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Stock Watch: Brian Westbrook reappears

11/30/2010

On the surface, things kind of went as planned Monday night, as a San Francisco 49ers running back tore apart the awful Arizona Cardinals for 136 rushing yards, a touchdown and 19 fantasy points. Of course, Frank Gore was supposed to be that running back.

Only two running backs were active in more ESPN standard leagues than Gore, while his backup, former Philadelphia Eagles and fantasy great Brian Westbrook, entered Monday night with just 9 rushing yards on the season. But after Gore injured his hip early in the game, it was Westbrook "goring" the Cardinals for one of the top five performances by any running back in Week 12.

Yep, that's pretty hard to believe, especially when most fantasy owners probably thought Westbrook had retired. He is, after all, a rather "ancient" 31 years old, his diminutive body having been abused in a football sense over the years, which has included a slew of injuries. But as Gore owners looked on nervously, there was Westbrook darting this way and that Monday night, making the Cardinals look foolish. As a longtime Westbrook fan, I kind of enjoyed it. A buddy called me and asked if Westbrook was a must-add for Week 13. I laughed.

Nobody is laughing now that we know Gore wasn't merely getting a breather; his right hip is fractured, ending his season prematurely. In a week in which a few other top running backs underperformed (Chris Johnson) or left with injury (Adrian Peterson), this one is devastating for fantasy owners. Even including his truncated Week 12 (52 rushing yards, 5 fantasy points), Gore enters Week 13 tied for seventh in standard fantasy scoring among running backs. He just won't be adding to those numbers anytime soon.

It would be rather easy to simply recommend Westbrook as Gore's replacement, naming him the top free-agent pickup for this week. But I'm not sure I believe it. With plenty of time to prepare for their next game, wouldn't the 49ers consider using the far younger, fresher Anthony Dixon as the main running back, playing the Gore role, or at least creating a timeshare? Dixon, a 23-year-old rookie from Mississippi State, features a considerably larger body, led the NFL in rushing yards this preseason, and I wouldn't exactly say he was beaten out for the backup job, because Gore didn't need one. Gore was the 49ers' offense.

I'm just saying it's not all about Westbrook here. It's not as though Dixon was ignored Monday; he ran 14 times for 54 yards and scored a touchdown as well. He wasn't Westbrook, but it's difficult to be confident in the veteran staying healthy with regular work. Everyone in your league will rush to get Westbrook; instead, be the person who settles for Dixon, because he might actually be the guy whose stock rises and remains at a high level.

Here are some other players seeing their stock fluctuate of late:

Rising

Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins: Fantasy owners aren't overly enamored with this guy, but reports of his season ending early, and the Tyler Thigpen era thriving, were clearly premature. Henne produced 18 fantasy points in his Week 12 return, and with the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions looming in home tilts in Weeks 15-16, it's hard for a fantasy owner to look away. Henne might still matter in fantasy.

Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys: I still think he's bound to break fantasy owners' hearts, but the fact that colleague Marion Barber is out for at least two weeks because of a calf injury suffered on Thanksgiving bodes well for Jones' workload. Sure, Tashard Choice should become involved, but you've got to like Jones' chances of getting carries this week against an Indianapolis Colts team that has struggled against the run.

Ben Obomanu, WR, Seattle Seahawks: In case you've missed it -- and judging by his ESPN ownership percentage (2.5 percent of leagues), you have -- Obomanu has scored touchdowns in three of four games. He was having an average game Sunday until breaking an 87-yarder for a fourth-quarter touchdown. Mike Williams is the top target for Matt Hasselbeck, and he might return from a foot injury this week, but Obomanu has carved out a sweet role as a deep threat. He's worth a look even in standard leagues.

Falling

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts: I wouldn't call it panic time, but his 11 fantasy points Sunday night didn't get it done for fantasy owners, and only once in four games has he actually topped that underachieving number. Blame his offensive line, the lack of weapons, whatever you like, but it's possible you have a better quarterback option already on your roster moving forward, such as Michael Vick or maybe Kyle Orton.

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: One awful game can be written off, but McFadden now has 16 rushing yards on 18 carries in the past two games, and that's a disturbing trend. Maybe he'll bounce back with a monster game Sunday in San Diego, but the Chargers have been very good against the run this season, save for a matchup against Arian Foster, who has made several run defenses look bad. Maybe McFadden is still hurt, or he's tired. He's out of my top 10 running backs until I see him produce more than a yard or two per carry for an entire game.

Tony Moeaki, TE, Kansas City Chiefs: The rookie did score on a 6-yard pass Sunday, but it was his only catch of the day. Moeaki is living off his early-season reputation, as he has had only one double-digit fantasy game all year (Week 3), and being 23rd in tight end targets for the season isn't a good thing.