1. Adrian Peterson (MIN) – He more or less dominated Green Bay in each of their two meetings last season rushing for 103 and 193 yards respectively while scoring a TD in both games. The Packers will be throwing their new look 3-4 defensive scheme at Peterson this time around and so far that new look defense has given up 129 rushing yards per game ranking them 23rd in the NFL. Peterson is by far the best RB this defense has seen all season and given his healthy track record against them, we expect big things from him once again in an emotionally charged week 4 match up.
2. Cedric Benson (CIN) – We can understand writing off his week 1 and week 2 performances as flukes, but when a RB can average close to 5 yards per carry and find pay dirt against Pittsburgh, you have little choice but to take notice. Benson appears to be the genuine article and he is looking at arguably his best match up of the season in week 4 against Cleveland. The Browns defense has already given up 8 rushing TD’s and an average of 184 rushing yards per game through 3 games. In addition, Benson ran for a career best 171 yards in his only game against them in 2008 . He is nursing a sore knee, but he has been a full participant in practice and he should be good to go on Sunday. Check injury report: knee (probable)
3. Chris Johnson (TEN) – In spite of facing a top flight Jets defense in week 3, he still managed to total over 100 yards. In week 4, Johnson will have the opportunity to showcase his unique talents against a middle of the road Jacksonville run defense. The Jaguars have been somewhat efficient against the run so far this season, but they have yet to face anyone as dangerous as Johnson. He is a must start for fantasy rosters each and every week moving forward.
4. Brandon Jacobs (NYG) – He finally found pay dirt in week 3 and Jacobs should have another strong performance in a promising week 4 match up against Kansas City. The Chiefs have already given up 5 rushing TD’s in 3 games and currently rank 19th in the NFL against the run. Jacobs should be considered a solid RB1 play against this defense.
5. Matt Forte (CHI) – It wasn’t pretty, but Forte finally exceeded 100 total yards in week 3 against Seattle. Hopefully, he can build off of that performance and live up to his pre-season hype in a very favorable week 4 match up against the Lions. The Detroit run defense appears to be much improved over last season, but they are still far from being considered a formidable opponent against the run. Last week was a start, but he will need to breakout in a big way in week 4 to avoid the fantasy boo birds. Keep Forte penciled in as your RB1 with this match up. Check injury report: knee
6. Steve Slaton (HOU) – Despite a shaky start to the ’09 season, Slaton can safely be regarded as a RB1 for week 4 against a porous Raiders run defense. Oakland ranks just 28th in the NFL against the run and you should get a heavy dose of Slaton in this match up. He is coming off of a week 3 match up in which he averaged 6.3 yards per carry, but his overall production was a bit stifled when the Texans had to abandon the running game trailing Jacksonville. That will not happen in week 4.
7. Ronnie Brown (MIA) – Luckily, he has been more hit than miss so far this season and a week 4 match up against Buffalo is not unfavorable. With the inexperienced Chad Henne taking over at QB this week, the Dolphins will likely be forced to rely heavily on the running game. This should benefit Brown tremendously against a mediocre Bills run defense that got toasted by the Saints Pierre Thomas last week. We like Brown’s chances again in week 4.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC) – He will have to bring his A-game into a week 4 match up against a stifling Tennessee run defense that is holding opposing RB’s to an NFL low 2.2 yards per carry, but what is not to like about an elite RB coming off of a 3 TD performance. Even better, Jones-Drew was able to find pay dirt twice the last time he faced the Titans and the 2008 Tennessee run defense was pretty darn good in their own right. He can also take advantage of a struggling Tennessee pass defense as an effective receiving option out of the backfield. There is no doubt that this will be a tough match up, but Jones-Drew remains a must start fantasy option.
9. Glen Coffee (SF) – It’s either a good thing that you handcuffed Frank Gore or you were smart enough to take advantage of the guy that didn’t because Coffee should make for a solid starting option in week 4 against the Rams. St. Louis ranks just 27th in the NFL against the run and there should be plenty of opportunity in this one for the talented rookie. He isn’t Frank Gore, but we expect him to fill in just fine for week 4 and probably beyond, because Gore isn’t expected back until week 6 at the earliest.
10. Willis McGahee (BAL) – While his workload isn’t as plentiful as you would like, McGahee has been every bit as productive in fantasy as a top level feature back. He is averaging close to 6 yards per carry and he has managed to find the end zone in all 3 games so far this season en route to an NFL best 5 rushing TD’s. He is looking at a fairly tough match up in week 4 against the Patriots 10th ranked run defense, but they will likely be without their run stuffing DT Vince Wilfork (ankle injury) for this one. Continue to ride the hot hand in week 4.
11. Steven Jackson (STL) – The odds are certainly stacked against him in week 4 against a stout 49ers run defense that has yet to allow a rushing TD all season. That said, Jackson has shown steady improvement each week and the Rams will need him more than ever in this match up. For all intent and purpose, Jackson is the St. Louis offense. He will have a tough row to hoe for sure, but Jackson remains a RB1 in a bad week for RB match ups all around.
12. Julius Jones (SEA) – He will probably never be viewed as the safest fantasy option given his rocky track record, but he has managed to find the end zone in each of his first 3 games this season and when the match up is right, Jones is worth a look. Fortunately, the match up is right in week 4 against a very shaky Colts run defense. He should be considered a low end RB1 with this match up, but he will need some help from the passing game to find major success.
13. Clinton Portis (WAS) – Whether its bone spurs in his ankles, or a lack of help from his supporting cast, something is obviously stifling Clinton Portis’ production. Take it for what it is worth, but Portis did practice on Friday and he claims that he has no pain in his ankles for the first time all season. Regardless, you probably have little choice but to give him one more shot with such a great week 4 match up in a week with so few quality alternatives. Portis will face a Tampa Bay run defense that is giving up an average of 187 rushing yards per game. As bad as Portis has looked, it pales in comparison to the woes suffered by the Bucs defense and we are fairly optimistic that Portis won’t screw this one up. UPDATE: After not practicing for the third day in a row, Portis is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Coach Jim Zorn stated that Portis has a 50/50 chance of playing. This is not good news in an already messed up situation. Be sure to monitor Portis' status, but he is starting to look like a risky fantasy option even if he does start. Check injury report: ankle, calf (questionable, game time decision)
14. Darren McFadden (OAK) – With no passing game to open things up, it has been tough sailing for McFadden to this point. That said, he is still one of the more dangerous RB’s in the NFL and no one has a better match up in week 4. Opposing RB’s have been chewing up the Houston run defense all season. In 3 games, the Texans have allowed an NFL worst 615 rushing yards and 8 rushing TD’s. McFadden is still a bit risky under the circumstances, but the match up is far too promising to pass up.
15. Ryan Grant (GB) – He will certainly have his work cut out for him on Monday night against a stout Vikings run defense, but Grant does have a couple of things going for him in this match up. One, he has a very solid track record against Minnesota scoring a TD in 2 out of his last 3 games against them and rushing for 92 yards in the one game he failed to find pay dirt. Secondly, he is one of the few backs in the NFL that gets almost the entirety of his teams carries. It won’t be easy, but Grant still qualifies as a RB2 fantasy option for week 4.
16. Marion Barber (DAL) – He has practiced all week and appears to be a go for Sunday. He will likely bare a lighter workload than usual and give up quite a few carries to Tashard Choice, but Barber should be in the game when it matters most for goal line touches. He will face a much improved Denver run defense in week 4, but a strong Dallas ground game should prove to be their biggest test to date. Barber is a tad risky with the possibility of an injury set back, but he is worth the risk as a mid range RB2. Check injury report: thigh (probable)
17. Pierre Thomas (NO) – He made quite an unexpected splash in week 3 rushing for 126 yards and 2 TD’s. Even more amazing, he was suffering from a nasty flu bug and struggling to get used to a bothersome knee brace. While you probably can’t expect him to match his week 3 performance against a stingy Jets run defense in week 4, he should get an opportunity or two near the goal line and the Saints potent passing attack should open up some running lanes from time to time. Thomas has already proven that he was worth the wait and he has a decent shot to keep it going in week 4 in spite of the difficult match up.
18. Kevin Smith (DET) – He is still iffy with a shoulder injury and likely to be a game time decision on Sunday against the Bears. Smith has been fairly solid so far this season under the circumstances and he is coming off of his first 100 yard rushing effort against a pretty good Washington run defense. If he can go, the sophomore back will face a Bears run defense that ranks 13th in the NFL. Smith was not overwhelming in either of his two appearances against Chicago last season from a yardage standpoint, but he did score a TD in each of those games. Be sure to monitor his health closely as Sunday approaches and realize that he is a risky fantasy play with the shoulder injury. That said, we like his chances if he can give it a go. Check injury report: shoulder (questionable, game time decison)
19. Thomas Jones (NYJ) – Sure, he’s had a rough couple of weeks since his big week 1 performance and the fact that he is giving up more and more touches to Leon Washington is discouraging, but we kind of like his chances to rebound in week 4 against an improved, but vulnerable, Saints run defense. Jones should continue to see around 15 carries and he is still the goal line back which should come in handy in this match up. He isn’t the safest fantasy play, but he qualifies as a serviceable RB2 for week 4.
20. Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) – In spite of the fact that he has been wearing a protective boot on his foot most of the week, Bradshaw was able to practice on Friday and should be good to go in a promising week 4 match up against Kansas City. While he may be a back up, Bradshaw has done more than enough to qualify as a serviceable fantasy option. In fact, he had 12 more rushing yards than starter Brandon Jacobs in week 3 with basically half the number of carries. Bradshaw’s ankle should be fine and he should be considered a decent RB2 or flex option against a fairly generous Chiefs run defense. Check injury report: ankle (probable)
21. Joseph Addai (IND) – We realize that most everyone is jumping on the Donald Brown bandwagon and there is some substance there as Brown does seem to be cutting deeper into Addai’s workload, but for now at least, Addai is still likely to be the more productive of the two as was the case in week 3. He will be looking at a promising week 4 match up against Seattle’s 25th ranked run defense. The Seahawks may be a little better against the run than their ranking suggests considering most of the yards they have given up came in one game against the 49ers, but they are very vulnerable none the less and the Colts may lean on the running game more than usual if they jump out to a nice lead as expected. Addai makes for a capable RB2 play in week 4.
22. Tashard Choice (DAL) – He was very effective in week 3 and with Felix Jones out for week 4 and Marion Barber still potentially limited by his injury, Choice should be in for another significant workload in week 4. Barber will likely return to goal line duty, so Choice’s TD potential is not quite as promising as last week, but he should be solid in both the ground and passing games for the Cowboys. While he will be facing a much improved Denver run defense, they have yet to face a running game as potent as the one Dallas will field against them on Sunday. Choice should be considered a low end RB2 or flex play for week 4.
23. Knowshon Moreno (DEN) – As expected Moreno’s role in the Denver offense continues to increase on a weekly basis and he is coming off of a quality week 3 fantasy effort against Oakland. A week 4 match up against Dallas should prove a bit more difficult for the rookie back, but the Cowboys are not immune to giving up big plays against the run. Dallas ranks just 17th in the NFL in run defense and have allowed 2 rushing TD’s so far this season. Moreno will likely continue to give up some carries to Correll Buckhalter, but he seems safely entrenched as the primary back for now. While this is not a failsafe match up, Moreno qualifies as a suitable RB2 or flex fantasy play for week 4.
24. Donald Brown (IND) – He seems to be cutting deeper into Joseph Addai’s workload each week and if he can begin to out produce Addai on a weekly basis his fantasy stock will increase dramatically. Unfortunately, he is not quite there yet and a fairly equal time share is probably the most you can expect for now. As for week 4, Brown has a favorable match up against a Seattle run defense that ranks 25th in the NFL. He is capable of making a statement against this defense, but may be limited by the Colts pass heavy philosophy and an uncertain workload behind Addai. He should make the most of his opportunities and could be used as a RB2 or flex option.
25. Reggie Bush (NO) – As is usually the case, you probably can’t expect much from Bush in the ground game, especially against a hard nosed Jets defense, but we really like his receiving potential with this match up. Bush will be QB Drew Brees’ safety valve against the blitz happy Jets and that alone should garner plenty of targets. He is a must start in PPR leagues and acts as a serviceable RB2 or flex play in other formats.
26. Ray Rice (BAL) – As expected, there were plenty of touches to go around against Cleveland in week 3 and Rice even managed to score his first TD. Unfortunately, week 4 is not quite as promising against the Patriots 10th ranked run defense. It’s not that Rice won’t be able to find success against New England, especially if the Patriots run stuffing DT Vince Wilfork (ankle injury) is ruled out in week 4, but the uncertain timeshare with the more productive Willis McGahee does not bolster confidence. Rice should be a decent play in PPR fantasy leagues as usual and should be considered a low end RB2 in any format.
27. Fred Jackson (BUF) – He has fared pretty well for himself through the first 3 weeks and even with Marshawn Lynch returning from suspension, Jackson has probably done enough to maintain a significant role in the Bills running game. At the very least, Jackson should see the bulk of the carries in week 4 as Lynch will likely be brought along slowly in his first game back. The bad news is that the week 4 match up is not very favorable against Miami’s 3rd ranked run defense. Fortunately, Jackson has proven productive in the Bills passing game and should continue to provide support in that capacity against the Dolphins.
28. Jerome Harrison (CLE) – He is slated to start for the second straight week with Jamal Lewis out with a hamstring injury and despite a severe deficiency in his supporting cast, Harrison has decent fantasy potential for week 4. In week 3, Harrison totaled 85 yards against a top flight Baltimore defense. He will face a much improved Bengals defense in week 4, but Cincinnati’s run defense is a far cry from Baltimore’s and Harrison did pretty well against the Ravens. He does not make for the safest fantasy play given the horrible state of the Browns offense, but he has sleeper value for week 4.
29. Leon Washington (NYJ) – He continues to cut deeper into Thomas Jones workload and it is probably a matter of time before he has a breakout game. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet and it is not highly probable against the Saints in week 4. New Orleans currently ranks 5th in the NFL in run defense, but that is a bit misleading considering that most teams they have faced have been forced to throw the ball a lot playing from behind. That said, the Saints are still much improved against the run. Consider Washington a shaky RB2, but a decent flex play for week 4.
30. LaDainian Tomlinson (SD) – He is expected to make his return this week. Unfortunately, this is not a great week to make that return as he will be facing Pittsburgh’s 6th ranked run defense. Tomlinson has had success against the Steelers in the past, but considering that he is coming off of an ankle injury, his chances are not great this time around. Check injury report: ankle (probable)
31. LenDale White (TEN) – Check injury report: illness (probable)
32. Michael Bush (OAK)
33. Mewelde Moore (PIT)
34. Larry Johnson (KC)
35. Ricky Williams (MIA)
36. Marshawn Lynch (BUF)
37. Correll Buckhalter (DEN)
38. Darren Sproles (SD)
39. Rashard Mendenhall (PIT)
40. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams (TB) – Check injury report: knee (probable)
41. Maurice Morris (DET)
42. Chris Brown (HOU) – Check injury report: shin
43. Fred Taylor (NE)
44. Kevin Faulk (NE)
45. James Davis (CLE)
46. Chester Taylor (MIN)
47. Jamaal Charles (KC)
48. Justin Forsett (SEA)
49. Michael Robinson (SF)
50. LaDell Betts (WAS)