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Running Back to Basics

LaDainian Tomlinson (Donald Miralle/Getty)

Two leagues. Six running backs. Three very bad decisions.

Sometimes, people make decisions based on careful analysis. Other times, people make reckless calls based on no thought or on pure gut instinct. Most of the time, I fall somewhere in the middle. I trust my gut instinct first, then consider other options.

When it comes to fantasy football, I have reached an epiphany. If you know a lick about the sport, and I’d say I know a pretty good, wet lick (beautiful image, I know), trust your instincts first and foremost!

This brings me to my Week 10 tragedy.

I had LaDainian Tomlinson, Tim Hightower, Justin Fargas, Fred Jackson, and Ladell Betts in League A, and LT (again), Beanie Wells, and Julius Jones in League B (the Sports of Boston fantasy football league). Let’s recap my decision-making process:

Saturday (9:00 a.m. EST)

League A

After an extremely long day on Friday, I decided to check on my teams and decide on a running back tandem. My decision for League A was easy, or so I thought. I had two choose two of the following backs: LT, Hightower, or Ladell Betts to fill two spots. I also had Fred Jackson, who was not an option.

I did it! My choice was made: LT and Betts. Easy choice, right? Despite the fact he was coming off an awful week (30 total yards, zero TDs), LT was still LT, and two weeks before, he finished with 56 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Betts, meanwhile, was guaranteed a start after Clinton Portis suffered a concussion.

Tim Hightower? He’s involved in a battle with Beanie Wells. I didn’t need any part of that. Fred Jackson? Yeah right…

League B

In League B, I already had one running back spot filled with Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall. Even though he was facing a tough Cincinnati defense, he’s becoming a must-start player, like LT used to be.

Speaking of which, this brings me to my RB2 slot. There was a lot of competition here, as I had LT, Beanie Wells, and Julius Jones. LT, again, was the obvious choice here initially. Wells is caught in a committee with Hightower, and Julius Jones is still Julius Jones.

Saturday (9:00 p.m. – 11:59 p.m. EST)

League A

After talking with SoB’s Pete about Ladell Betts, I started having second thoughts. He had Betts in League B, and I have him in League A. Betts was now questionable for Sunday’s game against a tough Broncos defense, and coach Jim Zorn seemed apprehensive to give him full carries.

Ladell Betts (questionable, foot/ankle) said he expects to start Sunday against the Broncos.

“Betts is very likely to play, but even he admits he’s only at 75 percent and his foot is still sore. He barely practiced all week and coach Jim Zorn is likely to use a committee with Rock Cartwright and Quinton Ganther. Consider Betts a flex option in this tough matchup.” – Rotoworld on Saturday

Wow, this doesn’t look good.

How about my other running back? Yahoo! hates LT against the Eagles. Brandon Funston flashed the “red light” on playing LT in his NFL Skinny Week 10 preview column.

“RB LaDainian Tomlinson is clearly at the end of his road, and you want to avoid him against a stout PHI run defense.” – Brandon Funston.

Here’s another not-so-ringing endorsement of LT by SoB’s George in his Start ‘Em/Sit ‘Em column.

“I’m done with LT forever and despite any matchup that he may have I will never feel comfortable starting him because he hasn’t shown any burst or ability to break through tackles like he once could. It doesn’t even matter that the Eagles ranked ninth-best against running backs this season because I wouldn’t recommend starting LT against anyone right now.”

Oh, boy. Let’s look at the other league.

League B

OK, well Mendenhall is OK to go. LT? I just went over him, and got a headache. What are my other options?

Beanie Wells is caught in a RB-battle with Hightower, so that’s never a good option. Yahoo! “experts” rated his match-up at “3 stars,” which is pretty solid. Funston, however, rips Wells in the same column.

“RB Beanie Wells has averaged 61 rushing yards and 5.3 YPC in the three games since that meeting, but he’s getting little goal line love or work in the passing game. If you are going to lean on a RB here, stick with Tim Hightower.” – Funston

Interesting. Funston didn’t even list Wells on his traffic light. Not even a red! Well, I have Hightower in League A, so now I have a sub for LT. In this league, however, my only other option is Julius Jones, who happens to be facing Beanie’s Cardinals.

Jones had a pretty good week the previous week (114 total yards, 1 TD), and was in a nice matchup against Arizona. Yahoo! experts rated Jones a 3-star choice (like Wells). Also, for the first time, I found a back that Funston likes.

“Expect Hasselbeck to continue to explore RB Julius Jones(notes) as a dump-off option in the passing game – Jones had 78 receiving yards last week and a RB has picked up 59+ receiving yards against ARI in three of the past six games.” – Funston

OK so let’s recap. Funston has completely written off LT and Beanie Wells, and has a semi-endorsement on the table for Jones. I’m going to need to sleep on this.

Sunday (9:00 a.m. EST)

League A

With games starting in just a few hours, I needed to make a decision. Just 24 hours earlier, I was set with LaDainian Tomlinson and Ladell Betts. I had Fred Jackson (again, no chance), and Tim Hightower, who got a pretty good endorsement from Funston. Oh, but wait! Yahoo! is recommending Oakland’s Justin Fargas, giving him a 3-star rating for his match-up against the Cheifs. Fargas is free to pick up, too!

OK, what was I thinking here? Why would I ever trust any player on the Raiders, even if it’s the best player on the team? Despite my gut instinct to start LT and Betts, I was swayed by popular opinion, just like…(I’m going to avoid bringing up politics for obvious reasons. Ooooo, who was I going to refer to?).

An afterthought a day earlier, Fargas was now one of my starters, replacing the rejected LT.

As for Betts, Zorn’s comments really got to me. He’s a pretty mediocre coach, so he would screw up and play Rock Cartwright with Betts in the backfield. Even though he has a cool name, Cartwright is no every-down back. Hell, he’s not even a third down back. I knew this. But, again, I was swayed by popular opinion. Bye Betts, and hello Hightower.

Phew. I’m going with Hightower and Fargas.

League B

OK, Menenhall in. Easy. LT? Yeah right! No way. He’s out.

So, now we have one spot available, and Beanie Wells and Julius Jones to choose from. If I were starting an NFL team, and we threw all the players into a hat, I’d take Wells many rounds before Jones. I’d take Wells over Jones in a fantasy draft. So, of course, I fell victim to popular opinion once again, and sided with Jones.

All decisions made now. I’m going with Mendenhall and Jones.

Sunday (7:00 p.m. EST)

League A

Let’s fast-forward a bit so most games were played. I really needed my running backs to perform this week. Watching all the games, I felt like John McCain watching the election returns in 2008. Wait, there’s a political statement! To be fair, I also felt like John Kerry and Al Gore (or George W. Bush?) before him.

Here’s the staggering results. I’m still floored. Good thingthis was just a regular season match-up.


  1. Tim Hightower: 10 rushes, 37 yards; 5 catches, 21 yards
  2. Justin Fargas: 10 rushes, 41 yards, 1 TD


  1. Ladainian Tomlinson: 24 rushes, 96 yards, 2 TDs
  2. Ladell Betts: 26 rushes, 114 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, 6 yards
  3. Fred Jackson: 8 rushes, 48 yards; 3 catches 23 yards; 1-1 passing, 27 yards, 1 passing TD

Oh my God. Even Fred Jackson had a good outing. Both moves cost me dearly, as I lost by just 10 points.

How did it work out in the SoB league?

League B

Not so good. As you know, I also have LT in this league too. Let’s just get this over with…


  1. Rashard Mendenhall: 13 rushes, 36 yards; 1 catch, 5 yards
  2. Julius Jones: 2 rushes, 10 yards


  1. Ladainian Tomlinson: 24 rushes, 96 yards, 2 TDs
  2. Beanie Wells: 16 rushes, 85 yards, 2 TDs

How could this happen again? What happened to you Mendenhall? I’m sorry, but I can’t help that Jones was injured early in his game. But, it still stands I should’ve stuck with either LT or Wells. Both players earned more than 20 points, which would’ve more than made up the 10-point margin I lost to SoB’s Mike by.

Running Back to the Drawing Board

I’m not going to get into the intricacies of why I was so wrong about each choice. That should be obvious by the stats, and what happened in each game.

I’m going to leave you with a quote to live by in life, but more importantly in Fantasy Football.

“Don’t ever give up. Trust your instincts!” – Peppy Hare, of Star Fox fame

So when you’re thinking about your Fantasy Football decisions, listen to Peppy, not Funston.

About KC Downey - @kc_downey

KC is the "head coach" of the Sports of Boston, LLC blog network. Follow him on Twitter: @kc_downey

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