November 24, 2009

Another week, another injured Redskins running back. No worries, there is someone else for fantasy owners to consider heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.

Ladell Betts had done wonderfully in replacing Clinton Portis in the lineup until he blew his knee in last Sunday's tight loss to Dallas. That injury opened the door for little-used veteran Rock Cartwright, who torched Dallas' defense for 140 yards of total offense (seven yards per touch).

Cartwright has filled in before -- never for long -- but may be given his first real chance of showing what he can do as the featured back. The Redskins may bring back Portis prematurely, but it seems more likely that they'll give Cartwright at least one week in the lineup to show what he can do. Consider his first full test to be a stiff one; last time Washington faced Philadelphia the rushing game was held to 62 yards on 19 carries.

Nevertheless, in a pastime dominated by running backs, Cartwright has become the back du jour.

Here are a few other waiver wire candidates to consider...

WR Bryant Johnson, Detroit

In most leagues Johnson has been left untouched. Let's face it: Detroit has trouble keeping one receiver happy (Calvin Johnson) let alone pleasing multiple wideouts. But with Calvin's status in the air, Bryant could finally get the opportunity to serve as the team's primary weapon when the Lions host the Packers on Thanksgiving, and with cornerback Al Harris out of action it will only encourage Detroit to pass the football early and often against a Packers team ranked 29th in passing scores allowed.

TE Leonard Pope, Kansas City

Fantasy owners will remember Pope from his failed stint as Arizona's tight end. Now a Chief, Pope caught his first touchdown of the season in last week's surprising win over Pittsburgh. Pope has caught five passes over the past two weeks, and is slowly earning more favor with quarterback matt Cassel. He's a stretch, but considering how thin the tight end position can be, Pope might be worth a pickup.

TE Tom Santi, Indianapolis

The Ravens were effective in taking Austin Collie and Dallas Clark away from Peyton Manning, forcing the quarterback to find alternative targets. Enter Santi, who caught 10 passes all of last season. On Sunday, Manning threw to Santi eight times, completing six balls for 80 yards. Fantasy owners are well aware of the role Clark plays in the offense, but also should be reminded that Indianapolis has long liked to include more weapons in the passing game (often two pass-catching tight ends) so this could be the start of a bright future for the 24-year-old University of Virginia product.

Here is a look at this week's buy and sell candidates:

RB Frank Gore, San Francisco

Gore has done poorly all season but a couple of games. He gained just 59 yards rushing against Green Bay (albeit on seven carries). The 49ers next three games are against three middle-of-the-road run defenses: Jacksonville, Seattle and Arizona. Gore could have a strong finish to the year for a San Francisco squad looking to take positives into the 2010 campaign. Fantasy owners in need of a boost at running back may want to consider making a move for the fifth-year back. Chances are he can be had for reasonably cheap.

RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

As Philadelphia approaches the final stretch of the year, trying to position itself in the ultra-competitive NFC East race, the offense will rely more heavily on its rookie back. Last Sunday, McCoy contributed his best rushing numbers yet: 99 yards on 20 carries. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and the team's impatience with delicate starter Brian Westbrook should offer McCoy plenty of work over the next month. Fantasy owners can expect a few big performances against weak run defenses, such as Washington and Atlanta.

WR Terrell Owens, Buffalo

One week does not a fantasy stud make, but it's difficult to ignore the timing of Buffalo's coaching change with Owens' surge in production. He gained 197 yards receiving in the loss to Jacksonville, and could become the focal point for an offense that has failed to get much going all season. Fantasy owners with Owens would be all too happy to dump the disappointment (just two scores all season), providing an opportunity for a savvy owner to scoop him up in the hopes of him having a brilliant finish in the all-important final few weeks of the year.

RB Kevin Smith, Detroit

The party could be over for the Lions sensational sophomore back, who caught four passes for 104 yards in last week's come-from-behind win over Cleveland. The Lions' top two offensive players -- quarterback Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson -- are nursing injuries, which will prompt defenses to focus their gameplan on stopping Smith dead in his tracks. Another reason to go sour on Smith: The Lions' next three opponents (Green Bay, Cincinnati, Baltimore) all rank among the top five in the league in run defense.

WR Hines Ward, Pittsburgh

Ward caught 10 passes last week and turned in his fourth 100-yard effort of the season. His 2009 campaign has brought unexpected fruits to those fantasy owners brave enough to draft him, but now they must be brave enough to rid themselves of the Steelers great. Historically, Ward has been a dud in the final month of the regular season, failing to come through for fantasy owners in need (to be fair, 2008 was an exception). During the final three or four contests of each year dating back to 2000, Ward's touchdown numbers have been minimal, and he has been kept under 60 yards receiving more times than not.

TE Dustin Keller, New York Jets

OK, time to cut the dead weight. Keller did not take the next step the season, as so many predicted he would, and has offered little promise to fantasy owners despite serving as a designated starter for much of the year. He has scored just two touchdowns, and has registered more than three catches only three times this season. If Keller can bring value for another need position, dump him.

Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for

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