Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson wasn't a popular fantasy start in Week 12, which was understandable because he was facing the Pittsburgh Steelers. That defense is terrific, the toughest against opposing running backs in fantasy. I still ranked Jackson 20th at running back for the week, a rating that was still within starter range but not indicative of how well he had been running the ball. I didn't feel great about him, but I didn't have any problem leaving him active in two leagues, one as a starting running back.
However, I think there's more to why Jackson was active in a somewhat embarrassing (in hindsight) 23.3 percent of ESPN.com standard leagues in Week 12. Clearly people still don't trust him. I mean, c'mon, among the running backs active in more leagues in Week 12 were two players on actual injured reserve and out for the season (DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Grant), several players ruled out for the week (Joseph Addai, Pierre Thomas and Ryan Mathews) and a slew of others who just were worse plays (Beanie Wells, Danny Woodhead and Jahvid Best). Granted, there are plenty of mismanaged (or unmanaged) teams out there, but the low percentage shows that fantasy owners still had something against Jackson entering this week.
After Jackson's third consecutive performance of 20-plus fantasy points, with 21 points against the mighty Steelers on Sunday, I'd argue there's little reason to fear using Buffalo's main running back going forward. And yes, this is despite the possible return of rookie C.J. Spiller (hamstring) as early as Week 13. Sure, Spiller happens to have been the first running back chosen in the 2010 NFL draft (No. 9 overall), but it means nothing now. He hasn't played in weeks, and the last time he topped three fantasy points in a game was in Week 3. I've been trumpeting Jackson since August, and although it took a few months longer than I expected, it's clear he can be trusted now.
Jackson produced 50 fantasy points in Weeks 10 and 11 against the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals, averaging 125 rushing yards and scoring two touchdowns in each contest, but he did his best work against the Steelers through the air, catching a 65-yard scoring pass in which he did most of the work. Only Peyton Hillis has more fantasy points this week among running backs (entering Monday night).
I consider Jackson a top-15 back and a weekly starter from here on out. In fact, I like him more than such options as Cedric Benson, Matt Forte, Knowshon Moreno and LaDainian Tomlinson. Start him with confidence.
Meanwhile, check out these 2-9 Bills from a fantasy perspective. Yes, wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped a game-winning touchdown Sunday, but you have to love the 15 targets he received. He's a top-10 wide receiver for season scoring, although few owners seem to regard him as such. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is starter-worthy in deep leagues and multiquarterback formats. And while nobody was looking, the Bills' defense registered seven or more fantasy points in four of five games.
Second down: Thanks a lot, Mike Shanahan. It took a few months to question how the Washington Redskins' coach was managing his running game, but we're there now. His running back usage Sunday was perplexing. I can understand how Clinton Portis and Ryan Torain were used the first 11 weeks of the season, although Portis' groin injury cleared up some of that confusion. Third back Keiland Williams stepped in for an injured Portis and Torain and exploded (for 31 fantasy points) in the Week 10 Monday night demolition loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Last week he was held to eight fantasy points, but 23 rushes for 68 yards can be excused. At least he was given opportunities. Then, on Sunday, Williams carried just three times for 5 yards. Since he was one of fantasy's most added players and was active in 16.7 percent of leagues, that's pretty frustrating. Former Cleveland Brown James Davis, meanwhile, was given six carries for 11 yards. In a game decided by four points, the Redskins ran the ball just 13 times. Credit the Minnesota Vikings' defense some, but Williams had one more rush attempt than Donovan McNabb. No, I don't get it, but this is how Shanahan got a reputation back with the Denver Broncos as someone fantasy owners often couldn't figure out. I can't say for sure I won't use a Redskins running back in future weeks -- a healthy Torain would, in theory, be a decent start -- but you've been warned again: You can't trust Mike Shanahan.
Third down: And thank you, Vincent Jackson. It took all of two plays Sunday night for the oft-discussed San Diego Chargers wide receiver to hit the sideline with a calf strain. Awesome. Jackson's motivation to return to the Chargers has been questioned since before the summer, and although we might never know what played the largest role in his inactivity -- pain, fear of long-term injury, coach's decision, the player trying to make a statement -- the bottom line is he was active in nearly one-third of ESPN.com standard leagues this week, and he provided a goose egg. I suspect that even if Jackson is pronounced ready to go for Week 13, many of those fantasy owners -- myself included -- will look elsewhere.
Fourth down: Finally, thank you, Mike Goodson. And no sarcasm this time. When I saw that Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (concussion) was going to be active for Sunday's tilt in Cleveland, I wondered whether my praise for Goodson the past few weeks was still warranted. Stewart ran well (98 yards on 12 carries), but Goodson opened the scoring with an impressive 26-yard touchdown jaunt and ended up with eight receptions on 10 targets and a cool 19 fantasy points. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed only 16 passes, and half of them were to Goodson. Look, Goodson isn't going away, people. Stewart might get more rushing attempts in future weeks, but I have little confidence he can stay healthy, and Goodson is obviously a key factor in the team's passing game. For Week 13, I will rank Goodson better than Stewart.