RB Thomas becomes this fantasy season's version of Volek, Gado

Billy Volek. Samkon Gado ... Pierre Thomas?

That's right, Thomas has become this season's Volek or Gado.

You know, the player who comes out of nowhere to help fantasy leaguers win a championship. Before we delve into the impact of Thomas, let's take a little trip down memory lane and reminisce about how even the most absurd fantasies can become championship realities.

2004 statistics:
Att: 116

Yards: 548

TDs: 8

Back in 2004, Volek took over for an injured Steve McNair in Tennessee and become an absolute star in fantasy football. He threw for a combined 1,187 yards and 11 touchdowns in what was an amazing three-game stretch.

That included two games during the fantasy postseason with 400-plus yards and four touchdowns. In an instant, Volek went from a player with no value to a must-start quarterback in the most crucial part of the season.

The storyline was similar with Gado in 2005.

The unknown rookie runner was thrust into a prominent role for the Packers when injuries landed Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher on the sidelines. The one-time practice squad player went on to rush for 100-plus yards three times and score seven total touchdowns over a six-week period.

That included a 103-yard, two-touchdown stat line against the Falcons and a 171-yard, one-touchdown performance against Detroit (have the Lionsever been able to stop the run?).

Gado even had more fantasy points than LaDainian Tomlinson during a late-season stretch that led a lot of fantasy leaguers into championship contention.

Now comes Thomas, who showed flashes of potential as a rookie but didn't have a ton of value in 2008 drafts. In fact, he was owned in 15 percent of NFL.com leagues in Week 1 and 20 percent of fantasy rosters in Week 11. But as his production has risen, so has his stock across the board.

With Reggie Bush out of action due to an injured knee, Thomas passed Deuce McAllister on the depth chart and became a prominent option in the offense of coach Sean Payton. His streak of success started against the Chiefs (Week 11), as he recorded 144 scrimmage yards and one touchdown in a 30-20 win.

The Illinois product would score 23 fantasy points in his next contest, a 51-29 win over the Packers. Then came word that Payton wanted to lean on Thomas to see if he could handle the workload of an NFL runner.

So far, Thomas has passed the test with flying colors.

Bush returned to the field in Week 13, but Thomas has remained the best fantasy option. He's averaged a solid 19 points in the three games since Bush came back, including a 25-point outburst last Thursday night against a stout Bears run defense.

Now comes word that Bush re-injured his knee in that contest and is seeking the opinion of noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews. If the examination turns up anything, the Saints could decide to limit or shelve Bush for the remainder of the season.

Regardless, it's hard not to love Thomas in fantasy's championship week based on a game against the Lions and their pathetic run defense. I'd start him ahead of Tomlinson, Chris Johnson and a number of other "more valuable" running backs. And here's the kicker: Thomas is still available in close to 20 percent of NFL.com leagues. Based on the matchups and their recent numbers, I'd even release Tomlinson in a seasonal league if it meant having Thomas for Week 16.

If that sounds nuts, well, consider that Thomas has scored 45 more fantasy points than Tomlinson since Week 11. That is a huge discrepancy in statistical production. So if L.T. is owned in 100 percent of fantasy football leagues (which he is on NFL.com), shouldn't the same be said of the more productive (and valuable) Thomas?

While the similarities between Volek, Gado and Thomas are obvious, the latter does have one major difference: Thomas will not fade into obscurity. In fact, with McAllister likely gone next season and Bush's nagging knee problems an issue, Thomas has a good chance to be the first Saints running back taken in 2009 non-PPR drafts.

Alright, let's move on to some of the best and worst performances of Week 15:

Studs

Matt Cassel, QB, New England (31 points): In what was an inspired effort, Cassel threw for 218 yards and four touchdowns just a few short days after the passing of his father. He also did it against a Raiders defense that entered the week ranked in the top 10 in pass defense. Cassel should be seen as a very attractive fantasy starter in Week 16, as he'll face a Cardinals defense that's allowed a league-high 31 touchdown passes.

Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Minnesota (30 points): This one came out of nowhere, folks. Jackson started in the absence of an injured Gus Frerotte to throw for 163 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout win over Arizona. The performance didn't make an enormous fantasy impact, however, as Jackson was active in one percent of NFL.com leagues. It's also hard to start Jackson in most league championships, even against the Atlanta Falcons.

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Andre Johnson, WR, Houston (26 points): Johnson had a career game against the Titans, catching 11 passes for 207 yards with one touchdown. It was the second 200-yard performance from a wideout in less than a week (Antonio Bryant accomplished the feat last Monday night). Johnson has established himself as an elite fantasy player and is an absolute must-start across the board. He'll be a surefire top-five fantasy wideout in 2009.

Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans (25 points): As I mentioned above, Thomas has been hotter than a pistol in recent weeks. He showcased his immense skills against the Bears last Thursday night, posting seven catches, 146 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in an overtime loss. If Bush is forced out of action again, Thomas should be seen as a lock starter in fantasy championships against the Lions and their 32nd-ranked run defense.

David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville (24 points): Garrard was a shaky fantasy option without Matt Jones (suspension) and Jerry Porter (hamstring), but he didn't miss a beat without his best receivers. The veteran threw for 238 yards and two touchdowns against what was, on paper, a solid Packers pass defense. Despite the solid numbers, it's still hard to trust Garrard as a fantasy starter Thursday night against the Colts.

Other notables: Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta (24 points); Dominic Rhodes, RB, Indianapolis (23 points); Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Cincinnati (22 points).

Duds

Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona (1 point): Boldin was the hottest wideout in fantasy land a few weeks back, but he's cooled off considerably. In his last three games, the talented Boldin has scored a combined 11 fantasy points. That includes a one-point stinker against the Vikings that cost countless owners a championship berth. Despite all of his recent struggles, Boldin remains a must-start player against the Patriots in Week 16.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Cincinnati (1 point): Houshmandzadeh's value has taken an enormous hit in non-PPR leagues with Carson Palmer on the sidelines. Outside of a huge game against the Eagles in Week 11, Houshmandzadeh hasn't scored double-digit fantasy points since October 5. This week's contest against the Browns is attractive, but Houshmandzadeh is still a serious fantasy risk with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.

Marion Barber, RB, Dallas (2 points): Barber was active and able to play against the Giants, but it was clear that calf and toe injuries limited his effectiveness. He rushed for 2 yards on eight carries and would have put up a goose egg if not for his 24 receiving yards. Based on his health and a Saturday night matchup against the Ravens, Barber should be reserved on those fantasy teams with legitimate backfield depth.

Eli Manning, QB, N.Y. Giants (3 points): Do you think Manning misses Plaxico Burress? Despite posting good numbers without his top wideout earlier in the season, the younger Manning has faltered in recent weeks. His three-point bomb against what has become a premier Cowboys defense likely ended the season of numerous fantasy leaguers. I'd consider Manning no more than a borderline fantasy starter against the Panthers.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver (4 points): Marshall started the season with a combined 43 fantasy points in his first two games. His numbers have been less than stellar ever since, however, as he's scored in double digits just three times in his last 11 contests. His disappointing four-point stat line against the Panthers was very difficult for most teams to overcome. He has a tough matchup against the Bills in Week 16.

Other notables:Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans (4 points); Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta (5 points); Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona (5 points).

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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