So, do you like San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews this week? I admit, I do, having ranked the rookie, disappointing as he has been for much of the season, not far outside my top 10 running backs for the week. Then again, I feel like it's a trap. It's almost too obvious. Duck, we're being set up! Touted player, seems healthy, relatively meaningless game, timeshare colleague Mike Tolbert is out and the Denver Broncos are pretty much brutal defensively.
Can we really trust Mathews? I mean, in the previous two weeks, the fantasy bandwagon seemed awfully fond of running backs Tim Hightower and Rashad Jennings. Those were setups, I tell ya! They also had opportunity and the right foes, and look what happened. How many times this season have you been burned by Mathews, I mean other than in August when you made him the first rookie off the board, costing you a mid-third-round pick in ESPN average live drafts? Mathews has been in double digits for standard scoring four times all season, with his Week 16, 13-point "explosion" being the high-water mark. Awesome.
Yes, I did rank Mathews well for this week, but it doesn't mean I need to feel good about it. I can't tell you why I look at certain players and think the worst, or at least take it into account, even when general logic is all rainbows and unicorns. I didn't go overboard on relying on the Jacksonville Jaguars' Jennings, who I actually will like a lot this week if Maurice Jones-Drew can't play, but I certainly got caught by Hightower. Did I ever get caught. On Mathews, I'm prepared for just about anything, and that's what concerns me.
Mathews isn't the only one that seems like a trap play to me. Each week, certain players become more popular leading up to game time, to the point they actually become overrated. In addition to Mathews, who is a talented but still rather raw player trying to find his way, here are a few other choices:
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints: I've been discussing him this week as someone who looked good on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons, and that's no lie. Then again, if good is 3.3 yards per carry and 63 rushing yards, maybe I need to recheck the definition of the word. I don't think Chris Ivory plays this week. I think Reggie Bush will, but he's not a factor. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to win, but they're far more susceptible to opposing running backs than you'd think.
Shonn Greene, New York Jets: Like Mathews and Thomas, Greene has burned us before. In fact, he was the running back taken one spot before Mathews in the average 2010 draft. There are 35 running backs with more fantasy points this season. So why did I rank Greene 21st at running back this week? Well, the matchup is promising. The Jets might sit their injured quarterback and veteran wide receivers, and one would certainly assume 54-year-old (or so it seems) LaDainian Tomlinson will see a reduced role. Greene did run well in Week 16, and his 14 fantasy points marked his season high, but I can't help but feel like we're all just a bit too excited about him, still judging that awesome potential from his playoff performances.
Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders: If word comes down in the next 48 hours that Darren McFadden and his bum ankle can't suit up Sunday, you know Bush is going to be Mr. Popular this weekend. I can see it now ... but I also could see him getting a bit too popular. Yes, I ranked him well because, let's face it, the potential upside is enticing. Bush has six games in double-digit fantasy scoring this season, two of them in the past month, and while I give full credit to McFadden for being tied with Jamaal Charles as fantasy's No. 4 running back this season, the Oakland offensive line is strong, too. The Kansas City Chiefs feature a stout defense, but who knows how stout it will feel in a game with marginal meaning. Plus, sometimes when a player has to make a statement and set himself up for future opportunity, he fails. Be careful here because this feels just a bit too obvious.