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Running Back Watch Report - Week 16
Mike Courter
December 19, 2006
Top Ten Fantasy RB’s to own Comment
1 SD LaDainian Tomlinson Forget about any slowdown after already claiming the single season rushing touchdown record for his own this year, Tomlinson has crafted, arguably, the finest single season in fantasy football history in 2006.  His 199 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including a patented 85-yard burst, against the Chiefs last Sunday night have put LT in a universe of his own, scoring roughly the equivalent of three above average players in a typical fantasy lineup just about every week.  San Diego’s favorite lightning bolt will continue to soar right through week sixteen (a championship week in many fantasy leagues) with a trip to Seattle against the Seahawks bleeding run defense, coming off another beating (144 rushing yards and a TD) from Frank Gore last Thursday night in week fifteen.
2 KC Larry Johnson As predicted in this column last week, LJ got the short end of the straw in his high profile, Sunday night duel with LT, failing to reach the end zone and gaining only 84 yards on 19 carries in Kansas City’s 20-9 loss at Qualcomm Stadium.  LJ should save face in week sixteen against the paper-thin (2-12) Oakland Raiders run defense on the Saturday night before Christmas day.
3 STL Steven Jackson Unfortunately lost in the Tomlinson hysteria, Stephen Jackson has had a quietly phenomenal year, producing steady, reliable yardage and scoring numbers just about every week, including last Sunday’s 127 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in the Rams’ 20-0 win over the Raiders in Oakland.  The resurgent Redskins, led by young QB Jason Campbell, pay the Rams a visit in week sixteen, which should provide ample chances for Jackson to perform at his expected high level against a mediocre defensive bunch from Washington.
4 PIT Willie Parker Fast Willie paced the Steelers smash-mouth approach against struggling Carolina in week fifteen, gaining a 132 yards and a score on 29 carries in Pittsburgh’s 37-3 de-clawing of Carolina. Unfortunate week sixteen match-up against Baltimore at home will definitely temper Parker fantasy expectations this Sunday.
5 SF Frank Gore Gore owners held their collective breath during a most of the first three quarters of San Francisco’s 24-14 Thursday night road win in Seattle, as Gore and the 49ers offense was shut down for a large portion of the contest.  The emerging 2nd year back took it up a notch in the fourth, fueling the 49ers improbable road win with a 20-yard touchdown reception and several long runs en route to a 144 yards on 29 carries and four receptions for 34 yards and a score.  Gore has a golden match-up with visiting Arizona during week sixteen, a timely gift to Gore owners during the holiday/fantasy playoff season.
6 PHI Brian Westbrook Westbrook’s ability to stay healthy for the duration of this season remains the key factor that has kept the Eagles playoff hopes very much alive, despite losing team leader Donovan McNabb a few weeks ago to a season-ending injury.  B-Dub also made history last Sunday after dazzling the Giants defense with 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns and 40 yards receiving on five catches, becoming the first player in Eagles history to rush for 1,000 yards and register at least 600 yards receiving in a single season.  A Christmas Monday night showdown with the hated Cowboys awaits Westbrook in week sixteen in what should be a wild, fantasy-conducive atmosphere.
7 MIN Chester Taylor Bummer.  With a cloud of uncertainty created by his previously bruised ribs, Taylor put many fantasy owners through the “should we or shouldn’t we play him” conundrum right before week fifteen’s kickoff against the Jets poor run defense.  Those glass-half-full owners who did play Taylor were punished with an 11 carry, 38 yards and no touchdown effort.  Adding injury to insult, the worn-out back also sustained a wrist injury during the 26-13 loss to the Jets and will have X-rays performed this week to determine the severity.            
8 NYG Tiki Barber Barber played all-around back second fiddle to Philadelphia’s Brian Westbrook’s performance in last Sunday’s 36-22 loss to the Eagles, totaling 104 yards (75 rushing, 29 receiving) and an 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.  With the Giants playoff aspirations dangling by a thread, expect Barber, in the final season of his career, to put forth a spirited effort against a recently-exposed New Orleans defense in the Meadowlands this weekend.
9 CIN Rudi Johnson Johnson was taken out of last Monday night’s game after the Bengals fell behind early to the Colts, but still managed 79 yards rushing and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s 34-16 road loss.  The Bengals travel to Denver in week sixteen in a playoff-implication game, which typically carries a sense of urgency that can sometimes create outstanding fantasy performances.
10 JAX Maurice Jones-Drew The rookie sparkplug was his usual well-balanced self in Jacksonville’s 24-17 road loss to Tennessee, accumulating 145 total yards (98 rushing) and a touchdown.  The feisty first year back suffered a knee injury during the contest and the team, while remaining hopeful MJ-D will be able to play in week sixteen, will re-evaluate his status on Wednesday, December 20th.

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

Climbing Up The Ladder

Marion Barber II (DAL) –  Barber has methodically played his way into the primary running back role for the Dallas Cowboys after starting the season in a complimentary role.  In the Cowboys 38-28 road win over the Falcons in week fifteen, Barber took over in the second half of a wild, back-and-forth scoring affair, finishing with 69 yards rushing and 27 receiving while scoring the last two touchdowns of the game, helping the Cowboys put a stranglehold on the game clock and secure the crucial road victory.  There’s no mystery in the Cowboys backfield any longer, Barber is the back that Bill Parcells relies on in the most crucial situations, especially in the red zone.  Barber will warrant another recommended fantasy start on Christmas night as the Cowboys host the Eagles in what should be a high-scoring duel.

Justin Griffith (ATL) --  With Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood being beset with simultaneous injuries, little-used fullback has assumed a touchdown scoring role to fill the current breach, scoring once two weeks ago versus the Buccaneers and twice (from four receptions for 34 yards) against the Cowboys last Saturday night.  Monitor Dunn and Norwood’s recoveries attentively before using Griffith against the Panthers this weekend in touchdown-only or leagues with 12 or more teams.

Vernand Morency (GB) – Don’t know if it will happen consistently over the last two weeks of the regular season, but Morency ran well in relief of an ailing Ahman Green, gaining 54 yards and two touchdowns on only seven carries in the Packers 17-9 home win over the Detroit Lions.  Despite the brief heroics against the lowly Lions, Morency is not a recommended play for week sixteen’s game against the Vikings and their formidable run defense.

Sliding Back

Shaun Alexander (SEA) – What a bitter disappointment the 2006 Alexander has been for the many fantasy owners that spent a No.1 or 2 overall selection on what seemed to be a no-brainer decision, despite losing All-World guard Steve Hutchinson to free agency.  Last Thursday night’s week fifteen home game against the 49ers was as good as it gets with regard to a table set for fantasy football fun. Long suffering SA owners knew he was fully back from the cracked bone in his foot after recording his 200 yard rushing game a few weeks ago and were ready to celebrate his triumphant return to ffl hero just in time for their league playoffs.  Instead, they received a cowardly performance from Alexander and his Seattle teammates, who wilted under the heat brought by both sides of the San Francisco attack in the second half of a game consumed by an unprecedented amount or rain.  Alexander’s 73 yards rushing, gained mostly in the first half of action, and a first quarter touchdown fell woefully short of expectations, driving many fantasy team’s playoff quest’s into a watery, Thursday night grave.  The 2006 season will go down in fantasy annals as the beginning of a rapid, Marshall Faulkian-like descent for the 29-year old Alexander, whose major mileage in the form of into fantasy obscurity in two or three more seasons.

Justin Fargas (OAK) – The talented underachiever from USC was given an opportunity to showcase his skills as the undisputed No. 1 running back when Lamont Jordan went on the injured reserve at the end of November.  Fargas has promptly squandered the chance, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and scoring one touchdown in 14 games played this season.  The fourth year back is not a recommended start in your lineup for week sixteen’s home game against the Chiefs as he will most likely not be on the field for long with Larry Johnson controlling the clock from the opposite side of the hash marks.

Carnell Williams (TB) --  It’s one thing for the underwhelming Justin Fargas to average 3.5 yards per carry and score one touchdown all season, but for the much-balleyhooed Williams, a first round pick in a large share of fantasy drafts this season, it is unforgivable.  The kind of misdeed that should force the former Auburn Tiger to lose the rights to his well-known nick-name.  So I’m starting a new RB Watch policy this week.  From this point forward, Williams will be referred to by his birth name, Carnell, until he earns the right to carry a nick-name through his performance on the field.  Sadly, the second-year back has been so bad this season, RB Watch is unable to recommend him for your week sixteen lineup, even against the lowly Browns.