Stuck in a murky playing-time situation and ultimately unproven, San Diego Chargers running back Jackie Battle's status as a must-start in Week 5 is a falsehood, despite a tasty matchup against the New Orleans Saints.
After not getting a carry in Week 1, Battle has scored four touchdowns in the past three games and has emerged as a threat to Ryan Mathews. The offseason signee has gained 163 yards on just 32 carries in those games and even started last week over Mathews in the Chargers' 37-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
For fans of recent history, it is not hard to see the parallels between Battle and Mike Tolbert, who left San Diego to sign with the Carolina Panthers in the offseason. Both are mammoth, bruising runners who look like fullbacks, but have just enough top-end speed to work as a tailback.
In 2010 and 2011, Tolbert emerged out of the Chargers backfield from relative obscurity to must-own status in fantasy. Compiling 1,874 total yards and 19 touchdowns, the former Coastal Carolina star became a sneaky flex play while siphoning a lot of Mathews' fantasy potential.
That must-own logic certainly works for Battle in the interim, but his status as a flex starter remains dubious until we see how the backfield shakes out, despite a matchup with the NFL's worst run defense.
First and foremost, the problem lies with our lack of knowledge about how carries will be split. Head coach Norv Turner has not announced his starter and said "we’ll find out on the first play of the game,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Tom Krasovic.
While one being named starter is not necessarily the fantasy death knell for the other back, that position leaves fantasy owners to completely guess on the usage. It would stand to reason that last week's 15-14 split in Battle's favor would hold up, but if Mathews is particularly strong early in the game, Turner isn't going to sit him just to appease fantasy audiences.
That rings even truer with the game coming on Sunday night. There will be no opportunity to scramble and substitute Battle out of your lineup if Mathews starts, unless you have a suitable replacement on the Houston Texans or New York Jets.
What's more, Battle's track record is not long enough to trust him from a production standpoint. Though he scored two touchdowns last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, Battle gained just 39 yards on his 15 carries, with his four receptions for 42 yards serving as a saving grace.
Coming into that Week 4 matchup, Battle had just 14 receptions in his entire career.
With every week in fantasy having the power to be the difference between a playoff berth and being left out in the cold in December, it's apparent that there is too much risk with the Chargers' breakout back.
The matchup and Battle's similarities to Tolbert certainly make him appealing going forward. But until we see a concrete workload split and sustained production, you're better off leaving Battle on the bench on Sunday and saving yourself the worry.
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