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NFL Skinny: Risk Management

Running Back Radar
GREEN BAY PACKERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brandon Jackson
2nd Chair: DeShawn Wynn, Vernand Morency
Skinny: Calling this situation "red hot" is a bit dramatic given that the Packers have, by far, the worst rushing offense in the league (54.3 yards per game, 2.7 yards per carry). But, because of injuries and lackluster performance, this backfield is wide open for the taking should Jackson, Morency or Wynn get healthy and start producing results on the field. Morency saw his first action of the season in Week 4 and his knee was sore following the game. He's going to continue to see limited work until he gets back to 100 percent. Assuming Jackson can come back from his shin injury in Week 5, he should see the majority of carries. But Wynn will continue to play a prominent role, too. Considering that Green Bay is looking like a playoff team, don't be surprised if proven cold-weather bruiser Corey Dillon is given a call by the Green Bay front office. Or perhaps Ricky Williams. Of all the NFL teams, the Packers' need for running back help sticks out like a sore thumb.
OAKLAND RAIDERS HOT
1st Chair: LaMont Jordan
2nd Chair: Dominic Rhodes, Justin Fargas
Skinny: With Rhodes eligible to come off suspension, Jordan suffered an ill-timed back injury in Week 4. Although X-rays proved negative, and Jordan may return after the team's Week 5 bye, it's likely that Rhodes, and Week 4 star Fargas, will start figuring into the mix to help protect Jordan's back – he'd missed some practice time prior to Week 4 because of back problems. The time to sell Jordan was before Sunday. His value has taken a big hit in the past few days. After averaging nearly 27 touches per week in the first three games, don't be surprised if Jordan fails to garner 20 touches on a consistent basis from here on out. And let's not forget that even if Jordan holds down a featured role, QB Daunte Culpepper (three rushing TDs in Week 4) loves to call his own number at the goal line. There's just too much stacked against Jordan to think he can continue to be the back he has been through the first month of the season.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HOT
1st Chair: Laurence Maroney
2nd Chair: Sammy Morris
Skinny: Let's see, Maroney owners have already been insulted this season by Morris taking away all the goal-line glory. Now injury has been added to insult as Maroney sat on Monday night with a sore groin. Morris further drove a stake into the hearts of Maroney owners by taking advantage of the injury to the tune of 117 rushing yards and a TD against Cincinnati. We're to the point where we can no longer say that Morris is Corey Dillon-lite. He's Dillon-heavy. Even when Maroney returns, I'm not so sure that Morris isn't the better fantasy back to own. He's the hard-nosed, no-nonsense veteran type that head coach Bill Belichick loves. Given that Maroney has picked up his share of bumps and bruises in his short NFL career, don't be surprised if Morris' role continues to increase in an attempt to keep Maroney healthier.
DETROIT LIONS HOT
1st Chair: Tatum Bell
2nd Chair: Kevin Jones
Skinny: Bell started in Week 4, but Jones finished with just one carry less than Bell (11-10). And Bell lost a fumble near the goal line early in the second-quarter on Sunday, resulting in Bell sitting out most of the second and third quarters. Jones could move into the starting lineup next week and start to see the majority load from here on out.
NEW YORK GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Brandon Jacobs
2nd Chair: Derrick Ward
Skinny: Jacobs (sprained MCL) is expected to log a full practice load this week in anticipation of playing on Sunday for the first time since Week 1. Ward has been excellent in Jacobs' absence, rushing for at least 80 yards and amassing at least 20 receiving yards in four straight contests. Jacobs should move back into the starting role, but Ward has proven his effectiveness and is likely to replace Jacobs on passing downs and steal another 8-10 carries.
HOUSTON TEXANS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ron Dayne
Injured: Ahman Green
Skinny: A bruised knee kept Green out of action in Week 4, with Dayne handling 15 carries for 62 yards in his absence. Dayne, said head coach Gary Kubiak, will start again in Week 5 if Green cannot go. But he said he hopes to have Green back in practice later this week. He's likely to be questionable come Sunday. With Houston facing the fourth-most generous fantasy defense to opposing running backs (Miami), whoever winds up playing in Week 5 has relevance.
NEW YORK JETS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Thomas Jones
2nd Chair: Leon Washington
Skinny: It has to be disconcerting for Jones owners that he was able to muster just 55 total yards on 15 touches against one of the worst defenses in the league (Buffalo) on Sunday. With the team playing from behind in the second half, Washington was used in favor of Jones often. Washington caught six passes after halftime and also scored an eight-yard rushing touchdown. The Jets will continue to see soft run defenses for the next several weeks, and Jones has to take advantage of them better than he did on Sunday or the game-breaking Washington is going to continue to gain a larger share of the backfield load.
Also See: Sunday Scene | Injury Rundown

For some, Week 4 in fantasy football was like a hangnail – persistently, annoyingly painful. For me, it started with a Sunday morning lineup decision: start WR Ronald Curry, cut WR Patrick Crayton to pick up a warm-bodied tight end (Visanthe Shiancoe) to fill in for an injured Vernon Davis. For some, it was gambling on late Week 4 running backs Brian Westbrook (hamstring) and Laurence Maroney (groin) to play, only to be stuck without options when they were ruled out. Or, back to me again, it was the agony of having to sit in a chair for the 90 minutes leading up to the kickoff of the early games because of my involvement in the Fantasy Football Live show, powerless to move an inactive Calvin Johnson (back) out of a few of my lineups. Throw in a handful of injuries, the most devastating being Carnell Williams' season-ending torn patella tendon, and it's doubtful that many owners came through the weekend unscathed. The fantasy game is changing. It's morphing from Candyland into Risk. There'll be no gently-winding path to fantasy success. Bye weeks are upon us, stars are either underperforming or succumbing to injury and, my God, the Cleveland Browns are beating up on the likes of Cincinnati and Baltimore. Landmines abound. Watch your step …

The Good: Ronnie Brown. For the second consecutive week, Brown amassed more than 200 yards from scrimmage and led all running backs in fantasy points. I had Brown as a top 15 player on my Big Board heading into the season because I figured new head coach Cam Cameron would look to employ Brown in a similar multi-faceted manner to LaDainian Tomlinson, who Cameron coached in San Diego. My faith in that ranking was shaken over the first two weeks of the season as Brown was splitting unproductive carries with backup Jesse Chatman for a Miami team that was starting to resemble the '06 Raiders. But Brown has emerged the clear-cut go-to guy in the past two weeks. And the expected improvement in receiving numbers under Cameron has been prevalent all season – Brown has at least 36 receiving yards in all four games and has caught six passes in three of the four contests. Miami still has its problems on offense, namely that offensive line. But Brown has proven that he'll be just fine against weaker competition. With Cleveland, Buffalo (twice), the New York Jets and Giants on the schedule over an upcoming nine-game stretch, Brown will face run softies more often than not leading up to the fantasy playoffs.

The Bad: The Chicago Bears. The Bears led at Detroit 13-3 after three quarters only to allow the Lions to run off an NFL-record 34 points in the fourth quarter – Detroit won the game 37-27. With injuries forcing Chicago to make three starters in the secondary inactive along with All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs, it figured that Mike Martz's aerial attack would put up big numbers. But with veteran QB Brian Griese taking over for a turnover-prone Rex Grossman behind center against the Swiss cheese Lions' defense, it was somewhat surprising to see the typically on-target Griese throw three interceptions in his '07 debut. Another surprise: Detroit's Jon Kitna throwing a mere 24 times, less than half as many as Griese threw (52). The Bears struggled in all facets of the game, with RB Cedric Benson producing less than 75 yards of total offense for the third time in four weeks – it's past time to be worried about him. His next three opponents, Green Bay, Minnesota and Philadelphia, are among the top 11 at limiting running back fantasy points.

The Ugly: Carnell Williams. Nothing was uglier than the sight of the hurdler's stretch Williams was forced to perform in the first half against Carolina, an awkward tackle that resulted in Williams tearing his patella tendon. He's done for the year, if not longer. It's the kind of injury that may never heal in a way that would allow again for the type of pounding an NFL running back takes on a weekly basis. In Williams' absence, Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman will shoulder the backfield load. It's just one more RBBC to add to the list. Graham has looked fairly stout in short-yardage situations, so he's likely to get the majority of goal-line carries. But Pittman, a fantastic receiver and decisive, high-energy runner, should get the lion's share of touches.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Greg Jennings, GB, WR – Since returning from a hip injury in Week 3, Jennings has settled in nicely as the starter opposite Donald Driver in the second-most pass-happy offense in the league (42.5 pass attempts per). Jennings has scored a TD in each of his two games to go with an average of 62.5 receiving yards. Brett Favre is rolling like it's the late 90s, so all Pakcres receivers should be upgraded.

Derrick Mason, Bal, WR – After T.J. Houshmandzadeh, no receiver has been targeted as often as Mason. The fact that QB Steve McNair struggles to throw beyond 10-15 yards has played perfectly into the crisp, quick-hitter routes of Mason, who has amassed 33 catches for 287 and a touchdown on 50 targets. He has yet to be thrown to less than 12 times in any game.

Jerry Porter, Oak, WR – Porter hauled in three of the five passes Daunte Culpepper completed on Sunday, two of them finding pay dirt. For the year, three of Porter's seven catches have gone for touchdowns. Getting steady playing time once again behind an improved offense, Porter should continue to be a strong red zone presence. He is one of the more athletic receivers in the league, and a nice target standing 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. I'd bet that he reaches the nine-touchdown mark for the third time in his career.

Joey Harrington, Atl, QB – The way Harrington's been going the past couple weeks, don't assume that Byron Leftwich will automatically take over the Atlanta offense when he's deemed ready. Not only has Harrington not turned the ball over for three consecutive games, he's also thrown two TD passes in each of his past two contests.

Dwayne Bowe, KC, WR – There is no question about Bowe's athletic ability – he's got it all. That he landed in Kansas City was a buzz kill for fantasy owners, but Bowe has managed to rise above the team's offensive inadequacies, scoring touchdowns in three consecutive games. After breaking out for eight catches and 164 yards on Sunday, Bowe sits among the top 15 receivers in fantasy.

Roddy White, Atl, WR – Teammate Michael Jenkins (2 TDs) stole the limelight in Week 4, but White continued to figure prominently in the Atlanta passing game, picking up 64 receiving yards on Sunday. Over the past three weeks, White rates as a top 15 fantasy receiver.

Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ, WR – Playing through a shoulder injury, Cotchery caught eight passes for 106 yards on Sunday. It was the second time in the past three games that Cotchery has topped the century mark.

Derek Anderson, Cle, QB – Through the first month of the season, Anderson sits among the top five fantasy QBs. True, five of his eight TD passes came in one game (Cincinnati), but he's coming off a 204-yard, 2 TD performance against Baltimore, that serves as a healthy dose of street cred. The browns' offensive line is much improved, giving Anderson time to utilize big talents Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow.

Matt Leinart, Ari, QB – Leinart has been marginalized by a QB committee in Arizona. He now has to perform admirably out of the gate or he knows that Kurt Warner will come in and take over – it's happened in each of the past two games. According to Yahoo! NFL writer Michael Silver, Leinart's not too happy about the whole situation.

Marc Bulger, StL, QB – Things have gotten ugly fast in St. Louis. The offensive line is decimated by injuries, and losing Steven Jackson to a groin tear in Week 3 further exacerbated the situation. Against Dallas in Week 4, Bulger could muster 114 yards on 11-of-24 passing before being pulled for backup Gus Frerotte. Bulger, who is dealing with two broken ribs, is expected to return to his starting role in Week 5.

Cedric Benson, Chi, RB – Benson has topped 50 rushing yards just once in four games, this after a preseason in which he barely topped two yards per carry. If he continues this way for a couple more weeks, don't be surprised if we're calling this an RBBC with Adrian Peterson before October ends.