Sunday Scene, Week 9: Let the rookie win

If you check the rushing yardage leader board for Week 9, you'll notice that five of the top nine running backs are rookies.

Two of those players -- Matt Forte (126 yards) and Chris Johnson (89 rushing, 72 receiving) -- are already universally owned in fantasy leagues, but the other three are likely to be this week's most heavily-added players. Unless there are thousands of Rex Grossman enthusiasts among you.

Tim Hightower is only 55 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues, despite our persistent and increasingly desperate attempts to promote him. He decisively took Edgerrin James' job today, rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against St. Louis. The 22-year-old Hightower now has seven TDs in eight games, and he's the feature back for an offense that entered Week 9 leading the NFL in red zone possessions (34). He should be owned in all leagues, period.

Jamaal Charles shook off an ankle injury and carried 18 times for 106 yards against Tampa on Sunday. Kolby Smith (knee) is reportedly done for the season, and Larry Johnson (lunacy, expectoration) is already suspended for Week 10. The Chiefs face a user-friendly Chargers defense next week, and they still have New Orleans, Oakland, Denver and Cincinnati remaining on the schedule. Charles has breakaway speed (4.38 at the combine), and he already had the third-most receptions on the team (17). In all likelihood, he'll be ranked as a top-25 back next week. Charles should have value if/when LJ returns, too.

Ray Rice actually out-rushed all rookies and veterans on Sunday. He carried 21 times for 154 yards, filling in for an ambiguously injured Willis McGahee (ankle) and facing a sad Cleveland run defense (141.6 yards per game allowed). The Ravens backfield is messy thing, but Rice should have a role going forward. Le'Ron McClain will still get some goal-line work -- he had a one-yard rushing TD today, in fact -- and McGahee's situation in Baltimore isn't as hopeless as James' in Arizona.

For the moment, consider it a committee, and think of McGahee as an unpopular and frequently absent chairman. That team is full of flex plays, basically.

Fourth Quarter

If we had looked ahead to Week 9 back in, say, August, we probably wouldn't have guessed that Peyton Hillis would be the week's most valuable Arkansas rookie RB. He caught seven passes for 116 yards and a TD against Miami, but you're not adding him. Hillis shouldn't out-gain Brandon Marshall (two receptions, 27 yards, one brutal offensive PI call) ever again.

Things aren't just bad in Oakland, they're "Hey, we should sign Michael Vick!" bad.

Tip of the cap to Funston for calling Brent Celek's big day in relief of the concussed LJ Smith. If you picked up Celek for the day, you got the greatest receiving performance that any Eagles' tight end has ever delivered: six receptions, 131 yards.

So the Brooks Bollinger Show wasn't really any better than the Brad Johnson Show. Bollinger finished 9-for-16 with 63 passing yards and one interception. He managed to find Terrell Owens for a late touchdown, though TO still finished with 30-something yards for the fourth straight game. Jason Witten went without a catch.

If any team needs a bye, it's clearly Dallas.

The Giants schedule gets rough, quickly. And it never really lets up: at PHI, BAL, at ARZ, at WAS, PHI, at DAL, CAR, at MIN. This isn't a bad time to shop Brandon Jacobs, who rushed for 117 yards and one TD today. Yes, he's always a threat to find the end zone, but his carries are consistently in the mid-teens and he's not a serious receiving threat.

The early word on Kyle Orton is indeed a high ankle sprain, according to the Chicago Tribune. He could be out for a month. He'll still get the traditional Monday MRI.

Posted at 9:40 ET

Third Quarter

At halftime, the Oakland Raiders somehow have -2 total net yards.

Atlanta has been slightly more productive. The Falcons lead Oakland 24-0, and they're already over 300 total yards. Matt Ryan has thrown two touchdown passes to Michael Jenkins, while Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood have combined for 132 rushing yards and one TD.

Those of us who started Turner and/or Roddy White today can't quite believe we don't have a touchdown yet.

But of course there are 30 minutes left to play.

If you didn't have a rooting interest, the first half of the Cowboys-Giants game was torture. Hopefully there's another game available in your area. Eli Manning has been just fine, throwing three TD passes. Five different New York receivers have over 20 yards.

There's no obvious reason for Brad Johnson to remain in that game. He was 5-for-11 for 71 yards in the first half. Johnson was also intercepted twice and sacked twice. Brooks Bollinger time, maybe?


At halftime in Denver, Brandon Marshall was without a catch, and Miami had completely shut down both Michael Pittman and Ryan Torain. Jay Cutler and Chad Pennington are both piling up yardage, though not points.

Welcome to the fantasy season, Koren Robinson. Seneca Wallace connected with him on a 90-yard TD early in the first quarter.

No, we don't have an update on Kyle Orton just yet. But when we do, it's probably not going to be good. The best-case scenario seems like a high ankle sprain.

Posted at 6:05 ET

Second Quarter

At the conclusion of the afternoon games, Funston's preseason pet, Ray Rice, led all backs in rushing yardage. The rookie gained 154 yards on 21 carries against Cleveland, and he added three receptions for 22. If Le'Ron McClain hadn't poached a short-yardage TD, Rice could be today's leading scorer.

Willis McGahee sat with an ankle injury, and you can expect the widely-available Rice to gain fantasy relevance. That backfield situation remains a tricky one to navigate, but the Week 10 match-up at Houston is promising.

We still don't know the severity of Matt Schaub's knee injury, but we do know that there's very little difference between Schaub and his back-up, fantasy-wise. Sage Rosenfels went 21-for-29 against the Vikings with 224 yards, two TDs and one interception.

Gus Frerotte had a nice day for Minnesota (182 yards, three TDs), but you can always count on him to do something that helps the fantasy totals of the opposing defense. Today's Jacques Reeves INT return TD happened to be that play. It was a throw that Bernard Berrian should have handled, though.

The Bironases beat the Crosbys 19-16 to remain undefeated. Donald Driver had a surprisingly nice day (seven receptions, 136 yards, one TD) against a defense that gives up very little to wide receivers. Chris Johnson dominated in OT, gaining 45 of Tennessee's 55 yards.

Sure, of course. Braylon Edwards waits until we devote a post to his uselessness to have a respectable fantasy day (four receptions, 86 yards, one TD). Naturally.

Monday morning addition: So with 12:27 left in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 27, Edwards dropped a beautifully-thrown pass down the middle on third down. It might have been a touchdown, and at a minimum would have been a long game-changing pick-up. Instead, the drop led to a punt. And it wasn't Edwards' only drop of the day. He's now at 13 for the season.

Credit the blitzing Paul Posluszny with an assist on Jabari Greer's interception return TD. The linebacker applied the pressure, shook up Brett Favre, and may have altered the throw. But the decision to recklessly fire into perfect coverage? Yeah, that was all Favre.

Tampa's Matt Bryant missed a field goal on third down with 10:55 left in overtime against the Chiefs. Pushed it right. But KC can't catch a break (and they did nothing to earn one). Bucs tackle Jeremy Trueblood was flagged for a false start on the missed kick, Tampa ran another play, then Bryant nailed a 34-yarder for the win.

Jeff Garcia's game-tying TD pass to Antonio Bryant was a serious throw. Still, considering that Kansas City entered the fourth quarter leading 24-13, you'd have to call their end-game effort an implosion.

Earnest Graham was a massive disappointment against an easily-abused defense (19 carries, 62 yards, two fumbles).

Cedric Benson delivered the third 100-yard rushing effort of his frightful career. He's on a bye next week, and then the schedule gets rough (PHI, at PIT, BAL). No need to add.

Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) apparently reinjured himself against Green Bay.

Posted at 5:20 ET

Quick TE update here: Tony Scheffler (groin) is out today, but Jason Witten (ribs) is active.

Posted at 3:40 ET

First Quarter

If we're a little late with the first update, it's because we're busy adding and/or placing waiver claims on Chiefs rookie running back Jamaal Charles.

Kolby Smith was carted off the field with a knee injury in the second quarter against Tampa Bay. Larry Johnson has already been suspended for Week 10, and he obviously may face additional time off.

This leaves Charles as Kansas City's healthiest law-abiding back. He's an explosive runner, too. You might recall that Charles was one of only four backs to run sub-4.4 40-yard dashes at the NFL scouting combine. Charles has six carries for 45 yards at half for the Chiefs.

Other key early injuries: Kyle Orton suffered a serious-looking right ankle sprain or break at the end of a scramble with 26 seconds remaining in the second quarter. He was in a lot of pain. Rex Grossman will quarterback the Bears again...and probably not just for a half.

Also, Matt Schaub has been replaced by Sage Rosenfels. This from the Houston Chronicle's live blog:

Matt Schaub couldn't answer the bell to start the second half because of an injury to his left knee suffered in the second quarter.

Today's Fantasy Football Live was basically an hour-long Tim Hightower infomercial, so it was nice to see the rookie get the start. He carried seven times for 30 yards on Arizona's first series, yet this is how it ended:

1st-2, STL2, 9:32 T. Hightower rushed to the left for 1 yard gain

2nd-1, STL1, 8:53 T. Hightower rushed to the left for no gain

3rd-1, STL1, 8:09 T. Hightower rushed to the right for no gain

4th-1, STL1, 7:50 K. Warner rushed up the middle for no gain

But fear not, Hightower speculators. This is a guy you'll want to own.

Entering Week 9, the rookie had six TDs through seven games. After a 30-yard touchdown run late in the first half, Hightower has seven scores through 7.5 games, and he has 13 fantasy points so far today.

I'm not sure how Derek Stanley came up with that pass from Marc Bulger. It seemed to somehow travel through Eric Green. And then Green simply stopped running.

It looks like that Chad Johnson has chosen to have one of his binge days. These are the efforts that keep him relevant. He has two short TD receptions for Cincinnati. You'll want to find a way to shop him without appearing too desperate.

Considering the other options that are available to Dan Orlovsky, why would any defense ever attempt to control Calvin Johnson with single-coverage? That's criminal. Charles Tillman had no chance whatsoever on Johnson's 17-yard second quarter jump-ball TD.

This was really supposed to be Homecoming Week for Chicago. They're coming off a bye and facing the league's worst defense. The Bears sprinted to a 10-0 first quarter lead, thanks to a Mike Brown pick and an Orton touchdown run, but then allowed three TDs to the Lions in just over eight minutes. Jason Hanson drilled a 52-yard field goal near the end of the half to give Detroit an entirely unexpected 23-13 lead.

Pretty touchdown catch off a post route by former-sleeper/former-bust Mark Clayton. He stretched for Joe Flacco's throw, then rolled across the goal-line. At the end of the first quarter, Ray Rice had eight carries, Le'Ron McClain had two, and Willis McGahee had nothin'.

The Chiefs should perhaps throw to Tyler Thigpen more often. That dude can haul. It was a minor miracle that Mark Bradley held onto that bobbled handoff. Highlight here. Another big play from the Wildcat.

Posted at 3:07 ET.


This will serve as your official invitation to join us at noon ET for Fantasy Football Live, where DeSean Jackson's name gets misspelled in chat once every 3.5 seconds. We'll provide updates on injuries, and we'll answer a pile of start/sit questions.

Until then, gamers, please enjoy a complimentary picture of Republican activist Michael Keller Ditka...



Photos via US Presswire (Ditka, Charles, unknown Raiders fan) and AP (Rice, Hightower)

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