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Running Back Watch Report - Week 6
Mike Courter
October 10, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 KC Larry Johnson How does Johnson maintain his perch atop the RB Watch after yet another sub-par rushing performance (16 carries for 36 yards, zero touchdowns in the Chiefs 23-20 road win in Arizona)?  Answer.  By leading the Chiefs once again in receptions, catching six passes for 106 yards and a touchdown (including a 78 yard catch and run).  Johnson continues to make pass-catching lemonade out of the plentiful supply of run-blocking lemons he’s receiving from his injury-depleted offensive line this year, totaling 20 receptions (14th overall in the AFC) so far, as backup QB Damon Huard’s first option when the Chiefs are forced to throw.  Johnson wrenched his neck against the Chiefs as a result of a questionable horse-collar tackle from the KC defense and his status is currently up in the air for this Sunday’s undesirable match-up in Pittsburgh against what should be a surly bunch of Steelers, trying to crawl out of a 1-3 early season hole.            
2 SD LaDainian Tomlinson As expected, Tomlinson found little room to run against a desperate Steelers defense last Sunday night, gaining only 36 yards on 13 carries, but did catch eight passes for 34 yards.  After paying rent on Boardwalk (Baltimore) and Park Place (Pittsburgh) the last two weeks, Tomlinson gets to collect $200 and pass GO this Sunday against the vulnerable 49ers run defense, currently allowing 4.6 yards per carry.                                                                 
3 CIN Rudi Johnson Nothing like returning to NFL action after your bye week with a date against one of the league’s worst versus the run (30th out of 32 teams), the 0-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (allowing 5.0 yards per carry).  Count on Johnson to cash in on the fortunate set of circumstances that’s been presented to him.                    
4 PHI Brian Westbrook Westbrook had saved himself for last Sunday’s T.O. grudge match, missing the Monday night game against Green Bay the week before.  The multi-purpose back from Villanova contributed 86 total yards (33 rush, 53 rec.) and a touchdown in the victorious 38-24 Eagles effort.  He now counts 289 yards rushing, 217 receiving and six touchdowns (4 rush, 2 rec.) in five games.  The Eagles travel to New Orleans to face the surprising 4-1 Saints, currently yielding 4.9 yards per carry to opponents.          
5 SF Frank Gore Though he seems to have put the goal-line threat of Michael Robinson in his rearview mirror, Gore lost two touchdowns within the 10-yard line to WR Arnaz Battle last week, four and six yards, respectively.  However, Gore has re-established himself in the yardage part of the RB equation with last Sunday’s 134 yards rushing and 38 receiving against the hapless Raiders in San Francisco’s 34-20 home win over Oakland.  Heading into week six, Gore ranks as the NFL’s top rusher with 465 yards on 102 carries (4.6 avg.), but his current pace will face a rugged test this Sunday in the form of the visiting San Diego Chargers defense                                     
6 STL Stephen Jackson The NFL’s second leading rusher (465 on 113 carries-a statistical dead heat with top rusher Frank Gore) finished just shy of 100 yards (98 on 23 carries) in the Rams 23-20 road win over the Packers in Lambeau last Sunday.   This weekend Jackson and the Rams will play host to divisional rival Seattle.  In two games against Seattle last season in the Mike Martz offense, Jackson averaged 73.5 yards rushing (on 17 carries per contest) and 53.5 yards receiving per game with one touchdown scored.  Expect his carry count to reach the mid-twenties on Sunday, giving him a legitimate shot at a 100 yard game.                             
7 NYG Tiki Barber Tiki and the Giants got back to basics after their Week 4 bye, hunkering down with good defense and a consistent running game in subduing the ‘Skins, 19-3, at the Meadowlands this past weekend.  Barber recorded his second 100 yard game of the season (123 on 23 carries) but still has not found the end zone after four games played, leaving many fantasy owners in the lurch after being consistently picked as the No.4 overall selection in most fantasy drafts.  Whether it was the frank discussion over the Summer of his retiring in the not-so-distant future or his seeming contentment with however the team wants to use him, Barber just doesn’t appear to run with the same frantic urgency he did in the prior two seasons, making him a disappointment so far in 2006.  Tough draw this week in a road date with Atlanta, whose defense boasts of allowing only 3.1 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown to opponents in four games. 
8 ARZ Edgerrin James Though not all his fault, James is heading down a slippery fantasy football slope, as the Cardinals rapidly disintegrate around him.  The offensive line was a known problem at the beginning of the season, but many thought James talent as well as a dynamic passing game headed by veteran QB Kurt Warner and the top young receiving tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin would provide enough air cover to compensate for the offensive line’s run-blocking shortcomings.  With rookie QB Matt Leinart replacing the turnover-prone Kurt Warner, and the two-to-five week loss of Larry Fitzgerald to a severe hamstring pull, the once prolific Cardinals air attack is a shell of its former self, leaving even less room for James to maneuver, as evidenced by another sub 100-yard rushing game with no scores (71 on 24 carries in the Cardinals 23-20 home loss to KC).  James misfortune continues this Monday night when the Cardinals host the 2006 Monsters of the Midway, the 5-0 Chicago Bears.       
9 WAS Clinton Portis Portis was slowed by the Redskins inability to come from behind in Washington’s 19-3 road loss to the New York Giants last Sunday, limited to an admirable 76 yards rushing on 19 carries.  All week six signs point to a prosperous Sunday afternoon when the 0-5 Tennessee Titans travel to our nation’s capital.  The expected lopsided score should result in a bushel of touches for Portis, enabling him to reach minimums of 100 yards rushing and a touchdown.                         
10 NE Willis McGahee As expected, McGahee suffered through a difficult afternoon (14 carries for 50 yards) in Soldier Field as the 40-7 advantage the Bears created over the Bills removed any threat of a Buffalo running attack.  A reprieve in the form of a visit to Matt Millen’s 0-5 Detroit Lions should provide the bounce-back venue McGahee is seeking to get back on track in week six.    

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Fred Taylor (JAX) – Raise your hand if you thought Taylor would be permanent fixture on the Jaguars injury report by now, yet surprisingly, Fragile Fred has defied the odds and has not bowed to the injury Gods in 2006.  Last week, he pounded out 111 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries against the Jets and he currently sits ninth overall in the NFL in rushing yards with 367 on 92 carries (4.0 avg.).  A rarity, the veteran back will enter his bye week this Sunday, not needing time to heal and then gets league patsy Houston in week seven, helping Taylor to build a nice head of steam into the second half of the season.

Thomas Jones (CHI) – With Jones having finally gotten healthy and established himself as the Bears No.1 running back for at least another season, the seven year vet has averaged 103.5 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in Chicago’s last two games.  Jones fantasy value will remain strong so long as he stays healthy, as the Bears ferocious defense will create many more one-sided affairs in which Chicago will look to run the ball heavily in the second half of games to chew the clock in the easily-clinched outcome.  Cedric Benson’s two touchdown blip at the end of last week’s 40-7 win over Buffalo is no cause for concern for TJ owners, just one of those random occurrences that tend to pop up every now and then during a season.

Julius Jones (DAL) –  After nearly reaching 100 yards (94 on 20 carries) rushing against Washington in week two, Thomas Jones’ little brother has rattled off two consecutive 100-yard rushing days against, @ Tennessee and @ Philadelphia, respectively, placing him fifth overall in the league with 388 on 86 carries (4.5 avg.) with two touchdowns.   After an arduous road loss to the Eagles at the Linc, Jones and the Cowboys will take out their frustrations on the defenseless Texans, who currently yield 4.7 yards per carry to opposing backs and have allowed five touchdowns on the ground in four games this season.

Sliding Back

Ronnie Brown (MIA) – After being a consensus top 5 pick in a large swath of fantasy drafts, the second year back from Auburn has witnessed the disintegration of his offensive line and what appears to be another relapse in Daunte Culpepper’s efforts to restore his reputation as a difference-maker in the league.   I’m sure Dolphin fans, as well as Brown, would settle for merely a functional NFL quarterback to lead the offense at this point.  The woefully disappointing 1-4 Dolphins now turn to Lions QB castoff Joey Harrington to right the ship while Culpepper tries to regain his bearings,  a prospect that would not bode well for any franchise back, let alone one handicapped by one of the worst offensive lines in football.  Miami’s week six opponent, the New York Jets with their suspect run defense, provide a Brown with a puncher’s chance of producing an acceptable statistical level for his fantasy owners who have invested so heavily in him this year.

Kevin Jones (DET) –  Rapidly becoming fantasy football’s hard-luck kid, Jones actually showed signs of life in the new Mike Martz offensive scheme, averaging 87 yards on the ground while scoring three touchdowns in the two weeks before last Sunday’s 26-17 road loss to the Vikings.  Losing starting right guard Damien Woody at the beginning of the game, while two other starters, LG Ross Verba (hamstring) and RT Rex Tucker (knee) sat on the sideline, helped Jones reach a new low of eight yards on 10 carries before suffering a concussion on the Lions final drive of the game.  If he sufficiently recovers to make it out onto the field for week six, things don’t get any easier for Jones against a feisty Buffalo Bills defense looking to restore face after last week’s throttling at the hands of the Bears.