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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Running Back Watch Report - Week 15
Mike Courter
December 12, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Last Sunday, Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander’s single season touchdown record of 28, registering no. 29 on his third touchdown of the day amongst his 103 rushing yards in the Chargers 48-20 rout of visiting Denver.  LT2 is on an astounding production pace this year and seemingly can only be slowed by an act of God.  Week fifteen presents a fantasy football showdown equivalent of the famous Ali-Frazier battles, with Larry Johnson and the Chiefs paying a visit to San Diego for the weekend’s Sunday night game.  In addition to the home field advantage, the KC run defense will be much more accommodating toward Tomlinson than the reception LJ gets from a difficult San Diego front seven led by Shawn “Lights Out” Merriman.
2 KC Larry Johnson Johnson performed admirably behind an injury-riddled offensive line against a nasty Ravens defense in week fourteen’s 20-10 Chiefs home loss, grinding out 120 yards on the ground from 23 carries.  LJ will not have it any easier on the road in San Diego this weekend against a large and physical Chargers defense, led up front by defensive tackles Jamal Williams and Luis Castillo.
3 STL Stephen Jackson Despite being at the wrong end of a lopsided 42-27 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears lat Monday night, Jackson remained a fantasy force, running hard throughout the game, while also acting as Marc Bulger’s safety valve in the passing game, which enabled him to accumulate 139 total yards (81 rushing, 58 receiving) and two scores, one rushing-one receiving.  It seems that Jackson has the same performance almost every week, regardless of opponent.  At Oakland in week fifteen should render another consistent and balanced scoring afternoon from one of the best backs in fantasy football in 2006.
4 PIT Willie Parker  Parker leapt to fourth overall in rushing (1,199 on 264 carries) on the back of his 223 yards rushing and a touchdown in the Steelers 27-7 romp over their longtime rivals from Cleveland.   Parker now has 12 touchdowns on the year (10 rushing, two receiving).  The Steelers travel to Carolina in week fifteen to take on the demoralized Panthers, a team in the midst of a three game losing streak.
5 SF Frank Gore After struggling in week thirteen against New Orleans, Gore used his home date against struggling Green Bay appropriately, bouncing back with 130 yards and a score on 19 carries, while adding 38 yards on three receptions.  He’ll head to Seattle for the Thursday night game to face a Seahawks defense who has struggled with stopping the run, as evidenced by yielding 115 and a touchdown on the ground to the previously unsuccessful Edgerrin James, who had only one 100-yard rushing game in his previous 13 games.                                                             
6 PHI Brian Westbrook Westbrook continues to remain injury-free and churn out solid total yards performances, like last Sunday’s 126 yards (88 rushing, 38 receiving) in the Eagles 21-19 road win over the Redskins.  Westbrook faces another division opponent, the New York Giants, on the road in week fifteen in what should be a playoff-like intensity for the two teams struggling to qualify for the NFC playoffs.  The Eagles will rely on Westbrook to continue his recent mastery of the Giants and fantasy owners should expect a satisfactory outcome as well..                                      
7 MIN Chester Taylor Taylor’s sore rib kept him out of week fourteen’s tasty fantasy match up against the pathetic Detroit Lions defense, forcing Taylor owners to ruefully watch their rightful goldmine of points fall to former Lion, now platoon Vikings backup RB Artose Pinner, who ran wild against the Lions for 125 yards and three touchdowns.  Monitor Taylor’s practice and injury reports this week to guage whether he’ll be able to come back in week fifteen for what seems like another swell fantasy opportunity as the Vikings will host the New York Jets, who are fresh off a 125-yard (and a score) stomping by the Bills Willis McGahee in week fourteen.
8 CIN Rudi Johnson That’s what I’m talkin’about! Johnson faced a 2-11 Raiders team at home in week fourteen and piled on 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns from 30 carries in a franchise-back worthy performance.  Oh Baby! Johnson gets the fantasy running back’s dream match-up this weekend with a Monday night trip to Indianapolis to face the Colts and their reeling run defense that has been pillaged all year by opposing backs.
9 NYG Tiki Barber Barber added another 100-yard rushing (112 on 20 carries) game to his stat ledger last weekend against the troubled Panthers, but of course, no touchdowns once again.  His no score encore each week has to be grating the collective nerve of his fantasy owners at this point.  A week fifteen home game against hated Philadelphia, one of Barber’s favorite opponents, should set fantasy expectations high for Barber to not only fill the yardage bucket but also find the end zone against an Eagles team who have always had a hard time trying to stop him.
10 JAX Maurice Jones-Drew The rookie from UCLA was phenomenal against the Colts in week fourteen, needing only 15 carries to produce 166 yards (11.06 avg.) and two touchdowns on the ground (plus a 93-yard kickoof return for a touchdown).  Jones-Drew now has 998 total yards (666 rushing) and 11 touchdowns (two receiving) while averaging 6.1 yards per carry for the season.  MJD has displayed a tenaciously explosive running style that has invigorated and preserved the veteran back Fred Taylor, helping him compile his best season in years.  Jones-Drew and the Jags travel to Tennessee to take advantage of a Titans run defense currently yielding 4.5 yards per carry and 15 rushing touchdowns to opponents.

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Ron Dayne  (HOU) –  The back formerly known as “No Gain Dayne” has begun to cobble together a career resuscitation in Houston this season as he is now on a mini-roll the last two weeks after returning from injury, gaining 95 yards on 18 carries in week thirteen before rushing for 87 yards and two scores against Tennessee last Sunday.  Dayne will be hard-pressed to keep the good times rollin’ through week fifteen as the Texans travel to New England, in what will most likely be a snowy hornets nest after the proud Patriots suffered a humiliating 21-0 road defeat last Sunday in Miami

Sammy Morris (MIA) --  Morris had another solid effort in his relief of injured starter Ronnie Brown (hand), rushing for 123 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in Miami’s 21-0 laugher over New England.  Nick Saban has already stated he expects Brown to miss week fifteen’s game at Buffalo, setting the table for another promising weekend for Morris against an average Bills run defense.   

Reggie Bush (NO) – Week thirteen’s explosion against the 49ers at home was one thing, but going on the road to face a red hot Cowboys defense on a national TV Sunday night stage last weekend and compiling 162 yards, including a 61 yard touchdown reception that displayed some highlight reel cutting-and-weaving, was a more reassuring sign that Bush has turned the corner and adjusted to the speed of the NFL game and has been able to raise his accordingly, making the rookie back a surging force during the next few weeks of fantasy football action.   

Sliding Back

Carolina running game (CAR) --  With highly unsuccessful backup QB Chris Weinke being forced into the Panthers starting lineup, it was expected, especially with the return of veteran Deshaun Foster, that the two-headed running attack of Foster and rookie DeAngelo Williams would help pick up the slack and keep the Panthers struggling defense off the field in a effort to control the clock in a critical NFC showdown with the New York Giants.  The results were as disappointing as the Panthers season so far, Foster (23 yards rushing) and Williams (two carries for one yard) came up small in a game that the panthers needed badly to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.  With a revitalized Steelers defense coming into Carolina for week fifteen, keep both Panthers running backs out of your lineups this week.  

Detroit running game (DET) –  Yes, the Vikings have one of the best, if not the best run defenses in the NFL, but 10 carries for minus three yards (a Vikings team record) sets a new level of offensive futility even for the Lions.  Throwing salt in the gaping wound is the fact that once-promising starter Kevin Jones will miss the remainder of the season with a possible Lisfranc injury to his foot suffered in the 30-20 loss to the Vikings.

Cleveland running game (CLE) --  Last week’s rushing box score for the Browns from the Steelers 27-7 win over Cleveland: Reuben Droughns- 5 carries, 6 yards, Derek Anderson- one carry,  four yards, Terrelle Smith- two carries, four yards, Lawrence Vickers- one carry, two yards, Jason Wright- two carries, two yards.