Four Downs: Don't dismiss Sam Bradford


I'll grant you that St. Louis Rams wide receiver Mark Clayton had been a fantasy revelation so far this season after years of underachieving with the Baltimore Ravens. But I don't buy the notion that when Clayton went down Sunday with a season-ending injury, he took the fantasy value of rookie Sam Bradford with him. Clayton, owned in 93.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues and tied for 10th in standard fantasy scoring among wide receivers entering Sunday -- both shocking figures, really -- tore his knee early in the game and will not play again this season. Bradford, who played poorly in a 44-6 loss to the Detroit Lions, certainly will.

Those who relied on Bradford and Clayton in Week 5, in what seemed like a sure thing for high scores against the awful Lions, can't be pleased. I'm not, either; I ranked each player well and expected more. But fantasy owners know that injury comes with the territory. Players get hurt. If that's one of fantasy's most critical rules and obvious equalizers, another should be that rookies, especially those who make their living throwing the football, will be inconsistent. Bradford hadn't been exalted into top-10 territory at quarterback, but this week he was close. Certainly he was garnering momentum, and with bye weeks and tough opponents creating opportunity, things looked good against the Lions. Instead, journeyman opponent Shaun Hill, who also earned fantasy love but might be looking at just one or two more starts before Matthew Stafford returns, stole the show.

Bradford couldn't bring his team back once Clayton went down five minutes into the game, and the result was an ugly loss (especially considering the opponent). But let's not make this a bigger deal than it should be for Bradford. It's one game. He still has weapons. It's not as if Clayton was Jerry Rice. It was a good sign that running back Steven Jackson performed well (114 rushing yards), while Danny Amendola caught the ball well (12 catches on 19 targets for 95 yards). Bradford's mistakes and inexperience will continue to haunt him, but although there will be more to come, expect really nice moments and periods of fantasy help as well, with or without Clayton, a 28-year-old veteran with 14 touchdowns in five-plus seasons.

If you own Clayton, move on. Consider picking up Amendola, because he certainly appeared to be Bradford's new best buddy in the second half Sunday. He's a slot guy, so someone needs to step up on the outside, possibly Laurent Robinson or Brandon Gibson. Meanwhile, if you're a Jackson owner, I see no reason for concern. He looked good, healthy, strong. And if you own Bradford, especially in a keeper league, keep the faith. The loss of a key target might have ruined his -- and your -- Week 5, but I don't think it derails what will be a positive season.

Second down: Bradford's four-fantasy-point performance Sunday stunk, but he still topped Houston Texans ace Matt Schaub, who managed just three points in an odd home blowout loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants . For perspective, Schaub outscored only two starting quarterbacks, Jimmy Clausen and the historically awful Todd Collins of the Chicago Bears (who did win the game). Schaub finished in single-digit scoring for the third time in five games, and if it wasn't for the 497-yard effort in Week 2 at Washington, fantasy owners would have cause to sit him. How couldn't he pilfer that Giants defense? With a tougher-than-expected Week 6 game looming against the Kansas City Chiefs -- they just held Peyton Manning to seven fantasy points -- and then the bye week, I'd hardly assume Schaub is a guaranteed play. What a difference a year makes. One would think a strong Arian Foster-led running game -- although it didn't play out that way Sunday -- would have helped this offense, but then again, with Andre Johnson playing at what looks like half-speed, maybe it's not a surprise. Stop looking at 2009 statistics on Schaub, who led the league in passing yards. At this point, I'd settle for him being a top-10 option, which he might not be for one more month.

Third down: Kudos to Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who put on quite a show Sunday night despite dealing with a broken rib. With former Eagles (and fantasy great) Brian Westbrook on the other sideline, again invisible from a fantasy aspect, McCoy looked the part of emerging star with a significant rushing game as well as five receptions when it was hardly assured he'd play at all. Michael Vick might replace Kevin Kolb for Week 6, and my concerns about tight end Brent Celek haven't been abated, but when it comes to McCoy, he looks a lot better than he did as a rookie. He very well could end up as a top-10 running back.

Fourth down: Lost in another Dallas Cowboys home loss and the fact that Tony Romo threw for 406 yards was that running back Felix Jones had his best performance of the season, running 15 times for 109 yards. Although that was easily the most touches Jones has received this season, I wonder what's holding the team back from really letting him loose and making him the focus of the offense. It shouldn't be the presence of Marion Barber. Quite a few fantasy owners punted Jones -- he's owned in merely 82.5 percent of ESPN.com standard leagues -- and when the Cowboys start playing better football, minus the penalties and turnovers, I think the upside is huge for a breakout performer.