I’m going to mix things up a little bit this week and start off by discussing some of the top running backs that have been off to a slow start this season, and there are quite a few of them. Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Frank Gore, and Shonn Greene were all drafted as #1 running backs and have been lackluster to say the least.
Chris Johnson, Tenseness Titans: CJ2K has to be the biggest bust of the fantasy season so far. This first round pick has a mere 98 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards, with zero touchdowns. The Titans having been winning games (2-1) and they’ve given Johnson plenty of carries (46), so what’s going on? For starters, Johnson was a hold out for almost the entire preseason, and had no time to mesh with the Titan’s new offensive coordinator. The Titans eased him in week 1, with only 9 carries, and then he had a tough match up against Baltimore in week 2. A breakout was expected last week against Denver, but that never materialized. This week the Titans have a soft match up against the Browns, and Johnson is claiming that he’s finally back in shape. With Kenny Britt out for the season, the Titans are going to be relying even more heavily on Johnson. This week really should be a breakout for Johnson. If it isn’t, it’s time to start worrying.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall is another first round pick giving fantasy owners headaches. He had bad game Baltimore in week 1, which is to be expected. He rebound a little bit in the blowout against Seattle in week 2 with 66 rushing yards and TD, which is underwhelming considering the opponent. Last week’s game in Indy should have been a huge game for Mendenhall, but it was another dud. After three weeks, Mendenhall has only 148 rushing yards and one TD. The entire Steelers offense has been struggling so far this season, and much of the blame can be placed on the offensive line. The Steelers’s O-line has always been questionable, but they’ve been ravaged by injuries this season. Mendenhall has the talent, and the Steelers offense will eventually find its groove, but it’s not going to happen against Houston this week. If the O-line can get healthy, Mendenhall could be in line for a big second half given the Steelers easy schedule after week 8.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: Like Mendenhall, Frank Gore has 148 rushing yards and one TD on the season. Gore’s struggles can be summed up pretty easily. Quarterback back Alex Smith has been ineffective, which leaves Frank Gore as the main offensive threat. Opposing defensives ave been stuffing the box and shutting him down. Coach Jim Harbaugh is trying to address the team’s offensive struggles and some changes could be coming to the offensive line. To make matters worse, Gore injured his ankle last week and his status for week 4 is still up in the air. Gore owners should pick up Kendall Hunter for insurance. Long term, Gore owners just need to wait this out, but they should be lowering their expectations for him this season.
Shonn Greene, New York Jets: The Jets are another team struggling with an injured and ineffective offensive line. As a result, Shonn Green has only managed 134 rushing yards and 1 TD. It also doesn’t help Green’s cause that the Jets have been passing the ball 62% of the time this season. Of the four running backs I’ve discussed, I’m most worried about Greene. Given the reliance of the passing game and LaDanian Tomlinson’s presence in the backfield, Greene owners should very concerned. This situation certainly isn’t going to improve against Baltimore this week.
Backfields to Watch
Miami Dolphins: Reggie Bush’s fantasy relevance took a huge hit last week. He only managed to pick up 13 rushing yards on 10 carries, and he caught one pass for 13 yards. He also fumbled twice. Meanwhile, Daniel Thomas racked up 95 yards on 23 carries and caught a touchdown pass. Unless the Dolphins get Bush more involved in the passing game, he should be on your fantasy bench. Thomas is an RB2 against San Diego and should be a solid play going forward.
New England Patriots: This backfield got even messier after week 3. Rookie Stevan Ridley was the leading rusher with 42 yards on 6 carries. Danny Woodhead had 21 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards. Benjarvus Green-Ellis had only 18 rushing yards and no TD’s. Woodhead and Green-Ellis stand to lose value if RIdley’s playing time increases. At this point, I would keep all of these backs on my fantasy bench. If you’re desperate, Green-Ellis is still the best option as he’ll likely see goal line carries.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Benson was handed a 3 game suspension by the NFL for violating the conduct policy (beating the crap out of someone), which could begin as soon as next week. It’s kind of odd considering the League basically decided not to punish any of the other shenanigans that occurred during the lockout, but such is Roger Goodell. Bernard Scott will be filling in for Benson, and he should be owned in all leagues. Scott is solid rusher and will make a good short term fantasy play. In the meantime, Benson is an RB2/flex play this week against Buffalo.
Kansas City Chiefs: In Jamaal Charles absence, Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones handled the backfield duties for the Chiefs. As expected, McCluster outperformed Thomas. Mcluster had 9 carries for 45 yards and Jones had 14 carries for 31 yards. Expect McCluster to see more carries this week, in addition to his regular in involvement in the passing game. Mcluster is a flex option this week against the Vikings, and Jones should stay on your bench.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews continued his push to make Mike Tolbert irrelevant in the Charger’s backfield. Mathews scored 2 TD’s, rushed for 98 yards, and chalked up 51 receiving yards. Tolbert only managed 31 rushing yards on 4 carries and 24 receiving yards. Mathews has yet to practice this week, due to a foot injury, so Tolbert may see an increased work load this week. Long term, Williams will be the primary back
of this committee, and without goal line carries, Tolbert’s value will be very limited. Mathews is an RB1 against the Dolphins this week, and Tolbert is a flex play.
Green Bay Packers: After I wrote that Starks is the “main man” in the Packers backfilled, he went and laid a dud in week 3. Starks managed only 5 yards on 11 carries and coughed up the ball once. Meanwhile, Ryan Grant looked like his old self last week, rushing for 98 yards. Starks might be in the doghouse if it weren’t for Grant’s bruised kidney. It’s looking like Grant will not play this week, but fantasy owners should monitor this situation closely. If Starks starts he’s an RB2 candidate against Denver.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram put together his first decent fantasy performance, with 9 carries for 38 rushing yards and a TD. Darren Sproles had a 35 rushing yards, a TD, and 50 receiving yards. Pierre Thomas was an afterthought, with 7 carries for 28 yards. While Ingram is
seeing the majority of touches, Sproles is starting to look like the most valuable running back on the team. He’s scored in every game this season, and he leads the team with 21 receptions. He was also on the field for twice as many snaps as Ingram in week 3. Ingram & Sproles are both worthy of flex spots against Jacksonville this week.
Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams each had even 10 carries in week 3. Stewart picked up 59 rushing yards, while Williams only had 18 yards. Stewart has outperformed Williams this season and should be seeing more carries, but the Panthers have to make
Williams work for that big paycheck of his. Williams should be on your fantasy bench for the time being, but Stewart is flex play against Da Bears this week.
Injuries to Watch
Arian Foster, Houston Texans: Arian Foster is expected to start this week. Pittsburgh’s D has been struggling against the run, so get him back in your lineup as an RB2.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson should also be back in action this week. Jackson is an RB1 against the Redskins. Cadillac Williams should also be back, but his value takes a huge hit with Jackson’s return.
Knowshown Moreno, Denver Broncos: Knowshon Moreno was active but did not play in last week’s game, due to injury. Willis McGahee was less than stellar with 52 rushing yards, on 22 carries, and a receiving touchdown. Moreno should play this week, but who knows what his role will be. I wouldn’t start either of these backs this week against the Packers, but if you’re desperate, McGahee is the better option.
Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals: I didn’t mention Wells in last week’s article because as of last Friday he was “fully expecting” to play in week 3. I plugged him in my lineup in one of my leagues, went away for the weekend, and came home Sunday evening to find out that he was inactive. This emphasizes the fact that I need to get a smart phone, but it also serves as a reminder to always check your player’s status on Sunday morning. Wells is supposed to play in week 4, but we know how that goes. If he starts, Wells is an RB2 against the Flacons this week.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: See above.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers: See above.