- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Doug Martin. Doug Freakin' Martin.
Tristan H. Cockcroft and Keith Lipscomb put together this chart of the highest fantasy point totals since the 1970 league merger. I think it pretty well speaks for itself:
Crazily, Martin had eight carries for 31 yards in the first half of Sunday's game. Thereafter, he produced a mere 220 rushing yards on 17 carries, including scoring runs of 45, 67, 70 and 1 yard (what a slacker he was on that final TD). According to my calculations, Martin has passed Arian Foster to become fantasy's No. 1 running back of 2012 by a single point.
Folks who listen to the Fantasy Underground podcast know that I was an early adopter on Martin; I loved his game tape in September even when the results weren't there. The question now is: How good is this rookie? Is he a top-10 fantasy back for the rest of the year? Well, considering the field has cleared out a bit, with Week 9 injuries to Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden, he's getting close.
I wrote about left guard Carl Nicks' season-ending toe injury in last Friday's Hard Count, and a few of my more "trolling" Twitter followers (@CHarrisESPN) accused me late Sunday of downgrading Martin because of the O-line injury. For the record, here's what I said:
"The truth is I'm not sure. ... I'd certainly need to see Martin struggle to find holes for multiple weeks before I'd freak out. I guess that means while I'll have an eye open, I'm not considering this injury a reason to panic-sell on the rookie running back."
Not exactly a downgrade. I love this kid, and he's basically been terrific for a month. But would I put him ahead of Foster, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte or Marshawn Lynch? I wouldn't. His long runs Sunday were awesome, not least because on all three occasions, Oakland Raiders defenders seemed to have a good angle on Martin and the kid just ran by them. But it's tough to project long scores like that going forward. Nor can we casually decide that because he played so well Sunday, Martin will never feel Nicks' absence. And you also have to fear the rookie wall.
But would I put Martin in the same neighborhood as Frank Gore, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris, ahead of Charles, Ryan Mathews, Stevan Ridley, C.J. Spiller, et al.? Yup, at this exact moment I think I would. I reiterate that if someone wants to pay you the absolute moon for Martin, you can do it, because it's obvious his value will never be higher. But it's also OK to just enjoy the ride.
Let's look at Week 9's other top stories:
• Early reports indicate McFadden may have a high-ankle sprain, which would knock him out for several games. However, the Raiders also mentioned to reporters that Run-DMC is "week to week," which doesn't jibe with the diagnosis. We'll get more clarity Monday after an MRI, but we all know how this story probably goes. McFadden is as injury-prone as they come, and his fantasy owners should count on being without him indefinitely. Unfortunately, backup Mike Goodson also suffered an ankle injury Sunday, and we're not sure how severe it is; Goodson is no more durable a player than McFadden. In their absence, Marcel Reece was Oakland's feature back, with Taiwan Jones only seeing change-of-pace carries. As of this writing, Goodson would be the guy I'd want, but that could change in an instant.
• Jordy Nelson surprisingly was on the field for the start of the Green Bay Packers game, but on a first-quarter red-zone target he rolled up on his right ankle and was in severe pain. He missed the rest of the game and wound up with zero catches, a fantasy poison pill if ever there was one. The Pack have a bye in Week 10, so we won't get clarity on Nelson's status for a while. Greg Jennings is still out multiple weeks, making James Jones and especially Randall Cobb fantasy starters most weeks. Cobb's line looks suspicious (3 catches, 37 yards, 2 TDs), but he had nine targets and three backfield carries. He's the guy in this WR corps I most want to own right now.
• The Packers also juggled their backfield Sunday, giving James Starks the start and using Alex Green in a complementary role. Starks wound up with 17 carries for 61 yards, while Green had 13 touches for 57 yards. Cobb chipped in 29 yards and Aaron Rodgers (while he wasn't passing for one of his four TDs) had 33 yards, providing Green Bay with its best team rushing performance since Week 7 of 2009. But that doesn't make this situation any more appealing for fantasy. Starks looked pretty good carrying the mail for a while, but he fumbled late in the second quarter (Rodgers recovered) and wasn't seen again until midway through the third. But he was the Pack's choice to close out the game with three straight carries on three occasions in the fourth quarter. I think he's a better runner than Green and could be worth a deeper-league add, but a breakout by anyone here doesn't seem super-likely.
• Speaking of backfields that will turn you prematurely gray, I'm worried we've been sold a bill of goods by the Carolina Panthers. For a couple of weeks now, we've heard that the team wants to switch to a power-running game with Jonathan Stewart as its lead back, and in Week 8 against the Chicago Bears I could believe it. But while I haven't gotten to see the game tape of the Panthers' win over the Washington Redskins yet, from what I did see live and read from beat reporters, this looks like as much of a time share as ever. Stewart was terrific in the first quarter: runs of 11 and 17 yards where he bowled over defenders. And then he touched the ball once in the second quarter, and once in the third. His 10 carries are a mirage, because three of them came on the Panthers' final drive as they tried to keep the clock moving. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams scored a 30-yard TD under dubious circumstances (an official blew his whistle because he thought D-Willy stepped out of bounds -- which he didn't -- but you could see the Redskins' defenders stop running as Williams ran to the end zone), and was at least as involved in the game plan as Stewart all day. For the moment, block out everything Panthers coach Ron Rivera says about his RBs (or, y'know, anything). Until we see more evidence to the contrary, this is a platoon again.
• You might proclaim that Martin is the biggest sell-high in fantasy history right now, but maybe I have another candidate for you: Mikel Leshoure. I'm not saying he's a bad player; the fact that his three TDs against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday came from inside the 10 makes sense, because he scored 17 rushing TDs in his final year at Illinois, many from in close. But even Leshoure's most ardent supporters would agree this was a lucky day. In the first half, 9 of 13 carries went for 2 yards or less, yet he had three scores. I'm not saying you're required to deal him away, because he's got a stranglehold on that Detroit Lions backfield (Joique Bell actually outgained Leshoure, 73-70, but there was a whole bunch of garbage-time play involved), but I'll believe that the team is truly dedicated to the run against a real opponent when I see it.
• Speaking of wideouts getting vultured, how about that Calvin Johnson? Megatron has been downed at an opponent's 1-yard-line four times this season. (One of Leshoure's TDs yesterday came after Johnson fought his way within inches of the goal line.) Fortunately, Johnson had seven grabs for 129 yards despite his supposedly gimpy knee, which lessened complaints about his lack of TDs. Scores will come. You never sit him, and you never sit Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson unless you find yourself with a plethora of unexpectedly elite WR options. All three of these beleaguered superstars provided excellent stats Sunday. Fitz caught 6 of 12 targets for 74 yards and a TD, plus he also was tackled at the 1. AJ had eight grabs for 118 yards.
• Is the Chicago Bears D/ST a big pile of ridiculousness, or what? Two sacks, five turnovers, a blocked punt for a TD and an interception return TD: This was the Bears D's fourth game of 20-plus fantasy points. Only the Houston Texans and the San Diego Chargers even have two such games. This unit is playing quite well even without the defensive scores (eight of them in eight games!), but history teaches us not to expect this level of fantasy dominance to continue. Recall the New Orleans Saints' defense from '09, which produced a preposterous number of turnovers and scores in the season's first half but slowed down thereafter, or last season's Texans, who stopped generating turnovers in December. Still, it sure is sweet to own a fantasy D that averages more than five points per week more than its closest competitor.
• In last week's Hard Count I also warned that Eli Manning already had verged deep into bust territory, and his 10-of-24 throwing (for 125 yards and a pick) did nothing to alleviate the pain. He hasn't reached 200 yards passing in three of his past four outings. Blame Hakeem Nicks' lack of consistent production if you like, but Manning blew a bomb throw to Nicks on the game's first play that should've been a 70-yard TD. Manning is on pace for 4,312 passing yards (620 less than '11), 21 TDs and 16 INTs. At the moment in fantasy, it is very possible to spell "elite" without "Eli."
• Adrian Peterson is on pace for 1,700 yards rushing. I've said this before: I actually think we do him a disservice when we proclaim him "superhuman" in his recovery from a torn ACL. No, he's human. He's just more focused, dedicated and talented than anyone else. Rashard Mendenhall is having the year you're supposed to have after you tear your ACL late the previous season. I'm not denigrating Mendy or his rehab efforts, and I know not all torn ACLs are created equal, but I find it hard to believe that Mendenhall worked as hard as AP did to come back. If I were granted the power of time travel and given the ability to change one thing in the past, it would be a tie between revising my negative prognosis for Peterson this season and punching Mark David Chapman in the mouth on a December night in 1980. (Ask your parents.)
• Oh, hey, thanks a lot, Donald Brown. Another surprisingly active player for Week 9, Brown had his first carry for the Colts nullified by a holding penalty, caught a pass for seven yards on the very next play, and was never heard from again, presumably because his knee felt owie again. Gregg Colli, ESPN producer extraordinaire, asked me Sunday afternoon whether he should play Brown or Phillip Tanner, and I'd just like to thank Tanner for producing zero yards on one carry Sunday night, or else Colli would've had yet another dumb thing I did to lord over me. (And heaven knows there are a lot.) A generation of fantasy owners is learning what Peyton Manning already knew about Brown: He is very much worth cursing out.
Christopher Harris breaks down Week 9's action, and what to make of Doug Martin's amazing performance.