Must Start: The Top 15
1. LaDainian Tomlinson @ NYJ –
I couldn’t begin to tell you how the folks at Elias calculate
QB ratings but I CAN tell you this: through eight weeks, L.T.
tops the list (along with Sage Rosenfels) at 158.3. For some ungodly
reason, that’s the maximum, and further proof that the former
Horned Frog is the most valuable player in the entire NFL. Not
that you really needed the reminder.
2. Shaun Alexander @ ARI –
The next most valuable player has Seattle positioned to finally
realize its enormous potential in the suddenly wide-open NFC.
If you can’t win a championship without a solid running
game and error-free QB play (you can’t), then the ‘Hawks,
at least for now, are on a crash course with destiny. We’ll
see how it plays out.
3. Lamont Jordan @ KC –
We expected to see Brian Westbrook lead all backs in receiving
yardage this season. He is, after all, a wideout disguised as
a rock-toter. Jordan, though? He hardly looks the part of a dual
threat. Nevertheless, he’s averaging over 115 all-purpose
yards per game (thanks to 40+ per in the passing game) and trails
only L.T. and Alexander in total touchdowns. Good enough for the
#3 slot in my book.
4. Edgerrin James @ NE –
Edge leads everyone in yards per game (a shade under 140 per tilt)
and has finally started to find paydirt with regularity, as well,
tallying eight touchdowns in seven games. This Monday night, he
draws old nemesis, New England, in a game that will either validate
the new and improved Colts or remind them (painfully) that the
gap between them and the AFC’s other best franchise still
5. Tiki Barber @ SF –
Thanks to a vastly improved receiving corps, Tiki’s totals
in the passing game are well below his career average thus far.
No matter. He’s on pace to set a personal best in rushing
yardage and has also crossed the goal line six times already.
That makes him a must-start in any format, especially facing a
horrible Niners defense that will have its collective hands full
with Eli and Co.
6. Thomas Jones @ NO –
Don’t look now but the Bears have taken control of the NFC
North. They have a solid defense and Mr. Jones to thank for that,
primarily. Expect a similar recipe in Baton Rouge this weekend
as the Saints are starting to come apart at the seams (nearly
200 rushing yards surrendered in Week 8). I’m thinking something
along the lines of 125 yards and a score if you wanna get particular.
7. Fred Taylor v. HOU –
It’s always risky starting Taylor and last week is a perfect
example of why. He started the day as a dreaded “game-time
decision” but finished it as the third-most productive back
(165 yards) behind Tiki and Steven Jackson. He even tossed in
a classic Fred Taylor home run (a 71-yard scoring scamper) for
good measure. All systems are go for this weekend and since he
faces the woeful Texans, he’s one of your better suit-ups.
8. Willie Parker @ GB –
He’s only scored once in the past five weeks and has been
sharing the rock with Bus the past four. I should say WAS sharing
the rock with Bus. This week, he splits carries with the virtually
untested Duce Staley and Verron Haynes. I’ve got a sneaking
suspicion that means he’ll get well over 20 totes at Lambeau.
Factor in the injury to Big Ben and the insertion of Charlie Batch
(!) into the starting lineup and you’ve got a solid play
at your #2 spot.
9. Larry Johnson v. OAK –
With Priest on the sidelines, Larry Johnson owners catch a break.
Johnson gained 290+ yards and four touchdowns in the two meetings
last season. A statistical anomaly or a sign of things to come?
The absence of Willie Roaf is a concern but we’d be happy
with triple digits and a trip to the end zone, wouldn’t
we? Nod your head.
10. Warrick Dunn @ MIA –
Speaking of statistical anomalies…. Dunn is on pace to rush
for over 1,600 yards this season, almost 500 more than he’s
ever rushed for in his career. The amazing part? He still hasn’t
carried it more than 25 times in a game, the benchmark for top-tier
feature backs. T.J. Duckett looks to be hit-and-miss for the trip
to Miami so that means the former Seminole should still get the
majority of the touches in Week 9. Start him.
11. Domanick Davis @ JAX –
He’s listed as questionable at the moment, presumably because
the Texans are reluctant to risk losing their only legitimate
offensive weapon in practice. I wouldn’t be too worried
until he misses Friday’s practice, the customary red flag
for banged-up players. If he plays, he’ll be good for about
80-100 yards and, we hope, a touch.
12. Stephen Davis @ TB –
He failed to get 20 carries (again). He failed to outgain his
running mate (again). He failed to be a factor in the passing
game (again). Why are we still talking about Mr. Davis? TD-only
leaguers know why. Start him, even against Tampa’s fairly
13. Brian Westbrook @ WAS –
If you’re in a league that rewards points for receptions,
have I got a back for you! He doesn’t do much in the running
game. In fact, calling him a “back” at all is stretching
the definition a bit. Nevertheless, he’s a monster in the
passing game and has even tallied more TD receptions than guys
like Moss, Boldin, Driver, and Smith (Rod). Give him a look against
Washington this Sunday night.
14. Corey Dillon v. IND –
Dillon’s owners had to be sweating bullets when the Pats
opened with Patrick Pass lining up behind Brady. Lucky for them,
the former Dawg did eventually make an appearance and, not only
that, managed to push two across for six in the come-from-behind
win over Buffalo. New England will be without Mr. Pass this Monday
and that means their only other option aside from the less-than-100%
Dillon is Heath Evans…or a five-WR set. Translation? Start
15. Rudi Johnson @ BAL –
It seems short-sighted to call him a disappointment thus far,
but from a purely fantasy perspective, there’s no denying
the facts. He’s only scored twice in eight games and hasn’t
topped the century mark since Week 1. That’s a lotta average
days, folks, and the primary reason he’s in danger of slipping
outta the top 15. Give him one more go against a short-handed
Ravens squad but have a contingency plan if you’re heading
toward the playoffs.
Grab A Helmet:
Clinton Portis v. PHI –
He followed up his best day as a Redskin (101 yards and three
scores) with his worst (nine yards on four carries) and must now
rebound against a Philly crew that, although dangerous, has lost
its way of late. If Washington stands any chance in this one,
he’ll need to be better. My guess is he will be, though
not good enough to secure a victory for the boys from D.C.
Ronnie Brown v. ATL –
It was only the Saints but Brown finally got the necessary touches
to be a fantasy force in Week 8 (23 carries for 106 yards). Though
he’s still gonna split totes with Ricky, he’s a good
start when the matchup is favorable. Believe it or not, it is
this weekend, as the Falcons have yielded a generous 4.7/carry
and close to 120 per game. Miami won’t win (I don’t
think) but they’ll stay in it ‘til the end, reason
enough to start him.
Kevin Jones @ MIN – His
Week 8 numbers didn’t jump off the sports page at you (66
yards and a score) but were at least, considering the competition,
encouraging. This Sunday, he draws a Vikings defense that, if
it hasn’t already hit rock bottom, is well on its way. When
players (good ones) start grousing about schemes and strategy,
you know the mutiny can’t be far off. OK, come on. That
Mewelde Moore v. DET –
Some might argue he’s all the Vikes have going for them
at this point. Though I disagree (see Johnson, Brad), it’s
not hard to see why. The usually prolific Minny offense is now
a bottom five outfit, thanks mostly to the departure of Mr. Moss
and a sub-par season from the other supposed superstar, Daunte.
My guess is the new QB ropes Moore into the passing game more
successfully than even Culpepper did. Give him a go.
Chris Brown @ CLE – Look
up the word “nondescript” in the dictionary and you’ll
see a picture of this guy. Though big and fast and capable of
more, he never seems to do a whole lot when all is said and done
(no 100-yard games in ’05). On the other hand, he is squaring
off against the Browns this weekend, a group that has had trouble
slowing down opposing ball carriers. Provided he doesn’t
go back to splitting touches with Travis Henry, he could be a
sneaky play in Week 9.
Grab A Gatorade:
Jamal Lewis v. CIN – The
3.0 yards/carry figure is a full yard fewer than he’s averaged
at any point in his career. Making matters worse, he’s barely
outperforming his backup, the more versatile and, perhaps, more
valuable Chester Taylor. You’ve seen how the platoon thing
muddles the picture on good teams (Cincy and KC). Here’s
how it affects bad ones. Sit him down.
Antowain Smith v. CHI –
I’m not even convinced he’d be worth starting if he
DIDN’T share carries with Aaron Stecker. Since smoking the
Falcons in Week 6, Smith has only tallied 89 rushing yards and
no scores. Hard to fathom that will change in Week 9 against a
Chicago run defense that gave up its very first rushing score
just last week. Only if you’re decimated by injuries or
stuck with one of…
Any Arizona RB v. SEA –
…these guys. Seriously, is Denny Green kidding? How does
he suppose he’ll lead the perpetually drifting Cards outta
the desert if he doesn’t establish a running game? Though
technically not the worst ground attack in the NFL (that would
be Philly), it might as well be. Arizona’s totals through
Week 8? 71 yards/game, three yards/carry, and STILL no touchdowns.
Split that up between two backs and the numbers look even more
laughable. No way.
Tony Fisher v. PIT – He
actually exceeded my expectations in Cincinnati last weekend (51
yards and a score) but still didn’t post monster numbers.
He’s also going to start getting pushed by the youngsters
(ReShard Lee and Samkon Gado) when the coaching staff pulls the
plug on a terminally ill campaign. Start him if you don’t
have a choice but bear in mind he’s not a feature back.
He’s a change-of-pace back thrust into a difficult situation
made more difficult by this week’s opponent, the Curtain.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends