Commentary

Vikings defense big loser in StarCaps suspensions

Updated: December 3, 2008, 11:17 AM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Of the six players suspended Tuesday by the NFL for using a masking agent, the most famous name is Deuce McAllister. But he's not the guy you should be most concerned with.

Pat Williams and Kevin Williams
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidWithout Kevin and Pat Williams in the lineup, running backs facing the Vikings might actually be worth using now.
The most important name that will miss the final four games of the regular season (pending appeal) is Williams. As in Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, the twin run-stuffing defensive tackles for the Minnesota Vikings.

There's no question that Jared Allen has overcome a slow start and a shoulder injury to be his old disruptive self (he has six sacks in his past five games, and was all over the place against the Bears on Sunday night). But the primary reason the Vikings stop the run as well as they do -- they've allowed the second-fewest rushing yards this season, and have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing backs -- is that mass in the middle. Now it appears that the Williams boys will be out for the rest of the season (according to ESPN's own Chris Mortensen, Pat Williams is reportedly suing the NFL to keep playing pending appeal), and the Vikings might have just gotten a whole lot easier to run against.

Kevin Smith of the Lions -- who didn't do anything Thanksgiving against the Titans, but in his previous three games had rushed for 294 total yards -- suddenly looks borderline usable this weekend as Detroit hosts Minnesota. Similarly, Tim Hightower of the Cardinals (in Week 15), Michael Turner of the Falcons (in Week 16) and Brandon Jacobs of the Giants (in Week 17, presuming he's not resting) all might avoid what has been, for a few years now, a true rushing void in the Great Lakes region. As the fantasy playoffs embark, this is major news.

As for the other suspended names, McAllister (317 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per carry, four touchdowns) hasn't exceeded 18 yards rushing in a game for a month, and shouldn't have been in your fantasy playoff plans regardless. Reggie Bush is healthy, and Pierre Thomas led the Saints in carries last week, so whatever fantasy value the New Orleans rushers have will be split between them. The other only semi-important suspended name is Saints defensive end Will Smith, who only has three sacks this season and hasn't put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He's a pretty big name, though, so New Orleans' opponents (Falcons, Bears, Lions and Panthers) could get a slight uptick in the passing game.

Defensive end Charles Grant of the Saints also faces disciplinary action, but he's already out for the year with a torn triceps. Texans long snapper Bryan Pittman also received a suspension.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.