THE RUNNING backby committee ... the platoon ... the time-share. By any name, it's a thornysituation for fantasy owners. And these days more teams are, by force or bychoice, sharing the workload in their backfields. Through three weeks thenumber of runners on pace for at least 150 carries is 35, equal to last year.Because knowing who will be the preeminent Panther or the big Bear could welldetermine a fantasy team's success, SI has picked the brains of its insiders todetermine who, if anyone, will emerge as the featured back for each of the nineteams whose situations are at least somewhat unsettled--and whether the winnersare worth owning.
THE TIDE ISTURNING
DeShaun Foster vs. DeAngelo Williams
TALE OF THE TAPEThe party line is that Foster is the starter, but privately the Panthers' staffis raving about the quickness of Williams, a rookie from Memphis who'saveraging 4.3 yards per carry to Foster's 3.4. Another clue that Williams'sstar is rising: Even though he had only four carries on Sunday, he was on thefield for most of Carolina's game-winning drive.
THE DECISIONWilliams will eventually be The Man, so he's well worth a fantasy roster spot.If you've got Foster on your team, now's the time to deal him.
Corey Dillon vs. Laurence Maroney
TALE OF THE TAPEMaroney, a rookie from Minnesota, has been dynamic from Day One. On his firsttwo carries as a pro, he ran for 27 and 22 yards, matching Dillon's number of20-yard runs from all last season. But Dillon, while not as explosive, has beenalmost as productive and gotten more goal line carries. And with receiver DeionBranch now in Seattle, the Patriots will lean on the running game, and thatrequires two big backs.
THE DECISION Theteam insists that this will remain a time-share, but with Dillon day-to-daywith an arm injury, the door is open for the rookie to get more carries.
Tatum Bell vs. Mike Bell
TALE OF THE TAPEBecause of Denver's success in running the ball under coach Mike Shanahan, thiswas the most scrutinized battle entering the season. Mike was named the starterin training camp, and heading into Week 3 neither Bell had emerged as thefeatured back; Tatum alternated series with Mike, and the two produced similarnumbers. But for Sunday night's game against the Patriots, Shanahansurprisingly anointed Tatum as the go-to guy, and he responded with 123 yardson 27 carries (Mike ran four times for 12 yards).
THE DECISION It'snow Tatum's job until he falters--and Shanahan's history shows that he won'thesitate to make a change if that happens.
Ron Dayne vs. Samkon Gado vs. Wali Lundy
TALE OF THE TAPEA trendy choice in a lot of drafts just weeks ago, Lundy has fallen to thirdstring and, thus, the fantasy scrap heap. Dayne, who played in Texans coachGary Kubiak's system last year in Denver, has the upper hand on Gado for now(14 carries to Gado's one in Week 3), but on a 27-yard run against the Colts inWeek 2 Gado displayed the flash that neither Dayne nor Lundy has so far. Andhe's been in the system for only two weeks.
THE DECISION Gadowill win the job, but he's only worthy of a roster spot in deep leagues.
Kevan Barlow vs. Derrick Blaylock
TALE OF THE TAPEFirst-year coach Eric Mangini keeps as tight a lid on his personnel moves asany other coach in the league. He can't hide this, though: In the openerBlaylock had 19 carries to Barlow's 11, in Week 2 Barlow had 14 rushes toBlaylock's six and in Week 3 Barlow had 12 carries while Blaylock wasdeactivated in favor of Cedric Houston. That trend will hold as Barlow, who wasacquired in a trade in August, becomes more comfortable in the offense.
THE DECISIONBarlow is the guy. Still, until the Jets show an ability to run the ball he'sonly a marginal fantasy starter.
Reggie Bush vs. Deuce McAllister
TALE OF THE TAPEThey have split the touches roughly evenly, but they've been used in differentways--McAllister in the backfield, Bush in the slot, as a receiver or even as awingback. Since coach Sean Payton has found a way to take advantage of thetalents of each back, he's likely to stay the course. "You've got to havethe ability to run more than one guy," Payton says, "and I think we cando that."
THE DECISION Thiswill continue to be a headache for fantasy owners, though Bush, because of hisreceiving ability, is the better choice.
Thomas Jones vs. Cedric Benson
TALE OF THE TAPEWhat was in recent years a seesaw battle (first Jones, then Benson, then Jones)has turned in Jones's favor. He has almost three times as many carries (60 to21) as Benson does this year and lost his job only temporarily after he skippedvoluntary off-season workouts. Moreover, the Bears (3--0) are confident theycan win with him.
THE DECISIONNothing suggests that Benson will significantly carve into Jones's touches,making Jones a valuable No. 2 fantasy back.
UP FOR GRABS
Dominic Rhodes vs. Joseph Addai
TALE OF THE TAPEAlthough Addai, a rookie from LSU, has more yards per carry (4.7 to 2.6), Coltscoach Tony Dungy is sticking to his plan to play him and Rhodes equally unlessone catches fire. (Rhodes, in fact, got 14 carries to Addai's three in Sunday'swin over the Jaguars.) "There will be times when Dominic is really having agood game, and he may end up getting most of the work," Dungy says."And there might be occasions when Joseph is more effective, and he'll seethe ball more. But the bottom line is that they're both going to play."
THE DECISIONAddai has shown more pop, but Dungy is adamant about playing both, thusmaintaining their status as No. 2 fantasy running backs at best.
Travis Henry vs. Chris Brown vs. LenDale White
TALE OF THE TAPECoach Jeff Fisher has said he wants someone to emerge from this three-headedmonster. Henry was the workhorse with 21 rushes in Week 3, while Brown sat outwith a toe injury and White got just one carry.
THE DECISIONHenry is the man of the moment, but the Titans' woeful offense doesn't make himan enticing option.
OTHER BACKS TO WATCH
1 Rookie Leon Washington's 47-yard reception on Sundayshowed that he's the Jets' best option for a third-down back.
2 The Eagles' Correll Buckhalter is one BrianWestbrook injury (an annual occurrence) away from the starting role.
3 The Redskins' Ladell Betts ran for 124 yards onSunday, and if Clinton Portis reinjures his shoulder, Betts is The Man.
4 The Giants have made Brandon Jacobs their goal lineguy. They just haven't run much near the goal line.
5 Behind Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, KevinFaulk gives the Pats a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
6 Chester Taylor remains the Vikings' starter unlesshe fumbles again, allowing Mewelde Moore additional playing time.
7 Why should you keep Bengals backup KENNY WATSON onyour radar (and not on your roster)? In case Rudi Johnson gets hurt. If thathappens, Watson becomes gold. Until then he's taking up a spot that could beused by someone else on this list.
8 Michael Turner is the Chargers' version of Kenny Watson (insurance forLaDainian Tomlinson) but with more carries.
9 New Steeler Najeh Davenport has been tagged for theshort-yardage duty that so far has been handled by Willie Parker.
10 Despite the presence of Cadillac Williams, theBucs' Mike Alstott, in his 11th year, still has a role as a goal linespecialist.
TOP TIGHT END TANDEMS
1 The Bears' Desmond Clark has been the biggest tightend surprise this year, and John Gilmore has seen red-zone duty.
2 The Patriots have played Ben Watson, Daniel Grahamand David Thomas together on the same snap.
3 The Redskins' Chris Cooley and Mike Sellers eachcaught seven TDs last year but have none yet this season.
4 In April's NFL draft Dallas selected Notre Dame's ANTHONY FASANO with itssecond-round pick. The move signaled a shift for the Cowboys: They would employmore double-tight-end sets, pairing Fasano and JASON WITTEN (left), and fewerthree-receiver formations. The thinking was that defenses would stick to theirbase 3--4 or 4--3 schemes against two tight ends, creating a more favorablematchup than if the Cowboys had a third receiver facing a nickelback. So far ithas worked: In Week 2 against the Redskins, Fasano and Witten combined forseven catches and 84 yards.
5 The Ravens' Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox, whocombined for eight TDs in '05, already have three in '06.
6 Led by rookie Owen Daniels, the Texans (with MarkBruener and Jeb Putzier) have three red-zone options.
7 Ben Troupe was the Titan expected to have thebreakthrough year, but Bo Scaife has more catches and receiving yards.
8 Colts vet Dallas Clark leads a trio that includesyoung talents Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher.
9 Lost in Kellen Winslow's comeback is the play ofBrowns veteran Steve Heiden, who has five catches for 38 yards.
10 Outplayed by Anthony Becht in the first two weeks,the Bucs' Alex Smith had 72 receiving yards on Sunday.
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