AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Rookie running backs are notoriously inconsistent, but fantasy owners have been blessed with numerous options they think will have staying power this season. On Sunday of Week 9, eight running backs topped 100 yards, and four of them are in their first NFL season. Matt Forte has been legit all year, and Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles are relative newcomers who seized opportunity but could lose it. However, which side will the Cardinals' Tim Hightower fall?
It's not that we should be surprised at Hightower's ability, but all week long Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Edgerrin James remained his starter, even though a move like this seemed inevitable. Even after the game, the coach discussed flow of the game as the reason James sat, not injury or disciplinary action. Then what was it? A sudden love to alter a first-place team's lineup? In Week 8, Hightower, a fifth-round pick out of Richmond, rushed six times for three yards. Sure, he scored his sixth touchdown in that loss to the Panthers, but expecting big-time carries when he hadn't received more than 10 in any game was asking for a lot.
For the 53.6 percent of ESPN fantasy owners who activated Hightower this week, ask and you shall receive. The rookie said he found out just before game time he'd be starting, and he responded with 109 yards on 22 carries, and his seventh touchdown in eight games, a pretty 30-yard scamper late in the first half. James, meanwhile, active in 44.2 percent of leagues, didn't see action at all, the latest version of Chris Perry, if you will. One could surmise the changing of the guard has occurred, or wonder if Whisenhunt and the Cardinals were merely proving a point. Why keep the disgruntled James around if he's not going to touch the ball, especially with J.J. Arrington looking so good in a reserve role?
Then again, it would seem James deserves better than this. He was seventh in the NFL in rushing yards a season ago, and his 324 carries were one off the league lead. He was productive, even scoring seven touchdowns. Sure, he's on the wrong side of 30 years old, and fantasy owners were cautious in drafting him -- perhaps overcautious in ignoring him -- but is this really how it ends for the guy? James is owned in 92.1 percent of ESPN leagues, and I'd keep him on rosters another week or two to make sure his window really has closed. What seems so obvious today might not be the case in a couple of weeks.
Hightower remains available in 26.2 percent of ESPN leagues, meaning he'll be a very popular free-agent addition this week. He should be. Whisenhunt saw what he could do with a full slate of carries, and had to like it. With the Ravens, Willis McGahee could render Rice a reserve again, and Kansas City's Charles is interesting but hardly a lock. The Bears just lost their quarterback, and Forte's schedule gets a lot tougher. That leaves Hightower, the one 100-yard rookie running back who gets to play with a top quarterback going forward. It's definitely time to buy.
If Bears fans want to know what it's like to rely on the backup quarterback, take a look at what's happened in Dallas sans Tony Romo. That hasn't gone well at all. In the Windy City, it's Rex Grossman time again! Kyle Orton was taken from the field in a cart Sunday in the second quarter with what is being called a high ankle sprain. It's not only a shame because the Bears are in trouble, but Orton was one of the hottest fantasy quarterbacks in the game, entering Sunday tied for 10th in fantasy points at quarterback with Peyton Manning. Grossman relieved Orton and led the Bears to victory over the awful, winless Lions, though it wasn't pretty. Get used to that for the next month. If only the Bears had Sage Rosenfels.
The Titans remained the league's lone unbeaten team, and they can again thank the running back tandem of Chris Johnson and LenDale White, plus an opportunistic defense. Johnson scored for the third straight game, further cementing his status as someone fantasy owners can trust as a weekly start. White was held without a touchdown for only the second game all season, but still provided seven fantasy points. Of the 15 running backs who were started in at least 80 percent of ESPN leagues, these Titans were two of them. This is, obviously, rare in fantasy football.
Don't you hate it when star running backs say they're healthy enough to play, and then you play them, and wish you hadn't? I played Steven Jackson and Willis McGahee on one of my teams, because both were active. A grand total of one point later, four Tyler Thigpens couldn't have saved that team. In Jackson's case, he ran for 17 yards and dropped a touchdown pass, then sat for much of the second half with the Rams getting blown out. McGahee dressed but was the emergency running back, whatever that means. Ray Rice ran wild for 154 yards and there was no emergency. What do you do in Week 10? You play both Jackson and McGahee, of course.
|This Week In Fantasy Football History|
By Neil Tardy
2000: Elvis Grbac saw his career fizzle when he couldn't replace ESPN's Trent Dilfer in Baltimore, but for this season in Kansas City, he was a fantasy stud. Grbac chucked it for 504 yards this week -- that's more than 10 percent of his season total of 4,169 passing yards -- and connected on scores to Derrick Alexander and Tony Gonzalez. As if his owners needed the extra points, Grbac capped his day with a 3-yard scoring rush.
Tyler Thigpen, QB, Chiefs
Don't look now, but that's back-to-back 21-point fantasy games for Tyler Thigpen. Everyone made fun of him because he couldn't beat out Brodie Croyle or Damon Huard, but he's throwing well and catching touchdown passes. Why can't the unknown be legit? Plus, the Chargers and Saints are next.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos
Some of you who owned Brandon Marshall might have been hoping he had merely changed his name to Peyton Hillis. No dice. The unknown Hillis led the way for Denver players with 17 fantasy points, while all-world receiver Marshall managed two fantasy points. This annoying single-digit trend is now four games old; Marshall last scored in Week 4.
Jeff Garcia, QB, Buccaneers: Everyone thought Earnest Graham and pals would run all over the Chiefs, but Garcia ended up with his second 300-yard passing day in three weeks. After a bye, the schedule looks enticing and stays that way.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Patriots: That's three consecutive games with touchdowns, if you're counting, and there's really no guarantee Sammy Morris returns soon. BJGE is still available in half of ESPN leagues, but that doesn't add up.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs: I don't think the Chiefs want Larry Johnson back, and they're not getting Kolby Smith back after he tore up his knee, so that leaves the rookie from Texas, fresh off a 100-yard effort.
Donald Driver, WR, Packers: Wow, 35 wide receivers were activated in more leagues, eh? Driver's fallen that far? He was facing the mighty Titans, and he responded with a season-best 136 yards and 19 fantasy points. Keep him in mind as the schedule improves.
Greg Camarillo, WR, Dolphins: He did his best Wes Welker impression with 11 catches for 111 yards, and -- what else -- 11 fantasy points. He's got a puncher's chance for 100 receptions, so point-per-reception owners should pay more attention.
Brett Favre, QB, Jets: It's one thing to have the occasional single-digit game, but he's got three in four weeks, and has three touchdowns and nine turnovers in four games since the six-touchdown outlier. Look, use him against the Rams, but he's no lock in any matchup.
Earnest Graham, RB, Buccaneers: What a disappointing performance. He salvaged it a bit with the touchdown pass, but 3.2 yards per carry and a pair of fumbles against a run defense like the Chiefs is pathetic, and reminds us why Warrick Dunn was getting more carries.
Fred Taylor, RB, Jaguars: His owners wanted to believe he'd break through against the Bengals, but there's little reason for excitement after this 12-yard effort. He has one game with more than four fantasy points all season. Like Edgerrin James, he got really old, really fast.
Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Dolphins: I don't do the "told you so" thing, but why did everyone get so excited after his one big game in Week 8? He was active in nearly half of ESPN leagues, and delivered three points. Inconsistency reigns.
Roy E. Williams, WR, Cowboys: Can it get worse? In three games with the Cowboys, he has three receptions. Sure, Tony Romo will return, and maybe that bit of info will help you move Williams. You can't activate him.
While Kyle Orton will miss a month with his high ankle sprain, we still don't know about Matt Schaub yet. Unlike Orton, who scored a rushing touchdown before exiting, Schaub left after delivering just one fantasy point. His bruised left knee injury might not be serious, but early exits are another reason Schaub scared us in the first place. Also unlike Orton, fantasy owners trust his backup. Sage Rosenfels becomes interesting, though the meaty part of the Houston schedule is over.
The Chiefs lost Kolby Smith for the season with a torn up knee. Those 4.5 percent of owners who played him did get a touchdown first, though. The Broncos' Michael Pittman managed two fantasy points before a lingering neck injury forced him out. As for the Ravens' Willis McGahee, who could have played but did not, expect he'll actually receive carries in Week 10.
Jason Witten and his fractured rib did play, but didn't catch any of the poorly thrown passes in his direction. Like many of his Dallas teammates, Witten could really use the Week 10 bye.
Enjoying those bye weeks? Well, this is it. The Bengals, Cowboys, Buccaneers and Redskins will be playing golf instead of football, then everyone is active the final seven weekends. In the case of the Cowboys, check out their December schedule (Steelers, Giants, Ravens, Eagles) before assuming the bye week heals all wounds.
Here's a trend you'll need to get used to: setting your lineups early. Thursday games become the weekly norm from here on out, with the Broncos and Browns meeting in Week 10. Where's Earnest Byner when you need him? The last time these teams met was 2005, and Jake Plummer opposed Charlie Frye. Neither Jay Cutler nor Derek Anderson played. Jamal Lewis has faced the Broncos once since 2003, with little luck (43 yards in Week 5, 2006).
After what was surely a tough flight back from London, the Saints and Chargers play again after their byes. The Saints' Drew Brees might not tee off on the Falcons, a team he hasn't torched to the degree one would think the past two seasons (seven TDs in four games). Philip Rivers should be fine against the Chiefs, but LaDainian Tomlinson should be excellent. He averaged 154 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in the series last season.
Coming off an ordinary nine-point fantasy effort Sunday, Brian Westbrook faces the Giants on Sunday night. He's scored four times in the past three matchups, and is a much better play than his opponent, Brandon Jacobs. In five career games against the Eagles, Jacobs has scored only once, and topped 35 rushing yards only once. The middling fantasy production of one Plaxico Burress could change, however. He's scored in four of the past five meetings.