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Ten most intriguing players of Week Four

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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice

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By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Donovan McNabb — D-Mac returns to Philadelphia, and it will be interesting to hear what the boo-to-cheer ratio is among leather-lunged Eagles fans when their former quarterback is introduced. McNabb is coming off a mediocre performance in a dispiriting road loss to the Rams in which the Redskins produced just 16 points and were only 1-of-10 on third downs. The Eagles, meanwhile, are doing just fine without McNabb, thank you very much. Their initial plan was to turn McNabb's job over to Kevin Kolb, but now Philly is getting its big-play fix from Michael Vick. McNabb, the jilted ex, would obviously like to get a measure of revenge in this one, and since Washington is getting next to nothing out of its running game, it's a good bet McNabb will be turned loose.

2. Peyton Hillis — As a reward for his many years of loyal service to the Packers, Browns team president Mike Holmgren was granted permission to travel back in time, borrow Jim Taylor from the early 1960s, bring him back to 2010 and suit him up for Cleveland. Hillis evoked memories of Taylor last week while trampling the Ravens for 144 rushing yards and a TD (not to mention seven receptions for 36 yards). You just don't do that to the Baltimore defense unless you're the real deal, and clearly Hillis is no mere one-week wonder. He is now a legitimate every-week fantasy starter. Browns head coach Eric Mangini doesn't seem to care for Jerome Harrison despite Harrison's strong finishing kick in '09, so Hillis is clearly the lead dog in Cleveland's Dawg Pound. This week he faces a Cincinnati run defense that held the Carolina duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to 77 rushing yards last week. It should be fun to watch the repeated collisions between the hard-nosed Hillis and Bengals LB Rey Maualuga.

3. Kyle Orton — When Orton got his first opportunity to be an NFL starter back in 2005 for the Bears, he was the very definition of a ball-control quarterback. He was asked only to protect the ball and to generate just enough of a passing game to keep opposing defenses from overloading against Thomas Jones and the other Chicago running backs. Five years later, the former Mr. Dink-and-Dunk has morphed into Air Orton. The Broncos' offense isn't just happy these days, it's pass-giddy. Orton ranks second in the NFL with 1,078 passing yards, trailing league leader Philip Rivers by only nine yards. Fantasy owners can no longer let Orton rot on the bench. In fact, Orton has probably been one of the most frequently traded players in fantasy leagues this season, simply because so many owners had him backing up a big-name quarterback and could afford to deal him to a QB-needy owner. After throwing for 476 yards last week against the Colts, Orton will lead his team into Tennessee this week to battle the Titans. Can Orton keep this up? Don't bet against a guy who's managing to make WR Brandon Lloyd look like a superstar.

4. Anquan Boldin — Last week's eight-catch, 142-yard, three-TD explosion against the Browns showed that Boldin is unquestionably Joe Flacco's go-to receiver. (Sorry, Derrick Mason.) The Ravens visit Pittsburgh this week for a big divisional slugfest. The Steelers don't let anyone run on them, and Ravens RB Ray Rice is banged up. The Ravens will have no choice but to take to the air, and Boldin will no doubt be a big part of their game plan.

5. Lance Moore — With Reggie Bush injured, the Saints' offense was in need of a spark, and Moore provided it last week, catching six passes for 149 yards and two TDs, including an 80-yarder. Moore had demonstrated in 2008 that he could be a valuable fantasy contributor, catching 10 TD passes and accumulating 928 receiving yards that season. But will he be a consistently reliable performer à la teammate Marques Colston, or will Moore be a hit-or-miss guy like teammates Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem? Moore and the Saints face the Panthers this week in New Orleans, and the last time Moore faced the Panthers, in the 2008 regular-season finale, he had a pair of TD catches.

6. LaDainian Tomlinson — Have you noticed that Tomlinson is quietly gaining 5.6 yards per carry for the Jets? A return to vintage form is probably too much to ask for, but the Tomlinson we're seeing this year is a far cry better than the broken-down version we saw last season. LT appears to be fully healthy again, and his versatility makes him a better fit for the Jets' offense than Shonn Greene, so the notion of Tomlinson serving as a mere backup and third-down option is out the window. Tomlinson is gaining 89.3 yards from scrimmage per game, and last week he scored his first TD of the season. He gets a very favorable fantasy matchup this week against the Bills.

7. Justin Forsett — Even if Pete Carroll isn't ready to officially anoint Forsett as the Seahawks' No. 1 running back, it appears that it's a fait accompli (to borrow the phrase that got Bill Polian into trouble earlier this week). Forsett carried the ball 17 times in Seattle's 27-20 win over San Diego last week, and the only other running back to take a handoff was Leon Washington, who had a single carry. Forsett also had three receptions, while no other Seahawks running back had a catch. Forsett wasn't particularly effective on the ground, gaining 63 yards for an average of 3.7 yards per carry. But it's clear that Leon Washington is best used as a kick-return man (he ran back two kickoffs for TDs last week), and we know that Julius Jones is an ordinary runner at best. If Forsett gets 20 more touches this week against the Rams, who are tied for 24th in offensive yardage allowed, he could put up some noteworthy numbers.

8. Louis Murphy — In the five games QB Bruce Gradkowski has started for the Raiders this year and last, Murphy has had three TD catches and two 100-yard games. Murphy also caught a TD pass from Gradkowski in Week Two after the Raiders benched Jason Campbell, and Murphy has caught 11 passes for 210 yards over the past two weeks. Clearly there's some chemistry at work here, and the Bunsen burners will be cranked up this weekend when the Raiders host the Texans, who rank dead last against the pass. To say that the Houston pass defense is flammable would be an understatement. The Texans have given up 368.7 passing yards per game and have yielded 129 more passing yards than the 31st-ranked Redskins pass defense.

9. DeAngelo Williams — We're about due for the first DeAngelo Williams explosion of the season, aren't we? Sure, the Panthers are breaking in rookie QB Jimmy Clausen, but the lack of a passing game hasn't hindered Williams much in the past, nor has the ongoing time-share arrangement with Jonathan Stewart. Williams has been held to 64 rushing yards or less in each of Carolina's first three games, he still hasn't scored a TD, and last week he took only 10 handoffs in the Panthers' ugly loss to the Bengals. On the bright side, Williams is about to face a Saints defense that's giving up 145 rushing yards per game, and in his last two games against New Orleans, he has run for 327 yards and two TDs.

10. BenJarvus Green-Ellis — Any fantasy owner who has dabbled in the New England backfield the past few years is understandably wary of Green-Ellis, who appeared to claim chairmanship of the Patriots' RB committee last week with 98 rushing yards and a TD against the Bills. But with Laurence Maroney traded to Denver and Kevin Faulk on injured reserve, Bill Belichick doesn't have quite as many options at running back as he once did. With Green-Ellis getting 16 carries last week, and Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris getting six apiece, Green-Ellis seems to be the best fantasy option of the bunch. Of course, given Belichick's track record, we might see Green-Ellis sitting on the sideline collecting dust Monday night while Danny Woodhead gets 20 carries for the Patriots against the Dolphins.

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