Seriously, Matt Cassel? The guy everyone might as well have given up for dead a month ago? Now he's back, coming off an astonishing 400-yard, three-touchdown effort, and is apparently fantasy-relevant again. It's almost as crazy a thought as Tyler Thigpen being a good fantasy quarterback heading into oh, wait, never mind.
What other wild, out-of-nowhere names have the experts tabbed for big weeks? Let's bring 'em in: Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Erik Kuselias and Eric Karabell, welcome!
Cockcroft: Matthew, you're the one of the four who had Eli Manning outside your top 10, and you had him 18th or, frankly, a definite sit. But with Brandon Jacobs nicked up, might not Manning be asked to take on more of a role?
Berry: No, not really. Just because Jacobs is nicked up doesn't mean that Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw can't handle the load; they've more than proved they can. Plus, the Cardinals play much better at home. They give up an average of 238 passing yards and just over one passing touchdown a game at home this year. There also happen to be a lot of really good quarterback matchups this week, so I think Eli will be fine, just not great. Which is basically what he has been for a while.
Cockcroft: If anything were to trouble me about Manning, it'd be his 40 touchdowns compared to 44 interceptions in 35 career games in November and December. I bet he's a top-10 option, certainly a stronger choice than the aforementioned Cassel. You don't exactly agree, though; you had Cassel a group-high sixth this week!
Berry: Matt Cassel has double-digit fantasy points in four of his past five games and at least 15 points in three of his past five. He's thrown for more than 200 yards in four straight and is going up against a Dolphins team currently 20th in the NFL against the pass. Every week, he looks more and more comfortable and they are letting him stretch the field more and more.
Cockcroft: Cassel wasn't the only out-of-nowhere top-10 pick of yours; Warrick Dunn was your No. 7 running back. That's a must-start ranking, so you're apparently captaining his bandwagon. Question: What does the banner on the side of that thing read?
Berry: I'm surprised everyone doesn't have him this high. He's pretty much all they got. Every time he has had at least 20 touches, he has over 100 total yards this year. He plays Detroit. The Lions give up over 25 fantasy points a game to opposing running backs. It's ridiculous.
Cockcroft: There it is, folks, Warrick Dunn's rally cry, "He's pretty much all they got." Ringing endorsement, it is.
Berry: This is entirely about Nnamdi Asomugha. Every time he has faced an elite receiver, he has shut him down to the point of the quarterback not even looking his way. And we have also seen the No. 2 wide receiver go off. Hence, the Eddie Royal ranking.
Cockcroft: Had a hunch, and that's why I asked the question. Asomugha is one of the few cornerbacks who absolutely terrifies me, too, and it'll be interesting to see how glued he is to Marshall. Which actually raises another question: Who are your top three cornerbacks who scare the dickens out of you in terms of one-on-one matchups?
Berry: Nnamdi, Darrelle Revis and both Steelers.
Cockcroft: Christopher, Eric, who might yours be?
Harris: No. 1, Nnamdi Asomugha, whose yards-per-catch is better this year; No. 2, Antoine Winfield, who's playing great again, even if the Vikings' pass defense numbers don't reflect it, and No. 3, Darrelle Revis, high praise for a second-year guy.
Karabell: My answer is none. I never worry about opposing defensive backs. Even that Raiders dude.
Cockcroft: Curious -- albeit interesting -- take, Eric, considering opponents have thrown in Asomugha's direction two or three times per game all season, and that's who Marshall seems likely to draw in coverage. I'm growing ever sourer on Marshall by the second, especially since Asomugha limited similarly talented Steve Smith to one catch for nine yards in their Week 10 meeting. It's a matchup to watch, for sure.
My three: Asomugha -- by far -- then Winfield, then Cortland Finnegan.
Christopher, you were rather pro-Ben Roethlisberger, and that one turned out nicely, but the highly ranked quarterback I'd like to focus on today is Jason Campbell. He cracked your top 10; you would legitimately call him a definite play?
Harris: Campbell was definitely one of those "I-know-Tristan-is-going-to-call-me-out-for-this" picks, and I don't argue with anyone who thinks it's a stupid assertion. But I like him this week. My logic goes like this: The Seahawks have allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year, and Campbell doesn't throw picks. Nine scores in 10 weeks isn't good, and the fact that he doesn't throw it downfield that much isn't good, but Kelly Jennings has just been consistently bad for Seattle. Santana Moss will have Marcus Trufant on him, and I think that means Campbell spreads it around to a bunch of other guys, including potentially the rookies, Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. This is one of those "sleeper" picks that was borne of the fact that I just didn't love many of the matchups of guys I had below Campbell. But I'm giving him a chance to surprise in this situation.
[Note: Christopher acknowledged that Kelly Jennings was benched after we talked, but that he still believes Jennings will play following Josh Wilson's ankle injury.]
Cockcroft: What's your angle on Reggie Bush for this week? Will he play? You have him 13th right now, while the others have him in the flex-play class, and that has me thinking you're pretty optimistic about his chances.
Harris: Well, Green Bay is still terrible against the run; the Bears simply fell behind and couldn't take the time they needed to use Matt Forte fully last week. The Pack has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs over the past five weeks -- only Kansas City and St. Louis are worse -- so whoever gets the touches Monday night is due for some production, I think. My guess on Tuesday night was Bush -- he reportedly was really close to playing last week, but the Saints held him out under the assumption that they could beat Kansas City without him, and that he'd be fully ready to go this week. Deuce McAllister hasn't been very good lately and lost touches to Pierre Thomas last week. And of course now Aaron Stecker is done for the year. I like Reggie Bush to come back under the bright lights of Monday night.
Cockcroft: Sticking with the topic of injury-risk running backs, you and Erik appear to disagree on how to rank the seemingly questionable Jacobs. Christopher, you have him 24th, so you're pessimistic, apparently?
Harris: Yeah, I wouldn't have Jacobs as high as No. 3 against the Cardinals' surprisingly stout rush defense even if he were healthy, but the primary reason I put him so low was that rumor going around that the Giants may hold him out. I frankly didn't know what to do with him until the injury report came out, and the last thing I read was that Jacobs sounded like he expected the team to limit him some. That's obviously the logic for why I put Derrick Ward No. 25. I was worried -- and continue to be worried -- that the Giants will go easy on Jacobs' knee and use their other guys. I definitely am open to putting Jacobs way higher on Friday if the G-Men announce that they're going to use Jacobs per usual, but I don't expect them to announce that. I think it's got the potential to be a split, so Jacobs probably deserves to be lower than usual.
Cockcroft: But Erik, you tend to disagree, with him ranked third?
Kuselias: Brandon Jacobs is "meast," part man, part beast. How many times are you going to call me out for supporting him, only to have him hit the century mark or score a couple of touchdowns?
Cockcroft: Actually, Berry is the one I taunt about Jacobs but I usually do it because he ranks him too low! First time I've busted your chops for ranking him too high, but there are legitimate health concerns.
Kuselias: Jacobs is a handful of points from being the No. 1 back in fantasy football -- six points to be exact. And he is the hottest back in the NFL, with 10 touchdowns in his past seven games. And yet every week I happily point out he is like a big blue mail truck rolling down the highway. The only way you can rank him out of the top five is if you think he's hurt. Naturally, we will update our ranks as we get more info, but he practiced on a limited basis Thursday, and his MRI revealed no structural damage. This led me to rank him as if he were healthy.
Cockcroft: I can't see, though, how you'd rank a less-than-healthy Jacobs third, but LaDainian Tomlinson 12th, even though LT is facing about as soft a matchup as he could ask.
Kuselias: I love LaDainian like a teenage girl loves "High School Musical," but he has been a colossal disappointment. In fact, last week on "Fantasy Football Now" we had to bet if LaDainian would go over 60 yards rushing. Sixty. That's it. And if you bet the over, you lost. Wow, that made me sad. I know Indy is poor against the run, but LaDainian doesn't look completely healthy. Can he put up 150 and two touchdowns? Ryan Grant can. Matt Forte can. Adrian Peterson can. Marion Barber can. Gore can. Are you sure LT can? Me neither.
Cockcroft: Well said. I'm not sure Tomlinson can reach those thresholds. But I'd certainly call that his ceiling, especially if Bob Sanders sits.
What's the logic behind your No. 22 ranking of Torry "I haven't done squat all season" Holt? What's to like about that disappointing dude?
Kuselias: Torry Holt has a plethora of things going for him this weekend. I used "plethora" because I just had a birthday, and my mom got me a "word a day" calendar. Here are my two best points: First, the Bears are putrid against the pass, giving up the third-most points to opposing wide receivers. So when your team plays the Bears, bump up your wide receivers. Second, Torry Holt is much better at home than on the road. In fact, Holt has only scored at home, scores in 50 percent of home games, and has exceeded 50 yards in every home start. And yet I get questioned for ranking him as a non-starter? If this is the most curious thing I ranked, wow, it feels good.
Cockcroft: Plethora are you sure you weren't just watching your VHS copy of "¡Three Amigos!" again? Dude, just order a DVD copy already.
From Erik to Eric now, and Eric, I busted your chops over this one on the podcast the other day, but you definitely do have this thing about sleeper defenses. The Denver Broncos? Really? Yes, I was tempted to slot Champ Bailey in my top three cover corners, but he might not even play, and outside of him I see a barren wasteland of a defense. Curious what you see in that team -- it can't just be the opposing offense?
Karabell: I don't get it either. Honestly, I look at defenses and I always have a hunch about one or two that doesn't make sense. We can say it's ridiculous, but every week a bad defense seems to put up numbers because it plays an offense worse in relation. The Raiders stink on ice. I thought at one point JaMarcus Russell was making strides, but now I don't. Yes, the Broncos have a poor defense, but I suppose I think four turnovers and a 28-3 type of win will have top-10 value.
Cockcroft: Miami's defense had seven fantasy points last week, you know. I know. They let me down as a sleeper choice.
Philip Rivers at No. 4 really? Maybe that's the favorable projection convincing you, but I see LaDainian Tomlinson doing the damage for San Diego this week.
Karabell: I think it all comes down to arguably the best defensive player in the game. I really do. If Bob Sanders doesn't play -- and I ranked LT and Rivers as if he would not -- then that Colts defense gets into shootouts. Rivers remains the No. 4 player in fantasy for the season, and one stinker performance against the mighty Steelers shouldn't change things. Rivers has reached 20 fantasy points five times. The Colts just allowed the Texans, with a shaky Sage-y quarterback, to score 27 points, so I bet the Chargers will, too.
Cockcroft: Sage had five fantasy points last week. But then he's Sage Rosenfels. No, I'm not calling Philip Rivers Sage Rosenfels, but the running game did all that work for Houston. I bet it's the same for San Diego, just a hunch.
Do you have a particular hunch against Brian Westbrook? Curious how the Eagles fan has him ranked a group-low 21st.
Karabell: Well, the Ravens aren't exactly the University of Washington football team defensively, so I expect the Eagles to have trouble again. I mean, 13 points against the Bengals? I guess Donovan McNabb was pacing himself for that second overtime. The Giants are special. Their offensive line is huge, and they have three strong running backs, they're well coached, you name it. The Eagles have none of that. I'm not anti-Eagles because I'm a fan, I think it's obvious things are falling apart. Westbrook is clearly hurt. In the past he carved up good and bad defenses. I wonder if he should just take a few weeks off. I thought giving him a No. 21 rank was a bit generous, in fact.
Cockcroft: Maybe McNabb has been watching too many Flyers games he was expecting a shootout at the end. And I don't mean the throw-the-ball-58-times kind of "shootout." Speaking of which, time to call this week's session to a close, got a hockey column to write!
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football, baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.