Peyton Hillis, Broncos - Due to an unprecedented amount of injuries to the Broncos tailback position, the rookie fullback from Arkansas has become the southern-fried reincarnation of Reuben Droughns, the former successful Broncos fullback-turned-tailback of a few seasons ago. A seventh round pick in the 2008 Draft, the talented Hillis has always been sort of an oversized, jack-of-all-trades tailback at the University of Arkansas, including handling punt return duties. With current pro’s Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in front of him at tailback during his Razorback days, Hillis was forced to move to fullback in order to get on the field. So his recent success as the Broncos running back shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, and stat lines like last Sunday (10 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns) in Denver’s 24-20 road win over the Falcons could be a sign of things to come for fantasy owners looking for a nice plug-in at their No.2 (or flex) RB spot.
Brandon Jacobs/ Derrick Ward/ Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants - Gotham’s gridiron version of the popular 70’s band, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Giants tailback trio made mincemeat of the formidable Ravens run defense, which was ranked No.1 in the league in stopping the run entering the road game in the Meadowlands in week eleven. It’s amazing what happens when Ray Lewis is forced to take on blockers as all three of the Giants backs had productive outings, led by Jacobs’ 73 yards and two scores on 11 carries. Bradshaw finished with 96 yards on nine carries and Ward accumulated 96 total yards. Jacobs is having an MRI done on his knee this week after leaving the Ravens game pretty early on.
Ryan Grant, Packers - Grant exposed a suspect Bears defense last Sunday in the Packers rivalry game against the Chicago Bears, carrying 25 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. After 86 yards against Tennessee in week nine and 75 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota two weeks ago before this dominant performance against the Bears, grant appears to be rounding into top fantasy form fast as the season heads toward the critical playoff weeks.
Steve Slaton, Texans - Entering week eleven’s match with the Indianapolis Colts, the prevailing thought was that Slaton was starting to experience rookie fatigue, having gone the prior two games without a touchdown and rushing four times for seven yards in week ten’s loss to Baltimore. Facing what was supposed to be a much tougher Colts run defense than what he saw earlier in the season, Slaton busted a 71-yard touchdown run that contributed to a healthy stat line (14 carries for 156 yards) and continued optimism amongst his fantasy owners.
Frank Gore, 49ers - New head coach Mike Singletary will be a boon to Gore’s fantasy value for the rest of the year as he twists strong-willed Mike Martz’s arm to morph the offense back to a power-emphasis that starts with pounding the ball on the ground. Case in point was last Sunday’s 35-16 victory over division-rival St. Louis, in which Gore smash-mouthed the Rams defense to the tune of 106 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
Thomas Jones, Jets - Jones has taken up a quasi-permanent residency on the “Risers” list as he continues to produce at a high level week in and week out. The difference in week eleven from other week’s, was the difficult road venue in New England in which the veteran back did it during the Jets amazing 34-31 OT win. Going into a hostile Patriots Place against a still-strong New England run defense was a true litmus test for Jones, who had feasted on numerous soft defenses (OAK, STL) earlier in the season, and he responded like the Tier One fantasy back that he has become this year, grinding out 104 yards and a score on 30 carries in the Jets most meaningful victory in years.
Brian Westbrook, Eagles - In the last three games, Westbrook has no touchdowns and has failed to record a 100-yard game as a runner or receiver. That’s a problem for one of the game’s finest offensive talents. And two of these last three games were against the questionable defenses of Seattle and Cincinnati. Westbrook is now flirting dangerously close with being unreliable as a No.1 fantasy back, a thought that would have been laughable a month ago.
Chris Johnson, Titans - Is the dreaded rookie wall starting to rear its ugly head with the Titans exciting young, rookie back? There’s been a recent paradigm shift within the Titans run-first offense toward the pass in the last two games as Kerry Collins has carried the offense in recent wins over the Bears and Jaguars, all while Johnson has been held scoreless and gained only 72 yards on 31 carries in the two games collectively.
Stephen Jackson, Rams - Jackson has frustrated his fantasy owners to no end this season, starting slow, then producing some eye-popping performances, including his 160-yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys in mid-October. It was the fifth-year running back’s best performance of the season which, ironically, has become its undoing, suffering what was determined as a thigh strain as he pounded the Cowboys undermanned defense. Jackson has a total of 17 yards on seven carries and no touchdowns in the four games after the Dallas win and he has already been ruled out for week twelve by coach Jim Haslett as the thigh strain has reportedly gotten worse, with blood recently found inside the strain.
Buccaneers backfield - The Bucs backfield is in shambles. Ernest Graham, a standout who emerged last year with a 10 touchdown campaign, is now likely to be gone with a season-ending ankle injury, but had been fading fast over the last few weeks anyway. Aging Warrick Dunn, who just recently returned to action after overcoming a pinched nerve-neck injury, will have to assume a heavier workload as newly-activated Cadillac Williams may need another week or two to fully shake the rust after a lengthy injury absence. Fullback BJ Askew may play a larger role in short-yardage-goal line packages.