Commentary

Instant Replay: Darren McFadden is fine

Updated: October 24, 2010, 10:37 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

A startling fact: In neither of the past two seasons -- Darren McFadden's first two in the NFL -- did the Oakland Raiders boast a running back with greater than 853 yards (Justin Fargas had exactly that many in 2008).

McFadden is already up to 557 through seven weeks, only five of which he played.

After two missed games because of a hamstring injury, McFadden, a standout in Weeks 1-3, returned even better than before, topping the fantasy leaderboard (43 points) as his Raiders tallied a startling 59-14 manhandling of the division-rival Denver Broncos on the road. Despite whispers that McFadden believed himself to be only 70 percent healthy entering the contest, he showed no lingering issues with his hamstring, averaging 10.3 yards per carry and breaking off five runs of double-digit yardage and two of 40-plus yards.

Darren McFadden
Kirby Lee/US PresswireDarren McFadden has scored in double figures in each of the five games he has played this season.

Fantasy owners who didn't catch the game might regard McFadden's 16 carries to 15 for Michael Bush as evidence that the Raiders' backfield split is somewhat uncertain. They shouldn't. Bush served in what could very much be described as a backup's role. To wit: Three of Bush's carries came directly after McFadden's 40-yard dash in the first quarter, providing the starter a breather, and another six carries came late in the game after the Raiders had mounted a 38-point lead.

More positives: Bush, whose skill set could paint him as a short-yardage/goal-line headache for McFadden's owners, wasn't given the ball often in those spots this week. In fact, of the Raiders' five team carries within five yards of the Broncos' goal line, McFadden handled three, all of them early in the contest before things got out of hand. McFadden scored on two of them (both 4-yarders).

Another week's rest should only help McFadden's hamstring heal, and while he does have a checkered health history, he'll probably be well managed with a useful backup in Bush on the roster. But that should not be construed as Bush being a threat to McFadden's fantasy value; in every game (he has played) this season, McFadden has shown the explosiveness that made him the No. 4 pick overall in the 2008 draft.

And here's one final juicy tidbit: Look at that Raiders fantasy-playoffs schedule. They host these Broncos in Week 15, and the Indianapolis Colts the following week.

Tristan's MVP

In a week where numerous players active in fewer than 25 percent of ESPN leagues were the ones who topped the fantasy scoring leaderboard, there's nothing nicer than knowing that a player active in every ESPN league was right up there with them. Roddy White, a start across the board, managed 11 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns against the Johnathan Joseph-less Cincinnati Bengals, and let's point out how impressive those numbers were, considering the Bengals still had stout starters at the corners in Leon Hall and Adam "Pacman" Jones. There are no double-team concerns with White; he split Hall and Jones for one of his scores and maintained his NFL lead in targets (82) with 13 looks from Matt Ryan. In fact, White's performance rallied him to the top spot overall in fantasy points among wide receivers (102) in a week where many of the top names to date were either injured or on bye.

Who needs four quarters …

Britt
AP Photo/Frederick BreedonKenny Britt "landed" in the end zone three times against the Eagles on Sunday.

… when three will certainly suffice? Kenny Britt, benched at the start of the Tennessee Titans' Week 7 contest and not sent to the field until the 7:57 point in the second quarter, topped all wide receivers in fantasy points (40) nevertheless, catching seven passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. In short, he averaged one touchdown per quarter played, bringing to mind past explosive outings this season from players who didn't start as punishment for off-the-field actions, including Arian Foster and Braylon Edwards. Britt showed us why he's quietly developing into one of the league's more underrated big-play receivers, but it's actually his rapport with stand-in Kerry Collins that was the most promising development. Previously, every one of Britt's seven career touchdowns was a Vince Young pass, as Young had made a point of looking to the sophomore. Collins, however, targeted Britt 10 times, and after the contest he called the Rutgers product a "straight baller," per the Titans radio network. The Titans are clearly warming to their up-and-coming wide receiver, and there are four consecutive standout matchups ahead on his schedule in Weeks 10-13 coming out of the bye (@MIA, WAS, @HOU, JAC). Don't count on week-winning fantasy numbers every game, but he's suddenly a solid starter in all formats.

Introducing …

Riley Cooper, one of colleague Eric Karabell's sneaky pickups for Week 7, caught three passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. The rookie stepped into DeSean Jackson's flanker spot in three-receiver sets for the Philadelphia Eagles, and in a Kevin Kolb performance that was full of erratic tosses, Cooper was able to make a few key grabs in the vertical passing game. The Eagles have their bye in Week 8, but if Jackson (concussion) must miss further time, which reportedly is possible, Cooper could be of use in deeper leagues when the matchup is right.

• Perhaps you're familiar with the name David Gettis, or maybe you just forgot about him when he went largely quiet during Steve Smith's recent absence. Regardless, the Carolina Panthers rookie exploded with Matt Moore back at quarterback, catching eight of nine targets for 125 yards and two scores (he'd have had three touchdowns, in fact, if not for a costly drop). Gettis shouldn't be expected to do this on a weekly basis, especially with Smith still averaging 82.6 receiving yards with six touchdowns in 10 career games started by Moore; Smith is still Moore's go-to guy. But the returns of Moore and Smith could deepen the offense for a team that will be throwing often, so keep the freshman's name tucked away.

Week 7 observations

• Speaking of the erratic Kolb, as if his 26-for-48, two-interception performance alone didn't do it, Eagles coach Andy Reid's comments that Michael Vick will reclaim the starting job in the team's next game after the bye puts Kolb back on fantasy benches (and waiver wires in shallow formats). Take Reid at his word, as Vick has been the inactive No. 3 quarterback for two straight games, has resumed practicing and should be good to go for Week 9. Nice to get some clarity here.

Carson Palmer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer's big day Sunday should be regarded as an anomaly, not the norm.

• Don't get too carried away with the Bengals' gaudy passing numbers in Week 7, because two things were behind them: One, the team was playing from behind much of the day, forced to the air in order to remain in the game. Two, the Atlanta Falcons were weakened in the secondary with pregame news that cornerback Dunta Robinson (head) was inactive. Palmer now has three outstanding fantasy performances (Week 1 @NE and Week 4 @CLE being the others) when the matchups have dictated it, but watching him play, there's no question he's not as strong-armed as he was during his prime. Having skilled receivers such as Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will make him look very good when the Bengals are forced to the air, but it's the receivers with whom you should be encouraged, not the quarterback.

• A change in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backfield seems afoot, as LeGarrette Blount had a team-high 11 carries, totaling 72 yards while also having two other long gains canceled by penalties. Cadillac Williams, meanwhile, had more of a role in the receiving than running game, handling only four carries but hauling in eight passes, including the game winner against the St. Louis Rams. Blount should be a popular pickup this week, and there's absolutely an opportunity for him to steal this starting job, but like many young, quick backs, he's limited by the Bucs' unwillingness to trot him out there on passing downs. That's a problem for a running back on a team likely to be playing from behind a fair share, especially with Earnest Graham also on the roster to further dilute things at the position.

• Speaking of clouded backfields, how maddening was the Baltimore Ravens' split of the rushing chores between Ray Rice and Willis McGahee? McGahee earned the start, had 11 carries to Rice's 16 and also thieved a touchdown in the third quarter. Wait, hadn't Rice captured the goal-line job a mere two weeks earlier? Apparently not. With the Ravens suddenly unpredictable in the backfield, Rice's value is on the decline, though not by enough that he should be dropped from No. 1 running back status. McGahee, however, might yet factor into the mix, and if he was previously dropped in your league, it might be smart to again handcuff him.

• Another week, another productive outing for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who now has three consecutive games with 20-plus fantasy points. Considering how poor the Buffalo Bills' offense looked the first three weeks, it's astonishing how well Fitzpatrick has performed since, particularly his accuracy; he has completed 63.3 percent of his attempts and has 11 touchdowns compared with four interceptions. The Bills are constantly going to be put in passing situations, making Fitzpatrick a beneath-the-radar fantasy option when the opponent's secondary is poor. He's also making Steve Johnson a viable pickup; Johnson has been targeted 26 times the past three games combined and has scored five touchdowns in his past four contests.

• I'm not at all convinced Jay Cutler is going to make it through the season unscathed, particularly not if he has as rough a go of it as he did Sunday. Facing the Washington Redskins' pass rush, Cutler took four sacks, took a countless number of hits and was intercepted four times, all four of those by DeAngelo Hall. (Interesting note: Hall's "four catches for 92 yards and a score" would have earned him more fantasy points than notable wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Lloyd and Brandon Marshall.) Considering Cutler's history of concussions -- it was revealed recently he suffered multiple concussions in college -- he's not the kind of quarterback you want to see taking that level of punishment.

Mike Williams
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMike Williams is thriving since the Deion Branch trade.

• We have two productive fantasy wide receivers named Mike Williams now, and it's actually the one on the Seattle Seahawks who is shaping up as the hotter hand. In two games since the Deion Branch trade, Williams has been targeted 31 times and caught 21 passes combined, totaling 26 fantasy points. He's not as much a big-play threat for Matt Hasselbeck as Deon Butler or Golden Tate, but he has been sure-handed enough to be a reliable, 6-8 catch-per-week performer. In a PPR league, Williams is an underrated asset. In standard, he's a borderline starter, more attractive in games where the matchup is favorable.

Injury report

For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.

Alex Smith (shoulder): After calling for David Carr repeatedly the first six weeks of the season, San Francisco 49ers fans finally got their wish in Week 7, but it took an injury to Smith for it to happen. Smith departed with a sprained left shoulder, suffered on a sack by Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson in the opening minutes of the second half, finishing the day 9-for-19 passing for 129 yards and one touchdown. Carr, predictably, was much worse; he was 5-for-13 passing for 67 yards, no scores and one interception, the pick directly leading to the Panthers' game-winning field goal drive. Now 49ers fans -- and fantasy owners -- have concrete evidence that Carr's installation at quarterback would actually be worse for the fantasy prospects of players such as Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore. To that point, Crabtree was targeted just once by Carr (Carr's interception), Davis four times (two catches, 20 yards) and Gore twice (two catches, 25 yards). If you own them, root for Smith to make a swift recovery. One plus: Smith told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area that he expects to make the trip to London for the 49ers' Week 8 contest, and will have an MRI there.

Todd Heap (shoulder): For the second consecutive week, Heap missed some time because of a shoulder stinger, this week's apparently suffered when he dropped to the ground untouched on the Ravens' first play of the third quarter. Heap did return to the game, and he did have two touchdown catches in the first half, but a couple of things to take from this week: One, his fantasy production was fueled, of course, by facing the defense (Bills) that has allowed the most points per game to opposing tight ends. Two, Heap is quickly developing a reputation for being one of the more injury-prone players in the game, and his tendency to miss several snaps at a time each week makes him riskier than the top-shelf tight ends.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.

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