By Dalton Del Don
DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR – Like last year, Williams got off to somewhat of a slow start this season, but over his past four games, he's totaled 630 yards with five touchdowns. Over that span, he's also received 90 rushing attempts – a 360-carry season pace that would be nearly 100 carries more than het got in all of 2008 (he had 273 carries last year), so it's clear Carolina knows who its best player is. Just halfway through the year, Williams already has more receiving yards (185) than he had all of last season, and he's getting 5.0 YPC or more for the third straight year too. If Adrian Peterson is the best running back in football, Williams is a close second, and even with Jonathan Stewart's presence, Williams is a top-five fantasy commodity.
Chris Johnson, RB, TEN – Over his last three games, Johnson has totaled 527 yards and four touchdowns, with the last impressive outing coming versus a 49ers' defense that still ranks as the best against the run (3.4 YPC). Johnson remains underused in the passing game, but LenDale White has become completely moot, even at the goal line. In fact, Johnson's current 6.7 YPC mark is the highest for the league's leading rusher through nine weeks since 1970. There simply isn't a more explosive player in the NFL right now.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA – Hasselbeck remains at great risk for injury playing behind such a porous offensive line, but at least left tackle Sean Locklear should return in Week 10. Moreover, with a mediocre defense and awful rushing attack, the Seahawks have become quite the pass heavy team in 2009, despite Mike Holmgren's absence. Hasselbeck really stands to benefit, evidenced by last week's 51 attempts through the air. With a highly favorable upcoming schedule against the pass, as long as Hasselbeck stays healthy, he should put up nice stats and be a viable QB1 for fantasy purposes.
Laurence Maroney. RB, N.E. – Maroney has totaled 258 yards while scoring in each of the past three games, two of which came against tough run defenses. He was given 20 carries last week, so he may have finally earned the trust back from New England's coaches. Sammy Morris will probably get back into the mix at some point, but as of now, Maroney is clearly the lead dog in the Pats' backfield, and while he usually disappoints, there's still plenty of upside if he's finally 100 percent healthy. The Colts have a very good pass defense and offense, so don't be surprised if New England runs more than usual Sunday night.
Devin Hester, WR, CHI – Devin Hester has racked up 27 receptions and 359 yards over the past four games, which is a pace of 108 catches and 1,436 yards over a full season. With the Bears' defense regressing and no other Chicago receiver emerging, Hester has become a solid WR2 for fantasy purposes. Jay Cutler throws too many interceptions and frustrates at times, but the production is usually there ultimately. Greg Olsen, who caught three touchdowns last week, also deserves an upgrade.
Chris Chambers, WR, K.C. – After totaling just 122 yards with one touchdown over seven games with the Chargers, Chambers racked up 70 yards and two TDs during his debut with Kansas City last week. The change in scenario followed by the big game deserves some attention, but odds are that will go down as Chambers' best game of the season. He's not a great route runner and has questionable hands, so chalk it up as a fluke more than anything else.
Kellen Winslow, TE, T.B. - Winslow's targets (five) last week weren't overwhelming, but Josh Freeman's performance gives hope for the future. Winslow's yardage total (57) was his most in a month, and it was also the first time he's scored a TD over that span as well. With a poor defense and few other options in the passing attack, expect Winslow's increased production to continue with Freeman now at the helm.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT – Mendenhall has had plenty of fantasy value ever since he became Pittsburgh's lead back, but coming off the team's bye, Monday night's performance (22 carries, 155 rushing yards) against a Denver defense that has played well all season was especially impressive. He's gotten 7.0 YPC over the past two games, and Willie Parker has been rendered useless. With a terrific passing attack and defense on his side, Mendenhall has big time upside over the second half of the 2009 season.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, S.D. – If it wasn't clear last season or through the first five games this year, Tomlinson's performance last week (1.8 YPC) made it abundantly so – he's done. Even in the most favorable of matchups, the current version of LT2 is risky, and against tough run defenses, he's a must-sit. Tomlinson doesn't offer much as a receiver these days, and while he remains the goal-line back for a potent offensive team, his 3.2 YPC is simply unacceptable. He's a Hall of Famer who's had a great career, but all running backs fall off at some point, and his 2,748 career rushing attempts mean Tomlinson's decline should have surprised no one.
Clinton Portis, RB, WAS – Portis isn't quite at Tomlinson's stage of his career, but he's also not far off. He also suffered a pretty severe concussion last week, leaving his immediate status in heavy doubt. As a result, Ladell Betts deserves an upgrade. Washington's offensive line is a big problem, but Portis' explosion has been missing since 2007, so it will be interesting to see what a different running back can do in this offense.
Mike Bell, RB, N.O. – Bell still needs to be owned in all leagues, but he's now become more of a backup with upside than a viable flex option, although he may have some value in highly favorable matchups like this week against the Rams. Bell took a backseat to Pierre Thomas last week, getting just five carries in the game. Thomas has gotten 5.5 YPC on the year compared to 4.4 YPC for Bell, and the former is a much better option as a receiver as well. Since Bell is also no longer the sure goal-line back, he needs an injury to truly be fantasy relevant once again.
Chris Henry, WR, CIN – Henry will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his broken left forearm. With Henry headed for injured reserve, the Bengals will rely on Andre Caldwell as their No. 3 wideout, with Jerome Simpson and perhaps Maurice Purify, candidates to work in the No. 4 role. Henry could still be a sleeper next season if he lands in the right situation.
Brian Westbrook, RB, PHI – In addition to his concussion, Westbrook is also dealing with swelling in his ankle. Coach Andy Reid confirmed that it was the headache Westbrook suffered Friday that kept him out of Sunday's game but added that Westbrook "had some work done on his ankle." Reid didn't specify the nature of the "work" but did say surgery was not involved. In any case, there are now two health variables to be concerned about regarding Westbrook's Week 10 status. The concussion, which knocked him completely unconscious, was bad enough, and with further ankle problems, fantasy owners can't feel too comfortable entering crunch time.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – Moreno gained just three yards on five carries Monday, as he continues to disappoint. He's averaging just 3.2 YPC over his last four games and hasn't been nearly as involved as a receiver as hoped. He's also scored just two touchdowns through eight games and is clearly in a committee with Correll Buckhalter. There's still upside running behind a good offensive line, but the rookie isn't even a flex option right now against tougher opponents.
Article first appeared 11/11/09