- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints won Monday night's game, but I felt a few San Francisco 49ers players performed well from a fantasy football perspective despite their team falling to 0-2. Quarterback Alex Smith is already a safe backup fantasy quarterback, and someday when he cuts down on the turnovers he could be more than that. Frank Gore remains one of the top running backs in the game, bouncing back from a tough Week 1 with a standout 28-point effort. Tight end Vernon Davis is, frankly, impossible to cover by opposing defenses, and he's in the top three at his position.
Then there's wide receiver Michael Crabtree. With him, I'm starting to wonder when the hype will match the results.
Crabtree's stock was awfully high a month ago, as many fantasy football owners called him a sleeper and made him the No. 17 wide receiver in ESPN average live drafts. I thought that was a bit extreme personally -- I didn't rank him in my top 20 -- but then again, it's pretty clear this Texas Tech product, while a bit raw, does have skills. The problem, and this is evident in the fact Crabtree is already being dropped in leagues -- hey, even a drop from 100 percent owned to 98.8 this early tells a tale -- is fantasy owners aren't seeing much return. Sure, it's early, a mere two games into the season, but Crabtree was targeted only three times Monday night. He caught one pass for 32 yards. He has three receptions so far. Backup tight end Delanie Walker has more catches. It might just be that no matter the talent, Crabtree is going to have trouble producing big numbers with Gore and Davis being among the best at their positions and Smith still being somewhat erratic.
For now, I'd say this to people dropping (or considering dropping) Crabtree: You liked him a month ago, and two games is hardly a representative sample size. There's a difference between making someone a fantasy starter and stashing them in a reserve slot and waiting for results, and let's face it, the 49ers are still a potential division winner with a sweet schedule (Rams, Cardinals twice!). We know fantasy owners are reactive, and Crabtree's stock didn't rise Monday with some of his teammates, but let's reserve final judgment for now.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: With him, you have to know there will be the occasional three-interception stinker, but for those who didn't buy in after he shredded the Lions' defense, check out what Cutler did in Dallas. I like the fact that he found three different players for touchdown passes. In Week 1, Devin Aromashodu was targeted 10 times; on Sunday, he watched from the sideline (zero catches) as Johnny Knox and Devin Hester got extended time. This sharing is good for Cutler -- though Aromashadu owners aren't pleased -- and should help his viability. I don't know how someone can't view him as a top-10 quarterback.
Thomas Jones, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: Amidst all the complaining coming from Jamaal Charles owners, Jones ran 22 times for 83 yards. That sure seems like a commitment to me. Jones' stock certainly went up in Week 2.
Kevin Walter, WR, Houston Texans: Teammate Jacoby Jones has the look of a future star: a speed burner with size, strength and the ability to score touchdowns in numerous ways. He's the fantasy sleeper. Walter, however, comes off a 20-point fantasy performance at Washington, and through two games he has outscored even stud teammate Andre Johnson. I don't expect that to continue, but if you offer me either Walter or Jones in a trade, I'll concede Jones has the upside but take Walter as the safer bet. He's owned in 11.7 percent of leagues, up 3.1 percent from last week, and I expect he'll be 50 percent owned soon.
David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars: He used to be known for his reliability and consistency from a fantasy sense, but that was one ugly four-interception performance Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Garrard threw 10 picks all last season. It's probably not a harbinger of a Cutler-type season to come, and I doubt many were relying on Garrard this season as more than a bye week fill-in, but the fact the Jaguars lost backup quarterback Luke McCown to a torn ACL doesn't make Garrard any safer for strong fantasy performance.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns: Scream about Peyton Hillis all you want, but Harrison had twice as many rush attempts (16 to eight) and picked up fewer yards Sunday. You can't say Harrison didn't have his chance. He'll get more, but it's possible last December was a mirage. I think Harrison should remained fantasy-owned and has a chance to break out at any point, but I can't see ranking him among my top 30 running backs anytime soon, not with the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers up in the next month.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Baltimore Ravens: I think deep down Joe Flacco owners know they need to be patient, and road games against the Jets and Bengals were going to be tough, but Houshmandzadeh has caught just one pass this season. He was targeted six times Sunday, the same as Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, and went catchless. Houshmandzadeh's relatively high ownership figure is due to his name, as he was at 75 percent owned a week ago. I don't see much value here unless Anquan Boldin or Mason gets hurt.