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NFL Skinny: Rookie Roundup

Running Back Radar
NEW YORK JETS RED HOT
1st Chair: Kevan Barlow
2nd Chair: Leon Washington
Skinny: The Jets fell behind 21-0 just minutes into the second quarter on Sunday. As a result, the Jets played Washington for most of the rest of the way after that, and he finished with 23 carries for 101 yards, while Barlow finished with just four (early) carries for -1 yards. If the Jets were in this game at all, Barlow probably would have figured much more heavily, but I continue to have a strong feeling that Washington is the most valuable fantasy play in this backfield over the rest of the season.
TENNESSEE TITANS RED HOT
1st Chair: Travis Henry
2nd Chair: LenDale White, Chris Brown
Skinny: As mentioned here last week, the days of Henry and Brown playing together are probably over – one of them is going to be sat each week so that White can get his touches. On Sunday, Brown was the healthy DNP, and Henry rushed for a healthy 123 yards on 19 carries in his absence. White also fared well, going for 48 yards on eight carries. The success of the two is probably going to keep Brown mired in the No. 3 depth chart spot here. Asked about how the team will handle the backfield going forward, offensive coordinator Norm Chow said, "I haven't talked to Jeff [Fisher] about it, but it seemed like the two we had did pretty well."
CHICAGO BEARS WARM
1st Chair: Thomas Jones
2nd Chair: Cedric Benson
Skinny: For the second straight week, Jones stepped up with a big effort, rushing 22 times for 109 yards against Buffalo. But Benson found the end zone twice on Sunday, his first two scores of his career, and he looked pretty good doing it. In total, he finished with 14 carries for 48 yards. After the game he was asked if he deserved to be starting ahead of Jones. Said Benson, "I really don't know. I really don't think so, at least not at the moment. There is an old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' That might be kind of what is happening at the moment. However it is, is how it is. If I get my opportunity I am going to take it and run with it." Offensive coordinator Ron Turner expressed a similar sentiment, saying, "That is not even in our thought process (starting Benson). Thomas is playing well and running well. Cedric is running well. We'll continue to use both of them the way we have." For now, Jones will continue to play lead here, but the 16 million dollars that Benson is guaranteed will continue to spark the running back controversy.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS WARM
1st Chair: Dominic Rhodes
2nd Chair: Joseph Addai
Skinny: On Sunday, Rhodes handled 20 carries (84 yards) to Addai's 13 (62 yards). For the season, Rhodes has touched the rock 89 times, while Addai has 72 touches. Despite the load favoring Rhodes, Addai has produced more yards from scrimmage (356 to 335), and many still believe that Addai is due to earn majority touches at some point from mid-season on. Put me among that crowd.
CAROLINA PANTHERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: DeShaun Foster
2nd Chair: DeAngelo Williams
Skinny: Williams sprained his ankle on his first carry on Sunday, and he sat the rest of the way while Foster rolled up 106 yards on 24 carries to lead the Panthers to a 20-12 victory. Williams is probably going to miss Week 6, and even if he does play, he'll be limited significantly.
Also See: Sunday Scene | Damage Report

I don't know if there is anything more ulcer-inducing than sitting on a small fantasy lead in the second-half of the Week 5 Sunday night game, going against LaDainian Tomlinson in a point-per-reception league. Thankfully, LT did not produce a point on the Chargers' final drive of the game, securing a one-point victory for my squad. With a potentially season-saving win in the bag, I attack this week's Skinny with a renewed vigor:

Week 5 Update: Need-to-know info from the past few days

Speaking of points-per-reception leagues, those who belong to one certainly can't be among those calling Reggie Bush over-hyped. Bush's 35 receptions for the season (11 on Sunday) is tops among all players, wide receivers and tight ends included. Bush is on pace for 112 receptions, and he has 10 more catches than the next closest running back – Kevin Jones (25).

Bush's versatility makes up for the fact that he hasn't made a significant impact on the ground – four rookies currently have gained more than Bush's 163 rushing yards, and the Jets' Leon Washington is only five yards behind. With an additional 256 yards gained via the pass, though, Bush is averaging 84 yards on offense, which places him 26th among NFL players in combined rushing/receiving yards per game. Bush also scored his first pro TD on a game-winning 65-yard punt return in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

  • Bush was one of several rookies to take center stage on Sunday. Tampa Bay QB Bruce Gradkowski made his starting debut, and he shined in the loss to New Orleans, completing 20-of-31 passes for 225 yards and 2 TDs (0 INTs). A sixth-round pick from Toledo, Gradkowski comes into the league having attempted more than 1,100 passes in college. He has a skill set that fits well for the Bucs' West Coast offense – namely, a quick release, exceptional accuracy (he completed 68 percent of his passes for Toledo), and good vision. He's also more fleet of foot than the average NFL signal-caller. As a bye week replacement, he has given us reason to put him under consideration.

In Arizona, QB Matt Leinart also made his first start, and he threw for two TD passes in the very first quarter, although he was not able to find pay dirt after that. In total, Leinart finished with a line of 22-of-35 for 253 passing yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Perhaps, most importantly in the eyes of head coach Dennis Green, Leinart was sacked four times but never lost a fumble, a well-known issue for former starter Kurt Warner. I've been bullish on Leinart all along and I saw nothing on Sunday to detour my thoughts on that. Despite the fact that he'll lose star wideout Larry Fitzgerald for 2-5 weeks with a hamstring injury, I think we saw in Week 5 what will be a typical weekend performance from him going forward.

Finally, I'd be seriously remiss if I didn't mention the two touchdowns logged by Jacksonville diminutive dynamo Maurice Jones-Drew. The rookie running back rushed 13 times for 59 yards, including the scores. Interestingly enough, both scoring runs came from within six yards – an area where Fred Taylor would be the expected recipient of carries – and before the game was completely out of reach – Jones-Drew scored the team's first and third touchdowns on the day. On the first TD run, Jones-Drew said Fred Taylor let him handle the carry and told the rookie, "You take it. You score." It was a magnanimous gesture from the veteran who also had a big day, rushing for 111 yards and a TD. Said Taylor, "The best way to dominate teams is to have that one-two punch. In my ninth year, I need some breathers, some opportunities to go out." Jacksonville likes to be a run-heavy team, so Jones-Drew, who has four TDs in the past three games, is likely to see 15-plus touches a game going forward. He's an electric bowling-ball of a runner who has a delicious schedule coming up after his Week 6 bye – Houston twice and Tennessee in his next four games.

For all the Week 5 injury news, including a hamstring injury that threatens Larry Fitzgerald's near-future, be sure to check out Christopher Harris' Damage Report.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues
QBJon Kitna, Det
Although he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on Sunday, Kitna is still my favorite quarterback available in at least 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues – he's available in 79 percent. To Kitna's Week 5 defense, he did atone for the turnovers somewhat, throwing for a TD and rushing for another. The Lions average the second-most pass attempts in the league, something not likely to change much under offensive coordinator Mike Martz. With Kitna completing 63 percent of his passes, he's going to be in a position to help fantasy teams every week, especially those leagues that don't heavily discount turnovers. For the record, eight of his nine turnovers (5 INTs, 3 Fumbles), have come on the road. That should make QB-needy fantasy owners feel better about starting him in Week 6 at home versus Buffalo.

RBMaurice Jones-Drew, Jac
Jones-Drew is a must pickup in the 76 percent of Yahoo! leagues where he can still be obtained. He goes on a bye in Week 6, but then returns to face Houston in Week 7, Tennessee in week 9 and Houston again in Week 10 – The Texans allow the most fantasy points to RBs, while the Titans allow the fourth-most. Oh, and in Week 12, Jacksonville faces a Buffalo defense that is the ninth-most generous defense in fantasy to opposing running backs. You can count on Jones-Drew getting a healthy amount of touches on a weekly basis to keep Fred Taylor fresh. In addition to spilling him as the featured back on some series, Jones-Drew is an excellent dump-off threat in the passing game, and he'll be used for that reason often on passing downs. With platoon backfields in vogue this season, fantasy owners need to embrace a time-share back like Jones-Drew.

WRBryant Johnson, Ari
At least for the next 2-5 weeks, Johnson is going to have relevance in fantasy circles. That's the time-frame that Larry Fitzgerald is expected to miss due to an injured hamstring suffered in Week 5. Johnson stepped up on Sunday with a team-high six catches and 82 receiving yards. Fitzgerald was the target of nine passes per week on average coming into Week 5, so Johnson, who is available in 98 percent of Yahoo! leagues, should see a steady diet of passes while he rides with the first unit.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Lee Evans, Buf, WR – Evans has finished with at least seven catches and 90 receiving yards in each of his past three games, and had his best fantasy game to date on Sunday against a tough Chicago defense – nine catches, 94 yards, 1 TD. A strong rapport with QB J.P. Losman is emerging, one that includes more than just deep passes – his 14 targets in Week 5 led all receivers on Sunday.

Wes Welker, Mia, WR – With Joey Harrington behind center for Miami on Sunday, Welker was his most targeted receiver, catching nine of 12 passes thrown his way for 77 yards. Welker has averaged 60 receiving yards per week on the sly, and his 299 receiving yards currently rank 21st among wide receivers.

Joey Galloway, TB, WR – In his first game playing with QB Bruce Gradkowski, Galloway hauled in four of eight passes thrown his way for 110 yards and a TD. He scored a TD the week before and picked up 161 receiving yards the week before that, so he's finding a way to contribute despite the Bucs' struggles.

Damon Huard, KC, QB – I don't see myself ever advocating picking up Huard, but I won't deny that's he's been an efficient producer the past couple weeks – 4 TD passes, 0 INTs and an average of 248 passing yards in Week 4 and Week 5 combined.

Hines Ward, Pit, WR – A hamstring injury and the struggles of his starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, have hurt Ward deeply in the past three games. With just four catches for 49 yards on Sunday, Ward has a mere eight catches for 95 yards and no touchdowns combined in his past three games.

Drew Bledsoe, Dal, QB – When the going gets tough, Bledsoe … well, he throws interceptions. Bledsoe failed to throw a TD pass at Philadelphia on Sunday, and he committed six turnovers (3 INTs, 3 Fumbles) – the final interception was returned 102 yards by corner Lito Sheppard to cement victory for the Eagles. Tony Romo's name will resurface in full force this week.

Troy Williamson, Min, WR – This was supposed to be Williamson's breakout season, but those expectations are fading by the week. After posting a combined 179 receiving yards in the first two weeks, Williamson has amassed just 87 yards in three games since, including two catches for 11 yards on Sunday.