ONE OF THE ANNUAL preseason dilemmas fantasy players face is trying to determine which rookie running backs will make the greatest

impact.

A lot of eyes this year were

focused on the high NFL draft picks, particularly the kids out of Arkansas.

In what has become just the latest example of how goofy fantasy football can be, the best rookie running back out of Arkansas hasn't been Darren McFadden, the fourth overall pick. It hasn't been Felix Jones, who was selected 22nd overall. No, the best has been Broncos fullback Peyton Hillis, whose name sounds like a mountain range named after a certain Colts quarterback.

Fantasy football, more than the NFL, is about the here and now, and what Hillis has done in November, compared with his first-round former college teammates, is astounding.

The seventh-round pick compiled 435 yards of offense and scored five touchdowns in five games last month. Compare those numbers with McFadden's (129, two touchdowns) and Jones' (on IR, last played Oct. 12) and the irony becomes obvious.

"He's the man by elimination process," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "But he's done a good job. It took him a while to get comfortable with the position. He's doing better and better. Obviously, he played well against the Jets, and we'll get a chance to see what he can do this weekend against Kansas City."

The elimination process Shanahan referred to was the Broncos' losing their first five running backs to injury. In Week 9 against the Dolphins, Hillis had 116 yards receiving. Sunday, he ran for 129 against the Jets.

While Shanahan sees him as a tight end down the line, Hillis has his eye on another position.

"Quarterback," he joked. "I can throw farther than anybody on this team. I don't know where it's going, but I can throw it."

Stats incredible

Kansas City's Tyler Thigpen leads quarterbacks with 251 rushing yards. The last white guy to do that was Doug Flutie in 1999.

Three up

* Tim Hightower, Cardinals running back: His only big game all seasonlong was against the Rams, Sunday's opponent.

* Marvin Harrison, Colts wide receiver: Has scored all his touchdowns at home this season and has a sweetheart matchup Sunday against the visiting

Bengals.

* Adrian Peterson, Vikings running back: Breathe easy. After being excused from practice Wednesday, AP was back in a limited role yesterday. He's fine and could get 150 Sunday at

Detroit.

Three down

* Plaxico Burress, Giants wide receiver: Just when you thought his season couldn't have gotten any worse. Dominik Hixon will get more work, but he's only a No. 3 in fantasy circles. Want a receiver nobody is talking about? Patrick Crayton, of the Cowboys.

* Kevin Smith, Lions running back: Not only is he battling a groin problem, but Minnesota could have run-stuffing tackles (Kevin and Pat Williams) if their suspensions are put on hold. Word should come down today.

* Ryan Grant, Packers running back: Might be hampered by a sprained thumb, and Sunday's temps in Green Bay are expected in the teens. Backup Brandon Jackson's second-half production Sunday (11 carries, 80 yards) is just as worrisome. *

Ed Barkowitz, who is out of the playoffs and now rooting for colleague Bernard Fernandez, also is a fantasy football consultant for CBS3's Sunday morning Eagles pregame show. Send e-mail to