Rotisserie By The Numbers: RBs to Trade and to Trade For

By Craig Rondinone
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

You might think it is too early to panic or to make major roster moves, but you have to remember that four weeks in fantasy football is like two months in fantasy baseball, hockey or basketball.

One quarter of the fantasy football season is over, and if your fantasy team is languishing at 1-3 like the San Diego Chargers or Chicago Bears, you should probably be sweating as much as they are. You cannot just sit back and be patient. You need to be proactive and make the necessary changes to improve your fantasy team.

And no fantasy football team can be helped quicker than if you upgrade the most important position, running back.

Playing fantasy football is just like playing the stock market. You want to buy low and sell high. So which backs should you be cutting bait on? And which ones should you be attempting to acquire before their prices rise out of your range? Here is a look:

Chester Taylor, Vikings (TRADE): The sad, simple truth is Adrian Peterson needs more carries, and they should come at the expense of Taylor. Taylor is a workmanlike plodder who can run between the tackles and get you four yards a carry. He ran for 1,216 yards in 2006 and that was nice and all, but Peterson is obviously much more talented. You think Minnesota actually drafted Peterson in the first round to share carries? Then you must think Britney Spears should keep custody of her kids. Look for Taylor’s role in the Vikings offense to be downsized so Peterson’s explosiveness can be on the field more often. Unfortunately for Taylor and his owners, Minnesota has stated he will not be traded to RB-starved Green Bay. That would have been an ideal situation for him.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (TRADE FOR): If someone in your league is dumb enough to trade Tomlinson now before getting any All-Pro caliber fantasy performances out of him, feel free to fleece Mr. or Ms. Stupid. With as bad as San Diego has played early on, people might think trading L.T. is a good idea before his stock freefalls. It is up to you to take advantage of these suckers before the alcohol wears off. Tomlinson is coming off a game where he racked up 154 combined yards and a TD. The magic is coming back. Do not allow him to have another monster game that will make him untradeable again. If you sense weakness in the Tomlinson owner in your league, send a trade offer today.

Laurence Maroney, Patriots (TRADE): After a month it seems clear to this fantasy pundit that longtime journeyman Sammy Morris can rush for just as many yards and touchdowns as Maroney can if they are given the same amount of carries. It has also become clear that Maroney is no iron man. He was always banged-up last season even though he only carried the ball 10 times a game and is already missing time four games into this season. Morris is getting further into Bill Belichick’s good graces with every passing week. That does not bode well for Maroney. It looks to me that Maroney’s shot of being an every-down, full-time starter for New England is going to wait another year, and that Morris is going to be what Corey Dillon was in 2006.

Marshawn Lynch, Bills (TRADE FOR): If you thought Anthony “A-Train” Thomas was going to see some action, especially around the goal line, you were more wrong than pundits who thought Ryan Leaf would be the next Johnny Unitas. Here is the scorecard - Lynch has 80 carries, Thomas has five, and Lynch is getting all the scoring chances near the end zone. This makes Lynch one of the few backs in the NFL who does not have to share the load with another tailback teammate, which is becoming increasingly rare in the league.

DeShaun Foster, Panthers (TRADE): Send him packing him before he gets injured or loses his job. We all know Foster’s injury history. It is as long as an almanac. We also know that backup DeAngelo Williams is going to take over the starting job sooner or later, so why not trade Foster before sooner or later happens? Foster has 302 rushing yards and a 5.0 yards per carry in four games. Trust me, I have a better chance of running a three-minute mile than Foster has keeping that pace up. A sprained toenail or a 100-yard blowout game from Williams will curtail Foster’s good fortunes shortly.

Larry Johnson, Chiefs (TRADE FOR): How bad has L.J. been? Derrick Ward has more rushing yards, DeShawn Wynn has more touchdowns and Correll Buckhalter has as many 100-yard games. That is ugly, especially for a player who was probably taken within the first five picks of 99.9 percent of the world’s fantasy drafts. I am not as certain that Johnson will rebound as much as I am with Tomlinson, because L.T. has a better chance of making tacklers miss than Johnson does when their offensive lines falter. But Johnson is far too talented to not to bounce back. He looks like the rust from holding out is finally falling off after his 123-yard effort last week.

Lamont Jordan, Raiders (TRADE): A bad back and the return of Dominic Rhodes is a double whammy that could knock Jordan’s fantasy value right out. Jordan’s cranky back was a concern last season and this preseason. Rhodes’ presence was also a concern until he was suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Jordan has been amazing (second in NFL in rushing), but as I rub my fantasy crystal ball, I see more chiropractors and bench time in his future than 100-yard games.

RUN AND SHOOT: New England tight end Benjamin “Don’t Call Me Ben” Watson has three touchdown grabs, but it is the same old story. He is just not on the field enough for him to challenge the likes of Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten for the top spot among fantasy tight ends. The Pats love to spread the field with four or five wide receivers a lot, and they also like to use super-blocker Kyle Brady in one-tight end formations on running downs. That leaves Watson off the field more than the upper-echelon tight ends, and when he does make appearances, he has to share the receiving wealth with Randy Moss, Wes Welker and a thousand other weapons.

The Marc Bulger situation in St. Louis might be puzzling to fantasy owners, but I wish more NFL coaches would sit their stars when they are struggling badly fantasy-wise thanks to playing with injuries. Bulger is not as bad as he has been this season (two TD passes, four interceptions in four starts). He is playing with a couple broken ribs, along with a broken offensive line and without broken-down Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson. Fantasy owners might be mad that Bulger is going to miss a couple contests, but they will be thankful when Bulger returns in late October and has a couple 300-yard passing games again like normal, which won’t happen unless he gets himself square health-wise.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: This question has been on the minds of several readers this week, so I will give you all credit for the same question. Everyone is asking, “Who is the running back to pick up in Tampa Bay now that Cadillac Williams is out for the season? Michael Pittman or Ernest Graham?”

Answer: First of all, my deepest sympathies go out to Caddy, who hopefully finds the best body shop in the world to fix his flat. He has won me plenty of money in both fantasy football and in games of Madden 2006 over the years. He will be sorely and surely missed.

Pittman still has the wheels and hands to be a starting tailback again. He is the better third-down back of the two, as he is one of the best running-back receivers around, while Graham has a grand total of three receptions since entering the league in 2004 . Pittman also has more experience and has had a much better career. Pittman and Graham have both rushed the ball 30 times this year, but Pittman has rushed for 34 more yards on his attempts.

But even though Pittman knows his way around an end zone (29 career touchdowns), Graham has been the one getting his number called near the goal line. Graham has scored three times this year, compared to zero for Pittman. Graham is a no-nonsense runner. He runs straight ahead and does not look to avoid tacklers. That is what you want out of your goal line guy, so I think he will continue to get the call down close.

In touchdown leagues, I’d take Graham because of his short-yardage talent. In yardage leagues, I’d take Pittman because he is the better all-around back and should get more touches than Graham over the course of the season. All things being equal, Pittman is the better pickup because he has a better chance of scoring touchdowns than Graham has of stacking up a lot of yards.

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Updated Thursday, Oct 4, 2007