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Four Downs: Time to shuffle QB rankings

10/28/2012

It's a bit too simplistic to note that the quarterbacks in the Atlanta Falcons' romp over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday are heading in different directions, but certainly fantasy owners should react appropriately to the changing values of Matt Ryan and Michael Vick. Ryan got back on his emergent track Sunday in Philly, tossing three first-half touchdown passes, while Vick continues to underachieve, and even in his own words, his starting role appears to be in jeopardy.

For those who sat Ryan in fantasy, due to recent performance and/or weather-related concerns (which didn't become a factor until the second half), he certainly assuaged fears with his 23-fantasy-point effort in ESPN standard formats, and it could have been considerably more had the Eagles made the game competitive earlier. Ryan didn't even need all his elite weapons. Julio Jones embarrassed Nnamdi Asomugha for a 63-yard touchdown and finished with 123 receiving yards, but Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were relatively quiet.

Meanwhile, youngster Drew Davis caught his first career passes, one for a touchdown, and running back Jason Snelling registered another. Ryan, who barely got his uniform dirty and countered Philly's rush with a league-high 10 screen passes -- he completed nine of them for 81 yards and a score -- bounced back from a disappointing eight-point outing against the Oakland Raiders in Week 6 (he was on bye in Week 7). The schedule is certainly attractive moving ahead, with four of the final nine games against the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ryan remains a name to trust and my No. 5 quarterback for the rest of the season, ahead of the Manning brothers and Cam Newton.

On the other side, there was Vick under constant pressure and making poor decisions again, providing little reason for him to return to the top 10 in the quarterback rankings for the season. Vick was ranked ninth for Week 8, and his 15 fantasy points hardly hurt fantasy owners (he also didn't turn the ball over), but the proof of his value came after the game, when he told reporters, "Obviously, [coach Andy Reid is] thinking about making a change at the quarterback position. The thing I do know, and I'll go watch the film and I'll evaluate myself, is that I'm giving us every opportunity to win."

That doesn't mean rookie Nick Foles will start next Monday night at New Orleans, but as Philly's season -- and perhaps Reid's employment -- slips away, Vick is no longer safe. After all, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the only team in the league with fewer points than the Vick-led Eagles. Those who rely on Vick -- he entered the week tied for 17th in fantasy quarterback scoring with Carson Palmer -- must forget about 2010. It's gone. He isn't the same player. On one play Sunday, as the Eagles' offensive line broke down yet again, multiple defensive linemen chased and actually caught Vick from behind. Philly's bye week has passed, but Vick owners need a strong backup, just in case.

Second down: Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford finally looked like the 2011 version of him Sunday, racking up 352 passing yards and four touchdowns (one rushing) against a strong Seattle Seahawks defense. Stafford's 31 fantasy points were 11 more than his previous season best. Detroit's schedule is hardly as generous as Atlanta's, but Stafford, who relied on shorter passes Sunday and thus was more accurate than in past weeks, will re-enter the top 10 in Tuesday's year-to-end rankings. Stafford also helped make wide receiver Titus Young relevant again, as the noted preseason sleeper reached 100 receiving yards and scored twice, catching all nine of his targets. I'd call Young more of a WR3 in the coming weeks, and not a top-20 option, but at least he matters again.

As for stud receiver Calvin Johnson, he continues to worry his owners; Megatron remains stuck on one measly touchdown for the season, and it didn't even come from Stafford. Still, the targets are there, he's tremendously talented, and while we should no longer expect the top wide receiver off the draft board to finish among the top 10 wide receivers this season (he'll enter Week 9 outside the top 20), you can't sell high anymore, either. Expect borderline top-10 wide receiver numbers the rest of the way.

Third down: Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was the fifth most active at his position in ESPN leagues this week, so he's hardly being ignored, but it was nice to see him haul in 18 catches on 22 targets for 167 yards Sunday. No Cowboy has ever had this many catches in a game. While Rob Gronkowski reminded us of his excellence Sunday with a 2011-like 26 fantasy points, Witten continues to rise in the tight end rankings, and he'll slip past Tony Gonzalez (five or fewer points in three of four games) this coming week. It's quite a change for Witten's value, as he's clearly recovered from the injured spleen that likely restricted his performance the first three weeks. Witten has rarely been a big touchdown-scorer, but his owners, especially those in PPR formats, gotta love him now.

Fourth down: Alas, all was not perfect in the fantasy world in Week 8. Eli Manning and his wide receivers were remarkably quiet, the inconsistent Jamaal Charles rushed five times for a mere 4 yards and Wes Welker left the Rams-Pats game early because of a left ankle injury after another low-scoring fantasy game, though none of those guys should really concern fantasy owners much, or see a significant drop in the overall rankings. If you own a San Diego Chargers offensive player, however, their performance in losing 7-6 to Cleveland on Sunday was, well, offensive. Quarterback Philip Rivers managed six fantasy points against a QB-friendly defense, which followed up a five-point game against Denver. Rivers has enticing games on the schedule, but he has not been playing well even in the enticing games. Tight end Antonio Gates had one fantasy point, making his 20-point outing in Week 6 look aberrant. In fact, Gates has topped five fantasy points just once all season. Running back Ryan Mathews did rush for 95 yards, but he remains a non-factor in the passing game, and he lost a key fumble. It's a malady Mathews is no stranger to and could open the door for Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle to see more touches than they probably deserve.