Knee-Jerk Fantasy Observation: Trade Fast Willie Parker If You Can…Fast

Midwest Sports FansAnalyst ISeptember 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Running back Willie Parker #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the football against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Titans 13-10 in overtime. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Ladies and gentleman, we are one game into the NFL and fantasy football seasons and I am already issuing my first mea culpa.

In my Week One start em-sit em column from earlier this week, I recommended Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker, seen above, as a solid play against Tennessee in the Thursday night season opener.

My reasoning certainly sounded good to me at the time, but after Parker’s 13-carry, 19-yard performance last night…I feel a little bit like Nick Nolte’s mugshot

After citing Parker’s strong start to the 2008 season, plus his solid return immediately after a midseason injury, this is what I wrote:

I think Pittsburgh and coach Mike Tomlin will want to establish their running game early in the 2009 season and will take advantage of Parker’s fresh legs to do so. You may want to think about trading Fast Willie after Week 3 or 4, because he tends to wind down, but this is a week to take advantage of having him on your roster.

I was right on the first part. The Steelers tried to establish the run, and they tried to establish power running between the tackles. The problem is that running between the tackles is not Willie Parker’s forte, nor is it something he seems all that excited about doing. Add to that the fact that the Steelers are struggling along the offensive line, and, well, 13 carries for 19 yards seems like a pretty reasonable outcome.

But now comes this update on Willie Parker, from Pro Football Talk:

In the wake of Thursday night’s regular-season opener, we’re hearing that the sun could soon be setting on Parker’s tenure as the team’s go-to tailback.

The scuttlebutt in the wake of the Week One game is that Parker seems to be reluctant to run between the tackles.  

That’s not the best way to start a contract year.

Florio explains that because of Parker’s growing reluctance and inability to be a between-the-tackles runner, the Steelers may soon turn to Rashard Mendenhall or Mewelde Moore as their feature back. That’s right, the Steelers’ 2008 1st round pick Rashard Mendenhall may not even be the guy to fill in for Parker if he’s replaced.

How soon before we can officially label Mendenall a bust? (Perhaps we should ask this guy his opinion first…)

But getting back to Parker, from a fantasy standpoint this is clearly not good news. The following article by Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports echoes many of the growing number of real-life and fantasy concerns about Willie Parker.

The Steelers were able to eek out a victory last night with Ben Roethlisberger throwing for over 300 yards, but they still only produced 13 points. Granted, Tennessee has a strong defense—and may not skip a beat without Albert Haynesworth—but the Steelers want to control the ball and the clock. Less than two yards per carry and an aversion to inside running is not going to get that done.

So my advice to Willie Parker fantasy owners: float some trade offers, and do it right now. Some more astute owners in your league will shoot you down immediately, and with good reason. But there may be other owners who a) like to stockpile backs, b) who owned Parker a couple of years ago, or c) who give the Titans’ D a lot of credit and consider last night’s performance an anomaly.

The other option is to wait until after Week 6 to trade Parker. The Steelers face the Lions and Browns back-to-back in weeks 5 and 6. Whoever is running the ball for the Steelers will no doubt have success in those two games. If it’s still Parker toting the rock full-time, his value could increase. The risk you run is that he may already have been relegated to third down duty by then, at which point he would be nothing more than waiver wire fodder.

If you can find an owner right now with a void at running back who was high on Parker in the preseason—and there were some out there—see what you can get in return. You may not get exactly what you want, but it may be your only way to salvage value for Parker before he’s lost his starting job for good.