Commentary

Stecker the man to get if Bush out

Updated: December 7, 2007, 3:47 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Reggie Bush has a torn ligament in his knee and could miss the rest of the season. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, head coach Sean Payton confirmed the injury but is holding out hope that Bush could play Monday night against the Falcons. Despite Payton's optimism, you can't afford to risk leaving Bush in your starting lineup for Week 14 unless you have alternatives who are also playing on Monday.

What does the potential loss of Bush mean? Well, it certainly isn't good for any team to lose a player of Bush's ability, and for the Saints, already thin at the running back position after losing Deuce McAllister, this is a lot to overcome. The fact that Bush is such a key part of the passing game compounds the problems for New Orleans. Bush has a team-leading 73 receptions on the year and gives Drew Brees a safety valve when his wide receivers can't get open downfield. Without Bush, expect Brees to lean more on his tight ends, Eric Johnson and Billy Miller, as check-down options.

Injury Analysis
For more on Reggie Bush and other NFL injuries, be sure to check out Stephania Bell's injury blog, which is updated several times per week, including Friday evening and Saturday.

But the big question for fantasy owners concerns who is going to, quite literally, carry the team on the ground. In his news conference on Thursday, Payton said that the only person on the injury report was Pierre Thomas, who was still suffering from a bruised kidney. Even if Thomas somehow manages to make his way back onto the field in time for Monday night's contest against the Falcons, it doesn't seem likely that he'd be in any condition to handle a heavy workload.

Therefore, it looks like Aaron Stecker becomes the man to have at running back, by default. Stecker has spelled Bush at times this season already, and the results were modest. Stecker has 59 carries for 200 yards; that's an average of only 3.4 yards per carry, which is actually worse than the 3.7 YPC that was the source of so much criticism for Bush. Still, it's not like Stecker is coming into the position cold. He has started games before -- as recently as 2005 -- and has had success catching passes out of the backfield, with 107 receptions in his four years as a Saint.

Stecker should be considered an immediate add in all fantasy leagues, whether you need a running back or not. With the fantasy playoffs upon us, the last thing you need is another team picking him up and using him against you. In the final four weeks, the Saints have two very favorable matchups for running backs, this week against the Falcons and Week 17 against the Bears.

The sleeper pick that may come out of this injury is fullback Mike Karney. He's had only nine carries this year but has turned two of them into touchdowns. With nine grabs for 51 yards, he's proven that he can come out of the backfield to help in the passing game. And that's just the kind of help the Saints will need, if they expect to have any chance of scraping out the final wild card spot.

A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.