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Running Back Watch Report - Week 17
Mike Courter
December 27, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Despite a lackluster effort by LT standards in week sixteen against a weak Seattle run defense, gaining only 123 yards rushing and a surprising no touchdowns, Tomlinson will finish the year at least 100 points better over all positions in total scoring amongst fantasy leagues of any variety.  With the Chargers needing a win in week seventeen over the Cardinals to clinch the AFC top seed, expect a fittingly strong finish from Tomlinson to his precedent-setting 2006 campaign.
2 STL Steven Jackson Jackson has displayed a furious finishing kick in recent weeks, specifically week sixteen’s showcase performance of 150 yards rushing and a score and 102 receiving yards and a score against the forlorn Redskins defense in the Rams 37-31 overtime home win.  The single game performance allowed Jackson to become the first Rams back since Marshall Faulk in 2001 to accumulate 2,000 total yards, a feat helped by his new franchise record 88 receptions this year.  Jackson might find it more difficult to run against the Vikings in week seventeen, but his prowess as a pass-catcher, in addition to the Vikings having nothing to play for, will make the former Oregon State Beaver a quality start this coming Sunday.
3 KC Larry Johnson LJ expectedly answered the bell against one of his favorite opponents in week sixteen, the Oakland Raiders, pounding the silver-and-black for 135 rushing yards and a score in the Chiefs 20-9 victory last week.  The Chiefs host the Jaguars in the final weekend of the regular season this Sunday and the match-up against a marginalized Jacksonville defense should allow Johnson the opportunity to finish his fine fantasy campaign on a high note.  
4 SF Frank Gore Gore just won’t be denied this season.  In San Francisco’s sluggish 26-21 loss to Arizona, Gore only tallied 51 yards on the ground, but more than made up for it with two touchdowns and 35 yards receiving on six receptions to boot.  This type of stat line is emblematic of a great back in fantasy football, and Gore figures to be just that in the season’s to come.  A week seventeen road trip to Denver seems much less daunting now that the Broncos defense has been knocked down a few pegs from their early season pedestal.        
5 PIT Willie Parker Once the Steelers fell behind early to the Ravens, Parker’s fantasy performance was in a world of trouble, hitting the wall at 29 yards on 13 carries with no receptions in Pittsburgh’s 31-7 home humiliation.  The season finale at Cincinnati should be a lot more fun for Parker owner’s in what always seems to be a wild and wooly affair.  Indeed, back in late September this season, Parker gained 133 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals.                                                                
6 PHI Brian Westbrook Westbrook registered his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season with his 122-yard effort against the Dallas Cowboys and should finish the regular season in a most triumphant fashion with the reeling Falcons paying a visit to Lincoln Financial in week seventeen.  Westbrook rewarded the fantasy owners who had faith in him with an injury-free campaign which allowed him to cash in on his considerable talent all season.
7 JAX Maurice Jones-Drew How much fun is this little big man going to be in fantasy football over the next few years come?  His powerfully-built 5-7 frame was clearly an advantage in his electrifying 74-yard touchdown run which started out with Jones-Drew falling to the ground around the line of scrimmage after running into the ample backside of one of his offensive linemen, only to bounce up instantly and zip through the befuddled Patriots defense like a choo-choo train on fast forward all the way to the end zone.  MJD finished with another outstanding all-around effort, racking up 131 yards and two touchdowns on the ground with 41 yards on six receptions through the air in the Jaguars 24-21 loss to New England.  Jones-Drew should seize upon another Fred Taylor-free Sunday in week seventeen at Kansas City and stamp himself as a mid-first round fantasy pick in the 2007 drafts.
8 CIN Rudi Johnson Rudi Johnson reminds me of a car muffler shop commercial from years ago stressing reliability and trust.  The workmanlike Johnson stockpiled yet another 100-yard rushing game, his fifth of the season, in his usual unassuming fashion against the Denver Broncos in week sixteen.  Johnson galloped for 129 yards and a score on 30 carries in the Bengals 24-23 loss in Denver last Sunday.  The Bengals, in a fight for their playoff lives in the last weekend of the regular season, host their most-hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a game that means nothing for Pittsburgh and everything for Cincinnati, a promising dynamic that favors of Johnson owner’s this weekend.
9 WAS Ladell Betts Forget Portis. Reserve back turned starter Ladell Betts has reeled off five consecutive 100-yard games since the last week of November (104, 155, 171, 199, 129) and three touchdowns heading into week seventeen.  Betts should run roughshod over the visiting Giants, who have come apart at the seams in recent weeks, and is on the verge of creating a heated RB debate in our nation’s capital when comparing his affordable, productive alternative to the high-priced Portis who ended the season on injured reserve.
10 NO Reggie Bush Bush has constructed an unconventional, but productive rookie season, rushing for 545 yards and five touchdowns, while thriving as a receiver with 86 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns.  But it was last weekend’s performance against the New York Giants that may represent the symbolic turning-of-corner for Bush as he thrived in the traditional tailback role, gaining 126 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.  He’ll end the season at home against the Panthers as the Saints play to secure a high seed in the NFC playoff standings.

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Michael Pittman (TB) – With Carnell Williams being forced to the sidelines due to injury, Pittman was given the chance to remind NFL peers and coaches that he can still get the job done when called upon, compiling 86 yards and a touchdown on the ground (from 16 carries) while also snaring four passes for 21 yards out of the backfield in the Buccaneers 22-7 win over Cleveland.  The Bucs home game against a shaky Seattle run defense in week seventeen will allow for the veteran back to continue the fantasy momentum generated last Sunday against the Browns.

Willis McGahee (BUF) – McGahee has been relatively hot in the month of December, restoring some of the lost luster from his disappointing 2006 start by scoring in three of the four December games, averaging 4.0 yards per carry and registering a 100-yard rushing game against the Jets (125) and nearly another last weekend against the Titans (95 yards on 22 carries).  The 2006 season is likely to end with a thud when the Bills travel to Baltimore to face the newly ferocious Ravens defense that has set it’s sights on another championship ring for Ray Lewis.

Sliding Back

Chester Taylor (MIN) – Taylor would have easily finished in the top ten of the Running Back Watch this season had he not suffered a rib injury in the first week of December against the Chicago Bears.  Since that time, he missed an inviting fantasy match up against the Lions and has seen his role change from 20+ carries a game to becoming one of three running back flavors in the Vikings backfield behind new starting quarterback, the mobile rookie Tavaris Jackson.  The injury combined with Brad Childress’ decision to go with the scrambling Jackson at QB has let all of the air out of Taylor’s fantasy balloon, effectively ending his season weeks ago.

Tiki Barber (NYG) – The New York media wanted a different result for Barber, playing in what appeared to be his final home game as a New York Giant, than the lackluster effort from Big Blue that they witnessed in week sixteen’s 30-7 home loss at the hands of visiting New Orleans.  Barber’s unintended farewell tour, after his retirement plans were outed by the over-eager ESPN crew of talking heads, has been a disaster, as the Giants continue to unravel on a weekly basis, bringing Barber’s fantasy value down with the ship.  His 71 yards on 16 carries and three catches for 12 yards in his final Meadowlands moments are a great disservice to the proud career the veteran constructed in his 10 NFL seasons.