- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
While I'm not one to overreact when it comes to things that happened in Week 1, I think we can safely say the Indianapolis Colts' defense is incapable of stopping the run. This isn't breaking news. The Colts didn't stop the run last season, or the season before that (boy, Bob Sanders made a difference). And while that was very good news for Houston Texans emerging star Ben Tate in his NFL debut in Week 1, it's also going to make Peyton Hillis owners pleased this Sunday.
Hillis produced rather pedestrian statistics in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, rushing 17 times for 57 yards (one of them a 17-yarder) and catching six passes. I didn't think it was that bad; you can still win a week with your running back accumulating eight fantasy points. After all, several well-regarded running backs didn't reach eight points in Week 1, starting with Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall and Frank Gore. Well, that's not going to be a problem this week. Hillis is going to go nuts on the beleaguered Colts. Think Kerry Collins is their only problem? Well, it's not.
As a result, I moved Hillis all the way up to my No. 4 running back slot in this week's RB rankings. The rest of the crew also liked him as a top-10 option. Chances are you, the wise fantasy owner, wouldn't have benched Hillis this week anyway, but perhaps that's not the case. Many view Hillis as incapable of duplicating his terrific 2010 stats; his lack of production after Thanksgiving is rarely viewed as anything but a harbinger of doom. Still, he's owned in all leagues, and this week the schedule is kind to him. I'm using him in ESPN's Gridiron Challenge as well.
When ESPN's week-specific rankings are released, generally around lunch time on Wednesday, I look to see where I differed from the group. The Hillis rank stood out to me, but that's not the only one. Here are a handful of other individual rankings of interest that I can explain:
Quarterback: My top 10 is pretty close to the consensus, but I did have Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and Kevin Kolb placed higher than anyone else. I don't think I like Cutler more than the others, but in the case of Manning and Kolb, that's probably the case. Manning has a nice matchup Monday night against the St. Louis Rams, and I do think Hakeem Nicks plays. Even if he doesn't, Manning is worth starting in a deep league. I had the lowest rank on Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford, but I similarly wouldn't read too much into that. I do have concerns long-term this season about Bradford, though. Where are his weapons?
In general, you're going to be sticking with your original starting quarterback, and we each had the same names at the top. Hotshot rookie Cam Newton, incidentally, ended up 22nd in the rankings. Matthew Berry placed him 19th, Christopher Harris left him out completely. I can't say either of them is wrong. Bottom line is, are you really activating Newton this week against Green Bay just because he torched the Cardinals? I wouldn't.
Running back: Berry and I were the only ones to rank defending fantasy champ Arian Foster, who is currently dealing with a sore hamstring that kept him out of Week 1. I still think Foster plays this week, so I ranked him ninth. Harris and Tristan Cockcroft do not think he'll play. We'll be updating the rankings Friday morning, but as in Week 1, I don't think we'll have clarity on this situation until late Sunday morning. What I found interesting is that my Ben Tate rank mirrored Cockcroft's, yet he didn't rank Foster. Also, while I did rank Derrick Ward, Berry did not and only Harris had him in the top 30, or close to flex spot consideration. This is an odd situation. I made the case on Tuesday's "Numbers Never Lie" program (which is daily on ESPN2 at 3:30 p.m. ET; I'm scheduled to appear on it Mondays and Tuesdays) that if Foster were to miss the season, Tate is so good he could still produce his numbers.
I was highest in the group on Pierre Thomas, DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Mathews, among others, though in each case it was close. I think each is a bit underrated, and Thomas and Williams are back-end RB2 choices. In San Diego, everyone loves Mike Tolbert (I had him 20th), but Mathews looked pretty good in Week 1 as well. I was lowest on Rashard Mendenhall, Tim Hightower and Cadillac Williams. Mendenhall still made my top 10, but I don't trust Hightower or Williams.
Wide receiver: Again, it's an injury situation that created the Hakeem Nicks rank at 29. Two rankers do not think he will play. I think he will, and if he does, he's a top-10 guy. Pay attention to this later in the week. If Nicks sits, you know I'm a Mario Manningham fan, and he'll vault 10 spots for sure. You'll also see me rank Domenik Hixon. That's the perfect guy to add if you own Nicks, because you can wait until Monday at 8 p.m. ET to make a final decision (also Brandon Gibson of the Rams). The ranks for the Colts wide receivers are also interesting. I have Reggie Wayne at No. 10; you know, only four wide receivers had more fantasy points in Week 1. We all seem justifiably down, however, on Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.
Eric Karabell analyzes this week's rankings decisions, including where to rank Peyton Hillis, Arian Foster, Eli Manning and others.