NFL Skinny: Positive Spin

Mike Harmon
Running Back Radar
1st Chair: Marcel Shipp
2nd Chair: J.J. Arrington
Skinny: Does this situation even matter right now? It stays on the list given the boatload of injuries afflicting tailbacks, but only truly desperate owners (and Cardinals fans) can even consider either of these players for a starting role. Shaun Alexander ran for nearly as many yards against the Cardinals (173) as Shipp has turned in all season (216). The duo is averaging just 46.7 yards per game on the ground combined .
1st Chair: Kevan Barlow
2nd Chair: Frank Gore
Skinny: Barlow had been working to establish himself as the primary ballcarrier with several strong efforts in a row. He took a HUGE step backward on Sunday when he gained a miserable four yards on 10 carries. Gore ran for 33 yards on seven carries, meaning that a competition once declared over might be revisited. To put the strength of Sunday's 49ers effort in perspective, four of their nine first downs came as a result of penalties. Mike Nolan will undoubtedly be looking to shake things up soon, and that may happen as early as this week's tough test against the surging Chicago Bears.
1st Chair: Priest Holmes
2nd Chair: Larry Johnson
Skinny: Holmes is evidently not satisfied with the results of his first two trips to doctors, so he is seeking out a third opinion. Dick Vermeil addressed this situation in his weekly press conference. Said Vermeil: "I don't have any information. In fact, sometimes I get upset because I don't have more information." He later added that while Johnson could shoulder the load against the Buffalo run defense, he'd rather have the luxury of his dual back system. Holmes is expected back from his visit to a specialist in California on Tuesday night. We'll have a better idea on this situation when the whistle blows for practice on Wednesday. I'll update this story in Thursday's Fantasy Football This Week piece.
1st Chair: Thomas Jones
2nd Chair: Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson
Skinny: The laundry list of injuries to Thomas Jones finally forced him out of action in Week 9 against the Saints. The Bears expect to rest Jones for Week 10 against San Francisco to prepare for the drive to the playoffs, with Carolina and Tampa Bay next on the schedule. Cedric Benson has run well the past two weeks and figures to carry a slight edge in Touches over Peterson. However, don't be surprised if Peterson takes the goal line attempts.
1st Chair: Tiki Barber
2nd Chair: Brandon Jacobs
Skinny: No, Jacobs isn't going to take a heavy portion of Barber's workload away, but it appears that he will be taking the carries that matter. Jacobs turned in a Jerome Bettis-like stat line in Week 9, carrying the ball five times for three yards and two scores against the 49ers. So, while Tiki Barber owners can revel in his success between the 20s (he has 760 rushing yards already), they will need to pray for broken tackles and long TD runs, because the vulture Jacobs is on the hunt. With his two touchdown runs Sunday, Jacobs has now tied Barber's rushing total for the year at five.
1st Chair: Ronnie Brown
2nd Chair: Ricky Williams
Skinny: Williams scored his first TD since returning to action, and it is becoming clear that a full-blown platoon situation is developing in Miami. Last week, I quoted Nick Saban's press conference about wanting to run the ball with great regularity. In short, more carries by your running backs than those of your opponent equals victory. Though they managed only 22 combined attempts this week, that theory will play out for the rest of the year. Those hurting at the No.2 back or flex position can assume 10-15 carries for each player on a weekly basis.
1st Chair: Willie Parker
2nd Chair: Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis
Skinny: Parker left Sunday's game with an ankle injury, and is currently listed as questionable for Week 10 against Cleveland, as is Jerome Bettis. That means another big workload for Duce Staley, particularly with Charlie Batch under center. The Browns allow 129 yards per game on the ground.
1st Chair: Jamal Lewis
2nd Chair: Chester Taylor
Skinny: Though he caught five passes for 26 yards, Chester Taylor was again ignored in the running game by Brian Billick. He carried the ball only three times for nine yards while Lewis continued to struggle, this time against the Bengals defense. Billick's patience with his star running back has been tortuous for Lewis owners, who try to share in the coach's optimism. The Ravens face a difficult three-game stretch against Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati before a favorable matchup against the Texans.

I could start with another diatribe against Terrell Owens, but I, and every other Yahoo! Sports analyst, have already chimed in on the foolishness of the past week. I prefer to look for the bright spots for the past weekend. Reggie Brown emerged as a deep threat for Donovan McNabb. Brad Johnson led the Vikings to a home victory, throwing two touchdowns in the process. And, a bevy of young and unproven running backs (and a couple of familiar faces) played big roles in leading their respective teams to victory.

We saw Shaun Alexander continue his dominance over the Cardinals. Steve Smith turned in another huge day for the Panthers. And the Colts passing attack proved on Monday night that rumors of their demise were premature.

That's where we begin this week's Skinny, with a look at the reappearance of everyone's favorite aerial acrobats, even if it proves to be a one-time only performance. Let's get The Skinny on Week 9.

WEEK 9 UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

The Colts passed a huge mid-season test on Monday night, and in doing so, exorcised some past demons while giving fantasy owners a gift. Not to dismiss the early success of the Colts and their 7-0 start, but even they would admit that the scheduling gods had been kind. But, as they say, you can only play who lines up against you. As a result, the revamped defense with Dwight Freeney and Corey Simon leading the charge and the running of Edgerrin James (second in the NFL) have limited the need for an all-out aerial assault. However, on Monday night, fans were treated to a coming out of sorts for the Colts. They came out firing early and scored in under three minutes. The quick return by Tom Brady and Deion Branch kept Pedyton Manning firing, and they capitalized on a Corey Dillon fumble up 14-7 to seize momentum and roll to a 19-point win. Marvin Harrison scored twice, giving him six touchdowns in his past five games. Manning also rewarded fantasy owners who stuck with Reggie Wayne by firing a TD pass to the No. 2 option, his third of the year. The game marked Manning's third consecutive multi-TD effort and first 300-yard passing day of the season. You think they wanted to make a statement to any and everybody who was watching? Unfortunately for strong-willed Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley owners, they didn't get to join this party.

As a random aside to this story, despite his slow start that had fantasy owners pulling out their hair, Peyton Manning's three TD passes moved him into a tie for fourth place (14). He is, of course, now tied with brother Eli Manning, for those keeping score at home.

Staying with the QB position for a moment, Carson Palmer extended his lead in the TD pass department by tossing two against the Ravens. Yes, the Ravens prevented Chad Johnson from giving television viewers a new celebration (five catches for 91 yards), but Palmer connected with Tab Perry and Chris Henry for TD strikes to seal the win. Palmer has thrown multiple TD passes in seven of nine games, and has already tied his TD output of 2004. The key to the equation, Palmer has tossed those 18 TDs while throwing 13 fewer interceptions than he did a season ago. Chalk one on the victory side for Heisman winners.

The Panthers rolled up 34 points on the Buccaneers during Sunday's game. And with another 100-yard performance and yet another score, Steve Smith maintained his lead in all receiving categories (55 receptions, 903 yards, and nine TDs). The Panthers currently rank fourth in total offense (at 27.5 points per game), and though Jake Delhomme and Smith get a lot of the credit for the Panthers' rise in the NFC South, the return of bruising tailback Stephen Davis has been pivotal to the team's success. Davis has quietly piled up 11 rushing touchdowns this season, and has four multi-TD games on the books. He's not a highlight reel type of guy because he's not busting off the long run, making people miss, or piling up yardage for that matter. No, Davis has been a steady hammer in short yardage, topping 50 yards only once in the past six weeks. In this year of running back injuries, his goal-line prowess has been one of the few constants.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Samkon Gado, RB, GB: This is about as certain a free agent as you'll find, with most fantasy owners and NFL fans heard wondering "who's this guy?" aloud. Gado took over for the injured Tony Fisher and carried the ball 26 times in Sunday's loss to the Steelers. Judging from the comments that have surfaced from Fisher in the press, he's unlikely to return to the field this week against Atlanta. That puts Gado in a decent spot as a No. 2 fantasy back, as Atlanta allows 118 yards per game on the ground.
  • Brian Finneran, WR, Atl: Finneran became the focal point of Michael Vick's effort to show his passing prowess in Week 9. Finneran topped 90 receiving yards for his second straight outing, and became Vick's go-to man in the red zone and scored for the first time since Week 2. The sight of Green Bay on the schedule for Week 10 leads one to believe that Vick will put his arm to use once again.
  • Reggie Brown, WR, Phi: Brown stepped up in the absence of Terrell Owens, contributing 94 receiving yards on five receptions. However, he showed his true home run magic late in the first quarter when he scored on a 56-yard strike from Donovan McNabb. With Owens out of the picture, McNabb's favorite remaining target is Brian Westbrook. Brown leads the charge of Philly receivers vying for the No. 2 spot. His big play potential makes him waiver wire gold heading into Week 10.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Ernest Wilford, WR, Jac: Yes, he was included in this list last week, but a repeat performance will send those who ignored his Week 9 brilliance back to the waiver wire this week. Wilford has clearly become Byron Leftwich's No. 2 target and a red zone threat. He'll go for the hat trick against the Ravens this week.

Byron Leftwich, QB, Jac: Leftwich has thrown for at least one TD in every game this season except Week 2. With a passing TD and the addition of one via the ground against Houston, Leftwich has two straight multi-TD weeks while going over 200 passing yards in each contest. This week's game against Baltimore isn't the insurmountable task its been in the past, and the Jaguars then face Tennessee, Arizona, and Cleveland in succession for three solid matchups. The emergence of Ernest Wilford provides Leftwich with another option and optimizes the efficiency of the passing attack.

Jonathan Wells, RB, Hou: Wells shone brightly in the spot start against the Jaguars. He tallied 101 yards of total offense and found the end zone. Texans officials are optimistic that Domanick Davis will return from his knee injury to face the Colts, but Davis owners must be cautious and add his backup to their rosters just in case. In any event, it is unlikely that Davis will resume his 30-plus Touches per game pace when he does return.

Kerry Collins, QB, Oak: Collins has turned his game up a notch with the need to find other options behind Randy Moss. LaMont Jordan has carried the team on his back, allowing Collins to become more decisive and effective in his pass attempts (only three interceptions to date). In the past two weeks, he's effectively included Jerry Porter in the passing attack and thrown five touchdowns. The next several weeks offer stiff tests, as he'll face the Denver, Washington, and Miami defenses in succession.

Michael Bennett, RB, Min: Bennett shoots back onto the fantasy scene after a great performance in relief of the injured Mewelde Moore in Week 9. Bennett topped 100 rushing yards on 18 attempts, and figures to be the starter for Week 10 against the Giants. Now, don't write Moore out of the equation, as there's a chance that he'll be available to chip in on Sunday. However, those facing the final bye week or who have been caught in the avalanche of injuries at running back can use any Touches they can find.

Scottie Vines, WR, Det: Vines has become the top receiving option for the Lions next to Marcus Pollard in the past three weeks. He's hauled in 19 catches for 204 receiving yards during that stretch. Though he's yet to find the end zone, the number of injuries that have hit the Lions will keep him in the mix, and owners are responding to his 109-yard performance in Week 9.

Chris Brown, RB, Ten: Brown has yet to reach the century mark this season, but back-to-back 90-yard efforts drives his stock upward. Furthermore, he scored in both these games and has scored in three of his past four contests. The platoon situation expected with the return of Travis Henry from suspension has not materialized, and Brown has remained a one-man gang for the Titans. Look for his heavy workload to continue … barring injury, of course.

Duce Staley, RB, Pit: The Duce returned to the field on Sunday against Green Bay. He took advantage of an early injury to Willie Parker and the deactivation of Jerome Bettis allowed Staley to rack up attempts and yardage (15 carries for 76 yards). He even found the end zone. Staley owners from '04 can only shake their heads, as they remember his inability to find the painted grass for weeks at a time.

Josh Brown, K, Sea: Brown isn't racking up field goal attempts, but the plethora of PATs has him on fantasy owners' radars this week. He's successfully converted 11-of-13 FG attempts and has attempted four or more PATs in four of the Seahawks past six games.

Carnell williams, RB, Tam: Evidently, Jon Gruden's early season decision to run Williams on seemingly every down has worn the rookie down beyond the original estimations. Williams struggled mightily for the second straight week, accumulating a mere 29 yards on the ground on 11 carries. Any benefits added by his three receptions for 25 yards were wiped out by a lost fumble. Those three 100-yard games to start the season seem like a lifetime ago. Williams will try to get back on track against the Redskins at home this week.

Donald Driver, WR, GB: The Packers' No. 1 receiving option isn't turning in horrible production, but the lack of other threats around him does limit his upside. Driver has caught five passes in each of the past two weeks, but the double-coverage he faces from opposing defenders has Brett Favre looking elsewhere in the end zone. Driver owns just three TD receptions on the year.

Mark Brunell, QB, Was: After a torrid start, Brunell has gone back-to-back weeks without a TD pass. The Redskins were white-washed by the Giants in Week 8, and Mike Sellers and Clinton Portis finished off drives in the big win over Philadelphia on Sunday. Brunell averaged 284 passing yards in his first five starts for the Redskins. He has thrown for 289 in the past two combined.

Jimmy Smith, WR, Jac: Smith turned in a big game against Denver in Week 4 (109 yards and a score), which seemed to be a signal of things to come. In the four games since, his highest receiving output has been 52 yards and he hasn't sniffed the end zone. Second-year receiver Ernest Wilford has become Leftwich's best friend in the red zone.

Chris Chambers, WR, Mia: He's found the end zone in two of the past three weeks, but the number of Looks in Chambers' direction is dwindling with the rise of the two-back system in Miami. Chambers hasn't recorded more than four catches in a game since Week 3, and has topped 50 receiving yards just once in the past four weeks. The Miami schedule includes several opponents in a row who appear susceptible to Chambers' ability (New England, Cleveland, Oakland). We'll see how Nick Saban uses him in those contests.

Tony Fisher, RB, GB: He got the start for the Packers in Week 8, putting up 51 rushing yards and a TD run. Late in the week leading up to the home game against Pittsburgh, Fisher revealed a rib injury and was made inactive for the contest. Undrafted rookie Samkon Gado stepped into the role Fisher vacated, carried the ball 26 times, and topped 60 yards with a score.

Kurt Warner, QB, Ari: Warner returned to the starting lineup for this week's game against Seattle, and he tossed for a league-high 334 passing yards. Unfortunately, he threw three interceptions against one touchdown, took four sacks, and lost yet another fumble. Dennis Green failed to confirm Warner's status as the starter for Week 10 against Detroit, fueling speculation that Green will turn back to Josh McCown this week.

L.J. Smith, TE, Phi: Smith was expected to step up in the absence of Terrell Owens. He caught only one pass for 10 yards against Washington before leaving with a concussion. It marked his second straight week with a single catch (he had one catch for one yard and a score in Week 8), and his workload has been inconsistent of late. Right now, it appears that Smith will be sidelined for Week 10 against Dallas. The results of further tests are expected toward the end of the week.

Antwaan Randle El, WR, Pit: Obviously, all Pittsburgh receivers took a hit with Charlie Batch under center (he'll be back in the role for Week 10), but Randle El's productivity has truly dropped off of the map in recent weeks. He went without a catch for the second time in three weeks, and last reached 50 receiving yards in Week 5.

Jamal Lewis, RB, Bal: Lewis extended his streak without a 100-yard performance to eight games this year, turning in a disappointing 49-yard effort against the Bengals. This setback came on the heels of a period in the Week 8 Pittsburgh game during which he ran with heart and his classic drive. Lewis has topped 20 carries on only two occasions this year.

Dick Vermeil defied convention when he elected to go for the win instead of the tie against the Raiders this past weekend in the closing seconds. Larry Johnson carried the ball across the goal line with five seconds left to give the Chiefs the win, and Johnson his second TD of the game. In 24 career games, Johnson has scored 16 rushing touchdowns and rushed for more 1,100 yards. He just wishes the Raiders appeared on the schedule more than twice, as he's racked up 345 yards and scored six touchdowns against the Raiders defense.