November 11, 2009
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Drafted with significant indifference around pick 100 back in August, the bench add was supposed to be a stock in regression. Most who invested small coin in him hoped for only mediocre production. It was widely believed Beanie Wells(notes), who many pundits tabbed as one of the rookies to target, would overtake the incumbent by midseason. But to most fanalysts' dismay, the Noise not included, Hightower has maintained a firm grip on the starting job.
However, despite his steady contributions and prominent role in Arizona's explosive offense, the desert oasis unfairly continues to be disrespected.
Though rarely started in a majority of standard leagues each week, the Swiss Army Knife has racked double-digit performances in five of eight contests. His 11.1 points per game output ranks No. 18 among rushers. More importantly for PPR players, he's been a mid-round godsend. On the season, he's compiled the same number of catches as Roddy White(notes) (40) and is second only to Ray Rice(notes) in receptions among RBs. Suffice it to say, he will be a cornerstone on many playoff-bound rosters in receptions-happy leagues.
Baltimore's juggernaut has certainly exceeded expectations, but, in terms of largest profit margin, a strong argument could be made for Hightower. Recall he was the 38th back selected on average (Rice No. 17), nearly 50 picks behind unemployed whiner Larry Johnson(notes) (ADP: 54.33) and roughly 30 notches removed from his tag-team partner, Wells (67.83). Using a basic PPR scoring system, he currently rates 10th at his position, one spot ahead of Ronnie Brown(notes). That's a Jay-Z-scoring-Beyonce kind of profit.
Based on the second-year rusher's current statistical pace (1,180 total yards, 10 touchdowns and 80 receptions) it's hard to imagine him not being Larry Centers' illegitimate son. The three-time All-Pro fullback was the NFL's tackiest-handed backfield asset in the mid-90s totaling an insane 200 receptions in two seasons with the Cardinals in '95 and '96. Their resemblance from usage to size (TH: 6'0", 233 lbs; LC: 6'0" 226 lbs.) to small school roots (TH: Richmond; LC: Stephen F. Austin) is truly uncanny.
Come playoff time, Hightower may actually resemble a wrecking ball with dreads. Here are four reasons why the former Spider could be venomous to the competition during the most crucial time of the year:
1) Schedule. Arizona's remaining schedule is so delicious it must be bacon-wrapped. Over his next eight games Hightower faces four defenses (St. Louis twice) each of which ranks in the top 14 in fantasy points allowed to rushers. Only Kansas City boasts a comparable slate. From our friends at FFToday:
2) Cemented role. Beanie may possess humiliating power, but his occasional indecisiveness is a hindrance. Other shortcomings in blitz pickup, ball security and pass-catching have solidified his partner's position as Ken Whisenhunt's primary carrier and goal-line gopher. Not even Bill Murray fully equipped with various extermination devices could prevent Hightower from crossing the chalk. The guy is a supreme burrower.
3) Kurt Warner(notes). Steam will continue to rise from the Sultan of Stubble's white-hot hand over the next several weeks, which should greatly enhance the former fifth-round pick's scoring potential. Defenses will often be stretched thin, creating wide gaps for Hightower to burst through. Plus, he's been one of Warner's most dependable receiving weapons, netting 6.5 targets per game.
Whether he's fed the rock via ground or air, he should continue to exhibit a healthy yard per touch average moving forward. Over the past two weeks, he's averaged a terrific 5.0 yards per carry, a substantial increase compared to his 2.7 mark in his previous six contests. It appears Arizona's run-blocking, dodgy over the past season-plus, is starting to come around.
4) Power play. Whisenhunt cannot suppress his Pittsburgh roots. For the past three seasons, his attempt to establish a ground identity has generated only minor success. But despite riding Warner's arm to the Super Bowl last season, he remains stubbornly committed to balancing the offense. This year, the Denny Green impersonator believes his squad is finally making strides. From the Arizona Republic:
"I don't think anybody is scared of or scheming to stop our run game. I think had we been able to stay with our offense, we would have gotten into more of a little groove running the football," he said. "I think our run is improving, but I still think we're going to have to see it for, not just for one week, but for a few weeks in a row to get the confidence in it. We're still by no means there, but I think we're making progress."
Bottom line: Assuming owners actually insert him into their lineups, Hightower will be a fixture on many championship rosters, especially in PPR-heavy formats.
This week's matchup against Seattle could prove difficult for the sophomore rusher - the Hawks have limited rushers to 3.7 yards per carry and the fifth-fewest fantasy points since Week 5, including Hightower to 58 yards and a score Week 6. However, in their previous meeting, Jim Mora's secondary struggled mightily, as most do, to disrupt the Warner-to-Fitzgerald combination. The dynamic duo should again operate without restriction, which should present a goal-line opportunity or two for Timmah!
Hightower may not single-handedly dominate virtual opponents, but based on his soft upcoming schedule the late-round necessity will be a great, not good, fantasy bargain.
Week 10 Fearless Forecast: 13 carries, 56 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 31 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 14 fantasy points
If you're a Hightower owner, what's your current record? Do you believe he is and will continue to be fantasy's biggest unsung hero? Is the recently made-over Brenda Warner hot? What's your favorite Bill Murray movie? Discuss below.
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