By Dalton Del Don
Jonathan Stewart - After a preseason in which Stewart struggled to return from toe surgery while DeAngelo Williams impressed, it figured to take a while before the rookie started seeing the majority of the touches in Carolina's backfield. Instead, it began Week 2, when Williams was the one struggling while Stewart excelled with 5.5 YPC and two touchdown runs. With an excellent combination of size and speed, Stewart figures to get the bulk of the work moving forward, as Williams struggles in pass protection, and Stewart is the team's best option in short-yardage situations.
Aaron Rodgers - Through two games, Rodgers has been simply fantastic, completing 70.0 percent of his passes for 8.4 YPA with a 4:0 TD:INT ratio. He's also contributed 60 rushing yards while being sacked just one time. The competition has been easy, but it's safe to say the Packers knew what they were doing moving forward with Rodgers at the helm. With James Jones (knee) back from injury and rookie Jordy Nelson getting more incorporated into the offense, Green Bay has one of the best receiving corps in the league. Consider Rodgers a top-eight fantasy quarterback from this point forward.
Darren McFadden - After Justin Fargas went down with what appears to be a significant groin injury, McFadden impressed, totaling 173 yards on 7.8 YPC. It was surprising to see him caught from behind by a safety during a 50-yard third quarter run, but he looked good otherwise. The Raiders are a run-first team with a terrific system under offensive line coach Tom Cable, so there's the upside of a top-10 fantasy running back if McFadden gets the bulk of the work. However, he left Sunday's game with a toe injury, so his status is unclear at this time. If he were to be forced to miss action, Michael Bush would be the one deserving the big upgrade.
Calvin Johnson - Few entered the 2008 season with as much hype as Johnson, and unsurprisingly, it looks plenty warranted. He's surpassed the century mark in receiving yards during each of his first two games this season, including a two-TD effort against the Packers. It should not be underestimated just how much last year's back injury suppressed his stats, and year two is often when receivers make the leap. Probably the most gifted athlete in the NFL, Johnson should continue to post huge numbers while playing for a team that will need to pass frequently to make up for a poor defense. Johnson needs to be treated like a top-five fantasy wideout.
Darren Sproles - The Chargers traded up in the draft to select Jacob Hester while claiming that he'd be the team's No. 2 running back, but anyone who had previously witnessed Sproles' ability knew better. With LaDainian Tomlinson playing sparingly because of a turf toe injury during Week 2, Sproles took over backfield duties and gained 125 yards on just nine touches. Meanwhile, Hester didn't receive a single carry. At 5-6, 181 pounds, it's doubtful Sproles could carry a full workload, but he's so explosive, he can do major damage with limited touches. He's averaged 5.0 YPC during his career and is a weapon as a receiver. Tomlinson's injury could very well be long-lasting, and his career mileage was already at an alarming rate, making Sproles a must-own in every league.
Kurt Warner - Over his last 10 games, Warner has thrown 25 touchdown passes, making him easily the most valuable fantasy quarterback during that timespan. Since he's also been able to avoid turning the ball over this season, his hold on Arizona's starting quarterback spot is secure. He's completed a remarkable 70.4 percent of his passes with a stellar 10.3 YPA mark. Having Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin at his disposal obviously helps, and the weak running game also calls for Warner to pass frequently. Health will always be a concern, but that's the only thing capable of stopping him from finishing as a truly elite fantasy option.
Anthony Gonzalez - While teammate Marvin Harrison saw just four targets Sunday, Gonzalez was busy receiving 12 looks, resulting in nine catches for 137 yards. Having Dallas Clark (knee) absent from the lineup helped, but Gonzalez was also targeted eight times during Week 1, so he's a big part of the offense regardless. Harrison is a step slow at this stage of his career, and Gonzalez got a ridiculous 11.3 YPA last year as a rookie, so he currently looks like the team's No. 2 option in the passing game.
Philip Rivers - Rivers has gotten 9.9 YPA with a 6:1 TD:INT ratio two games into the season, which is especially incredible since he's coming off ACL surgery. With LaDainian Tomlinson hobbled and the defense regressing, Rivers figures to continue throwing the ball more often than in years past, making him a highly intriguing fantasy option. Last year's postseason success (8.9 YPA) has apparently carried over into 2008, and Rivers currently looks like one of the best signal callers in the league. With Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson as weapons, it's a trend that should continue.
Santana Moss - When healthy, Moss can look like one of the better wide receivers in football, something that's happening so far this season. Jason Campbell is unlikely to be consistent, but at least he has the arm strength to utilize Moss' fantastic deep speed downfield. It's also great news he's been targeted 20 times over the first two weeks. Avoiding leg injuries will be pertinent, but Moss has the ability to remain among the league's leaders in receiving yards if he can somehow stay healthy.
Trent Edwards - Edwards isn't going to put up monstrous numbers playing on a run-first team with a sound defense, but he does look like one of the most improved players in the NFL so far. With a 70.9 completion percentage and an 8.3 YPA, Edwards has been extremely efficient and has displayed excellent decision-making. Also, for those who like to stash backup running backs with upside, Edwards' teammate Fred Jackson can no longer be overlooked.
Larry Johnson - When running backs reach the cliff, the fall is often fast and steep. Johnson simply hasn't been the same back since setting the NFL record with 416 carries in 2006, gaining just 3.5 YPC before a foot injury ended his season last year. Two games into this season, he's looked even worse, highlighted by a 1.8 YPC performance against the Raiders last week. He's getting removed during all passing situations and looks tentative and slow. Playing for a Chiefs offense that appears to be one of the worst in football, Johnson's fantasy value has bottomed out.
Maurice Jones-Drew - At age 32 and with 2,308 career carries, there's still a good chance Fred Taylor breaks down at some point this season. Unfortunately, until that happens, Jones-Drew has limited value, as he has just 12 carries over the first two games. He's still an asset in the passing game and will score touchdowns at the goal line, but the yardage totals just won't be there, especially with Jacksonville's offensive line decimated by injuries, and the team's defense in decline as well.
Steven Jackson - Jackson still has plenty of value, especially in PPR leagues. However, this Rams offense looks epically bad, with a lackluster passing game and a horrendous offensive line. Jackson remains the focal point of the offense, but his rushing attempts figure to be limited with the team often playing from behind, and easy scoring chances will be few and far between with the way Marc Bulger is playing. Situation is at least as important as talent when it comes to running backs, and Jackson finds himself in one of the worst in the league.
Laurence Maroney - Theoretically, New England will become more run-heavy after Tom Brady's season-ending injury, especially after Maroney's success at the end of last year. In reality, Maroney can't stay healthy, is poor in pass protection and continues to disappoint. Sammy Morris is the team's No. 1 option at the goal line, while LaMont Jordan and Kevin Faulk figure to get touches as well. Just like last year, Maroney has bust written all over him.
LaDainian Tomlinson - Tomlinson entered 2008 coming off seven consecutive 300-carry seasons with nearly 2,400 career rushing attempts. He was also coming off a torn knee ligament, so a slow start could be expected. Unfortunately, a turf toe injury is now of the most concern, as it was so debilitating that he barely played during the second half in Week 2. These injuries can linger, and it's never great to hear him say he won't see the doctor because he doesn't want to know the diagnosis. Even if he's able to gut it out and play through the problem, it will severely limit his cutting ability, so don't expect to see vintage Tomlinson anytime soon.
Carson Palmer - Having played Baltimore and Tennessee over the first two weeks, Palmer has a valid excuse for struggling. However, these performances were worse than struggling, as both qualified as Palmer's worst two games of his career, completing just 49.0 percent of his passes for a 4.5 YPA and 0:3 TD:INT ratio. He's simply not been the same quarterback after tearing his knee at the end of the 2005 season. Cincinnati's offensive line is a huge problem, and Chad Ocho Cinco is clearly not 100 percent. Getting Chris Henry back will eventually help, as will an easier schedule, but Palmer's no longer an elite fantasy option.
Joey Galloway - Despite a highly favorable schedule so far, Galloway has recorded just eight catches for 74 yards on the season. Moreover, he left Sunday's game in the second half due to a strained foot and did not return, and coach Jon Gruden expressed concern about Galloway's availability for Week 3. He's now 36 years old and was slow to recover from a groin injury during the preseason, so this might be the beginning of the end.
Tarvaris Jackson - Despite a strong running game, Jackson has struggled mightily, getting a paltry 5.2 YPA with a 50.8 completion percentage. Coach Brad Childress no longer stubbornly backs him, while he's recently put the quarterback on notice. With both Sidney Rice (knee) and Bernard Berrian (toe) hobbled by injuries, the entire Minnesota passing game deserves a big downgrade.
Article first appeared 9/17/08