Backup RBs taking full advantage of late-season opportunities

With Sunday's games in the books, here's a list of the most significant depth chart changes impacting fantasy leagues:

JACKSONVILLE RB

Rising: Maurice Jones-Drew. Falling: Fred Taylor. Remember when Taylor had the "injury prone" label and his owners had to hedge their bets by handcuffing his backup? Well, Taylor missed just one game in each of the last two seasons, and didn't miss his first game this year until Sunday. Unfortunately, he's going to miss two more, as torn ligaments in his thumb ended his season prematurely. Patient Jones-Drew owners can finally start MJD with impunity. Jones-Drew didn't disappoint in his first start of the season. While he only got 12 carries, he scored twice, giving him 14 touchdowns on the year.

INDIANAPOLIS RB

Rising: Dominic Rhodes. Falling: Joseph Addai. Rhodes also scored twice on Sunday, but it seems as if he should have done more against the hapless Lions. Chad Simpson got one of the other scores in Addai's absence, with Rhodes adding 86 yards rushing and 30 yards receiving. A sore shoulder sidelined Addai, but he was probably held out more as a precaution than for any other reason. The Colts are notorious for protecting their starters during the last few weeks of the season, so don't be surprised if Rhodes gets the majority of the carries next week as well.

NEW ORLEANS RB

Rising: Pierre Thomas. Falling: Reggie Bush. Going into the season, the Saints had two exciting running backs: Bush and Deuce McAllister. While neither was the picture of health back in September, Thomas was more of an afterthought than anything else. Now that McAllister faces a potential suspension and Bush has a sprained knee, the backfield belongs completely to Thomas. Even better, Thomas has taken full advantage of the opportunity to become one of the best backs in the league over the last month. He has scored in each of his last five games and has averaged 114.8 yards from scrimmage during that span. If Bush's injury turns out to be anything other than a minor sprain, the Saints will probably shut him down for the rest of the season.

DETROIT QB

Rising: Dan Orlovsky. Falling: Daunte Culpepper. It really couldn't get any worse in Detroit, so there was no harm in giving Orlovsky another shot. Culpepper did well in Week 14 before hurting his shoulder late in the game. An MRI confirmed the injury and showed no significant damage, but Culpepper was held out of practice all week. It had been six weeks since Orlovsky's last action behind center, but he didn't show much rust, completing 23-of-34 for 233 yards and a touchdown. He also got the Lions within striking distance of their first victory of the season before the defense gave up 10 unanswered points in the last nine minutes of the game.

TAMPA BAY QB

Rising: Brian Griese. Falling: Jeff Garcia. Garcia was fantastic last Monday, but a calf injury limited him in practice all week, ultimately keeping him off the field on Sunday. Luke McCown appeared to have the inside track of replacing Garcia in the starting lineup, thanks to Griese's bum elbow. Griese, however, proved good to go, getting the start and finishing with 269 yards and a touchdown. If Garcia's calf continues to bother him, it could be Griese leading the Bucs into the playoffs.

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JACKSONVILLE WR

Rising: Dennis Northcutt and Reggie Williams. Falling: Matt Jones and Jerry Porter. The long-awaited suspension to Matt Jones finally came down last week, giving one lucky Jaguar a shot at a little extra playing time. Adding Porter's groin injury into the mix just meant that the group got even thinner. Fortunately, Northcutt was up to the task, hauling in five receptions for 127 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown. Williams had four catches for 31 yards, but he should be more involved over the final two weeks of the season.

NEW YORK GIANTS RB

Rising: Derrick Ward. Falling: Brandon Jacobs. The Giants have one of the deeper stables of running backs in the league, which makes it easier to bench Jacobs when he's less than 100 percent. That's frustrating for his fantasy owners, but the opportunity has been there to identify a good interim running back while Jacobs is on the shelf. Ward got the majority of carries against the Cowboys on Sunday (a few went to third-stringer Ahmad Bradshaw), and he figures to be the lead back again next week if Jacobs' knee doesn't improve.

Kenn Ruby is a writer for RotoWire. For more information, check out rotowire.com.

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