Remember when I talked about the recent trend that saw quarterbacks and wide receivers dominate while running backs floundered?
Well, it continued in Week 4.
Five of the week's top 10 fantasy performers came from the quarterback position, three were wide receivers (and no one could have predicted the trio), and two were runners. Overall, there is one back that ranks in the top 10 in points for the season, and it's not LaDainian Tomlinson -- it's Ronnie Brown. What's more, only seven of the top 30 points producers are backs, and one of them (LaMont Jordan) could be out awhile due to an injured back. Jordan wasn't the lone back to sustain a serious ailment, as another member of the backfield club will miss the remainder of the season.
Before we talk further about backs, let's focus on the real heroes of Week 4 -- the quarterbacks. Tony Romo led the position with 37 points on 339 yards and four total touchdowns. He has become a must-start option in all leagues. Daunte Culpepper threw for an awful 75 yards in Miami, but he scored five touchdowns against his old team. Too bad he was active in a mere 13 percent of NFL.com leagues. He'll be a hot name on the waiver wire this week. Peyton Manning (31 points), Brett Favre (23 points) and Matt Hasselbeck (21 points) round out the top five at the position. Favre, who broke Dan Marino's all-time record for touchdown passes on Sunday, has been one of this season's best draft values. After four weeks, he is on pace to throw for 4,800-plus yards and 32 touchdowns. The veteran has become a must-start across the board.
Some of the surprises of Week 4 included Joey Harrington (20 points), Damon Huard (19 points) and Derek Anderson (18 points). Anderson, who faced what is considered a tough Baltimore defense, threw for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-13 win. Believe it or not, Anderson ranks fourth in total fantasy points overall after four weeks.
Not all the quarterbacks were productive, however, as Marc Bulger (2 points), Donovan McNabb (3 points) and Matt Leinart (3 points) all had awful stat lines. Bulger threw for 114 yards and no touchdowns in Dallas, and it was evident that his broken ribs were a serious issue. In fact, I'd be shocked if he didn't miss a few starts down the line behind a patchwork offensive line. McNabb's lack of numbers weren't his fault -- he was sacked 12 times and had no time to throw the football. Leinart started for Arizona, but he lost time to Kurt Warner for the second consecutive week. The offense runs much better under Warner, so owners need to keep tabs on that situation for a possible move.
While Tomlinson (21 points) and Larry Johnson (14 points) both had improved numbers, the real tale of the weekend for backs was the injuries suffered. Cadillac Williams tore his patella tendon in his right knee and his out for the season. Backups Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham will be hot names on the waiver wire. Jordan left the Raiders' win over Miami with an injured back, and reports out of Oakland suggest he could be out a few weeks. That makes Dominic Rhodes, who is available in more than 50 percent of NFL.com leagues, a hot free-agent asset. While Joseph Addai and Travis Henry also sustained lesser ailments, Ahman Green and Brian Westbrook were both inactive due to injuries. With Deuce McAllister done for 2007 and Steven Jackson out several weeks, the number of productive backs has taken a serious hit.
Several prominent backs not hindered due to injuries also did zilch in the box scores. Shaun Alexander does have a broken bone in his wrist but that wasn't the reason he rushed for 78 yards and no scores against San Francisco. Cedric Benson (7 points), Marion Barber (7 points) and Thomas Jones (5 points) also failed to meet statistical expectations against lesser defenses. Benson, who continues to have a problem with fumbles, was benched in the first half against Detroit and could lose some work to Adrian Peterson and Garret Wolfe if he doesn't take better care of the football.
With so many backs either hurt or inconsistent, fantasy owners need to be diligent on the waiver wire this week. All of these ailments also prove the value of the backfield handcuff.
The wide receiver position was turned upside down this week, as Patrick Crayton (30 points), Santonio Holmes (24 points), Dwayne Bowe (22 points), Michael Jenkins (18 points) and Andre' Davis (17 points) were all in the top five in points. The top 10 also included Jerry Porter (17 points) and Sidney Rice (13 points). Jerheme Urban (11 points) was 11th overall.
Crayton is a worth a fantasy roster spot but he won't produce another stat line with 184 yards and two touchdowns. Bowe, who has scored a touchdown three consecutive weeks, will be a hot name on the waiver wire. Davis also has some value while Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones are out. Jenkins, Rice and Urban, however, warrant less consideration. Fantasy owners who landed Braylon Edwards have to love the move. He had 15 points on 97 yards and one score in Week 4 and has 57 points overall, which ranks fourth at the position.
Aforementioned stars like Smith, Owens, and Holt all had porous stat lines. While I wouldn't be concerned about Owens, Smith and Holt could be in for tough times.
Smith has struggled without Jake Delhomme. In just over five quarters without his starting quarterback, Smith has six catches for 42 yards and no touchdowns. In just over 10 quarters with Delhomme, he has 15 catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns. There have been reports that Delhomme could need surgery to repair his injured elbow; that would be bad news for fantasy owners. Holt doesn't seem to be 100 percent back from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery and the fact that Bulger is hurt and the offensive line has deteriorated is bad news.
On a more positive note, Lee Evans had his first nice stat line of the season with six receptions for 72 yards against the N.Y. Jets.
On the injury front, owners also need to keep tabs on the status of Javon Walker, who was inactive Sunday due to a sore knee, Anquan Boldin, who was out with an injured hip, and Marvin Harrison, who sustained a bruised knee. It's also important to keep tabs on Santana Moss, who could be out several weeks with an injured groin. The Redskins signed veteran wideout Keenan McCardell this week in order to insure themselves at the position.
Dallas Clark led all tight ends with 19 points on 76 yards and two touchdowns in Week 4 and he now ranks tied for second with Jason Witten in total points for the season. Witten, who has been an unreal draft value, scored 13 points and tied Tony Gonzalez this week. Desmond Clark (10 points) and Justin Peele (10 points) round out the top five. Kellen Winslow (9 points), Marcus Pollard (8 points), Michael Gaines (8 points) and Antonio Gates (7 points) also posted attractive stat lines.
The biggest disappointment was Jeremy Shockey, who totaled just one point in a win over Philadelphia. Todd Heap (3 points), who injured his hamstring in a loss to Cleveland, was a statistical disappointment against a vulnerable defense. Quinn Sypniewski (9 points), who no one in fantasy football owns, outscored Heap in the contest. Heap could be questionable for Week 5, so keep tabs on his status.
At the one position where age is less of a factor, 47-year-old Morten Andersen scored 15 points on four field goals to lead all kickers. Dave Rayner (13 points), Nate Kaeding (12 points), Ryan Longwell (12 points) and Mason Crosby (12 points) make up the top five performances. It was a positive week for Kaeding, who had done little despite his status as the top preseason kicker in fantasy football. Still, he's only ranked 26th at the position after four weeks.
One kicker who should be released in all leagues is Jeff Wilkins, who has missed 40 percent of his field-goal attempts and ranks 24th at the position. The St. Louis offense has been meager at best, and the future doesn't look bright for Scott Linehan's team. Neil Rackers (3 points), Nick Folk (5 points), and David Akers (5 points) also had porous weeks, but they're all still well worth roster spots on fantasy teams.
To further prove the oddities of the week, the Giants defense scored an impressive 34 points in a win over the Eagles. The Men in Blue were awful on defense in its three previous weeks, and almost no one had this unit on their roster headed into Week 4. Seattle (26 points), Detroit (26 points), Arizona (20 points) and Kansas City (19 points) were all in the top five among defenses, while Baltimore (4 points), San Diego (6 points), Carolina (6 points) and Minnesota (7 points) were less than stellar.
News & Notes
» The Ravens defense might be stout against the run, but it has been vulnerable to the pass this season. The unit ranks 18th against the pass and has surrendered nice stat lines to Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kurt Warner, and Anquan Boldin over the past two weeks. This is still a must-start unit in fantasy leagues but it's just 16th in standard formats after four weeks. Look for Baltimore to turn it around next week in San Francisco against a Niners offense that averages a mere 14.0 points per game.
» Speaking of the Niners, Alex Smith suffered a separated shoulder in Week 4 and is expected to miss more than a month of action. He had done little before the ailment, but the prospect of Trent Dilfer being under center is a bad one for the likes of Frank Gore, Darrell Jackson and Vernon Davis (when he returns). Dilfer completed an awful 37 percent of his passes, lost two fumbles, and threw two interceptions against Seattle. At this point, Gore is the only viable fantasy option on the 49ers roster.
» Reports out of New York indicate that Brandon Jacobs (knee) will see more work in practice this week and should return to face the Jets at the Meadowlands in Week 5. While Jacobs will retain the top spot on the depth chart, chances are the Derrick Ward will continue to see his share of time on passing downs and as a change-of-pace option out of the backfield. Veteran runner Reuben Droughns, who was added in quite a few leagues this week, now warrants little to no consideration on fantasy football rosters.
» Philip Rivers was expected to take the next step in his development under the guidance of head coach Norv Turner, but he seems to have regressed instead. He threw for 211 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss to the Chiefs, and he's been inconsistent, at best, under center. Rivers is still a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy quarterback in most cases but he's better used against favorable opponents until he puts together a few solid stat lines.