Another week, another top-notch running back falls to an injury.
With Frank Gore (ankle) inactive, Rudi Johnson (hamstring) and Ahman Green (knee) limited and four teams on a bye, reliable runners were few and far between in Week 9. Then Larry Johnson went down when his ankle was caught under a Green Bay defender. L.J. couldn't put weight on the ankle and needed to be carted off the field, putting his status for Week 10 in serious doubt. In his potential absence, fantasy football owners might have to lean on a familiar name, former fantasy superstar Priest Holmes.
Holmes, who has been out of action for most of the past two seasons due to an injured spinal column, would see a spike in carries if Johnson is out. While he is past his prime at age 33, Holmes still warrants a roster spot in all fantasy leagues. Rookie Kolby Smith could also see added work and is worth a look in larger formats as well.
The other major story of the weekend came out of Minnesota, where Adrian Peterson broke Jamal Lewis' single-game rushing mark with 296 yards (and three touchdowns) in a win over San Diego. The rookie out of Oklahoma is now on pace to rush for close to 2,100 yards and score 18 total touchdowns based on his current production. With Ronnie Brown out for the season and LaDainian Tomlinson on an inconsistent run, Peterson is now the unquestioned top running back in fantasy football.
Drew Brees lead all quarterbacks with 33 points. He threw for 445 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Jacksonville and has now thrown 11 touchdowns and one interception in his past four starts. Brees should once again be considered a must-start option in all formats. Tony Romo (28 points) was solid as well with three scores in a win over Philadelphia. Tom Brady (25) had a "mediocre" three touchdown passes but remains on pace to toss over 60 this season. Brett Favre (22), who threw for 300 yards for the fifth time this season, and Jon Kitna (22) rounded out the top-five quarterbacks.
Quinn Gray (20), Kellen Clemens (19) and J.P. Losman (17) were also solid and should be considered viable options off the waiver wire for the stretch run. Jay Cutler was expected to produce in Detroit but left the contest with an injured leg. His status for Week 10 is in real question, so Patrick Ramsey has sudden value.
The biggest disappointment at the quarterback position had to be Vince Young, who totaled eight points in a win over Carolina. He missed his first career start in Week 7, returned in Week 8 and has a combined 152 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his past two starts. Madden cursed or not, Young has failed to meet statistical expectations in his sophomore season. Kurt Warner (2) and Philip Rivers (3) also disappointed their fantasy owners. The fact that Philip, who faced the NFL's worst-ranked pass defense, failed to produce was as much of a disappointment as the continued statistical failures of Young.
Running backs made a significant impact for the first time in what seems like forever, as six of the weekend's top 10 point producers were runners. Peterson led all players with 46 points, but Jamal Lewis scored more touchdowns overall. The veteran back rushed for 37 yards on 20 carries (1.8 YPC), but he found the end zone four times and scored 33 fantasy points in a win over Seattle. Joseph Addai (28) continued his rise up the fantasy charts with 226 all-purpose yards and a score in Week 9, and rookie Marshawn Lynch (27) did significant damage against a porous Cincinnati defense. Clinton Portis (25), who rushed for 196 yards and one score against the Jets, rounded out the top five runners.
Reggie Bush (23), Brian Westbrook (21) and Larry Johnson (21) also finished with solid stat lines, but the latter hurt his ankle and could miss some time. Earnest Graham (19) was also a solid option, but his time as the starter in Tampa Bay could be over soon. Michael Pittman is expected to return to action after a bye in Week 10, so owners might want to sell high with Graham. Ron Dayne (18) also made an impact and should be added if available because Ahman Green's knee could remain an issue the rest of the season. Justin Fargas (17) is the new starter in Oakland, so he'll be one of the hottest names on the waiver wire in all formats.
Another runner who found success was LenDale White (14), who rushed for 100 yards for the third consecutive week and has developed into a solid No. 2 fantasy back.
Gore was inactive due to an injured ankle, and the duo of Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks shared the workload in his absence. Robinson started and saw more carries, but Hicks had more points for owners. If Gore is out again in Week 10, Robinson and Hicks will both be viable flex starters.
A number of running backs failed to meet expectations, none more than Shaun Alexander. He rushed for 32 yards and no touchdowns against a bad Cleveland run defense, and he has now failed to find the end zone in five consecutive starts. Unless you have no backfield depth, now is the time to sit Alexander on the sidelines. Rudi Johnson (1) seems to be in a backfield committee with Kenny Watson, who seems like the better fantasy option. And LaMont Jordan (2) has lost his spot atop the depth chart in Oakland to Fargas. Travis Henry (4), Maurice Jones-Drew (5), Thomas Jones (5) and Laurence Maroney (5) also soured fantasy owners this weekend.
Terrell Owens led this group with 23 points, as he totaled 174 yards and one touchdown against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Lee Evans (22) was a beast with 165 yards and one touchdown against Cincinnati, and he's back among the top fantasy wideouts after three consecutive solid starts. The underrated Greg Jennings found the end zone twice in a win over Kansas City and has now scored in all but one of his contests this season. Randy Moss (20) and Bobby Engram (19) rounded out the top five performances at the position.
Several other wideouts, such as Reggie Williams (18), Marques Colston (15), Joey Galloway (14) and David Patten (14) all had solid weeks. While I wouldn't rush to add Williams, I would look to put in a claim for Patten while he's hot. T.J. Houshmandzadeh scored his 10th touchdown of the season, and only Moss has more points at the position overall. Houshmandzadeh's teammate, Chad Johnson, hasn't had the same success. He totaled three catches for 48 yards in a loss to Buffalo and has now failed to find the end zone in six consecutive starts. What's worse, Johnson left the contest on a stretcher and was taken to a local hospital after a hard hit. A CT scan of Johnson's neck was normal, but his status for Week 10 remains in question.
Johnson wasn't the lone wideout to miss time in Week 9. Deion Branch (foot) was out again, and Laveranues Coles (concussion) sat out of the Washington-N.Y. Jets contest. Marvin Harrison (knee) was also out of action, and Steve Smith (1) might as well have been. The veteran wideout had three catches for 15 yards in a loss to Tennessee. Defensive pressure could be the reason, but David Carr never looks to Smith in the vertical pass attack. Unless you're still in a position to trade him for value, it's hard to even start Smith in leagues that require two wideouts while Carr is atop the depth chart.
Overall it was a bad week for wide receivers. Anquan Boldin (4), Santana Moss (4), Roy Williams (4), Chris Chambers (4) were some of the biggest disappointments. Braylon Edwards (6) failed to make a significant impact despite Cleveland scoring 33 points. And Reggie Wayne (6) was held down in a loss to New England. When the smoke cleared, a mere 15 wideouts scored double-digit points in NFL.com's standard scoring system.
The top tight end of the week was Tony Gonzalez, who had 10 catches, 109 yards, one touchdown and 16 fantasy points in a loss to Green Bay. Jason Witten (13), with or without his helmet, continues to be a solid option. The underrated Kellen Winslow (12), Robert Royal (9), Billy Miller (7), Vernon Davis (7) and Donald Lee (7) rounded out a crowded top five at the position.
Davis has had two consecutive solid stat lines and has started to meet preseason statistical expectations, so consider him a viable No. 1 fantasy tight end down the stretch. Despite their numbers, neither Royal nor Miller warrant much consideration. However, Lee should be owned in all leagues with 12-plus teams.
One of the biggest fantasy duds of the weekend was Antonio Gates, who totaled one point despite a matchup against Minnesota's 32nd-ranked pass defense. Dallas Clark (1), Tony Scheffler (2) and Owen Daniels (4) also failed to produce in a weekend that saw just four tight ends score nine or more fantasy points.
Mason Crosby (17), Jason Hanson (17) and Shaun Suisham (17) all tied for the most points scored at the kicker position. What's odd is that none of the three were even started in more than 60 percent of NFL.com leagues. A rookie out of Colorado, Crosby is now in the top 10 in fantasy points among kickers but is still a free agent in more than 40 percent of NFL.com leagues. Rian Lindell (15), Josh Brown (12) and Olindo Mare (12) completed the top five at the position.
The biggest disappointments were Jason Elam (1), John Kasay (1), Shayne Graham (3), Neil Rackers (5) and Nate Kaeding (5).
Detroit led all defenses with 31 points on five sacks, one interception, two touchdowns and seven points allowed in a win over Denver. The Lions have now had two solid weeks on the defensive side of the football and should be added in all formats. Tennessee (23) continued its run of productive weeks, and Green Bay (21) was a godsend for fantasy owners in Kansas City. Carolina (19), Atlanta (16), Tampa Bay (16) and New Orleans (16) filled out the top five.
The defenses that failed owners in Week 9 included Philadelphia (2), Denver (3), Kansas City (5) and Seattle (8).
News & Notes
» Mike Furrey started ahead of Calvin Johnson in Detroit's win over Denver, and Shaun McDonald had more targets than Furrey, Johnson and Roy Williams. The Lions have also leaned a bit more on Kevin Jones and the run in recent weeks, so fantasy owners could see some inconsistent numbers from Detroit wideouts down the stretch. Williams, who hasn't posted a 100-yard performance or a touchdown since Week 3, has seen his numbers fall the most. Fantasy owners might want to deal him while he still has real value.
» Remember when Dwayne Bowe looked like the next Terrell Owens earlier this season? Well, now he looks more like the next Tinker Owens. The rookie didn't catch a single pass in his team's loss to Green Bay, and he hasn't found the end zone since Week 4. This is a lesson learned for fantasy owners: Rookie wideouts rarely make a consistent and significant impact. Look at Calvin Johnson, who was touted as the NFL's next great wideout. He is on pace for fewer than 700 yards based on his current statistical level.
» Fantasy owners should be aware that they're spectators to two of the greatest single-season performances ever. Tom Brady is on pace to shatter Peyton Manning's record for touchdown passes, and Adrian Peterson has a chance to break both Eric Dickerson's rushing record and Marshall Faulk's mark for scrimmage yards. Another fact that should be remembered: Neither of these paces are likely to be duplicated next season. Barring injury, Brady and Peterson will be top-three picks in all 2008 drafts, but there are no guarantees.
» Dolphins coach Cam Cameron has named Cleo Lemon his starting quarterback for Week 10, but it appears rookie John Beck will be the main man sooner rather than later. In fact, Beck is expected to share first-team snaps with Lemon in practice this week. Lemon will be on a short leash against an inconsistent Buffalo defense, so Beck's fantasy value could see a significant increase. His stock is higher in keeper leagues at this time, but Beck could be worth a flier in larger leagues if he earns a prominent role.