- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The ol' saying goes that fantasy football owners shouldn't sit their studs, but it was hard to tell a week ago who Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles really was. After all, it's one thing to struggle, as Charles did in gaining three yards on six attempts in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills. It's quite another to do so at least in some part due to left knee pain, especially when the player had ACL surgery on that knee about one calendar year prior. My concern on Charles, which led to more of a flex ranking than starter trust for me in Week 3 (the staff ranked him 21st at running back), was based on health and the threat of shared touches.
Well, we can all forget about health, sharing and performance issues now, as Charles exploded for 233 yards on 33 carries Sunday, including an electric 91-yard touchdown jaunt in the third quarter. Yes, the New Orleans Saints have been brutal defensively, and an injury to colleague Peyton Hillis opened the door for those extra touches, but Charles looked fast, spectacular and certainly healthy, adding to his bounty with six receptions for 55 yards. Concerns? Those owners who benched him can't get him back into Week 4 lineups fast enough.
The immediate impact of Charles' 34-point effort in standard leagues is that the player chosen fourth overall in 2011 drafts is worthy of a top-10 ranking again. The headline on last Tuesday's end-of-season rankings blog entry centered on Charles and Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson leaving my top-10 running backs, but one of them is heading right back in the top 10, and it's certainly not Johnson.
Each of the impediments which seemed to be preventing Charles from resuming stud status -- health and Hillis -- seems to be a non-issue now, though the former is always a risk, and we don't yet know how much time Hillis will miss because of his ankle injury. Regardless, one would think even when healthy, Hillis will play less of a role.
Trust Charles, trade for Charles, enjoy Charles, because after the Week 2 disappointment -- he was actually productive with 87 rushing yards in Week 1 -- we're looking at the fellow who has averaged more than 6 yards per rush in his career. I'll say he's on his way to roughly 1,200 rushing yards, another 300 through the air and seven scores, and that means top-10 and weekly RB1 use.
Yes, the "trust your studs" theory makes perfect sense today for Charles, Darren McFadden and Larry Fitzgerald, each of whom were certainly up for debate, but it still doesn't explain Johnson. If only Johnson's fantasy owners could get a 200-yard outburst; CJ2K has rushed for a mere 45 yards in three games, which Charles doubled on one glorious run Sunday. Perhaps one should only trust their studs if the players, like Charles, still are worthy of such a designation.
Second down: I was pleased to see Fitzgerald emerge with nine receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown because I had ranked him in my top 10 in Week 3, and he'll resume such a mark in my season rankings, as well. Yes, Fitzgerald has not been as productive with Kevin Kolb at quarterback as he has with John Skelton, but even citing this factor bothers me a bit. Neither quarterback is exactly Pro Bowl-caliber, and in neither case is there a large sample size. The sample size we do have: Fitzgerald hasn't fallen below 80 receptions, 1,000 yards or six touchdowns since 2006, and the quarterback play has been largely irrelevant. Cardinals running back Ryan Williams (13 rushes, 83 yards) also performed well Sunday in the rout of the Philadelphia Eagles, and will move ahead of disappointing Beanie Wells in my weekly and season rankings.
Third down: Alas, all is not perfect in the fantasy world, as the top two in rushing yards entering the week each left their respective games early. Bills stud C.J. Spiller (11 fantasy points) injured his left shoulder, and while early word is nothing is broken, like a clavicle or shoulder, he already has been declared out for Week 4. This opens the door for former starter/stud Fred Jackson to usurp the starting role again, perhaps by this week, lessening Spiller's long-term value. Jackson, who is down to 92 percent owned because of a sprained knee ligament suffered in Week 1, could start in Week 4. It's more likely, however, that third-stringer Tashard Choice will, and he'll be an interesting pickup this week after totaling 99 yards against Cleveland. Who knew the Bills were so deep? Meanwhile, Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush (61 rushing yards) hurt his left knee before halftime and did not return. It's premature to assume Bush will miss Week 4, but the Dolphins have two interesting youngsters in Daniel Thomas (69 rushing yards, TD) and Lamar Miller (48 yards) they need to look at eventually, so they aren't likely to rush him.
Fourth down: Two big stories came from the Detroit Lions' overtime loss, as running back Mikel Leshoure was successful in his NFL debut, rushing 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Matthew Stafford left late in the fourth quarter because of a strained leg muscle and did not return. Leshoure, who missed the first two weeks on suspension and was touted in this space several times, dominated the touches, so much that Kevin Smith didn't have any. In this devastating offense, Leshoure becomes a must-own, yet he's available in 65 percent of leagues. He'll poke his way into the 20-25 range among running backs in the end-of-season rankings Tuesday. As for Stafford, his Week 4 status is unknown, but veteran Shaun Hill played so well in relief, relying on stud Calvin Johnson (and a successful Hail Mary pass), that if Hill were to start Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings, he'd likely crash the top 20. There's no quarterback controversy here, but Hill was a competent fantasy option filling in for Stafford in 2010, and would be again thanks to his weapons.
Eric Karabell looks at the most fantasy-noteworthy events from Sunday's games, including Jamaal Charles' big day, the repercussions of C.J. Spiller's injury and Mikel Leshoure's fine NFL debut.