For Fred Taylor owners, fear has a name, and that name is Maurice Jones-Drew. The pint-sized rookie rolled up 135 total yards (103 rushing) at Indianapolis on Sunday, and he also found pay-dirt. Jones-Drew was one of two rookie running backs to make a surprise impact in Week 3. San Francisco's Michael Robinson scored two touchdowns and posted 29 rushing yards on five carries filling in for Frank Gore (abdominal strain). The unlikely duo placed among the top half-dozen RB performers on Sunday in Yahoo! default leagues. But, of course, there were more surprises to talk about. Let's get to it:
Week 3 Update: Need-to-know info from the past few days
While Jones-Drew and Robinson were proving the depth of talent of the '06 running back class, a couple of the more ballyhooed of the group were oddly quiet on Sunday – DeAngelo Williams and Joseph Addai. Both were seemingly trending sharply upward after Week 2. Addai had out-carried Rhodes 16 to 14 last week and came into Sunday averaging 2.5 yards per carry more than Rhodes (4.7 to 2.2). In addition, Addai was performing well as a receiver and in pass protection. But come Sunday, Rhodes saw 14 carries to Addai's three – go figure. Having watched much of this game without benefit of sound (I was in a public establishment), I have no idea why Addai wasn't used more – although he was thrown to six times and had one goal-line carry. Nor have I read anything that attempts to explain it. So, I can only guess that head coach Tony Dungy decided to go heavily with his veteran against one of the league's toughest defenses in the Jacksonville Jaguars. I suppose it's probably not a coincidence that Addai got his most work of the season in the Week 2 contest against the lowly Houston Texans.
Moving on to Williams. Anyone who saw the boost of energy (and production: 13 carries, 74 yards, TD) he provided the team last week in a close loss to Minnesota had to assume we were at least going to see a platoon situation with DeShaun Foster this week. Head coach John Fox had even made comments to the effect that he was planning on using them both, even though Foster was still his starter. But in Sunday's 26-24 win at Tampa, Foster handled 20 carries to Williams' four. Foster was decent enough, rushing for 82 yards (4.1 yards per carry). But this was the same Buccaneers defense that gave up 306 rushing yards to Atlanta the previous week, so perhaps we shouldn't be too impressed with Foster's outing. One thing's for sure, though: Williams' disappearing act in Week 3 was a head-scratcher. Perhaps Fox and Dungy were on the same program: treading lightly with the rooks in tough divisional contests. Both have softy matchups in Week 4 (Indy at the Jets and Carolina hosting Cleveland), so if they aren't more involved next week, then there's no figuring it.
- As expected, Clinton Portis' return from a week layoff because of a bum shoulder resulted in big-time production against Houston. In total, he amassed 164 total yards and two touchdowns but, as a Portis owner, Ladell Betts' 151 total yards and a TD in a backup role was like getting the tax bill after just winning the lottery. Betts and Portis each garnered 16 carries in the Redskins' romp, not surprising when you consider Portis has been dealing with the shoulder issue and it was, after all, the Texans. Don't expect an equal carry split from these two going forward, but this team is probably going to be (successfully) run-heavy enough that Betts might have some spot-start potential during the bye season.
- Steve Smith's return for Carolina begged more scrutiny than Portis' as there was a bigger worry that Smith's hamstring could be an injury with longer-lasting implications. But Smith looked vital and lethal on Sunday, catching seven of his team-high 14 pass targets for 112 yards. Said QB Jake Delhomme: "He's not 100 percent and we know that. I think he would have scored on one or two plays today (if he was healthy). But what he does, the dynamic he brings, makes us better." The Panthers left it up to Smith to decide how many plays he'd be involved with, and Smith was careful to take himself out when he was tired or felt overly exerted. Considering that he played less than a normal workload and was less than 100 percent, it's got to be heartening to his owners to see him ring up a 100-yard day regardless.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues
QB – Jon Kitna, Det
Kitna finally got Mike Martz's offense off the ground (and into the end zone) in Week 3, throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns (1 INT) in a loss to Green Bay. Owners in need of some QB help this week should consider Kitna in a road matchup with St. Louis. Admittedly, the Rams have been pretty good against the pass this year, but Martz knows the Rams personnel, and you can bet he'll have some ideas on how to exploit his former team. For his part, Kitna has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes. Also looking good this week is Cleveland's Charlie Frye at Oakland and Houston's David Carr, he of the six TD passes and only one interception, versus Miami.
RB – Maurice Morris, Sea
Shaun Alexander was probably one of the least likely backs that fantasy owners would have expected to have to use a handcuff on. He has been a model of health in his career … that is, until now. Alexander found out Monday that he has a cracked bone in his foot and will be lost for a couple weeks, which means he'll miss at least this coming week's contest at Chicago and, possibly, the Week 6 tilt at St. Louis coming out of his bye week. For those that can get Morris, they'll be adding a back that will see a full-time workload for a potent offense. Morris is a much better receiver than Alexander, so what he gives up by comparison in rushing prowess, he makes up for a bit through the air. The matchup with the Bears this Sunday is ugly, I admit, but for those looking for help, Morris is in a situation that almost mandates that you pick him up.
WR – Troy Williamson, Min
I thought of replacing Williamson this week (he was listed here in the last Skinny) with Green Bay rookie Greg Jennings (a nice pickup in his own right) but, fact is, Williamson is still my favorite receiver available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues (28 percent owned). Williamson was the target of 10 Brad Johnson passes on Sunday, but he managed just four catches for 39 yards against a tough Chicago defense – He had one 30-plus yard catch called back because he was flagged for interference. I just love the amount of deep looks this burner is getting and as we've seen in the first two weeks, that attention will pay off against weaker opponents (179 combined receiving yards in Week 1 and Week 2).
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Braylon Edwards, Cle, WR – Edwards caught a nice TD pass in traffic on Sunday, this against a wickedly tough Baltimore defense. That he could represent against the Ravens – 5 catches, 116 yards, TD – has to have his owners giddy about his near-term future.
Deion Branch, Sea, WR – Branch had just two catches for 23 yards and an eight-yard reverse in his Seattle debut. But the Seahawks looked unstoppable against the Giants in an offense that employed three- and four-receiver sets often. If you have Branch, feel optimistic about him getting up to speed rather quickly.
Owen Daniels, Hou, TE – Coming off a solid Week 2 effort, one that included a TD, Daniels caught just one pass on Sunday – however, it resulted in his second TD of the season. His upside and the fact that he's getting red-zone looks makes Daniels a worthy plug-n-play during this bye stretch.
Doug Gabriel, NE, WR – In his first significant action of the season, Gabriel was thrown to 11 times, and caught six balls for 65 yards and a TD. He's got a real shot to be the go-to wideout of this patchwork group.
Chris Henry, Cin, WR – Henry followed up a 100-yard performance in Week 2 with two touchdowns on Sunday. In preseason, QB Carson Palmer compared his ability to Randy Moss. And of his 42 NFL receptions, eight have found pay-dirt. Despite the strong return of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Henry's worth a fantasy roster spot.