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Four Downs: Tashard Choice steps up

12/6/2010

The Dallas Cowboys surprised the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday, winning in overtime. "America's Team" continues to change its ways following a disappointing first few months of the season. What's also changing is the way the team's running back and wide receiver weapons are being used -- and will be used going forward -- for an enticing final month of games.

At running back, months of wondering why third-stringer Tashard Choice was being used only sparingly ended with his impressive performance Sunday. While Felix Jones looked good rushing 22 times for 83 yards, Choice was better, breaking off a 20-yard touchdown to open the scoring and finishing with the team's second 100-yard rushing outing of the season (Jones had the other, back in Week 5). It's certainly reasonable to expect Choice will continue to get a healthy portion of touches in concert with Jones.

Frankly, don't be surprised if Marion Barber doesn't get another chance this season. I'd cut him and add Choice, a generally productive player I've been speculating about for awhile. Jones is owned in 90.8 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and Choice just 4.8 percent, and we don't know which running back will be favored the final month -- it might be a time-share -- but Choice deserves more attention than he's getting from fantasy owners right now. Unless the Cowboys convince me otherwise, I likely will rank Jones ahead of Choice for Week 14, but not by much, and each would appear a worthwhile flex play versus the Eagles.

At wide receiver, it's unfortunately time to cut hotshot rookie Dez Bryant in one-year leagues; he broke his ankle on a fourth-quarter kick return. His season is over. Bryant hadn't done much the past few weeks, but he scored six touchdowns in a six-week span from Weeks 6-11 and seemed the more attractive fantasy option than former fantasy darling Miles Austin. Now it's time to reacquaint yourself with Austin, as the Cowboys play two of their final four games against a Philadelphia Eagles team that has allowed 24 touchdown passes in 12 games (and the Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals are awful, too).

Austin wasn't really struggling while Bryant was emerging -- Austin reached double digits in (standard) fantasy scoring in four of six games since Week 8 -- but he might return to top-10 wide receiver status for Week 14 and beyond. Roy E. Williams also gains from Bryant's injury, and I'll rank him among my top 50 wide receivers this week. Williams stunned fantasy owners with five touchdowns in a three-game span earlier this season, but before Sunday, he had totaled 18 fantasy points since Week 6. Even with quarterback Jon Kitna playing well, there was room for only two productive Dallas wide receivers. Williams returns to relevance, though deep leaguers should watch Kevin Ogletree. Dallas owner Jerry Jones mentioned him by name after the game, and Ogletree, undrafted out of Virginia in 2009, should see opportunities in the slot.

Second down: While a pair of Cowboys backs ran well Sunday, so did a pair of resurgent Oakland Raiders options. Those who sat Darren McFadden missed a 16-point performance -- no, I didn't expect much either, though I did rank him 18th at running back -- and backup Michael Bush matched his production with 95 yards and a touchdown. I don't think this is a time-share on par with what Dallas did Sunday, though. I'll rank McFadden far better in Week 14 than Bush, close to the top 10 running backs. Mostly it's just good to see the Raiders able to run with authority again.

Third down: More fantasy owners than you'd expect are still relying on Brett Favre as a starter -- he is active in 36.5 percent of ESPN standard leagues for Week 13, 12th at his position -- but Sunday's outing actually cost points. Favre was intercepted -- and injured -- on his first pass, and left the game. His final fantasy line was a minus-2, meaning you would have done better to use Fran Tarkenton. Pretty much every other Minnesota Vikings fantasy option did well, though, including wide receiver Sidney Rice, who scored a pair of touchdowns. I think Favre will start in Week 14 -- who are we kidding? -- but I keep reminding people that if Tarvaris Jackson gets the nod, let's remember he's not a rookie, or an Arizona Cardinal. Jackson didn't hurt teammates' fantasy production when he played pre-Favre.

Fourth down: Similarly, those Calvin Johnson owners concerned that third-string quarterback Drew Stanton would blunt their wide receiver's value had their fears assuaged some Sunday. Johnson scored for the fourth consecutive week, and against a promising Chicago Bears defense. Stanton acquitted himself well, looking accurate and punctuating his 18-point performance with a rushing touchdown. I wouldn't call Stanton a top-20 fantasy quarterback moving forward, but don't worry about Johnson not being a top-5 wide receiver. As for running back Jahvid Best, the last time he had more than Sunday's nine fantasy points was Week 2. It's a start. Maurice Morris fans can't be pleased. Best at least looked healthy and should see more touches again in future weeks.