And as those lists show, what we thought might happen over the summer has not always come true so far. Not sure many people saw Rex Grossman or Alex Smith looking like top fantasy quarterbacks or the rise of Marques Colston, the 252nd pick (out of 255) in this year's draft. And did you think such highly regarded picks like Shaun Alexander and Cadillac Williams would come up short like this?
One way to see how good or bad we predicted things is taking a look back at the draft. Let's review the first round of the SI.com Experts League draft, conducted in the middle of August, to see how those players have fared.
1. Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs: The revamped offensive line has hurt his stats a little, although he still ranks 10th in overall points (despite the bye) and sixth in points per game. As long as he gets TDs (and a bunch of receptions in this league), he'll be fine, even if the total yards don't come.
2. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seahawks: Like LJ, changes to the offensive line hurt his numbers badly, and that was before cracking a bone in his foot.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers: He had an LT-type of game on Sunday with four TDs, a bunch of catches and a solid total yardage total. Before then, he was very good but not necessarily top-three material, especially with Michael Turner getting more and more looks. Now, Tomlinson is the third-ranked overall player behind Donovan McNabb and Torry Holt (who also helped himself out with a huge game Sunday).
4. Tiki Barber, RB, Giants: There was supposedly a big drop in talent between Barber and the top three running backs. But as the numbers show, maybe not as much as we might've thought. Barber has been outstanding this season, except for one huge thing - he has no touchdowns this season. That's the main reason he's only the eight-ranked running back and 17th overall.
5. Edgerrin James, RB, Cardinals: James does have a couple of scores, unlike Barber. However, a poor Arizona offensive line has cut into his stats. He's 38th overall (behind guys like Charlie Frye) and 12th overall among running backs. Can he get better? That remains to be seen.
6. Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals: This was my pick and I was happy to get him here. After two great games to start the season, he's struggled in his past three games against some good defenses. That's why he's just 14th among running backs and 56th overall.
7. Cadillac Williams, RB, Buccaneers: He's only starting to find his game, but he's definitely been one of the bigger busts of the season. Currently, he's only the 31st-ranked running back and 108 overall. He has just one TD all season, although over the past two weeks, he's rushed for 205 yards after 107 in his first three games.
8. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts: The only quarterback taken in the first round, Manning has played well as usual, and only Donovan McNabb ranks higher in points per game. (Remember that Manning just came off a bye week). Surprisingly, Manning has just one 300-yard game this year - the 400-yard, three-TD outburst against the Texans. Owners want more of that, instead of the OK-looking 215-yard, one-TD games he's been producing lately.
9. Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins: He finally got his first 100-yard game of the season last week, but does have four TDs, ranking him 18th overall and the seventh-best running back -- pretty much according to form. His contributions in the passing game have helped his fantasy value.
10. LaMont Jordan, RB, Raiders: Oakland's offense has been miserable this year, and while Jordan seems to be playing hard, he ranks just 33rd among running backs (behind such players as Ladell Betts, Kevan Barlow and Marion Barber) and 125th overall. Like the Cadillac, he's been one of the bigger first-round busts - although there is a bunch of, "I told you" going around with this pick.
11. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: He's fifth among running backs and eighth overall. That about matches where he was taken in many drafts, and he might be slightly producing above his draft-day value. He started the season with two straight 100-yard rushing games and has scores in his last two games. He's picked up at least 96 total yards every week, and his abilities as a receiver further help his fantasy value.
12. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins: His preseason shoulder injury dropped him down to this point in the draft, although he probably could've been taken as high as the fifth or sixth pick. And now that the shoulder injury is behind him, Portis is playing like a top pick. Despite missing one game to injury and playing sparingly in the opener (although he scored a TD), Portis is eighth among all running backs. And he could move up the charts this week with a favorable matchup against the Colts.
For further comparison, the fantasy MVP so far this season, Donovan McNabb, was taken with the last pick of the sixth round, although he was just the fourth quarterback taken overall (Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck went earlier). As for other top quarterbacks, Marc Bulger was a seventh-round pick but the sixth drafted overall, so he's sort of matching expectations. However, Jon Kitna (9th overall) was a 10th-round pick, and Alex Smith and Rex Grossman weren't even drafted but were snapped up pretty quickly in free agency after Week 1.
As for receivers, Chad Johnson was the first wideout taken with the first pick of the second round. He's been a disappointment, ranking just 36th among receivers and 99th overall, while T.J. Houshmandzadeh (taken late in the fifth round) has already passed him despite missing the first two games with an injury. Steve Smith, the second wideout taken at 18 overall, missed two games but is already 12th at his position and well on his way toward the top five. The runaway leader here, Torry Holt, was taken just two picks after Smith, so at least one owner knows the value in consistency.
So if you had to do the first round again, who would be in it? Taking the bias toward running backs into consideration, a top 12 might look like this: Tomlinson, McNabb, Portis, LJ, Brian Westbrook, Manning, Holt, Smith, Barber, Jackson, Frank Gore, Kevin Jones.
It took three seasons for Reggie Williams to play like a No. 1 draft pick.
A common piece of fantasy advice is not going crazy over rookie wide receivers. Making the transition for the college game to the pros is often tougher in the passing game, making those wideouts very unreliable for fantasy purposes since you'd like consistent production on a week-to-week basis.
But give them a year or two, these guys could flourish, and by then they'll be forgotten by many fantasy owners. That means you can pick them up cheap at the end of the draft, or more likely it will be a stampeded to the waiver wire when they break out.
This year, we've seen a couple of rookie wide receivers actually proving to be useful, consistent fantasy forces -- New Orleans' Marques Colston (a seventh-rounder who no one saw as making an impact until the season started) and Green Bay's Greg Jennings (a second-rounder who got some attention as he emerged as Brett Favre's second-best option in camp). However, it was a weak draft class for wideouts to begin with, so it's not as much of a surprise that highly-drafted guys like New England's Chad Jackson and Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes haven't done a whole lot this season. But give it time, they could emerge as stars soon enough.
That would explain these guys who probably were forgotten after contributing very little from a fantasy perspective in their first years in the league but are now making a major impact this season. Sometimes, it takes a player a couple of years to find his niche in the league. Other times, a new coach or coordinator finds something in a "lost" player and gives him opportunities to shine.
Jacksonville's Reggie Williams is probably the most notable player from this group since he was about to be considered a draft bust after producing little since being a first-round pick in 2004 and was being overtaken by fellow youngsters Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford. But with Jimmy Smith's retirement, he seized the No. 1 job and has already score four TDs. We're trained to expect instant dividends from first-rounders, but give it time, they can be helpful.
Chicago's Bernard Berrian, also a member of the 2004 draft class, really snuck up on everyone, but that had as much to do with Chicago's spotty passing offense in recent years. Once Rex Grossman found his groove, he eventually got Berrian, a big-play wideout, into the mix. Berrian had averaged 16.8 yards a catch heading into the season in limited action, but he's even surpassed that this year with a whopping 21.1 ypc. It was hard to project Berrian would break out, like Williams, because there was this glut of wideouts opposite Muhsin Muhammad (like Justin Gage and Bobby Wade). Sometimes, you just get lucky.
Another third-year receiver suddenly making an impact is the Jets' Jerricho Cotchery, who started seeing some action at the end of last season, but didn't really show up on fantasy radars until very late in training camp when Justin McCareins was playing his way out of a starting job. Cotchery did bide his time on special teams, but a new coaching staff was able to get a lot more out of Cotchery, who has slowed down after his hot start. Also intriguing is the fact that Cotchery was Philip Rivers' top target at N.C. State, and only now is Rivers showing why he was such a highly touted talent.
While not a third-year guy, second-year wideout Reggie Brown is also making a big impact after a so-so rookie season. Part of that was expected as he looked to be the most consistent receiver beside Terrell Owens last year in Philadelphia, so T.O.'s departure was going to help him out no matter what. However, he flourished nicely opposite Donte Stallworth, and with Stallworth going down yet again to injury, Brown is stepping up once again.
Other news and notes around the league: -- Tiki Barber said he is close to retiring after the season to pursue other opportunities, especially TV. It would be a major loss for the Giants, but if the news is true, will he be trying to end his career with a bang? That could be big news for Barber owners, who are probably frustrated with the lack of touchdowns. -- Wali Lundy may be back in the mix in Houston, especially with Ron Dayne suffering a knee injury. He didn't do a whole lot early on, and this week's meeting with the Jaguars isn't favorable, but if he's still in the mix for the Tennessee game, you may have a deep sleeper. -- Koren Robinson did indeed get a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. It takes away another target from Brett Favre, who is also without Robert Ferguson. That just means even more looks for both Donald Driver and the aforementioned Greg Jennings. -- Speaking of two receivers getting more action, the Bengals' duo of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson will be even busier with Kelley Washington out with a knee injury. Cincinnati was already without Chris Henry, who is still suspended. -- Peyton Manning seems overdue for a big game and this could be the week as the Redskins will be without cornerback Carlos Rogers, who broke his thumb. Shawn Springs won't start for Washington, either, but he'll still see action. -- There were no huge deals made at the trade deadline (other than the Colts getting Anthony McFarland from the Bucs to shore up the defensive line), but the Ravens and Cardinals both fired their offensive coordinators. However, what that might mean for fantasy prospects down the line is a big question mark.
Matt Leinart has four TD passes in his first two NFL starts, all in the first quarter.
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Well, there were big fantasy points to be had on Monday night as expected, but they didn't necessarily come from the usual suspects. First off, Matt Leinart looks to be real, especially in the first quarter. He finished with 232 passing yards and two scores and he clicked with Anquan Boldin, who erupted for 12 catches, 136 yards and a TD. Leinart had decent pass protection for most of the game, but they still can't run block. It's a wonder that Edgerrin James had 55 yards rushing, of course he needed 36 carries to get that. It wasn't pretty and it helped cost the Cardinals the game as they couldn't land that knockout punch after playing with short fields for much of the game.
Secondly, what in the world happened to Rex Grossman? After being solid most of the season, he turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions. Grossman was off-target all night and the only receiver to put up any appreciable numbers was tight end Desmond Clark, who had four catches for 61 yards. And with the Cards holding on to the ball for long stretches of time, Thomas Jones was ineffective as well.
But then came the Bears defense to bail out Grossman and many fantasy teams as well. Surprisingly, Chicago only had one sack, but it was the vicious hit that forced a fumble that led to the first defensive score. And it had "only" two turnovers (two fumble recoveries), but each one turned into touchdowns -- instant fantasy points. Then add Devin Hester's clinching punt return in the fourth quarter, and you've got one of the wildest days for a defense/special teams units in a while. It's not often you'll see three TDs from that position.
Finally, with the struggles of the Bears offense, Robbie Gould was held to his first game under 10 points this season, and while Neil Rackers did kick three more field goals, he also missed two, including his second straight in the final minute that could've given Arizona the win.
On both a "real" football level as well as a "fantasy" football level, this Monday night game was one of the wackiest yet most fun contests to watch in a while.
A couple of other stray notes from Monday: -- Shaun Alexander will be out two more weeks, which at least gives owners some closure. Maurice Morris will continue to start, although he's been disappointing so far in Alexander's place. -- The bye week came at just the right time for Steve McNair. He's expected to return to action in Week 8 after missing most of Sunday's game with a concussion. Kyle Boller put up big numbers in McNair's place thanks to some crazy catches, but he's headed back to the bench. -- Curtis Martin won't be coming off the PUP list for at least a couple of more weeks and wouldn't return to action until Week 10 at the earliest (after the Jets' bye). The Jets do have some favorable matchups later in the season, but he might not be a fantasy factor down the stretch.
Travis Henry has seized control of the Titans' running back job with a career-best game against the Redskins.
One noticeable part of Sunday's action was the reduced number of committee running back situations, which wasn't necessarily a good thing because of all the byes that knocked out plenty of players this week. In fact, three teams with formidable 1-2 running back combos -- New England, Indianapolis and Jacksonville -- were all off, forcing owners to find other options.
That left Tennessee and New Orleans as the top committees still in play. (The Jets' duo of Kevan Barlow and Leon Washington also split time, but that's hardly a top committee.) And the Titans have pretty much ditched their committee, settling on Travis Henry as their primary back. He delivered with a career-high 178 yards and a score to beat the Redskins for their first win of the season. Henry did his damage with former starter Chris Brown active but seeing little action as the backup (LenDale White was inactive because of an illness). Brown might be moved at Tuesday's trade deadline, but for now he has no fantasy value. You'll have to wait a week for Henry to try to match Sunday's game since the Titans have a bye, but they get the Texans the weekend after that.
As for the Saints, Deuce McAllister has solidified his role as the more dependable and productive fantasy running back. Even though he missed a chunk of the game with a hamstring injury, he still gained 100 total yards and even had more catches than Reggie Bush, who had entered the game as the league leader in receptions. Even when McAllister was out, Bush was splitting time and looks with backup Aaron Stecker. You won't have to worry about which one will have the most yards this week, since the Saints are off, but the road gets much tougher with games against the Ravens, Bucs and Steelers coming up after the bye.
With only a few committee situations still in play, many fantasy owners had to resort to backups to fill out rosters this week. And despite what looked to be decent matchups for second-stringers to come in and produce, only a couple put up passable numbers that might've helped fantasy teams this week.
That included Brandon Jacobs, who had 53 rushing yards and did what Tiki Barber couldn't despite his 227 total yardage day -- score a touchdown -- as the Giants gave the Falcons a dose of their own medicine on the ground. It also included Marion Barber, who had 57 yards and a score (something starter Julius Jones didn't have) as the Cowboys routed the Texans. This was a textbook situation of a team with a big lead using a very good second-stringer late in the game.
You thought you might've seen that in San Diego, where backup Michael Turner has been getting plenty of looks in recent weeks and seemed to be in a potential rout situation against the 49ers. There was a rout, for sure, but Turner got exactly one carry for no yards. Instead, LaDainian Tomlinson did what his fantasy owners had been hoping for all season -- a high-yardage, multi-TD game. Tomlinson only had 71 rushing yards on 21 carries, but added seven catches for 64 more yards, and most importantly scored four touchdowns, more than doubling his season total. Somehow, Tomlinson's big game wasn't as surprising as Turner getting so few looks given how much he had been used in even close contests.
Philip Rivers continued rolling along, throwing for 334 yards and two score.
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The Chargers and Steelers both followed the Week 6 theme of high-scoring attacks, piling up all sorts of numbers in the first half alone. So if you didn't have enough points in the first game, you could clean up here.
Chargers-49ers: Michael Turner was nonexistent, getting just one carry for no yards. That opened the door for LaDainian Tomlinson to score four touchdowns and pile up 135 total yards. However, he had just 71 rushing yards on 21 carries and no run longer than nine yards. But the scores really helped out LT this week. … Philip Rivers continues getting better every week, burning the 49ers for 334 yards and he's getting good numbers out of Eric Parker as well as the triple threat of Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Keenan McCardell. … The 49ers were behind all game long and Alex Smith did as well as he could trying to keep up with the Chargers, throwing for 214 yards and two scores. … Frank Gore didn't have many chances to touch the ball but he did pile up 90 total yards (55 run, 35 receiving) against San Diego's D, which is more than many might've expected.
Chiefs-Steelers: After seeing what Matt Leinart did early against the Chiefs last week, it shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise that Ben Roethlisberger (with a bye week under his belt) would finally bounce back this week. Not only did he get Hines Ward involved, finally, but he got decent numbers from Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes. … Willie Parker ran wild again, but Najeh Davenport also contributed, if you're looking for running back depth with another big bye week coming up. … Larry Johnson did have a touchdown, but was otherwise bottled up by the Steelers defense (12 carries, 26 yards) that also kept Tomlinson in check last week. He did have an interesting play in "tackling" Troy Polamalu by the hair on an interception return. … That Pittsburgh D really kept Damon Huard in check, which may get the ball rolling on Trent Green's return.
Dolphins-Jets: Laveranues Coles found a way to torment the Dolphins again with two second-half TDs. That calf injury is just fine, and Chad Pennington is more than recovered from last week's beatdown in Jacksonville. … Ronnie Brown finally got his first 100-yard game of the season, and added a score to boot. The Jets have their weakness against the run. … Speaking of the run, Leon Washington outgained Kevan Barlow 58-45 for the Jets, but that situation is still in flux. … Joey Harrington was awful early but looked good late as he tried to rally the Dolphins before Olindo Mare's 51-yarder fell short. He got all the receivers into the mix, including rookie Derek Hagan (6 catches, 66 yards), who was filling in for Marty Booker.
Raiders-Broncos: This game had an eerily similar look to the Chargers-Raiders season opener minus the very long LaDainian Tomlinson run. The Broncos scored enough points early with a couple of field goals and a TD from Tatum Bell, then let the defense do the rest. Jake Plummer barely made a dent, passing for just 102 yards but adding 30 on the ground as Denver played it very conservatively in the second half. Instead of being a major rout, it was the only game Sunday not to feature a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher or 100-yard passer. ... LaMont Jordan did as well as people might've expected with 76 total yards but a key fumble late in the game. Randy Moss did haul in five passes for 86 yards, but was kept out of the end zone. Champ Bailey also stepped in front of him for a pick.
Warrick Dunn finally got his first TD of the season -- on a team-record 90-yard score in the third quarter.
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If you get bonus points for big-play TDs, you definitely got it in the early games with Torry Holt's amazing 67-yarder, Reggie Brown's 60-yard scoring catch, Joe Horn's 48-yard strike, Steve Smith's 72-yard score and Warrick Dunn's team-record 90-yard dash (stunningly that was his first score of the season). Plus, it seemed like many offenses, especially for fantasy purposes, woke up this week. Not only were the big plays needed to rally teams from early deficits, it also helped out fantasy owners, so a win-win situation altogether. (And we haven't even gotten to the Broncos-Raiders or Bears-Cardinals prime time games where big stats appear to be on the horizon as well.)
It also was a week where guys questionable coming in with injuries came up big. Both Roy Williams and Jeremy Shockey turned in huge outings despite distinct possibilities that they wouldn't be able to play this week. Hopefully you kept them in your lineup since they were a large part of the early fantasy scorefest.
Eagles-Saints: Not surprisingly, offenses took center stage here, with a couple of big plays as mentioned before from Reggie Brown and Joe Horn. … Donovan McNabb at times looked off-target, but still piled up the yards with Brown and L.J. Smith, as expected. He didn't get as much production from guys like Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett and Jason Avant. He also didn't get much from Brian Westbrook as a receiver (just three catches for three yards). … Deuce McAllister missed part of the first half with a hamstring injury, but still well outgained Reggie Bush (100 total yards to 60), including receptions (6-4). They're both valuable, but McAllister is the more consistent producer. … Drew Brees made great use of Horn, who showed he still has a 100-yard, two-TD game in him, even with the presence of Marques Colston (who had another score).
Bills-Lions: So much for Roy Williams' stinger last week. He turned in one of his best games of the season (10 catches, 161 yards, 1 TD) despite being a question mark much of the week. … And so much for injuries to three offensive line starters - Kevin Jones ran for 127 yards and a score, plus he added six catches. … Willis McGahee had 66 yards rushing, further showing how much Detroit can shut down the run. … Lee Evans continues to pile up the catches with eight more for 82 yards, although he was held without a score. … J.P. Losman had decent passing stats (207 yards, 2 TDs) but had a pick and was sacked five times (3.5 from James Hall).
Texans-Cowboys: Make it three straight 100-yard games for Julius Jones, although Marion Barber stole the touchdown on the ground. … Terrell Owens had just 45 yards receiving, but with three TD catches, it seems as all is normal now that the circus was out of town. … David Carr wasn't sacked, surprisingly, but threw two picks and didn't look all that sharp. Sage Rosenfels cleaned up late, helping to beef up Andre Johnson's reception numbers late.
Panthers-Ravens: Well we had the Steve McNair injury sighting as he suffered a concussion in the first quarter, leaving things in the hands of Kyle Boller, who turned in some solid numbers (226 yards, 3 TDs) trying to rally the Ravens. He did make good use of both Mark Clayton, who had two scores and a 100-yard game, and Todd Heap, although Derrick Mason was held without a catch. ... Neither team could get the running game going, which explains how all the passing yardage was piled up against good defenses. Jamal Lewis had just 41 yards and DeShaun Foster just 58, including a bunch of goal-line stuffs. … Jake Delhomme went nuts with 365 yards and two scores, including a 72-yarder to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter.
Giants-Falcons: It's somewhat surprising, but Jeremy Shockey never had two TDs in a game until this week, and he was a big question mark for the game with foot and ankle problems. … Tiki Barber piled up a ton of total yards, but where were the touchdowns? Brandon Jacobs stole one close and replay took away Barber's score. … The Giants only had two sacks before three against the Redskins last week. This time, they got seven on Michael Vick. The bye did them well. … Speaking of Vick, that TD run was great, but he still can't get any consistency on his passes (although a bunch of them should've been caught) and fumbling four times (losing just once) evens out the stats. … Great to see Warrick Dunn to finally get that first TD, although is pulling off a 90-yarder the only way to do it?
Titans-Redskins: This game probably killed plenty in knockout pools, much more than the other winless teams to emerge victorious this week. ... Tennessee may have found the right formula to succeed -- pound the ball with Travis Henry, who gashed the Redskins for 178 yards and a score. He helped open things up for Vince Young, who did just enough passing (161 yards, 1 TD) to get a win. He didn't even run that much (6 carries, 10 yards). … The Redskins looked sharp on offense early, and Clinton Portis is showing why he was worth a high draft pick despite his shoulder injury. He had just 58 yards rushing but two more TDs. … Brandon Lloyd did turn in one 52-yard gain but he still needs to do more consistently to help fantasy owners.
Bengals-Buccaneers: Decent yardage totals across the board, but it hardly showed on the scoreboard. … Bruce Gradkowski threw two more TD passes, and he's a decent guy to stash away on your bench when needed. This time, he even got Michael Clayton a TD pass (the game-winner that needed to be determined via replay). … Carnell Williams rushed for 94 yards and is looking a lot sharper. … Carson Palmer did get the yardage to T.J. Houshmandzadeh (10-102-1) and Chad Johnson (6-99), but Rudi Johnson had just 52 yards rushing, hurting the Bengals' attack and many fantasy owners.
Seahawks-Rams: It was vintage Torry Holt, who scored three TDs including an amazing catch that would give the Rams a brief 28-27 lead late in the game before being done in by Josh Brown's clutch 54-yarder as time expired. That late catch also vindicated Marc Bulger slightly, who finally threw his first pick of the season late in the game. Bulger finished with 360 yards and three TDs. He can still put up big passing stats when needed. … Deion Branch got his first start as a Seahawk and finished with two scores, while No. 1 Darrell Jackson still showed he's the man with a score and a team-leading 94 yards receiving. … Maurice Morris bounced back with 80 total yards but also lost a fumble. … Steven Jackson had a TD but his streak of at least 100 total yards ended (he had 96 total yards).
Roy Williams will start for the Lions against the Bills. He could be a decent start against a so-so Buffalo defense, depending on your other options.
Brian Westbrook, always seemingly a gametime decision with a knee injury, will play for the Eagles this week. He’s an intriguing fantasy prospect against a Saints run defense that has looked good at times this season. His teammate Donte Stallworth is out once again, as expected, with that hamstring injury.
Jeremy Shockey will play against the Falcons despite foot and ankle injuries. You probably don’t have better options than him there, so he’s safe to play.
Travis Henry gets the start at running back for the Titans against the Cowboys. He’s been playing well lately, so he’s not a bad third running back/flex start. However, LenDale White won’t play after suffering from a virus all week. That opens the door for Chris Brown to get some extra snaps as the backup if you’re desperate to start him.
Deion Branch will get the start for the Seahawks at wide receiver and will see more looks with Bobby Engram out with a thyroid condition. However, more surprising is that tight end Jerramy Stevens, who appeared ready to make his season debut, is out of the lineup. That could mean more looks for Branch, Darrell Jackson and Nate Burleson.
The Saints made Devery Henderson a surprise healthy scratch this week. That takes away one bye-week option and really limits his value for fantasy leagues here on out.