By Dalton Del Don
Steven Jackson – A season full of injuries – both to him and the majority of the Rams’ offensive unit – means Jackson is going to fall well short of last year’s campaign. However, he’s been a yardage machine when in the lineup, totaling 771 yards over the last six weeks. Over the past four contests, he has four plays that have gone for 46 yards or more, revealing terrific explosiveness. He always remains active in the passing game and is a tough short-yardage runner. Jackson’s injury-plagued 2007 might mean he comes at a discount in fantasy leagues next year, making him someone to target.
Aaron Stecker – Although he’s had two favorable matchups during his starts at running back, Stecker’s ability to hit the hole decisively has been a major upgrade over the tentative Reggie Bush. Stecker is also adept at catching the ball out of the backfield, and with the Saints’ offense back to their high-powered ways of last season, Stecker is must-start in all fantasy leagues as long as Bush (knee) remains shelved.
Dominic Rhodes – The one area Oakland has excelled at all season long is run blocking, as Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme has been productive no matter who the ballcarrier is. LaMont Jordan was a healthy inactive Sunday, and Rhodes was effective spelling starter Justin Fargas, rushing for 41 yards on seven carries (5.9 YPC). Since Fargas left with a knee injury, Rhodes may soon find himself getting a heavy workload in the Raiders’ backfield, meaning he should be owned in all fantasy leagues.
Darren Sproles – Sproles easily saw the most significant workload of his career Sunday, resulting in 122 rushing yards and two scores on 25 carries (4.9 YPC). He got extensive action because of the lopsided score, and normal backup Michael Turner was banged up, but Turner is almost certain to leave San Diego via free agency during the offseason, so Sproles should enter 2008 as the clear handcuff to LaDainian Tomlinson. Sproles, a fourth round pick out of Kansas State during the 2005 draft, makes for an excellent late-round sleeper next year.
Drew Brees – Over the last four games, Brees has an 11:1 TD:INT ratio with a 120.1 QB rating. He’s also gotten 8.3 YPA during that span and now has just one fewer TD pass from his MVP-caliber 2006 season with two games still left to play. He’s taken just 12 sacks all season long and is completing a remarkable 68.7 percent of his passes. He’s an elite fantasy option.
Jerious Norwood – During the Falcons’ first game under new head coach Emmitt Thomas, Norwood was given more rushing attempts than Warrick Dunn. While it was only by one carry, it’s a least a start, and Norwood gained an impressive 73 yards on 8.1 YPC against a stout Tampa Bay defense that shut down the rest of Atlanta’s offense. The nine carries actually matched a season-high for Norwood, which is crazy when you consider he’s getting a remarkable 6.4 YPC. He’d be a serious fantasy option if ever given ample opportunity.
Tony Scheffler – Over the last four games, Scheffler has topped 80 yards receiving twice and scored two touchdowns, making him a viable fantasy option in deep leagues. A second round pick out of Western Michigan during the 2006 draft, Scheffler has good size (6-5, 250 LBS), decent speed and excellent hands. With Jay Cutler (7.8 YPA) emerging as a star and defenses focused on stopping Brandon Marshall and Javon Walker out wide, Scheffler qualifies as a nice target in fantasy leagues next year.
Jason Witten – Witten is on pace for 101 catches, 1,221 yards and eight touchdowns this season, making him one of the biggest steals in most fantasy leagues. With 23 catches over the past two contests, he’s been an absolute monster in point per reception formats. Tony Romo (8.4 YPA) is for real, and Terrell Owens always draws opposing defenses attention, so there’s no reason to think Witten can’t have a similar season next year as well.
Tony Romo – Romo chose Week 15 of the fantasy playoffs to turn in his worst game of the season by far, getting just 5.9 YPA with a 0:3 TD:INT ratio. He took a season-high four sacks and also fumbled twice, marking the first time all year he failed to throw for a touchdown. While interception-prone from time to time, Romo has been remarkably consistent with his production this season, so one blip on the radar shouldn’t be held against him. He’s still easily the second best fantasy quarterback.
Derek Anderson – Anderson’s fairy tale season hasn’t gone quite as smoothly over the second half of the season as it did during the first, as he’s gotten 6.3 YPA over the last six weeks after getting 8.2 YPA over the first eight games. Sunday’s performance was especially brutal (5.7 YPA, zero TDs), but that was due more to inclement weather than anything else, and he’s still had a fine overall season. He’s an excellent option in fantasy leagues during Week 16’s matchup with the Bengals.
Brandon Jacobs – Because of his size (6-4, 265 LBS), Jacobs is always going to be susceptible to injury, especially since he’s so top-heavy. Still, he’s been very good when on the field this year, averaging 4.9 YPC. He’s also been more active in the passing game, hauling in 10 balls for 90 yards receiving over the past three games. However, he’s also shown the propensity to drop balls, so that area of his game needs work during the offseason. The Giants run block well, and odds are Jacobs goes back to being the goal line back next season, making him a possible undervalued commodity in fantasy leagues.
Rudi Johnson – Johnson entered 2007 coming off 1,039 carries over the previous three seasons – the most by any running back in the NFL. All of that wear and tear seems to have really caught up to Johnson, who has always been more a product of his environment than ever a truly special talent. Battling through injuries, Johnson has gotten a paltry 2.9 YPC this season and is non-existent in the passing game, making him one of the biggest fantasy busts of the year. There’s inherent risk to drafting players who overly rely on systems and can’t make plays on their own, with Johnson the latest example.
Jeremy Shockey – It’s safe to say Shockey’s career has been a bit of a disappointment up to this point, as he’s yet to match his 894 receiving yards from his rookie season in any of the five years since. His mediocre 2007 season came to an abrupt end Sunday night, when the tight end suffered a season-ending broken leg. Shockey has yet to play a full 16 games in any of his six seasons in the league.
Marc Bulger – Injuries to himself and the team’s offensive line have contributed, but Bulger is currently in the midst of his worst season as a pro by far. He’s getting career-worsts in completion percentage (59.7), YPA (6.3) and TD:INT ratio (7:11). Bulger has the physical tools to bounce back in 2008, but the fact remains he’s extremely injury-prone, having missed 12 games over the last three years.
Selvin Young – Young doesn’t deserve the downgrade after getting 5.6 YPC on the year, but because he calls Mike Shanahan coach, any Broncos’ ballcarrier is unreliable. For such a productive system, Denver hasn’t churned out a truly valuable fantasy running back in years, and Shanahan’s secrecy and fickle nature make it a situation to avoid in the future.
Julius Jones – Jones has gotten just 3.8 YPC and two touchdowns this season despite running behind a good offensive line and playing for one of the NFL’s best offenses. He has good long-speed but lacks vision and toughness. A free agent at season’s end, Jones may find himself in only a backup role for a different uniform next season.
Kyle Boller – Boller has failed at the NFL level after multiple opportunities. In 42 career starts, he’s gotten just 5.8 YPA with a 40:58 TD:turnover ratio. Since he’s clearly not the solution at the quarterback position in Baltimore, it figures the team will see what they have in Troy Smith over the rest of 2007. Boller is not a worthy starter in the National Football League.
Shaun Alexander – The end is here. To call Alexander sluggish would almost be a compliment at this point, because the 30-year-old running back appears to be just looking for reasons to fall down at this stage of his career. After an MVP season that saw him rush for 27 TDs while getting 5.1 YPC in 2005, Alexander has gotten a microscopic 3.4 YPC on 438 carries over the past two seasons.
Chris Redman – Redman demanded some attention after getting 7.3 YPA with four touchdowns over a two-game stretch, but that was against a couple of terrible secondaries, and Sunday’s game against the physical Buccaneers revealed Redman’s weaknesses. Despite playing the whole game, Redman completed a nearly unfathomable four passes for just 2.3 YPA. He’s not the long-term answer at the QB position in Atlanta.
Thomas Jones – Jones has been able to stay relatively healthy and consistent over the past three seasons, but he’s markedly unexciting as a runner. He’s gotten just 3.6 YPC on the year and has begun losing more and more touches to the more explosive Leon Washington. On 264 carries this season, Jones has just two runs that have gone for more than 20 yards. Despite ample opportunity, Jones has largely been useless in fantasy leagues this year.
Article first appeared 12/17/07