Week 1 Running Back Adds
Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos
Despite the presence of second-round rookie Montee Ball and incumbent veteran Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos are going to start the youngest running back on their roster—that is, the second-year man out of San Diego State. Hillman isn't a great start against what should be an improved Ravens run defense, but the mere fact he starts for one of the most potent offenses in football should have him owned in fantasy.
Hillman is available in over one-third of ESPN's leagues. All the starting running backs in the NFL are must-owns in all fantasy leagues, even if the Broncos are going to run a rotation series by series at the position to start the season, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
No matter what you think of the diminutive Rodgers or the oft-hyped risk of 30-year-old running backs, you should have Rodgers rostered in your fantasy league. He is available in over one-quarter of ESPN leagues.
Steven Jackson is 30, the age of breakdown for backs, and the Falcons are one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. They also play arguably the worst defense of 2012, if not NFL history, in the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. The Saints were dead last in fantasy against quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers a year ago. Rodgers might not only be an "add" in fantasy; he might qualify as a "start" too.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers
OK, we admit you have to be in a pretty shallow league to have Hillman and Rodgers available still. Odds are your league has Hunter on waivers, though. He is owned in just 8.7 percent of ESPN leagues.
As the primary backup to Frank Gore, especially with LaMichael James (knee) out for about a month, Hunter is a must-have fantasy handcuff. Not only is Gore 30 like the Falcons' Jackson, but he is also the front man of arguably the best running team in all of football. Hunter is a must stash, even if the Packers are a matchup you won't consider playing him in this Week 1.
Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
Flash back to a year ago: The Chiefs were pitiful, and Davis was on the preseason preview cover of Sports Illustrated as a Heisman Trophy candidate at Arkansas. After suffering through another injury-plagued year, he slipped in the draft and now sits behind Jamaal Charles on the Chiefs' depth chart.
That is quietly a great place to be for a fantasy sleeper. Andy Reid's offense makes stars out of his running backs, and Charles is an oft-injured star who might not be able to handle the workload week to week, much less for an entire season. Davis is a legit talent who is a must-have handcuff for all fantasy owners, not just Charles ones. Davis is owned in less than five percent of ESPN leagues.
Felix Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers made a surprise decision to cut Jonathan Dwyer this past weekend, and it might be because they like what they have seen in the recently acquired Jones. He is a former first-round pick who was lost in Dallas and Philly, but the Steelers won't have Le'Veon Bell's services for about a month due to his foot injury, and they couldn't have liked what they saw from Isaac Redman this preseason.
Heck, they hardly saw Redman in uniform this injury-plagued training camp.
Jones is woefully overlooked in all formats and owned in just 4.8 of ESPN's leagues. The Titans are the Steelers' Week 1 opponent, and they were third-worst in fantasy against running backs a year ago. Even if Redman starts and La'Rod Stephens-Howling gets all the third-down duty, Jones can pick up some fantasy-worthy numbers—and love—in garbage time.
If you own Bell, are waiting on him and don't have Redman, you will want to pick up Jones.
Week 1 Running Back Drops
Jonathan Dwyer, Free Agent
He doesn't have a job at this point, and we aren't limiting that statement to the "starter" variety. He is on the street and is likely to stay there. Heck, running back-needy teams are advised to consider the likes of Willis McGahee or Michael Turner off the street over the Steelers castoff.
At 51.3 percent ownership on ESPN, Dwyer is the most worthless use of roster space in all of fantasy football right now.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
This is another easy one, particularly if you drafted before Stewart (ankle) was placed on the PUP list to start the season. He will be out at least six weeks—perhaps for the season—and is not worth rostering in fantasy any longer.
Heck, Marcus Lattimore, whose leg almost came apart less than a year ago at South Carolina, might take a handcuff for the 49ers before Stewart does for fantasy owners. Lattimore is on the NFI (non-football injury list) and is eligible to return about the same time as Stewart.
Andre Brown, New York Giants
Brown was supposed to be a touchdown vulture for David Wilson owners, but the only thing he is vulturing right now in fantasy is a roster spot. He is out four to six weeks with a leg fracture, an injury that ended his year a season ago.
It isn't just this injury that should concern you about Brown. It is all of his myriad maladies. He just hasn't stayed healthy for a full season, and that is with a limited number of carries.
If you are looking for a fantasy handcuff of Wilson with the Giants, it is now seventh-round rookie Michael Cox. Da'Rel Scott is more of a speed guy, while Cox is a big power back who could emerge as a short-yard and goal-line threat to complement Wilson.