The Sunday of Week 9 wasn't so much about how your own fantasy team performed, but whether your opponent had one of the players who exploded for many fantasy points, including a certain Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back. In the Sunday early-afternoon games alone, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw for a rookie-record 433 passing yards and Green Bay Packers leader Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes, while Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure scored three times, as well. Then came the late-afternoon games -- how about Adrian Peterson and Carson Palmer! -- and, of course, the Doug Martin show.
If your opponent had the fellow known as the "Muscle Hamster" in his lineup this week, you're probably not pleased, and probably not going to win. Certainly not everyone facing Martin will lose this week, but, well, good luck. Martin slaughtered the Oakland Raiders' defense for 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns, plus 21 receiving yards, making Sunday's performance a season-best 51-point fantasy game in standard formats. Nearly all of it came after halftime, too. It should have been more, but Martin lost 14 yards on his final three carries as the Bucs were running out the clock. Rest assured the one fantasy point he lost late will also affect final scores!
As for historic context, this is tied for fourth among the greatest individual fantasy performances since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. Denver Broncos running back Clinton Portis produced 54 fantasy points (218 rushing yards, 36 receiving yards, 5 TDs) in 2003, Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander exploded for 52 fantasy points in 2002 (139 rushing yards, 92 receiving yards, 5 TDs), San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice fashioned a 52-point game in 1990 (225 receiving yards, 5 TDs) and Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon had a Martin-like effort in his rookie season of 1997 (246 rushing yards, 4 TDs). In recent lore, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick slaughtered the Washington Redskins for 49 fantasy points in 2010 (333 passing yards, 80 rushing, 6 TDs).
Martin, a Tampa Bay first-rounder this spring and a seventh-rounder in fantasy drafts, failed to top 12 fantasy points in any of his first five games, though he remained wisely viewed as a top-20 running back. There were 16 running backs active in more leagues this week, despite Martin's surprising 32-point performance in Week 8 at Minnesota. Certainly concerns about the loss of terrific left guard Carl Nicks (toe) were clearly assuaged Sunday. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Martin's 197 rushing yards before contact Sunday was the second most in an NFL game in the past four seasons, behind only what Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Harrison accomplished in Week 15 of 2009 (235 yards before contact, 286 rushing yards total).
It's certainly time for Martin to be regarded as a top-10 running back; the staff average for Week 9 was right at No. 10. In last Tuesday's end-of-season rankings, Martin came in at No. 12, but it's tough to keep him out of that top 10 with 83 fantasy points in two weeks, and a matchup with the terrible New Orleans Saints defense looming in Week 15 (fantasy playoffs!). I try to avoid overreaction/hyperbole, but the fact Martin struggled at the end of September and is firing through open holes these days, and there's little sign of noteworthy internal competition, is relevant, especially considering Bucs backup LeGarrette Blount fumbled again Sunday. Martin bursts into my top 10, zooming past Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Jamaal Charles and Alfred Morris, and I wouldn't sell high, either.
Second down: As for McFadden, the Raiders running back "tease" who was coming off a season-best 114 rushing yards in Week 8 and, more importantly, had stayed healthy all year, well, he's not healthy anymore. McFadden had a friendly matchup against the Buccaneers, but after seven rushes for 17 yards, he left early with what was later described as the dreaded high ankle sprain. Fantasy owners are well aware of McFadden's durability issues. He played only seven games last season, and has never topped 13. He's extremely talented, but he's also brittle. Prepare to leave McFadden on your bench for at least a week or two. Backup Mike Goodson was also injured Sunday, leaving Taiwan Jones and fullback Marcel Reece as reasonable Week 10 pickups against what has been a poor Baltimore Ravens run defense.
Third down: Back to the rookies, as Luck continues to amaze with his 433 passing yards and two touchdown passes against a strong Miami Dolphins defense, though it certainly appears fantasy owners are being too cautious. I ranked Luck ninth in my end-of-season rankings, but there were 15 quarterbacks active in more ESPN standard leagues this week, and Tom Brady was on his bye. That's a shame. It's worth noting that Luck will enter Week 10 with precisely the same 2,404 passing yards as former Colts star and far-more-hyped Peyton Manning. At this point, I'd take only Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning over Luck, and based somewhat on recent results, the case can be made for Luck as high as fifth.
Fourth down: The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to leave fantasy owners guessing about their weekly running backs, but three of them are worthy of attention. As ESPN.com's Matt Williamson notes, the Steelers' offensive line has overcome youth, injury and is thriving at run-blocking, opening holes for its power running backs. Isaac Redman torched the New York Giants for 147 rushing yards and a touchdown Sunday. He was active in only 13 percent of ESPN leagues. Jonathan Dwyer topped 100 rushing yards in Weeks 7 and 8, and similarly few fantasy owners enjoyed it. He and presumed starter Rashard Mendenhall, a better talent, missed Week 9 with injuries. Mendenhall should return soon from his Achilles injury, and warrants considerable attention with his line playing this well. I'd rank Mendenhall first of this trio the rest of the season, then Redman and Dwyer, but can make the case any and all are worth owning for the appealing Week 10 matchup against the beleaguered Kansas City Chiefs. If we get clarity on who will start, consider this player a borderline RB2.