Offensive player rankings, Week 3: How Saints go on sans Brees

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Don't panic, Saints fans. Your team is built to handle bumps in the road -- even the kind of pothole that leaves you without your future Hall of Fame quarterback for a while.

Drew Brees suffered a thumb injury during the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Rams, and it was reported Monday that Brees will undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his throwing thumb. His return could come in 6-8 weeks, depending on the type of surgery he ends up having.

Teddy Bridgewater, who re-signed with the Saints in the offseason after being traded there in 2018, replaced Brees in the first quarter and finished 17-of-30 for 165 yards and zero touchdowns. Although the Saints failed to get into the end zone in the contest, Bridgewater showed enough to make me believe he can guide and thrive in this offense while Brees recovers. The former first-rounder did a nice job going through his reads and made good decisions, and his play should only improve when he starts taking reps with starters during the week. He is surrounded by one of the most talented supporting casts in the league, so I won't be surprised if the Saints remain in control of the NFC South until Brees comes back.

The Saints should feel good that they aren't the only NFC South team with concerns. The Bucs will go as Jameis Winston does, and I'm not convinced that he'll be able to sustain the higher level of play he showed in Week 2. The Panthers will be stuck in the mud if Cam Newton isn't healthy; we saw what happened when Newton became a dropback quarterback against the Bucs, and it wasn't pretty. The Falcons have a real opportunity to create distance between them and the rest of the division, but inconsistency over the last two seasons makes me hesitant to say the NFC South will be decided by November.

Here are three things the Saints' offense must do to survive this stint without Brees:

1) Make it Alvin Kamara's time. With former backfield-mate Mark Ingram departing for Baltimore via free agency, Kamara transitioned from RB2 to starter this offseason, and now it's all on him. He is the guy in this offense, and we'll see if he can be the offensive engine without Brees. Against the Rams, Kamara struggled without Brees, finishing the game with 14 touches for 60 scrimmage yards, including just one reception for 15 yards, after racking up 169 scrimmage yards on 20 touches in the season opener. This can't be the norm going forward, because Kamara is far better than what he showed in the rematch of last season's NFC title game. Since 2017, Kamara ranks in the top three in scrimmage yards (3,375) and touchdowns (32) in the NFL. That's the Kamara the Saints need, and I'm sure Sean Payton will do everything he can to help him carry the load while Brees is gone.

2) Help Bridgewater by calling complementary plays. Known for his offensive creativity, Payton might face his greatest test of the last decade. Before hurting his thumb on Sunday, Brees had missed just one game in his career due to injury (Week 3 of 2015). For the first time since joining forces with Brees in 2006, Payton will have to game plan for someone other than the league's all-time passing leader in a meaningful contest. Payton does a spectacular job making life easy for his quarterback by creating offense before the play even starts via formations and alignments. I have no doubt Payton will give Bridgewater, who started 28 games for the Vikings in 2014 and '15 but has made just one start since, a clear picture of what the coverage is pre-snap. This will help Bridgewater become more comfortable and process plays and make decisions quickly.

3) Get Taysom Hill involved. The third-string quarterback before Brees went down, Hill is also a running and receiving threat who averaged 2.5 touches per game through Week 2, so there is room for him to get more involved in the coming weeks. I think there's a good chance Payton goes into the lab and creates more plays for Hill, who can be used in the run game with Kamara, out wide in the pass game, on screens and under center. Getting Hill the ball eight to 10 times per game will result in a positive outcome for this unit.

As the 2019 NFL season rolls on, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr continues to rank his top 15 offensive players. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:

1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2019 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.

Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. With Week 2 already in the books, here is Carr's list:

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

1
Patrick Mahomes
QB
Chiefs

Mahomes is playing maybe better than he ever has, and Sunday's game against the Raiders proved as much. According to Next Gen Stats, he was 7-of-14 for 257 yards and four touchdowns on deep passes (20-plus air yards). Which defensive coordinator will be the one to stop the Chiefs passer? I'll wait ...

2
Saquon Barkley
RB
Giants
1

Barkley has made defenses look silly on the Giants' first drives over the last two games. He had a 59-yard run to set up a touchdown in the opening drive against Dallas in Week 1, then had four carries for 55 yards (including a 27-yarder) and a TD on the first drive of Sunday's contest. Barkley finished with 21 touches against the Bills. While that's six more than Week 1, he should see the rock even more.

3
Russell Wilson
QB
Seahawks
2

Wilson had himself a day against the Steelers, completing 29 of 35 passes for 300 yards, three TDs, zero picks and a 131.0 passer rating. It's great to see the Seahawks QB1 have one of the most efficient starts to a season in his career.

4
Ezekiel Elliott
RB
Rams
2

Two weeks into the season, and Zeke's holdout has been long forgotten. He had a standard outing against Washington on Sunday, logging 23 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. This is a good performance for a running back, but we didn't hear much about it, because it's the kind of production we expect from the two-time rushing champ.

5
Christian McCaffrey
RB
Panthers
3

The Bucs' defense stifled McCaffrey and the Panthers to drop Carolina to 0-2. The young running back struggled to get much going -- like the rest of the Panthers' offense -- and came up short on the crucial fourth-down play that sealed the loss. This was McCaffrey's first career game since entering the NFL in 2017 with fewer than 40 rushing yards and fewer than 20 receiving yards on 15-plus touches.

6
Tom Brady
QB
Patriots
3

Brady and the Patriots traditionally struggle in South Beach, but not this time. The six-time Super Bowl champion had three touchdowns (one rushing!) in the win, including a TD pass to newcomer Antonio Brown. Though he's 42 years old, it feels like Brady is nowhere near the end.

7
DeAndre Hopkins
WR
Texans

The Deshaun Watson-Hopkins connection has been potent since the quarterback was drafted in 2017, but Sunday's game against the Jaguars marked the first time in which Hopkins had fewer than 50 receiving yards and zero touchdowns since Watson entered the league. His down outing could be mostly blamed on Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who played well against Hopkins in coverage. That said, the Texans will need more from their two offensive stars going forward.

8
Todd Gurley
RB
Rams

Sean McVay hasn't used his star running back much in the passing game this season (four catches on five targets), and I'm OK with that, because he has been effective on the ground when he gets the rock (5.3 yards per attempt). Gurley got into the end zone for the first time this season against the Saints, and that TD gave Gurley 41 scrimmage TDs since 2017, nine more than the next closest player.

9
Julio Jones
WR
Falcons
3

Jones has been criticized for not getting touchdowns, but Sunday's go-ahead touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter against the Eagles kept alive the longest active receiving touchdown streak in the league (Jones has scored in six consecutive games).

10
Lamar Jackson
QB
Ravens
5

The Ravens' young quarterback has shown that he can win games two ways -- with his arm or his legs. Jackson threw all over the yard for five touchdowns in Week 1, but in Sunday's win over the Cardinals, he rushed for a career-high 120 yards while still finding some success in the pass game. What he's doing early on is putting the Ravens on watch.

11
Michael Thomas
WR
Saints
2

Thomas hauled in a game-high 10 receptions for 89 yards against the Rams and had to work for everything after Brees' exit. I don't suspect his production will dip all that much with Teddy Bridgewater under center, but he'll have to work a little harder.

12
Alvin Kamara
RB
Saints
2

Wade Phillips' unit kept Kamara in check all game long. He had his first game with 10-plus touches and less than 70 scrimmage yards since his NFL debut in 2017. As I alluded above, Kamara must prove his value to the Saints' offense now that Drew Brees is out for 6-8 weeks.

13
Dalvin Cook
RB
Vikings
NR

Cook leads the league in rushing yards (265) two weeks into the season. Against the Packers, he had 20 carries for 154 yards, including a career-long 75-yard touchdown run. Maybe the most impressive thing about his performance was that he gained a career-high 125 rush yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.

14
Aaron Rodgers
QB
Packers

Rodgers and the Packers' offense came out on a mission against the Vikings, scoring 21 unanswered points to start the game. Those 21 points proved to be enough thanks to Vikings QB Kirk Cousins' shortcomings, but Rodgers didn't put the game away like we're used to seeing. Instead, the Packers' defense came up big late in the game.

15
Travis Kelce
TE
Chiefs
NR

Remember when Kelce held the record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end for all of 20 minutes in 2018? Well, it seems he's determined to reclaim that briefly held mark. Kelce is on pace for 1,560 receiving yards in 2019, which would be a record, after logging 195 through the first two weeks.

Dropping out: Drew Brees, QB, Saints (No. 4) and George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers (No. 11).

JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15

George Kittle, TE, 49ers: The 49ers have a star in their tight end, as he reached 2,000 career receiving yards against the Bengals on Sunday. Kittle reached the mark in the fourth-fewest games (33) by a tight end in NFL history.

Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: Henry notched another rushing TD in Sunday's loss to Indy. But over the last seven games (going back to Week 13 of last season), Henry has the most rushing TDs (10) among running backs -- four more than the next closest RBs, Chris Carson and Marlon Mack.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Hilton didn't put up the biggest numbers but stepped up when he needed to with a 4-yard touchdown reception that put the Colts ahead, 19-17, with less than five minutes to go.

Jared Goff, QB, Rams: Sunday against the Saints, Goff looked much like the quarterback who was in the MVP conversation at the end of last season. The Rams passer thrived in the second half to help put the game away by completing 75 percent of his passes for 167 yards and a passer rating of 144.4, along with two touchdowns (one rush, one pass).

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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