|Drew Hallowell / Getty Images|
|Redskins running back Ladell Betts is expected to see a bigger role in the team's offense this season.|
Fantasy leaguers who had Clinton Portis on their team last season saw the veteran runner fade down the stretch. After rushing for 120-plus yards five consecutive times in the first half of the season, Portis was held to one such performance in his final eight games. Injuries tired the talented running back, making him more of a risk than an asset. Those late-season troubles weren't lost on Redskins coach Jim Zorn, who has now come up with a plan to keep Portis fresher throughout the course of the 2009 season.
That plan is to utilize Ladell Betts more often out of the backfield.
Zorn has named Betts, who has had a tremendous training camp and preseason, his new third-down back. Not only will Betts benefit from the move, but the Redskins also expect it to help Portis avoid injuries and a decrease in statistical success. So while the decision might hurt his projections, it could be a good thing for Portis in the long run.
Despite the fact that he'll be just 28 when the season starts, Portis is already weathered. He's posted 325 or more carries four times since 2004 and has averaged 293 regular-season attempts during the course of his NFL career. The one season he hasn't had at least 273 carries was in 2006, when he missed eight games with an injured hand and shoulder.
That was when Betts proved he could make an impact, both for the Redskins and fantasy leaguers alike.
The Iowa product rushed for a career-best 1,154 yards (4.7 YPC) and four touchdowns while serving as the team's featured back. He showed his worth in the pass attack as well, hauling in an impressive 53 passes for 445 yards with one score. His impact was short-lived, though, as Portis took back the featured role in 2007 under coach Joe Gibbs.
According to the Washington Post, Gibbs allowed Portis to remain on the field until he was tired and wanted a break. His teammates suggested that Portis almost never wanted to come out of games, however, so Betts' number of attempts dropped as a result. Rather than help Portis in the ground attack, Betts was once again relegated to a reserve role.
Portis retained the featured role in his first season under Zorn and finished with 342 attempts -- his highest total since 2005 -- while Betts posted just 61 attempts.
That low number of carries was due in large part to an injured knee suffered in mid-October. Despite Zorn's desire to put him into games more often, Betts just wasn't the same after suffering the ailment. Now that he's 100 percent, though, he's earned the right to see more work. Betts has also earned the confidence of his coaches.
"He's going to deliver, we're not worried about that," offensive coordinator Sherman Smith told the Post. "The thing we're doing with this also, for Clinton, is to give him some plays, some breaks, where we can put another guy in. You need two backs to do it today. One guy can't carry the whole load. We have a very good running back in Ladell Betts, and it's just foolish not to use him."
Fantasy owners who've taken Portis or want to target him in upcoming drafts shouldn't take him off their radar. After all, this is not going to be a traditional committee like the one in Baltimore, for example, where it can be impossible to predict who will see the football from one week to the next.
Portis will lose carries, but it won't be in crunch time or near the goal line, where he's scored so many touchdowns and helped countless owners in their quest for a league title.
Instead, Zorn will pick his spots to take Portis off the field and allow him some time to rest.
"Even if it's 15 plays a game, in the fourth quarter, Clinton Portis should be ready to go because he's rested," Zorn said. "If we have two minutes and four seconds before the halftime, Ladell Betts should do that. That's another place Clinton can get some rest. So this is twofold: You want to get Portis rest, but you also want to take advantage of Ladell Betts. He's a good player."
While he should no longer be seen as an elite No. 1 fantasy back, Portis is still almost certain to come off the board in the first or second round across the board. If you do decide to take a chance on him, be sure to also target Betts as insurance in the late rounds.
News and notes
- » Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger traveled with the team to Washington for this weekend's game against the Redskins, which is a good sign that the lower leg injury he suffered isn't serious. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports there has been no indication if Big Ben will be active for the contest. While it's a good idea to monitor his status, it looks safe to draft Roethlisberger as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback.
- » The Charlotte Observer reports that Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (shoulder) will travel with the team to Miami for Saturday's preseason game against the Dolphins. However, he's being called a "game-time decision" for the contest. Smith hasn't participated in contact drills since Aug. 10, however, so chances are he won't be active. He's still expected to be fine for Week 1, so Smith remains a second-round wideout.
- » Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco had his second strong preseason contest on Thursday night and was even called upon to serve as a kicker when Shayne Graham was unable to perform those duties. While I don't see him kicking any field goals this season, it's hard not to like what Ochocinco's done as we close in on Week 1. He's being drafted as a No. 2 fantasy option, but don't be shocked if he exceeds those expectations.
- » The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Bernard Berrian jogged on Friday for the first time since suffering an injured hamstring. He also tweeted that he "hopes to be back to 100 percent" soon. Berrian's stock is on the rise after the addition of Brett Favre, but he needs to get back on the field and develop a rapport with his new quarterback to avoid a slow start. Berrian is now worth a middle-round selection.
- » Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was held to just 26 yards in Thursday's preseason loss to the Colts. While he has a ton of upside, it's going to take time for Maclin to make a serious impact as an offensive skill position player. For now, much of his time will come as a return man on special teams. With a number of veteran receivers ahead of him, Maclin should be seen as no more than a late-round pick in seasonal formats.
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