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5 Minute Fantasy
October 23, 2006
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October 23, 2006

5 Minute Fantasy

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With a feeble line, and the coach and his top back butting heads, Arizona's running game is grounded

CARDINALS RUNNING back Edgerrin James spoke for many fantasy owners when he publicly griped about his team's strategy after a 23--20 loss to the Chiefs in Week 5. James criticized his coaches for not calling more running plays in the second half, when Arizona led by 10 points. The Cardinals kept throwing, the clock kept stopping, and the Chiefs came back.

Comments like that don't bode well for those owners hoping for improved production from James in the coming weeks. Coach Dennis Green doesn't trust Arizona's running game, and he has openly blasted his offensive linemen on several radio shows. Green has already changed his starting line three times--mostly because of injuries dating back to training camp--and James has paid the price for that lack of continuity. Through five games James had just 343 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Second-year wide receiver Troy Williamson was the obvious go-to option for the Vikings this season, considering that he was Minnesota's first-round pick in the 2005 draft and that the team lost wideout Nate Burleson to free agency in the offseason. But Williamson, who caught 24 passes for 372 yards and two TDs as a rookie, has yet to live up to expectations. His hands are his biggest problem right now; he has dropped six passes in his first five games. With just 18 catches for 256 yards and no TDs, Williamson has given little indication that he'll become more consistent anytime soon. So if you're waiting for him to break out, it may be a long vigil.


... you should jump on the young running back bandwagon

Look at all the young turks on the rushing yardage leader board: Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Julius Jones, Tatum Bell, Chester Taylor. It's a weird year when, near the halfway mark of the season, a guy like Gore is a few long runs ahead of Rudi Johnson, Clinton Portis and--sakes alive!-- Larry Johnson.

These youthful guys aren't flukes, either. When coaches get into Week 6, they're not thinking, "Well, I had Corey Dillon figured for 300 carries back in August, and he's only had 68 through five games, so I've got to ratchet up his carries and cut down on Laurence Maroney's." The NFL is a classic what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and, if anything, Bill Belichick is going to lean more heavily on the explosive Maroney and less on the plodding Dillon the rest of the way. This will continue to be a two-headed monster, and there will be days when Dillon gets 16 or 18 carries. But it's very telling that through five games a rookie Maroney has 10 more carries than the trusted veteran. Belichick sees the greatness in Maroney, and he also sees that in 78 carries he hasn't fumbled, and he's averaging 4.3 yards per rush.

Another example: Though Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai had 35 and 33 carries, respectively, in the Colts' last two games, look at the consistency of Addai's weekly yards per rush over the past four games: 5.1, 5.0, 4.2, 4.8. He's got more explosion and speed than Rhodes, and Tony Dungy will rely on him more than Rhodes down the stretch.

Savvy fantasy owners, especially those who drafted two running backs from the same team, will take this trend into account when configuring their lineups and when weighing trade options. Go with the hot hand. Belichick, like many coaches, has always been a veteran's guy. But when the kid is clearly playing better than the veteran, he's going to play the kid. You should too.

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