(Each week during the season, Scott Engel of RotoExperts.com takes a look at the top five fantasy storylines.)
1. The Michael Vick explosion: Philadelphia's new starting QB has been delivering the stellar outing fantasy owners have been waiting for since his Atlanta days. On Sunday, we saw the overall statistical threat we always were hoping for, but thought would never return, after his Falcons tenure went up in flames. Vick threw for 291 yards and three TDs, and ran for another score. He is clearly more mature, and is taking advantage of the type of WR weaponry he never had with the Falcons. It is apparent his time as a backup has served him well, as he had time to study the Eagles offense and also learned by watching Donovan McNabb. Vick now resists the urge to take off and run too quickly, and uses his mobility to keep plays alive and keep defenses off balance when he throws on the run. When there isn't anything developing downfield, he can still hurt opponents by scrambling, as evidenced by his 17-yard scoring run. Four years after we nearly gave up on him becoming a quality fantasy QB, Vick finally appears to be blossoming.
He still has all the tools that made him so exciting when he first came into the NFL, and now he has more football wisdom. He is surrounded by true playmakers on the Eagles offense, and is taking full advantage of his surroundings and an opportunity for redemption. Vick has blasted back onto the fantasy scene as a surefire top 10 QB, with the potential to rank just outside the elite at his position. We're not being reactionary here. The "new" Michael Vick has arrived, and is here to stay. Do not sell high on him based on his past inconsistencies.
2. Power performance: The Browns appear to have found the solution to their RB issues. Peyton Hillis delivered a breakout performance against a highly formidable opponent, rushing for 144 yards and a TD in a loss at Baltimore. Hillis had shown some flashes of potential as a runner in his rookie season, yet the Broncos never gave him a true opportunity to show what he could do over an extended period, and most experts did not figure he would get much of an opportunity with the Browns this year, either. Injuries quickly forced Hillis into a more central role with the Browns, though, and he has seized an opportunity he may never relinquish. Hillis showed us he was a tough runner, against a very tough opponent. Hillis is not only strong and can break tackles and move piles, he has deceptive quickness and is very tough for defenders to handle when he builds up momentum. When a RB runs hard in a physical manner against an equally physical opponent, you simply have to stand up and take notice.
Hillis exchanged physical blows with a notoriously strong front seven and did not back down. That should not only earn him major respect, but also a regular spot in many fantasy lineups. Hillis is here to stay as a fantasy contributor. Get on board and ride the new train that is charging out of Cleveland.
3. Out of the shadows: He did not burst into prominence this week like Vick or Hillis, yet New England RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis cannot be overlooked after he came through with his own possible breakthrough outing. Green-Ellis, long regarded as nothing more than a warm body for depth in New England, and a fantasy non-factor, will now become a waiver wire darling after he rushed for 98 yards and a TD against Buffalo. Those who were close to the scene in New England knew that Green-Ellis' potential was supposedly a major factor in the Patriots deeming Laurence Maroney expendable. Once Maroney was dealt to Denver, the door opened for Green-Ellis to get his chance to play more. Veterans on the team had reportedly been talking up Green-Ellis as a player with star potential.
The Pats obviously cannot rely on Fred Taylor or Sammy Morris to carry a significant load on a regular basis, and Green-Ellis had shown signs of promise in the preseason as well. The Patriots started to work Green-Ellis into the flow of the offense against Buffalo, and enjoyed the desired results. Green-Ellis ran hard and displayed good vision, tenacity, balance and the ability to break tackles and gain extra yardage after contact. Green-Ellis is certainly not an exciting runner, yet he can power downhill and get the job done on a team that can certainly use a reliable runner to further balance its offense. Green-Ellis may continue to share carries with Taylor and Morris, yet it is clear he is emerging as the Patriots' lead runner for fantasy purposes. He will get the opportunities to carry the ball on key downs, and can be a major factor when the team needs a grinder to protect a lead. Now in his third season, Green-Ellis has become comfortable in the Patriots organization. He can be considered a solid flex option with the potential to become an RB2 at some point in the future.
4. Veteran passers ignite offenses: Charlie Batch and Bruce Gradkowski are obvious journeyman types who would rarely get starting consideration in most fantasy leagues, and with good reason. They have both plugged and plodded through mostly uneventful careers, and do not have the physical tools to excel. Yet in Week 3, both players showed there is no substitute for experience at the QB position, and when such passers get pressed into service, they can use their smarts to pump life into an offense. QBs such as Batch and Gradkowski can make defenses respect the passing game. Batch, who was an absolute desperation option for the Steelers, far exceeded expectations with three TD passes at Tampa Bay. Most importantly, he helped Mike Wallace enjoy a 100-yard, two-TD day, found Hines Ward in the end zone and loosened up the defense so Rashard Mendenhall could rush for 143 yards. Batch may go down in NFL annals as a failed experiment with the Lions, yet he still can execute a gameplan with quality results. Sure, he overachieved, but when an experienced player such as Batch takes over as a QB, he will often play smart football and pump up the numbers of his teammates.
Gradkowski is inferior as an NFL QB in terms of physical attributes, but he is gritty and tenacious. He threw for 255 yards at Arizona, but more importantly, he helped Louis Murphy garner 119 receiving yards, and found Zach Miller for a score. With Gradkowski at the helm, Oakland's top playmakers merit true fantasy consideration for the first time in recent memory. Darrius Heyward-Bey will be targeted frequently and should be added in larger leagues. Never underestimate the impact of a QB who has spent much time on the sidelines, when he finally lands the opportunity to start.
5. Receiving teases? A handful of veteran wide receivers who had been forgotten or were losing luster in many leagues re-appeared among the statistical leaders in Week 3. Lance Moore caught six passes for 149 yards and two TDs. Jabar Gaffney caught 12 balls for 140 yards. Roy Williams caught five passes for 117 yards and scored twice. Braylon Edwards also broke loose for a 67-yard TD reception. None of these players, though, should see your starting lineup until they demonstrate that they can deliver back-to-back quality performances. The Saints simply spread the ball around too much in the passing game for Moore to be anywhere near reliable. He could easily meander through two to three quiet or mediocre games in the weeks ahead. The Broncos also weave the ball around to different pass-catchers each week, and Gaffney has never been dependable for extended periods at any time in his career. Williams has been a notorious fantasy tease in the past, to the point where many "burned" owners will not take a chance on him again, and you cannot blame them. Edwards turned in a big play on Sunday night, but is far from dependable and still has a ways to go to prove he has truly re-emerged as a player worthy of strong fantasy consideration. One long TD is nowhere near enough.