Fantasy football fans, welcome to Week 9, the midpoint of the NFL season. Sure, there's still a lot of football left to play, and as many a Tom Brady owner could tell you, the season can change in the blink of an eye. However, we've certainly seen enough so far in 2008 to create a short list of front-runners for one of the most coveted prizes in the sports world: the red jacket signifying membership in ESPN's Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Cast your vote now
You've read each candidate's platform. Now it's your turn to decide who is the top midseason Fantasy Hall of Famer.
According to the Hall of Fame charter, such players "(A) put up unexpected, out of nowhere, crazy-good fantasy numbers despite being undrafted/a waiver-wire pickup/a relative no-name; (B) have made you look like a genius for snagging him; and/or (C) helped lead you to a fantasy championship."
The inductees for 2008 won't be decided until the end of the season, and perhaps not all the names on this list will continue to stand out and earn themselves an invitation to our induction ceremonies during Super Bowl week. But so far, these are the five unheralded performers who deserve some heralds for having done the most to help their fantasy football owners worldwide soar to the top of their league standings.
Which one of these candidates has the best chance to finish what they've started and join the likes of Earnest Graham and Greg Jennings on the panel of greatness? Cast your vote here and let your voice be heard.
Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Claim to fame: Touchdown Vulture
Look up "touchdown vulture" in the dictionary and you'll probably see a picture of Tim Hightower smiling back at you. Teammate Edgerrin James continues to do most of the heavy lifting, but when the Cardinals get close to the goal line, in comes the pride of Richmond to seal the deal. Hightower has scored six touchdowns on 18 carries inside the opponent's 20, and only once (against Miami) did he have as many as 10 carries in a single game. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said recently that he may be open to the possibility of Hightower taking on a more prominent role in the running game. If that happens, perhaps Hightower's classification as a vulture might start to get a little hazy, but as the only running back in the top 30 with fewer than 200 yards rushing, his owners would surely welcome the increased opportunity for fantasy points, especially if he continues to get the carries that count the most -- those that result in a touchdown.
Just short: Michael Pittman, RB, Broncos: It's true that after scoring four times in the first three weeks of the year, Pittman appeared to be a shoo-in for Hall of Fame honors. But this is Denver, and no good deed goes unpunished. It now appears that Pittman is the Broncos' lead back, and given Denver's multi-back history, it's just a matter of time before this one-time vulture starts getting vultured himself.
Le'Ron McClain, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Claim to fame: Handcuff Hero
When Willis McGahee was unable to play in Week 1, many fantasy owners who had cleverly chosen to select McGahee's expected handcuff, Ray Rice, were happy with the 64 yards he gave them. The funny thing though, was that the previously unknown McClain rushed for 86 yards on three fewer carries. He then proved it wasn't a fluke by scoring four touchdowns over the next three games and averaging 13.5 fantasy points in the process, while Rice barely touched the ball. Now, McGahee is back and McClain has started to fade a bit. Yet the value of a handcuff isn't about how well he does when he's asked to take the back seat. It's how well he does when given the keys to the car. So far, there hasn't been a better chauffeur to fantasy success in 2008 than Le'Ron, and given McGahee's injury history, he may well be asked to drive the car again before the season comes to an end.
Just short: Correll Buckhalter, RB, Eagles and Mewelde Moore, RB, Steelers: Both backs certainly filled the shoes of Brian Westbrook and Willie Parker, respectively, but neither has had to do it for any significant length of time -- at least not yet.
Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints
Claim to fame: Out of Nowhere
After a sophomore season where he averaged only two catches for around 18 yards per game, Moore wasn't generating much fantasy excitement. But Moore has been one of Drew Brees' favorite targets and already has six more catches and 129 more receiving yards in half a season than he did in 16 games in 2007. What do Braylon Edwards, Wes Welker, Marvin Harrison and Chad Johnson have in common? They all have fewer fantasy points than Moore. Even though some might dismiss Moore's numbers as an aberration because Marques Colston was out of action with a thumb injury, need we remind you that just last week, with a healthy Colston, Moore had six catches for 90 yards and a score? Moore has given you far more ... for far less. Not bad for a kid from Toledo whom the scouts called undersized and barely capable of being an average NFL starter.
Just short: Steve Breaston, WR, Cardinals: Replace "Marques Colston" with "Anquan Boldin" and "Toledo" with "Michigan" and you could easily have Breaston on the ballot instead of Moore. However, it's a lot more likely that you saw Breaston on TV during his college days, compared to Moore. That's why Moore gets the nod, because his "from nowhere" was a bit more nowhere than Breaston's nowhere was. But it's close.
Kyle Orton, QB, Chicago Bears
Claim to fame: Waiver Wire Wonder
The four-year NFL veteran needed to win a coin flip to earn the start in the team's first preseason game. And even after he won the job outright during training camp, fantasy football owners were still reluctant to take a chance on Orton, who had barely seen any significant action since 2005. So there he sat on the waiver wire, gathering dust as he gathered more confidence each week. After three straight weeks of over 280 yards passing, Orton now sits even with Peyton Manning at 10th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, ahead of names like Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Jake Delhomme and 2007 Hall of Fame inductee Derek Anderson. Clearly, everything's coming up heads for Kyle.
Just short: Donnie Avery, WR, Rams: One huge game does not make a Hall of Famer, but certainly he's headed in the right direction. A few more 22-point games might cause us to send out the tailor for his measurements.
Steve Slaton, RB, Houston Texans
Claim to fame: Unheralded Rookie
Certainly there was some buzz surrounding the former West Virginia star based on his college exploits, and his name appeared on many sleeper lists in the preseason, but when it came time to pull the trigger on draft day, most owners took a look at the Houston backfield and simply didn't see Slaton supplanting the more experienced Ahman Green. Boy, was that a mistake. Green had ankle issues from Week 1, and after an unexpected Week 2 bye, Slaton took charge in Week 3 with a 116-yard rushing performance and never looked back. He has just as many fantasy points as Marshawn Lynch, and more than Brandon Jacobs, LenDale White, Maurice Jones-Drew and even 2007 Hall of Fame inductee Earnest Graham. The regret stings.
Just short: Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos: After bursting on the scene with a 9-catch, 146-yard Week 1, he hasn't done much else. He's certainly talented and is no Frisman Jackson, but this soup's not done yet.
The candidates have stated their case, and now it's up to you. Who do you think will end up the 2008 season most deserving of immortality? Cast your vote today!
I'm AJ Mass, and I approve this message.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.