Most fantasy football owners probably think nothing interesting happened in what had to be a riveting 6-3 Cleveland Browns win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Not true! Jamal Lewis returned from his hamstring injury and ran for 117 yards on 31 carries. Hard to believe, eh? And his fantasy performance could have been better than 11 fantasy points because it looked as if he scored a touchdown on the play before Billy Cundiff's winning field goal. According to the officials, who didn't even review the play, Lewis didn't get the touchdown. In fact, nobody did for 60 mind-numbing minutes. But that doesn't mean nothing noteworthy happened.
Browns coach Eric Mangini made me laugh with one of his postgame quotes:
- "He's got those fresh legs. He had a lot of juice. I really liked the way he pushed the pocket after contact."
Fresh legs? Most people would associate fresh legs with a young running back, maybe someone such as, well, Jerome Harrison, not someone who is 30 years old and seemingly an old 30 at that. Lewis ran for 2,066 yards six seasons ago. He's had varying degrees of fantasy value since, often leaning toward being a disappointment, including last season, when he barely topped 1,000 yards and scored four touchdowns. Blah, right? Lewis didn't do much the first two weeks this season, then sat out a few games, giving Harrison his opportunity to shine, which he did. The ownership and activation figures certainly imply the torch had been passed.
I always get a kick out of checking out our most added/dropped list, and as of Monday afternoon, Harrison is the No. 4 player on the good side, up from 1.9 percent owned to 35.4 percent. Harrison even was activated in 9.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues this week. Lewis, on the other hand, is on the most dropped list; he's at 70 percent owned after being drafted on average as the No. 35 running back in ESPN.com leagues. Even though he was listed as probable for Sunday, and there was little indication Harrison officially had seized the starting role from him, Lewis was active in only 7.1 percent of leagues, fewer than his backup, who ended up gaining 21 yards on eight rushes. What gives?
Everyone loves the upside, and although it's obvious Harrison is the Cleveland running back who has it, he doesn't have the top spot on the team depth chart yet. Sunday proved that. Fresh legs? Why not? Why does everyone assume that an old running back can't be fresh? I guess I can see it in terms of this season, even though Lewis isn't a kid. During the past three seasons, the only player joining Lewis in the top eight for rushes each season is LaDainian Tomlinson. Maybe the legs won't be fresh for long, but what I see when it comes to how Harrison and Lewis are viewed is some age discrimination, as well as misreading the depth chart. Lewis has been a Brown for two-plus seasons, and the team is 12-3 when he gets 20-plus carries. Um, so maybe a desperate Mangini, having seen a starting quarterback complete only two passes in an entire game, could start giving Lewis that many? Maybe it's boring, but sometimes that works.
Lewis is experienced, and as long as he's healthy and getting 20-plus carries, I view him as ownable and worthy of RB3/4 status, on par with and no worse than options such as Cadillac Williams (or any Buccaneers RB), Larry Johnson (or any Chiefs RB), Leon Washington, Le'Ron McClain (owned in 58.2 percent of leagues) and any Raiders running back. Maybe that doesn't mean much in shallow leagues, or those in which you can activate only two running backs per week, but Lewis still has 11 Browns games left to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season for the eighth time in his career, and he needs an average of 71 yards per game to get there. Last season, he averaged 63 yards per game. It's not a stretch. Hey, some weeks when your team is beaten up, you'll take six or seven fantasy points from a running back. And last season, Lewis, with "only" 1,002 yards and four scores, was the No. 30 running back in fantasy. That performance isn't great, but it's usable. The "fresh legs" aren't done yet.