The news that Raiders running back Dominic Rhodes has been suspended for the first four games of the season doesn't exactly send shockwaves through the realm of fantasy football, but it could have a profound impact on at least one player: LaMont Jordan.
With Rhodes out until at last Week 6 (the Raiders have a bye in Week 5), Jordan now has an excellent chance to re-establish himself as the featured back in Oakland. After tallying over 1,500 total yards and 11 touchdowns in 2005, Jordan managed only 508 yards and two touchdowns in nine games last season before succumbing to a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Things seemed to get worse for Jordan in the offseason. First, he had to agree to a reduced roster bonus in order to remain in Oakland. Then, the Raiders signed Rhodes, fresh off a big performance in the Super Bowl. Finally, the team selected Louisville's Michael Bush in the fourth round of April's draft. Meanwhile, little attention was paid to the fact that the Raiders did commit to paying Jordan over $4 million this season. That's a pretty strong indication that the organization feels that he can still be a very productive starter. Jordan also seems to be progressing along nicely in his recovery from his knee injury, and it's worth noting that he did not need to undergo surgery.
Jordan will not be lacking for motivation this summer. Despite the suspension, Rhodes will be allowed to participate in training camp and preseason games. Bush is recovering from a broken leg but has been participating in organized team activities and hopes to be able to play in September. Justin Fargas, who took some carries from Jordan last season, is also still in the mix.
In the initial running back rankings for the ESPN 2007 Fantasy Football Draft Kit, Jordan came in at 31, Rhodes at 42, Bush at 75 and Fargas at 96. Those rankings will be updated later this week, with Rhodes surely moving the most. Jordan probably won't move much, for these four reasons:
1) He still has competition.
2) There are still questions about his knee.
3) He's averaged just 3.8 yards per carry since coming to Oakland.
4) The Raiders still stink.
Still, Jordan has considerable upside for a player who can likely be had in the fifth or sixth round of your fantasy draft. In the offense being installed by new head coach Lane Kiffin, Jordan should have more opportunities to catch passes than he did last year. Remember, Jordan caught 70 passes for 563 yards in 2005 before falling off to just 10 catches for 74 yards in Tom Walsh's "bed-and-breakfast" offense last year.
In the first four games of the 2007 season, Jordan and the Raiders have two home games against teams (Detroit, Cleveland) that had weak run defenses in 2006 and two road games against teams (Denver, Miami) that were strong against the run. Jordan will have to play well in those games, or the returning Rhodes and the recovering Bush will still be major threats to his ongoing fantasy value.
Bottom Line: Jordan is a low-risk, high-reward fantasy option this season, and the Rhodes suspension only lessens the risk.