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JEFFRI CHADIHA THE INSIDE MAN
IT'S BEEN a frustrating year for the fantasy owners of many top running backs. If you're not dealing with an injured or underachieving workhorse ( Shaun Alexander, Clinton Portis, Cadillac Williams), then you're likely wrestling with the dreaded two-headed monster (Colts, Panthers, Patriots). Those headaches make a player like the Vikings' Chester Taylor that much more desirable.
Minnesota's offense isn't explosive, but it still runs through Taylor, and that's a fantasy owner's dream. He ranks among the NFL leaders in combined touches (86 carries, 12 receptions), and he's only going to get more chances as the season goes on. The Vikings see the 5'11" 213-pounder as a poor man's Priest Holmes in their version of the West Coast offense, and they love his toughness. "He isn't looking to run out-of-bounds or avoid contact," says Minnesota center Matt Birk. "He's going to run hard whenever he's in there."
So even if you're down on Taylor's touchdown total (one through four games), his subpar 10-carry, 23-yard effort against the Bills in Week 4 or his costly fumble in the previous week's loss to the Bears, don't worry. The Vikings still have plenty of reasons to believe in him.
FEARSOME FOURSOME The Seahawks' Darrell Jackson had fantasy owners encouraged about his potential once he overcame a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the preseason. The problem is that he's now one of four capable targets in his team's offense. True, that attack will be more pass-heavy because Pro Bowl running back Shaun Alexander is sidelined with a broken left foot. But Seattle will rotate Jackson, Nate Burleson, Deion Branch and Bobby Engram to give each receiver opportunities to make plays. That's great for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, but if you own Jackson, don't expect him to be a big-time contributor each week.
NO MORE ROAR There was a time when Lions running back Kevin Jones looked like he had fabulous fantasy potential. But he hasn't been consistent since gaining 1,133 yards as a rookie, and he has yet to break the 100-yard mark this season. Through Detroit's first four games Jones was averaging a mere 63.2 yards (with three TDs) and offensive coordinator Mike Martz had called running plays only 31.4% of the time.
PACK MAN Look for rookie wide receiver Greg Jennings to become a bigger part of the Green Bay offense. He exploded in Week 3 against the Lions (101 receiving yards) in large part because Detroit shadowed Donald Driver, the Packers' best wideout, with cornerback Dre' Bly and a safety. Since Driver likely will see more double coverage in the coming weeks, Green Bay needs Jennings to keep making plays.
HE WALKS THE LINE Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael is being hurt by a porous offensive line. Miami is asking McMichael to help block more often because that line has already allowed 20 sacks. Through four games last season McMichael had 16 catches; at the same point this year he has 10. If this keeps up much longer, owners of McMichael should start looking for another option at tight end.