the Seahawks, especially because Jackson is merely a game-manager. Lynch will be marginal against the Falcons next week.

• Josh Freeman won another game, but he sure didn't look like his 2010 self doing so. Freeman was a bust candidate coming into the season and hopefully you're not counting on him as a starter. He was one of the most overdrafted players this preseason.

• Freeman's receiving corps is not off to a good start this season either, including Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow. They should be better going forward, but they are tough to trust right now. Arrelious Benn might not even be worth owning.

• The Falcons, strangely, did not keep Michael Turner involved here. It cost them and his fantasy owners dearly this week.

• Matt Ryan was busy with a resurgent Roddy White and an emerging Julio Jones. Jones is going to prove very valuable during the bye weeks. He is picking up yardage and catches in bunches and doing it on a weekly basis, unlike most rookie receivers.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.