By Dalton Del Don
Jerome Harrison, RB, CLE – Harrison and Chris Jennings have traded off as upgrades seemingly every other week for the past month, so Cleveland's backfield usage is anything but predictable. After Harrison's performance Sunday (286 rushing yards, three touchdowns), he should be the starter from here on out. The former Pac-10 leading rusher has always impressed when given the opportunity, averaging 5.2 YPC throughout his NFL career while showing good skills as a receiver as well. Poor blocking has held him back and kept him in the coaches' doghouse, but at some point, Harrison needs to be given the chance to act as the Browns' workhorse. Even if it came against a bad Chiefs' rushing defense, Sunday's outburst was truly impressive and a historically great day by the running back. It's a shame Cleveland wasted so many carries on Jamal Lewis this season.
Maurice Morris, RB, DET – Morris totaled 161 yards on just 22 touches last week against the Cardinals, immediately upgrading Detroit's backfield. In fact, Morris' 64-yard TD run provided a rare case of explosion previously missing from the Lions' rushing attack, as Kevin Smith's longest run of the season was 31 yards – his only carry that went for more than 20 yards on the year (217 rushing attempts). Morris is a former second round pick, but that was way back in 2002, and he's basically a career journeyman without much long-term upside. Still, his performance Sunday highlighted what was missing from Detroit's running game all year, so the team really needs to address the position during the offseason. Morris isn't a terrible flex start for those desperate in Week 16, but his matchup in San Francisco doesn't look great on paper.
Steve Smith, WR, CAR – Over the last three weeks, Smith has racked up 318 receiving yards with two touchdowns, giving a glimpse of the kind of stats he could compile with even mediocre play from his quarterback. Smith's 2009 season will no doubt go down as a disappointment (although he could still finish with the second-highest TD total of his career), but that just means he could come at something of a discount at fantasy drafts next year. All six of his touchdowns this season have come over the past eight games.
Michael Bush, RB, OAK – Bush ran for 133 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries Sunday (7.4 YPC) in Denver, and few if any fantasy owners benefitted. That's because coach Tom Cable has refused to give Bush much of an opportunity this season, as he'd been given a total of eight carries over the previous four games combined, despite Bush's 5.0 YPC mark on the year. In fact, he only got an opportunity Sunday because starter Justin Fargas tweaked a knee. Fargas has gotten just 3.8 YPC this season and is an underwhelming back, and while Darren McFadden remains a factor, he's better suited as a change-of-pace RB and not one who runs between the tackles. Bush clearly looks like Oakland's best running back, but it remains to be seen if the coaching staff ever agrees.
Eli Manning, QB, NYG – Over the past three games, Manning has gotten 10.1 YPA with an 8:1 TD:INT ratio – all against division rivals with strong secondaries, so he's currently playing some of the best football of his career. If you go back further, Manning has posted a 13:3 TD:INT ratio over the past six games. His current 8.1 YPA mark is by far a career-high (previous best was 6.8), and his 26 touchdown passes are already more than he's ever had in a season with two games left on the schedule. Who knows what his final numbers would have looked like had a foot injury not affected his play in the middle of the year. With three young wide receivers fast developing into potential stars, Manning's fantasy outlook has never looked better.
Jermichael Finley, TE, GB – Over the past three games, Finley has racked up 21 catches for 223 yards and three scores. His knee that has hampered him for much of the season still isn't even 100 percent, so imagine the type of numbers he could put up in 2010 while fully healthy and entering just his third year in the league. Having Aaron Rodgers throwing to him doesn't hurt either. Finley should probably be viewed as a top-five tight end entering 2010, while Rodgers is likely to go in the second round of most drafts.
Reggie Wayne, WR, IND – Wayne is coming off a big game last week (132 yards, one TD), topping 50 receiving yards for the first time since Week 11. Still, there's no guarantee the Colts don't start resting their star players in Week 16, and even if Wayne does play a full complement of snaps Sunday, he'll likely be shadowed by Darrelle Revis this week. In seven games against Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Marques Colston, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss this season, Revis has limited them to 32 catches for 179 yards and one touchdown combined. Wayne is at least worth considering benching Week 16 in fantasy leagues.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR – Williams cost a lot of fantasy teams their league last week, when he left Sunday's game for good after gaining just 13 rushing yards on six carries. Williams aggravated an ankle sprain that has been bothering him for the past few weeks, and salt was poured in the wound watching Jonathan Stewart tear it up afterward (123 yards, two touchdowns). Williams has shown improvement as a receiver this season, and his 5.2 YPC mark remains impressive, but he hasn't received 20 carries in a game since Week 9 and has been given that amount just three times all year, so he'll go down as a fantasy disappointment in 2009.
Arian Foster, RB, HOU – After gaining 88 yards in Week 14, Foster looked like Houston's lead back and was a popular fantasy start Sunday, but a fumble led to an early benching and zero carries the rest of the way (he had also fumbled in practice earlier that week). Ryan Moats underwhelmed in his place (13 carries, 46 yards), so as long as he corrects the fumbling problem, coach Gary Kubiak is likely to give Foster another chance over the final two games of the season. Still, he's a gamble in fantasy leagues.
Michael Turner, RB, ATL – Turner lasted just one carry when he returned to action last week, leaving after his high-ankle sprain was aggravated. He's been useless in fantasy leagues over the past five games, as the injury has essentially ruined the second half of his season. Even if he's able to suit up in Week 16, Turner is simply too risky to use with the chance of him exiting early once again.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG – Jacobs is still searching for his first 100-yard rushing game this season, and he's averaged just 3.2 YPC over the past five contests. Moreover, he lost goal-line work to Ahmad Bradshaw last week, and despite already playing in more games this year compared to last, his rushing scores have dropped from 15 to five.
Brady Quinn, QB, CLE – Quinn's season is finished after Cleveland placed him on IR with a foot injury. He got just 3.9 YPA with a 0:2 TD:INT ratio in his final game of the year, so he didn't exactly leave on a high note. Quinn finished 2009 with a paltry 5.2 YPA mark and an 8:7 TD:INT ratio over nine starts, so it's safe to assume the Browns will take a hard look at addressing the quarterback position during the offseason.
Article first appeared 12/23/09