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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Watch Report - Week 9
Mike Courter
October 31, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson I had the unmitigated pleasure of opposing Tomlinson in not one, but two leagues last weekend.  Fun stuff.  Tomlinson’s 240 total yards (183 rushing, 57 receiving) and three touchdowns (2 rush, one rec.) against the Rams was both amazing and terrifying, depending on what side of the coin your team happened to lie.   I’m convinced the fantasy gods cooked up this wicked week eight brew for me after eschewing LT2 for Shaun “Madden Curse” Alexander with the No.1 pick of one of my league draft’s this past Summer.  Talk about the rich getting richer, Tomlinson and the Bolts welcome 2-5 Cleveland  to Qualcomm in week nine.                 
2 KC Larry Johnson Only Tomlinson’s super-human effort could push another supreme Sunday from LJ to the back burner.  Johnson has been on a serious two week tear, capped off by week eight’s 2005-like domination of the Seahawks with 155 yards rushing and three scores and two receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown as a pass-catcher.  This weekend, Johnson gets to take aim at the same St. Louis defense that was just bamboozled by Tomlinson the week before.                                                                     
3 STL Stephen Jackson Jackson put together another solid all-around effort in week eight’s 38-24 loss to the Chargers, amassing 139 yards (84 rushing, 55 receiving) and a touchdown.  This week, Jackson will square off against a Chiefs defense that is currently holding opposing backs under 4.0 yards per carry (3.9).                           
4 PHI Brian Westbrook We’ve come to expect more from Westbrook than last week’s ho-hum 106 total yards (38 rushing, 68 receiving-on eight receptions) in the Eagles aggravating, 13-6 home loss to an injury-riddled group of visiting Jaguars.  The reeling Eagles will look to regroup during a perfectly-timed week nine bye after suffering three devastating losses in a row and will look to right the ship at home against Washington in week ten.          
5 NYG Tiki Barber Tiki was no great shakes in the semi-hyped Barber Bowl at the Meadowlands last weekend, gaining only 88 total yards in facing his twin brother Ronde’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Giants Stadium.  His weekly, devoted mentoring of giant, touchdown-eating monster and heir apparent RB Brandon Jacobs had grown tired weeks ago for Barber fantasy owners.  Barber gets the calm (visiting Houston) this week before the storm in week ten (the currently undefeated Bears).                                                   
6 SF Frank Gore Despite his 49ers being on the wrong end of a 41-10 laugher at the hands of the undefeated Chicago Bears, Gore soldiered on in Chicago, grinding out a 100-yard game (111) on just 12 carries.  Though week nine’s opponent, Minnesota, is certainly not a pushover, Gore should benefit from the visiting Vikings having to travel across country to San Francisco on a short week after week eight’s demoralizing Monday night humiliation at the hands of the Patriots.                                
7 CIN Rudi Johnson Rudi disappointed again in the Bengals week eight 29-27 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons, gaining a paltry 46 yards and a score on 12 carries.  Johnson looked strong early, scoring on a one yard TD run, only to vanish for the remainder of the game, as the Bengals got drawn into a shootout with the recently scorching Michael Vick.  Week nine does not bode well for Johnson with a road trip to Baltimore on the horizon this Sunday.       
8 PIT Willie Parker Parker used a beneficial week eight pairing with the woeful Raiders to post a respectable outing for fantasy owners, garnering 83 yards rushing and two receptions for 28 yards, including a 25 yard touchdown catch and run.  A difficult game awaits Parker this Sunday with Denver’s staunch run defense, complete with the fastest line-backing group in the NFL, visiting the Steel City.  The Broncos defense, a unit built with an emphasis on speed, are a perfect mix to stifle the quick-cutting style of Parker.                   
9 DAL Julius Jones  After gaining 92 yards (and a score) on 24 carries in the Cowboys impressive Sunday night road win over the Carolina Panthers, Jones now stands sixth overall in the NFL in rushing yards with 616 on 145 attempts (4.2 avg.).  Despite seeing a meaningful amount of carries being given to backfield rival Marion Barber III, Jones has still managed to score three times and has three 100-yard games in the month of October.  Jones will face the Redskins in Washington this weekend, he nearly got to 100 yards rushing in week two against the Cowboys hated division rival, gaining 94 yards on 20 attempts (4.7 avg.).                              
10 MIN Chester Taylor Taylor gets the RB Watch mulligan this week after his statistical production was joined to the hip of his team’s dismal performance in last Monday night’s humiliating 31-7 home loss to the New England Patriots.  The New England defense bottled up Taylor to the tune of 49 total yards (22 rushing, 27 receiving) while Tom Brady ran up the score against the once-proud Minnesota defense.  A visit to the west coast, and a date with a weak San Francisco run defense (4.3 yards per carry and 11 rushing touchdowns allowed to opponents) could help Taylor hop right back on the horse this weekend.            

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Thomas Jones (CHI) –  Jones continues to feast on lopsided victory margins created by the ravenous Bears defense each week.  Last Sunday’s 41-10 domination of visiting San Francisco was another chapter in what looks like a lengthy story at the season’s halfway point, as Jones, now 14th overall in the league in rushing, ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.  Week nine’s opponent, the Miami Dolphins have defended well against the run all year, but the Bears defense should put Dolphins QB Joey Harrington in all sorts of difficult spots, leading for more short-field scoring opportunities for Jones.

Brandon Jacobs (NYG) – The ball-carrying Beast of the East appears to be growing weekly before our eyes in his evolution as a true impact running back in the NFL.  He now totals four touchdowns for the year, registering a score in his last three games and has flourished in his short yardage role as well as, Tiki’s dutiful understudy.  Now that Barber’s retirement plans are no longer a secret, it seems like he has taken to his mentoring of Jacobs even more, making Jacobs a promising player for the remainder of the stretch run this year, and top round selection in 2007 fantasy drafts.

Jamal Lewis (BAL) – I know it’s only one week, but long-suffering Jamal Lewis fantasy owners, perhaps, viewed a light at the end of the tunnel in week eight, as the Ravens offensive game plan, now under the direct supervision of head coach Brian Billick after former OC Jim Fassel’s dismissal two weeks ago,  featured a not-seen-since-2003, 31 CARRIES for 109 yards rushing in the Ravens 35-22 win over the Saints in the Super Bowl.  Lewis fantasy owners can only hope that last week’s 30+ carry load is the first of many exhausting weekends for the workhorse back trying to regain his lost luster as an NFL star after several years of diminishing returns.

Mike Bell (DEN) – What the…?! That was nice fantasy motzah ball for Tatum Bell owners to ingest last weekend.  The veteran Bell’s owners fully expected him to build on what had been a Cinderella storybook season of sorts in 2006 for the former Oklahoma State star, only to see him struggle briefly (13 carries for 27 yards) against the lowly Colts run defense, opening the door of opportunity just a smidge for the rookie Mike Bell, and watching the first year back seize the moment and not look back while stockpiling 136 yards and two touchdowns on the ground  on just 15 carries.  Now a full blown, running back controversy is raging and the Broncos faithful are clamoring to see more of the rookie back from Arizona.

Sliding Back

Maurice Morris (SEA) –  Morris’ painful play, since taking over for injured Seahawks star RB Shaun Alexander, has laid to waste the long held practice of picking your star running back’s backup to guard against a lengthy absence due to injury.  Morris has averaged just 2.57 yards per carry and has not scored a touchdown since assuming the starting RB role and his substandard play has made it even more difficult for backup QB Seneca Wallace to perform in lieu of injured starting QB Matt Hasselbeck’s absence.  In what will hopefully be Morris’s final performance in the starting running back role (Shaun Alexander is likely for week ten), the beleaguered bench warmer has a chance to redeem himself on Monday night at home against the lowly Raiders.

Cadillac Williams (TB) – The second year back from Auburn is in the throes of a dreaded sophomore slump, after raising the bar so high in his rookie campaign.  Williams is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry and has only one touchdown and one 100-yard rushing effort to his credit in 2006.  He was marginalized last week in the Buccaneers 17-3 loss at Giants Stadium, rushing for a mere 20 yards on eight carries while notching five receptions for 34 yards.   Caddy might get a break at home this weekend against the Saints, the only team to surrender a 100-yard rushing game performance to Williams this year.