From studs to duds, sleepers and more, Michael Fabiano breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Peyton Manning scorches the Cardinals on Sunday night. Who says Manning isn't still an elite fantasy quarterback? He proved against the Cardinals that no matter who he has (or doesn't have) on the end of his passes, Manning can be a fantasy superstar. He threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-10 blowout win over the reigning NFC champions, connecting with Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon and Joseph Addai for his four scores. Believe it or not, but Manning is a mere three fantasy points behind Drew Brees (who had nine touchdowns in his first two games) for the most points on NFL.com after three weeks.
Of course, things aren't so bright and sunny for fantasy owners who have Kurt Warner. While he did throw for an impressive 332 yards, Warner was able to throw for just one touchdown and was intercepted twice in the loss. He's really starting to look every bit of his 38 years and you have to worry about him making it through the entire season without missing some time.
Remember, he's coming off hip surgery and wasn't 100 percent during the preseason. Warner has also reportedly suffered stingers in each of the first two games that caused numbness in some of his fingers. Whether it's his age, the curse of the Super Bowl loser or something else, Warner's value as a fantasy starter is on the decline. If you can trade him now (or at some point after Arizona's bye in Week 4) and still get some value for him, making a move would be a very good idea.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew scores three times against the Texans. The man nicknamed "Pocket Hercules" proved why he was taken with one of the first five picks in most fantasy drafts, posting four catches, 147 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in a 31-24 win over Houston. Jones-Drew scored on runs of 61, 1 and 8 yards and is now tied with Willis McGahee (no, that's not a misprint) for the third-most fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com. Fantasy leaguers don't need me to tell them to start Jones-Drew, but you should be starting any running back who faces the Texans. They're dead last in the league against the run and have allowed eight rushing touchdowns on the season. I know it's hard to trust someone in an Oakland Raiders uniform, but you almost have to use Darren McFadden as a No. 2 back or flex starter against the Texans in Week 4.
Jones-Drew wasn't the lone player to put up huge numbers in his game, as Matt Schaub threw for 300 yards with three touchdowns. A preseason breakout candidate on NFL.com, he has now throw for 657 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception in his last two starts. I don't consider Schaub an elite fantasy quarterback, but it's hard to bench him right now while he's on such an amazing hot streak. It was also a good week for Kevin Walter, who made his season debut with seven catches, 96 yards and one score. He's once again a viable No. 3 fantasy wideout. Steve Slaton also had a decent game with three catches and 113 yards from scrimmage, but he still hasn't found the end zone. With Chris Brown stealing short-yardage and goal-line carries, Slaton will be hard-pressed to duplicate the touchdown production from his rookie season.
3. Kevin Kolb scores more points than Tom Brady ... again. I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it. Twice. For the second consecutive week, Kolb made Brady look like a second-rate fantasy quarterback. In his two starts in the absence of Donovan McNabb, Kolb has thrown for a combined 718 yards with five touchdowns (four pass, one rush) and scored 52 points on NFL.com. By comparison, Brady has recorded just 493 yards with one touchdown and scored a mere 23 points in that time. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Kolb's streak of success appears to be at an end. The Eagles have a bye in Week 4, and McNabb is slated to return in Week 5 to face Tampa Bay. Based on how poorly the Buccaneers defense has played this season, McNabb will be a must-start option upon his return. Barring a setback, Kolb will warrant little fantasy consideration moving forward.
Getting back to the subject of Brady, it's pretty evident that he's still trying to shake off the rust after missing extended time due to an injured knee. Fantasy owners don't need to panic, though, because with time and the eventual return of Wes Welker will come better numbers from the Stetson man. While you can't expect Brady to duplicate his 2007 totals (honestly, that was never going to happen), there's no reason to believe he won't be more productive and more consistent as the season rolls on. The schedule will help, as Brady faces teams with vulnerable pass defenses like the Ravens, Titans (yes, both are poor against the pass) and Buccaneers (in London) in the next three weeks.
4. Older running backs are showing their age this season. Back in the preseason, I wrote a column about the number of big-name runners who were getting a little long in the tooth and should be avoided. Tops on that list was LaDainian Tomlinson, who missed his second consecutive game with an injured ankle. He's no longer an elite back, so don't expect him to play like one when he returns. With Darren Sproles in the mix, even someone as great as L.T. won't escape the dreaded backfield committee. It's also time to throw in the towel on Clinton Portis. He's done nothing in games against the Rams and Lions, who field two of the league's worst defenses. It was also revealed that he's playing with bone spurs in both of his ankles, which won't help Portis' chances to produce on a consistent basis. On a team that seems to be in a state of flux after a loss to the hapless Lions, not to mention what appears to be a decreasing role in the offense, I'd be looking to trade Portis now to someone who wants to buy him low.
Fantasy owners also need to be concerned about Brian Westbrook, who missed his first (and probably not his last) game of the season with a sore ankle. Unless you also took LeSean McCoy in your draft, chances are you could be in big trouble at the running back position. Like Portis, the time is now to put Westbrook on the trade block. It's also time to quit on Jamal Lewis and Larry Johnson, both of whom are on their last legs. Lewis was inactive against the Ravens due to an injured hamstring, and chances are he'll be stuck in a backfield committee with Jerome Harrison and James Davis the rest of the season. Johnson is still seeing most of the carries in Kansas City, but he's never been the same since his 416-carry season in 2006. Even against a favorable opponent, Johnson should no longer be seen as more than a flex starter across the fantasy landscape.
5. The Buffalo Bills hold Drew Brees without a touchdown. If you would have asked me to give you the two players who would put up the biggest fantasy stat lines in Week 3, I would have said Jones-Drew and Brees. The Saints quarterback looked like a lock to blister the Bills and their 31st-ranked pass defense. Instead, he was held to 172 yards with no touchdowns in a 27-7 win. Those numbers were felt up and down the team's receiver depth chart, as Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Jeremy Shockey were all held to under 70 yards. Despite this bad week and a matchup against the 3-0 New York Jets next on the schedule, Brees is still far too valuable to ever reserve.
The same could be said of Pierre Thomas, if he can build on his Week 3 success. A fantasy sleeper in 2008, Thomas had missed the first two games of this season with a knee injury and didn't show much in the first half against the Bills. Thomas exploded in the second half, however, and would finish with 126 yards and two touchdowns. It was later revealed that Thomas was limited in the first half because he was dehydrated. In fact, he needed an IV before the contest and wasn't ready to play until the third quarter. Based on his success, Thomas should once again be considered a viable No. 2 fantasy back or flex starter going forward. He'll share the workload with Reggie Bush, but Thomas is the better fantasy option in standard formats. Owners should now considering releasing Mike Bell, who's dealing with an injured knee and could be out of the future mix.
Notes:49ers RB Frank Gore sustained an injured ankle against the Vikings and could be forced to miss at least two weeks. Look for rookie Glen Coffee to take over the starting role in the interim. He'll be a hot name on the waiver wire this week. ... Ravens RB Willis McGahee might be the biggest bargain in fantasy football right now. Despite sharing carried with Ray Rice, he's still tied for third in fantasy points on NFL.com at his position and has become a solid No. 2 back. ... Lions WR Calvin Johnson has not had a great start to the season. Despite all of his talent, Megatron is just 21st in fantasy points among wide receivers. It's not a matter of opportunities, either, as Johnson is tied for fifth at his position with 28 targets. Look for Johnson's numbers to rise as he develops a better rapport with Matthew Stafford. ... Falcons WR Roddy White has been a major disappointment for fantasy owners. After three weeks, he ranks 40th in fantasy points at his position behind the likes of Mark Clayton, Justin Gage and even Mark Bradley. He's clearly still being targeted in the offense, however, so White could be a great buy-low candidate heading into Atlanta's bye week. ... Rams RB Steven Jackson is putting up great yardage totals as the centerpiece of the team's offense, but he still hasn't found the end zone. With games against the 49ers and Vikings in the next two weeks, Jackson might not score his first touchdown until the middle of October. He could be headed toward a similar season to the one former Giants RB Tiki Barber had in 2006 -- Barber posted 58 catches and over 2,000 scrimmage yards, but he found the end zone just five times. ... While rookie quarterback rarely make an impact in fantasy circles, Jets QB Mark Sanchez is now well worth a reserve roster spot in most formats. He scored three touchdowns against the Titans and now has five end-zone visits on the season. ... Seahawks WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a preseason bust candidate on NFL.com, is failing to meet the expectations of fantasy owners. He posted just three fantasy points in Week 3 and is currently on pace to finish the season with just 773 yards. Houshmandzadeh also hasn't scored a touchdown this season. He's falling into the category of a high-end No. 3 fantasy wideout. He was a surefire No. 1 option just two seasons ago. ... Bills WR Terrell Owens is no longer worth starting in leagues that use just two wideouts. In Week 3, he failed to make a catch for the first time in his last 185 consecutive games. Based on his age and the history of wideouts over 35 years old, I'd be shocked if Owens has 1,000 yards in 2009. ... Chargers WR Vincent Jackson is now a must-start option in fantasy leagues. He put up five catches for 120 yards in a win over the Dolphins, and he's on pace to post career numbers across the board this season. Make sure he's active against the Steelers.