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For years, fantasy football was all about running backs. Leagues were won and lost based on who had the best corps of running backs. But that was back when every team had one guy that did everything. Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk were just a few stud backs that always carried their weight, and then some. As the years have passed, big time ball carriers have become scarce, making the few that do really shoulder the load that much more important. Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy were consensus top picks, and have performed as advertised thus far, but they’re now the exceptions to the rule.
Week 3 was absolutely huge for running backs, as players emerged from out of nowhere, and studs returned to form. And naturally, injuries would play a part. But don’t worry. We’ll talk about some other guys, too. And I’m adding something extra this week. Our friends over at fleaflicker.com will provide information on player availability by the percentage of leagues in which that player is owned.
If he’s in a New York Giants uniform, put him in your lineup. Thursday night’s game between the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers was incredibly one-sided, but it wasn’t expected to be that way. Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and Domenik Hixon were all inactive due to injuries. That meant guys like Andre Brown and Ramses Barden would be starting. Yikes. But when the dust settled, the Giants had an impressive road win, and Brown and Barden were focal points of their offensive attack. Brown would start and rush 20 times for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Barden caught nine of his 10 targets for 138 yards.
But it was the way they played that was impressive. Brown ran tough, breaking multiple long runs, along with tackles. Barden ran free across the middle of the field and caught everything with his seemingly endless wingspan. Each of them earned more playing time going forward, even when those previously ahead of them on New York’s depth chart return. Barden may have played himself into three-wide sets, and Brown may have earned himself at least a share of the backfield workload. And he may even take Bradshaw’s job outright. According to fleaflicker.com, Brown is owned in 44 percent of leagues, while Barden is owned in just two percent of leagues. Both are worth a shot, with Brown at the top of the list.
Mikel Leshoure is the guy in Detroit. Didn’t take long, huh? To be fair, the Lions have little else, with alternatives like Joique Bell and Kevin Smith. That said, Leshoure made his NFL debut in style, with 30 touches for 134 combined yards and a score. He ran hard and displayed a strong running style that the Lions have hoped for since drafting him prior to last season. With the Lions' vertical passing attack, teams will back off and play the pass, providing running lanes for the new Lions' workhorse. The Lions host the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4, so Leshoure will get a good test in start No. 2. And fleaflicker.com has Leshoure still available in 42 percent of leagues. Snatch him up quickly.
A.J. Green was mad at me for touting Andrew Hawkins. In Friday’s “Rock and a Hard Place,” I may have suggested that Hawkins had outperformed Green, and from a pure yardage standpoint, he had. Apparently, Green took exception to that. First, I’m touched that he reads my stuff. Second, wow. He just went ahead and reminded us all that Green is not to be trifled with. Green caught a 73-yard touchdown bomb from Mohamed Sanu on Cincinnati’s first play. But even if we ignore that play, he still would have had eight catches for 110 yards.
Tony Romo is the most frustrating quarterback to own. In one of my leagues, I have Romo and Ben Roethlisberger. My thought was to play matchups. Instead, I have found that when I start Romo, I lose. His starts this season have ranged between fantastic against New York on opening night and awful against the “vaunted” Tampa Bay defense in Week 3. So what have I learned? After Roethlisberger’s Week 4 bye, Romo will ride the pine until he doesn’t make me want to throw something. Romo threw for 283 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and two lost fumbles. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant still probably have to be in your lineups, and DeMarco Murray is good, but everyone else is just depressing. And don’t bring up Jason Witten. I wasn’t aware that the spleen was so closely related to your hands being like feet. But I’m a Philadelphia Eagles guy, so hating the Dallas Cowboys is second nature. Moving on …
Maurice Jones-Drew is back to form. In all honesty, the Indianapolis defense has never been good against the run. But for a talent like Jones-Drew to have just 137 yards through two weeks, we needed a big performance any way we could get it. Jones-Drew delivered with 177 yards and a score on 28 carries. He broke a long one for 59 yards, but he finally looked like the old Jones-Drew again. The only reason to temper expectations is the supporting cast around him, but that’s nothing new. It only took a few weeks, but it looks like those that took Pocket Hercules in the second or third rounds will reap the benefits. Speaking of a return to form…
Jamaal Charles looked like his old self. While Jones-Drew came late to camp due to a contract holdout, Charles was returning from last season’s Week 2 knee injury. He had started OK against Atlanta in Week 1, but got shut down and left early against Buffalo in Week 2. But in Week 3 in New Orleans, Charles ran wild, picking up 233 yards and a score on 33 rushes. He also added six receptions for 55 yards. He ran hard, and the 91-yard touchdown run showed that he hasn’t lost one bit of that breakaway speed he’s shown before. If the Chiefs are going to be successful, they’ll need to lean heavily on Charles and the running game. You’ll need to monitor any news on his knee in the upcoming weeks, but he looks like he’s back.
And it looks like Darren McFadden has figured it out. In Weeks 1 and 2, McFadden failed to get things going on the ground, rushing a combined 26 times for 54 yards. It didn’t look like there’d be a light at the end of the tunnel with the stingy Pittsburgh defense coming to town, but McFadden had other plans, breaking a 64-yard run on his first carry on Sunday. He kept it going afterward, ending up with 113 yards and a score on the ground. Much has been said about the zone-blocking scheme that had been employed in Oakland, some even suggesting that it should be abandoned, but McFadden seems to like it just fine.
Ben Roethlisberger looks fantastic. I’m more and more impressed with Roethlisberger every time I see him play. He extends plays. He makes guys miss. And he delivers more perfect passes with defensive linemen draped all over him than anyone I’ve ever seen. He has a stacked receiving corps around him. The offensive line is a concern, but he’s basically a lineman himself. On Sunday, he threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns, because he wanted to drill it into my head that he is better and more reliable than Tony Romo. Point taken.
Ryan Williams is emerging in Arizona. Ryan Williams was a preseason darling of fantasy guys. After suffering a season ending injury prior to the 2011 season, he’s healthy in 2012. He has all the skill in the world, but he has Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells ahead of him on the depth chart, not to mention issues with ball security. Well, a possible turf toe injury to Wells may have removed the first of those obstacles for Williams, and he capitalized on the opportunity, running for 83 yards on 13 rushes and adding a 12-yard catch. If Wells does in fact miss time and Williams can hold onto the ball, he may also hold onto the starting job in Arizona. According to fleaflicker.com, Williams is owned in just 47 percent of leagues, meaning he should be a top pickup this week.
Wes Welker is out of excuses, and he delivered. Those who had taken Welker in drafts were expecting much more out of one of their top wideouts. But the New England Patriots seemed to be punishing Welker for his offseason holdout, as he had just eight catches for 109 yards through two games. But with the Aaron Hernandez injury in Week 2, and slot-mate Julian Edelman leaving late in the first half of Sunday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Welker took center stage like old times, amassing eight catches for 142 yards. He got back on track against a top defense, and now looks like a Top 10 wideout all over again. It’s about time.
Good luck in Week 4.
Drew Magyar is a fantasysharks.com staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com. “What Did We Learn” will be posted each Tuesday morning during the season, and “Rock and a Hard Place” will be posted each Friday morning.
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