Ronnie Brown, Dolphins - Was Brown’s historic five touchdown game (four rushing, one passing) the beginning of a great run or the result of the Patriots team-wide Lehman Brothers impersonation? I think it’s a blend of both. People forget how dominant Brown looked in 2007 before his season-ending knee injury and he finally seems to be physically sound for the first time this year. But those watching the Dolphins 38-13 road win over New England had to also sense that the Patriots chickens have come home to roost this season, and their year’s of bullying their beleaguered AFC East foes is now coming back to haunt them, in this, their most vulnerable of season’s.
Frank Gore, 49ers - The Inconvenient Truth is thriving this year, along with his long-suffering teammates on the 49ers offense, who for the last few, frustrating seasons were hamstrung by sub par offensive schemes, bad QB play and constantly-changing game plans. Mike Martz, like he’s been telling everyone all along, truly does walk on water, turning one of the NFL’s worst offenses in 2007 into a fun, fantasy-friendly unit through the first three games, and Gore is benefiting greatly. The former University of Miami star recorded 130 yards rushing and a touchdown while also adding 32 yards on four receptions in the Niners 31-13 win over the lowly Lions in week three.
Rudi Johnson, Lions - Rudi Johnson is rising, albeit from the ashes of fantasy football rankings, after being a castoff when this season began. The former Bengal was the lone bright spot for Detroit after replacing rookie starter Kevin Smith in their humiliating road loss in San Francisco, gaining 83 yards rushing on 14 carries, while netting three receptions for 48 yards and a scoring the Lions only touchdown in the fourth quarter. As bad as the Lions are, if Rudy captures the starting job based on this performance, he should only be played in games where the Lions can be competitive, in other words, sparingly.
Larry Johnson, Chiefs - I don’t know how long this rise will last (KC hosts Denver in week four, a fantasy-friendly defense for sure but will the Chiefs stay true to the running game when they inevitably fall behind the unstoppable Broncos offense?), however, it was a nice trip down memory lane seeing Johnson smash into the goal line with authority, ending his touchdown plunge with the now-seldom seen “diamond cutter” hand jesture and break some long gainers en route to a 121 yards and a touchdown on the ground during the Chiefs lopsided 38-14 loss in Atlanta. The safest projection for LJ this season due to the extenuating circumstances that surround the Chiefs is to continue to play him against teams like Atlanta, unfortunately those types of opponents are few and far between in the Kansas City 2008 schedule.
Michael Turner, Falcons - When Turner’s thick hips and tree trunk thighs are given the opportunity to gather up a head of steam, the results are outstanding. Case in point, 103 yards and three touchdowns from 23 carries against a defenseless KC front seven, highlighted by Turner dragging a would-be tackler for 10 yards or so before they gave up and let go. This weekend’s game against a much tougher defense on grass at Carolina will bring Turner back down to earth but he’ll be an above-average starter in fantasy lineups for the remainder of the season.
Steve Slaton, Texans - The rookie from West Virginia had several questions surround him regarding his small stature (5-9, barely 200 lbs) being able to hold up in the NFL and in his first professional start he began to answer those concerns positively by turning in an impressive 18 carries, 116 yards and one touchdown performance in the Texans 31-12 road loss in Tennessee last weekend. Those types of rushing numbers usually don’t occur in a one-sided loss of that nature. It’s a testament to Slaton’s talent, and as the Texans schedule becomes easier after week four (IND, MIA, DET, CIN in the next six weeks), Slaton could be a waiver wire gem as he is still largely unclaimed in most leagues.
Brandon Jacobs, Giants - Out of all perceived No.1 running backs, Jacobs is in the unenviable position of having two capable backs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw, eating into his touches. Seeing him get stopped after the Giants ran him wide near the goal line in the second half of their 26-23 OT win over the Bengals, reminds fantasy owners that for all his bulk and yard-dog bravado, Jacobs still disappoints more frequently than he should as the No.1 fantasy back that he was drafted as this year.
Jamal Lewis, Browns - As a Jamal Lewis owner myself, I wonder when will the light at the end of the tunnel appear? The answer seems to be, “not anytime soon”. If he doesn’t find the end zone at least once this weekend in Cincinnati, a traditional point-scoring bonanza, the production drought could be substantial with a bye in week five followed by hosting the Giants on Monday night, a road trip to Washington (DC), @ Jacksonville, and a home date with feisty Baltimore. A possible quarterback change from Derek Anderson to Brady Quinn will not bring the short-term aid that Lewis needs either, as that adjustment may take weeks before the passing game gets better.
Brian Westbrook, Eagles - We’ll see how far Westbrook falls when the extent of his injury is revealed later this week, but the awkward landing during the Eagles hard-fought 15-6 win over the Steelers, combined with the labored limp into the locker room was not a reassuring sight for those relying on Westbrook to be a productive anchor for their fantasy team. Westbrook is so good, his immediate backups, Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker, fall far short of his production for fantasy lineups, leaving owners with only half-baked solutions for the time being.
Thomas Jones, Jets - With the addition of Brett Favre and the expected bolstering of the Jets offensive line through free agent additions OG Alan Faneca and RT Damien Woody, Jones was a running back expected to see a production bounce and become relevant in the fantasy football conversation again. I keep watching and waiting for the Thomas Jones from his days with the Chicago Bears to appear, where he ran forcefully and with a chip on his shoulder. In the Monday night game against the Chargers, Jones was the slow-footed, plodding back (10 carries, 37 yards, 17 yards receiving, no scores late in the game) that he’s been since signing his big free agent deal with the Jets a couple of year’s ago. The Jets should sign his former Chicago Bears foil, Cedric Benson, to light a fire under him. Jones would stare daggers at his ambitious backup every week in practice and then want to prove on the field every Sunday to Chicago management they made a mistake spending a high first round pick on the underachieving Benson.