Perhaps the most frustrating part of playing fantasy football is being forced to make on-the-fly judgments on the values of players before statistically valid trends can be established. Is it too soon to say that Larry Fitzgerald shouldn't be viewed as the No. 1 wide receiver going forward? How highly should DeSean Jackson be ranked?
Within his Love/Hate update, Matthew Berry noted that Larry Fitzgerald scored half of his 2008 touchdowns during the four games that Anquan Boldin missed. Matthew explained that because of this, he felt Fitzgerald wasn't worthy of first-round status. After three weeks, Matthew is being proven right. Fitzgerald is averaging 10 fantasy points per week, which is right in line with what he did last year when Boldin was in the lineup. If you are thinking that there's still massive room for improvement, don't. In games in which both he and Boldin played, Fitzgerald is receiving almost as many targets per game this year (9.6) as he did last year (9.9).
If Larry Fitzgerald isn't the No. 1 option, then it's only fair for me to suggest someone to fit that bill going forward. I'll nominate Randy Moss, as his 40 targets lead the league and his yardage total is top-six. The timing between him and Tom Brady isn't perfect -- heck, it might not be fair to even call it good, but if you believe that those two will get back on the same page sooner than later (and I do), then you have to like Moss' potential to be the dominant receiving force in the NFL. This weekend's matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens is a good litmus test for whether that timing is improving.
Before everyone gets too carried away with DeSean Jackson, let's be just a bit critical of whether he is now an elite wide receiver. Jackson's 64-yard touchdown on Sunday was a product of some really bad tackling and probably should have been only a 15-yard reception. If he had just 200 receiving yards and one score for the year, the DeSean love-a-thon wouldn't be so strong. Also, you should remember that the Eagles have played one of the most passing-friendly schedules to date, but that will change dramatically in the next few weeks.
Mike Sims-Walker was a deep sleeper entering the 2008 season, but a knee injury early in the season all but ended any hope of his being a useful fantasy play. During training camp this season, Walker suffered a high-ankle sprain that left him unable to compete for the starting role that was eventually won by Troy Williamson. With Williamson now on the injured reserve list due to a torn labrum, Sims-Walker finally has a chance to shine. Despite not starting during the first two weeks of the season, he has already been targeted 20 times, with 19 of those coming the past two games. For comparison, consider this: Lee Evans, Eddie Royal, Roy Williams, Greg Jennings and Braylon Edwards all have fewer targets than Sims-Walker. In a 10-team league, keep an eye on him. In larger leagues, he should be owned immediately.
Derek Fine had nine targets in Week 3. Terrell Owens had just five. Say what you want about the mercurial wide receiver, but when a team fires its offensive coordinator just before the beginning of the season and then chooses to basically ignore one of its better weapons, one really has to wonder if the right person was fired. Owens is a tough player to own right now because you simply cannot cut or trade him since you won't get anyone back with similar upside. He's basically a must-own and bench player, which is tough because it really limits your ability to manage through bye weeks and injuries.
Finally, this is the third consecutive week for a mention for Nate Burleson as a must pickup! If he is not owned in your league, you are making a huge mistake by not gobbling him up. Seriously, he's owned in just 37 percent of ESPN.com leagues. What does he need to do? He's third in the league among receivers with 33 targets and 15th overall in receiving yardage. Don't be scared off by Seneca Wallace. Wallace is a capable replacement who is more than just a game manager.
Big plays and up close
Those fantasy owners who took a chance and started Pierre Thomas on Sunday were kicking themselves at the half when Thomas looked to be nothing more than an active roster decoy. The second half was a completely different story. On just 14 carries, Thomas gained 126 yards, good for the best total in the league for the week. His five rushes of 10 yards or more equaled the highest total for any player in a single game this season. Finally, he scored two touchdowns despite not having any carries inside the opponent's 10-yard line. In case you aren't adding all this up yourself, here's what you should be getting: Pierre Thomas is a stud.
Of the 10 running backs who had more than 20 carries in Week 3, only two had fewer than two rushes that went for losses: Knowshon Moreno and Fred Taylor. While these two could not be further apart in their careers, it's worth noting that they are both establishing themselves as the primary candidate to be the lead runner in an offensive system that is more fantasy-friendly than generally acknowledged. As mentioned earlier this year, the Denver Broncos' rush schedule is about to get downright nasty, so if you are thinking about bailing on Moreno, this is probably your best opportunity. The New England Patriots' schedule is more neutral toward the running game; however, two of their next three opponents (Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans) are among the best in the league in terms of stopping the run. If you own Taylor, you really can't do anything but hold him at this point.
If you own Brandon Jacobs, look for bigger point totals in the future. Jacobs is converting just 12.5 percent of his carries inside the opponent's 10 into touchdowns. Last season, that success rate was 44.8 percent. Jacobs is too big and the Giants' offensive line to too good for his current rate to continue. If the Jacobs' owner in your league is willing to sell him, now is a good time to be buying.
Sizing up the schedule
It's time to put a "For Sale" sign on Michael Turner. During the preseason, I advised that Turner wasn't worth the early pick you'd expend to acquire him. I'm being proven right across the board. Turner's yards per carry are down from 4.5 in 2008 to 3.5 in 2009. Last season, he averaged almost three runs of 10 yards or more per game; this season, through three games, he has a total of only three of those big-play rushes. Why is this happening? It's the schedule. Last season, Turner faced the easiest schedule of rush defenses; this season, it's the hardest. Schedule does make a difference.
Before anyone sees Kevin Kolb as their waiver-wire savior, consider this: Even if Donovan McNabb misses another few weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles' next five games are all against teams that finished in the top 10 in terms of fewest passing yards against last year. If you were expecting Kolb, or McNabb for that matter, to be a productive fantasy play during the next month, then you really need to ask yourself why. It's just not going to happen.
Kyle Boller is worth a waiver-wire flier. Going into this season, the St. Louis Rams were slated to face only three teams that finished in the top 10 in terms of fewest passing yards allowed last year. One of those three games has already transpired, so Boller's schedule lines up very favorably. Look for Boller to inflict a little garbage-time mayhem in the fantasy universe.
Along the same lines of Boller, if you can get your hands on Donnie Avery on the cheap right now, you'll thank me later. Avery hasn't lived up to his preseason promise, but with Laurent Robinson placed on the injured reserve list, someone is going to have to be the primary receiver. Similarly, in deeper leagues, Keenan Burton is worth a flier for the same reason.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: myespn.go.com/KenD17.