No player has had a bigger week fantasy stock-wise than Arian Foster. The Texans' second-year running back seems like the last one standing in Houston after former starter Steve Slaton's special teams demotion and rookie Ben Tate's ankle injury that shelved him for the season. Some draft list updates even have him slotted in the top 10 in running backs and in a one-player keeper league draft I was in last weekend, I saw him go in the draft's first round (!) I can't endorse him that high, but some of the hype is deserved, thanks to a 100-yard performance against the Cowboys last week adding to the draft stock hysteria.
A season ago, he started the last two games of the season and rushed 19 times for 97 yards and a TD at Miami and 20 for 119 and two scores against New England, which seemed like disposable stat lines in weeks 16 and 17 but now look like sneak previews of possibly this fall's biggest breakout candidate. I contend Slaton will still be heard from before the year is out (as I eat my crow, thank you), but right now it's hard to argue against Foster, who looks like a good early mid-round pick as a strong RB2 in standard scoring leagues.
Jahvid Best, Lions: He seems to be all but closing in on the Lions' starting spot. A nifty 51-yard run against the Browns on Saturday didn't hurt his case, nor the fact that Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris have been pretty uninspiring. Look to grab Best around the fourth to fifth round of standard scoring leagues as he looks like a great RB3 and good RB2.
C.J. Spiller, Bills: Another rookie, that if you want to grab now you might have to overdraft a bit. His highlight reel runs are one thing, but what looks like an improved Trent Edwards and the Buffalo passing game is another. At the very least, Spiller could be a rich man's Reggie Bush who makes the Bills fun to watch again. Spiller is a fifth to sixth round pick who is a nice RB3 and possible RB2.
Some backs haven't done a lot to separate their value from their backups, while others seem to be doing just enough to hang on to their starting spots. The following are the top backups you want to pick up in order to protect your investment against injuries, the bench or even the dreaded platoon plan time-share. Since most of these plan Bs will come cheap, it shouldn't be hard to secure tailback insurance (or steal someone else's) late in your draft.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, (for Shonn Greene) Jets: Protect your Greene 'back with this former fantasy legend. His stock is rising, don't wait too long to target him.
2. Thomas Jones (Jamaal Charles), Chiefs: Charles owners beware, Jones's positive buzz in KC has his value is going up by the minute.
3. Donald Brown (Joseph Addai), Colts: Addai surprised by staying healthy last year, while Brown, a first-round pick fought injuries. Can Addai hold him off?
4. Leon Washington (for Justin Forsett), Seahawks: Even late mid-round sleepers need insurance. Plus, Washington has new coach Pete Carroll raving.
5. Darren McFadden (Michael Bush), Raiders: Bush looks like the favorite to start and is steady and reliable, but McFadden is still in the mix and has the bigger upside.
6. Chester Taylor (Matt Forte), Bears: Forte was banged up for most of last season, while Taylor provides a resume of yeoman's third-down work, not to mention was a full-time starter in 2006.
7. Montario Hardesty (Jerome Harrison), Browns: Peyton Hillis has seen more preseason time, but Hardesty has more potential. Harrison has yet to carry the load for a whole season.
8. Brian Westbrook (Frank Gore), 49ers: The multi-dimensional former Eagle brings veteran leadership and feature-back skills to a team which has seen Gore get dinged up in the past.
9. Larry Johnson (Clinton Portis), Redskins: Portis is battling an ankle sprain and Johnson had a solid outing against the Jets, while Willie Parker looks like a non-factor.
10. Kareem Huggins (Cadillac Williams) Bucs: Despite a gutsy comeback last year, Cadillac is an injury risk waiting to happen and Huggins, a Hofstra product, seems to have beat out Derrick Ward for the No. 2 back spot.
Sometimes, it isn't as clear who the starter or more valued running back is. Here are three tailback situations which boggle me. In each, the candidates are pretty even with one notable omission -- the Panthers' duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, where both are startable stars. Pick these at your own risk, though I'd side on the goal line options (GL) if applicable.
Ronnie Brown-Ricky Williams, Dolphins
Felix Jones-Marion Barber (GL), Cowboys
Tim Hightower-Beanie Wells (GL), Cardinals
Ahmad Bradshaw-Brandon Jacobs (GL), Giants
Don't look for any sizzle here, it's all steak. What all these players have in common is all are proven performers who usually get picked lower than they deserve. These aren't the kind of picks you announce at your draft with your fist held aloft like a pre-scandal Tiger Woods wearing red. These are the vanilla ice cream picks that help win championships, or in this case help build a Fantasy Super Bowl Sundae.
QB: Donovan McNabb, Redskins: Not a great preseason, but once healthy will instantly upgrade 'Skins. May enter the year as a fantasy backup who most will have starting come December.
RB: Cedric Benson, Bengals: When was the last time anyone smiled taking him in the second or third round? They should.
RB: Pierre Thomas, Saints: Reliable, steady, in a great offense and more consistent than Reggie Bush.
WR: Steve Smith, Carolina: Off-season injury aside, he's been a rock of fantasy consistency.
WR: Anquan Boldin, Ravens: Targets could go down in conservative offense, receiving TDs won't.
WR: Hines Ward, Steelers: Easy to overlook, but the No. 1 receiver with Mike Wallace still learning.
TE: Jason Witten, Cowboys: Has been going late in drafts -- don't let his low TDs in years past scare you; they will rebound.
PK: Lawrence Tynes, Giants: Has a weak leg and plays outside, but when healthy is always among the league leaders in points in a proficient offense.
As I wrote way back in March, Derek Anderson is the most logical choice for a deep-ball, play-action offense in the desert. Anderson has the arm Matt Leinart doesn't, and has shown just enough this preseason to put some pressure on the former USC Trojan. Leinart's stats may show a higher completion percentage, but they're backed by conservative check-down passes and dump offs. Anderson might be Larry Fitzgerald's last, best hope for big arm capable of targeting him like a top-tier fantasy football receiver (and his owners deserve).
And while we're on the Cards, the Tim Hightower factor refuses to go away. Like most owners of Beanie Wells, it's hard not to be alarmed at Hightower consistently playing the entire first half of Arizona's preseason games. I thought by now that Hightower would be relegated to a blue-collar back up or third down role while talent won out. So far it looks like as much a time-share as ever, but Wells owners do have one card up our collective sleeve -- the goal line factor. Because of his size and running style, Wells (6-1, 240) is the natural choice for fantasy points at the stripe.