Gronk, Bryant slide in end-of-season ranks

Philip Rivers only a matchup play in fantasy

Eric Karabell analyzes Philip Rivers and the Chargers' offense for the rest of the season.

Injuries continue to wreck the hopes and dreams of fantasy owners, and now, just in time for the playoffs in many leagues, the top two tight ends from preseason drafts are out, one for perhaps a week or two, the other for likely part of next season. The fantasy gods don’t discriminate by position, either, and every league is affected. Here in the latest end-of-season rankings, the first of December, we must take into account injuries, but how long one waits -- or whether one does at all -- for the likes of Andrew Luck, Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski is problematic. Best of luck to all the rest of the way!

Quarterback: Neither of the players who scored 34 points in Week 12 were in the top 10 of these rankings a week ago, but Seattle’s Russell Wilson gets back in. Why Wilson over Detroit’s Matthew Stafford? Wilson has been top 10 much of the season, scoring at least double digits for fantasy each week, while Stafford has been underwhelming and inconsistent. Wilson isn’t a top-10 stretch. He moves up, as do the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles and Oakland’s Derek Carr. It’s Bortles over Carr because of pending schedule, and each passes the Giants’ Eli Manning, who looked terrible much of Sunday.

The major movers at this position over Thanksgiving weekend are Kansas City’s Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Jets. Smith comes off a career performance in throwing the football downfield (see Sunday night’s Four Downs blog entry) and boasts a friendly schedule for sure. Plus, Smith deserved a better ranking in the first place, as his lack of turnovers and rushing make up for yardage and touchdown deficiencies. Fitzpatrick has thrown multiple touchdown passes in three of four, and like Smith, has the schedule to end up a top-10 fantasy quarterback for the season.

By the way, I did consider moving Patriots star Tom Brady out of the top spot he has held since Week 4, not because he played poorly Sunday night, but because we assume his top weapon won’t play for at least a week, perhaps three or four. This is on top of losing other key weapons too. I admit I might be judging the situation wrong, but I trust Brady can find plenty of weapons this week against a beleaguered Eagles defense and after that, who knows? He’s still Tom Brady. Yes, I’d still take Brady over Carson Palmer and Cam Newton.

Later in the rankings Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck dropped some because, let’s face it, we just don’t know when they will return to the field and their replacements are doing well. Yes, the case can be made to rely on Brock Osweiler and/or Matt Hasselbeck. They don’t boast better rankings here because they’re not likely to continue playing when the starters are healthy -- who really knows what Denver will do -- but it’s a nice reminder that the unproven and the aged can be valuable.

Running back: For the past month or so I viewed the top tier of running backs as Rams rookie Todd Gurley, Falcons superstar Devonta Freeman (also my pick for fantasy MVP) and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, generally in that order. Since that time Gurley has really slowed down, culminating in Sunday’s 19-yard effort, Freeman suffered a concussion and missed a full game and most of another, and Peterson has scored touchdowns in four consecutive games, with a 203-yard performance and Sunday’s 29-point fantasy outburst in there. Peterson usurps the top spot and it’s not all that close, but I’m not giving up on Gurley or Freeman.

There are myriad other changes in the top 20, as recent performance and future schedule is key. Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy is supplying weekly double-digit games, so he moves way up to No. 4. The Saints’ Mark Ingram is stuck at nine standard points per week these days, so he drops. And Miami’s Lamar Miller isn’t doing much of anything. These rankings show I’m sticking with the Chiefs’ Charcandrick West, have faith in the Packers’ Eddie Lacy and Seattle’s Thomas Rawls and continue to sour on Philly’s DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys’ Darren McFadden. Oh, that NFC East, where nobody can run the football or, well, win.

Then there are the Broncos, and while C.J. Anderson clearly got the upper hand on Ronnie Hillman Sunday night in vanquishing the then-unbeaten New England Patriots, it’s likely a time-share continues, so neither is a safe RB2 choice. Perhaps it’s the new quarterback situation affecting defenses, the offensive line is rejuvenated or those running backs figured things out, but one should be wary of unconditional trust. There are reasons to fear the Bengals’ Jeremy Hill and Chicago’s Matt Forte, but I’d still take them over a Broncos running back today.

As for Arizona, Chris Johnson and his broken leg leave the rankings, as it would be surprising for him to play in December. Andre Ellington is hurt as well. Just be careful of rookie David Johnson; he hasn’t looked special running the ball from the backfield, and Stepfan Taylor will be involved. Johnson ran eight times for 21 yards against the 49ers. He’ll see more snaps and opportunity but I don’t view him the way I do Rawls or Baltimore’s Buck Allen.