1. Aaron Rodgers — The reigning MVP hasn’t opened up the throttle through the first three games of the season, and the fantasy owners who sacrificed firepower at other positions to take Rodgers in the first round of their fantasy drafts are growing impatient. Rodgers threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns in his first game of the season but has only 442 passing yards and one TD throw in the two games since, and his rushing numbers haven’t added significant fantasy value. Rodgers is angry after the now-infamous officiating fiasco that produced a bitter Monday-night loss in Seattle and left the Packers at 1-2. He’ll try to vent his frustration Sunday in Green Bay against the winless Saints, and the prospect of a shootout with Drew Brees is certainly appealing to Rodgers owners. When Rodgers faced New Orleans in last year’s season opener, he completed 77.1 percent of his passes for 312 yards and three TDs.
2. Andre Brown — Filling in for the injured Ahmad Bradshaw, Brown has rushed for 184 yards and three TDs in the past two weeks, including last week’s 113-yard, two-TD rushing performance in the Giants’ dismantling of the Panthers. Not bad for a guy who had stints with five different teams during his first three years as a professional (appearing in four games and getting a grand total of two carries) before coming back to the team that originally drafted him in 2009. Bradshaw says he’s ready to return from a neck injury, but clearly Brown has earned a role for himself. If, indeed, Bradshaw is back in action when the Giants face the Eagles Sunday night in Philadelphia, it will be interesting to see how Bradshaw and Brown split the workload. Brown might have earned himself a majority share of carries with his performance against the Panthers, though it might be dangerous to read too much into Brown’s performance against the ultra-soft Carolina run defense.
3. Cam Newton — After a dazzling rookie season, Carolina’s young quarterback now finds himself in the throes of a sophomore slump. Newton was awful last week in the Panthers’ nationally televised blowout loss to the Giants, completing 53.3 percent of his passes and throwing three interceptions. More ominous is that Newton appeared to sulk during the game. He also bickered with WR Steve Smith on the sideline, and after the game he made some ill-advised remarks about his team’s performance. Newton’s maturity and mental approach are reportedly being called into question within his own organization. He’ll have to pull it together quickly if the Panthers hope to match firepower with the 3-0 Falcons in Atlanta this weekend.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew — It’s probably safe to discard the notion that MJD will be getting a less voluminous workload than the one he has become accustomed to ever since Fred Taylor left Jacksonville following the 2008 season. Jones-Drew carried 28 times for 177 yards and a TD last week in the Jaguars’ win over the Colts, a team he has trampled repeatedly over the years, and he’s now getting more than 20 touches per game. He’s also gaining 5.3 yards per carry, suggesting that his lengthy and well-publicized holdout has left no ill effects on his game. MJD is revving up the engines for a home game against the Bengals, who currently rank 31st against the run and are yielding a league-worst 5.8 yards per carry.
5. Jimmy Graham — It’s hard to find fault with a guy who now has scored a touchdown in eight consecutive games dating back to last season (including playoffs), but the greedier Graham owners are mildly dismayed that the big tight end is gaining a modest 57.3 receiving yards per game. Graham is, after all, a superhero who thwarts bank robberies and saves children from burning buildings when he isn’t busy producing 100-yard games. So, um … when exactly is that first 100-yard game of the season coming? Believe it or not, he now has gone 13 consecutive regular-season games without one. Graham might be hard-pressed to break that drought this weekend in Green Bay, as the Packers currently rank first against the pass.
6. Alex Smith — Smith himself is not especially intriguing from a fantasy perspective. We know that he’s a competent game manager with a relatively low ceiling. It’s a safe bet than fewer than 25 percent of his fantasy owners will start him this week. So what makes him compelling? Well, Smith will be a Guinea pig of sorts this weekend: He’ll be the first quarterback to test the Darrelle Revis-less Jets. Revis, widely regarded as the best cornerback in football, is expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL (though he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion on the injury). Largely because of Revis, the Jets have long been a red-light matchup for opposing quarterbacks. The Jets have ranked in the top six in pass defense in each of the past three seasons. With Revis out, will the Jets remain a prohibitive matchup for any fantasy owner with a quarterback facing them? Smith’s performance against Gang Green this weekend should provide important clues.
7. Percy Harvin — Despite his slight build, Harvin continues to be a warhorse for the Vikings and for his fantasy owners. He has been targeted on 32 passes in three games and has caught 27 of them for 277 yards. He also moonlights as a running back on occasion and has eight carries for 42 yards. There should be plenty of touches on tap for Harvin on Sunday when the Vikings visit Detroit. He’s still looking for his first touchdown of the season, and he has a reasonable chance of getting it against a Detroit defense that has allowed 14 TD passes over its last five games dating back to last season and has given up 336 passing yards per game over that span.
8. Vincent Jackson — V-Jax has been a streaky performer over his career, and we’re already seeing the same sort of streakiness this season. Jackson had four catches for 47 yards against Carolina in his Buccaneers debut, then went off for 128 yards and a TD against the Giants in week Two, then caught only one ball for 29 yards against the Cowboys in Week Three. He has a primo matchup coming up against the Redskins, whose tattered defense is allowing 337.3 passing yards per game and has given up a league-high 10 TD passes. But to exploit the Washington defense, Jackson will need the cooperation of his scatter-armed quarterback, Josh Freeman, who’s completed just 51.3 percent of his passes this season.
9. Ryan Williams — Williams got off to a terrible start this season, rushing 18 times for only 22 yards in Arizona’s first two games and coughing up a fourth-quarter fumble that almost prevented the Cardinals from upsetting the Patriots in Week Two. But after getting some encouraging words from Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb, Williams rebounded with an impressive 83-yard performance in last week’s blowout win over the Eagles. The oft-injured Beanie Wells is dealing with a foot injury, so Williams should get plenty of carries when the undefeated Cardinals host the Dolphins on Sunday. Another strong performance, and Williams could start to become a fixture in fantasy lineups.
10. Brandon Marshall — Marshall’s reunion with Jay Cutler got off to a nice start in Week One, but the two ex-Broncos haven’t been connecting as frequently over their past two games. Marshall had nine receptions for 119 yards and a TD in his debut with the Bears. His numbers in t he two games since: seven catches, 95 yards, zero TDs. Earlier this week, Marshall traded barbs with former NFL star Warren Sapp after Sapp called Marshall a “retard” in a radio interview. Marshall had best forget about his feud with Sapp and keep his focus on the upcoming matchup against the Cowboys, who are giving up only 137 passing yards per game, thanks largely to the CB duo of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.