Brad Morgan

Red Zone Report

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The first two-headed RB attack that I remember -- granted I'm only 20 -- was Ron Dayne along with Tiki Barber, whose forces combined to create the legendary "Thunder and Lightning" in 2000. At the time the committee backfield was born out of necessity, not creative genius. Tiki was an unknown but intriguing commodity with just 114 carries in his previous two 32 games.

Dayne was just coming off a storied college career, but at 5-10 and upwards of 250 pounds many questioned whether he would be quick enough to be an effective NFL RB. Although this tandem proved good enough to get to a Super Bowl, together they were never quite able to live up to their billing as the two coolest parts of a rainy day.

This season, the majority of teams rely on multiple backs to get the job done. While most of them don't have sweet nicknames like "Thunder and Lightning", these players still have to constantly fight for their role in the offense. Sometimes, like with Tiki and The Great Dayne, one guy will outclass the other and render him irrelevant. But in many cases, it's not that simple. These more confusing situations can make life tough on fantasy owners, but I'll try to clear a few things up. Let's take a look at the most relevant RB battles as we close in on the home stretch of the Fantasy Football season.

If you're looking to see if your 2009 tale of Fantasy disappointment made the cut, I have the winners at the end of page 2.

Tim Hightower vs. Chris Wells, Cardinals RBs

All things being equal, "Beanie" Wells is a far more impressive runner than Hightower. Whether you're old school and choose to trust your eyes, or if you'd rather look to stats (4.4 YPC to Timmy's 3.6), Wells is clearly the better choice for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for Beanie, he struggles at the not so obvious on-TV RB duties: pass blocking and pass catching.

Consequently, Coach Ken Whisenhunt is forced to remove Wells in crucial situations, which explains his paltry 20% Goal Line carry rate and that single, lonely touchdown he's scored.

Hightower lacks the raw ability of Wells, but excels at those veteran subtleties of the game that Beanie has yet to master. As a result, Hightower has been the clear choice at the Goal Line, getting 80% of Arizona's carries inside the 5-yard line and producing 5 touchdowns, which have made him a top 20 RB on the season.

The reason I chose to lead with a less than scintillating pair of players is the great schedule the Cardinals face from this point on. Over the next the 7 games, Arizona faces the Seahawks, Titans, Detroit, and the Rams twice (Detroit and St. Louis in the all-important weeks 15 and 16). While I see both guys having value in this last part of the season, the Cardinals' affinity for Hightower at the Goal Line makes him the more valuable player, and a viable, but low-end RB2 from here on out, while Wells is a decent RB2 option against Detroit and St. Louis, but just a fringe flex play in the other games.

Ryan Moats vs. Steve Slaton vs. Chris Brown, Texans RBs

I try not to brag when I get things right -- mainly to avoid additional emails pointing out all the stuff I got wrong (which I will now get) -- but there comes a time when gloating is unavoidable. Yes, I told you to bail on Slaton right when his value was at its highest, and I was right. His value has completely crashed. Okay, just had to get that over with. Now onto the Texans RBs.

After a sobering Week 9 performance (8 fantasy points), we all can concede what we already knew about Ryan Moats: that game against the Bills was a ridiculous aberration. And while that mind-bending, 32-point showing wasn't for real, Gary Kubiak's preference for giving the ball to Moats in scoring situations looks to be sticking around.

Over the past two games, Moats has gotten 9 of the 14 Houston carries in the Red Zone, and more importantly, all but one of the 6 Texans carries on the Goal Line. While the only one he didn't get was Slaton from the 1-yard line to score, Moats got a shot from the 1-yard line just 2 plays on 1st down (Slaton scored on 3rd down).
From this point on, Ryan Moats in the RB to own in the Texans backfield, but will face competition from Slaton and Brown.

As a result, Moats looks like a fringe RB2 option when facing bad run defenses. Just to save you from having to look up schedules: Week 11 vs. Titans, Week 12 vs. Colts, Week 13 vs. Jaguars, and Week 15 vs. Rams.

Jamaal Charles vs. Kolby Smith, Chiefs RBs

Oddly, everything I've read concerning the Chiefs RBs has seemed to focus on Charles as the clear cut #1 option for Matt Cassel to hand the ball off to. Smith has to be sympathizing like Rodney Dangerfield: "I gets no respect." Of the two, Smith is the only one to have ever carried a full load as an NFL RB. Charles has carried the ball more than 7 times in a game ONCE in his pro career, while Smith has had 8 games with double digit carries, including a 31-carry, 150-yard performance in 2007.

I know it may seem ridiculous picking out these numbers, but let's face it: choosing between these two RBs is like picking out the skinniest kid at fat camp.
As far as Red Zone stats go, we only have this past week to look at, which is far too small of a sample size to analyze. But, for whatever it may be worth, Smith had both of the Chiefs carries in the RZ, and the only one on the GL.

Although this in and of itself is meaningless, logic would dictate that Smith, the larger back (5-11 218 to Charles' 5-11 199), would be the better choice for grinding out tough yards in crucial situations. This wouldn't be all that important if the Chiefs didn't have some awesome matchups in the next six games, but they do. Kansas City plays Oakland (Week 10), San Diego (12), Buffalo (14), and Cleveland (15) before the season ends, giving their RBs a great chance to succeed.

Jamaal Charles is owned in 37% of standard leagues, while Kolby Smith is owned in just 2%. I'm not sure which guy WILL get the carries, but Smith has a chance, and is more than likely a free agent in your league. Depending on how things play out, Smith could end up being a low end RB2 once the Chiefs get around to playing Buffalo and Cleveland in the Fantasy Playoffs. Smith is the ultimate low risk -- really NO risk -- high reward player. Go get him.

DeAngelo Williams vs. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers RBs

Excluding Weeks 6 and 8, when Stewart had 15 and 20 points, he has averaged fewer than 5 Fantasy points each game. For a guy owned in 91% of leagues, that's far too inconsistent and makes him impossible to trust. Clearly, if Stewart ever gets a chance to be a #1 RB, he could be a star. But right now, his perceived value is so much higher than his actual value, and I would try to trade him and get whatever you can, because there's no way you can rely on him as a starter. DeAngelo is a RB1 option each week, but will occasionally suffer from some Stewart vulturing.

Brandon Jacobs vs. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants RBs

Brandon, me and you are done. Jacobs is looking more and more like Ron Dayne, a huge RB whose size is actually a detriment to him in short-yardage situations because he can't get a head of steam fast enough. The Giants are now consistently mixing in Bradshaw when they need a handful of yards, and they should: Bradshaw is the more effective runner. If it weren't for his blocking issues and Tom Coughlin's loyalty, Bradshaw may have ripped the job from Jacobs' hands.

I think Jacobs is a good candidate to trade because his perceived value is higher than his actual value. Unlike Jonathan Stewart, I wouldn't look to trade him vigorously because he will still have value as a low-end RB2, but if you find an owner who still thinks he's more than that pull the trigger on the deal.

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