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Running Back Watch Report - Week 4
Mike Courter
September 26, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Alexander’s broken foot and LJ’s ravaged offensive line have opened the door for Tomlinson to recapture the top perch of the running back ladder.  His next two games, this week @ Baltimore and a home game against Pittsburgh, will go a long way toward proving if he rightfully deserves it.          
2 PHI Brian Westbrook With the top tier of 2006 backs being fraught with underachievers, Westbrook used a monster game (164 total yards, 3 TDs) at Monster Park in week three to catapult himself near the top of the RB Watch List.  Westbrook is now ninth overall in rushing yards with 256 on 44 carries (5.8 avg.) with three rushing scores and also counts 15 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns on the year, making him especially lethal in points-per-reception leagues.  More fun awaits with a fantasy friendly match against defenseless Green Bay on Monday Night in week four.                                                                
3 KC Larry Johnson Johnson and his K.C. teammates should be fresh coming off their week three bye, poised to hit the ground running at home against a San Francisco 49ers team currently allowing 4.7 yards per carry to opposing backs.                  
4 CIN Rudi Johnson After enduring a fierce battle with arch-rival Pittsburgh in week three (19 carries for 47 yards), Johnson should find a lot less resistance this weekend at home against a Patriots defense that just gave up 123 yards on the ground to Denver’s Tatum Bell in last weekend’s 17-7 home loss to the Broncos.         
5 NYG Tiki Barber Barber has become yet another premier RB mired in mediocrity in 2006, but, at least in the last two week’s, he’s been a victim of his team’s performance rather than anything done by his own hand.  Last Sunday, the Giants stumbled out of the gate for the second week in a row, falling behind 35-3 at halftime to Seattle, effectively removing Barber from running the ball and he only caught 4 passes (for 14 yards) since Eli Manning had to try for longer gains downfield to make the final score a deceptive 42-30 lambasting of New York by the Seahawks and their infamous 12th man home crowd.  The Giants hope to heal their wounded pride more than anything else during their bye this weekend.                                   
6 ARI Edgerrin James James played well in the Cardinals 16-14 heart-breaking home loss to the Rams in week three, grinding out nearly 100 yards (94) and a touchdown on 24 carries. The Cardinals travel to Atlanta in week four to face a suddenly vulnerable Falcons defense that has been slowed by injuries to impact players, DE John Abraham and LB Ed Hartwell.                             
7 STL Stephen Jackson Jackson continues to be all-yardage, all of the time through three weeks, failing to find the end zone again while pounding out 62 yards on 24 carries and tallying another 59 yards on three catches.  The Rams welcome the 0-3 Lions to St. Louis in week four which could provide a breakout venue for Jackson as he and the other St. Louis skill players become increasingly familiar with Scott Linehan’s new offense.
8 SF Frank Gore An unfortunate fumble near the Philadelphia goal line (which was returned 98 yards the other way for a score by Eagles DL Mike Patterson) became even more so when Gore came out of the pile up requiring trainer’s assistance, later confirmed as an abdominal strain.  The injury cut Gore’s efforts short last week, leaving him at 52 yards rushing, 22 receiving, and left Gore fantasy owners sick watching backup Michael Robinson score two one-yard plunges during the Niners futile comeback attempt in their week three 38-24 home loss.    
9 ATL Warrick Dunn Dunn, a proud native Louisianan, was in a tough spot on Monday night as part of the visiting Falcons team that faced the New Orleans Saints during the much-ballyhooed grand re-opening of the New Orleans Superdome.  His atypical 44 yards on 13 carries could have been a result of the fast start the Saints took during the beginning of the game (20-3 halftime lead thanks to a blocked punt return for a touchdown), but MNF in-game camera shots also made him appear conflicted.  A trip to Carolina to play a self-doubting Panthers defense should provide the bounce back platform Dunn is seeking.                   
10 BUF Willis McGahee McGahee’s 150 yards rushing on 26 carries in Buffalo’s bewildering 28-20 home loss to the New York Jets was enough to force his way back onto the RB Watch list, though he barely squeezed through the door, settling into the last slot.  The former Miami Hurricane will try to find the end zone for the first time this weekend against a visiting Vikings team that has allowed two rushing touchdowns in three games this season.           

(Note – this listing considers the rankings of RB’s if a draft was held today)

Climbing Up The Ladder

Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX) – We had heard about Jones-Drew’s powerful explosiveness from Jack Del Rio and other coaches in the Jaguars camp during the preseason, but hadn’t really been able to witness it in live game action until last Sunday in Indianapolis.  The squat sparkplug was the motor in the Jaguars offense, despite a healthy Fred Taylor also receiving touches,  rushing for 103 yards on 13 carries and catching four passes for 32 yards and a score (7 yards).  The Jaguars travel to Washington, D.C. to face a stingy Redskins run defense, yielding just 3.4 yards per carry.

Tatum Bell (DEN) – Bell rewarded Mike Shanahan’s surprising show of faith in the former Oklahoma State star by running strong (123 yards on 27 carries) in the Broncos 17-7 road mastery of the New England Patriots last Sunday night.  The three year back has apparently held off the early season challenge from rookie Mike Bell and is poised to be the No.1 back behind Denver’s prolific run-blocking scheme.  Bell sits this week on a bye and once he gets past his week five home date with the Ravens defense, he’ll face a delicious triple scoop of soft-serve run defenses- Oakland, @ Cleveland and Indianapolis.

Ahman Green (GB) –  Don’t look now, but one of fantasy football’s perennial disappointments is compiling a shockingly consistent statistical year through three games in 2006, accumulating 215 yards rushing and 138 and a touchdown receiving.  The Packers face Philadelphia on Monday night, but after that, Green gets the Rams in week five, a bye, and then two more less-than-stellar defensive groups in Miami and Arizona to build momentum for the stretch run of of the season.

Sliding Back

Shaun Alexander (SEA) – After three weeks of un-MVP-like play, Alexander finally gave in to the Madden curse last weekend, leaving the Seahawks 42-30 win over the New York Giants toward the end of the second half with a now-confirmed broken left foot.  Early reports are that it will take a minimum” couple of weeks” with Alexander’s fantasy owners now held-hostage by their top pick and his misfortune of gracing the 2006 cover of the Madden football video game.  The next two weeks are @ Chicago and a bye, so the damage is minimized and a speedy three week rehabilitation will bring him back just in time for a slew of favorable matchups against the Raiders, 49ers, Rams, Packers and Chiefs during the months of October and November.

Ronnie Brown (MIA) –  Facing one of the more accommodating run defenses in the NFL in the Titans during week three’s 13-10 Miami win over the Tennessee,  Brown failed to rush for 100 yards in a single game again (26 carries for 90 yards) and did not reach the end zone as well.  A struggling offensive line and quarterback (Culpepper) are certainly contributing factors, but much more was expected of Brown at this point.  Like the Redskins running game last week, Brown hopes to jumpstart his 2006 campaign at the expense of league laughingstock Houston (Texans allowing 4.6 yards per carry and five touchdowns in three games) in week four.

Jamal Lewis (BAL) –  Frustrated fantasy owners of Jamal Lewis have to be sick and tired of watching Brian Billick and his overly-cautious coaching staff continue to monitor Lewis’ touches like Tony LaRussa obsesses over a lefty, middle-reliever’s pitch count.  For the past two weeks, the Ravens have kept their 235 pound bull dozer under wraps, keeping him at a ceiling of 17-20 carries average through three games, completely squandering the fantasy low-hanging fruit in the form of the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns defenses in week’s two and three, respectively.  Those who conjectured that Lewis might have a rebound year under the umbrella of new quarterback Steve McNair’s passing have been sorely disappointed after the first three games as Baltimore seems very content to micro-manage Lewis’s activity on the field in an attempt to preserve him for the end of the year.