By Dalton Del Don
Brian Westbrook, RB, PHI – Westbrook (concussion) returned to action Sunday for the first time since Week 10, seeing 23 snaps. He remains a huge injury risk and is unlikely to be a true workhorse like in years past, but if he's truly back to 100 percent, the Eagles will give him the majority of touches in Philly's backfield from here on out. Westbrook is 30 years old and in the decline phase of his brilliant career, but he's gotten 4.6 YPC and has remained active as a receiver when on the field in 2009, so he's hardly finished. Because of his versatility, he could prove a difference maker during the Eagles' postseason run.
Arian Foster, RB, HOU – Foster has had an up-and-down last few weeks, but he was able to gain 97 yards rushing (5.1 YPC) with a score against the Dolphins last week, taking over as Houston's lead back in the process. A good week of practice followed by no fumbles and a productive outing Sunday should lead to a continued featured role in Week 17 against the Patriots, and if he continues to impress, he'll enter the mix for carries in 2010. The Texans' running back situation is far from settled, and while Foster is undrafted and lacks the explosion of Steve Slaton, he's more of a bruiser, and the coaching staff clearly likes him. He's someone to keep your eye on moving forward.
Shonn Greene, RB, NYJ – Aside from his fumbling problems, Shonn Greene has quietly impressed when given the opportunity this season, getting 5.0 YPC. Thomas Jones has obviously played quite well this year and will enter 2010 as the Jets' unquestioned RB1, but he'll be 32 years old while approaching 2,300 career rushing attempts. Jones will also be coming off five straight seasons with at least 290 carries, so he's a major candidate to breakdown, making Greene a highly desirable target in fantasy leagues, especially on a run-first team with an elite defense.
Brandon Gibson, WR, STL – Gibson's overall numbers won't jump out at you. In fact, he didn't have a touchdown on the year until last week, but he's shown plenty of flashes of promise regardless, and this is a rookie who was traded midseason and has endured a horrible quarterback situation in St. Louis. While Gibson is unlikely to have an elite signal caller working in his favor with the Rams next season, he's probably passed the brittle Donnie Avery to become the team's No. 1 wide receiver, and it's not like the QB position can get any worse. Playing for a team that will need to pass frequently to offset a bad defense and in a division with mostly soft secondaries, Gibson will enter 2010 as a deep sleeper. He's got legit potential.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR - New York's defense has been a big disappointment this season, but it entered last week with a YPC-allowed mark ranking in the top-10 in the league and playing the final home game in Giants Stadium with its playoff lives on the line, so Stewart's huge performance (206 rushing yards) was highly impressive. His fantasy value will remain limited as long as DeAngelo Williams is on the roster and healthy, but it's worth noting just how good Stewart is when given the opportunity. Only eight backs have scored more than his 19 touchdowns the last two seasons, and that's come with a modest 389 rushing attempts. He's gotten 4.9 YPC in 2009 despite playing through a painful heel injury, and any given week Williams is out with injury, Stewart is a top-five RB option regardless of opponent.
Devin Aromashadu, WR, CHI – No one has truly emerged from Chicago's wide receiver corps this year, at least until Aromashadu recently, though that was too little too late to help any fantasy owners. At 6-foot-2, 200, with good speed, he possesses more physical tools than Earl Bennett and better size than Devin Hester. There's no guarantee he'll enter 2010 as a starter, but if Jay Cutler's targets are any indication, the strong-armed QB thinks highly of Aromashadu, so he's someone to consider late in drafts next year. Cutler has obviously been a disappointment this season, but he's still got plenty of upside, and even if the interceptions continue, he's likely to put up far bigger passing stats next season, and Aromashadu could be a big beneficiary.
Laurence Maroney, RB, NE – Maroney didn't see the field again after losing his fourth fumble of the season last week and his third that occurred at the goal line. He's the most talented back on the Patriots' roster, but that's still resulted in just 3.9 YPC on the year, and with such huge ball-security issues, there's no reason not to give Sammy Morris (and even Fred Taylor) most of New England's carries from here on. Maroney's long-term outlook has suffered a hit as well, as Bill Belichick will have a hard time trusting the perennially disappointing back in the future.
Alex Smith, QB, SF – Smith finished with a 97.5 QB rating Sunday, but against the worst secondary in the league and with the benefit of its defense creating six turnovers, the 49ers' offense was pretty disappointing, scoring just 20 points at home versus the Lions. San Francisco's offensive line is solid, Frank Gore is one of the better running backs in the league and with Vernon Davis emerging as the league's best tight end combined with exciting rookie WR Michael Crabtree, Smith has plenty of weapons to work with. The offensive scheme is hardly innovative, but coach Mike Singletary has played to Smith's strengths, using the spread/shotgun formation often, yet it's resulted in mediocre results. Smith's 6.2 YPA mark is simply unacceptable, so San Francisco's quarterback situation remains up in the air moving forward.
Darren McFadden, RB, OAK – Even without Justin Fargas (knee), McFadden managed just 23 yards on seven carries last week against a bad Browns' front seven. He's averaged a paltry 3.5 YPC on the year, also fumbling five times (losing three) on just 99 rushing attempts. McFadden has only one touchdown in 2009 and too easily goes down on first contact, completely inept between the tackles. He has racked up 139 receiving yards over the past three games, so he's not useless when used in the right capacity. McFadden can be productive as a change-of-pace type back, but he's highly unlikely to ever live up to his draft status and has become an afterthought in fantasy leagues.
Quinton Ganther, RB, WAS – Since Ganther totaled 93 yards with two touchdowns during his first ever start in Week 14, he's combined for just 34 rushing yards over the past two contests. He's averaging an anemic 3.4 YPC on the season and looks nothing like a feature back in the NFL. The Redskins really need to improve their running back position during the offseason.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA – Over his last seven games, Hasselbeck has gotten 6.1 YPA with a 6:12 TD:INT ratio. He's also fumbled eight times over that span, lucky enough to lose just two during that stretch. At age 34, it seems a bit premature to say he's finished, but last season's horrible performance (5.8 YPA, 5:10 TD:INT ratio) was hoped to be written off by a bad back injury, but then what's the excuse for 2010? The offensive line has obviously really declined, but that can hardly be blamed for Hasselbeck suddenly becoming a well below average quarterback in a league where passing stats are through the roof. The Seahawks might live to regret taking Aaron Curry over a QB in last year's draft for seasons to come.
Pierre Thomas, RB, N.O. – Thomas' already disappointing fantasy season got even more frustrating last week, when he left early with a rib injury. He was able to rush for 60 yards with a touchdown before departing, but he hasn't exactly proven his ability to stay healthy either, giving coach Sean Payton further reason to avoid giving him a full workload. Thomas has gotten an impressive 5.4 YPC on the year and will finish with more than respectable final numbers (1,168 total yards and nine touchdowns despite missing 2.5 games). But playing for the NFL's best offense (33.3 points per game), Thomas was given more than 15 carries in a game just once this season, despite the gaudy YPC average, as clearly Payton simply doesn't view him as a workhorse. It could have been so much more.
Article first appeared 12/30/09