Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer had a productive college career that hasn't quite translated to the pros. However, after a stellar camp and a recent rash of injuries to the backfield, he may very well be turned to on Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, making him a wise value play for fantasy owners.
According to the ESPN NFL injury report, starter Rashard Mendenhall and his typical fill-in Isaac Redman are nursing Achilles and ankle injuries, respectively. They are both listed as questionable for the Bengals game, but the odds certainly seem less than 50-50 for both.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shared his thoughts about the situation on Twitter:
Steelers think Rashard Mendenhall has better chance of playing in Cincy than Ike Redman. But needs to practice Friday.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) October 18, 2012
Mendenhall tweaked his Achilles in the Thursday night loss to the Titans, while Redman seems all but ruled out for Sunday night against Cincinnati.
An Achilles injury is nothing to rush back from. Considering Mendenhall has yet to practice this week and is just coming off of another major injury (ACL), the fact that Redman seems less likely to play increases the odds that both backs won't be in action.
It is a critical AFC North matchup, because the winner will likely have an outside shot at the division title while the loser will need to rally to get into the playoff picture.
Now onto the issue at hand. Assuming Dwyer starts—he will in the absence of Mendenhall and Redman—he is a powerful back at 5'11" and nearly 230 pounds. That is about 20 pounds below his playing weight last season, and it has improved his quickness and ability to explode through the holes.
Although his numbers wouldn't indicate an improvement, Dwyer's style lends itself to needing a lot of carries to get into a rhythm. He is built to be a workhorse back, and whether he's got the ability to do that in the NFL remains to be seen.
It's worth a risk just for Week 7, though. The Bengals give up just over 27 points per game, and are 21st in the league against the run.
Known in recent years for their ability to establish the run, neither of these teams has been good in that department in 2012. Both will be looking to set the tone on the ground early to open up opportunities in the passing game.
Andy Dalton will likely be able to throw to explosive Bengals receiver A.J. Green whenever he pleases, particularly without Steelers safety Troy Polamalu roaming around on defense.
Injuries to the Pittsburgh D may cost them this game if they have to stay on the field for too long. So particularly on the road, feeding Dwyer and ripping off gains to keep the ball away from Cincinnati will become all the more important.
The Gazette's Ed Bouchette noted that Dwyer hadn't played in the last two games simply because he was the odd man out in the Pittsburgh backfield. That didn't concern Dwyer, though, because he knew that Mendenhall and Redman were similar in style to him and had established themselves as viable, physical starting backs.
The way it all happened, it made it look like I wasn't playing because I fumbled and things like that. It was all a numbers game.
Fantasy football is all a numbers game, too. For teams strapped at running back, Dwyer is a solid option to spot start because his size will likely be utilized around the goal line and the Steelers simply don't have any better options.