Chris Wesseling

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Dusting off Westbrook

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Brian Westbrook entered Monday night's game as the 49ers' seventh-leading rusher this year, averaging just one carry every other game. Usage patterns and beat writer suggestions left Anthony Dixon as the most logical "handcuff" to Frank Gore in fantasy land. When Gore went down with what turned out to be a fractured right hip, though, coach Mike Singletary felt more comfortable with Westbrook's considerable experience edge on Dixon.

Singletary pulled Westbrook out of mothballs, dusted him off, and allowed him to pick up the ground-game slack on a night when the Niners rushed for more yards (262) than they had in 12 years. For further perspective, It was only the third time in the last 21 years the Cardinals allowed more than 260 rushing yards.

While Westbrook does owe much of his production to his offensive line's dominance of an uninspired Arizona front-seven, the 31-year-old also proved he could run between the tackles as more than just a passing-down specialist. Westbrook made impressive cutbacks and showed off moves that had ESPN's Ron Jaworski bizarrely touting him as a "more explosive" runner than Gore.

CSN Philly's Reuben Frank penned an informative article, placing Westbrook's 136-yard performance in the context of his storied nine-year career. As an Eagle, Westbrook gained more rushing yards in a game only three times -- against the Dolphins in 2007 (148), the Giants in the 2007 playoffs (141) and against the Falcons in 2008 (167). His 66 rushing yards in the first half were more than he's posted in 21 games going back to the end of the 2008 season. It was also the best rushing performance by a 49ers back since Gore dropped 167 yards on the Cardinals last December.

Let's be clear about the state of Westbrook's career. The Eagles moved on because they couldn't trust Westbrook to hold up over a 16-game season and LeSean McCoy was ready to take over. Philly did not close the book on Westbrook because he was no longer effective. On a per-play basis, Westbrook was just as effective in 2009 as he was in an outstanding 2008 season.

Those 136 yards will stand as his season high, but there's no reason to believe he won't approximate Gore's role in the passing game. Considering his concussion woes and lower leg injuries of the past few seasons, the Eagles knew that Westbrook could realistically go down for the season -- and his career -- on any given play. Bottom line: fantasy owners can expect RB2 numbers out of Westbrook for as long as he can stay healthy.

On to the players. Here is how I rank the top players available at each position as we head into Week 13. Full writeups of each player are below.

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Running Backs
1. Brian Westbrook
2. Mike Hart
3. Toby Gerhart
4. Maurice Morris
5. James Davis
6. Tashard Choice
7. Anthony Dixon
8. James Starks

**Jonathan Stewart is owned in 70 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. He would be first on this list if available.

Wide Receivers
1. Jacoby Ford
2. Danario Alexander
3. Ben Obomanu
4. Legedu Naanee
5. Eddie Royal
6. Davone Bess
7. Brian Hartline
8. Earl Bennett
9. Louis Murphy
10. Mohamed Massaquoi

**Kenny Britt is owned in 71 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. He would be first on this list if available.

Tight Ends
1. Brent Celek
2. Joel Dreessen
3. Kevin Boss
4. Rob Gronkowski
5. Tony Moeaki

Quarterbacks
1. Kerry Collins
2. Matt Hasselbeck
3. Chad Henne
4. Troy Smith
5. Jason Campbell
6. Jake Delhomme

Defense/Special Teams
1. Chargers
2. Seahawks
3. Dolphins

Running Backs

Brian Westbrook, 49ers - Westbrook isn't going to rush for 136 yards against the Packers in Week 13, but it's fair to expect his role to grow in the passing game. The Niners will likely be playing from behind for most of the game, leaving Anthony Dixon on the bench. Westbrook has a nice matchup in Week 14 against the Seahawks (sixth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs). It should also be noted that those with Week 17 championships will want to break the bank on Westbrook with a home rematch against the Cardinals (most fantasy points to opposing backs).

Recommendation: Worth a look as a matchup play

Mike Hart, Colts - Peyton Manning hinted Sunday night that Week 13 has a been a "mark date" for key injured players to return. Team president Bill Polian doesn't anticipate Joseph Addai returning this week, though, and it seems that he still hasn't been cleared for contact. With Donald Brown averaging just 3.25 YPC the past five weeks, the door is once again wide open for Hart to reclaim a major role in the backfield. Hart isn't guaranteed feature-back duties against the Cowboys, but he could have value for the stretch run if Addai's nerve condition doesn't clear up.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Toby Gerhart, Vikings - The rookie has shown marked improvement throughout the season, and his quality play against the Redskins allowed the Vikes the luxury of not rushing Adrian Peterson (ankle) back into the game. Peterson's injury is believed to be a garden variety sprain, not serious enough to keep him out this week in a dream matchup against the Bills. As Frank Gore owners can attest, though, Gerhart should be carried as insurance in 12-team leagues.

Recommendation: Should be owned in 12-team leagues

Maurice Morris, Lions - Let's not go overboard with Morris' two touchdown performance against the Patriots. Morris received just 14 touches compared to 17 for scatback Aaron Brown, and there's a decent chance that Jerome Felton will work his way back in at the goal line. Morris won't even be an attractive flex option against the Bears (26th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs) and Packers (29th-most) the next two weeks.

Recommendation: Worth a look in 12-team leagues

James Davis, Redskins - Coach Mike Shanahan hinted last week that Davis would see significant work against the Vikings. Though Keiland Williams started, Davis took over as the early-down back as the game wore on. Though his 11 yards on six carries won't get anyone excited, Davis is worth carrying as the Redskins' potential starter the next two weeks with Ryan Torain's status up in the air. If Davis can make hay against a Giants defense that was just gashed by the Jags. there's an enticing matchup against the Bucs in Week 14.

Recommendation: Worth a look in 12-team leagues

Tashard Choice, Cowboys - Marion Barber (calf) has improved "considerably," but he's still expected to miss this week's game at Indy. Choice immediately stepped into MBIII's role on Thanksgiving, vulturing a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He's a good bet for 8-12 touches this week, and he could establish a firm role with a strong performance against the Colts' pushover run defense.

Recommendation: Worth a look in 12-team leagues

Anthony Dixon, 49ers - Dixon finished with 54 yards on 14 carries Monday night, mostly because the Niners ran the ball 47 times in a game where they jumped out to a commanding lead. Brian Westbrook is fully expected to handle feature back duties going forward, but he's a major injury risk over the final five weeks. Those owners in TD-heavy leagues should grab Dixon instead of Westbrook because the rookie will see the ball at the goal line.

Recommendation: Worth a look in 12-team leagues

James Starks, Packers - With short-yardage back Dimitri Nance coming off a concussion, Starks was warned to be ready to play against the Niners this week. Starks' fundamentals remain a work in progress, however, so he's unlikely to see more than a handful of touches barring an injury to Brandon Jackson.

Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper leagues

Long-Term Fliers: Derrick Ward, Jerome Harrison, Jason Snelling, Javon Ringer, Bernard Scott, Isaac Redman

As impressive as Arian Foster has been this season, it's often hard to tell when Ward is in the game because the backup has averaged 6.0 yards per carry. … Harrison and Snelling are must-owns for LeSean McCoy and Michael Turner owners in 12-team leagues.


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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