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Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Hitting the Wall?


Chris Johnson is on pace for more carries than he ever had in a college season.

A lot of boys perhaps officially became men last week: rookies Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both led their teams to impressive wins, youngsters Matt Forte, BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Kevin Smith all surpassed or neared the 100-yard plateau, and rook Eddie Royal made the Browns defense focus their attention away from Brandon Marshall. But let's be honest, at this point in the season there's really no such thing as a rookie. Ten weeks of NFL-level ball (training camp is right up there with any college season, too), meaning this is the point where a lot of youngsters hit the wall.

Or do they?

Quarterbacks and receivers are mostly immune from this wall aside from injuries—you don't tire from throwing or catching passes—but heavily-treaded-upon running backs are worth the worry. The average career span of an NFL running back is 3.5 years for a reason. Let's take a look at the top rookie runners and see just how much wear and tear they already have on their bodies, and how much you should expect. In order of their draft position:

Darren McFadden Collegiate Highs: 325 rushes, 21 receptions Current: 67 rushes, 10 receptions (in 6 games) On Pace: 145 rushes, 21 receptions (in 13 games) Analysis: He's been sitting for the past three games and looks iffy this upcoming week, but let's go ahead and say he plays every game from here on out. If so, he won't necessarily be putting his body through any more turmoil than he did at Arkansas. In fact, in running the Wildcat offense sometimes at Arkansas, he sometimes took hits even when he wasn't running the ball. That said, the goal of the Raiders should be to keep him healthy for next year, when they'll once again try to compete and fail miserably. (And honestly, with its success in Miami, and McFadden on your roster, why not use the McFadden-Fargas-Bush combo for some Wildcat action? Memo to Al Davis: Sign Goldie Hawn!)

Jonathan Stewart Collegiate Highs: 280 rushes, 22 receptions Current: 102 rushes, 4 receptions On Pace: 181 rushes, 7 receptions Analysis: The fact that he splits carries with DeAngelo Williams is both a blessing and a curse; Stewart owners don't have to worry about him burning out down the stretch, but they do have to worry about Williams' recent workmanlike efforts keeping Stewart on the bench.

Felix Jones Collegiate Highs: 154 rushes, 15 receptions Current: 30 rushes, 2 receptions (in 6 games) On Pace: 65 rushes, 4 receptions (in 13 games) Analysis: Another rookie who's been hit with the injury bug only a few games into his career, missing the last three games and more questionable than Matthew Lesko for Week 11. That said, if he ever does come back his legs will be fresh. That's some consolation.

Chris Johnson Collegiate Highs: 236 rushes, 37 receptions Current: 160 rushes, 26 receptions On Pace: 284 rushes, 46 receptions Analysis: Here's our first worry. Johnson is on pace to handle the ball a whopping 57 times more times than he did during any season at university, as our British cousins say. If the team is smart, they'll reintroduce LenDale White into the proceedings these next few weeks as they wrap up a playoff bye, but that's not going to help your fantasy numbers any. So be wary.

Matt Forte Collegiate Highs: 361 rushes, 32 receptions Current: 189 rushes, 37 receptions On Pace: 336 rushes, 65 receptions Analysis: While he's not on pace to break his career-high in rushing attempts, there's still plenty to worry about; those "collegiate highs" came during his senior season last year. If the Bears keep him on this pace, he'll hit 794 total touches over the past 2 years. To give you a comparison, Larry Johnson got 826 total touches during the insane '05-06 seasons, and he hasn't been the same ever since. Worst of all for Forte fantasy owners, the Bears have constantly been in close games and don't have an ample backup to take some pressure off of the rookie. You have to love what Forte has done so far this year—especially if you got him in the 7th round like myself—but keeper leagues be warned.

Ray Rice College Highs: 380 rushes, 25 receptions Current: 77 rushes, 20 receptions (in 8 games) On Pace: 144 rushes, 38 receptions (in 15 games) Analysis: The big worry about Rice isn't his carries, it's that Baltimore has a new starting RB on a week-to-week basis. A three-headed monster—besides Rice, Le'Ron McClain has 96 carries and "starter" Willis McGahee has 125—is never a good thing in fantasy. Keeper leagues may want to hold onto Rice, seeing as the Ravens management haven't been all too pleased with McGahee, but they should keep in mind that the 260-pound McClain could be the goal line vulture for years to come.

Kevin Smith College Highs: 450 rushes, 24 receptions Current: 93 rushes, 25 receptions On Pace: 165 rushes, 44 receptions Analysis: Smith owners, surprisingly, are in an ideal position. He's been kept in check so far by a variety of factors, including sharing carries with teammate Rudi Johnson and also just playing for an awful offense, but things are starting to look up as the Lions have seemingly decided to give the youngster a shot. Last week he ended up with a season-high 23 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a second TD off a 27-yard catch. Johnson, meanwhile, only saw the ball twice.

Slaton is on pace for 277 touches. His average at West Virginia was 243.

Steve Slaton College Highs: 248 rushes, 27 receptions Current: 124 rushes, 32 receptions On Pace: 220 rushes, 57 receptions Analysis: Slaton was never a big bruiser in college (his average year saw 243 touches), so the fact that he's on pace for 277 total is a bit alarming. Especially since Slaton only got four carries last week because Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he was "worn down." Might want to go ahead and sell high on this one.

Tim Hightower College Highs: 327 rushes, 32 receptions Current: 84 rushes, 23 receptions On Pace: 149 rushes, 41 receptions Analysis: Nothing to worry about here. This is probably the fantasy Cinderella story of the year: a tough rookie running back who starts off the year as a touchdown vulture and ends up taking away the starting job midway through the season on an extremely potent offense. Cinderella was once a vulture in our version, of course.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis College Highs: 234 rushes, 15 receptions Current: 63 rushes, 1 reception (in 4 games) On Pace: 189 rushes, 4 receptions (in 12 games) Analysis: The undrafted rookie from Mississippi is tough to predict, seeing as he's only had the true starting job for a week. Even then, it was only because he was the only healthy runner in the New England area. From here on out, owners of this litigation expert should just be happy to have the player with the greatest nickname of the year: "Lawfirm".

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Player on My Team of the Week: Reggie Wayne, who snapped out of a 3-game slump during which he averaged only 39 yards a week to collect 6 catches for 114 yards, including a 65-yard TD.

How to Heckle One of My Players this Week: "Hey Tim Hightower, just because you won the job from Edgerrin James doesn't mean you have to play like him. What would Tackleberry think?"

The Luck of the Irish Award of the Week: Jim O'Neill, a pilot who was flying solo over Scotland when he suffered a stroke at 15,000 feet and lost his eyesight. He landed safely with the help of air traffic control.

Buy High: Always wearing hats especially if you're in New Jersey, after Jersey City Councilman Steven Lipski was busted for urinating on a crowd at a D.C. nightclub. At least they weren't his constituents.

Sell Low: The odds of a Batman sequel after Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight, was sued by the mayor of Batman, Turkey for being responsible for "a number of unsolved murders and a high female suicide rate", which he somehow blamed on the movie's overwhelming success.