Running back injuries, vanishing acts and no-names have dominated the first three weeks of fantasy football. Parity is a staple of the NFL, but this season it has reached heights that have caused much frustration for some fantasy owners.
Running back is the most important position for any fantasy owner, and those who thought Deuce McAllister was the answer when he chosen as a top 10 pick are suffering, thanks to an ankle injury that will keep him sidelined at least four more weeks. Backup Aaron Stecker filled in admirably last week in New Orleans’ victory at St. Louis, rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown. Look for more positive things out of Stecker this week in Arizona, where the Cardinals are ranked last against the run – allowing over 180 yards rushing per game.
Charlie Garner was supposed to replace Thomas Jones and troubled Michael Pittman in Tampa, but the Bucs are winless partly due to a rushing offense that is ranked last in the NFC (71 yards/game). To make matters worse, Garner is now out for the season after tearing his ACL. Pittman is back after serving a suspension, so look for Jon Gruden to try to revive his ground attack by default through Pittman against Denver, although the issue in Tampa may be more about the offensive line and less about who is carrying the ball.
Things keep getting more and more ugly for the Dolphins. Ricky Williams ‘retires’ (read: avoids the embarrassment of failing another drug test), band-aid Lamar Gordon is placed on injured reserve after a shoulder injury to end his season, and third stringer Travis Minor is still mending from a bum ankle. The dubious honor of carrying the load in an offense without a passing game now falls to Leonard Henry, who carried 21 times for 41 yards against Pittsburgh last week. On deck: The undefeated Jets at home, who limited the great LaDainian Tomlinson to 87 yards in Week 2.
Where have you gone, TJ Duckett? Seemingly every preseason fantasy publication predicted Duckett would be the man in Atlanta’s backfield this season, but the Michigan State product has carried the ball only 11 times for 58 yards and didn’t even touch the ball in Week 3 against Arizona. Warrick Dunn and fullback Justin Griffith have been getting most of the touches, particularly via short passes out of the backfield for long gains. With the Falcons off to a 3-0 start, don’t look for Atlanta coach Jim Mora, Jr. to change what appears to be working in regards to Duckett’s playing time.
With Tim Brown gone and Jerry Rice playing in his 54th season, the obvious conclusion going into this year was that Jerry Porter would be Oakland’s #1 receiver in an offense that loves to go horizontal. Instead, through three games against teams with a combined record of 3-6, Porter has scored no touchdowns and is averaging only four catches per game. Expect Porter to become a bigger part of the offense with Kerry Collins calling signals after Rich Gannon was knocked out of the lineup last week.
The chant of ‘Rudi! Rudi!’ has been relegated to those watching the feel-good movie about the walk-on at Notre Dame back in the 70s. The new Rudi, Rudi Johnson, exploded on to the scene in Cincinnati last year when Corey Dillon was injured, and rushed for over 150 yards in three games over the final eight weeks of the season, nearly carrying the Bengals to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. In 2004, Johnson has found the end zone only once while so far failing to break the 100-yard mark, averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry in three games. Next up: a tough matchup at Pittsburgh.
Thomas Jones: the next Walter Payton? Ok, that may be stretching it a bit, but Jones has been the lone bright spot in the Chicago offense. After years of underachievement in Arizona and Tampa Bay, the former first rounder has found paradise in Lovie Smith’s back-friendly offensive scheme (just ask Marshall Faulk). This year, Jones is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and already has 445 total yards and four touchdowns over just three games. Going into this year, Jones had never eclipsed 800 total yards over an entire season. Week 4 against undefeated Philly will be a huge test.
Marvin Harrison was a first or second round pick in most drafts, but the best receiver on the Colts and in the AFC has been Reggie Wayne. Through three games, Wayne has 19 receptions for 385 yards and two touchdowns. Marvin Harrison has 22 catches and two touchdowns, but averages 10 yards less per catch than Wayne. With the Colts scoring at will (35 points in the first half against Green Bay last week, all passing touchdowns), any receiver playing with Peyton Manning is bound to generate big numbers. The Jaguars defense (9.3 points allowed per game) is up next for Wayne and Manning in Jacksonville.
Tiki Barber has more fumbles in his career (39) than touchdowns (30), but this season has seen a newly protective, productive Barber, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, scoring two touchdowns and not coughing up the ball once. Barber has rushed for over 100 yards in two of three games this season. With quarterback Kurt Warner keeping defenses honest and the offensive line playing better than expected, Barber should continue to perform as a high level, particularly against a shaky Green Bay defense this week.
Based in New York, Joe Concha appears on MSNBC, CNBC, and FOX Sports Radio as a sports analyst and contributor. Please send comments and questions to email@example.com, or join the discussion in the Cafe Forums.