The San Diego backfield continues to be an interesting early-season story, as Ryan Mathews (ankle) got just nine carries in his return to the field in Week 4. He made the most of them, though, going for 55 yards and a touchdown, as well as a 13-yard reception, in the Chargers’ romp over Arizona. Mike Tolbert, perhaps the most surprisingly fantasy-relevant name this year, took the bulk of the carries – 16 for 100 yards and a score. With Mathews coming back from injury and the game never really in question, it’s no surprise his touches were limited. Look for him to get the ball more early and often against Oakland. However, Tolbert has a lot of things going his way this week: He’s run great (5.5 YPC!), Oakland has the league’s second-worst run defense, and this could be another blowout. The big guy could still pick up 15-plus carries (mostly at the goal line and in the second half) and turn them into fantasy gold.
Speaking of rookie (rookie-ish?) runners who aren’t carrying the load, what to make of Shonn Greene? A fantasy dud the first three weeks, he ripped off 22 carries for 117 yards against the only rushing defense worse than the Raiders – the Bills. That was another blowout game, though; as long as LaDainian Tomlinson is firmly entrenched as the top dog in the Jets’ backfield, Greene is only going to be on change-of-pace and cleanup duties. Despite the Vikings’ struggles and the Jets’ success, this game should be close, and the Vikings boast the league’s ninth-best run defense. Greene is certainly a part of the offense and should see double-digit touches again, but he’s not the kind of explosive back who you can reasonably expect to turn, say, 12 touches into 80 yards.
Maurice Jones-Drew owners had to be happy to see their guy finally break out with a big game Week 4 against Indianapolis (121 total yards, two TDs). Now he draws Buffalo, which gives him a good shot at topping that performance. Don’t be surprised if he’s the week’s top fantasy scorer.
Steven Jackson and Jahvid Best face each other this week in a matchup of terrific backs on teams that are maybe not quite as awful as we thought they’d be. Best is still suffering from his toe injury, but there’s no way I’m benching him in any format, particularly PPR.
Cleveland, by the way, is one of two teams that hasn’t surrendered a rushing touchdown this year. Dallas is the other. Michael Turner and Chris Johnson figure to fix that this week. I’d almost never bet against Johnson hitting paydirt.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Peyton Hillis ran right over the outstanding Ravens defense in Week 3. Next week, he draws the Steelers, who own the league’s best rush D by a good eight yards per game over the next team (the Texans). The Steelers are surrendering 2.6 yards per carry; Hillis is averaging 4.9 (for the season and for his career). Who blinks first? I say Hillis; no one runs on the Steelers. If Chris Johnson only went for 34 yards against them, what can Hillis possibly do? Fortunately for those in need of his services, he's got a more manageable matchup Sunday against the Falcons. Bottom line, if you're looking to sell high consider doing it after Week 5.
Ryan Torain is the trendiest pickup these days, with Clinton Portis finally out of the way for a while, and he draws the Packers, who have the second-worst YPC allowed in the league (5.2). I’m willing to count on him delivering good YPC, but I don’t know if he’s going to get to carry the ball enough to have a big game. You have to be able to play exceptionally good defense to have the luxury of running much on Green Bay, and so far the Redskins’ D has only shown up in their two divisional matchups.
Darren McFadden Watch: He’s still third in the NFL in rushing through four weeks despite going for only 48 yards against the Texans. Now he draws another excellent run defense in the Chargers. Unfortunately, he may not be healthy enough (hamstring) to take the field in Week 5. Michael Bush could eat into McFadden's workload going forward if he's able to generate yardage against San Diego Sunday.
Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.4 YPC with the Bills over the first four weeks; now he steps into the starting role in Seattle. That backfield remains too crowded for my taste, with Justin Forsett and Leon Washington sure to steal carries. Forsett had a chance to really own the job the last two weeks, and delivered uninspiring performances against the Chargers and Rams. The biggest factor in Lynch’s value will be how much Matt Hasselbeck throws him the ball; Marshawn has a 47-catch season on his resume and you can be sure Hasselbeck hasn’t forgotten how much fun he had throwing the ball to Shaun Alexander and letting him make plays.
Cartar Sauce (rhymes with tartar, not Carter)
Week 4 Leaders in Red Zone Carries + Targets
Joseph Addai, IND (7) – This was the first time all year Addai got more than one carry inside the 10, and he produced two scores, so more red zone carries should be in store. Meanwhile, Donald Brown continues to struggle with injuries, as he did in his rookie year. At some point, someday, you have to figure the Colts will go out and get a good running back.
LaDainian Tomlinson, NYJ (7) – The Jets love LT in short-yardage situations, where they have the choice of having him do his trademark flight over the pile or swinging a run or pass to the outside for him to make a play. Shonn Greene is unlikely to steal many red-zone carries; although he had three in last week’s blowout and turned them into… nothing.
Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC (6) – Rashad Jennings poses no threat here.
Correll Buckhalter, DEN (6) – An even split here, with three carries and three pass targets. Buckhalter took one of those passes into the end zone. Laurence Maroney will still get the bulk of the carries, but he had just two red zone touches last week and didn’t hit paydirt on either. You may also have noticed that Maroney is absolutely terrible.
Steven Jackson, STL (5) – Kenneth Darby snaked two, but the fact remains that if you need a play, Jackson is the guy.
LeSean McCoy, PHI (5) – If McCoy goes this week, Mike Bell could usurp his red-zone duties to give the ol’ ribs a break. If McCoy doesn’t go, Bell has next to no competition. Eldra Buckley isn’t about to blow anyone away.
Ladell Betts, NO (5) – Chris Ivory earned himself a bigger share despite his fumble, but will he get it?
Willis McGahee (4) – There are other guys with four who I’m not going to list here, but it’s always worthwhile to mention McGahee in this space just so Ray Rice owners can remember how much they hate him.
Wire It Up (No Gong Show this week)
Ryan Torain, WAS – If your league is even slightly competitive, he’s probably already owned. But maybe your waivers process on Saturday or something. In that case, you should go ahead and bid aggressively for Torain, who should at least be a solid contributor while Portis is out and maybe beyond.
Marshawn Lynch, SEA – This guy is owned in less than half of Yahoo leagues and less than two-thirds of ESPN leagues. Okay, he’s not the sexy name he once was, but he’s still a starting running back with pass-catching ability. That ownership figure should be much higher.
Danny Woodhead, NE – Assumes the Kevin Faulk role and could deliver sneaky value with a few carries plus slot duty. He may be short and he may not have a true position (Yahoo has him as a WR/RB, ESPN as a WR), but he’s a playmaker and Bill Belichick will find ways to get him involved, particularly catching passes out of the backfield and in the slot. Kevin Faulk has provided value in this role before.
Javon Ringer, TEN – Ringer has slightly more value than your typical handcuff because he’s shown the ability to bust some big plays and he’s even got a Week 1 touchdown to his credit. If Chris Johnson ever goes down for any length of time, Ringer would step in and instantly be the kind of guy people blow every dollar of their FAAB to get.