Can running backs please stop going down with injuries?
Just when you thought it was safe to draft reliable tailbacks, they create a major gap in your lineup just as the season gets underway.
We knew that it was going to be a while before Ryan Matthews, Mikel Leshoure, and Rashard Mendenhall were to return, going into fantasy drafts, but they can’t return quick enough in the midst of all of these injuries.
Bills running back Fred Jackson was the first major name to go down, allowing CJ Spiller to become the top running back in fantasy. How long can he keep this up? Probably as much as Jackson did last season, up until Week 5. At that point, defenses will key in on how to stop him.
Matt Forte went down with what was initially reported to be a high ankle sprain last Thursday against the Packers, but Lovie Smith assured the media that it was an ankle injury. Forte is the highest valued tailback to go down thus far this season, ranking as a second round pick in fantasy drafts, but that’s why you have to learn to draft key backups in the late rounds.
We saw how Michael Bush handled the load of being a feature back last season when Darren McFadden went down with his annual injury, so owners should feel pretty good about starting him going forward. He’s not just a bruiser, as Bush can be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield as well.
The major problem becomes how to replace these key players.
If there’s one thing to learn from this trend of injuries, is that you have to value your bench players as much as your starters. Anyone that is on your team has to be valued as a viable starter. You should have problems deciding on who to start on game day every week.
The bench should essentially be used for players that are injured, serving temporary suspensions, or viable options that are judged based on their weekly matchups.
Let’s take a look at the players that are actually in your waivers that can help you out in the midst of these tough injuries…
Andre Brown (18% owned) Ahmad Bradshaw went down with an injury? Who saw that coming? We knew that this was going to happen, just didn’t realize it was going to be so soon. Rookie first rounder David Wilson seemed like a great value pick late in drafts, until he fumbled his first NFL carry. The media, the coaches, and fantasy owners haven’t let him live it down since. It might be taken a little too far, that’s why I believe that something else is going on in that Giants locker room that’s preventing him from getting touches. Wilson will eventually take over as the feature back, but owners have Andre Brown until then. Who? He’s a third year player out of NC State that wasn’t the biggest name, even in college. He’s already been with six NFL franchises since being drafted by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Any time you rush for 71 yards off of 13 carries, fantasy owners learn your name quickly. It’s tough times for fantasy owners who have lost their key running backs, but Brown is a solid rental for the time being. That has to be the case as Brown has already been added in 18% of leagues in the first eligible pickup day. There’s no reason to think that David Wilson won’t cut into his carries eventually, but he should be the feature back for this Thursday night matchup against Carolina. The Panthers have given up 140 rushing yards per game this season, against the likes of Doug Martin and the Saints’ revolving backfield. I’m not knocking the ability of any of those backs, but that it should demonstrate that it doesn’t matter who’s running the ball against them. The Giants are dinged up in multiple areas on offense, especially at wide receiver, which is why I believe that Brown will get a solid amount of carries this week. Manning did air it out a lot last week, but the Giants will look to be more balanced this week. The fact that Brown was so productive while Manning almost broke a franchise passing record should give you even more confidence in playing Brown. If he’s available in your league, Andre Brown might be one of the best pickups to get on your team now, regardless of need. It doesn’t hurt to have trade bait for your desperate peers either.
Mikel Leshoure (25% owned) Is there really that big of a need of help in the Lions backfield with Kevin Smith exceeding expectations? When you’re only rushing for 50-60 yards per game, the answer is obvious. Jim Schwartz has already declared that Leshoure will get plenty of snaps immediately. The former Illini running back suffered a season-ending injury last pre-season, so Detroit has another young player with plenty of fresh legs to pound the rock. Leshoure averaged six yards per carry in college, but wasn’t much of a dual threat. He’s coming off of a three game suspension, on top of missing last season with an injury, so Leshoure will be looking to make an instant impact in his NFL debut. He’s valued as a number two running back option, but could end up being more productive.
Dennis Pitta (30% owned) He’s not the biggest name out there, but that doesn’t matter in fantasy as long as you’re productive. Pitta has not only become Joe Flacco’s favorite target, but he’s finally established himself as the feature tight end between him and Ed Dickson. He’s a great red zone target, in addition to stretching the field. Pitta already has 15 catches and one touchdown on the season, so he should be viewed as a viable option to replace the injured Aaron Hernandez for owners. Hernandez is out for six weeks, but you won’t need to lose sleep with the type of production that Pitta is displaying lately. I’m not discarding Hernandez, but at least Pitta is healthy and is the top target on his team. The former BYU Cougar is a great add for owners, who are either rotating tight end options or looking to upgrade to a solidified starter.
Daryl Richardson (3% owned) He’s another unknown name for fantasy owners, originally starting the season as the third running back on the Rams depth chart. We all know that Jeff Fisher wants to establish discipline on his team and he did so with Steven Jackson last week. All the guy did was spike the ball. That’s more ridiculous than half of the mistakes that these replacement refs make. If you own Jackson, you were probably frustrated at his benching. Fisher tried to pass it off as an apparent “groin injury”, but we know it was all about being on a disciplinary power trip. Jackson was positive about the MRI he had on Monday, which leaves owners to wondering if he’s going to start Sunday against the Bears. Chicago’s not the easiest team to run on, which is why this is a situation to watch. I would expect that Fisher will look to utilize both Jackson and Richardson going forward, due to his production last week. Richardson should be on your watchlist, due to the high level of running back injuries, especially when dealing with the annually-injured Steven Jackson. He has the ability to be a great fantasy contributor, but hold off on starting him this week regardless of Jackson’s status.
STORYLINES TO FOLLOW THIS WEEK
-Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall won’t return until Week 5
-Chargers RB Ryan Matthews to return from clavicle injury this week against ATL
-Bears RB Matt Forte’s suffered an ankle injury according to Love Smith, not a high ankle sprain
-Will Rams RB Steven Jackson be healthy enough to start Sunday against the Bears or is it a disciplinary issue
-Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw ruled out for Thursday’s game vs CAR with neck injury, but could be ready for Week 4
-How long until Giants rookie RB David Wilson gets another chance to play
-Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez reportedly out for six weeks with a low ankle sprain
-Lions RB Mikel Leshoure makes his NFL debut after being out all of 2011 and suspended for the first 3 games of this season
-Could Bills RB CJ Spiller’s recent production keep Fred Jackson out longer than expected with a lack of urgency?