NFL Skinny: Shaking your foundation

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It's interesting how just two weeks can shake deep-rooted beliefs in fantasy football. On Sunday night, I was talking to a LaDainian Tomlinson owner in my "buddy" league who was more than half-seriously proposing me a LT for Terrell Owens deal. I had the feeling that if some of my other friends in the league weren't there to talk him off the ledge a bit, I might have been a Tomlinson owner as I sat down to pen this column.

This is the obligatory point of the column where I teach patience. I will allow that there are some tangible value trends to be gleaned in two games worth of evidence. But let's just take a quick snapshot at post-Week 2 from last year to get a perspective on how the picture can be incredibly muddled still at this point in time.

Through two weeks of '07, Edgerrin James and LaMont Jordan were running No. 1 and No. 2 at the running back position. Shaun Alexander, Rudi Johnson, Travis Henry, Carnell Williams, Derrick Ward and Ahman Green were in the honor roll photo, as well. Prominent among the disappointments were LT, who produced 134 yards from scrimmage and a TD in the first two weeks of '07 compared to 152 yfs and 0 TD in '08; Ronnie Brown, who would proceed to average 170 yfs and score five times in the next five games before exiting for the year with an ACL injury; Maurice Jones-Drew, who would carry his scoreless streak into Week 3 before ripping off 10 touchdowns in his next 12 games; And Steven Jackson, who would exit for a month with a groin injury suffered a week later only to return as a top five running back over the final eight games of the season.

I'm only using this '07 glimpse to emphasize a point that we are still a long ways away from defining the '08 season. You'll be better served to let the foundation of your beliefs withstand a few hits before you decide to blow the whole thing up and, well, trade LT for Terrell Owens.

Week 2: Take 10
A look at 10 significant developments/situations from Week 2

1. Recall that I said there were some tangible value trends to be gleaned from two weeks of evidence. Well, Larry Johnson qualifies as an example of this. Against an Oakland defense that allowed the most fantasy points to running backs a year ago, LJ handled just 12 carries for 22 yards on Sunday. It followed a 22-carry, 74-yard effort in Week 1 against New England. If LJ can't get it done against the Raiders, something is clearly wrong. Sunday marked the first time in eight meetings that he failed to find the end zone against the Silver and Black. It was also just the third time that he didn't rush for at least 100 yards against them, and only the second time he didn't amass at least 122 yards from scrimmage.

After the game, Johnson griped about being pulled on third downs, and for his lack of work. Andy Behrens covered the post-game show that was Johnson's mouth here. Johnson says he needs 20-30 carries to be effective. But it's not as though head coach Herm Edwards has completely embraced the platoon movement that has spread throughout the league. Of the 53 total touches by Chiefs running backs, so far, Johnson has accounted for 35 of them (66 percent). And he's handled 74 percent of the team's rushing attempts (34 of 46).

Simply put, the Chiefs are just a very bad team. They rank 27th in offense and 24th in defense. They have, perhaps, the league's worst offensive line and QB position. Even with 20-30 carries, Johnson's not going rekindle memories of the Priest Holmes/LJ glory days of old.

2. I have to admit, I'm warming to the whole backfield platoon movement. Already, we've seen touchdowns from 39 different running backs, and 42 running backs are averaging at least 10 touches per game (and that doesn't include the likes of Laurence Maroney, Maurice Jones-Drew, Felix Jones, and the Denver trio). It's created a wealth of opportunities on the waiver wire in your typical fantasy league. And it's added another level of trepidation as you fill out your lineup each week. In that buddy league I mentioned, I have to make a weekly decision between MoJo, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, LenDale White, Fred Taylor and Pierre Thomas. Pick two? In Week 1, the combo of Johnson and White more than doubled the output of my starters, MoJo and McFadden. In Week 2, McFadden went to my bench in favor of Johnson and that 10-plus point loss to my bottom line could very well cost me a victory (to be determined on Monday night). Backfield judgment calls will probably be the bane of my '08 fantasy football existence, but if you don't enjoy a challenge, you shouldn't be playing this game.

3. Jay Cutler could very well be the equivalent of Google stock circa '05 – the company's stock jumped nearly 250 dollars per share from April to December of that year. So far, Cutler has produced the buzz receiver of Week 1 (Eddie Royal) and Week 2 (Brandon Marshall). His combined 650 passing yards and six TD passes has landed him at No. 1 among fantasy scorers through two weeks. A lot of us thought a strong finish to '07 and the diagnosis of his diabetes issues would lead to a breakout in '08. But, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who ranked him among the top half dozen fantasy quarterbacks heading into the season. In a re-draft right now, there'd likely be few leagues where he would fall past the top four at the position. And, if the Tennessee Titans had the benefit of hindsight, obviously there's no way they'd let the Vandy dandy slide past them at No. 3 in favor of Vince Young back in '06.

4. Cutler is salt in the wounds of those who passed him over in favor of Carson Palmer and Derek Anderson. While certainly their individual efforts can't be pardoned, both AFC North signal-callers have been victims of some tough matchups and some inclement weather. Combined they've been able to produce just one TD pass to five interceptions through two games. In Week 3, Cincinnati travels to play the New York Giants and Cleveland heads to Baltimore. In other words, no light to be seen in this tunnel yet.

5. San Francisco's J.T. O'Sullivan (321 passing yards, 32 rushing yards, 1 TD pass, 0 INTs) and Seattle's Julius Jones (141 yards from scrimmage, 1 TD) were the stars for their respective squads in Sunday's 33-30 overtime affair won by the 49ers. If you didn't have them in your lineup for Week 2, you might at least want to give them strong consideration this coming week. O'Sullivan hosts Detroit and Jones hosts St. Louis. The Lions and Rams are the two worst defenses in the league, thus far. Detroit has allowed 41 points per game and 460.5 yards of offense. St. Louis has allowed 39.5 points per game and 481.5 yards of offense.

6. Week 1 star Willie Parker was third in the league in carries last season, despite missing one game. And, through two games in '08, Parker has at least five more carries (53) than any other back in the league. And what about that rookie running back that was supposed to come in and cut into Parker's carries and steal his goal-line glory? Rashard Mendenhall received nary a touch in a wet, sloppy Sunday night victory at Cleveland. He did handle 10 carries in Week 1 when the Steelers jumped out to a big lead on Houston. But, clearly, the Steelers have indicated that the meaningful minutes are all Parker's for now. Mendenhall's touches are going to have to build up the old-fashioned way – he's going to have to earn them.

7. The expectation that New England would play more conservatively with Matt Cassel at quarterback certainly played out as predicted on Sunday. Against the Jets, the Pats ran 33 times and passed 23 times. But, perhaps the biggest surprise was that LaMont Jordan led the team with 11 rush attempts (62 yards), most coming in the second half with Laurence Maroney nursing a sore shoulder. The problem is, in a tightly-fought battle, Jordan was by far the most effective of the Pats' backs. What you have now is a four-headed platoon, with Kevin Faulk dominating passing downs (he had 50 receiving yards), Sammy Morris splitting carries and dominating goal-line carries, and Maroney figuring as the most regular between-the-20s option. Jordan is the X-factor, capable of filling in at any of the others' role. It's a worse mess than the three-way quagmire in Denver's backfield.

8. On our Fantasy Football Live show, I picked Earnest Graham for my Week 2 stud. After head coach Jon Gruden conceded last week that he needed to find more touches for Graham, I expected big things going against Atlanta's run defense at home. Graham did touch the ball a few more times against the Falcons and, thankfully, he saved my butt with a 68-yard scoring romp late in the fourth quarter. But that veteran Warrick Dunn handled the rock 15 times to Graham's 16 and also had a red-zone TD run is irksome. After tallying nearly 1,000 yards of offense (962) in the eight games from Week 7-15 last season, Graham deserves better than a dead-even platoon role with the 33-year-old Dunn. If I'm a Graham owner (and I'm not), I'm touting Graham's spot as a current top 10 fantasy running back. And I'm reminding everyone I can about his late '07 exploits. And as soon as I have a solid bite, I'm dealing him.

9. It shouldn't be long before we see rookie running back Jonathan Stewart taking a two-thirds majority of the carries in Carolina's backfield. I said all preseason that Stewart was a better all-around back than DeAngelo Williams. And, through two games, Stewart is averaging nearly a yard-and-a-half more per carry and has taken the goal-line action (two touchdowns on Sunday). There's a possibility that Stewart could ascend to a starting role next week, but I think we'll see the touches consistently favor Stewart going forward regardless of who is on the field for the opening series of the game.

10. The first game without Marques Colston (thumb) was rough for the Saints passing game. Only one New Orleans wide receiver (David Patten) caught more than two passes. As expected, Reggie Bush helped out considerably with seven catches for 63 yards. But, the lack of a big, Colston-type go-to option clearly hurt in a 29-24 loss at Washington. Robert Meachem, who had a fantastic preseason, was activated for the game after being a healthy scratch in Week 1, and turned his only target into a 19-yard touchdown. I can't see how Meachem doesn't carve out a much bigger role going forward. Devery Henderson is way too all-or-nothing (and he lands on the nothing side way too often). And David Patten is a low-upside possession guy. Meachem offers the most upside of the currently healthy New Orleans receivers. I fully expect Meachem to be the most valuable fantasy receiver of this group until Colston returns (possibly not until mid-October).

Week 3 Short List
Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 3

QB J.T. O'Sullivan, SF (59% owned) – I've seen some "take it with a grain of salt" reactions to O'Sullivan's big day at Seattle on Sunday. But I have to give the guy credit. Seattle pinned its ears back and went after him. And though he was sacked eight times, he kept his composure, stepped up into his throws and delivered them with accuracy despite guys in his face and showed some nifty footwork to avoid some potentially bad situations – he rushed for 32 yards. He's got a couple very attractive matchups on the immediate schedule (Detroit in Week 3 and New Orleans in Week 4).
QB Jason Campbell, Was (59% owned) – He hung 321 yards and a TD pass on a banged-up New Orleans defense on Sunday. He's backup material, but you have to like that Week 6-8 schedule: vs. St. Louis, vs. Cleveland and at Detroit.
Trent Edwards, Buf (43%) – Here's an option for owners looking ahead at replacements for Week 4 bye casualties Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Jon Kitna, Eli Manning and Matt Cassel. Edwards, who completed 20-of-25 passes on Sunday, plays St. Louis in Week 4.
RB Michael Bush, Oak (10%) – Bush carried 16 times for 90 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, seeing increased opportunities after Justin Fargas left with a groin injury. For as long as Fargas is out (could be a while), Bush is likely to get 12-15 touches in Oakland's run-heavy offense splitting time with Darren McFadden.
RB Jerious Norwood, Atl (77%) – Not much doing for Norwood at Tampa in Week 2 (6-for-18), but 10-12 touches backing up Michael Turner in Week 3 could prove fruitful against the generous Kansas City run defense.
RB Darren Sproles (55%) – Electric is the word for Sproles' 317 all-purpose-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 2. Opportunities are typically slim backing up LaDainian Tomlinson, but Sproles might be able to carve out a regular 8-10 touches, especially after Sunday's statement. At the very least, he's a must-handcuff for LT owners.
RB Derrick Ward, NYG (29%) – Ahmad Bradshaw stole Ward's thunder in Week 2, but in normal weeks (when the Giants aren't blowing their opponent out), Ward will be the main backup to Brandon Jacobs and should be good for a consistent 12-for-50 type line with some touchdowns sprinkled in along the way.
RB Pierre Thomas, NO (47%) – He's getting 10 touches a week in one of the league's best offenses and is a factor at the goal line. To reiterate, there's a good chance he makes Deuce McAllister expendable in the near future.
RB Warrick Dunn, TB (45%) – The reality is that Dunn has a significant role in the Bucs' backfield, so he's a viable fantasy component when the matchup is right.
RB Tim Hightower, Ari (44%) – He's scored in each of his first two games and his carry load rose to 10 in Week 2.
RB Steve Slaton, Hou (56%) – He's running No. 1 in the Houston backfield for now. You don't really want anything to do with his Week 3 matchup with Tennessee, but upcoming showdowns with Detroit (6.1 yards per carry allowed) and Indy (4.9 ypc) offer some intrigue.
RB Michael Pittman, Den (25%) – He's not going to see a ton of touches, but he's the goal-line back in the league's top offense right now, and that's already yielded three touchdowns.
RB Fred Jackson, Buf (9%) – He's a nice solution for the modest arm strength of Trent Edwards. Jackson caught seven balls for 83 yards out of the backfield on Sunday, and he'll likely continue to be used heavily in this manner.
WR Bryant Johnson, SF (53%) – He caught a one-yard quick slant for a touchdown on Sunday and tallied 78 yards in total. With a couple nice upcoming matchups on the 49ers' schedule, Johnson is a very attractive add.
WR Isaac Bruce, SF (53%) – His 153 yards on Sunday came by way of a few very long gainers (all four catches went for 27-plus yards). He knows this Mike Martz offense well and he looked very youthful in burning the Seattle secondary.
WR Kevin Walter, Hou (54%) – He managed 41 yards and a TD in difficult circumstances in Week 1. He needs to be universally owned.
WR Justin Gage, Ten (38%) – He picked up 59 receiving yards and a TD in his first game with Kerry Collins.
WR Robert Meachem, NO (32%) – He caught a 19-yard TD on Sunday, and there's a ton of upside here considering his talent and the strength of the Saints' offense. He's an easy one to gamble on.
WR James Jones, GB (10%) – He's the Packers' No. 3, but this offense affords that spot enough opportunities to carve out a fantasy living. Jones found pay dirt on Sunday and was very active after sitting out Week 1 with a sore knee.
TE John Carlson, Sea (21%) – If you watched Sunday's contest, Carlson was Matt Hasselbeck's go-to guy, and he hung on to everything thrown his way, finishing with six catches for 78 yards.
TE Owen Daniels, Hou (64%) – Had to put him here as he's, in my opinion, a top 10 tight end that can be had in nearly 40 percent of leagues.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson, SD (toe) – His turf toe is still bothering him and it will probably be a few weeks before it's a non-issue.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac (ankle) – His ankle is not 100 percent and it has to be assumed it's a reason why his workload hasn't met expectations these past two weeks.
RB Laurence Maroney, NE (knee) – He dinged his shoulder on Sunday, opening the door for LaMont Jordan. While the shoulder injury is not serious, the multiple threats to Maroney's playing time are very concerning.
RB Darren McFadden, Oak (toe) – Another meddlesome turf toe injury but, like Tomlinson, Run-DMC is expected to persevere.
RB Ryan Grant, GB (hamstring) – Grant still hasn't completely put his preseason hamstring injury behind him and, until he does, expect Brandon Jackson and Kregg Lumpkin to continue to infringe on his playing time.
WR Joey Galloway, TB (foot) – Galloway reportedly sprained his foot on Sunday and could very likely miss a trip to Chicago in Week 3.
TE Dallas Clark, Ind (knee) – Clark sat in Week 2, and there's a good chance he'll be listed as questionable for Week 3 against Jacksonville.
OL Tony Ugoh, Ind (groin) – Ugoh hurt his groin on Sunday and, if he can't go in Week 3, it could be another rough week for Colts RB Joseph Addai. Remember, Indy is already without the services of Center Jeff Saturday.

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