It was devastating news for owners of Adrian Peterson, who may not make it back for opening day in 2012 with a torn knee. That makes Toby Gerhart owners happy after he's shown ability to play and thrive at an NFL level. There were some great breakout and statement games by Kahlil Bell, Evan Royster, Stevan Ridley and Kendall Hunter, all with fantasy value entering Week 17. Make sure you know the status of your starter before submitting your lineups. We're at a point where teams are resting their injured players if they're playing for nothing and resting players before the start of the playoffs.
Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (21-107-1 rushing and 2-24-0 receiving on two targets) was a recommended play based on the fact he's been playing at an elite level despite facing the 49ers and their elite defense. From Week Four through Week 16, he only had Week 12 where he didn't score a TD, and has 12 total so far. He's a must start next week against the Cardinals regardless of the statistical matchup.
Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (18-116-1 rushing and 1-35-0 receiving) posted numbers many knew he could against the Rams. He now has five targets in the last two games, and one can hope his pass-receiving skills see a few more opportunities for his experience in looking toward 2012. He makes a must-start against a Bengals team in all formats.
49ers RB Frank Gore (23-83-1 rushing and 1-13-0) had a respectable game with 96 yards from scrimmage and though he didn't help his fantasy owners out, he didn't lose it for them either. He belongs in lineups next week against a Rams team that hasn't stopped the run in recent weeks. Look for Gore to improve on his Week 13 numbers of 21-73-0 against St. Louis. The only way he sits is if the team can't improve their seeding by kickoff.
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (11-58-0 rushing and 3-16-0 on four targets) entered Week 16 had a per game average from Weeks 12-15 of 23.3 utilizations for 128.3 yards from scrimmage and 0.75 TDs. That's why they play the game, but against the Raiders, he has fantasy value and warrants start consideration despite only having 11 utilizations for 57 yards and no TDs against Oakland in Week 10.
Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw (15-54-2 rushing and 1-8-0 receiving) played, and despite minimum yardage, his two TDs helped many fantasy owners capture a championship. His play makes Brandon Jacobs an injury fill-in or flex-back in larger leagues. Bradshaw remains a No. 2 fantasy back entering the week.
Vikings RB Toby Gerhart (11-109-0) came in for Adrian Peterson, who suffered a devastating knee injury that threatens his 2012 campaign. Gerhart has proven all critics wrong by not only playing on an NFL level, but posting quality numbers. From Weeks 12-16 he's averaged 17.8 utilizations for 94.4 yards from scrimmage and 0.8 TDs and has done it with both his legs and hands. He warrants fantasy consideration against a collapsing Bears squad.
Gaining fantasy value or holding steady
Rams RB Steven Jackson (24-103-0 rushing and 2-24-0 on three targets) came through for his fantasy owners against an elite defense. He bounced back last week with 143 yards from scrimmage, and though he didn't do as well this week, he posted better than expected numbers. He has another tough matchup against the 49ers, and only managed 30 yards from scrimmage the first time they played. He's someone that is tough to bench, but the 49ers are fighting for a bye with the Saints.
Dolphins RB Reggie Bush (22-113-0 rushing and 2-26-0 on three targets) now has four straight games over 100 rushing yards and a four-game average of 23.8 utilizations for 144.5 yards from scrimmage and 0.5 TDs. Despite a tough matchup against the Jets, it's difficult to bench someone as hot as he is right now. He did suffer a leg injury at the end of the game, so keep an eye for updates, but Bush states it's no issue and he's able to walk without any problems.
Browns RB Peyton Hills (24-112-0 rushing and 2-0-0 receiving on four targets) has shown he can run against elite defenses and with his fresh legs and has legitimate high-end value. Regardless if it's the Steelers on tap next week, he's playing for a contract and will have suitors next year, so look for him to give 150 percent this week. He is a viable starter.
Bears RB Khalil Bell (23-121-0 rushing and 4-38-0 receiving on four targets) took over for Marion Barber (calf) who was inactive, providing positive results, and appears as if he has passed Barber on the depth chart. Look for him to start next week, but if Barber can play he would help shoulder the load. Bell carries value and is a late-season gem for those that picked him up. It should be noted that Armando Allen (11-40-0) made his NFL debut, but has no fantasy relevance in Week 17.
Redskins RB Evan Royster (19-132-0 rushing and 2-15-0 on four targets receiving) had a huge game and makes you wonder how good Roy Helu really is if another rookie can come in and post monster numbers. Don't forget, Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain did the same thing. Mike Shanahan's system is built for backs, but as with Helu, they take a pounding and can break down. Royster makes a one week play against the Eagles if Helu can't start, but that is more of a matchup play than talent. That's if Helu can't go but if he can, look for Royster to spell him and be the change of pace back.
Bills RB C.J. Spiller (16-111-1 rushing and 2-27-0 on three targets) busted through and was a sly play for two PFW viewers who slotted him as a WR. Spiller's finally coming on and since becoming the de facto starter, has proven himself with a five-game average of 20 utilizations for 106.6 yards from scrimmage and one TD, making him a quality fantasy must-start next week against the Patriots with upside.
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (7-66-2 rushing and 2-18-0 on two targets) had another two TDs and luckily I finally jumped on board with a play recommendation for him. He now has a three-game average 9.7 attempts for 71.3, but a whopping 1.3 TDs per game with four TDs in three games. He has become a must-start next week against the Saints
Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (7-88-0 rushing and 1-11-1 on two targets) finally had his breakout game in the one week I didn't recommend him as a start, but did assume most would with the Bucs on their schedule. Stewart has two TDs in the past four weeks and in that time is averaging 14 utilizations for 76.3 yards from scrimmage and 0.5 TDs. Low weekly injury fill-in numbers, but with the Saints coming up, he has fantasy value.
49ers RB Kendall Hunter (12-73-0 rushing and 1-11-0 receiving on three targets) could warrant a late-season pickup based on where the 49ers are in the playoff seeding. The team could rest starter Gore, who hasn't been the same since Week 10. Against the Rams, Hunter warrants consideration.
Bengals RB Cedric Benson (16-57-0 rushing and 1-8-0 receiving on two targets) had two costly fumbles that almost cost the team the game and as I've stated in the past is a boom or bust player if he doesn't get a TD. However, this was only his second subpar game in five weeks so he keeps his value heading to Baltimore next week in a must-win matchup to make the playoffs. It will be tough to recommend him as a fantasy start despite two TDs the last time they played.
Patriots RB Stevan Ridley (feature back) now has led the team for two weeks in carries with 24 to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 13 and Danny Woodhead's 11. Ridley has value heading into Week 17 with the Bills coming into town. He will be this week's waiver-wire pickup for those leagues still playing.
Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster (3-15-0 rushing and 5-89-0 receiving on seven targets) shows his value when he has a QB who can keep a defense honest. McCluster has value with QB Kyle Orton, but is still a risky play, as it's a committee backfield.
Packers RB Ryan Grant (8-44-0 rushing and 2-34-0 on two targets) carried the load as James Starks (ankle) aggravated his ankle and Brandon Saine (1-8-0) was not a factor. Grant may be rested in Week 17, as he’s a veteran. It won’t be surprising to see Saine and FB John Kuhn, who did not see a carry or target last week. Stay alert for updates but he could surprise against the Lions next week as young unheralded players always have something to play for.
Minimum or diminishing fantasy value
Raiders RB Michael Bush (23-70-0 rushing and 2-24-0 on three targets) did not eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage and has been struggling after a great five-game run between Weeks Seven through Eleven. However, he remains a fantasy start in most formats against the Chargers but with Darren McFadden (foot) possibly returning, keep an eye on updates to determine both players value entering the weekend.
Broncos RB Willis McGahee (15-64-0) started out hot for a second-straight week and unlike last week, was able to finish the game, but it didn't matter. McGahee's done nothing the last few weeks to help his owners out with a three-game average of 13 carries for 56 yards and no TDs. This is right after Week 12 and 13 where he posted 43-228-1, giving owners the belief he was rolling. Age, lingering injuries and a tough schedule have hurt his ability to produce down the stretch. He does have value, but is more of a flex-back than a No. 1 fantasy starter.
Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount (2-11-0) was benched after losing another fumble. He had five fumbles with three lost entering Week 16 and it appears the team had enough and simply benched him. If you remove his Week 14 game and take his average from Week 13-16, it's a three game average of 7.3 attempts for 17 yards and 0.3 TDs, hardly numbers to even consider starting. A combination of falling behind, poor blocking, fumbling and a QB that has taken a huge step backwards in his second year as a starter, Blount's fantasy season is probably done. With the Falcons on tap next week he may not be worth the risk of starting. Kregg Lumpkin (7-24-0 rushing and 4-38-0 receiving on four targets) and Mossis Madu (4-20-0 rushing and 4-42-0 receiving on six targets) handled the load and as you can see, merely cannibalized one another, giving neither one any fantasy value.