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Running Backs Movin' Up - Week 6
Tim Van Prooyen
October 13, 2009
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Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Movin’ Up

Breakdown:  These are guys who are on the rise, moving up from where they’ve been over the first few weeks of the season.  They may or may not be on a roster, but likely are, and may even be starting here and there.   They are listed here because circumstances are favorable for them to move up in their overall ‘stature’ from a fantasy standpoint.  With bye weeks now in season, these are guys who can help you in the coming week, and sometimes beyond!

Rashard Mendenhall (PIT) – A few thoughts.  First, Willie Parker, regardless of what any prognosticators will argue, has proven time and again that he is not suited to be a full time ball carrier.  We also know that while he can be extremely effective, he is also quite injury prone.  Enter Mendenhall.  He’s finally had the chance now for a couple of weeks to show what he can do, and he’s proving more and more that he is much more suited to be a feature back than Parker.  Will the team make him one?  Not likely right away, and it’s expected that they will stick with a committee approach with both guys splitting the work load, similar to what Dallas and a few other teams are doing with some level of effectiveness.  However, as long as Mendenhall stays healthy, he’s the guy that I feel gives fantasy owners the best performance option.  He’s likely to get most of the touchdowns, Parker has been very ineffective in that regard, and his strength will get him a lot more yards after initial contact than the smaller Parker will get.  He should be starting every week at this point.

Steve Slaton (HOU) – This is an interesting one, but felt it worth mentioning and including for those who care.  We all know Slaton isn’t producing as well as he did last year.  However, he’s on a better pace receiving than he was last year, not by much, but a little.  The Texans have been trying to go out of their way to force a running game to happen, and obviously that hasn’t work.  Evidently the coaching staff seems to be ready to start abandoning that task and just let the passing attack be their bread and butter – something that worked quite well last season. The interesting thing here is that, in reality, that makes Slaton more valuable, and not only should add to his better than projected receiving numbers, but should also make him more effective as a runner, as the more wide open passing game will likely open more rushing holes, as it did last year, making Slaton a better two tier option.  While there is no guarantee, this is hopeful news for Slaton owners, as he’s not come close to living up to the ninth overall, second round running back average draft position he garnered so far.  Keep your fingers crossed; the team may be about to remember what made him so effective last season!

Cedric Benson (CIN) – Benson is having what one might say is a comeback season, even though it started last year.  He’s the answer, should anyone ask you this week, to the trivia question “Who’s got the most rushing yards in the NFL right now?”  Yes, he’s ahead of even Adrian Peterson – by six yards.  He’s looking better than he has since he came out of college.  Cincinnati is beginning to look like one of those scrappy, good teams that just gets it done, regardless of what the obstacle, but doesn’t look flashy doing it.  All the pieces are there for them to keep winning, but not putting up a ton of points every week.  Look for Benson to continue, without anyone to really split time with, to get a full load of carries each week.  He’s on pace for over 1,500 yards and ten touchdowns, putting him likely among the top running backs this season.  Obviously he should be starting every week, but as some owners had him benched this past week against Baltimore’s ‘tough’ run defense, missing out on his 120 yard, 1 TD performance, I felt it necessary to point out that yes, indeed, he is an every week starter.

Kevin Smith (DET) – Smith is the epitome of a tough runner.  No, he’s not a bruising back, in fact, he gets banged up a lot, however, he’s a good mix of rushing vs. receiving in a running back.  The second year back, playing for the much maligned Lions, is on pace for 300 carries for close to 1,000 yards, even though he seems to get very few rushing yards a game.  The key is, though, he’s on pace for almost 500 yards receiving as well, and a total of ten touchdowns combined.   He didn’t seem to have much of a decline of his overall performance expectations with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback this week, so appears to be solid regardless of who is behind center.  He doesn’t get much respect because of the team he plays for, but when you consider guys like Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams, all playing for teams with zero or one win, one has to wonder just why Smith doesn’t get at least a little more respect.  Sure, he’s not a top five guy, but he’s just about as consistent as they come these days.

Waiver Wire Radar

Breakdown:  These are guys who more than likely are not residing on many, if any, rosters.  They are in situations that are favorable for possible fantasy impact in the not too distant future.

Tashard Choice (DAL) – As it stands right now, the Cowboys have three backs that are, on any given day, viable fantasy options.  However, while all three seem to have their own special injury troubles, Choice seems to be the most reliable of the bunch, for as much as that can be said.  The ‘boys have a pecking order, and Choice seems to be the third in line, but it is becoming fairly apparent that he’s the guy that can be counted on when the others can’t, and even sometimes when they can.  With Felix Jones still nursing an injury and Barber banged up, it is a smart move, if you have a chance to get Choice, to insert him into your lineup for at least the few weeks that serve as the bye season.  Note, the Cowboys are on their bye this week, meaning owners may shy away from grabbing Choice this week expecting Barber and Jones to carry the load when they resume play in two weeks.  It would still be a wise move to grab Choice, because anyone assuming the other two guys are going to stay healthy all season are simply fooling themselves.

Sammy Morris (NEP) – With Fred Taylor apparently out for a while, many thought Laurence Maroney might get the bulk of the carries in New England, but apparently old faithful, Sammy Morris, is the guy, at least as long as he can stay healthy, he is another of the well over thirty year old backs the Patriots have stocked themselves with let’s not forget.  Undrafted in most leagues, he is still on many waiver wires, and while the Patriots running game isn’t the most potent one around, Morris is a solid grab, especially during bye weeks.  He already is the team’s goal line back, so giving him the starting spot as well only adds to his value.  His slow start had already seen a weekly improvement in number of carries, so there were already indications that the team hadn’t forgotten his value, now it is time for fantasy owners to remember it as well.  The Patriots play Tennessee Sunday, so running room won’t come easy, however, since things look good for a fairly heavy passing game output, it is likely the Patriots will be turning to the run a lot in the second half, and Morris will be the beneficiary.

…And On The Slide – Quick Hits

Breakdown:  With the season in full swing and bye weeks about to begin, we felt it time to add a bit of the ‘flip side’ to our movers review.  These are guys who are relatively well known, but whose stock is most definitely not moving in the right direction – with just a quick hit as to my personal thoughts on the matter.

Edgerrin James (SEA) – I felt I should include the Edge in this section this week as some owners might be quick to look at the box score and think he was finally getting pulled into the teams plans a bit more.  The reality is most of his time on the field came when the game was already a blowout, so the team was really just using him to keep their other backs healthy.  All the hope that some had that James would come in and grab a touchdown or two a week, a la Sammy Morris or Jerome Bettis, have been, and will continue to be, seriously disappointed.  James is a serious version of Mr. Irrelevant at this point in his career and shouldn’t be considered a fantasy option in any league.

Jonathan Stewart (CAR) – He’s battled injuries continuously, but still seen the field each week, so we can officially say that Stewart has most definitely not lived up to his average draft position of the seventh round.  Many thought that he’d at least threaten last season’s touchdown total (10) and could push for a thousand yards.  With Carolina struggling offensively, he’s now on pace for about 500 yards and four touchdowns.  Even with those totals he wouldn’t warrant a starting spot, much less a bench spot, in most leagues.  He’s obviously not someone you just want to drop, unless you’re in a shallow league and there are much better options, but he’s not worthy of a starting spot right now unless you’re in a serious bye week pickle.  In that case, you’re probably out of luck anyway, but maybe you’ll get him on his one big day!

Willie Parker (PIT) – Here’s the bottom line.  Parker has played in sixteen games only once in his career.  He’s only scored more than five rushing touchdowns once in his career.  Now he’s missed two weeks to injury this season and could miss another this week.  Rashard Mendenhall is proving he is a good all around back, able to pound the rock, and in reality making the team realize that Parker is relatively expendable.  Of course, most would admit that the two backs would make a very good one-two punch, but in order for that to happen they must both be healthy, and it appears Parker isn’t going to be able to consistently bring that to the table.  Don’t be surprised if the team starts to move Parker to the backup spot on a regular basis, bringing Mendenhall into the spotlight.  Parker owners should do what they can to get a trade with a Parker fan to grab someone of rising value for someone who is on the decline.   

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