By Dalton Del Don
Josh Morgan - Morgan, a relative unknown sixth-round draft pick in last year's class, burst onto the scene with an impressive preseason. Unfortunately, he developed a serious virus right before the regular season started, stunting his development. Finally back to full strength, Morgan replaced the disappointing Bryant Johnson in San Francisco's starting lineup last week, resulting in five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Coach Mike Nolan is out, but Mike Martz' pass-heavy attack should remain, one that led to 10 targets last week for Morgan. He looks locked into the starting split end role, and although some inconsistency should be expected like all rookie receivers, Morgan is explosive, so there's plenty of upside.
Kyle Orton - After another impressive performance Sunday (8.8 YPA, 2:0 TD:INT ratio), Orton has now thrown 10 touchdowns over the last five games. He's also avoided being picked off in each of his past three contests and is getting a solid 7.3 YPA mark on the year. An easy schedule has certainly helped recently, but this type of production can no longer be ignored. He's probably not a true No. 1 fantasy quarterback just yet, but Orton is developing into a fine NFL signal caller, something that seemed highly unlikely before the season began. As a result, teammate Greg Olsen has the potential to finish the season as a top-five fantasy tight end.
Mewelde Moore - Moore racked up 134 total yards with three scores Sunday, marking his second consecutive big game while filling in for the injured Willie Parker (knee). Parker isn't expected to be out a significant amount of time after aggravating his knee injury in practice last week, but Moore has definitely earned a role in the offense even when he does return. Moore isn't ideally built for a heavy workload, but he's gotten 4.9 YPC throughout his career and is a much better receiver than Parker. Playing on a run-first offense, Moore is explosive yet also effective between the tackles. If Parker were to go down for a lengthy period, Moore would easily be a top-10 fantasy running back.
Cedric Benson - It's unlikely to be a long-term situation, but Benson deserves the boost after being named Cincinnati's starter in the backfield. In fact, Chris Perry didn't receive a single touch last week. Benson's 3.7 YPC mark was hardly impressive, but it did come against a strong Pittsburgh defense, and it was an improvement from what the Bengals had been getting from the running back position. With Carson Palmer (elbow) looking unlikely to return this season, the entire offense lacks upside, but any starter deserves consideration. Still, Kenny Watson figures to get more in the mix as the season progresses, and Benson has done nothing in his career to suggest future success.
Hines Ward - Fully healthy for the first time in years, Ward is having one of his best seasons yet, scoring five touchdowns through six games. His 13.4 yards-per-catch mark is his second best since 2000, so despite turning 32 years old this past offseason, he hasn't lost much explosiveness. One of the most physical receivers in the league, Ward continues to lay bone-crushing blocks while being one of the best targets from in close; in fact, his 11 red-zone looks are the fourth most in the NFL.
Chris Johnson - Entering last Sunday, the Titans had played Minnesota, Baltimore and then had a bye over the previous three weeks, so it was easy to understand why Johnson had modest production of late. He more than made up for it Sunday, rushing for 168 yards (9.3 YPC) and a touchdown. LenDale White had an even bigger game, but make no mistake, Johnson is the team's most important back, as he was the one getting the ball when the game's outcome was still in doubt and in key situations. Even so, White dampens his value since he replaces him at the goal line often, but still, Johnson's 13 red-zone carries are as many as Brandon Jacobs has, so he's given plenty of scoring opportunities. He's not only the fastest running back in the league, Johnson is a complete football player, excelling in pass protection and on runs between the tackles. Playing for a team with a terrific defense and strong offensive line, especially if they start using him more in the passing game, there's no reason why Johnson can't finish as a top-10 fantasy back.
Steven Jackson - Jackson exploded for 176 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys last week, easing concerns about his relatively slow production over the first half of the season. Because of his productivity in the passing game, Jackson hadn't been a complete bust, but he did enter last week with just one score on the year. Still, he consistently sees a heavy workload, so he'll be given every opportunity to continue racking up yardage. The Rams are hardly playoff bound, but they have won back-to-back games after Jim Haslett took over coaching duties, and if they can at least remain competitive, it's excellent news for Jackson's value. Jackson suffered a slightly strained quadriceps late in last week's game but is expected to play at New England on Sunday.
Sammy Morris - With Laurence Maroney (knee) placed on the IR, and LaMont Jordan seemingly always banged up, there appears to be an opportunity for Morris to get the brunt of the work in New England's backfield. Of course, he needs to stay healthy himself, something he was unable to accomplish last Monday night. Still, he was highly impressive before leaving the game, rushing for 138 yards (8.6 YPC) in just one half and looking good while doing so. Morris' knee injury does not appear to be too serious, as he was seen walking around the locker room without a limp after the game, making him a must-own in all fantasy leagues.
Reggie Bush - Bush underwent arthroscopic surgery on Monday to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee and is expected to be sidelined 2-to-4 weeks. He will not make the trip to London where the Saints will match up with San Diego this week, but the team then has a bye, which means he could miss only one game as a result of the injury. That best-case scenario seems unlikely, however, as the team will undoubtedly exercise caution when dealing with the knee of their franchise back, especially since it's an issue he's been battling for a while now. Deuce McAllister will see an increased workload with Bush on the sidelines, but the Saints figure to be even more pass-heavy than ever.
Larry Johnson - Johnson was benched last week for violating team rules and has had two different assault allegations levied against him in the past week. Coach Herm Edwards said he hasn't determined whether Johnson will play Sunday against the Jets, but there are also rumblings that a league mandated suspension is imminent, with the possibility of it being for multiple games. Aside from a two-game outburst, one of which came against a Denver defense that's looking historically bad, Johnson has gotten just 2.4 YPC with 12 receiving yards on the year, so his fantasy value has plummeted.
Carson Palmer - Nothing has been confirmed, but it's looking more and more likely that Palmer will be shut down for the season because of his elbow injury. He's visited multiple specialists regarding the issue and has yet to receive positive news. With the Bengals in an 0-7 hole, there's no reason to risk playing their franchise player, and if surgery is needed, the earlier the better so he can be fully ready for the 2009 campaign.
LaDainian Tomlinson - Whether it's the lingering toe injury or his sky-high 2,488 career carries, Tomlinson is clearly in decline and currently looks nothing like the Pro Bowl back we are accustomed to seeing. Over the past three games, he's averaged a miniscule 3.3 YPC with zero touchdowns. For the season, his 3.6 YPC mark is a career-low. Tomlinson remains active in the passing game, and because San Diego's passing attack has become so potent, he'll still see plenty of scoring opportunities, but expectations need to be fully reevaluated from when the season started.
Matt Jones - In the midst of the best season of his career, Jones is reportedly looking at a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. The suspension hasn't become official quite yet, and he is expected to appeal any ruling, but it looks like he's going to miss at least a couple of games at some point.
Brodie Croyle - Not that he was all that valuable when healthy, but Croyle suffered yet another injury last week, a season-ending torn MCL. He's gotten just 5.8 YPA throughout his career and has become quite possibly the most injury-prone player in the NFL, making him no longer an option as Kansas City's future franchise quarterback. The team needs to address the position through the 2009 draft and count on Croyle only in a backup role.
Rudi Johnson - Despite facing a vulnerable Houston defense last week, Johnson was abysmal, getting just eight yards on six carries (1.3 YPC). Since he was badly outplayed by rookie Kevin Smith (6.1 YPC), fewer touches are in store for Johnson. For a team clearly rebuilding, there's absolutely no reason for the Lions to waste carries on a 29-year-old running back who hasn't got 4.0 YPC in a season since 2005.
Derek Anderson - After completing just 37.8 percent (14-for-37) of his passes while getting only 3.7 YPA last week, it's become abundantly clear that Anderson's big Week 6 game against the Giants was the aberration, not his other disappointing five games this year. His completion percentage (49.1), YPA (5.4) and TD:INT ratio (6:6) are all unacceptable marks this season. Anderson's receivers haven't done him many favors with far too many drops, but he's simply not the same quarterback he was over the first half of last season, so expect to see Brady Quinn before long.
Article first appeared 10/21/08