As if it wasn’t already hard enough to find two running backs you can trust on a weekly basis in fantasy, now we have to deal with 12 teams on byes over the next two weeks.
Two of the top five scoring backs in ESPN leagues (Todd Gurley and Leonard Fournette) are off in Week 8, not to mention Aaron Jones, Adrian Peterson and the duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Plus Marshawn Lynch went and got himself suspended for a week for making contact with an official.
If your bench is thin, here’s the skinny on some options still available in more than 40 percent of ESPN leagues:
DeAndre Washington (33.8 percent owned) and Jalen Richard (25.3 percent): Washington was the most added position player in ESPN leagues this week in the wake of Lynch’s suspension. But the problem is that Washington and Richard split touches pretty evenly after Lynch was ejected last Thursday, and probably will do the same Sunday at Buffalo.
“I’m not sure I would trust either as a starter for fantasy reasons because it seems like they’ll share the load, rather than one being the bell cow,” ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez said. “Plus, fullback Jamize Olawale should be involved, and the Raiders did promote seventh-round draft pick Elijah Hood from the practice squad on Wednesday. So it should be more of a committee situation.”
Either guy could be a decent option if you’re desperate. Washington had nine carries for 33 yards and a touchdown last week, plus three catches for 7 yards. Richard had nine carries for 31 yards and four catches for 45 yards. And Raiders coach Jack Del Rio praised the two 5-foot-8 backs for being able to bring a little more quickness and pass-catching ability to the offense than the power-running Lynch.
"If you're playing a little more wide-open, in some respects they give you a little more juice,” Del Rio said. “Marshawn gives you the power back when you want to finish people in tough situations. But those guys give you more than a change of pace."
It’s also possible that a big game from one or both of them could shift Oakland’s backfield dynamic a bit. Gutierrez said “the goal is always to have Lynch be the No. 1.” But the Raiders’ running game hasn’t had much juice so far this season.
Dion Lewis (46.6 percent): ESPN New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss gave an even stronger endorsement to Lewis. Yes, the Patriots’ backfield is even more crowded than Oakland’s. But Lewis’ role has grown steadily this season as he finally seems to have fully recovered from his 2015 ACL tear.
“You absolutely should trust him,” Reiss said. “His snaps are up [29 vs. Jets and 26 vs. Falcons], which either tied or led all Patriots running backs. That’s a good sign of how he’s viewed by the coaching staff right now. It’s safe to say Lewis is now back to his preinjury form.”
Reiss’ one warning: The one thing you have to hope for is that Lewis doesn’t fumble, since Mike Gillislee was sidelined for 34 consecutive plays after he coughed one up two weeks ago.
Wendell Smallwood (51.1 percent): This is another time-share situation with both LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement in the Philadelphia Eagles' backfield. But Smallwood does have at least 10 touches in the past three games he was healthy. “I do think Smallwood will have at least one explosive game this season, and perhaps it comes Sunday in potentially heavy rain against the winless 49ers,” ESPN Eagles reporter Tim McManus said. “The loss of left tackle Jason Peters is going to affect the Eagles' ground game, and Smallwood has not proved a reliable fantasy option to this point in his career. But if you're in need of a bye-week back, Smallwood is a gamble with some upside.”
Matt Forte (55.8 percent): Bilal Powell still is probably the best back to start in the New York Jets' time-share. (ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini said coaches seem to be emphasizing Atlanta’s team speed on defense this week, which leads him to believe Powell might be featured more.) But it was pretty close to a 50-50 split between the backs when Powell returned from a calf injury in Week 8. One disclaimer: Forte has yet to score a TD this season.
Aaron Jones (74.8 percent): The Green Bay Packers rookie doesn’t fit the criteria of this list because he’s 75 percent owned, and because the Packers are on a bye. But I had to mention him because I’m stunned that he still is available in 25 percent of all ESPN leagues. Are these leagues that don’t allow in-season pickups? Jones clearly earned Green Bay’s leading-man role with 17 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown in Week 8 against the Saints.
Jamaal Charles (25.0 percent): It would be awfully hard to trust Charles in your fantasy lineup after he hasn’t topped five carries in any of his past three games. But if pickings are slim, this could be the week for an inspired effort against his former team in Kansas City.
ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim consistently has suggested that Washington has high hopes that second-year pro Josh Doctson can deliver on his potential. Meanwhile, ESPN Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler wrote that rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster gives Pittsburgh enough flexibility to bench Bryant for Sunday’s game against Detroit without punishing the team.
Fowler said he likes Smith-Schuster as a possible fantasy pickup because he “should get the most targets after Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, and he’s shown a knack for the end zone. But the problem is that even as a No. 2 receiver, he’s not guaranteed many targets.”
The New Orleans Saints' offense, meanwhile, is loaded with options for deeper leagues. Ted Ginn Jr.'s production has expanded each week, and he is now on pace for career highs in catches and yards. No. 3 receiver Brandon Coleman has only 12 catches, but three of them are touchdowns as he is also on pace for career highs in every receiving category. And Willie Snead is fully healed from his hamstring injury, though he appears to be fourth in the pecking order for now.
And in the super-deep department, how about two guys who just showed up in the past week and could instantly become their teams’ top receiving options: Dontrelle Inman with the Bears and Deonte Thompson with the Bills.
More to come from rookie RBs?
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said rookie RB Joe Mixon should “show maturity” after Mixon complained about his lack of touches in the Week 8 loss to Pittsburgh. But ESPN Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell still thinks this will be a good week to start Mixon against a struggling Indianapolis Colts defense that ranks 26th in rushing yards allowed.
Meanwhile, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter David Newton wrote that nobody with the Panthers seems concerned about Christian McCaffrey's lack of big plays so far, including McCaffrey himself, who believes “the big plays will come."
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