Commentary

Called Out: What to do with Betts?

Updated: December 17, 2009, 12:25 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Writing headlines is such a double-edged sword.

As a sports fan, you probably have read thousands -- nay, millions -- of them over the years. They can be clever or informative or just painfully bad puns, but it's that last one that's most likely to bounce around in your brain for days after you've read it. Oh, you know the type: "Win was a Brees," "King of the Cassel" (shout-out to 2008!), "Fantasy prowess not his Forte," "Wacco for Flacco" …

Although, to be fair, I still get a chuckle out of that last one. And that's really the point, isn't it? We aim to make headlines memorable, humorous, destined to draw you into reading the story. Sometimes it might be painful, but admit it, a sliver of your brain likes it, craves it, when we toss it a winner: "Ochocinco an Ocho-stinko" (again, shout-out to 2008 -- he's no "stinko" this season).

Well, folks, there's a player this week destined to be the subject of brutally bad pun headlines: Ladell Betts, the Washington Redskins' almost-certain starting running back.

Ladell Betts
James Lang/US PresswireLadell Betts is back in the spotlight again with Clinton Portis likely out this week with a concussion.

We spend a lot of space on these pages prognosticating about the upcoming week, and in addition to the valuable analysis from our experts (and myself) below, I'm first taking a moment to make a prediction. You know, for fun's sake, because if you can't have fun playing fantasy football, you need a new hobby. I'm convinced there are Washington, D.C.-based sports editors out there prepping their Week 10 headlines in advance, drooling over the prospect of a Betts-related headline. It's simply too easy. Calling it now, if he's a success:

"Betts pays off" (not to be confused with waiver-wire pickups headline "Taking all Betts" or matchup prediction column headline "A safe Betts")

If he's a total bomb:

"All Betts are off"

Mark it down, because I'm sure they're already written and ready to go come Sunday evening, much the way obituaries for famous people usually are written in advance (frightening fact for those previously unaware). And why not? Betts might yet be the headliner of Week 10 -- or he might not. Certainly, fantasy owners everywhere are asking about his role and his matchup this week. It's a popular topic, and to kick off this week's Called Out, it's the first of our 10 discussions.

Turns out, we've got a real split of opinion about the guy. Matthew Berry and Erik Kuselias apparently say "Betts pays off," ranking him 18th and 21st, respectively. Christopher Harris and Eric Karabell, meanwhile, seemingly think "All Betts are off," ranking him a more forgettable 31st and 32nd. Thanks, guys, appreciate the consensus so I can prepare my brain for only one bad pun. So who's right?

"Well, here's what I wrote in both my TMR column and my Love/Hate this week, so might as well make it a clean sweep of three," Berry says. "He ran well after coming in for [Clinton] Portis last week (16 touches, 103 yards and a touchdown), and we know a few things: The Redskins are committed to the run, Betts is also part of the passing game (where Jason Campbell enjoys the check down) and they face a Denver Broncos team that is on the road, on a short week and that has given up 324 total yards to opposing running backs the past two weeks. So as a flex play this week, yeah, I'm buying. I'd be shocked if Portis played."

"I think the Broncos were exposed against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Mendenhall went off against them on Monday night, and Betts can carry some of that good will into this game," Kuselias says. "The last time Betts was asked to really carry the load was back in 2006, when he started the final seven games of that season. He had 879 yards and three scores when Portis was out. I think he could put up some decent numbers with an increased workload. Betts had 15 carries for 70 yards and a score against the Atlanta Falcons when Portis went down. Fresh legs are hard to come by in Week 10, and at least Betts has that going for him."

Well said, both of you, but the flipside of the argument is that for all of Betts' success in late 2006 and in relief in Week 9, the guy did average a mere 3.4 yards per carry in 36 games in a backup role from Week 1 of 2007 through Week 8 of this season. I need the other side of the argument.

"First off, the matchup isn't that bad: The Broncos gave it up to Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall the past two weeks," Harris says. "The problem I have is that Betts didn't get most of the short-yardage carries in Atlanta last week; Rock Cartwright did. Now, Cartwright got stuffed three times, and Betts converted a fourth down for a touchdown run, so maybe the Skins will reconsider, but visual evidence (y'know, watching the games) indicates Betts might not be in line for much in the way of touchdown chances. We'll have to see. And then there's the little matter of the Washington O-line stinking. Geez, I mean, I hesitate to believe that Berry or Kuselias would have ranked Clinton Portis this high."

"I don't think I'm really anti-Betts," Karabell says. "I just don't think he or his offense is very good, and I liked 31 other running backs better. Clinton Portis was really struggling behind a porous offensive line and an unreliable quarterback. How will Betts fare better? I'm not looking at 2006 or Betts' numbers from this season, because none of it is relevant. Nor is the matchup. It's the Redskins!"

And there you have it: "It's the Redskins!" A fair point, indeed. A predictably bad team this season, just like the predictably bad headline I've decided to go with:

"All Betts are off."

9. Karabell ranks Marion Barber as a high RB2, 14th at his position. I actually think Barber gets a bum rap for his health issues this season, but even the optimist in me wonders how a guy whose quadriceps isn't exactly 100 percent can be counted on as a potential top-10 option. I think he should be in lineups more weeks than not -- the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints are three of his next six matchups -- but I say that he shoudl be more of a low RB2/flex.

"I like the way Barber wears down defenses," Karabell says. "Well, I didn't like it against the team I root for, the Philadelphia Eagles, but you get the point. He can wear down the Green Bay Packers. And the fact he hasn't been scoring is still a product of some bad luck. We project a touchdown for him and 73 yards, and I concur. This should be one of his better weeks."

8. Kuselias ranks LeSean McCoy No. 16 at running back, a generous ranking for a guy who hasn't yet been formally declared the starter. I agree Brian Westbrook isn't any guarantee to play, battling both headaches and a nagging ankle injury, but this is a rank that effectively seems to point to Westbrook sitting and McCoy starting. Or is it that McCoy might rise in the ranks if Westbrook sits?

"I like McCoy where I have him as long as Westbrook doesn't play," Kuselias says. "In November, McCoy is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and he had over 100 total yards last week against Dallas. He has double-digit fantasy points in each of the past two weeks and gets a good matchup this week against San Diego. The Chargers have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, and if Westbrook sits, I believe that McCoy is a must-start."

Roddy White
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesRoddy White is among the top wideouts this season, so can you really afford to bench him this week?

7. Berry ranks Roddy White as his No. 22 wide receiver … in spite of the fact that each of the other three ranked White in the top 10. Wow. White is 10th at his position in fantasy points for the season, and the only times all season he has ranked as low as 22nd (or lower) at the position were Weeks 1, 3 and 9. Harsh, no?

"This is more about Matt Ryan than anything else," Berry says, "but yes, I'm a bit concerned that he's a bit banged up, the Carolina Panthers have the No. 2 pass defense and Ryan has struggled on the road this year [the 49ers game being the lone exception] and he's struggled recently overall."

One thing that has me leaning closer to Berry's side: Linebacker Thomas Davis is out for the Panthers, so the Falcons probably would be better off pounding the ball 25 times with Michael Turner. That said, I can't see how anyone sits White.

6. Harris ranks Dwayne Bowe as his No. 9 wide receiver. He has a no-fear policy with Nnamdi Asomugha, who last season was about the best shut-down corner in the league, to the point that opponents wouldn't even throw in his direction. Still, I noticed Bowe's 11 fantasy points in these teams' Week 2 meeting, and Chris Chambers' addition does boost Bowe's stock somewhat. Maybe there's something to Bowe being a top-10 option?

"The Kansas City Chiefs finally started moving the ball in the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars when they decided to go no-huddle and throw," Harris says. "Remind you of anything? Like, say, the Chiefs of late 2008? With no real lead running back, I see a short-passing smorgasbord in the next eight games for the Chiefs, and Bowe should be a huge part of that. I mean, Bowe has basically played six games, and he's got 53 targets, including double digits in three of the Chiefs' past four outings. And please, please, please, everyone within the sound of my writing, I've said this in about a thousand different places, but the Raiders do not lock Asomugha on one receiver. He mostly plays one side of the field. You can get a guy covered by someone else simply by changing formations. It's not going to be Bowe one-on-one against Asomugha all day. It's just not."

5. Karabell ranks Marshawn Lynch as his No. 25 running back. That's a group-low ranking, and Karabell also is the only one of the four who didn't rank Fred Jackson. A valuable point in favor of the Buffalo Bills backs: The Tennessee Titans have allowed 87 fantasy points to opposing running backs the past three games combined. However, Maurice Jones-Drew and Frank Gore were responsible for 50 of them, and I'd hardly put Lynch close to their class.

Marshawn Lynch
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch has yet to run for 70 yards or score more than 11 points in a game this year.

"I don't see why Lynch is slated for such a nice game," Karabell says. "He still hasn't reached 70 rushing yards in a game. The entire Bills offense has been a problem since Fred Jackson stopped playing. Oh, and why rank Jackson at all when he's done nothing since Week 2. I know I trust the Titans' defense a bit more than most, but it has played markedly better of late, and the running backs that did well the past two weeks were Maurice Jones-Drew and Frank Gore. They're pretty good. I don't think the Bills' duo is in the same class."

4. Sticking with the Bills theme, Harris ranks Fred Jackson as his No. 30 running back. You read that right. Harris ranked Jackson (a backup) only five spots lower than Karabell had Lynch (a starter). That's a wide split of opinion, and Harris' ranking is a curious one, being that Jackson has 14 carries the past two weeks combined and hasn't had double-digit fantasy points since Week 2. In addition, it's hardly a great matchup on paper, as the Titans rank 18th versus the run. To pick a backup, I'd want to see their ranking be a bit lower than that.

"Why isn't it a great matchup on paper?" Harris says. "The Titans have been toasted consistently by opposing fantasy backs, including Jones-Drew's huge game two weeks ago, and Gore's 158 yards from scrimmage last week. I mean, look at the fantasy points the Titans have given up to opposing rushers their past five games: 16, 16, 37, 29, 21. Then add in the fact that the last time the Bills played, Lynch and Jackson split carries right down the middle. Sure, I have Lynch rated higher, but Jackson will be involved in the game plan, and you can run on the Titans. This isn't a whim."

3. Berry ranks Jamaal Charles as his No. 19 running back. Most interesting about this ranking -- 13 spots ahead of anyone else -- is that Berry isn't even the most anti-Kolby Smith of the group. He ranks Smith second-highest, not that anyone is advising the guy as a viable flex play. I'm going to guess Berry is convinced both that the matchup is great and he's going to be the every-down back, or am I missing something?

"No, you have that right," Berry says. "Great matchup, and I expect a lot of running on the road. With Larry Johnson released, the Chiefs have to find out what they have in Charles, and this game is the perfect opportunity. [The] Raiders actually are 13th versus the pass [partially because teams get up so big they don't have to pass] but still. I expect to see a lot of both guys on Sunday and for them to be effective against the Raiders and their 29th-ranked run defense."

I wish I could agree with Berry, as I've been saying for weeks that Charles deserves a shot, but the way that backfield divided itself up in Week 9, I can't help but see Charles as the first- and second-down back, Smith the short-yardage option. It's going to be a maddening timeshare, I fear.

Brett Favre
Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMIBrett Favre should continue putting up good numbers against the Lions this week.

2. Berry ranks Brett Favre as his No. 2 quarterback. I'm in Berry's camp on this one; I find it hard to understand how Favre is not a certain top-five quarterback in a home game versus the Detroit Lions.

"He's off a bye, rested and at home, where he has averaged 21 fantasy points a game," Berry says. "He's had at least three touchdown passes in three of his past five games, and one of those was on the road at Pittsburgh. Forgivable. When you consider this week's opponent is the Detroit Lions, who will keep it competitive enough (Lions don't really get blown out) that they will have to keep throwing, you have to like Favre to have another big day."

1. Karabell ranks Mike Sims-Walker as his No. 11 wide receiver. Wow, but what about the Darrelle Revis factor? He has shut down more talented receivers than this, and Sims-Walker's road history is dreadful. He has averaged 30 receiving yards without a score in his three road games this season.

"I think he's matchup-proof at this point, which means I don't care what the matchup or opposing defender is," Karabell says. "I recognize the Jaguars have stunk on the road, and this is not a good matchup for David Garrard and the passing game, but I've decided I still trust Sims-Walker to make something happen."

Just to throw the stat out there, the New York Jets have faced four opponents that boasted what we'd term a "No. 1 wide receiver" this season -- the Houston Texans (Andre Johnson), New England Patriots (Randy Moss), Saints (Marques Colston) and Bills (Terrell Owens). They've limited those four receivers to a total of 13 receptions for 105 yards and no touchdowns. I'd be scared.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

ALSO SEE