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NFL fantasy football: Big Ben is a big surprise in Week 4

Living in Los Angeles affords me the opportunity to spend a good portion of my free time at Venice Beach. Yes, that's a #humblebrag. But it also is to state a point. No matter how many times I've been there, I'm always surprised by something. Maybe it's the constant stream of tourists that populate the boardwalk at all times of the year. Maybe it's the (ahem!) locals who are more than willing to engage you in conversation -- whether or not you're interested in reciprocating. In that same way, as much as I think I know what's coming in each week's Future Perfect rankings, there's always something that catches me off guard.

This week, one of those surprises was Ben Roethlisberger. Maybe it shouldn't have been after he threw four touchdown passes last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Nonetheless, he was a bit of an afterthought when I cranked up the Stats-a-Tron 5000 this week. However, his rapid ascension mixed with a more discerning look at some of his past seasons has me questioning why and how he was such an afterthought. More on that later.

By the way, you'll probably notice that not everything matches up between the overall rankings and the individual position lists. Those aren't typos. A guy might have a schedule that features teams that are strong against one particular fantasy position, yet might be a little weaker overall. For that reason, some players grade out differently against others at their same position compared to the league as a whole. But I digress.

It's become something of a game between myself and Michael Fabiano to try and determine who will make some of the biggest drops and gains in the weekly season-to-end rankings as the games are going on. After the first half of the Washington Redskins game against the Cincinnati Bengals, it looked like Robert Griffin III would be taking a pretty big tumble down the list. But that's why they play two halves.

Beyond that, the Top 50 overall list is littered with names you wouldn't expect to be this high. Meanwhile, some of the big names are languishing well down the rankings. That doesn't mean it's officially time to panic over those guys ... but that time is certainly getting close. There's only so long Aaron Rodgers can be average before he's stripped of the championship belt (although Adam Rank, who is much more of a WWE aficionado than I am, could probably speak more intelligently on that).

Oh, and while we're talking about surprises, there are three tight ends that landed in the overall Top 50 ... and none of them are named Gronkowski or Graham.

Not everything caught me off guard this week. The running back rankings said goodbye to Chris Johnson. It might be awhile before we see him gracing this column again.

Now that the bye weeks are starting, we could see a little more volatility in the rankings -- not that they've been rock solid through the first three weeks. But with Indianapolis and Pittsburgh enjoying the first off weeks of the 2012 campaign, there are a handful of highly-ranked fantasy options that could find their status having a short shelf life.

Anyway, enough of this jibber-jabber. It's time to break down this week's Future Perfect rankings...


» Biggest gainer:Joe Flacco

» Biggest drop:Michael Vick

» Big Ben's big day spawned a big jump in the rankings. Now that most people are starting to come around on Eli Manning's value as a fantasy quarterback, is it possible that Roethlisberger is now the most underrated fantasy football signal caller around? Were it not for injury, he'd be a perennial top ten'er and could be on his way to that status again this year.

» Speaking of guys flying up the charts, Joe Flacco looked like an elite fantasy quarterback -- for one week, at least. I was big on Flacco as a sleeper in the preseason, but after a poor Week 2, I was afraid I'd be suffering from foot-in-mouth disease. This week, I get to pound my chest a little bit. Let me enjoy this now, because I could be tasting my toes again in a few weeks.

» There are myriad things I could say about Carson Palmer's first three weeks of the season, but the late, great Mel Blanc said it best. At times, watching the Raiders offense is like wearing your shoes on the wrong foot. It just looks awkward and slightly uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, Palmer has usually put together a pretty nice fantasy day. I just can't figure it out, but I'll take it.

» Yes, it's only been three games, but Andrew Luck is showing his potential as a dynasty league quarterback option. That might even be underselling his performance this year. At the moment, he's a viable No. 2 QB choice in most leagues. He's on a bye this week, but has a pair of tests facing him after the off week with the Packers and Jets in successive games.

» It's been a rough start for the top three "must have" fantasy quarterbacks. Drew Brees has been the best of the bunch, though he's been plagued by interception bug (he's on pace to throw 26 picks). His value has been buoyed by throwing for 300-plus yards per game and seven touchdown passes. Meanwhile Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have struggled with challenging early-season schedules. Things should start to loosen up for the latter two. I know it's probably driving many of you mad, but have faith, things will get better for this group.

» Hello, Matt Schaub. Nice of you to finally show up. We've been expecting you. After a fantastic preseason, it took Schaub a couple of weeks to get going. That success might be short-lived. After this week's game against the malleable Titans defense, Houston's next three opponents (NYJ, GB, BAL) aren't nearly as forgiving. Schaub may likely move up after this week, but look for a slide to follow.

» Part of the reason Michael Vick is so low on this list is because of an offensive line that's been offensive. But a bigger part of the reason has been Vick himself. In three games, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has turned the ball over nine times. In the past, Vick's been able to boost his fantasy production through the running game, but that's not happening in 2012. Whether it's by design or by accident, Vick is averaging the second-lowest rushing yards per game (31.3) average of his career. There aren't a lot of soft spots coming in the schedule so Vick is becoming much more risk and much less reward.

» If anyone can empathize with Vick's problems, it's Tony Romo. The Cowboys signal-caller hasn't had the best time behind his suspect offensive line so far this year. Five of Dallas' next six games are against the Bears, Ravens, Giants, Falcons and Eagles. Good luck with that.

Running backs

» Biggest gainer:Jamaal Charles

» Biggest drop: Kevin Smith

» C.J. Spiller's had a nice run at the top of this list, but that ends this week. His status up in the air for Sunday and Fred Jackson rushing to get back on the field. But more importantly, Arian Foster is facing off against the Tennessee Titans this week. It could be a boost for vegans everywhere -- though more likely, it'll just be a nice performance for fantasy football owners. Regardless, it'll be a big surprise if Foster isn't on top of this list next week.

» Unlike the quarterback spot, the running backs are starting to look the way we expected. Maurice Jones-Drew is looking holdout-proof after a big game in Week 3. Jamaal Charles reminded us why were so high on him in the preseason and Darren McFadden started to come to life last week against an unlikely opponent. MJD should continue his ascent against a porous Bengals defense. Charles should hold steady versus San Diego, but McFadden is in danger of taking a step back this week against a tough Broncos run defense.

» Just a couple of spots separate Alfred Morris from Stevan Ridley in the rankings, but it appears that their roles have no resemblance to one another. So far, Morris has staked his claim to the Redskins top RB job and it appears there's no one on the roster who can challenge him enough to bring Shanahanigans into play (although, that's usually when Shahahanigans happen). However, after last Sunday night's game, it looks like Ridley is poised to be a victim of #Belitricks. That's what helped Danny Woodhead creep onto the list. It's also the reason fantasy owners were left steamed when Brandon Bolden found his way into the end zone.

» For the time being, Michael Turner has reassured fantasy owners that they shouldn't give him his walking papers just yet. Even better news for Turner owners is that the schedule is pretty favorable for the next few weeks (CAR, WAS, OAK). He'll have to take advantage of it with Jacquizz Rodgers starting to climb the ranks.

» When I mentioned above that many of the top running backs are starting to play as expected, there was one noticeably absent -- LeSean McCoy. Shady's performance has been just that through the first three weeks, though he's not completely at fault. The two biggest reasons for his lackluster production are fewer targets in the passing game (he's averaging nearly two fewer catches per game compared to 2011) and a lack of touchdowns (just one in 2012 compared to five at this point last season). The next month of the season won't bring much relief, however if Michael Vick continues to struggle, the Eagles might turn to McCoy to spark the offense.

» Even though Adrian Peterson performed above expectations against the 49ers last week, it wasn't enough to keep him from taking a small drop. This week's game against the Lions may not help his value, but with back-to-back games against the Titans and Redskins in Weeks 5 and 6, A.D. should rebound quickly.

» Apparently the New Orleans Saints don't believe Darren Sproles can multi-task. In the Saints first two games, Sproles had 18 catches but no carries. Last week, Sproles ran the ball seven times, but didn't have a reception. Since he's proved that he's adept at both, you'd imagine New Orleans would like to put both of those skills on display in the same game. This week's game against the Packers wouldn't be a bad place to start. When it finally happens, there's a good chance Sproles will move up this list.

» I never would have imagined Jackie Battle to have such fantasy value through the first three weeks. And I certainly never would have imagined that his value could possibly be going up. Ryan Mathews' fumbling issues have led Norv Turner to announce that the starter's touches will likely be limited. That could open the door for Battle to get a few touches -- especially in the red zone. How he's used this week against the woeful Chiefs could have a big impact on his fantasy value going forward.

» Kevin Smith, look down. Mikel Leshoure will likely be swapping places with you very soon.

» There's an interesting battle brewing for Kansas City's No. 2 running back job. At the start of the season, it was assumed that Peyton Hillis would be the man, but so far he's being slightly outplayed by Shaun Draughn. Keep an eye on who sees the most touches behind Jamaal Charles this week.

» Shonn Greene's fantasy value isn't sinking, it's crashing. Poor production has opened the door for Bilal Powell to see a few more touches. And games against the 49ers and Texans in the next two weeks won't help matters.

» Tashard Choice made the list this week, but he may not be here long. With Spiller's injury not as serious as initially feared and Fred Jackson hoping to return soon, Choice could be like the little brother out-muscled by his older siblings for the last slice of pizza. It was nice to see his potential in Week 3, but don't get too enamored of it. It'll be short-lived.

Wide receivers

» Biggest gainer:Torrey Smith

» Biggest drop:Stephen Hill

» We haven't had much experience with holdout wide receivers, but if Mike Wallace can be used as an example, there could be more wideouts skipping camp. Granted, his breakout day this season came against the Raiders' shaky secondary, but he posted nice numbers the week before against the Jets and has scored a touchdown in all three games this season. Wallace gets the week off and returns with a tough game against the Eagles in Week 5, but he follows that with three nice matchups versus the Titans, Bengals and Redskins. He might not be the top fantasy receiver around, but there's still plenty to like.

» Torrey Smith is turning into quite the home run hitter for the Ravens and right now, he's pretty hot. In Week 5, he faces off against the Chiefs, giving him another chance to swing for the fences. Weeks 6 and 7 offer the Cowboys and Texans, two pretty unfavorable defenses, but it looks to just be a bump in the road for a player who's fantasy value is on the rise.

» Remember when we were worried about Reggie Wayne's fantasy value? Last season we was overshadowed by Pierre Garcon. Then we wondered if he would be able to build a rapport with Andrew Luck. Well, all of our questions have been answered. Wayne is still the man in Indianapolis.

» I've said repeatedly that if anyone can break the Madden curse, it would be Calvin Johnson. Megatron transfomed to his previous level of production with a huge game in Week 3. Even if Matthew Stafford has had his struggles, Johnson has held pretty steady -- though I'd like him to have a few more turns in the end zone. After a bye in Week 5, the Lions face the Eagles, Bears and Seahawks in consecutive weeks. It's not the easiest stretch, but Johnson has shown that he's pretty matchup-proof.

» It's official ... the Bengals have two solid receiving threats. We already knew about A.J. Green. Now, meet Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins has scored no fewer than eight fantasy points in each of the first three weeks and picked up 14.20 fantasy points for owners in Week 3. Aside from this week's surprisingly tough test against the Jaguars, Hawkins has some nice matchups in the near future with the Dolphins, Browns, Steelers and Broncos scheduled in the next month.

» After Week 2, Julio Jones was down and Roddy White was up. After Week 3, it's the opposite. It doesn't change the fact that both are still top-tier wide receivers. One of these weeks, they'll both post big stat lines. It might not be this week against the Panthers. More likely it'll be in Week 5 or Week 6 against the Redskins or Raiders.

» Santonio Holmes made a big gain this week, thanks to a nice game against the Miami Dolphins. Don't buy it. As our Adrian Mojica writes, it's an illusion. He has tough matchups in the next two weeks (SF, HOU). Oh, and he still has the consistently inconsistent Mark Sanchez as his quarterback. I didn't like Holmes much before the season started and I haven't seen anything to make me change my mind.

» Same goes for Jeremy Kerley.

» The eternal mystery that is Vincent Jackson should be a little easier to figure out over the next month. Tampa Bay's next three games are against the Redskins, Chiefs and Saints -- three teams that are pretty WR-friendly. Then again, if Jackson were easy to figure out, he wouldn't be a mystery, would he? However, I like his chances against that trio.

» Cecil Shorts looks like he's in line to be the big play threat for the Jaguars. While the rest of the world is wondering when Justin Blackmon is going to break out, Shorts has siezed an opportunity. His problem right now is consistency. He's just as likely to be shutout in any given game as he is to break lose and reach the end zone. So while he's in a pretty good spot right now, he could just as easily be off the list next week.

» Brandon Lloyd leads the Patriots in receptions this season, but he (along with Wes Welker) have been underwhelming fantasy performers in 2012. Only once has Lloyd reached double-digits in fantasy scoring and he still hasn't found the end zone. I'm willing to chalk it up to Lloyd facing tough defenses, which makes the next two weeks against the Bills and Broncos critical to his fantasy value. The Pats follow that with a three-game stretch against the Seahawks, Jets and Rams. If Lloyd doesn't do it now, it could be awhile before we can expect any big peformances.

» Brandon Marshall is holding steady. That would be okay if he were anywhere near the top ten. Some of Marshall's problems can be pinned on Jay Cutler's struggles, but he's hurt himself with drops in key spots -- namely the end zone. There aren't any real soft spots in the schedule until Week 9 against the Titans. Look for the frustrations to continue.

» Hey there, Larry Fitzgerald. Thanks for joining us. We hope you stick around awhile.

» I gushed above about the emergence of Andrew Hawkins. I think he's for real. Armon Binns, on the other hand, could very well be a flash in the pan. He's had decent production over the first three weeks, but unless he becomes a touchdown magnet, he's not picking up enough yardage to be a viable long-term resident on this list.

» Golden Tate. waits for Packers fans to quiet down Say what you want about how the finale to Monday night's game went down -- and plenty of you have -- but Tate did end up with a pair of scores. He's also Seattle's leading receiver, yardage-wise, through the first three games. With neither Braylon Edwards nor Doug Baldwin planting their flag firmly into the ground as the No. 2 wideout, the door is open for Tate to catch Russell Wilson's eye. Of course, that value is limited in an anemic Seahawks offense. It's even more limited with the Rams, Panthers, Niners and Lions all coming in the next five weeks.

Tight ends


» Jumping in:Jermaine Gresham, Jared Cook

» Dropping out:Brandon Pettigrew, Kevin Boss

» Biggest gainer:Kyle Rudolph

» Biggest drop: Dante Rosario

» Four touchdowns in three games helped vault Heath Miller to the top of this list. He'll fall back with a bye this week and a matchup against the Eagles in Week 5. Never fear, the schedule eases up with the Titans, Bengals and Redskins all in consecutive weeks.

» It's time to start believing in Martellus Bennett. Pipe down, Cowboys fans. So far, the "Black Unicorn" has been more than solid. He seems to have curbed the drops that plagued him during his time in Dallas and has built a great connection with Eli Manning, who is not afraid to get his tight ends heavily involved. The schedule is a mixed bag over the next month, but as long as Manning keeps looking Bennett's direction, he's on track to be a top ten player at his position.

» If you follow Tony Gonzalez on Twitter, you know he's not shy about professing his love of healthy eating. Other tight ends might want to take a lesson if it can help them perform this well. The future Hall of Famer is on pace to post one of the best seasons of his career in the middle of an offense that has been among the NFL's best for the first three weeks of the season.

» Now that Dennis Pitta has surpassed Ed Dickson on Baltimore's depth chart, it's time to start taking him seriously as a fantasy football option. Pitta leads the team in catches, a sure sign that Joe Flacco is frequently looking his direction. Right now, he's a solid No. 2 tight end in most fantasy leagues.

» I didn't expect Rob Gronkowski to duplicate last season's numbers, but I still expected more than I've seen so far. With Aaron Hernandez out of action, it seemed like Gronk was poised to shine. Maybe #Belitricks extends beyond running backs. Gronkowski clobbered the Bills last season, catching 15 passes for 217 yards and four TDs in two games. Here's to hoping that this week's matchup gives him a jumpstart.

» Brandon Myers. The dream lives on.


» Jumping in:Giants, Cowboys, Bills

» Dropping out:Patriots, Chargers, Rams

» Biggest gainer:Cardinals

» Biggest drop:Texans

» The Bears smothered the Rams last week to earn top defensive honors in this week's rankings. In the next month, Chicago has games against the Jaguars, Panthers and Titans which could bolster their standing -- although matchups with the Cowboys and Lions during that same stretch should force fantasy owners to temper their expectations a tad.

» The world is starting to recognize how good the Cardinals defense is after they dismantled the Eagles in Week 3. In back-to-back weeks, they'll face off against the Dolphins and Rams, two offenses that don't scare a whole lot of people.

» The Texans took a tumble after giving up 23 points to the Broncos last week, but it should only be temporary. The enigmatic Titans and Jets offenses are next on the slate, so it's a chance for Houston to rebound nicely.

» The Bills might drop off the list after this week's game against the Patriots, but they could return before too long. Games against the Cardinals and Titans in Weeks 6 and 7 could be the cure for what ails Buffalo.

Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @MarcasG

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