By Dalton Del Don
Marion Barber – The NFL's most punishing runner, Barber welcomes contact and takes on defenders with a devastating stiff-arm and a tenacity matched by none. While there might be some merit in limiting Barber to keep him fresh for the playoffs, it's unclear what Julius Jones does better on the football field. If Jones were out of the picture, Barber would be a top-five fantasy player. Barber is a terrific blocker, an excellent pass catcher and is averaging 5.0 YPC with 11 touchdowns this year.
Selvin Young – Mike Shanahan is at it again, naming Travis Henry the starter during the week only to have Young line up in the backfield during Denver's opening drive Sunday. Young took full advantage, rushing for a career-high 156 yards on just 17 carries (9.2 YPC). Showing excellent burst, Young is simply far more explosive than Henry, who is still dealing with a knee injury. While it's unclear how the goal-line carries will get doled out, Young is unquestionably the running back to own in Denver's backfield in fantasy leagues. He's averaging 5.7 YPC, is a threat in the passing game and has a favorable matchup vs. Houston coming up.
Darius Walker – Walker received his first NFL action of his career Sunday and responded with 81 total yards. With Ahman Green (knee) on IR and Ron Dayne dealing with what appears to be a serious ankle injury, Walker could be looking at a featured role in Houston's backfield. Andre Johnson back in the lineup, the Texans offense has been potent, regardless of the quarterback, so Walker could prove serviceable, especially against a suspect Broncos run defense this week. If fellow undrafted rookie running back from Notre Dame Ryan Grant can be successful, so can Walker.
Aaron Stecker – With news of Reggie Bush (knee) likely being done for the season, Stecker's fantasy value gets an obvious boost. Stecker's never been overly impressive (3.8 YPC for his career), but he's a capable receiver and finds himself with a major role in a pretty good offense. At 32, Stecker is unlikely to break many big plays, but he should post solid numbers out of sheer opportunity. Look for rookie Pierre Thomas to be involved as well.
Plaxico Burress – After scoring touchdowns in each of the first six games this season (totaling eight), Burress recorded just one touchdown in the next six weeks until reaching paydirt again Sunday. More important, he finally showed some explosiveness, indicating he might be turning the corner from a season-long ankle injury. He broke the century mark in receiving yards (136) for the first time since Week 5 and gave fantasy owners hope for a strong finish to the 2007 season.
Brandon Marshall – Meet the NFL's next superstar wide receiver. Marshall recorded 10 catches for 115 yards with two scores Sunday, marking his fourth touchdown in the last month. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Marshall combines size and strength with excellent speed and hands. With Javon Walker (knee) nowhere near 100 percent, Marshall will continue as Denver's No. 1 receiver throughout 2007.
Anthony Gonzalez – After Gonzalez's 134-yard, two-touchdown performance Sunday, he's now topped 100 yards receiving in two of the past three games. With Marvin Harrison's return from a knee injury uncertain – and he's likely to take a while to get back into game shape even when he does come back – Gonzalez should remain Indianapolis' No. 2 receiver for the foreseeable future, making him a fine option in deeper fantasy leagues.
Reggie Williams – Quietly, Williams has emerged as Jacksonville's No. 1 threat in the passing game. He's scored three touchdowns in the last four games and is averaging a remarkable 17.4 yards per catch. With David Garrard's (7.7 YPA, 13:1 TD:INT ratio) emergence, the once stagnant Jaguars' passing attack is fast improving.
Jamal Lewis – Lewis entered 2007 appearing to be on his last legs and playing for what looked like one of the NFL's worst offenses. Instead, he's averaged a solid 4.2 YPC while scoring seven touchdowns the past six games running for one of the league's elite offenses. With upcoming games against the Bills, Bengals and 49ers, Lewis should finish the season strong.
Adrian Peterson – Peterson followed an impressive return from his knee injury in Week 13 with a dud Sunday, gaining just three yards on 14 carries. He started the game on the sidelines but didn't appear to too hobbled during the contest. San Francisco pretty much sold out in an attempt to stop the run, stacking eight and nine men in the box and daring Minnesota to throw. Since Tarvaris Jackson has shown major improvement the past few games, that strategy might be short-lived, so expect Peterson to get back on track next week against a poor Bears rush defense.
Terrell Owens – Entering Sunday, Owens had scored 11 touchdowns in the previous seven games. He was held to just three catches for 21 yards with no scores Sunday, but that already marked the third time he's been held to 33 yards or fewer in a game this season. Receivers simply have a harder time remaining consistent than running backs because of the lack of guaranteed touches, but obviously Owens remains an elite option.
Brandon Jacobs – Jacobs ran for just 70 yards on 22 carries (3.2 YPC) Sunday, but he was returning from a hamstring injury and faced a tough front seven in Philadelphia. He also lost two fumbles in the contest, so it's safe to say he wasn't at this best. Still, he didn't appear to aggravate the injury, and he's has impressed when on the field this season (4.9 YPC). Even better news is the fact Reuben Droughns was stuffed at the goal line, which will hopefully lead to more opportunities from in close for the 6-4, 264-pound Jacobs.
Donovan McNabb – Since McNabb no longer runs much, his mediocre yards per attempt (7.0) is much harder to swallow. He's thrown for multiple touchdown passes in just two games this season and is no longer an elite fantasy option at quarterback. A change of scenery out of Philadelphia may be in the cards for 2008.
Ben Roethlisberger – Roethlisberger is having a fine season (7.8 YPA), but he's definitely been in a slump lately. He hasn't thrown for even 200 yards in four consecutive contests and remains turnover-prone (11 INTs, three lost fumbles). A healthy Santonio Holmes in the lineup would help, and Roethlisberger's future prospects still obviously remain quite bright.
John Beck – Despite his age for a rookie (26), Beck should have been expected to undergo growing pains as would any young signal caller. Still, his first NFL action has been especially brutal, as he's gotten a microscopic 4.9 YPA. He has also led his team to zero touchdown drives while committing a whopping seven turnovers. The league simply looks too fast for him, though there's still time to grow.
Reggie Bush – Bush lost all fantasy value last week with the revelation that he's been playing through a partially torn knee ligament. While that does give him a pass for his lackluster November, it's still hard to fathom that Bush, who was known for his explosiveness throughout his days at USC, had a season-long run of just 22 yards. In fact, his longest play from scrimmage all year was just a 25-yard catch against the 49ers. He was pretty valuable fantasy-wise with Deuce McAllister (knee) out of the lineup, but Bush had a mostly disappointing 2007 season.
Kellen Clemens – With just six career starts under his belt, Clemens shouldn't be expected to be lighting the league on fire. However, he isn't a rookie, so his time while replacing Chad Pennington under center has to be considered under whelming. Laveranues Coles (ankle) and Jerricho Cotchery (finger) haven't always been at full strength, but Sunday's performance (0:2 TD:INT ratio) against one of the NFL's worst secondaries (Cleveland) was especially discouraging. Over the last four games, Clemens has been sacked 16 times while posting a 2:6 TD:turnover ratio.
Chris Henry – After eclipsing 80 yards in each of his first two games back from suspension, Henry hasn't recorded more than three catches or 41 receiving yards in any of the following three contests. He also hasn't scored during that span after catching nine touchdowns in 13 games last season. Henry is extremely talented, but he's going to remain inconsistent as the team's No. 3 wide receiver, especially with the offensive line struggling so much.
Carson Palmer – Over the last two games, Palmer has averaged just 5.1 YPA with two interceptions and zero touchdowns. While the weather wasn't great, Palmer's performance against a suspect Rams secondary missing its best cornerback was especially discouraging Sunday. It would be nearly impossible to sit Palmer in a fantasy league with an upcoming matchup in San Francisco, but he's been a disappointment this season.
Vinny Testaverde - As the downgrades list indicates, many NFL teams are struggling at quarterback, and Carolina is no different. No one expected the 34-year-old to play at a Pro Bowl level, but about the only compliment one can pay Testaverde this season is that he was an upgrade over David Carr. He got a miniscule 3.0 YPA Sunday, bringing his season mark to an unacceptable 5.5. With the Panthers looking toward the future, there's little reason not to start Matt Moore.
Travis Henry – He's hurt. He's going to get suspended. He's healthy. He's vindicated. He's now the backup running back. Henry's season has been as up-and-down as the stock market, with too many downs coming when it matters most. Despite scoring three touchdowns the past two games, he hasn't gotten more than 3.4 YPC in a game since Week 5 and is still clearly hampered by his knee injury. With Selvin Young taking on a major role in Denver's backfield, Henry simply cannot be relied on during the fantasy playoffs.