Fantasy Football Week 11: What We Learned

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Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings

Nov 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings (27) runs the ball for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Texans 28-23. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Rashad Jennings looks pretty good for a guy who fell flat on his face the last time he had his shot as a starting running back.

Jennings, who ripped the Houston Texans’ front seven yesterday to the tune of 150 yards on 6.8 yards per carry, has earned the trust of the Oakland coaching staff, and will be — at worst — a committee back upon Darren McFadden’s return from injury.

Skepticism was warranted in Jennings’ latest shot at becoming the unquestioned bell cow for the Raiders, as it was just a season ago that he couldn’t have looked worse as a fill-in for an injured Maurice Jones-Drew.

The fourth-year back out of Liberty University was more of a plodder than MJD, somehow, and he tanked in his audition as an every-down runner, failing to crack 3 yards per carry twice and never exceeding 3.8 yards per tote in his six starts for Jacksonville. He looked, in short, awful.

Perhaps Oakland’s power run scheme — the one installed specifically for McFadden’s downhill running style — is a perfect fit for Jennings, who now has 238 yards on 42 carries (5.6 YPC) over the past two weeks.

“(Jennings has) been a guy we’ve called on to come in and run the ball and he’s done a great job at it,” Oakland head coach Dennis Allen said after the Raiders’ win in Houston. “As he continues to run the ball like he’s doing, he’s going to continue to get opportunities to run the ball.”

Congratulations if you deployed Jennings yesterday. You might have your hands on a valuable, if underrated, fantasy commodity for the season’s stretch run. There’s no compelling evidence that points to McFadden resuming a significant weekly roll for the Silver and Black; he’s averaged over 3.5 YPC in just two of his seven 2013 games.

Here are some of the more important takeaways from Week 11′s showdowns.

  • It’s not just Bobby Rainey’s water bug-like attributes and his toughness in a crowd that should seize every fantasy footballers’ attention. The Buccaneers’ offensive line is mauling its opposition and creating gaping lanes through which running backs have galloped in recent weeks. Mike James was on his way to an enormous Week 10 output before breaking his ankle against the Dolphins on Monday night. Brian Leonard wasn’t touched as he trotted through holes in the Tampa offensive line. And now Rainey, who brings sufficient lateral movement to the Bucs’ offense, gets the benefit of a vastly improved offensive line. Rainey, who saw 30 carries for 163 yards and three scores against a bottoming-out Atlanta defense, could be the rare combination of a volume runner who can break the Big One.
  • The Joe Haden Struggle is real, y’all. Haden, Cleveland’s shutdown cornerback, suffocated A.J. Green yesterday, holding him to two grabs for seven yards. Just as I wrote last week about avoiding the Panthers’ stifling coverage unit whenever possible, I think it’s high time we recognize that receivers going against the egomaniacal Haden deserve a marked downgrade. You can’t bench Green in re-draft formats, of course, so this might be a less best applied to daily fantasy. Perhaps NFL coaches should take note too; only 15 cornerbacks have been targeted more than Haden this season.
  • Nick Foles’ fantasy floor is much higher than I suspected. I’m skeptical of any signal caller who puts up gaudy numbers with such limited attempts. There was Foles once again in Week 11, posting top-5 fantasy quarterback numbers thanks in part to an early rushing touchdown against Washington. He narrowly missed out on two passing scores that would’ve put him over the 30-point mark. Foles, who came up in a college system that emphasized decisiveness quick decisions, seems to be a perfect fit in Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme. He’s now completed 77 percent of his passes over the past three weeks.
  • The Bears’ defense is a fountain of fantasy goodness, and not in the way it has been in recent seasons. The ghost of Ray Rice, who wasn’t a top-30 fantasy runner coming into Week 11, totaled 131 yards and a touchdown against what has to be the most sieve-like front seven in the NFL. Chicago has allowed more than 120 rushing yards in five of its past six contests, and should be a target for the remainder of 2013. Injuries have decimated the Bears’ defensive line, and opponents know it. Zac Stacy gets his shot to pour it on against Chicago in Week 12. On a side note: every Rice owner should look to sell in the next few days.
  • Case Keenum was inexplicably benched yesterday for the most hated man in Texas, Matt Schaub. Keenum once again struggled with pressure in his grill, but Schaub hardly proved an upgrade in his one and a half quarters of work. Coach Gary Kubiak said he made the switch because Schaub could better handle audibles at the line and jump-start a lackluster offense. Houston is a hot pile of garbage, but whoever starts under center for the Texans in Week 12 deserves your attention, as they take on a Jaguars’ defense that most recently made Carson Palmer look as good as he has in a decade. It’ll go against your every fantasy instinct, but don’t eulogize Keenum quite yet.
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.
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