Do you need a running back replacement for your fantasy roster? Maybe now you know what it feels like to be the Broncos or Rams, who have had no choice but to bring in some new talent to replenish their depleted backfields. In the bigger picture, does this trend of injuries to starting running backs threaten the notion of a feature back? What team won't want to have a two-back system to minimize the pounding one running back has to absorb? If one succumbs to injury, another can simply increase his workload any given Sunday. With those considerations, teams may seek to expand the number of running backs on their active rosters. Either that or they will have to hope there is a surplus of available unsigned backs who have kept themselves in game-ready condition and are bright enough to absorb a new offensive playbook within a week (see: Samkon Gado, who signed with the St. Louis Rams this week).
Of course, teams like the Chiefs might argue that the entire roster size needs to be expanded to allow for complete decimation of your running back and quarterback pools.
So who will play this weekend? Here's what we know as we head into the Week 10 contests.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Although Jackson is officially listed as doubtful on the injury report, coach Jim Haslett has made it clear in advance of this week's contest that Jackson will not play. Jackson is still recovering from a strain of his right quadriceps muscle and is a classic example of why these muscle strains are so challenging.
A muscle strain requires rest during the week to allow the tissue to heal, but that often means testing that muscle in the game. The demand for speed and power, especially for a running back, translates to increased force of muscle contraction, which for a healing muscle can pose a risk of further injury. In Jackson's case, he felt he was ready to go last week (as he pronounced on his Web site the night before the game), but then was forced out of the game early when he found that the muscle would not cooperate as expected. According to the Belleville News-Democrat, Jackson reported that a repeat MRI of his thigh muscle showed that the inflammation was actually worse than the previous image showed. Consequently, Jackson was unable to practice all week, and although he says the quad feels better, he has acknowledged that when he tries to do certain things to test it on the field, "it's not responding." Haslett has been clear that Jackson will need to demonstrate that he can go full speed in practice before he is eligible to play Sunday.
The question at this point is not about this week, but whether Jackson will be able to go by next week or even the following week. Unfortunately, this is a day-to-day evaluation. In the meantime, expect recently signed Ken Darby to start, with even more recently signed Samkon Gado expected to be in the rotation. The third running back is expected to be Antonio Pittman, who is also still recovering from a hamstring strain but was able to do some limited practice Friday. Pittman is listed as questionable but could see some action, albeit likely in a limited capacity. Travis Minor, who has been out following a concussion, is also listed as questionable but is not expected to play.
Willie Parker, RB, Steelers: Parker is officially listed as doubtful on the NFL injury report, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported that Parker will not play. The good news here is that it is not Parker's knee that is keeping him out of this week's contest. Parker played Monday night after missing four games with a medial collateral ligament sprain. He ran well Monday but apparently injured his right shoulder during the third quarter. The injury wasn't severe enough to force him out of the game, and it is not likely to cause him to miss extended time. So hang in there, Parker fantasy owners -- it looks like he will be back in your lineup next week. In the meantime, hopefully you have kept Mewelde Moore available on your roster.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: Stewart is listed as questionable because of a heel injury and will be a game-time decision. The not-so-good news is that Stewart is having lingering pain in his heel that has kept him in a protective boot, despite coming off of a bye week. Stewart's heel pain apparently began two weeks ago and it is causing him pain when he puts pressure on it, something that's impossible to avoid as a running back. The good news is that Stewart did make the trip to Oakland and was able to practice Friday, which means the team thinks there is at least a chance he could play. Either way, expect DeAngelo Williams to see the majority of the action for Carolina this weekend.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: McFadden is listed as questionable for Sunday, but his chances of playing don't look good. McFadden's turf toe problems continue to hang around, as turf toe problems often do. The left toe seems to be the worse of the two at this point, and McFadden is still in a boot when not practicing. McFadden was limited in practice earlier in the week and then did not practice Friday, another sign that he is unlikely to suit up Sunday. McFadden is being fitted with some new, rigid footwear to help support his toes, but his mobility is compromised because of the lack of push-off with the big toe. He has said that he needs to get the "confidence" back in his foot, and it requires an adjustment when he makes a change as seemingly simple as his shoes. There is no reason to rush McFadden back to the lineup. The Raiders may be better off allowing their draft-day investment to recover fully before having him see game action again. Once again, it appears that Justin Fargas is likely to start for the Raiders this week.
Other noteworthy items
• The Bears' Brandon Lloyd looks like he'll make his return after missing a month with a sprained knee. Lloyd is listed as probable, has practiced fully all week and is expected to play.
• Ravens running backs Willis McGahee and Ray Rice are both listed as probable, and are expected to play. Although they were limited in practice earlier in the week, they practiced fully Friday, indicating they are ready to go. But who becomes the feature back? As Jamison Hensley stated in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week: "In [coach John] Harbaugh's mind, it's not about McGahee or Rice. He said he thinks of the running game as McGahee and Rice." Good luck, fantasy owners.
• Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was a surprise addition to the Thursday injury report when he was unable to complete practice because of tendinitis in his knee. Tendinitis is an inflammatory condition, meaning that rest is the best medicine. Russell was resting Friday, but he could be resting through the weekend. His designation is questionable, and the Contra Costa Times is reporting that his status will not be known until just before the game.
• It appears that Patriots running backs Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan will be sidelined again this week. Morris continues with the doubtful tag, so his unlikely playing status is clearer. Jordan is listed as questionable, but given that he did not practice Thursday or Friday, he will likely be watching the game rather than playing.
• Chargers receiver Chris Chambers is listed as probable with his ankle injury, suggesting that he will play Sunday. Nonetheless, his ankle is still not 100 percent, so Vincent Jackson may still be in for a fair number of catches against the Chiefs.
• Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey is listed as probable and is expected to play. Shockey, who has been recovering from sports hernia surgery, has no doubt benefited from the time off during the bye week, and according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, is probably as healthy as he's been all year.
Out: This is a list of key fantasy players, not including those who have been moved to injured reserve status, who are additions to the "Out" listing for Week 10.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Schaub sprained his knee (MCL) Sunday and will be sidelined this week. The Houston Chronicle has reported that Schaub could miss two to four weeks, which is consistent with the return time for quarterbacks after sustaining this injury. In the meantime, Sage Rosenfels will lead the Texans.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks: The good news is that Hasselbeck's strength appears to be improving. Nonetheless, he has a ways to go before he is cleared to return to play. Expect this to take at least a couple of weeks.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions: Orlovsky has a significant thumb injury that could ultimately require surgery. The Detroit Free Press reports that Orlovsky has two fractures and a torn ligament, all of which apparently occurred during the first play of the game against Chicago. He is seeking several opinions about his thumb, after which more should be known. Daunte Culpepper has seen the majority of first-team snaps in practice this week, and although coach Rod Marinelli has not officially named a starter, ESPN's Chris Mortensen has reported that Culpepper will start against Jacksonville.
Josh Reed, WR, Bills: Reed remains out with an Achilles injury.
Chris McAlister, CB, Ravens: The big news here is that McAlister is out not only for this week, but also for the remainder of the season. McAlister has decided to have surgery on his knee to address a torn posterior cruciate ligament and cartilage damage, according to the Baltimore Sun. It remains to be seen whether McAlister has played his final game in a Ravens uniform.
Heath Miller, TE, Steelers: Miller injured his ankle in the Steelers' Monday night contest and will not suit up against the Colts. In fact, the Post-Gazette reports that Miller has a high ankle sprain and could miss a couple of games. Make sure you have a replacement on your roster.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Bush is still recovering from meniscal surgery but is making good progress. His rehab is right on schedule, and he transitioned from pool running to outdoor running this week. According to the Times-Picayune, Bush thinks he will "definitely" be ready to play next week against Kansas City. It's possible, but he will have to prove he can run full speed, cut and pivot before he returns. Don't be shocked if his return comes in Week 12, when the Saints have a big Monday night game. In the meantime, teammate Deuce McAllister could have a big week against the Falcons.
Arnaz Battle, WR, 49ers: Battle is out with a foot sprain and will miss Monday night's game against division rival Arizona. It appears that this injury could keep him out even longer.
Good luck in Week 10! Be sure to check out our site Sunday for pregame chats and Fantasy Football Now at noon ET.