By Dalton Del Don
Clinton Portis – Portis has had an interesting 2007 season, as he’s remained relatively healthy and rendered back up Ladell Betts worthless. After averaging 5.5 YPC during his two seasons in Denver, Portis has never eclipsed 4.3 YPC during his four years in Washington, including a below-average 3.9 mark this season. Still, he’s totaled 250 yards with two touchdowns the past two weeks, both on the road against tough run defenses. Portis is having the best receiving season of his career, and he’s on pace to finish with 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Kenny Watson – Whether it’s been because of poor weather conditions or Carson Palmer’s inaccuracy, the Bengals have been a better team this season when concentrating on the ground game, especially with Watson as the primary ballcarrier. Rudi Johnson has averaged a paltry 2.9 YPC in 2007, and he’ll enter next season with serious questions. Watson, meanwhile, averaged 4.4 YPC running behind a patchwork line and is a big threat in the passing game. Because of his versatility, Watson has much more fantasy upside than Johnson.
Shaun Hill – Hill, who averaged 5.1 YPA Sunday, isn’t going to make the folk in San Francisco forget about Steve Young anytime soon. However, after the team consistently got an “F” from the quarterback position all year, Hill looks like a solid “C,” showing toughness in the pocket and zip on his passes. Competency is a big upgrade at this point, and Hill’s 5:1 TD:INT ratio is just that. He hadn’t thrown an NLF pass until three weeks ago, but Hill has earned the right to compete for San Francisco’s starting job next year.
T.J. Duckett – Kevin Jones is officially injury prone, with his latest malady a possible serious knee injury. Because of Duckett’s success this season (5.9 YPC), the Lions were likely going to try to re-sign him in the offseason anyway, but if Jones tore some ligaments, that move will become absolutely necessary, and Duckett might find himself entering 2008 as the team’s featured back. If Mike Martz leaves – an increasing possibility – Detroit’s offense is likely to become more balanced, and Duckett could be the beneficiary.
Roddy White – White is on pace to finish 2007 with 83 catches and 1,216 receiving yards despite playing with abysmal quarterbacks. An explosive downfield playmaker, White broke out in a big way during his third season as a pro, and he only figures to continue to improve. While no clear solution to Atlanta’s signal-caller woes appears in sight, White enters 2008 with the upside of a Top-12 fantasy wide receiver.
Najeh Davenport – Willie Parker’s season-ending leg injury means Davenport is thrust into a starting role, and playing for a good team with a run-first philosophy, it’s a nice situation to be in. Davenport has been extremely impressive during relief work this year, getting 5.0 YPC while showing surprising effectiveness in the passing game. He’s never carried a full load during his career, but he’ll be given every opportunity to do so come playoff time.
Marion Barber – A staple on the Upgrades list, Barber’s impressive play may have finally supplanted Julius Jones in Dallas’ backfield. Barber received a season-high 22 carries Saturday night, resulting in a season-high 110 rushing yards. Jones saw just nine carries and has nowhere near the skill set Barber possesses. With Terrell Owens dealing with a significant high ankle sprain, the Cowboys may very well concentrate on their ground game from here on.
Frank Gore – The last five weeks, Gore has totaled 721 yards, as he’s slowly worked his way back to full strength after an ankle injury slowed him during the season's first half. Moreover, San Francisco has done a better job of involving Gore in the passing game. Injuries will always remain a concern for the hard-running Gore, but with an improving offensive line and passing attack, he should enter 2008 as a tremendous value pick in the latter half of the first round of fantasy league drafts.
Willis McGahee – Despite playing for a horrible offense, McGahee entered Sunday on pace to finish the season with 1,632 combined yards and nine touchdowns. He’s been remarkably consistent in a year filled with turmoil at running back. Sunday he suffered two broken ribs, which will suppress his stats but maybe allows for him to be more easily acquired in fantasy drafts next season.
Jerious Norwood – Norwood is as explosive of a running back as you’ll find in the NFL, evidenced by his career 6.3 YPC clip. Warrick Dunn turns 33 next week and looks just about finished (3.0 YPC this year). However, because Norwood needs to be taken out both on third-down situations (he struggles in pass protection) and at the goal line (not a great short-yardage runner), his fantasy upside is seriously limited unless he becomes a much more complete back over the offseason.
DeAngelo Williams – Williams finds himself in a nearly identical situation as Jerious Norwood, behind a mediocre veteran (DeShaun Foster) on the depth chart despite an impressive 4.8 YPC mark on the year. He is certainly more explosive than Foster, who has got just 3.5 YPC this season, but Williams also struggles in short-yardage situations and hasn’t forced the coaching staff’s hands into more playing time. Because of his size, it appears Williams is destined for an NFL career as a change-of-pace type back and not a featured role.
Derek Anderson – Because the Browns had been winning, Anderson’s second half decline was masked somewhat, but it’s been more precipitous than most realize. He’s going to finish with a ton of touchdown passes this season, but after getting 8.2 YPA over the season’s first half, he’s gotten just 6.1 YPA while completing only 55.6 percent of his passes the last seven games. Sunday’s performance was especially ugly; weather didn’t help, but Anderson’s terrible decision-making led to a season-worst four interceptions, and Cleveland’s playoff hopes may have been erased as a result.
JaMarcus Russell – It’s unfair to evaluate quarterbacks until they have at least a handful of starts under their belt, but early indications point to Russell having quite a steep learning curve. Sure, he has a rocket for an arm, but his mechanics need a ton of work, and the early peripherals are obscene (24.6 QB rating, 4.3 YPA, 37.1 completion percentage, 1:4 TD:turnover ratio). In fairness, Russell has been pitted against some pretty good secondaries, but Oakland looks to be in for another long season next year.
Greg Jennings – Jennings has enjoyed a fantastic 2007 season and has already replaced Donald Driver as Green Bay’s best receiver. However, he suffered an ankle injury Sunday, and with the Packers locked into the No. 2 seed, there’s no need for him to play during Week 17. Nevertheless, for the long-term, he’s established himself as one of the best deep threats in the league.
Joseph Addai – The Colts decided to rest Addai early Sunday, as the back appeared to be shaken up at one point and has also shown signs of wearing down after carrying the full load for the first time in his football career. With Indianapolis’ playoff positioning locked, Addai is almost certainly going to sit out Week 17. He’s had a fine season (15 touchdowns), but Addai is seemingly always nicked up, and the 4.1 YPC leaves a lot to be desired. Teammate Peyton Manning is also likely to see very limited action next week.
Kevin Jones – During his four seasons as a pro, Jones has yet to play a full 16-game slate, and if Sunday’s knee injury proves serious, he’ll enter 2008 with major questions after also suffering a devastating foot injury last year. Jones reached paydirt at a high rate this year and is an effective pass-catcher, but he also hasn’t topped 3.8 YPC in a season since his rookie year. He simply cannot be relied upon to stay healthy.
Edgerrin James – James won’t lose your fantasy league for you, as his production remains steady. However, this is a running back who is clearly in decline, and he’s reached the age in which he’s to be avoided in fantasy leagues. Despite playing alongside a high-powered passing offense, James has just one touchdown the past seven games and has gotten just 3.8 YPC this season. He’s someone to avoid in fantasy leagues.
Chris Henry – Henry is undoubtedly talented, possessing both terrific size and speed. However, it’s simply too tough to be consistent when acting as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver, especially with an erratic Carson Palmer at the helm. Henry would be a Top-20 fantasy wide receiver if T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Chad Johnson succumbed to injury, but until that happens, he’s an extremely risky fantasy play.
LaMont Jordan – Jordan looked like a Top-5 fantasy back after the first three weeks of the season, but a back injury and ineffectiveness have rendered him completely useless. Even with no Justin Fargas (knee), the entirely mediocre Dominic Rhodes saw all of the touches in Oakland’s backfield Sunday, with Jordan receiving zero carries after being a healthy inactive the week before. It’s been a fast and hard fall from the magical 2005 season. Jordan will almost certainly find himself wearing a different uniform next year.
Terrell Owens – It’s easy to forget now, but not long ago, Owens was considered somewhat injury-prone, having failed to play a full 16 games in four straight seasons until last year. He played through a debilitating finger injury last season and suffered a high ankle sprain Saturday night, which will once again end his regular season prematurely. Owens is a quick healer, so he should be expected back once Dallas plays its first playoff game three weeks from now, but the injury will prevent him from turning in what looked like was going to be the best season of his career.
Sage Rosenfels – Make no mistake, Matt Schaub is the future of the Houston organization. Rosenfels has filled in admirably, and Sunday’s poor performance did come against the NFL’s best secondary in Indianapolis, but he’s now committed seven turnovers over the last four weeks. Additionally, Rosenfels’ 7.0 YPA pales in comparison to Schaub’s 7.8 mark. However, Schaub needs to prove he can stay healthy for an extended period of time, or Rosenfels will remain a factor.
Brett Favre – Sunday’s performance against the Bears shouldn’t bring down an otherwise terrific 2007, especially when you consider the fact Favre called it the worst playing conditions he’s ever experienced in his 17-year career. However, it was an especially brutal game by Favre, as he was continuously off target and made some terrible decisions in the 35-7 blowout loss. The Bears have proven to be something of a kryptonite against Favre this season, as he’s posted a 1:4 TD:INT ratio during both losses to Chicago while getting a 25:11 TD:INT ratio vs. everyone else. Still, it’s been a fantastic year for Green Bay, and with the team locked into the No. 2 seed in the NFC, look for Favre to play very little next week.
Article first appeared 12/24/07