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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Watch - Week 13
Mike Courter
November 29, 2005
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson With approximately three minutes left in the third quarter of the Chargers game against the Redskins, San Diego trailed 17-7 and Tomlinson had only 66 yards rushing. What happened next is what elevates LT over Shaun Alexander in the “Best Back” debate. Tomlinson finished the contest with 184 yards rushing and three touchdowns, including the game-tying 32 yarder and a 41 yard game-winner, and in the process willed his team to a 23-17 overtime road victory keeping San Diego on the cusp of playoff contention. This Sunday night, Tomlinson gladly welcomes a downtrodden Raider Nation to beautiful San Diego. In week six, Tomlinson totaled 179 yards (140 rushing) and two touchdowns against the Silver & Black in San Diego’s 27-14 win in Oakland.
2 SEA Shaun Alexander Alexander ground out 110 yards and a touchdown against one of the better run defenses in the NFC in Seattle’s thrilling 24-21 overtime win against the New York Giants last week and in doing so became only the fourth player in NFL history to record back-to-back 20 touchdown seasons. The ‘Hawks will fly to Philadelphia to face the Eagles on Monday night where Alexander will run against a depleted Philly defense that allowed NFL newcomer Samkon Gado to gain 110 yards and a score last week.
3 KC Larry Johnson Through the four games that Johnson has started in place of Priest Holmes, LJ has AVERAGED 142.25 rushing yards per contest, along with five touchdowns. But he’s not just a threat on the ground. The third year vet has 14 receptions for 153 yards in those four games, an average of 10.9 yards per catch. With a full season of work as the starter, Johnson would reside in the Tomlinson-Alexander zip code but this Sunday he’ll face his toughest test of the season when the Chiefs welcome the AFC West-leading Denver to Arrowhead. The Broncos defense is currently allowing only 3.8 yards per carry and a mere six touchdowns to opposing backs.
4 IND Edgerrin James James salted away another 100 yard rushing game (124) on Monday night in the Colts win over Pittsburgh, his seventh of the season. This Sunday, James will welcome 3-8 Tennessee to the RCA Dome. James gained 90 yards rushing and caught an eight yard touchdown pass in Indy’s 31-10 week four win in Tennessee.
5 NYG Tiki Barber Barber is in elite running back class when it comes to yardage. After week twelve’s 151 yards rushing in Seattle, he now ranks third overall behind Shaun Alexander and Edgerrin James, respectively. Expect another inspired effort from Tiki as the Giants face off with long-time nemesis, Dallas, in a must-win Meadowlands showdown for New York if they wish to win the NFC East title.
6 DEN Mike Anderson Anderson served up an 11 carry, 31 yard turkey for disappointed fantasy owners nationwide in Denver’s 24-21overtime victory on Thanksgiving day. Anderson’s journeyman understudy, Ron Dayne, took center stage with 98 yards and a score fueling the Broncos win. Expect Anderson to put forth a more respectable performance this week in a critical road contest against the Chiefs. In week three versus Kansas City, Anderson carried 20 times for 98 yards, including a 44 yard touchdown run.
7 STL Stephen Jackson After a slow start, Jackson managed to scratch out 110 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries in the Rams improbable comeback 33-27 road win in overtime over the Texans. As rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick looks to continue to stabilize the St. Louis passing game, Jackson will seek to imitate LaDainian Tomlinson’s week twelve success against the visiting Redskins, who were zapped by LT for 184 yards and three touchdowns at home last Sunday.
8 OAK Lamont Jordan Despite Oakland’s dismal showing against the Dolphins in week twelve, losing 33-21 at home, Jordan exploited the Zach Thomas-less Miami defense for 144 total yards and two touchdowns. Lower your expectations for Jordan in week thirteen as the Raiders travel to San Diego for a game in which they will most likely lose by more than two scores, reducing Jordan to a few goal line chances but minimal yards gained on the ground.
9 WAS Clinton Portis After weeks of steadily improving production, Clinton Portis climbs his way into the top ten this week. Portis registered 110 total yards against a difficult Chargers run defense last week and has gained 943 yards rushing to date (ninth overall) with five touchdowns. Portis has a chance to shine in week thirteen when the ‘Skins visit St. Louis to face a Lams defense that has not offered much resistance to opposing running backs, yielding 4.5 yards per carry and 13 scores on the ground.
10 CLE Reuben Droughns Droughns continues to answer the bell, more with yardage than touchdowns, despite being on the wrong side of many lopsided scores, with last week’s 24-12 loss in Minnesota being no exception. Droughns gained 119 total yards, 73 of them coming on 19 carries. This week, the Browns will host visiting Jacksonville, who has been less stout against the run this season as compared to prior campaigns, giving up 4.1 yards per carry.

(Note – this listing considers the rankings of RB’s if a draft was held today)

Climbing Up The Ladder

Jamal Lewis (BAL) – Lewis has been a fixture in the “Sliding Back” section of this column on more than one occasion this season so his first 100 yard rushing game of the season is cause for celebration and inclusion in the “Climbing” list for week thirteen. That Lewis was able to carve out 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the Ravens humbling 42-29 loss to the Bengals was all the more impressive. This week appears promising as well with the Ravens hosting the 1-10 Texans and their struggling defense, which has surrendered 16 touchdowns and 4.8 yards per carry to opponents.

Rudi Johnson (CIN) – Johnson has been a steady yardage guy all season, currently ranking sixth overall with 968 yards rushing. The quiet, unassuming back out of Auburn has started his ascent up fantasy football lists with his recent uptick in end zone production with five touchdowns in his last three games after scoring only twice in his first eight games. Johnson’s recent penchant for pay dirt can’t come at a better time for fantasy owners as most leagues are entering their playoff stretch.

Brian Westbrook (PHI) – Perhaps the only silver lining that can be taken from the McNabb-Owens meltdown that dramatically altered the face of the Eagles is the emergence of Westbrook as a true running back. His receiving yardage is down over the last three games but his yards per carry has climbed to 5.07 and he’s scored twice on the ground in the last three games even with the inexperienced Mike McMahon at the helm of the offense. After two more difficult defenses in Seattle and the Giants, albeit at home, Westbrook will travel to fantasy-friendly destinations, St. Louis and Arizona, before hosting a weakened Washington defense in week seventeen.

Sliding Back

Stephen Davis (CAR) – It was nice while it lasted. Davis had a storybook beginning to the 2005 season, defying the odds by overcoming difficult micro-fracture surgery to his creaky knee in the off season, scoring 12 touchdowns in his first nine games. But his production has dropped noticeably in the last two contests, scratching out 28 yards on 10 carries and no scores while the younger, more explosive DeShaun Foster has gained 118 yards on 32 carries over the same two games and word out of Carolina is that John Fox is shifting his running game in Foster’s direction for the remainder of the season.

Kevan Barlow (SF) – Barlow has averaged 2.09 yards per carry for the month of November, finding the end zone only once in that four game span and the 49ers, who were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention with last week’s loss in Tennessee, have tabbed rookie Alex D. Smith as the starting quarterback for the rest of the 2005 season, officially snuffing out what little fantasy value Barlow had left.

Patrick Pass / Heath Evans (NE) – Thisreplacement tandem stumbled mightily in New England’s 26-16 loss at Arrowhead Stadium in week twelve,rushing for a combined 32 yards on 14 carries, though Pass did manage to sneak into the end zone on a one yard run. With New England’s defense deteriorating weekly, the Patriots are desperate for Corey Dillon’s expected week thirteen return against the woeful New York Jets to help Tom Brady win games through the offensive side of the ball.