- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Through five weeks, it was tough to find a better, if not more surprising, quarterback-wide receiver duo in the league than the Denver Broncos' Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd. Even now, seven games into their season, Orton ranks as fantasy's No. 3 fantasy quarterback, barely behind Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers, while Lloyd is the No. 3 fantasy wide receiver for the season. Suffice to say, fantasy owners can't complain about these fellows.
However, things haven't gone so well for them the past two games. Hey, it's one thing to lose a close game and register somewhat muted statistics against the New York Jets, but Sunday's embarrassing 59-14 home loss to the Oakland Raiders was stunning on many levels and could have long-term ramifications that fantasy owners don't want to think about. The Broncos are 2-5. The playoffs are looking like a dream. And first-round pick Tim Tebow is, as you might have heard, a much-ballyhooed quarterback.
Rumors about the Orton era soon being passed to Tebow aren't exactly running rampant in Colorado, but the media has been discussing it. If the Broncos as a team can't turn things around this weekend in London against the even-worse San Francisco 49ers -- way to sell our brand of football across the pond! -- Orton's run not just as fantasy hero but as a starter could be over. (Gee, think the Cowboys could use him?) This hardly means Tebow will succeed in the role as starter. Most rookies find their first foray into the league very difficult. At the same time, while Orton has built up trust with fantasy owners, I'm guessing the Broncos organization is even less thrilled with his recent play than we are. Orton has totaled 27 fantasy points the past two weeks, both losses, but if the Broncos are looking to the future, certainly we can all agree he's not expected to be a major part of it.
From a pure statistical angle, were we to remove the threat of Tebow from the equation, I'm not panicking on Orton or Lloyd. There's no innate reason why they can't continue to play well together, having shown us so much already. However, I think it's clear that even if they play well but the team continues to lose, Orton would be the one with the clipboard on the sideline, while rookie Demaryius Thomas would see an increased role at wide receiver. Remember, coach Josh McDaniels doesn't care about fantasy football. If you're going to win five games this season, you might as well get the future studs4 in there.
Orton and Lloyd hooked up just once in Sunday's debacle, a 46-yarder, as Lloyd was targeted a mere three times. In a loss to the Jets, Lloyd hauled in four catches for 74 yards, so it's not like fantasy owners truly suffered. However, there's always the risk of living off past numbers, and fantasy owners sticking with their top options for too long. What if the Broncos don't move the ball effectively in London? Orton, Lloyd and pals are on bye in Week 9. Could the Tebow show begin in earnest in Week 10? I'm not going to be recommending Lloyd with a rookie quarterback, I can tell you that.
While Orton and Lloyd see their stock fall, and running back Knowshon Moreno sees his rise -- he scored both touchdowns on Orton passes Sunday -- here are some other names in the news:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills Forget everything you thought you knew about this guy, because 11 touchdown passes in four games speak loudly. The Bills' defense is so awful that more big catch-up performances are sure to come.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants: The NFL's leading rusher has topped 125 rushing yards in three of four games. I'm ready to call him a top-10 running back, and Brandon Jacobs, with five touchdowns in four games, might also be top-20. What a duo!
Johnny Knox, WR, Bears: While quarterback Jay Cutler's world crumbles around him, Knox comes off his two best fantasy performances, with 12 and 14 points. In that same span, most other Bears have done little.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots: I wouldn't call it panic time yet, but that's 11 or fewer fantasy points in four of the six games, and only one touchdown pass in three consecutive games. I think he can overcome the Randy Moss trade, but he and Wes Welker haven't yet. Brady isn't a clear top-5 fantasy quarterback anymore.
Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: Hmm, maybe the Redskins aren't rushing him back because Ryan Torain is so awesome. Don't hold your breath on Portis getting a chance for a significant number of carries by Thanksgiving.
Baltimore Ravens defense: Second to the Jets' D in ESPN average live drafts, the Ravens have yet to register a double-digit fantasy performance and just allowed 34 points to the Bills. The unit ranks 26th in standard fantasy scoring with 33 points. With the Ravens on bye this week, just cut this defense and look elsewhere.
Eric Karabell takes a look at whose fantasy stock is rising (Giants backs, Ryan Fitzpatrick) and whose is falling (Kyle Orton, Brandon Lloyd, Ravens defense) heading into Week 8.