Jacksonville Jaguars star running back Maurice Jones-Drew continues to holdout in hopes of landing a new contract. In the mean time, Rashad Jennings has taken over the lead back role and is suddenly a valuable fantasy commodity.
It remains unclear when Jones-Drew might finally join his teammates, but head coach Mike Mularkey announced that Jennings will likely be the first-team running back for the team's season opener regardless of Jones-Drew's status at that time.
The decision makes sense because even if he arrived in time for practice on Monday, it's tough to believe he would be in game shape by Sunday when the Jaguars take on the Minnesota Vikings without any training camp practices or preseason action.
Jennings wasn't just handed the job, either. He earned it with terrific performances in the first three exhibition games. After being placed on injured reserve prior to last season, he has bounced back and shown a great burst.
He's totaled 36 carries for 175 yards, which averages out to nearly five yards per carry. The usual benchmark for an average rusher is around four, so Jennings has been well above that. In his first two seasons he averaged 5.4 yards per rush in limited carries.
As impressive as those numbers are on the surface, it's important to take them with a grain of salt. He has never handled a starter's load in the NFL and Jones-Drew has the potential to return at any moment to hurt his fantasy value.
That said, every day that passes without Jones-Drew showing up makes it more likely Jennings will remain in the starting lineup beyond Week 1. And as every fantasy player knows, any starting RB holds good value due to all the committee situations.
When is it safe to draft Jennings?
Right now his average draft position is 125, or the middle of round 10 in a typical 12-team league. That will obviously skyrocket leading up to the opening week of games because of his more involved status.
As a starter, he holds value as a good second running back or flex option. The Jaguars aren't going to totally overhaul their offense just because MJD decided not to show up, so Jennings should get a lot of touches both on the ground and in the passing game.
Given his skill set and number of opportunities he would be given, Jennings would probably be picked around the fourth round if he was going to become the undisputed starter for the whole season. That's not the case, so owners should be a little more cautious.
Taking him in about the seventh round seems reasonable. It's five rounds ahead of his rising average draft position, but the foundation of an owner's fantasy team should already be in place, which will help minimize the risk.
Any earlier than that isn't worth the investment with Jones-Drew lurking over his shoulder the entire time. Don't go overboard just because of the late hype.