Fantasy football roundtable: Top receivers, Luck's prospects, more
Brandon Marshall has scored 20 TDs in his last 39 games playing with Jay Cutler
Ray Rice has been limited to 16.4 carries per game, ranking 15th in the NFL
Eli Manning's struggles have downgraded him to a starter based on matchup
The NFL fantasy season is filled with tough decisions. Join SI's roundtable of fantasy experts each week to help sort through the lineup choices, injuries and waiver wire options that can make or break a season. Each week, we'll also be featuring a question from our readers, which you are free to submit each Sunday of the season at the @SInow Twitter feed.
1. Has Brandon Marshall eclipsed Calvin Johnson as the best wide receiver in fantasy?
Mike Beacom: Why keep A.J. Green out of the conversation? He might be having a better fantasy season than both of the above-mentioned receivers. Green is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches and averages 91.9 yards a game -- close to what Marshall and Johnson average. I'm not sure it's fair to dethrone Johnson quite yet, but if I had to, I'd select Green to be his successor.
Will Carroll: Johnson finally showed up in Week 9, but yeah, Marshall and Jay Cutler seem to really have something going, making the Bears' offseason deal for him look really smart. They ran it up against the Titans a bit, but they can do that if the defense continues making things very comfortable. That said, neither of these guys is leading fantasy in scoring. No, that's Green, who has been amazing on a mediocre team. No one is talking about Andy Dalton-to-Green this year, but, man, it has been every bit as productive. A lot has to do with the running game -- and though I still like Julio Jones long term -- Green is a very, very close second.
Eric Mack: In our bold predictions column every year, we declare the No. 1 receiver in fantasy to be a fluid concept. Because receivers rely on so many other factors they don't entirely have control of -- pass protection, quarterback, health, game situations and game plans -- the best wide receiver might not be the best fantasy producer. Ask Larry Fitzgerald. The thing about Marshall right now is he is all the Bears have in the passing game, Cutler is capable and the Bears' defense is playing out of its mind right now, positioning the offense to score frequently. Marshall is going to slow down -- particularly since it is so apparent you have to take him away to stop the Bears' passing game. The Bears' defense just needs to finally show a weakness and stop scoring so many points and putting the offense in a position to do whatever it wants. That will happen, Marshall will regress and we will be having a discussion in a few weeks about some other No. 1 receiver in fantasy.
David Sabino: Up to this point in fantasy Johnson has been eclipsed not only by Marshall but by a host of others. Marshall's rapport with Cutler has given him the edge over my two other candidates, Green and Victor Cruz. Dating back to their days together in Denver, the Bears duo has combined for 20 touchdowns in their last 39 games together. There's also something to be said about the consistency of Reggie Wayne, who has delivered PPR double-digit points in every game this year. As for the rest of the season, I'd keep an eye on Vincent Jackson and Randall Cobb as two others who could make their way into the discussion. But for now, the combination of consistency and explosiveness gives Marshall the nod.
2. Isaac Redman is the latest running back to star for the Steelers? Whom should fantasy owners trust most in the weeks ahead?
Beacom: Trust? None of the above. Redman is a safer play than Jonathan Dwyer when both are healthy, but when Rashard Mendenhall returns to the lineup everything will be back up for grabs. Success could come down to the matchup or which running back gets off to the best start for that particular game. I'm not convinced the team will designate a full-time back at any point this season. This could become a situation to avoid.
Carroll: Whoever is starting. It's pretty clear at this point that the Steelers offense under Todd Haley just requires someone in the backfield. In situations like this, up to a minimum talent level, almost anyone can succeed. This isn't like a Mike Shanahan or Bill Belichick team; we know who's starting and the starter is valuable. I would rather have Mendenhall, who should heal up and hold the RB1 spot.
Mack: It looks like it will be a crap shoot, albeit the options are much better. If all backs are 100 percent, Mendenhall is the starter, Isaac Redman is the third-down back and Dwyer is the change-of-pace bruiser. That makes all three potentially viable, but no one a star. If the Steelers rotate them weekly, we might have a chance to have a fantasy back that will be useful as more than a bye-week replacement. We should rank them Mendenhall, Redman and then Dwyer, but that is subject to change weekly, if not daily.
Sabino: With the rash of injuries that have sidelined Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Redman, coupled with the way the Steelers' offensive line has been performing the past month or so, it's whomever is healthy enough for Mike Tomlin to suit up each week. In order, I'd give the edge to Redman followed by Dwyer and then Mendenhall, but as we've seen that can change on any play.
3. Jamaal Charles has been used in an unpredictable manner the past few weeks. What players have been most hurt by their head coaches this season?
Beacom: Chan Gailey has failed to get the ball into C.J. Spiller's hands enough. Gailey admitted as much on Sunday after Spiller touched the ball just 11 times (six carries) in a loss to Houston. Ever since Fred Jackson returned to the lineup Spiller has been one half of a whole, even though Spiller averages nearly twice as many yards per carry as his counterpart. Fantasy owners can expect to see a change in the coming weeks.
Carroll: Charles has to be the top of the list. The Panthers' running backs would be close behind, but that situation has been going on for years. Darren McFadden was victimized by scheme before his high ankle sprain may have ended his season, but some of that is on him for not adjusting.
Mack: Charles is clearly the talent who has been most misappropriated, but Mark Ingram is a close second. The former first-round pick not only has had to deal with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, but the Saints also featured Chris Ivory heavily Monday night. At least in Charles' case, he has a chance to have some rare 20- to 30-carry weeks. Ingram has no chance because of his timeshare -- and almost no value in fantasy.
Sabino: Charles is at the top of the list but there are others, namely Ray Rice, who ranks 15th in the league with just 16.4 carries per game. Jonathan Stewart should have been given the Panthers' top job at the beginning of the season instead of being in a three-headed timeshare with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. And, of course, there's the biggest one of them all: Tim Tebow, who hasn't been given a chance to see if he can do more than a struggling Mark Sanchez for the Jets.
4. Andrew Luck had a huge Week 9 against the Dolphins. Where does he rank among viable fantasy starting quarterbacks?
Beacom: Everyone goes gaga over rookies, and while I must admit Luck is special, he is still a low-end fantasy starter in my opinion. Passing yards are great, but fantasy owners demand touchdowns, and Luck is tied with Mark Sanchez and others for 17th place in that category with 10. Plus, Luck has mostly beaten up on bad secondaries; he faces a more challenging schedule in the second half of the season (two dates with Houston) and I expect that will test his numbers.
Carroll: The Colts' schedule has a lot to do with Luck's numbers, without taking anything away from #chuckstrong. Luck's talent is unquestionable, but he's had a weak schedule thus far and will have four very winnable games (Bills, Jags, Chiefs and Titans) in the second half. The other four will determine the Colts' season, with a pair against the Texans in Week 15 and 17, plus the annual Pats tilt and a game versus a tough, physical Lions team. Luck still lacks a real running game, a viable second receiver and a healthy offensive line, so yes, there's still upside. He's somewhere between 8-10 for me, a bit below his points standing because of the lack of touchdown passes. He's only a 10/8 guy and has flashed nothing with his legs. That doesn't mean I don't want him or not like that I drafted him as my QB2 (behind Peyton Manning, of course.)
Mack: He is definitely an every-week fantasy starter now, particularly at home -- where he has had his best performances. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III and Ben Roethlisberger might be the only ones better than Luck on a weekly basis now. That knocks out some of the preseason elite guys such as Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Eli Manning. Luck is smack dab in the middle of the pack among fantasy starting quarterbacks. The important thing to note is you can trust him to be the man for his team every week. That is not something you can say right now for Stafford, Newton, Manning and Michael Vick.
Sabino: It's easy to get over-excited about the greatest passing yardage day for any rookie in NFL history, but a quick look at the schedule tells you that with the exception of Weeks 15, and possibly, 17, Luck has a pretty favorable road ahead, starting this week against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. I'd use him above most this week, and also when they go up against the Bills, Titans, Chiefs and Patriots. Does he play over a Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers? Of course not, but if you're using a middling passer such as Luck probably will give you a better chance to win from here on out.
5. Is it time to start thinking about benching Eli Manning?
-- Natalie C. @skibum05
Beacom: No. Manning has faced three of the league's top pass defenses in his last four outings (San Francisco, Dallas and Pittsburgh). Cut him a little slack. Hakeem Nicks is still working his way back into prime shape, and the team's young receivers are starting to develop. With games against Cincinnati, Washington and New Orleans on the horizon, Manning should finish the year strong.
Carroll: Let's work up to this. Manning went No. 51 overall, according to MockDraftCentral.com. That's the No. 9 quarterback, so he was likely your first quarterback taken. If you went with a good backup and caught someone like a Luck or Robert Griffin, or maybe you got Joe Flacco or Dalton ... then yeah, you can consider Manning from week-to-week depending on the matchup. But you should have been doing that anyway. The Giants were at almost this same point last year: questions all around, Eli underperforming expectations and look how that ended up. This isn't quite the time for me to say "Play your studs," but it is the time to point to that guy over there, the one kicking himself for leaving Calvin Johnson on the bench this week.
Mack: Well, if you didn't bench him against the Eagles, 49ers, Cowboys or Steelers -- among the elite secondaries in football -- you shouldn't bench him now. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are getting beaten up in bump coverage, but they are going to correct for that and Eli Manning is going to start posting numbers again. Manning's regression is a part of the usual ebb and flow of an NFL season and when the matchups soften some, he is going to take off again. He can't help you if he's riding your bench.
Sabino: It all depends on the alternative. It's perfectly reasonable to think about benching Manning, especially coming on the heels of another horrible showing for the Giants passing game. This week against the Bengals might not be the best time, especially since big brother Peyton just threw three touchdowns against Cincinnati this past week and will be sure to share some intelligence. If you have someone like Ben Roethlisberger or Philip Rivers, who have good matchups this week, then by all means go with who you're comfortable with. However, it's just a matter of time before Manning and the Giants break out of their slump.