I believe the biggest development in '06 has been the rise of running back platoons. With so many backs seeing at least 10-12 carries a week, scarcity at the position hasn't afflicted fantasy teams like it has in the past – last season, 45 running backs carried at least 100 times; with four games left in this season, 41 running backs have already reached that plateau. And with few players showing regular consistency at quarterback and receiver (especially quarterback), we may see a shift of emphasis away from running backs in those earlier rounds of '07 fantasy drafts, as owners look to ensure they get the consistency offered by a Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer or Drew Brees, to name a few. I guess it remains to be seen, and things could change if some of these dynamic young running backs are afforded more than just platoon carries heading into next season. But, if you no longer have the hope of the fantasy playoffs this season, why not start thinking about '07 now? For those who still have something to play for in '06, here's a look back at what went down in Week 13:
Week 13 Update: Need-to-know info from the past few days
Monday night was a coming out party for Carolina rookie DeAngelo Williams. Sure, he had a 74-yard rushing day in Week 2 that included a touchdown, and, yes, he topped 100 rushing yards for the first time against St. Louis in Week 11 (who hasn't rushed for 100 yards against the Rams?), but Monday night he was finally a fully-featured pain-in-the-neck for an opposing defense, in this case the Eagles. The fantasy pundits on this site, and many others, have been espousing the virtues of this guy's athletic ability all season, and he finally put up a performance worthy of his incessant buzz. It seemed ironic that Williams broke out (17 carries, 74 rushing yards, 7 catches 101 yards, TD) against the Eagles, because Philly RB Brian Westbrook might be one of the best comparisons for Williams – smaller in stature, lightning quick, multi-dimensional. Despite the mountainous amount of praise heaped on Williams this season by the experts, Williams was still available in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues heading into Monday night's tilt.
Without doing exhaustive research, I'm going to claim that this is the best rookie running back class of my fantasy lifetime, at least in terms of depth of talent. In addition to Williams, Reggie Bush is coming off a four touchdown game a week after Indy RB Joseph Addai found pay dirt four times. Then you have Maurice Jones-Drew, another player worth the price of admission – he's averaged over nine yards per carry the past two weeks and has scored in four straight. But, in the open field, there isn't a rookie I like watching run more than Atlanta's Jerious Norwood. His speed is otherworldly – see Sunday's 69-yard TD jaunt if you need proof. I'd love to see this guy carry the ball 15-20 times a game. Week 13 marked the second time that Norwood has topped 100 rushing yards, and he had less than 10 carries on each occasion. For the season, he's averaging 6.7 yards per carry (77 carries). I have a sneaking suspicion that Norwood might see 10-plus carries on average the rest of the way. The (soon-to-be) 32-year-old Warrick Dunn seems to be slowing down as the season drags on. He's averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in his past seven games. Head coach Jim Mora Jr. would be wise to employ the fresh legs of Norwood often in the final month. As of last Saturday, Norwood was available in 96 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and his upside begs for fantasy owners to pick him up on the chance that his role does, indeed, increase.
Skip forward a couple sentences if you've heard this one already – Marcel Shipp scored three touchdowns at St. Louis four years ago. He hadn't scored a touchdown since then (505 touches), that is until Sunday, when he scored three more touchdowns at St. Louis. I didn't have the luxury of volume while viewing the Rams/Cardinals game at my local watering hole on Sunday, so I didn't pick up on this statistical oddity until I read about it on the Arizona Republic on Monday. Anomalies aside, what the heck was Shipp doing stealing a hat trick from Edgerrin James? Head coach Dennis Green had a simple answer: "It was a change of pace." Pace changing, unfortunately, is rarely fantasy-friendly. With nearly everyone clued into the fact that James was actually in line for a big day against a downright awful St. Louis run defense, no doubt Edge was started in a plethora of leagues. He did finish with more than 100 rushing yards, but three rushing scores of less than 10 yards went to Shipp. Said James, "I told Shipp, 'You can go get all the touchdowns; I want to get some yards. If anybody knows me, they know I'm not trippin' on the touchdowns because I know they are going to come." Considering Shipp matched James' season TD total on Sunday, I'm not sure where Edge is getting his confidence that he's going to see a windfall of TDs in the near future.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues
QB – Vince Young, Ten
In many leagues, Young is a top five fantasy quarterback over the past month, landing ahead of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, among others. In that span, he has 5 TD passes, 2 TD runs and has averaged 181 passing yards and 59 rushing yards. He's showing improvement as a passer, completing more than 60 percent of his passes the past two weeks. In Week 14, he faces a Houston defense that he threw for a score and ran for a score against in Week 8. Young, available in 69 percent of Yahoo! leagues, makes for a solid plug-n-play this week, and he just oozes with the kind of upside that screams for fantasy owners to buy in on.
RB – Cedric Houston, NYJ
In its past eight games, Buffalo has allowed five 100-yard rushers and 11 rushing touchdowns. That's relevant information if you are in the market for a running back and Houston happens to be a waiver wire option in your league – He's available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Houston is coming off a 22-carry, 105-yard, two-touchdown performance on Sunday and faces a Bills defense that he scored against in Week 3. With Kevan Barlow falling out of favor, Houston's role is increasing. And, with December weather setting in, Houston's north-south style should be leaned on more so than teammate Leon Washington's more jitterbug-ish approach.
WR – Matt Jones, Jac
After suffering through a groin injury that essentially rendered him a non-factor for most of the first half of the season, Jones has scored in each of the past two weeks and topped 100 yards on Sunday. Jones' past nine catches have averaged just short of 21 yards per reception, a good indication that he's fully healthy once again. Because of his groin interruption earlier in the year, Jones has been made available in 63 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Like Young above, his physical skills are so good that it behooves fantasy owners to pick him up in case he catches fire down the stretch.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Chad Pennington, NYJ, QB – As the schedule has eased up, Pennington has rediscovered his groove, averaging 275 passing yards in his past two games.
Jeff Garcia, Phi, QB – In the 11 quarters he's played since Donovan McNabb's season-ending knee injury, Garcia has thrown six TDs (three on Monday night) without an interception.
Mike Furrey, Det, WR – Furrey has been targeted 34 times in the past three games, good for third among receivers in that span. He parlayed 12 targets into nine catches, 123 yards and a TD on Sunday, and he's hit at least 67 receiving yards in five of his past six games.
Ladell Betts, Was, RB – With 155 rushing yards (and a TD) on Sunday, Betts is now averaging over 100 rushing yards for his career in games in which he receives 15-plus carries.
David Carr, Hou, QB – What's worse than the fact that Carr threw for just 32 yards on Sunday? Well, how about the fact that he has just one TD pass in his past 182 pass attempts.
Rex Grossman, Chi, QB – In case you've been hanging out under a rock of late, you should know that Grossman now has six interceptions and zero TD passes in his past two games. He's had three interceptions or more in four of his past seven games.