Poor Darren McFadden. The Oakland Raiders RB has never been able to stay on the field for a full 16-game season, and that will continue after he sustained what is reportedly a high ankle sprain in Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.
ESPN's Adam Schefter shed a little more light on the situation:
Raiders RB Darren McFadden suffered a high ankle sprain on his first carry of the game, played through it before aggravating injury later. McFadden is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday and is considered week to week for now.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 5, 2012
Now, as far as fantasy football is concerned, Run DMC is one of the most exciting and versatile backs in the league when healthy, but it looks like he'll be out for the foreseeable future.
Typically, a sound strategy would be to snag one of his teammates. That won't work though, because the Oakland backfield is absolutely decimated. Taiwan Jones has struggled through a knee injury and Mike Goodson also left the game in Week 9 with an ailing ankle.
With such limited options though—LaRod Stephens-Howling and James Starks are coming up on bye weeks—one of those Raiders has to be looked at as a viable plug-in. Find out which one it is, along with two other emergency starters to keep your team afloat in McFadden's absence.
Taiwan Jones, Oakland Raiders
This may be the second-year running back's big chance in light of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding McFadden.
Yes, he may have been drafted simply because of his fast 40-yard dash time (h/t Yahoo!), which was characteristic of many of Al Davis' investments late in his reign in Oakland), but Jones isn't simply a speedster.
He is bigger than an average scat back and has outstanding agility. With the injuries to McFadden and Goodson on Sunday, Jones will have to be the one the team looks to as the starter in Week 10.
In facing the Baltimore Ravens, that wouldn't seem like a traditionally good matchup. However, this isn't quite the vaunted defense the franchise is used to, as the Ravens are 28th in the league in rush defense.
That should lend itself to plenty of opportunities for Jones. Even if Carson Palmer passes a lot, he has shown a penchant for checking down due to shoddy protection and the playmaking ability of McFadden after the catch. Jones still has something to prove as a pass-catcher, but his athleticism gives him similar explosive capabilities in the open field.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
After receiving eight carries and gaining 60 yards in Week 8, Rodgers wasn't rewarded on Sunday night with more carries against Dallas. Rather, he destroyed the Cowboys with four key catches for 53 yards, including two particularly back-breaking snags in the fourth quarter to keep drives alive.
Michael Turner has never been that great of a receiver out of the backfield, and Rodgers is starting to establish himself as a legitimate third-down back.
Until the Cowboys game, Turner was averaging a career low in yards per carry, as he's hit the daunting age 30 plateau for running backs. Whether his strong outing is a blip or a trend remains to be seen, but a second consecutive stellar performance by Rodgers should get the former Oregon State star into the game plan more frequently.
The next game is at New Orleans, a defense that running backs have feasted on this season. The Saints give up an average of 170 yards per game on the ground, and can't stop the pass, either.
Rodgers is an all-around threat that should have a huge game in the Superdome to help the Falcons stay undefeated against their NFC South rival.
Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
The rookie running back out of Mississippi State may be considered a total dark horse at this point, but he has proven to be productive in the past three weeks when given opportunities. That should lead to a more balanced Indy offense moving forward.
Even if Andrew Luck keeps airing it out as much as he does, Ballard has shown the ability to get open in one-on-one situations with linebackers. His thick frame and blocking ability also allows him to be on the field for all three downs—and makes him a threat to come off a chip block and catch a screen pass.
As he showed in the team's thrilling overtime victory in Tennessee, he can be dangerous with a head of steam and green in front of him. He was targeted six times in the passing game on Sunday against Miami, catching three balls for 38 yards.
The Colts should continue to work toward being a more balanced offense and give Ballard a slightly increased workload in terms of carries, too.
Ballard is as under-the-radar as you could hope for on an emerging, constantly improving offense. He won't be the first choice for fantasy owners, but he would be a solid plug-in for McFadden at this stage.
A favorable matchup at Jacksonville awaits. After a key showdown with New England, the Colts get the putrid Buffalo Bills defense at home, making Ballard a valuable short-term fantasy pickup.
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