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Running Back Watch - Week 17
Mike Courter
December 27, 2005
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 KC Larry Johnson Johnson is one big man dressed in red and white who you don’t want coming down your chimney, if you’re an opposing defense that is, as the San Diego Chargers supposedly stout run defense can attest. There have been plenty of 230 pound running backs that have passed through the doors of the NFL, but have you seen any of them run with the same malevolence for the opposition as Johnson does when he attacks a defensive front seven? LJ pounded the Chargers in Arrowhead on Christmas Eve, racking up 179 total yards (131 on the ground) and two touchdowns, a 4 yard plunge on the ground and a sideline-defying, 28 yard pass reception. LJ should finish on a high note in Week 17, as the visiting Bengals have struggled all season against power running schemes and the Chiefs will be playing to win after having kept their playoff hopes alive by beating the Chargers this past Saturday.
2 SEA Shaun Alexander Alexander tied Priest Holmes record for touchdowns (27) in a season in his typically understated fashion, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and one through the air while gaining 139 yards rushing on 21 carries. After denying Alexander the chance to win the rushing title last season (he lost by one yard to Curtis Martin in 2004), Mike Holmgren will most likely give Alexander a chance to get the record-breaker in Week 17 in Green Bay and then pull him immediately from the game as Seattle has already locked up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
3 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Tomlinson and the Chargers hurt a lot of fantasy teams in their Week 16 championship game with a tepid 49 yards rushing with no scores in San Diego’s last stand at Arrowhead Stadium, dropping a 20-7 decision to the Chiefs. Football fans could see a rising squall forming before kickoff to sabotage Tomlinson’s chances between the existing rib injury, reports of the pain-killer injection before the game, the Michael Turner factor creating uncertainty around the amount of carries LT would receive and then the steady rainfall in Kansas City creating field conditions that don’t compliment Tomlinson’s quick-cutting style. LT says he wants to finish the year strong in Week 17 against visiting Denver but for many fantasy owners who needed him in Week 16, it’s too little, too late.
4 NYG Tiki Barber Barber, despite being limited to only 16 carries due to the Giants having to throw for most of the second half in their 35-20 road loss to the Redskins last weekend, still managed 129 total yards (80 rushing and 49 receiving). Barber has a favorable Week 17 match up, albeit on the road in Oakland, with the struggling 4-11 Raiders, who look more lost with each passing game as they play out the string and move Norv Turner one step closer to the unemployment line with each consecutive weekly disappointment.
5 IND Edgerrin James As expected, James’ playing time in Seattle was limited due to the Colts having already clinched home-field advantage throughout, resulting in a measly 41 yards rushing and 14 yards receiving in Indy’s 28-13 road loss. Projections will not change much from this stat line as the Colts will end the season with another depth chart exercise against Arizona in Indianapolis in week seventeen. Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro might actually post respectable numbers against a Cardinals defense that has allowed 22 touchdowns on the ground this year.
6 CIN Rudi Johnson With seven scores in his last four games, Johnson had morphed into “Rudi the red zone reindeer” in the last chapter of the season, so it was a letdown when he finished with 88 yards rushing and no touchdowns in last week’s home upset loss at the hands of struggling Buffalo. He’ll travel to hostile Arrowhead for the final week of the regular season to face a Chiefs defense that’s recently re-discovered how to tackle, shutting down LaDainian Tomlinson last week.
7 WAS Clinton Portis Portis is experiencing a strong finishing kick to 2005 as the ‘Skins went back to a power running game a few weeks ago, making Portis the focal point of the offense with the vertical threat of Santana Moss as the balancing compliment. The former Bronco cranked out 108 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s 35-20 home triumph over the Giants, his fourth straight 100 yard rushing game. With Washington in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt, Portis should be counted on in for a similar showing in week seventeen’s game in Philadelphia.
8 CHI Thomas Jones Jones now has 1,273 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the season thanks to his 105 and a score posted on Christmas day at Lambeau Field in the Bears 24-17 win over the Packers. Both numbers comprise the best season Jones has put together in his six years as a running back in the NFL. He’ll face the Vikings in Minnesota in week seventeen.
9 DEN Mike Anderson Anderson ran for 46 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s Week 16 home win over Oakland, bringing his season totals to 1,014 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, his second one thousand yard season in his six year career. He sprained his ankle in the first half of the 22-3 win and did not return to action. Anderson does not consider the injury serious but he’s leaning toward resting the ankle in Week 17 since the Broncos have already sewn up their No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
10 OAK Lamont Jordan Jordan missed week sixteen’s date with the Broncos while still recovering from the acute turf toe he suffered two weeks ago. His status for this week against the Giants remains iffy but he deserves a place in the top ten with 1,025 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and 70 receptions for 563 yards and two scores as a receiver in his first season as a franchise back.

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Julius Jones (DAL) – Any fantasy owner who was forced to play Jones in week sixteen due to a dearth of available roster options received a holiday gift from the heavens with an unexpected rebirth of the explosive Jones we were so accustomed to last season. Jones shocked the Panthers with 194 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including a 43 yard run. Dallas ends the regular season vying for a playoff spot with a home game against the St. Louis Rams, whose run defense is one of the league’s worst, giving up 4.9 yards per carry and 22 touchdowns to opposing backs. Expectations will be high for Jones to finish the season strong with that combination of favorable elements.

Ricky Williams (MIA) – After a long and arduous journey back to respectability in the NFL, Williams was rewarded with a dual bonus of not having to share carries with Ronnie Brown (ankle, knee) and a home date with 4-11 Tennessee. Williams took full advantage of the low hanging fruit by gaining 172 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Ronnie Brown has hinted he should be able to suit up this week in a much tougher game in New England so temper your Williams expectations accordingly. At the very least, last Saturday was an opportunity for Williams to showcase his talents to the league and he did just that.

Fred Taylor (JAX) – Taylor was another veteran back taking advantage of developments breaking in his favor in week sixteen, seizing on the starting tailback job without having to look over his shoulder at Greg Jones, who was sidelined with a neck injury, the usually frail Fred pounded out 101 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars 38-20 win over the Texans. Greg Jones health status won’t really be clear until later in the week but there’s a good chance Taylor owners could get one more solid week out of him when the Jaguars host the defensively-challenged Titans in week seventeen.

Cadillac Williams (TB) -- Williams isquickly becoming the engine that drives the 10-5 Buccaneers offense and their push for the NFC South title with two 100 yard rushing games in his last three contests. Cadillac rolled for 150 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in Tampa’s 27-24 win over the Falcons in week sixteen. Williams will face the Saints at home in Week 17 with the NFC South title still up for grabs and New Orleans is currently allowing 4.2 yards per carry to opposing runners—a great combination for Williams as a final week fantasy football play.

Sliding Back

Reuben Droughns (CLE) – When the Browns decided on inserting rookie Charlie Frye over veteran Trent Dilfer at quarterback a few weeks back and then lost their offensive line lynchpin, center Jeff Faine, to a season-ending injury two weeks ago in Oakland, the stage was set for a slow and steady production drop in Droughns numbers and that’s exactly what’s transpired. Droughns yards per carry has stagnated at 3.2 yards for the entire month of December and he has zero touchdowns in his last five games.

Stephen Jackson (STL) – Jackson has grown cold in the month of December, failing to crack the 100 yard rushing mark for four consecutive games and in two of those games, home games against Washington and San Francisco, he gained 24 and 28 yards, respectively. Going on the road in week seventeen to face a motivated Dallas team looking to nail down a playoff spot pretty much ensures Jackson of ending the 2005 campaign with a whimper.

Warrick Dunn (ATL) – The diminutiveDunn has been in a late season swoon that’s lasted over a month, registering only one touchdown in his last seven games and one 100 yard rushing performance in his last six contests. The Falcons were eliminated from the playoff chase last week so there’s very good chance the nicked-up Dunn will barely see the field this weekend against Carolina, closing the book on his fantasy football value for this season.