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Stock Watch: Disappointing Cedric Benson

11/16/2010

Like many fantasy football owners, I enjoyed what Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson accomplished a season ago, when he rushed for an impressive 1,251 yards and six touchdowns. His overall numbers placed him 15th among running backs in fantasy scoring in 2009. Perhaps it took fantasy owners awhile to forget about his previous disappointing body of work with the Chicago Bears, but once they did they bought in. I bought in. Benson was drafted as a top-20 running back this season, and to some he was even top 10.

Entering this week, believe it or not, Benson actually remains in the top 20 at his position for standard scoring, even after Sunday's disappointing 24-yard performance against the Indianapolis Colts (on 14 carries), a team that has had well-documented struggles at times this season against running backs (see Foster, Arian). Benson comes off a two-point fantasy performance in a week in which he was active in 87.2 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and yet, while there's the normal hue and cry about his status as a bust -- he was just taken off the "undroppable" list in ESPN Fantasy standard leagues -- he's actually not far from last year's scoring pace. Then again, does it feel like Benson is a top 20 running back this season? Of course it doesn't.

I admit to being a bit conflicted here because this week Benson and his underachieving pals -- forget about the Bengals flirting with the postseason -- face the Buffalo Bills. Benson doesn't need to be at his best to put up numbers in this matchup, and he'll again be ranked in my top 20. I do it every week, and since he is top 20, I guess I haven't been wrong. While his stock is dropping after the Colts game, because of the perceived notion that he has been a bust, I have to keep ranking him that way. I just don't see a ton of other options.

Maybe instead of focusing on Benson's falling stock, the bigger story here is the lack of capable No. 2 running backs across fantasy football. Look at some of the other running backs among the top 20 in scoring: Matt Forte, Jahvid Best and get this, Mike Tolbert are all there. Brandon Jackson is No. 21, a tad ahead of Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Jones. The numbers don't lie, and if you've got to play two or more running backs, you have to look at these guys, as disappointing as they've been. Maybe Benson is the poster child for this theory.

Benson is averaging fewer than 10 fantasy points per game, and he has reached double digits three times, yet still he's a top-20 running back. I keep typing this, hoping I'll feel better about the situation. I can't say I'm anxious to trade for the guy, and it's clear he's trending downward -- his top two fantasy games came in the first five weeks -- but you can't cut the guy or disregard him. Heck, even though the bye weeks are concluded, you might not have more than two better running back options, so perhaps you can bench him. Yep, this is kind of backhanded praise, I suppose, but the disappointing Benson remains worth using ... because sometimes being "disappointing" is still better than the alternative.

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

Rising

Troy Smith, QB, 49ers: He has won both of his starts, scoring 17 and 19 fantasy points in the process. I don't fully trust him at this point because he still doesn't have much of a body of work, but certainly the former Heisman Trophy winner is interesting, and the Niners' schedule is quite friendly.

Keiland Williams, RB, Redskins: Lost in the historical 49-point fantasy performance delivered by Michael Vick on Monday night was the 31-point fantasy outing by Washington's No. 3 running back. It seems to me he's still third on the depth chart, though. Starter Clinton Portis is on the mend and backup Ryan Torain has played well, so we'll see if coach Mike Shanahan is willing to adjust things.

Mario Manningham, WR, Giants: The talent is certainly there, and now that Steve Smith is on the shelf for a month opportunity is knocking. Manningham saw 15 targets in Week 10, and while I don't see the same upside Hakeem Nicks possesses this is an eminently-ownable fantasy option the rest of the season.

Falling

Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals: OK, enough is enough, and Wells just might not be able to overcome his knee woes and put up meaningful statistics. Tim Hightower continues to leave the proverbial door open for Wells, but health must be intervening. Don't give up on Wells in keeper formats, though.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: This might seem obvious because a shoulder injury threatens his season, but I don't want this guy in a keeper league either. I don't question his ability, but health is a skill, too, and if Stafford can't stay upright how can he help anyone?

Eddie Royal, WR, Broncos: Remember when the case could have been made that all four of the prominent Denver wide receivers were fantasy relevant? Now Brandon Lloyd stands alone. Royal's five fantasy points in Week 10 were actually his most since Week 4, which was also the last time he scored or reached 40 receiving yards. Jabar Gaffney scored on an acrobatic play Sunday, but he caught only two other passes. He hadn't scored since Week 1. And rookie Demaryius Thomas has actually produced negative fantasy points (fumbles) in two of his past five outings. Own Lloyd and ignore the other Denver wide receivers.