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Four Downs: Kevin Smith busts out, but ...

11/20/2011

One veteran NFC North running back had a huge statistical performance in Sunday's Week 11 ... but few fantasy owners were able to enjoy what Detroit Lions afterthought Kevin Smith provided. Instead, far more fantasy owners will anxiously await MRI results on the sprained left ankle belonging to Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson. After all, Smith is owned in less than 1 percent of ESPN standard leagues and was unemployed two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Peterson was fantasy's first overall draft pick and entered Week 11 third among running backs in fantasy scoring.

Hopefully the image of Peterson limping off Mall of America Field at the end of the first quarter and then being carted away from the sidelines of the Vikings' loss to the Oakland Raiders will be replaced by him suiting up in Week 12 against the Atlanta Falcons. X-rays were negative, and Peterson has been durable, playing through occasional nagging injuries and missing only three games over four seasons. In a season in which fantasy owners have seen first-round draft picks leave with season-ending injury (Jamaal Charles), generally disappoint (Michael Vick) and really disappoint (Chris Johnson), Peterson is yet another reminder that there are no guarantees, no matter what your draft position is or how well a player is performing.

If Peterson does miss time, at least he provided his owners eight fantasy points with 26 rushing yards and a touchdown run Sunday, the sixth consecutive game he scored a touchdown. He did that in one quarter of play. Entering the Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants Sunday night game, only 16 running backs had scored more than Peterson's eight fantasy points. It was Peterson's lowest fantasy output of the season, but it could have been worse. We'll find out Monday if the injury could be worse as well, perhaps the dreaded high ankle sprain.

Regardless, second-year Stanford product Toby Gerhart, prolific in college but seldom used as a pro, would immediately become relevant for the Vikings and fantasy owners if given the opportunity. Gerhart entered Sunday with 17 rushing attempts all season, and even after Peterson left, he was hardly a workhorse, earning seven carries and turning them into 18 yards. Wide receiver Percy Harvin had five carries. With a rookie quarterback at the helm in Christian Ponder, losing Peterson certainly would not raise the value of the passing game, but Gerhart would become an obvious free-agent add.

Second down: As for the aforementioned Smith, it's hard to believe he scored 38 fantasy points, even against the brutal Carolina Panthers. For reference, the only players to score more than 38 fantasy points in a game this season are Aaron Rodgers (45 points, Week 4) and Arian Foster (40, Week 7). Smith, who mattered in fantasy as a rookie with the 2008 Lions and has generally frustrated everyone since then, didn't make the current 2011 Lions, but he signed with the team two weeks ago, and quickly breezed past Maurice Morris on the depth chart. Nobody knows when starting running back Jahvid Best will return from a concussion -- it might not be this season -- so Smith becomes an interesting fantasy add even in standard leagues. Just be careful about using him: The Panthers entered Sunday allowing the most fantasy points to running backs. Thursday's foe (the champion Green Bay Packers) is far more difficult to run on. Frankly, while Smith's 201 total yards and three touchdowns are incredible, the story from the Lions side of things affecting far more fantasy owners is that quarterback Matthew Stafford tossed five touchdowns passes, and stud wide receiver Calvin Johnson didn't catch any of them. At least he's not hurt.

Third down: Sticking with the NFC North theme, those relying on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will need to look elsewhere: Cutler broke the thumb on his passing hand Sunday. It's a shame, too, because Cutler had a season-high 24 fantasy points against the San Diego Chargers, and there are some enticing matchups on the schedule. Caleb Hanie, with 14 regular-season pass attempts to his credit, will take over, and he doesn't come recommended. Fantasy owners were barely relying on Cutler -- he was active in 20.1 percent of ESPN standard leagues in Week 11 -- and only Earl Bennett was somewhat popular among the wide receivers, but could this adversely affect running back Matt Forte? After all, Forte struggled to a season-low seven fantasy points Sunday (21 carries, 59 yards) and continues to cede goal-line touches to Marion Barber. With uncertainty at quarterback, perhaps in the remaining days before the ESPN trade deadline, it would be wise to move Forte before it's too late. Forte entered Week 11 sixth among running backs in fantasy scoring, but he has topped 12 fantasy points just once since Week 5.

Fourth down: Speaking of disappointments, Chris Johnson was active in more than 96 percent of ESPN leagues in Week 11 (sixth among running backs). He was coming off a 23-point fantasy outing the prior week. He got you again! Look, I wouldn't have sat him either, but he ran for those 130 yards and a touchdown last week on ... the Panthers' aforementioned run defense. See a theme here? Against the Falcons, Johnson turned 12 carries into 13 yards. As for the next team to enjoy the Panthers run defense, it will be Donald Brown and Delone Carter of the Indianapolis Colts, potential flex plays in Week 12! As for Johnson, he's a RB2 moving ahead, and still a hit-or-miss play. Another big story in Tennessee comes at quarterback, where Matt Hasselbeck injured his elbow and rookie Jake Locker tossed a pair of touchdown passes in relief. However, neither of those guys come recommended for fantasy owners anyway.