1. Robert Griffin III — The dynamic rookie quarterback will get a hero’s welcome when he makes his home debut for the Redskins this weekend against Cincinnati. RG3 has been sensational in his first two games, leading the ’Skins to a stunning upset of the Saints in Week One and producing 650 total yards (526 passing, 124 rushing) and five total TDs (three passing, two rushing) thus far. But the rookie now faces an increased burden. The Washington defense just lost its best pass rusher, OLB Brian Orakpo, and also DE Adam Carriker to season-ending injuries, which leaves an already-suspect defense even more vulnerable. RG3 seems destined to play in a lot of shootouts this season, but the early results suggest that he’s up to the task.
2. Ryan Mathews — Back in the first week of August, Mathews was the No. 4 running back on a lot of fantasy draft boards, just behind the “Big Three” of Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy. But Mathews fractured his clavicle Aug. 9 in San Diego’s first preseason game, making him perhaps the single hardest player to assess in terms of draft value. Fantasy owners who got a damaged-goods discount on Mathews and used bench players to fill in for him in the first few weeks of the season could be on the verge of a handsome payoff, as Mathews is set to return this weekend when the Chargers host the Falcons. What remains unclear is how much he’ll be used in his first game back … and how long the oft-injured running back will be able to remain relatively healthy.
3. Reggie Bush — What an unusual career Mr. Bush is having. It’s a career that didn’t gain serious traction until its sixth season, and only after Bush had gone from a good team to a bad one. The former Heisman Trophy winner was widely considered to be a disappointment after five “meh” seasons with the Saints, better known for his relationship with the ample-bottomed Kim Kardashian than for his on-field accomplishments. But Bush began to flourish during the second half of his first season with the Dolphins, and he wound up recording the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career. Now in his seventh season, Bush has come out of the gate on fire. He’s second in the league in rushing behind only C.J. Spiller, and he was splendid last week in Miami’s win over Oakland, rushing 26 times for 172 yards and two TDs. The late-blooming Bush has a daunting matchup this week against the rugged defense of the Jets, who shut down the Pittsburgh running game last week after letting Spiller go off against them in Week One.
4. Mikel Leshoure — Leshoure returns from a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and will attempt to stake a claim on the lead role in an unsettled Detroit backfield. His primary competition for carries is Kevin Smith, who’s healthy for the moment and playing reasonably well. But some believe Leshoure has special qualities and is finally ready to display them after missing his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles tendon, then getting suspended for multiple marijuana-related offenses. The Lions play in Tennessee this weekend, and if the Titans continue their incompetence and let the Lions play with a lead for most of the day, Leshoure should get plenty of chances to show what he can do.
5. Jay Cutler — The mopey quarterback has been widely panned for his petulance in the Bears’ Week Two loss to the Packers. In the process of completing 40.7 percent of his passes and throwing four interceptions, Cutler shoved Bears OLT J’Marcus Webb on the sideline after the lineman had missed a block, and Cutler displayed the body language of a 7-year-old forced to dress up in a suit and tie for a family photo session. The Bears can’t send little Mr. Pouty Pants to his room for a timeout, so they’re left to hope that Cutler is better behaved when the Rams visit Soldier Field on Sunday, and that he looks more like the guy who threw for 333 yards and two TDs against the Colts in Week One, less like the guy Green Bay’s Charles Woodson disparaged as the “same old Jay.”
6. Larry Fitzgerald — Pity poor Fitz. He’s no doubt pleased that his Cardinals were able to register a shocking upset of the Patriots last week, but Fitzgerald was largely a bystander, catching one pass for four yards as QB Kevin Kolb steered an unsteady course to victory. Through two games, Fitz has five catches for 67 yards and zero TDs while dozens of far lesser receivers own far better numbers. Fitzgerald seems to have a hard time getting in sync with Kolb (actually, it’s vice versa), and the alternative is the uninspiring John Skelton, currently recovering from an ankle injury. But Fitzgerald managed to produce 1,411 receiving yards and eight TD catches last season while playing with the same two quarterbacks. Things figure to get better for Fitzgerald’s fantasy owners, though it might not happen immediately: The Cardinals have a home date this weekend with the Eagles, which means that Fitz figures to spend the day matched up against top CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
7. Jamaal Charles — Fantasy owners who gambled on Charles’ health in the year following a season-ending ACL tear were probably feeling good after the shifty running back ran 16 times for 87 yards in Week One, but they’re probably feeling less comfortable with that gamble after Charles accumulated only 22 combined yards (on nine touches) in Week Two and left early after tweaking his previously damaged knee. Charles reportedly wanted to re-enter the game, but Kansas City’s coaches opted to keep him sidelined for the duration of a blowout loss in Buffalo. Charles owners are no doubt wondering why their man is feeling soreness in his repaired knee while Adrian Peterson, who sustained an even more severe knee injury almost four months later, has thus far handled a substantial workload with no apparent ill effects. Charles is expected to be available when the Chiefs face the Saints and their porous defense this weekend, but will he be able to handle his normal share of the load if he plays, or will he be relegated to spot duty?
8. Trent Richardson — Concerns about the rookie’s sluggish debut quickly evaporated with Richardson’s scintillating follow-up last weekend. The former Alabama star scored a pair of touchdowns in the Browns’ 34-27 loss to the Bengals, rushing 19 times for 109 yards and catching four passes for 36 yards. With his must-start fantasy status cemented in place, Richardson can now work on establishing his star cred. Next up: a home date with Buffalo in which he’ll try to trade highlight runs with NFL rushing leader C.J. Spiller.
9. Dez Bryant — The good news for Bryant owners is that the mercurial receiver has gone two weeks without appearing in a police report or getting into any trouble with his team. The bad news is that through two games he has seven receptions for 102 yards and zero TDs. In the Cowboys’ loss to the Seahawks last week, he had three receptions for 17 yards. Bryant owners would be willing to trade good behavior for productivity at this point. Perhaps this is the week when Bryant starts playing up to potential: The Cowboys are at home against a Buccaneers pass defense that just yielded a combined 21-378-2 to Giants WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
10. Randy Moss — It has become clear to fantasy owners after two weeks that Randy Moss, at age 35, playing in a ball-control offense, is not going to produce vintage Randy Moss numbers. No 1,000-yard season, no double-digit TD total. Through two games, Moss has five receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown. But this week Moss returns to Minnesota, where he spent the first seven years of what is surely a Hall of Fame career (along with a four-game cameo with the Vikings in 2010). One suspects that Moss won’t let himself be rendered irrelevant in a game played in front of fans who used to adore him.