By Brian Spencer
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – Here’s something to consider about the fourth-overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft: with 240 yards rushing after two games this season, he needs just 118 more yards to surpass his entire output last year… and just 1 more TD, since he only scored once a year ago. Still just 23 years old, is this kid primed to be the comeback story of the year?
Maybe. Like you, I wanted nothing to do with him on draft day this year after he ran like a broken-down journeyman during most of his first two seasons. With Michael Bush pegged as the preseason favorite to be “the guy” in the Raiders’ backfield, McFadden’s ADP in Yahoo! public leagues was a lowly 117.2, making him a late 13th-round pick behind illustrious peers like Steve Slaton and Ben Tate. While Bush has yet to hit the field, McFadden has stepped in and posted a 5 YPC while tacking on 8 catches for 63 yards and a score.
With Bush apparently ready to go, McFadden’s playing time will likely depend on the whims of Al Davis, but even if we’re looking at a season-long timeshare here, those crazy enough to start him in Weeks 1 and/or 2 have already been rewarded for their leap of faith. McFadden is currently the seventh-most productive fantasy running back.
Tim Hightower, Arizona Cardinals – Is Beanie Wells the most talented back on the Cards’ roster? Probably, but talent doesn’t always supercede durability in the NFL. Though Wells technically played in all 16 games of his impressive rookie season, he was often dinged up and limited by one lingering injury or another, and has missed the first two games this season because of knee problems. That’s opened the door for Hightower, and he’s responded to the opportunity.
His Week 2 performance against the Atlanta Falcons was highlighted by an 80-yard romp down the sideline to the promised land; that stood as his team’s only notable offensive play of the afternoon in an otherwise 41-7 drubbing on the road. Sure, take that burst away and he’s left with a pedestrian 10 carries for 35 yards, but the Cards were playing from behind all day and that offense was totally overmatched in every way possible. Hightower ran hard, just as he did in Week 1 against that vaunted St. Louis Rams defense.
The 2 lost fumbles against the Rams hurt, but Hightower has still managed to be the 11th-ranked fantasy running back for his efforts. You take that from a guy whose Yahoo! ADP was undrafted, and who in my case was a 13th-round pick. Wells looks like he’ll give it a go this week against a pathetic Oakland Raiders defense, but something tells me Hightower is still the better start this week, and there’s no telling at this point just how serious Wells’ injury is or will be. There are some defensive pattycakes coming up, too.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos – You can argue that Moreno, the starting tailback for a franchise with a long history of making something out of nothing in their backfield (see Tatum Bell, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson), cannot be considered an overachiever, especially considering his Yahoo! ADP of 77.6, or the middle of the 8th round. Honestly, though, right or wrong we’ve been lukewarm on this kid from the start and didn’t think he looked all that great as a rookie, despite the relatively good stats: 947 yards rushing (3.8 YPC), 213 yards receiving, 9 TDs, and 4 fumbles lost.
The trade for Laurence Maroney was to some a vote of no-confidence in Moreno on the Broncos’ part, and hey, maybe it was, but Moreno has responded to the added competition by running hard, finding the endzone (twice), and embracing the role of workhorse in racking up 39 carries in just two games. Heading into Denver’s Week 3 home tilt against the Indianapolis Colts, Moreno is the 9th-ranked fantasy running back… but there’s a catch. His YPC is an anemic 2.8, and that’s just not good enough. I wonder, too, about his big-play ability: after 18 games, most of them as the featured back, his longest run is just 36 yards. Kevin Smith redux?
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns – Speaking of former Bronco running backs, remember when Hillis vultured 6 TDs as a rookie with Denver in ’08? A season-ending injury to promising Browns rook Montario Hardesty has, for the moment, turned Hillis into more than just a guy hanging around to pick up the leftovers: cringe with me, Dawg Pound, Hillis is actually looking like the most reliable backfield option. Ugh.
We’re not here to deride the man’s stroke of luck, though, or to point out that if he is indeed the starter this week at Baltimore–good luck with that, buddy–he just might be the weakest main guy in Week 3. No, we’re not here to poke holes in the dreams of those fantasy players who scooped the preseason afterthought up off waivers this week; we’re here to say that, yes, most definitely, this guy is a surprise overachiever in that nobody expected him to wind up fantasy rosters this season. Isn’t that how it always goes?
Anyway, just to emphasize how silly the game of football is, both real and imaginary, Hillis is currently the 13th-ranked fantasy back thanks to 76 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving, and 2 TDs. Well done, Peyton.