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Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The Talented Mr. Roto: Running-back roulette

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

Even in a random life, this is pretty random.

Since joining ESPN I've experienced/done
/seen some pretty nutty things. Spent a day with a Caveman. Sang and danced with Jennie Finch while Geddy Lee rocked out below us. Got yelled at by Rob Schneider (the actor) and Jerry Rice … in the same day. I've gotten death threats, I've watched awkwardly as two women "inspected each other for tonsillitis" while standing with Jemele Hill and Ben Roethlisberger (editor's note: and this is why we don't dangle our participles. Let us be clear here that it was Matthew standing with Jemele and Ben) and been asked to officiate a stranger's wedding ceremony.

I've appeared on Monday Night Football, been asked for fantasy football advice by Brian McCann and called out by both Dan Haren and Steven Jackson when their athletic performance was much better than I predicted. Who knew they watched? I've had the Wall Street Journal discuss how much people hate me, gotten invited to Gina Lynn's birthday party (if you don't know who that is, don't google her while at work or in the presence of children) and at least five times a day for the past year I've been told by an assortment of people that they could do my job better than me, and then asked if I could help them do just that.

But it doesn't get any more random than being asked to be in a soap opera. Over the next two weeks, I'll be taping a two-episode arc for the ABC Daytime Soap "One Life to Live." I play "Neil," a jewelry appraiser. When we did our "Endless Drama" soap opera parody ads for fantasy baseball this year, we shot them on the "One Life to Live" set and, for the sake of authenticity, with the OLTL executive producer, director and crew. Well, apparently, they liked whatever it is I do and called recently with a part "that's perfect for me." It makes sense. As one of my co-workers sarcastically noted when told about it, "Am I the only one who is surprised at the notion of Matthew being part of daytime drama?"

Endless Drama
I'm not a doctor, but I played one on the internet.
I could not be more excited. While I desperately hope I'm not completely terrible either way, it's fun, it's different and most importantly, it's a total surprise. A lot of the stuff that I listed above has nothing to do with me and everything to do with ESPN. It would happen to anyone lucky enough to have my job. But this isn't actually a publicity stunt or anything. It's just because they thought I was funny on the set. And the unexpected surprise is the best, is it not?

Think of last year. Ryan Grant, Earnest Graham, Justin Fargas, Kenton Keith, Sammy Morris, Kolby Smith, Selvin Young, Kenny Watson, Derrick Ward and, for one ridiculous week, T.J. Duckett were all picked up off waiver wires last year and all -- some more than others -- were productive for fantasy owners at some point last season. And while we are happy when our Tomlinson or Owens goes off, we expect it. It's the surprises that give us the most joy.

Like when you are winning by five points, you don't have anyone in the Monday night game and the guy you are playing has DeSean Jackson, and your heart sinks, only to be lifted up again upon witnessing the dumbest decision made since I recommended Jeff Francoeur in the preseason. Ugh. Still apologizing for that one.

Anyway, this week, more than any other that I remember in recent history, is filled with potential surprises. Lots of running backs that have the potential to have you looking back at the end of the season and congratulating yourself on making the pickup of the year.

Pickups of the Week

As always, ownership percentages in ESPN.com standard leagues is included in parentheses. And once again, I have left one pickup out of this article and put it only in the video above so as to try and get you to both read and watch. It's a cheap ploy and, as we've established, I'm not above it.

Darren Sproles, RB, Chargers (13 percent): Might as well start with the obvious. Sproles gained 125 yards on nine touches, and that doesn't count the return yards or his score. A few things are clear here: The Chargers can run the ball and it's clearly Sproles (and not Jacob Hester) who is LT's backup. Toe problems have a way of lingering and if LT ever misses time, is there any doubt Sproles will put up big numbers? If you used your No. 1 pick on LT, handcuffing him to Darren is very wise. And if you didn't have the No. 1 pick, you shouldn't feel above messing with LT's owner. Shawn Peters, the devious author of our "Grand Theft Roto" columns, calls it cuff-blocking.

Brandon Jackson
Brandon Jackson is (just barely) starting to live up to his 2007 rookie hype.
Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers (18 percent): Mentioned here last week and since then, here's the new stuff I know: The Packers' offense is really good and Ryan Grant is banged up, at least to the point that it's affecting his performance. When Grant only gets 20 yards on 15 carries against the Lions and B-Jax (I call him B-Jax) gets 18 touches for 80 yards and a score, it's time to make sure he's owned.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs (6 percent): I know. I mentioned him last week too, and here I am again recommending a guy who averaged 2.3 yards a carry Sunday. Yes. Because the guy ahead of him, Larry Johnson, averaged 1.8. Larry's complaining about touches. I got news for you, LJ. When you only get 22 yards on your first 12 carries against one of the worst run defenses in the league, you don't get more. Anyway, not this week and not the next one, but eventually, I bet Larry loses his gig. And right now it looks like Charles, not Kolby Smith, would replace him.

Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals (27 percent): Yet another guy I mentioned before, but two weeks into the season, Edgerrin James has 15 fantasy points. Hightower has 19. I don't like Edgerrin James. Just saying.

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants (60 percent): To butcher Mark Twain, reports of his fantasy death were greatly exaggerated. Clearly, everyone who used Brandon Jacobs to vulture touchdowns from Traitor Tiki is karmically being repaid with Jacobs now not getting anywhere near the end zone. We here at ESPN Fantasy HQ had Bradshaw ahead of Derrick Ward in our preseason rankings and were feeling pretty dumb after Week 1. But Tom Coughlin came out and said he would get Bradshaw more involved and that's what happened. Two scores, 70 total yards and Jacobs ain't the healthiest cat in the world, you dig?

Michael Bush, RB, Raiders (6 percent): See if you follow my logic here. Week one: Darren McFadden leaves with an injury. Week two: Justin Fargas leaves with an injury. Michael Bush had 16 carries for 90 yards and a score while Oakland was shoving, er, running the ball on Kansas City. Not every team is as terrible against the run as the Chiefs, but the Raiders can run and, if he is ever the No. 2 runner in this offense, Bush will have value as a bye-week flex.

Michael Pittman, RB, Broncos (19 percent): Three touchdowns in two games and he has gotten the ball at the goal line multiple times. Do what you want here. My attempts at trying to figure out the Denver running situation have trained me perfectly for my upcoming role on a soap opera.

LaMont Jordan, RB, Patriots (17 percent): See Pittman, Michael. Except throw out the stats in the first sentence and replace them with 11 carries for 62 yards a week after having two for six. When Maroney left with injury, they went with Jordan, not Morris. That said, if I am starting a Patriot runner next week, it's Sammy Morris.

Pierre Thomas
Pierre Thomas is proving to be a vautour de touchdowns for the Saints.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints (23 percent): Got a goal-line score. With Reggie Bush having to pretend to be a wide receiver (as opposed to how he normally pretends to be a running back), Thomas is the better bet than Deuce McAllister, as 14 points de fantaisie in two semaines for the guy with the French name can attest.

Warrick Dunn, RB, Buccaneers (17 percent): I know he's gotten 25 touches compared to Earnest Graham's 29 touches and has scored 18 fantasy points in the last two but, I'm sorry, I just can't recommend Warrick Dunn. No matter what the stats say. Forget I said anything. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Chris Taylor, RB, Texans (3 percent): Lost in the Hurricane Ike hoopla was the fact Ahman Green is hurt (no shock) and Chris Taylor will be splitting the carries with Steve Slaton. Remains to be seen how much Taylor will be used and how effective he will be, but for deeper leagues who need someone who might touch the ball, there ya go.

And now for the non-running back part of our pickups …

Justin Gage, WR, Titans (26 percent): Here's a fact I wrote about Justin Gage in my preseason "50 facts you need to know" piece: In the final eight games of last season, only 14 wide receivers had more receiving yards than Justin Gage. Yes, Justin Gage. And here's a fact I wrote about in last week's "Love / Hate": In the three games last year in which Kerry Collins saw significant action, Gage had 16 receptions for 234 yards. Gage had five receptions for 59 yards and a score. By the way, depression is a very serious disease -- I have people in my family that suffer from it -- so I am not making light of that. But if your franchise quarterback is suffering from it, is telling the world you think he's not as good as Kerry Collins helping the matter?

Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers (64 percent): Nine receptions, 120 yards and a score through the first two weeks, Jackson is a guy that I have always liked from a skills standpoint. And he's named Vincent. It's very formal. "Vincent, take me to the opera!" is the kind of line I could hear someone saying on "One Life to Live."

Amani Toomer, WR, Giants (40 percent): Here's another fact from my preseason "50 facts" column: Amani Toomer was a top-12 wide receiver last year in red-zone targets. Here's another fact: Toomer is currently tied for 8th in the NFL for red-zone targets. So far, he has eight receptions for 79 yards and a score.

James Jones, WR, Packers (10 percent): He played with Rogers on the scout team last year, he had a great preseason and, in his first game of the season, he had four catches for 29 yards and a touchdown. I could see him having a big second half.

Mushin Muhammed, WR, Panthers (43 percent): Steve Smith coming back this week helps Muhammed on a team that is passing more than we initially thought they would. Eleven receptions for 115 yards so far for Muhammed, and the Panthers get the Vikings' pass defense next week.

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J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, 49ers (19 percent): I probably ranked him too low last week when I was doing the "If you lost Brady" list, especially given that San Francisco plays Detroit and New Orleans the next two weeks. Speaking of that, Issac Bruce (56 percent) and Bryant Johnson (43 percent) should be snapped up as well.

John Carlson, TE, Seahawks (8 percent): Yet another guy I mentioned last week, but I am bringing him up here for two reasons. One, with Seattle wide receivers going down like drummers in Spinal Tap, he's the best pass-catching target they have. Two, I got a few e-mails last week saying "Hey, TMR, you're always telling us who to pick up, how about telling us who to drop?" A fair point, and that's what I'll start doing, beginning with tight ends. Here's a list of tight ends I would drop for Carlson: Vernon Davis, Alge Crumpler, Donald Lee, Ben Utecht and Zach Miller.

Other guys I would drop, depending on league size and depth, of course: Rashard Mendenhall, Devin Hester (sorry about that one, guys), Deuce McAllister, Devery Henderson, D.J. Hackett, James Hardy and Brandon Lloyd.

Standing on the Sidelines

Some guys that I would not pick up (except in very deep leagues) but that I would keep an eye on: Brian Griese, Brady Quinn, Fred Jackson, Billy McMullen and newly-signed Koren Robinson in Seattle, the Bills defense, Derek Hagan and Ike Hilliard.

Matty's Mailbag

Jamie (New York, NY): Bill and TMR, In the Matthew Berry podcast, Bill says "I don't read any fantasy previews. Even you, Matthew Berry." And then he goes on to give some ridiculous explanation as to why. In the Week 2 "guess the lines" podcast with Cousin Sal, Bill says: "Someone in my league drafted Eddie Royal? Eddie Royal? Who knew about him? How is that possible?" Well, Bill, Matthew wrote about him as a sleeper in his preview. And many of us have him. Give TMR some respect. It's overdue. God Bless DeSean Jackson.

Sports Guy: But if I listened to berry, I'd also have the entire Rams offense.

TMR: Holt has been fine and Jackson will get his. Besides, it's a long season. Even longer if you drafted Brady, like Bill did.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is part of the Emmy Award winning Fantasy Football Now, airing Sundays at Noon ET on ESPN.com. He can also be seen on Sunday Countdown on ESPN and is a four time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend