Eric Mack
Monday October 17th, 2011

In this pass-happy NFL, it was a breath of fresh air -- fantasy relief? -- to see a revival of running backs. It has been long overdue.

Rashard Mendenhall has finally looked like the first-rounder he was drafted to be; Ahmad Bradshaw benefitted from a new commitment to the running game by the Giants; and the likes of Frank Gore, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy and, perhaps most important, Fred Jackson continued to carry their teams and fantasy owners this week.

For the former duo, it was long overdue. Overall, we told you the NFL would get back to its running roots with fantasy teams being carried by the backs. It is just a bit surprising it has taken this long for the running backs' revenge. Expect more of it as we move deeper into the fall and the wintry months.

Despite becoming a passing league, fantasy teams still live and die by the strength of their backs. This crucial stretch of the bye season should bear that out.

We break down all the action game-by-game in the Fantasy Football Fast Forward:

• Reggie Bush broke a long run, but the Jets defense otherwise expectedly stiffened against the run. The Jets D/ST should return to being a must-start and you shouldn't attempt to take advantage of them by starting RBs against them in fantasy. That didn't work out for Daniel Thomas owners here.

• Mark Sanchez was mediocre at best in what should have been a bountiful matchup. You should not use him against the Chargers next week. In fact, in standard leagues, you can cut him for a bye-week replacement.

• Sanchez's lackluster season to date is costing the Jets receivers, too. Santonio Holmes found the end zone, but Dustin Keller wasn't great and Plaxico Burress continues to be a non-factor. The trade of Derrick Mason didn't help one bit.

• Shonn Greene wasn't spectacular either, but he at least isn't getting railroaded by LaDainian Tomlinson any more. L.T. is merely there to give Greene a breather now and show up in the passing game. This should bode well for Greene down the stretch, as long as he stays healthy.

• Matt Moore was expectedly awful against the Jets defense, but he at least made Brandon Marshall productive. Marshall could have had an ever better day if he caught his touchdown chance and didn't give up a wide open field by mysteriously stepping out of bounds. Marshall is a freak show, but he at least as a favorable schedule coming up, even if his quarterback situation is putrid.

• Jay Cutler continues to defy odds with a suspect receiving corps and offensive line. This could be his best year yet in Chicago. Consider him a decent start Sunday against the Bucs, even if no one knows which receiver will show up for him.

• Devin Hester and Percy Harvin had their best weeks yet and could proved to be decent starts for the remaining bye weeks. Heck, maybe a change to Christian Ponder an ignite Harvin as a must-start option -- doubtful, but just maybe.

• Christian Ponder didn't really outplay Donovan McNabb, but the teams circumstances might get him a starting nod soon, if not this week. A decision is expected Wednesday and it isn't expected to be favorable for McNabb.

• Cam Newton's rookie-ness has finally caught up to him. Sure, he scored a rushing touchdown, but his good thing(s) was negated by his three interceptions and lack of passing scores. We should probably stop viewing him as an elite fantasy option, even if the upcoming schedule doesn't look that threatening: three home games against the Redskins, Vikings and Titans.

• Matt Ryan continues to be one of the most disappointing selections of the season. He was decent because of a rushing score, but he failed to be productive against a non-contender and he couldn't make any of his receivers productive either. The absence of Julio Jones hurt.

• D'Angelo Williams goes back to being one of the worst starting running backs in the NFL, fantasy-wise. He was outpointed by Jonathan Stewart and should be viewed as no more than a flex option in most leagues going forward.

• The Panthers offense continues to be tight-end friendly, which makes Greg Olsen a solid fantasy starter and Jeremy Shockey a viable sleeper during the bye season.

• Rex Grossman played poorly enough to lose his job, especially since John Beck wasn't terrible against a revived Eagles defense. Neither Redskins quarterback should instill much confidence for fantasy owners.

• Tim Hightower sat out again and Ryan Torain might have gift-wrapped the primary back job this upcoming week to Hightower. Torain was completely ineffective, despite an Eagles defense that had been awful against running backs.

• Fred Davis continues to be a bright spot for the Redskins and fantasy owners. He is buoyed by the loss of Chris Cooley to a broken finger, too. Davis is a viable starter in most formats as the Redskins go-to tight end now.

• Brent Celek made a rare appearance on the fantasy stat sheet, but the Eagles bye week coming this Sunday should keep him from getting picked up. Michael Vick still is a runner first and outside passer to Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson second and third.

• Ahmad Bradshaw finally came through for fantasy owners, albeit right before the bye week. The return of Brandon Jacobs (knee) will cut into his short-yardage scoring but Bradshaw will remain a productive back after next Sunday's bye -- despite a tough schedule in the season's stretch run.

• Mario Manningham has re-emerged for the Giants at the expense of Victor Cruz. Manningham should still be considered the Giants' No. 2 receiver to Hakeem Nicks. Jake Ballard has become intriguing as a sleeper at the tight end position, but the upcoming bye should leave him on the waiver wire.

• Fred Jackson continues his fantasy MVP campaign, but if you take out that 80-yard score, he had a ho-hum day. The Bills have a bye and some good run defenses coming up on the schedule, so if you can sell high on Jackson -- real high -- now is the time to do so.

• Naaman Roosevelt made a big play with his 60-yard touchdown, but the Bills fortunately have a bye coming up, so you won't be misguidedly lured into picking him up. He isn't worth stashing, no matter what you think of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

• Eli Manning and the Giants avoided picks, but they didn't have the same amount of success in the red zone this week. They had been No. 2 to the Bills in red-zone touchdown efficiency. Manning did avoid the picks, but fantasy owners would have traded a couple of INTs for a touchdown in what was supposed to be a very favorable matchup.

• This was supposed to be a week the Packers running backs make a fantasy impact. If they can't do it here, they cannot do it anywhere. The next few weeks are going to be considerably tougher on the ground, so don't consider James Starks or Ryan Grant anything better than flex options in deeper leagues. It is not just the lack of commitment to the run either. Starks has gotten enough carries; he just isn't doing anything with them.

• Somehow the Packers have made four receivers productive -- Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Donald Driver. If they didn't post yards or receptions, they picked up a score. It all comes at the expense of Jermichael Finley, though. Finley will be better in the coming weeks, so keep him active through thick and thin.

• Sam Bradford still doesn't have a clear go-to receiver, but at least Danario Alexander, Greg Salas and tight end Lance Kendricks proved effective. They are the targets to have for a team that figures to get much better here on out in the passing game. Mike Sims-Walker and Brandon Gibson just shouldn't make the cut in standard leagues; in fact, they can be cut during the bye season.

• Steven Jackson picked up 96 yards against an elite run defense here, which gives him hope against the Cowboys run-stuffing unit next week. Don't expect a score, but his importance to the offense and amount of use could net him 100 total yards again.

• Fantasy-wise, this one went about as expected. Frank Gore was great, Jahvid Best was a disappointing -- at least on the ground -- and Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson had solid days.

• The surprise was Michael Crabtree, who has looked healthier than ever. He was Alex Smith's leading -- no, only -- target in another impressive road victory. Crabtree is on bye next week, otherwise he would be a viable start in all leagues.

• Nate Burleson reappears for the Lions, who had been giving rookie Titus Young a lot more looks of late. A touchdown in the red zone is not one to get excited about, though. He still isn't a good start next week against the Falcons, but neither is Young. Pettigrew and Johnson are clearly Stafford's go-to guys.

• The 49ers defense was good enough here to consider stashing them during the bye week. Most defenses are candidates to cut, but the 49ers come out of the bye with a favorable schedule and they are going to be missed if you try to cut them for a bye-week replacement.

• Welcome to the party Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers play one of the weakest schedules in the NFL, so Mendy's slow start should be forgiven for what he is going to do here on out. He proved healthy and ran for 146 yards and a score. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer were complete non-factor's too. Mendenhall has been a bust before this week and can be an MVP here on out.

• Ben Roethlisberger had his worst week of the season, despite having his best matchup to date. This is more how the Steelers are accustomed to playing football, but Big Ben is still going to be a viable starter in all formats every week. He should be viewed as a must-start against the Cardinals next week.

• Maurice Jones-Drew continues to rack up yardage, but his fantasy scoring is limited because of his lack of red-zone opportunities. MJD is a must-trade commodity right now. His yardage gives him value, but he isn't going to be any better than he has been to date.

• The Jags are one of the best offenses to take advantage of for opposing fantasy defenses. The Ravens and Texans D/STs have big weekends coming up.

• Blaine Gabbert isn't making mistakes but he really isn't making any plays down field either. Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis are suffering because of it.

• Andy Dalton continues to be surprisingly not terrible -- sorry about the double negative. Rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to be so efficient. A.J. Green continues to look like the real deal and even Jerome Simpson got in on the action, lieu of tight end Jermaine Gresham, this week. Simpson isn't worth picking up and stashing during next Sunday's bye, though. Dalton is just good enough to keep Green and Gresham productive for fantasy owners.

• Pierre Garcon continues to be Curtis Painter's top target, but at least Dallas Clark finally got in on the action. He might even be a viable start next week against the Saints, along with Reggie Wayne and Garcon.

• Delone Carter got the majority of carries, but Donald Brown got the touchdown. If Joseph Addai cannot play next week against the Saints, Carter is still the play over Brown in deeper leagues if you need a bye-week replacement.

• Felix Jones continues to be a fantasy bust. An ankle injury forced him out of what should have been a bountiful matchup. DeMarco Murray was the replacement, but he was ineffective, too. The Cowboys running game didn't instill any fantasy confidence against a Pats run defense that was abused by the disappointing Jets a week ago. Murray could be a real sleeper next week against the Rams, if Jones cannot go. Consider him one of the popular waiver-wire additions this week.

• Tom Brady loves his tight ends. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both continue to be as productive as any wide receiver and are must-start fantasy options when healthy. Chad Ochocinco is about as worthless as any receiver in fantasy right now. Wes Welker is the leading option on the outside and Deion Branch is the fall-back option.

• BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't start -- for whatever the reason -- but he thoroughly outplayed Stevan Ridley. Danny Woodhead returned, too, but BGE clearly is the Pats back of choice. He should be better when not facing a stiff run defense like the Cowboys'.

• The Cowboys defense might have given up the game in the end, but they proved legit against Tom Brady and an elite offense. It makes them a must-add and must start going forward. They don't play a particularly imposing schedule here on out either.

• The Bucs and Josh Freeman rebound with a huge victory over the Saints. Freeman looked more like his 2010 form and made Arrelius Benn look like a fantasy-viable option finally. It could give some hope for disappointed Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow owners going forward.

• Earnest Graham filled in admirably for the injured LeGarrette Blount. Graham should have a much tougher go against the Bears next week, but at least that game is at home. He is a decent bye-week fill-in before the Week 8 bye, then you can cut him. Blount should be back in Week 9.

• Mark Ingram found the end zone and outplayed the other backs -- Darren Sproles barely. The Saints lost and might have to put more time into the running game. It should benefit Ingram eventually down the stretch.

• The emergence of Jimmy Graham as an elite fantasy tight end and Marques Colston's productive comeback from injury have made Robert Meachem, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson non-factors for the Saints, even though Drew Brees almost hit 400 yards passing. Brees, Graham and Colston are the only must-start Saints now.

• Arian Foster couldn't keep it up against the Ravens' defensive front, but he remained productive as a receiver out of the backfield. The schedule gets considerably softer in the coming weeks, so Foster should be considered a must-start fantasy back.

• Torrey Smith was back to being a solid fantasy sleeper and he should continue to get better as Joe Flacco's No. 2 receiving option to Anquan Boldin on the outside and down the field. Ed Dickson and Lee Evans really are waiver fodder at this point.

• Owen Daniels was a significant disappointment, while Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter led the way for the Texans through the air. Andre Johnson's expected return should ruin Jones and Walter's fantasy values in the coming weeks, though.

• Derrick Mason made a surprising impact after the midweek trade and should cut into Jones' and Walter's productivity, too. It is enough to avoid Jones and Walter off waivers.

• Jason Campbell might be out for the season with a broken collarbone, but the emergence of third-year receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey shouldn't be overlooked. He had another busy week and might even be considered a must-start next week against Kansas City regardless who is the quarterback.

• Peyton Hillis is one running back who should have starred this week, but he was a complete dud due to injury. He sat with a tweaked hamstring and Montario Hardesty was hardly productive in his stead. Hillis is suffering from the Madden cover jinx.

• Greg Little had a productive first start and should be considered the Browns' leading receiver now, even if Mohamed Massaquoi caught a touchdown pass. Ben Watson was a disappointment and his inconsistency makes him merely a bye-week replacement.

• Colt McCoy was better but still not fantasy-worthy. He needs a few more weeks to develop something significant with Little before we should consider him fantasy-viable. By the end of the year, though, we expect him to surprise.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watchlist and his Sunday night staple Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy

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