There are some new names among the top running backs in ESPN’s fantasy rankings this week, thanks to some golden opportunities for injury replacements.
The Atlanta Falcons' Tevin Coleman (11th in ESPN’s PPR rankings), Green Bay Packers rookie Jamaal Williams (20th) and Washington Redskins rookie Samaje Perine (33rd) all should get chances to play leading roles -- for one week, at least.
Here are the expectations for them and other waiver-wire options, courtesy of ESPN’s NFL Nation:
Coleman: The third-year pro absolutely has the skill set to be an every-down back for the Falcons if Devonta Freeman is unable to play Monday night because of a concussion. Coleman finished with 83 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in Week 10 after Freeman was injured. He is dynamic home run threat. And ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure was quick to remind this week that Coleman actually was named as the starter ahead of Freeman in 2015, before a rib injury paved the way for Freeman’s breakout season.
Williams: Green Bay’s fourth-round draft pick started the season as Ty Montgomery's backup, before Williams suffered a knee injury that opened the door for fellow rookie Aaron Jones' breakout. Now, Williams is back to being the next man up, with Montgomery and Jones both ruled out this week.
“Williams earns his yards,” said ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, who noted that coaches charted him with seven broken tackles in Week 10 and more than two-thirds of his yards after contact. “He’s not a home run hitter, but he can get the job done.”
Perine: Another fourth-round draft pick, Perine didn’t make the most of his brief opportunity as Washington’s leading man earlier this season, admitting that he wasn’t patient enough on some runs. But ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim said Perine is at least intriguing because he has shown improvement and will get carries. If he makes the most of them, Perine could earn a permanent role, with Rob Kelley now on injured reserve.
“Also, they face five teams in the next seven games who rank 24th or worse in yards per carry allowed. Jay Gruden wants to run the ball, so someone has to do it. And he’s the main guy who can carry a full load," Keim said of Perine. "But my fear is that he’s still learning and doesn’t have that natural feel just yet.”
Austin Ekeler: The undrafted rookie took on a much bigger role with the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 10, carrying the ball 10 times for 42 yards and catching five passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. ESPN Chargers reporter Eric Williams expects that to continue.
“They went into the [Week 9] bye wanting to get Ekeler more involved,” Williams said. “He is taking on a role in the offense similar to the way offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt used Danny Woodhead in the past. So he’ll be in there in passing situations and as a changeup to Melvin Gordon. Even though he fumbled late in the game, Ekeler has earned the Chargers’ trust and has carved out a role in the offense moving forward.”
Rod Smith: The Dallas Cowboys are still using a time-share to replace the suspended Ezekiel Elliott. But ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer believes Smith has the most upside to potentially become a leading man, since he brings more of a total package than the run-first Alfred Morris. Smith played 38 snaps on Sunday, as compared to 22 for Morris and just one for Darren McFadden.
“I think if he gets hot, they’ll stay with him more,” Archer said of Smith. “He’ll be more involved in the pass game, for sure.
Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead: No injuries here. Just the ever-evolving New England Patriots backfield. ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss wrote about how the position officially has been turned upside down since Mike Gillislee opened the season as the top runner. Now Gillislee is fighting to stay active, while Lewis’ and Burkhead’s snap counts keep rising.
Danny Woodhead: The Baltimore Ravens' "little ball of muscle" is back from injured reserve, and they’re hoping he can provide a spark as both a runner and receiver. It remains unclear how big of a role he’ll play with both Alex Collins and Buck Allen having played well in his absence. But ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley thinks Allen will take a back seat if Woodhead proves to be fully recovered from a hamstring injury.
Hensley also wrote this week that the Ravens might want to consider using Collins closer to the goal line (a role that has mostly gone to Allen). Collins’ 96 touches without a touchdown this season are the most in the NFL by far.
BACK FROM INJURED RESERVE
Woodhead isn’t the only player on the way back from injured reserve. Last week, we dissected some of the bigger names who could potentially return, including Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. Here are some further updates on them and others:
Cam Newton excitedly put his arm around Olsen after a win two weeks ago and said, “Just wait 'til I get my dawg back!” Olsen, meanwhile, said, “I just hope I don’t get in the way,” since Carolina has been on a roll.
Johnson is hoping to come back “soon” from a dislocated wrist, but he can’t put a timetable on it. “Still pretty weak, but I’m making progress,” he said.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a similar mystery. He was spotted doing some work off to the side at practice this week, but he told ESPN’s Jason Wilde: “Schedule hasn’t changed. Out eight weeks. Only back if it’s completely healed.”
Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson said wide receiver Corey Coleman is ready for a full workload in his return from a broken bone in his right hand. But for Coleman to become fantasy relevant, he needs to show more consistency than he did before the injury.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie receiver Dede Westbrook will make his NFL debut on Sunday. And the fourth-round pick is setting his sights extremely high. “My expectation is a 200-yard receiving game,” he said.
WORTH A CLICK
Brett Hundley's fiery side has impressed the Packers. And it led to his “best game” in his first victory. His growth has particularly benefited receiver Davante Adams, since they are developing a Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson type of connection.
It took Dontrelle Inman one game to establish that he is the best receiver on the Bears’ roster. Unfortunately, as Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson wrote, that’s an indictment of the rest of the receivers.