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Ponder among few promising gems of increasingly shallow talent pool


No coach inspires more vitriol from fantasy football players than Mike Shanahan. First in Denver, and now in Washington, Shanahan uses his running backs essentially interchangeably.

This year in D.C., Shanahan has given significant carries to Tim Hightower (now lost for the season), Ryan Torain and now Roy Helu. While the strategy of going with the hot hand is a smart one, football-wise, it's infuriating to fantasy owners.

When Tim Hightower went down with an ACL tear, owners probably thought the guy would be Ryan Torain, who had already started to take carries from Hightower. But on Sunday Helu got 10 carries to Torain's 1. (Tashard Choice, signed after being released by the Cowboys, was inactive.)

Helu didn't do anything on the ground, rushing for just 41 yards. But he actually broke Art Monk's team record for catches in a game with 14 receptions for 107 yards on 17 targets. John Beck was checking down all game and Helu was a killer play in points-per-reception leagues in Week 9.

Getting a Mike Shanahan running back is always going to be a dicey proposition, but he says Beck is his starter for the rest of the way. That could mean lots of more short passes to Helu (owned in just 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues right now) and lots of points in PPR leagues. As usual this late in the year, there aren't many running backs that could get significant carries available. If you need a RB, Helu is the guy to pick up this week.

Christian Ponder, Vikings (16 percent): No one has a bye this week, so you shouldn't need a one-week flier. If you do, the Vikings rookie quarterback could put up decent numbers. Last time he played the Packers, Ponder threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He has Green Bay again this week, and the Packers have given up the sixth-most points to fantasy quarterbacks.

Kregg Lumpkin, Buccaneers (3 percent): He didn't get many carries with the return of LeGarrette Blount, but he was targeted six times in the passing game and played a lot on third downs. He had four catches for 31 yards in Week 9. Running back pickings are slim this week on the waiver wire.

Kendall Hunter, Niners (14 percent): Hunter sprained his finger on Sunday but he'll be OK. He's a possible target because Frank Gore sprained his ankle on Sunday. It's not expected to be a big deal, but if bad news comes out on Gore later in the week, Hunter is the guy to target.

Laurent Robinson, Cowboys (12 percent): The former Falcons and Rams wide receiver has scored in both of the Cowboys' last two games; he caught all five passes thrown his way on Sunday for 32 yards and a TD. And Miles Austin is now out 2-4 weeks with a hamstring injury. Robinson has already been producing as the third wide receiver, as the No. 2 he could be a starter every week. He should be your No. 1 target at wide receiver this week.

Earl Bennett, Bears (10 percent): Bennett had a big game against the Eagles for the second straight year, catching all five passes thrown his way for 95 yards and a touchdown. He didn't look rusty coming off an injury in Week 2. Cutler spreads the ball around a lot, but Bennett is an intriguing pick-up after his performance Monday night.

Jacoby Ford, Raiders (20 percent): That's two double-digit fantasy performances in three weeks for Ford; in Carson Palmer's first start as Oakland QB, Ford was second on the team in targets with six and caught five passes for 104 yards. If he continues to get targets, his big play opportunity makes him a passable third WR.

Leonard Hankerson, Redskins (0 percent): Pro Football Focus' Mike Clay notes Hankerson played 63 of a possible 64 snaps on Sunday against the 49ers. The Redskins passing game is a mess, but a guy getting on the field that much deserves to be owned, especially in big leagues.

Jerome Simpson, Bengals (26 percent): The Bengals wide receiver led the team in targets with 10 on Sunday. He caught three passes for 43 yards and a score. The Bengals' passing offense continues to stand out this year and Simpson is the clear No. 2, getting more targets than rookie standout A.J. Green in two of the last three weeks.

Brandon Gibson, Rams (2 percent): Greg Salas was emerging as the Rams' No. 2 receiver before fracturing his fibula on Sunday; he'll miss the rest of the year. If you need a WR, especially in points-per-reception leagues, Gibson is a pickup with some upside. He had 5 catches for 54 yards on Sunday on 5 targets. It's going to be hard to shake out the Rams' receiving corps -- Danario Alexander and Mark Clayton are both coming back -- but Gibson is the current guy to target.

Dennis Pitta, Ravens (0 percent): The Ravens use a lot of two-tight end sets, but Ed Dickson (owned in 13 percent of leagues) has been the main guy in yardage and targets all season. That changed Sunday night, when Pitta saw eight passes thrown his way. He caught five for 46 yards; Dickson, on five targets, caught just two passes for eight yards.

Jared Cook, Titans (32 percent): Cook led the team in targets with eight; while he only caught four passes for 47 yards, he's picked up lots of looks two of the past four weeks. He's an option in big leagues.

Jason Hanson, Lions (68 percent): Hanson's normally too high to consider writing about in this column, but he's coming off a bye and he might have been dropped due to the open date by someone in your league. If he's there, grab him.

Mike Nugent, Bengals (28 percent): The Bengals schedule gets tougher coming up, but Nugent should still get enough opportunities

Arizona (14 percent): The Cardinals are actually the 11th-best defense in fantasy football and face the turnover-prone Eagles this week. If your league only focuses on turnovers and sacks and doesn't take away many points for points allowed, Arizona could be a sneaky one-week play.