Adam Levitan

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Jones-Drew's Journey

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

This has been Maurice Jones-Drew’s most impressive season. Coming into the year, questions about his balky knee sent his fantasy draft stock plummeting. His prized rookie quarterback has proven to be a frightened check-down captain. And the league-worst receivers pose no threat. Every defense is geared up simply to stop MJD.

Still, after another big game in Monday’s loss to the Chargers, Jones-Drew leads the entire NFL in rushing yards. He’s the No. 4 overall fantasy back in non-PPR formats, behind only LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Arian Foster. That ranking could rise with the Bucs’ reeling defense on deck in Week 14.

So how is Jones-Drew pulling this statistical miracle off against all odds? Yes, sheer talent. But also workload. MJD leads the league with 250 carries, or 20.8 per game. By the time this season is over, Jones-Drew will eclipse 330 touches for the third straight season. And, unfortunately, that’s a red flag for an NFL running back.

Betting on Jones-Drew sustaining this kind of production next season without improvement at the quarterback position is a bad bet. The Jags are wearing him out. Along with Frank Gore, Jones-Drew will be a veteran runner on my “do not draft list” for next season.

Malcom Floyd finally returned from his hip injury and looked very strong. He played way ahead of Vincent Brown. … Deji Karim was a healthy scratch. … Marcedes Lewis left late with an ankle injury. … Either Blaine Gabbert is scared or the Jaguars don’t think he can play. Regardless, the early signs are very bad here. … I’m not ready to say Philip Rivers is back because he torched the Jags’ banged-up secondary with bombs. But it's worth noting that Rivers always seems to play best late in the year. … Mike Tolbert made three tackles on kick coverage. A wildly talented Ryan Mathews is locked in as the feature back.

Editor’s Note: For early rankings, projections, the Running Back report, the top-200 going forward list and much more, check out the Season Pass!

In terms of significant knee injuries, Matt Forte got the best possible news on Monday. An MRI confirmed that he has a Grade 2 sprain of the MCL, but no damage to his ACL. Although a return before Week 17 is unlikely, his season is not done. And Forte isn’t tainted goods over the long term, meaning he can still get paid.

The Bears are not expected to add running back help from outside the organization. That means Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell will carry the load. But before we go thinking Barber is going to get 20 carries a game, check out these quotes from coach Lovie Smith:

"(Marion Barber) is a different running back than Matt Forte," said Smith. "Kahlil (Bell) can probably do more of the things that Matt Forte does."

Look for a 65/35 kind of split here, with Barber handling the short-yardage/early-down work and Bell mixing in on other downs.

James Starks sprained his ankle in Week 11. Then he aggravated it four days later against the Lions. And then he aggravated it yet again against the Giants on Sunday. While the sprain isn’t serious, it’s time for Starks to take a seat.

And in the Packers’ pass-first offense, rookie Brandon Saine is the best choice to replace him. Ryan Grant is painfully washed up and was never good in the passing game anyway. Saine saw six targets last week and ended up with 10 touches compared to 14 for Grant. Deep PPR leaguers need to take notice.

Miles Austin (hamstring) is expected to make his return in Week 14 barring a setback. … Michael Vick (ribs) is fully expected to return this week as well. … Nate Washington (ankle) is tentatively expected to be okay. … The Texans are calling Andre Johnson (hamstring) day to day. A 1-2 game absence remains likely. … Sam Bradford (ankle) and A.J. Feeley (thumb) are both in doubt for Week 14. … Jeremy Maclin (hamstring) expects to play against the Dolphins. … Eddie Royal is dealing with a concussion.
Peyton Hillis is day to day with a hip strain. Meanwhile, Montario Hardesty (calf) is ready to go. … Darren McFadden (foot) is not expected back this week. … Scott Chandler (ankle) is in serious doubt for Week 14. … Kevin Smith’s (ankle) status remains unclear, but it’s hard to trust him when clearly at far less than 100 percent. … Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) emerged from his return healthier than he expected. … The Vikings are expressing optimism on Adrian Peterson (ankle), but it’s hard to buy it. There’s no motivation to rush him back.

Tyler Palko is expected to remain the Chiefs starter, regardless of Kyle Orton’s (finger) status. … The Bears still don’t appear likely to bring in Donovan McNabb. They are going down with Caleb Hanie, despite more Brett Favre rumors. … Logan Paulsen is the Redskins’ starting tight end going forward with Fred Davis (suspension) done for the year.

Editor’s Note: Sick of your team? Get a new one and win real cash with SnapDraft!

Adding a different defense/special teams each week based on matchups is a fine strategy. Here are units that might be on waivers to consider this week for streaming purposes:

1. SEAHAWKS vs. Rams - Seattle is on long week, at home and may be facing a third-string quarterback. Steven Jackson won’t be a real option as the Seahawks are giving up just 3.7 yards per carry on the season.

2. BRONCOS vs. Bears - Yeah, Denver got lit up by Percy Harvin and the Vikings in Week 13. But they may get Von Miller (thumb) back and Caleb Hanie has proven to be Tyler Palko-esque. Oh, and Matt Forte is out.

3. PATRIOTS at Redskins - Washington is left with no playmakers after Fred Davis’ suspension. And the last time Trent Williams was out, the offense went in the tank. We know Rex Grossman is good for a few turnovers as well. 

Gregg Rosenthal takes a look at whether certain players are worth picking up heading into Week 14.

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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