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Run, Rookie, Run

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  • Run, Rookie, Run

    Run, Rookie, Run
    By Ted Carlson, Senior Editor
    December 8, 2004 2:00 AM ET

    Jackson piled up 119 rushing yards against the *****.

    Chris Perry missed his seventh straight game on Sunday due to a deep abdominal strain. Greg Jones can at least boast that he saw the field, as he returned a couple kickoffs against the Steelers.

    The other four rookie running backs taken on the first day of April's draft? They were all busy having career games on Sunday and Monday.

    Steven Jackson rushed 26 times for 119 yards in a win over the *****, Kevin Jones piled up 196 rushing yards in a win over the Cardinals, Julius Jones dominated the Seahawks (196 yards, three touchdowns), and Tatum Bell recorded his first career touchdown in a loss to the Chargers.

    Wasn't this a receiver-heavy draft? Whatever. In week 14, the seven first-round wideouts combined for 12 catches, 236 yards, and two touchdowns, and they can thank Lee Evans (four receptions, 110 yards, two scores) for a hefty chunk of those totals. The three second-round receivers? They amassed an amazing three catches for 45 yards.

    Or maybe we should spend the time talking about the four first-round quarterbacks? They combined for 26 completions, 334 yards, and two touchdowns. Yawn.

    Forget the receivers and quarterbacks. Week 14 was all about the rookie running backs, and I'm here to talk about Jackson and the two successful Jones boys (neither of whom is related to either Morten Andersen or Gary Anderson). As assessment of Bell will have to wait for another day.

    Ram Tough

    Jackson, the top running back taken in the 2004 draft, spent his day chipping away at the bend-but-try-not-to-break-too-much ***** defense, and he earned a bruised right knee on his 26th carry of the game. Ram Nation is likely cringing about yet another running back plagued by injuries (see "Faulk, Marshall" and "Gordon, Lamar"), and although Jackson is considered questionable for week 15, I'm assuming that the injury is not too serious.

    I'd seen portions of Jackson when he played a part-time role behind Faulk for 13 weeks, and those glimpses were enough to tell me that Steven would eventually be a solid workhorse back. Sunday's outing confirmed those previous observations. Jackson did not have a touchdown or highlight-reel run, but anybody who watched the contest knows why. ***** defensive tackle Bryant Young repeated dominated the middle of the Rams offensive line, and head coach Mike Martz also made a mid-game change at right tackle, replacing Grant Williams with Blaine Saipaia. The shaky line didn't allow Jackson to rip off any longs runs (13 yards was his longest), but he still got the job done by being patient, picking his holes, and showing good power.

    What I now need to see is something special out of Jackson, and unfortunately, due to his injury and this offensive line, that probably won't happen over the final four weeks. Steven has just one run of 25 or more yards this season, and although the ability to hit the home run is not necessary for fantasy success (see Ricky Williams circa 2003), we all tend to like guys who can rip off big runs.

    Restoring the Roar

    Kevin Jones' preseason got off to a slow start due to foot and hamstring injuries, and in week three, he suffered a high ankle sprain. The rookie missed one game and struggled in subsequent contests. I won't name names, but some office members openly spouted about Jones lack of speed and toughness. Other Fanball employees (again, no names necessary) opted instead to name Jones as their second-half sleeper. Court Mann and I understood that Kevin was not yet healthy, and that the Lions' offensive line (featuring two new starting guards) needed time to jell.

    "The running game takes time," Damien Woody (one of those two new guards) told the Detroit News on Sunday. "Things are not going to click at first, but as the season progressed, things have steadily gotten better."

    Indeed, Mr. Woody, the real Kevin is finally coming out. High ankle sprains often take four-to-six weeks to heal, and in Jones' seventh game after the injury, he rushed for 81 yards against a good Jaguars' run defense. He then racked up 100, 99, and 196 yards over the last three contests. Sunday's huge effort included a 74-yard stroll, the longest rookie run in franchise history and the team's lengthiest jaunt since Barry Sanders busted an 80-yarder back in November of 1997. Going into last year's draft, Jones carried a reputation as a speedster, so seeing him bust a long run was not overly shocking.

    The most notable part of that sprint, though, was Jones' vision, as he ran inside, weaved until he saw the lane, and took off. Throughout the game, Jones showed me more toughness than I might have previously given him credit for. He earned a lot of yards going up the middle and breaking arm tackles. In fact, the tough 91 yards on 15 carries in the second half were a bigger sign of his maturity than the one big first-half run.

    Granted, Sunday's game came against a horrible Cardinals' run defense, and I don't want to get too excited about that one effort. However, Kevin has really posted four good outings in a row, and a strong finish will certainly have him cruising up my 2005 cheat sheet. His injury concerns will linger until he proves durable over a full season, but I really like what I'm seeing right now.

    J.J. is Dynomite

    While Kevin Jones openly limped through the first half of the season, the similarly surnamed Julius put in his hours behind the scenes. The Cowboy rookie did not see any action in the season opener due to bruised ribs, and he fractured a shoulder blade in week two. Over the next eight weeks, Julius stayed in shape and adapted to NFL life somewhere outside of the limelight.

    Jones then emerged in week 11 with a 30-carry, 80-yard outing against the Ravens. Those numbers don't jump off the page, but like Kevin's 81-yard day against the Jaguars, you have to consider the opposing defense. Once Julius faced a weaker unit (like the Brian Urlacher-less Bears on Thanksgiving), he was able to strut his stuff. Juice piled up 150 yards and two touchdowns while most of us were engaged in a tryptophan-induced slumber. Actually, it's the overeating (and alcohol) that caused people to doze off, but the point is the same.

    With the Cowboys once again under the spotlight on Monday night, Julius trashed a broken-in (thanks, Willis McGahee) Seahawks defense. Jones showed a full package of talent, including patience, vision, power, and speed. Or, in Paul Maguire-speak, "Heh, heh…Here's a guy…watch what Julius Jones does to this linebacker! I'll tell you what! You won't see any other rookie running back do that, Joe."

    Jones will continue his dominating run at home against the lowly Saints this Sunday, but it will be more interesting to see how he does in weeks 15 (at the Eagles) and 16 (home against the Redskins). After carrying the ball 30 or more times in three straight games, I have to believe that Julius will start to feel the wear-and-tear a little bit over the final few contests. He also faces tougher defenses in the Eagles and Redskins, so those two matchups will go a long way towards determining what Jones' value will be heading into 2005.

    Speaking of 2005, I'll finish by talking keeper league for a moment. It's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and immediately call Jackson, Jones, and Jones outstanding keeper running backs. Obviously, all three are young and have talent, but I don't want to go overboard against running backs that just faced the *****, Cardinals, and Seahawks.

    As it currently stands, not one of these three runners cracks my top-10 keeper running back list. Without detailing the work (I'm saving that for a future article), I'll tell you that Julius ranks in my 13-17 range, Kevin in the 18-22 range, and Steven somewhere in between 21 and 25. All three running backs could obviously climb up the standings if they continue to run well over the final four games.

    Skinny Posts

    Speaking of running backs busting out, Clinton Portis had his best fantasy game of the season on Sunday. He rushed for 148 yards, ran for one touchdown, and caught a second score. Before you jump ahead and think Portis is finally back to his former self, let me point out a few things. First, the Giants were without starting defensive linemen Norman Hand, Michael Strahan, and Keith Washington, and they also recently lost backup defensive ends Lorenzo Bromell and Chuck Wiley. Second, over the past four games, the Giants gave up two rushing touchdowns to Anthony Thomas, two rushing touchdowns to Emmitt Smith, 201 rushing yards to the Falcons, and 152 rushing yards and two rushing scores to the Eagles. In other words, I'm not impressed, Mr. Portis.

    While Jets fans may be rejoicing over the return of red zone deity Chad Pennington, fantasy owners can kiss Santana Moss goodbye. While watching the weak-armed Pennington throw on Sunday, I couldn't help but make a lobbing sound any time threw the ball more than 15 yards downfield. Backup quarterback Quincy Carter has played roughly three full games this season (two full contests and parts of three others), and the speedy Moss has 258 yards (86 per game) and two touchdowns during Quincy's tenure. In eight games under Pennington (and a little Brooks Bollinger), Moss has 404 yards (50.5 per game) and zero scores.

    Fantasy owners were likely excited to see Torry Holt catch 10 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown on Sunday. He was able to earn those numbers despite the loss of Marc Bulger and switch to Chris Chandler. However, I kept a close eye on this game, and it was pretty obvious that the ***** told rookie cornerback Shawntae Spencer to always keep Holt in front of him. Spencer gave Holt a big cushion, and Chandler and Holt took advantage. Holt faces another rookie – Chris Gamble – this Sunday, but we doubt the Panthers will make it so easy for Torry.

    How important is Brian Urlacher to the Bears? The team is 5-3 and allows an average of 15.9 points when he plays. The Bears are 0-4 and allow 27 points per game when Urlacher is out. Fantasy owners planning to use their players against the Bears in upcoming weeks should be aware that the stud linebacker active and (relatively) healthy.

  • #2
    Re: Run, Rookie, Run

    It is justified and very encouraging to see the interest our rookie RB is causing for now.

    Injury or no injury (within reason), these next four games are CRUCIAL! The timing is CRITICAL for SJ to make a strong statement, for the Rams to open a few alleys and overall, to give No, 39 all the support possible.