With Sunday's games in the books, here's a brief list of the most significant depth chart changes affecting fantasy leagues:
Philadelphia RB - RISING: Correll Buckhalter. FALLING: Brian Westbrook. Westbrook had just 12 yards rushing before leaving Sunday's game with a strained right ankle. He was seen on crutches after the game and will have an MRI Monday. If Westbrook, who went as high as the No. 1 overall pick in some fantasy drafts, is out for any length of time, the Eagles have a good backup in Buckhalter. Buckhalter had 43 yards on the ground and 44 in the air Sunday, adding a touchdown. He has a penchant for finding the end zone - he had nine touchdowns in 2003 and has already scored twice this year. Buckhalter will be assisted by Lorenzo Booker, but expect Buckhalter to get the majority of carries in Westbrook's absence.
Miami RB - RISING: Ronnie Brown. FALLING: Ricky Williams. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Dolphins-Patriots game - aside from the final score - was the triumphant return of Ronnie Brown as a fantasy force. The 113 yards on 17 carries would be nice enough for a player less than a year removed from major knee surgery, but he added four touchdowns on the ground and another as a passer. Welcome back Ronnie. Williams was no slouch either, gaining 98 yards on 16 carries and also catching two passes despite losing his starting job. As long as Brown continues to play like he did Sunday, Williams will lose touches.
Pittsburgh QB - RISING: Byron Leftwich. FALLING: Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was roughed up by the Philadelphia defense all day Sunday, finally leaving the game with a hand injury in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger was already nursing a sore shoulder coming into the game, and with Baltimore coming to town next week, it might be the right time for the Steelers to let him recuperate. Leftwich has had some success in the past with the Jaguars, but he's in his journeyman phase right now.
Houston RB - RISING: Steve Slaton. FALLING: Ahman Green. Two weeks ago in response to this article, a RotoWire subscriber added this comment: "Be prepared to add Steve Slaton to this list when Ahman Green's inevitable hamstring/groin/high sprain injury occurs. I'm guessing Week 3." Brisco County, or whatever your real name is, thanks for the tip. Of course, it was a knee injury, but who's counting? Green missed Sunday's game with Tennessee, giving the starting job to the rookie Slaton. Slaton didn't disappoint, tallying 116 yards on 18 carries and adding a touchdown against the strong Titan defense. One should note that Slaton had just 12 yards on nine carries in the second half, so it's possible that Tennessee made halftime adjustments that will surely interest Houston's next opponent.
Minnesota QB - RISING: Gus Frerotte. FALLING: Tarvaris Jackson. The Vikings, who could have had their pick of free agent quarterbacks during the offseason, decided to go into battle with Jackson and Frerotte. Jackson flamed out after only two games, so Minnesota turned to the 14-year veteran to handle the difficult job of handing off to Adrian Peterson. Frerotte threw for 204 yards and a touchdown, giving the Vikings the down-field passing game they lacked under Jackson. As long as the Vikings keep winning, Frerotte should be able to keep his job.
Detroit RB - RISING: Rudi Johnson. FALLING: Kevin Smith. Last week in this space we said just the opposite, but that was before Johnson had 14 carries to Smith's mere three. There's no report of an injury to Smith, who had 14 yards rushing. Johnson had 83 yards rushing and also caught a touchdown pass, looking like the Johnson of old. With Detroit going nowhere fast, they're desperate to find help anywhere they can, and it looks like they'll turn to Johnson while Smith can go back to directing Ben Affleck movies.
Baltimore RB - RISING: Le'Ron McClain. FALLING: Ray Rice. Rice was a popular sleeper pick this season as the backup to oft-injured Willis McGahee. McClain outperformed Rice in the opener while McGahee was out, and now that McGahee is back in the fold, McClain's performance didn't drop off at all. McClain had 17 carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, and appears to be the goal-line back in the Baltimore offense. Meanwhile, Rice had just five carries Sunday, and looks like the No. 3 running back in Charm City.
New England QB - RISING: Kevin O'Connell. FALLING: Matt Cassel. How the mighty have fallen. Two players most of us have never heard of are now fighting it out for the quarterback spot in suddenly panicking New England. Cassel wasn't terrible Sunday, but the Patriots played their worst game in two years, paving the way for O'Connell - a third-round draft pick last April - to make his NFL debut. The Patriots are off in Week 4, so there will be two weeks of breathless reports on this competition rather than the usual one.
Tampa Bay WR - RISING: Antonio Bryant/Ike Hilliard/Michael Clayton. FALLING: Joey Galloway. With Galloway out with a sprained foot, Bryant, Hilliard, and Clayton all moved up a notch on the food chain. Bryant took full advantage, corralling 10 catches for 138 yards. Hilliard added a touchdown, and Clayton had a steady five catches for 54 yards. Galloway is no spring chicken and could be out a bit longer. With Tampa Bay's newfound interest in the passing game under Brian Griese, there might be enough to go around for all of the receivers to be happy.
Article first appeared 9/22/08