Thanksgiving is always a weird time. Maybe because it's the only time of the year that we get a couple days off just to recover from our impending poultry hangovers (and spend time with family, but come on, I'm in it for the Turkey).
Or, more likely, it could be that this Thursday is the one day per year we are forced to choose between watching an entire Lions game or talking to your Uncle Rick about the Do's and Don'ts of power walking; incidentally, also the only day of the year the Lions are guaranteed to win something (our attention).
Now before your put on the bib, loosen your belt and get ready to dive into dinner, don't forget: Fantasy Football starts on Thursday this week again. So make sure to cover all your bases, and read this week's Red Zone Report so you can enjoy your Turkey-induced football haze all weekend.
Brian Leonard, Bengals RB
Although Bernard Scott had a very nice game filling in for Cedric Benson, something else caught my eye: the pride of Piscataway, Brian Leonard. Since watching him leap over defenders at Rutgers, I've always had a little thing for Leonard. Not only does he have good speed (ran a 4.50 at the combine), but Leonard has great size (6'1" 226). This skill combo would seem to make him a good candidate to be the bigger "goal line" half of a two-headed running back attack, and Marvin Lewis seems to agree.
Although Scott had 21 carries to Leonard's 13, the split in important situations was far different. Scott only had three of the Bengals' 11 carries in the Red Zone, and none on the goal line. Leonard, on the other hand, got seven out of 11 RZ carries and all 3 GL carries.
While both of these backs will return to irrelevancy upon Benson's impending return, this week's matchup against Cleveland makes them more important than ever. I still expect Scott to get more overall touches than Leonard, but (if Benson is out) it will be Leonard dominating the carries in scoring situations; which, against the Browns, there should be a lot of.
If Cedric Benson is out and you are desperate for a RB, Brian Leonard is a great pickup. Not only is Bernard Scott most likely owned in your league, but I wouldn't be shocked to see the Rutgers alum put up the better game if Benson is out. If for some reason Benson is out next week also, the Bengals face Detroit, meaning owners in deeper leagues may be able to get two valuable games out of Brian Leonard down the stretch.
Jermichael Finley, Packers TE
Finley was, by far, my favorite pick in drafts this past August—along with Brandon Jacobs, grr—and now it looks like he's finally ready to cash in. Finley looked to be just turning the corner before getting injured in Week Seven against the Browns, totaling 182 yards and a touchdown in his previous two games. His return last week went quite well. He had seven catches for 54 yards, including a career-high 10 targets from Aaron Rodgers. In addition Finley saw four RZ targets in his return to lineup (think Mr. Rodgers is happy to have him back in the neighborhood?).
This week, Finley faces Detroit, and the super-athletic hybrid tight end should rip them apart. It's always a crap shoot predicting TEs, but with this guy's crazy combo of speed and strength, his owners could be in for a huge day. Go pick him up. Go start him. Enjoy watching him tear it up on Turkey Day.
Laurence Maroney, Patriots RB
It took a few more years than expected, but Maroney is finally turning out to be the player the New England thought they were drafting a few years ago. Since Fred Taylor has gone down, Maroney has become the man for the Patriots. Not only has he played well, but he's gained the full trust of his coaches in scoring situations.
Going into Week Six, Maroney had received just three of New England's 24 RZ carries (12.5 percent), and none of the three GL carries. Since then, he's gotten 22 of 27 RZ carries (81 percent), and all eight GL carries. I'd never thought I'd say this, but, Maroney is a definite RB2 for the rest of the season. Although his schedule isn't a cake walk, he won't face any particularly tough run defenses, and sees Buffalo (one of the worst run defenses) in the Week 15.
Pierre Thomas, Saints RB
Honestly, it's pretty much impossible to figure out what Sean Payton will do next. While this wasn't quite as egregious to fantasy owners as having seven different players score touchdowns, giving Pierre Thomas just one out of New Orleans' seven RZ carries makes no sense. When healthy, Thomas—as I covered last week—is clearly their most explosive player, and has shown the ability to be an effective short yardage back as well. Unfortunately, Payton doesn't seem to care about keeping his approach consistent.
Despite averaging a shade over six carries in his past two games, Payton put the ball in Mike Bell's hands when it mattered most during Week 11. Bell's six RZ carries, and three on the GL explain why he had two touchdowns to Thomas' goose egg. Although Thomas still managed to have a respectable fantasy day (92 rushing yards, 11 receiving), a trip into the end zone would've been much appreciated.
Despite Bell's big game, I can't justify calling this anything more than another annoying tale in the saga of Sean Payton disappointing (who am I kidding—screwing over) fantasy owners. Pierre Thomas is still, clearly, the most talented player in the Saints backfield, and should produce the most fantasy value from here on out. However, Payton's propensity to share the ball around the goal line has to scare Thomas owners, and does depress his value somewhat. Having said that, his prolific running ability should be enough to overcome losing some scoring chances, Thomas is still a very solid RB2 the rest of the way.
Steve Slaton, Texans RB
Has there been anyone more frustrating to own than Steve Slaton? Not only did he lose his job after costing a high draft pick, but then, after being pronounced dead to fantasy owners, he finds a way into the end zone two weeks in a row. Slaton has averaged just over seven touches over the past three games, so there was no way you could've started him with any confidence these past two weeks. In addition, Chris Brown got 11 carries to Slaton's five this past week, further indicating that coach Gary Kubiak is more undecided on the Texans starting RB than Washington is on universal health care.
Kubiak knows Slaton is undoubtedly the most talented RB on his team, but has some serious trust issues with him stemming from Slaton fumbling seven times in Houston's first eight games.
Despite my loathing of Slaton (fantasy speaking of course, he's probably a nice enough guy), I think the smartest move for Houston would be to go back to the dynamic runner as their No. 1 RB. Unfortunately, this transition won't be as easy for Kubiak, and may not even happen this season. Going forward we know a few things for certain:
1. Steve Slaton is the best player in the Houston backfield.
2. Some combination of Chris Brown and Ryan Moats will see more Red Zone and GL carries than Slaton.
The Texans' next four games are run friendly (IND, JAC, SEA, STL), meaning Slaton could conceivably come back into fantasy relevance. I would take the wait and see approach with this week against the Colts (unless you're really desperate), and if he manages to get 12-15 touches he should be a matchup RB2 until Week 16 against Miami.
Rock Cartwright, Redskins RB
There have been a lot of awesome sports names over the years: Patrick Pass (Patriots FB), God Shammgod (NBA), Fat Lever (NBA), and Pooh Richardson (NBA). Rock Cartwright may be the coolest. There's something about his name that just screams: SHAFT! Great name aside, Cartwright has crept into fantasy relevance as a result of every other RB on the Skins being hurt.
Just about a week before his 30th birthday, Cartwright will get a chance to be the No. 1 RB for the first time since the end of the 2003 season. While it's hard to figure out just what to expect out of the career kick returner, one thing is in his favor: he has no peers, literally.
Totaling 140 yards from scrimmage (67 rushing, 73 receiving), Cartwright was excellent in Week 11. Unlike most RBs, he won't have to worry about anyone stealing touches in the Red Zone or anywhere else (sorry to all the Quinton Ganther fans reading this). Going forward Cartwright faces a bunch of middle of the pack run defenses, (PHI, NO, NYG, DAL), but he does travel to Oakland in Week 14 to face the hapless Raiders.
If you're living paycheck by paycheck with running backs, it may be worth picking up Cartwright and stashing him for that game (when, assuming they keep Portis out, Rock would be a great RB2). Aside from Week 14, I would call Cartwright a decent flex option as long as Clinton Portis is held out with concussions symptoms.
Justin Forsett, Seahawks RB
Despite getting nothing on the ground against the staunch Vikings run defense, Justin Forsett showed us all how explosiveness has a tendency to make up for many ills. I covered him extensively in last week's article, but I'll just say it again. This guy has a great schedule from here on out (STL, SF, HOU, and TB) and is a sure fire RB2 the rest of the way.
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