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Line of scrimmage: Skins, Niners offer little clarity in backfields


"For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.'"

Ah, very true, Dave. Unlucky Week 13 saw some teams hitting their stride after horrendous first halves. The Cowboys took an early lead on Indy, watched Peyton Manning's usual heroics to tie the game, but then picked him off for the fourth time to set up David Buehler's game-winning FG in OT. Interim coach Jason Garrett is 3-1 and could guide the team to a .500 finish. Just think, if they would have fired Wade Phillips earlier ...

"Ah, it's a little too little, it's a little too late."

True, but it's a good sign for next year. In Minnesota, Brett Favre got knocked out of the game early and backup Tarvaris Jackson threw two TDs to Sidney Rice and handed off to Adrian Peterson for three more TDs. The Vikings' coaching staff is too meek to sit Favre, but this team still has a shot at 9-7 with Rice and A.P. on their side.

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

Um, yes, Dave, but in San Diego, the Chargers saw the Raiders steal their December mojo as they ... hey, wait a minute. Shakespeare last week. Whittier, Benatar and Donne this week. Did someone buy a Big Book of Quotes on Black Friday?

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls ..."

I'll take that as a yes.

Topic No. 1: Just when you thought the RB situation had clarified itself in the form of Keiland Williams, Mike Shanahan employed former Cleveland RB James Davis as his top dog. Is Davis someone you want to believe in?

Block: As Huey Lewis so aptly put it, "Do you believe in love?" And as I so optimistically replied, "No." Nevertheless, that won't stop me from starting a mini-affair with Davis. If you remember, and judging by the listeners in our chat room, you don't, I had some love for Davis at the start of the year with Cleveland, particularly after Montario Hardesty went down with an injury. But the "Man-Genius" jettisoned every other runner like he does his Spam canisters, and the young Davis found himself out of work. Well, we all know Mike Shanahan loves to have many running backs. We also know that Davis showed tremendous promise in the 2009 preseason, averaging 7.8 yards per carry, before tearing his labrum during an October practice. In only his second year in the league, Davis now has an opportunity again, and if there's one coach known for turning decent talent into 1,000-yard rushers (yes, you, Mike Anderson), it's Shanny. Davis is still learning, but he shows flashes of good speed and has decent hands. No, Washington isn't very good. In fact, they've been awful as they struggle to transition into a new regime and new schemes. Davis wants to prove he belongs in the future. With good motivation to do so, and three games against the average rushing defenses of Tampa Bay, Dallas and Jacksonville up next, Davis could provide much needed support to an injury-depleted fantasy RB group.

Counter-block: Raise your hand if you can name all the RBs the Redskins have gone through this season. I doubt even Shanahan can. With Clinton Portis done for the season and Ryan Torain nursing his hammy all the way into adulthood, Williams and Davis are left to carry the load. And carry it together they will. While Davis is better at the job than Williams, he's not that much better. So while Shanahan has shown the ability to turn no-names into 1,000 yarders, he has also shown the smarts to go with the hot hand, especially when Donovan McNabb has no hands. Now bring back into the fold Torain, who is practicing this week, and the picture is more muddied than, well, something that's really muddy. Shanahan has shown love for Torain and while his injuries let down fantasy owners all over the world, his presence likely means one of two things: Torain will have the most value of any Washington back (which isn't all that much to begin with), or the touches will be so evenly distributed that no Redskins RB will have any fantasy value. In dynasty leagues, though, Davis is someone to consider in '11.

Clearing the pile: We don't believe in Davis fully either. Torain will likely get first crack at the touches with Davis relegated to a few series per game. Williams will likely keep the short yardage job.

Topic No. 2: In the preseason, Glen Coffee left to do good deeds and now Frank Gore is out with hip surgery. Which SF RB do you put your chips on: Brian Westbrook or Anthony Dixon?

Block: I have nothing but respect for Westbrook, and Jon and I, on our weekly podcast, "Just a Bit Outside," have given him the credit due for his role in Philly's offense the past few years. But that was then, this is now, and now Westbrook is a 31-year-old RB with injury issues. Last year he had 61 carries and this season he has a mere 37. Westbrook has the talent to be a back in the NFL, but I doubt his ability to stay on the field. Mississippi State rookie Dixon has seven years, 30 pounds and three inches on Westbrook, and can take the hits. I don't care that both looked bad against the Packers as neither was going to put up good numbers against that D. But with three of their four remaining games against Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona, S.F. should be able to move the ball on the ground. The other game is a Week 15 matchup with the Chargers, who have given up 11 rushing TDs, putting them in the bottom third in the league. Get Dixon, watch for Westbrook's injury, and start him as a good flex the rest of the way.

Counter-block: Why get Westbrook? Hmm, I have to make a counter-argument for possibly the best all-purpose yardage back in the NFL the past five years. From '04-08 Westbrook recorded 1,000 all-purpose yards each year and did so never succeeding in playing all 16 games. He can run, he can catch, he can block. I'm pretty sure he could punt, too, in which case he should get involved in that yearly PP&K competition -- I think he'd do well. Dixon is still raw, and while I'm nearly positive you won't see the kind of workload Westbrook got against Arizona, he'll still have value. Against pressure defenses like San Diego, St. Louis and Seattle, Westbrook's pass-catching ability should be utilized. He's a PPR steal this late in the season.

Clearing the pile: Simply put, as much as the Westbrook argument has some validity PPR-wise, we believe Dixon is likely to provide you the bigger scoring potential down the stretch and will keep all his appendages. Roster that man!

Topic No. 3: The New York Giants keep ticking along even with their two best receivers ailing. The latest surprise career revival has taken place in the form of Derek Hagan, the once highly touted Dolphins prospect. Do I dare grab Hagan for some playoff run help?

Block: The Giants have two crucial problems. First, their best possession receiver, Steve Smith, has a pectoral problem he believes will affect him the rest of the season, but hopes to be back for Minnesota this Sunday. While Hakeem Nicks is also anticipating a return from a minor surgical procedure on his leg, his short-term prognosis is much better than Smith's. That leaves Hagan to fight it out with Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss for targets. Second, they're the Giants, and as much as we know they want to ride their powerful running down the stretch, we never know when that truck will blow some tires. This past Sunday Hagan was targeted eight times and hauled in seven of them. Tom Coughlin is known to reward guys who succeed with more playing time. Hagan won't give you tremendous numbers down the stretch, but considering the Philadelphia game is two weeks away followed-up by Green Bay, I expect Coughlin to keep Smith rested and give Hagan more controlled short to intermediate routes, and let Nicks and Manningham provide the fireworks -- at least this week. For deep leagues, he'll provide you WR3 numbers the rest of the way.

Counter-block: The Giants have been a frustrating team this year, for real football fans and for fantasy players. In Week 3 they lost to the Titans, but then in Week 4 they beat the Bears. This past week they scored four TDs, none of them through the air. So it's tough enough trying to guess which Giants team will show up, never mind whether a receiver will have any fantasy value. Last weekend the Redskins committed their defense to stopping Manningham, which gave Hagan a lot of looks. However, he still only ended up with 65 yards and no scores, and Washington got beat by the Giants' two-headed RBBC, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Other teams will be concentrating as much on the run as the pass, and likely won't feel it as necessary to handcuff Manningham. Nicks is scheduled to return in Week 15, which means the window for Hagan having any value is about one-week long. If you need a WR pickup, look for someone with more value over the rest of the season.

Clearing the pile: In the short-term, Hagan will see more looks and is a nice Week 14 pickup. However, if Nicks and Smith return on schedule, Hagan will get crowded out.

Before we go, we want to say Godspeed to Don Meredith who died last weekend. Dandy Don, we'll miss you. The party is indeed over.

Jon Phillips is the 2008 Champion of the Columbus Dispatch National Fantasy Football Contest "Rate the Experts" and has written for Talented Mr. Roto, and He also hosted Rotoexperts flagship radio show "Xperts Edge" as well as "The Think Tank" with Scott Engel. Dave Young has written weekly fantasy sports columns for Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Talented Mr. Roto, and other sites he can't remember. Called the "Laverne and Shirley of Fantasy Football," catch them both on "Just A Bit Outside" on, Wednesday nights, 10:30 pm Eastern (7:30 pm Pacific), and read their column, "Line of Scrimmage" weekly on E-mail Jon at or Dave at for subjects you'd like to see debated on "Line of Scrimmage."