Instant Impressions: Week 9
• Life didn't get any easier Sunday for owners who benched those poster children for fantasy disappointment: Chris Johnson and Philip Rivers. Each guy actually showed signs of life, but are they trustworthy signs? I haven't watched the tape yet on Johnson's 18-touch, 110-yard effort against the Bengals, but he made a couple of big plays (rushing and receiving) early in the game in which it looked as if his legs were back under him. He was mostly stuffed thereafter (CJ0K had 44 yards on his first three touches and 66 on his subsequent 15), but -- anecdotally, to me -- it looked as if there were no holes to run through. Meanwhile, Rivers went 26-of-46 for 385 yards, four TDs and three INTs as the Chargers desperately tried to rally from three TDs down versus the perfect Packers. But too many of Rivers' positive big plays were the result of horribly blown coverages and quasi-garbage time, and he leads the NFL in picks with 14. (But let's be fair, it was a 25-fantasy-point afternoon). So what do we do with these guys? Are they suddenly safe to throw back into their positional top-10s? I'll get back to you after I do closer analysis, but my short answer is yes. Signs of life are signs of life, and although we'd like to see it happen multiple times before we truly believe, these guys are explosive enough that you really do have to consider getting them back in your lineup if you benched 'em.
• Speaking of benchings, Ryan Torain has fallen so far out of favor in D.C. that Al Gore called to give him tips. Torain received all of one carry (for 2 yards) and one catch (for 7 yards) Sunday versus the 49ers, as Roy Helu started and played nearly the entire game. All in all, it was a strong game for the rookie from Nebraska, who mustered 41 yards on 10 carries and 105 yards on 14 check-down catches, though he did lose a fumble. As of this writing, Helu was available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues and certainly should be added in all leagues. But be warned! We're talking about a Mike Shanahan RB situation. There's every chance Tashard Choice's hamstring will be healed by Week 10, and absolutely nobody should be surprised if Choice winds up leading the team in carries in that game. Or Torain, for that matter. There's just not going to be much consistency here. But suffice it to say that Helu will be the highest-ranked Skins RB in Week 10's rankings.
• So much for Chris Ogbonnaya creating some magic as the Browns' default starter at RB. Not that Cleveland's huge loss to the Texans was solely Ogbonnaya's fault (Boy, has Colt McCoy regressed or what?), but Obie certainly didn't help. Ogbonnaya lost a fumble on the Browns' first offensive play from scrimmage and had 28 yards on 13 carries to go with 13 yards on a single catch. Ogbonnaya looked bad throughout, failing in pass protection, evading nobody and never once turning the corner. There's no word yet on whether Peyton Hillis or Montario Hardesty will be able to return for next week's quasi-enticing home tilt against the Rams, but my assumption at the moment is that neither guy will be available. That could mean another start for Ogbonnaya, or it could mean that Thomas Clayton (another pedestrian RB talent) could get a crack at the lineup. Or, heck, the Browns might sign someone off the street. Anyway, there's not much to see here with any of these guys.
• For much of last week, we assumed Willis McGahee wouldn't be able to play because of a broken hand that forced him to sit out Week 8, but McGahee was immense in a Broncos win over the Raiders, with two long TD runs and 163 yards on 20 carries. Yes, Tim Tebow is a long-term problem for What-You-Talkin'-'Bout Willis. Tebow himself scampered for 118 yards on 12 carries, occasionally employing the "handoff-option" play so en vogue in college right now. We didn't really ever see which way Denver's offense will lean when the Broncos are near an opponent's goal line because their scores were all of the longer variety Sunday. Still, it's no exaggeration to say that McGahee looks rejuvenated -- and substantially better than he looked in his final two seasons in Baltimore. Knowshon Moreno is basically waiver fodder now, but McGahee is an every-week top-20 option.
• Boy, did I flub the Raiders' receiving situation. It seemed obvious to me that Darrius Heyward-Bey would simply have to continue his role as Oakland's top pass-catcher. I mean, in his past four games, the guy had netted 22 catches on 29 targets for 385 yards and honestly looked terrific on the game film. But apparently the Raiders saw something I didn't see, or else DHB's chemistry with Carson Palmer isn't close to what it was with Jason Campbell. On Sunday, DHB was targeted once and had zero catches. No, he wasn't hurt, at least not that I know of as I'm writing this. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore were the starters in this most recent contest, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh seemed as though he was all over the dang place, getting four targets from his old pal Carson. Ford had a sweet TD catch and looked as quick as ever, and Moore led the team with a whopping 12 targets. I don't know what to tell you. I half expect Hue Jackson to announce that DHB violated a team rule or somesuch. I'm vexed, and we're simply going to have to stay tuned to figure out who the best target is here, if there even is one. Sheesh.
• Once again, Joseph Addai sat and watched the Colts' carnage rumble on the team's way to Andrew Luck. Addai gave way to Delone Carter in the starting lineup, but unfortunately Carter fumbled on the second play of the game, giving the ball to the Falcons on the Indy 26 and setting up one heck of a discouraging day. After that, it appeared Carter was benched, as Donald Brown got all the team's work for basically the next three quarters. Carter didn't touch the ball again until the score was 28-7. And Brown did some fine work, managing 70 yards on 16 carries. One has to assume this benching was an effort to teach the rookie a lesson about ball security, and it would be fruitless to try to guess right now how long Carter might stay in the doghouse. Maybe he'll be right back out there again starting next week versus the Jaguars, but maybe Addai will returns and maybe Brown has carved out a bigger role. You shouldn't plan to use any of these guys.
• Miles Austin left in the second quarter of the Cowboys' win Sunday because of an injured hamstring, yet another setback in what's becoming one heck of a disappointing season for a receiver some envisioned in the top 10 this summer. The fact that he was spotted out of uniform in the second half indicates that the injury was potentially severe and, in Austin's absence, Laurent Robinson caught a red zone score early in the fourth quarter. At the moment, I'm going to assume that Austin will miss more time and that Robinson makes a pretty good waiver acquisition. The player this helps most of all just might be Dez Bryant, who simply has to lead the Cowboys in targets in Sunday's game against the Bills. Doesn't he?
• In the Dallas running game, DeMarco Murray lit it up yet again, and if a performance can be more impressive than one in which a player goes for 253 rushing yards, this was it. After all, that game a couple of weeks back came against a pretty poor Rams rush defense, and Sunday's 22 carries for 139 yards came against a rugged Seahawks group that was leading the league by allowing just 3.2 yards per carry. At this point, Murray has to be part of the Dallas starting equation even when Felix Jones comes back from his high-ankle sprain. Murray had big-time durability questions follow him from college, so it won't be a surprise if he breaks down at some point, but boy, he looks great right now. Tough in space, making people miss, bowling tacklers over. He's the real thing.
• A.J. Green won me over as an every-week starter after scoring TDs in three straight games, so the fact that he caught "only" seven balls for 83 yards and no TDs versus Tennessee on Sunday is forgivable. (Especially given that he was tackled on the 1-inch line early in the second quarter.) Well, add Julio Jones to the "every-week starter" list, too. Jones caught "only" three passes against the Colts on Sunday, but two of them just happened to go for 50- and 80-yard TDs. Roddy White still comes in ahead of Jones in my hierarchy; he had nine targets against Indy compared with four for Jones. It just so happened that, this week, Jones was the guy who busted the big ones. And no, the matchups won't always be so sweet (starting next week against the Saints, as a matter of fact). But those who used the "crutch" argument that White could only be helped by getting a valid receiving threat on his opposite side must be chastened now. Certainly, although Jones' playing well is a boon to the Falcons, it's not doing wonders for White's fantasy value.
• Jon Baldwin broke out in Week 8, then showed in Week 9 why, in general (Green and Jones notwithstanding), we tend not to get overly excited about rookie receivers. Last Monday night, Baldwin saw eight targets and had five catches for 83 yards and a long touchdown. This Sunday, he caught one of five targets for 12 yards, and this in a game in which the Chiefs were hopelessly behind in the second half. Meanwhile, Steve Breaston, the man we all believed Baldwin had left in the dust, had seven grabs for 115 yards on 11 targets, even outpacing Dwayne Bowe for one week. Baldwin continues to have fill-in upside because of his size and athleticism, but mama said there'd be days like this. He's nothing close to a must-start.
• With Mark Ingram out again because of a foot injury of indeterminate severity (the Saints don't necessarily seem convinced that Ingram will be ready to play in Week 10), Chris Ivory split early-down touches with Pierre Thomas and did some fine work: 15 carries for 67 yards (Thomas had eight carries for 66 yards and a TD). This probably makes Ivory addable for RB-desperate squads in many leagues, but obviously folks who've invested heavily in the New Orleans backfield in the past know how this story goes. There forever seem to be three men in this mix (Darren Sproles is the other right now), and it's just very difficult to rely on any of them week to week. If Ingram stays out, Ivory does have the advantage of being best-suited for short-yardage duties. Then again, Thomas was the guy who banged it in from the Tampa 9 on Sunday. Messy.
• I really thought that if the Dolphins activated Daniel Thomas for Sunday's game, he'd be their bell cow. Untrue. For the second straight week, Reggie Bush looked strong. He ran it 13 times for 92 yards and caught three passes for another 50 yards, and Thomas touched it only seven times all day despite Miami's having a huge lead in the fourth quarter. Listen, I'm thoroughly skeptical that Bush is a feature back. I think he's likely to get hurt. I think he's likely to start submitting disappointing performances. But the fact is that Thomas clearly did not reclaim the starting job Sunday, something I was certain he would do. For the moment, Bush looks like the better fantasy play, and the Fish will play the beatable Redskins on Sunday.
• Ray Rice's numbers from Sunday night versus the Steelers don't look particularly strong: 18 carries for 43 yards and a bunny score. But those who watched the game know Rice had a 76-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage called back because of an iffy holding call against eventual hero Torrey Smith. Rice is just so good.
• And finally, speaking of good, that Antonio Brown can ball. Five more catches, 109 more yards, and it could've been even better, but Mike Wallace darted in front of Brown in the end zone and stole what would've been Brown's 25-yard score. With Ben Roethlisberger having thrown it at least 37 times in three straight games and starting to do his "extend the play until I find someone open" thing, Brown is bordering on the top 20 fantasy wideouts. Plus, Hines Ward had to leave Sunday night's game after taking a vicious hit from Ray Lewis, and the Steelers do finally seem aware that their offense hums better without Ward. It's unforgivable that Brown is somehow available in more than 60 percent of leagues. Add him!
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.
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