1. Torain a legitimate threat to Hightower
Last Week I surmised that Roy Helu would not displace Tim Hightower as Washington's top running back this year. The same can't be said for Ryan Torain after a 135-yard, one-touchdown showing on just 19 carries against St. Louis on Sunday.
Admittedly, Torain was off my radar after coach Mike Shanahan's public statements that he nearly cut Torain in favor of Evan Royster at the conclusion of preseason, as well as Torain's subsequent three weeks of inactivity, but Torain's production changed the game Sunday. It won't be easy for Shanahan to dismiss him at this point.
Moreover, Torain produced as a starter for Washington a year ago. If Shanahan has reservations about Torain as a pass blocker, he sure threw caution to the wind for eight games in 2010.
Of course, Torain's especially extensive injury history means that his hold on the starting role wouldn't be especially stable even if he usurps Hightower. Still, the problem for Hightower in the meantime would be the significant possibility that Helu would effectively jump ahead of him in the rotation due to Helu being a better fit as a change-of-pace runner. Hightower's pass-blocking polish makes him a safer starter than Helu, but Helu probably is better than Hightower in almost every other regard. If the Redskins look for a brief spark in Torain's place, Helu is the logical choice. Like Torain before Week 4, Hightower risks fading into complete obscurity if he loses the starting role.
2. Anticipating changes in the Jets offense
Rex Ryan's fury reportedly reached an unprecedented height in light of the Jets' inexplicable abandonment of the running game this year, with the dominance of the Ravens defense Sunday pushing him to the breaking point.
His frustration is understandable - the Jets are at .500 after an embarrassing two-game losing streak, and quarterback Mark Sanchez has thrown 147 passes after throwing just 103 passes at the same point in 2010. The Jets surged to a 3-1 start with the latter approach.
Moreover, Sanchez's 147 passes have yielded just six touchdowns compared to nine turnovers (five interceptions, four lost fumbles). His 103 passes from a year ago resulted in eight touchdowns with no turnovers. Another point of concern is that Sanchez has turned into a checkdown specialist in this new Jets offense, with Dustin Keller, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combining for 41 receptions while wideouts Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason head into Week 5 with just 35 catches. Those receivers have also combined for only three touchdowns.
It's clearer than ever that Sanchez just isn't up to the task of carrying an NFL offense, and as Ryan apparently suspects, the Jets need to force the run and throw off playaction. Expect as much to happen, and for the Jets' offense to improve as a result, at least in terms of per-play efficiency and turnover margin.
Still, it's doubtful that this will result in anything earth-shattering as far as fantasy football goes - there's not much reason for optimism with Shonn Greene at this point and Plaxico Burress' upside is limited - but Santonio Holmes' numbers have to improve drastically. His shoulder and quadriceps injuries may have limited him, but it's more likely due to the Jets' offensive dysfunction. It can't get worse, so buying low can't hurt. Otherwise, just expect Sanchez and Kellers' fantasy numbers to drop, due to the attempt volume decrease in Sanchez's case, and the consequent checkdown decrease in Keller's.
3. Stevan Ridley shouldn't be ignored
Even if Danny Woodhead's immediate availability hadn't been threatened by an ankle sprain, it increasingly appears as if Ridley is just too good for New England to keep off the field.
His main selling point coming out of LSU was his power-running ability, but he has looked surprisingly lean and explosive in New England, and even showed good receiving ability in the preseason. Once his game really comes together, he should be able to do everything BenJarvus Green-Ellis does, only with significantly more athleticism.
It's unlikely that Ridley will push Green-Ellis and Woodhead out of the picture entirely, but if he keeps playing like he has, the Patriots quite simply will be compelled to give him the ball a fair amount. He could turn into a decent flex play in deeper leagues after a month or so, or even within it if Woodhead misses a few weeks.
4. Is Tebow Time approaching? If it is, does it matter?
If Kyle Orton had a quarterback rating higher than 90 and the Broncos had a winning record, the Tebow fanatics might have been manageable to this point.
Unfortunately for Orton and coach John Fox, the Broncos are 1-3 heading into a Week 5 matchup with the 3-1 Chargers, and the Tebow noise machine could reach a deafening pitch if the Broncos are 1-4 at the bye. Furthermore, considering Orton has eight turnovers and a quarterback rating of just 80.9 after four games, it probably isn't just Tebow loyalists who are itching for a change.
But even if Tebow gets a shot at the starting role at some point this year, is it reasonable to expect much fantasy production out of him? He showed a lot of fantasy potential in his three starts as a rookie, throwing for 651 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions while running for 199 yards and three more scores. That's anywhere from 22.7 to 28.8 points per game in most standard-scoring variations.
The problem is that it's not safe to assume he'll carry that production into the new offense. After all, Kyle Orton had a quarterback rating of 87.5 under coach Josh McDaniels' watch last year, so who's to say that Tebow won't see a similar drop playing for the new regime? Orton is a much more polished passer than Tebow, so there's no guarantee that things won't merely go from bad to worse if Tebow lands in the starting lineup.
Still, Tebow is worth a roster stash in a number of deeper leagues and would be worth a speculative add in many standard-type leagues if the Broncos lose to San Diego this week. His rushing ability alone could give him a fair amount of fantasy utility, even if he regresses as a passer.
5. Can Mark Ingram hold off Chris Ivory?
It's a bit surprising there hasn't been any talk of Chris Ivory (foot) stealing some of Mark Ingram's workload now that Ivory is off the PUP List.
With Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas handling nearly all of the passing-down work in the New Orleans backfield, the power-running skill sets of Ingram and Ivory are clearly at odds with each other. Considering Ivory averaged 5.2 yards per carry as he quietly ran for 716 yards in 12 games last year (a figure that would have projected to roughly 955 yards over 16 games), I have trouble seeing how Ingram's 3.5 yards per carry in 2011 leaves him unchallenged as the inside and short-yardage runner.
Ivory will need to prove he's both healthy and in game shape before he'll push his way into the New Orleans running back rotation, but as an Ingram owner in one league, I'm feeling quite unconfident in the rookie from Alabama at the moment.