- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Everyone is watching Steve Slaton this weekend. He's not the only running back with pressure on him, but Jamaal Charles and Rashard Mendenhall weren't second-round picks in most leagues, either. Slaton was. Ryan Moats, who seized the opportunity when the fumbling fool angered his coach a bit too much, ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns and produced 32 standard fantasy points. For reference, only four running backs have a game with that many fantasy points all season (Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew). That was a really big game, and since nobody had Moats active -- or really even owned him -- everyone wants to catch lightning in a bottle once more, add him and get lucky again. I think in three weeks we're going to wonder why we ever discussed him in the first place.
Well, I think the Houston Texans know that if they're going to win games, especially with one of their key weapons done for the season -- no tight end has more fantasy points this season than Owen Daniels -- then Slaton is going to have to step up, hold on to the football and make plays, like he did as a rookie. It's only Friday, but indications I'm getting from the fantasy football world -- the pulse, if you will -- are that Slaton is absolutely being trusted. When I looked mid-Friday, only nine running backs were active in more leagues. That's stunning for a guy who might have either lost his job or created a time-share, who wasn't given the coach's vote of confidence and who delivered a minus-1 last week. Moats, the most popular free-agent pickup in ESPN leagues this week, was active in fewer leagues than Larry Johnson, Tashard Choice, Derrick Ward and six running backs on the bye week. OK, so that's a bit extreme.
Mr. Slaton, the fantasy football world turns its lonely eyes to you. Here are 10 other players I'd call as being on the spot this weekend. Gentlemen, we are certainly watching.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: Can't get a much better matchup than this, against the Detroit Lions, but then again, everyone liked David Garrard against the Tennessee Titans last week. Big game for Hasselbeck's rep. Verdict: Good things are coming.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans: How will the Houston offense run without Owen Daniels? Will Kevin Walter step up? Who's the prime running back? Only one player has more fantasy points than Schaub this season (Aaron Rodgers), but a game with the Indianapolis Colts could really change how Schaub is perceived. Verdict: Stays in the top 10.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs: Seems talented enough to run with the opportunity, but if he fails, Larry Johnson could resurface, and Kolby Smith could steal the job. This is Charles' chance to make a first impression. Verdict: I'd take 75 total yards and a score.
Matt Forte, Chicago Bears: His owners hope the Week 8 performance was a harbinger, but the Bears aren't playing the Cleveland Browns. The Cardinals are top 10 in stopping the run. I'm optimistic Forte's talent will prevail. Verdict: Cautiously optimistic this week, but with his schedule the rest of the way, it's best to sell after that.
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers: Isn't everyone watching him pretty much every week? We all want to believe he's the 2005 version, but he's not. And one of these weeks Darren Sproles, getting dropped little by little each week, will get a chance. He's no Moats. Verdict: Maybe 60 yards and a score.
Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys: Basically, can he keep doing this? Don't look for Roy E. Williams to get in the way, though. I don't know how Williams can think he's the team's No. 1 wide receiver. Or is he referring to his multiple games this season with only one fantasy point? Let's see how the Eagles step up to stop Austin. Verdict: Still a monster.
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: I expect him to play, but then it removes his escape clause if he doesn't do anything against a beatable Seattle Seahawks secondary. Pressure's on. Verdict: Can't sit him unless he does.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: If Tomlinson is the most polarizing running back these days, as his owners and others try to decide which direction his value is going, then Smith is the guy at wide receiver. Verdict: Needs a quarterback.
Jason Witten, Cowboys: He's 15th in fantasy points at his own position, behind disappointing John Carlson and injured Chris Cooley. Against an Eagles team vulnerable to opposing tight ends over the middle, this would be a nice time for Witten to finally get into double digits for scoring. Verdict: More of the same, unfortunately.
Good luck to all in Week 9!
Eric Karabell discusses what to watch for in Week 9.