By Dalton Del Don
Chris Wells, RB, ARI – Wells has 28 carries over the last two weeks while previous starter Tim Hightower has been limited to just eight. In fact, Hightower was given just two rushing attempts last Monday and none after he lost his fourth fumble of the season early in the game. Wells would later lose a fumble himself, so he’s not the safest bet for a full workload moving forward, but since he’s really impressed when given the opportunity (5.3 YPC last week against a tough 49ers run defense), he’s the favorite to act as Arizona’s lead back from here on out, especially with Hightower dealing with a thumb injury that has affected his ability to pass protect. Wells is a bruising runner with good speed, playing in an offense that has an elite passing attack. He’s a fine RB2 start against a soft Lions’ defense in Week 15.
Chris Jennings, RB, CLE – The back-and-forth between Jennings and Jerome Harrison as Cleveland’s lead back has been maddening, but it seems Jennings’ quiet Week 14 was more due to a shoulder injury than the team’s confidence in Harrison. Jennings dominated touches last week, and while he’s not an elite back (3.7 YPC), he was able to score against a strong Steelers’ front seven, and his 20 carries were the most important number. Assuming Jennings remains the Browns’ lead back, he should be worth using in Weeks 15 and 16, when Cleveland faces the Chiefs and Raiders, who have allowed a combined 33 rushing scores on the year.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN – With Correll Buckhalter (ankle) out this week, Moreno should be a top-10 fantasy start. He’s banged up some himself, but he will likely be asked to carry the load regardless, and in a home matchup against an Oakland defense that has allowed 4.6 YPC and an NFL-high 20 rushing TDs, big results should follow. In cold conditions and as 14-point favorites, Denver should reach 30-35 rushing attempts with ease.
Arian Foster, RB, HOU – After Ryan Moats lost yet another fumble last week while continuing to struggle in pass protection, Foster was given the chance to act as Houston’s lead ballcarrier. He responded by totaling 88 yards on 17 touches, and although the team has struggled running the ball in 2009, any primary back in a potent Houston offense is worth using in fantasy leagues. With an upcoming matchup against the Rams, Foster isn’t a bad gamble as a flex play this week.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, K.C. – Bowe will return from his four-game suspension in Week 15, and fortunately, he returned to practice in top shape, so he should immediately slide right back into the starting lineup. With few other options in the passing game, expect Bowe to get targeted heavily, and KC gets a Cleveland secondary this week that has allowed the second-most YPA (8.2) in the NFL this season.
Laurence Maroney, RB, N.E. – Maroney eased concerns about his decreasing role in New England’s backfield last week, dominating the carries (22) while Sammy Morris saw just six rushing attempts and lost a fumble. Sunday’s matchup in Buffalo sets up for a run-heavy affair, as the forecast points to snowy conditions, and while the Bills possess an elite secondary (6.2 YPA, 10:25 TD:INT ratio), their run defense has been poor this season (NFL-high 4.9 YPC, 17 TDs). Maroney is a solid RB2 option in fantasy leagues in Week 15.
Jason Campbell, QB, WAS – Over the last three games, Campbell has totaled eight touchdowns while getting 7.7 YPA. His 12 interceptions are already a career-high, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for fantasy purposes, as that number suggests he’s been far more willing to take risks downfield this season. Campbell is currently playing the best football of his career, and the Giants’ secondary has played poorly in 2009 (7.1 YPA, 23:10 TD:INT ratio), so he’s a viable fantasy play in Week 15. The same goes for Fred Davis, who has scored four touchdowns over the past three games. New York has also been the second worst team defending tight ends this year as well.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, NYG – Nicks had a couple of ugly drops last week, but he also made up for the gaffes with 110 receiving yards and a touchdown. He’s finally getting more snaps than Mario Manningham, and while Steve Smith is still the favorite to lead the team in receptions, Nicks is clearly New York’s most explosive and talented wide receiver. Even during just his sophomore year next season, he’ll have quite a bit of fantasy upside.
Kevin Smith, RB, DET – Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, and his status for the beginning of the 2010 season is in doubt as well. Smith played admirably through a painful shoulder injury for much of the year, but with a 3.4 YPC mark and an inability to make plays on his own, his role as Detroit’s feature back was going to be in question even before the injury. Smith lacked breakaway speed before shredding his knee, and it’s unlikely he’ll be 100 percent until 2011, so expect the Lions to address the running back position early in next year’s draft. Smith’s value in keeper leagues has taken a huge hit.
Carson Palmer, QB, CIN – Palmer somehow threw for just 94 yards last week, and he’s tossed just three touchdowns over the past five games. He hasn’t reached even 225 passing yards in a game since Week 7, as the loss of Chris Henry has really hurt. Palmer insists he’s fully healthy, but even so, this is a passing attack to avoid in fantasy leagues. He can’t be trusted in Week 15, even in a possible shootout in San Diego. Chad Johnson, meanwhile, has reached 70 receiving yards in a game just once since Week 7 as well, so Palmer’s struggles have affected Ochocinco as well.
Mike Sims-Walker, WR, JAX – Sims-Walker was able to play through a calf injury last week despite being listed as doubtful, but it was clear he wasn’t close to 100 percent. He has just two catches for 18 yards combined over the past two games and has reached 50 yards receiving in a game just once since Week 9, as opposing defenses have started to double-team the only real threat in Jacksonville’s passing attack. Sims-Walker should be closer to full strength this week against the Colts, but Indy’s secondary has allowed just 6.3 YPA with a 13:15 TD:INT ratio this year, so he’s not the safest fantasy start in Week 15.
LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI – Despite early optimism this week, it appears Brian Westbrook (concussion) is unlikely to return to the field in Week 15. However, McCoy has been consistently losing touches to Leonard Weaver, as the Eagles’ backfield has become a full-blown timeshare. McCoy isn’t necessarily someone who must be benched in fantasy leagues since he contributes as a receiver, but he’s removed from goal-line situations and faces a San Francisco defense this week that has allowed just 3.7 YPC on the year.
Nate Burleson, WR, SEA – Burleson’s season appears to be finished after he suffered a high-ankle sprain last week, as the wide receiver once again succumbed to injury. Burleson’s 2009 fantasy season was OK, but ultimately, a declining Matt Hasselbeck and crumbling offensive line really hampered Seattle’s passing attack.
Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ – Greene has likely cost himself carries moving forward after losing his second fumble over the past three games last week. In fact, it was already his third fumble lost over just 71 rushing attempts this season. He still looks like the future main back in New York, and his role won’t completely disappear this season as the RB2 on a run-heavy team, but the Jets are in a playoff race and can’t afford any turnovers with such a conservative offense, so expect Thomas Jones to continue to dominate the carries over the rest of the year.
Percy Harvin, WR, MIN – Harvin no doubt has a bright future in the league, but his migraine headaches have become pretty worrisome. The ailment kept him out of Week 14, and his status for Sunday remains cloudy as well. Harvin has been dealing with the problem on-and-off for quite some time, and with no real solution in sight, it’s a long-term concern since they could crop up at any moment.
Article first appeared 12/16/09