Week 3 Fantasy Sleepers: Running Backs Ready to Take over Starting Role

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 16:  Giovani Bernard #25 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 16, 2013 at Paul Brown Stadium on September 16, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh 20-10. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Running backs are dropping like flies. With nobody safe from the carnage, the door has opened for several new rushers to become fantasy football darlings.

Injuries and inefficient play have caused substantial turnover at the position through two weeks. Many preseason sleepers failed to meet the hype, which means new options must take their place.

The replacement isn't always as shiny as the original, but it'll get the job done. In fact, these NFL teams are probably better off embracing the change. One has found early success doing so, the other may be forced to this weekend, and the third will get dragged into accepting the new wave. 

Despite the varying circumstances, each back will see an increase in touches this weekend, which bodes well for his fantasy status.


Knowshon Moreno (vs. Oakland Raiders)

We fell for the young, unproven commodities. We devoted our adoration to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, ignoring the completely competent Knowshon Moreno in the process.

Ball has averaged a meager 1.9 yards per carry this season, failing to orchestrate a double-digit-yard run in any of his 20 attempts. Clearly not enamored with Hillman, the Denver Broncos have only afforded him five carries.

Gentlemen, welcome to the doghouse. 

Moreno, on the other hand, will run loose after gaining 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries against the New York Giants. Neither score came cheaply, as each spanned at least 20 yards.

With left tackle Ryan Clady out for the season, Denver will feel more comfortable with Moreno providing an extra barrier for defenders chasing Peyton Manning in the backfield. There's no reason not to think he won't receive increased playing time.

The Broncos should also jump out to an early lead against the Raiders, giving Moreno ample chances to pile up the yards with the game out of hand.


Bernard Pierce (vs. Houston Texans)

As the Baltimore Ravens soared to a Super Bowl title, onlookers couldn't help but notice that Ray Rice—the focal point of Baltimore's offense—hardly looked like the team's best running back.

While Rice averaged 3.6 yards per carry and coughed up three fumbles in the 2012 postseason, Bernard Pierce rose to the occasion with 5.2 yards per rush. The writing was on the wall for an overhaul that might now come with Rice battered.

According to The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec, Rice's status this weekend has been downgraded to doubtful due to a left hip flexor strain.  

The large workload is catching up to the perennial fantasy first-rounder. Including the postseason, Rice carried the ball 341 times last year. In fact, Bleacher Report injury expert Will Carroll warned us about this very predicament in August. 

This now gives Pierce, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season, a chance to shine in Rice's absence. But before demanding your winnings, he has turned 28 carries into just 79 yards early this year against two tough run defenses (Denver and Cleveland). 

Houston is also fierce against the run, but Pierce should get a chance to prove his worth with regular touches. It has always been a matter of opportunity for a back with No. 1 talent.


Giovani Bernard (vs. Green Bay Packers)

Let's try this one more time.

I praised rookie Giovani Bernard prior to his first start, but he also received four handoffs. So naturally, everyone should bench him the following week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, right?

Sure, if you don't want two touchdowns. 

He discovered the end zone twice in his second NFL game in just eight carries. The ball was placed in BenJarvus Green-Ellis' hands 22 times, even though he generated 3.4 yards per carry to Bernard's 4.8. Just imagine what would happen if he gets a fairer shake in Cincinnati. 

A change could come soon. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. reported that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is planning on giving the ball to Bernard more as the season unfolds.

“I think they are going to get more to 50/50 sooner than later, probably,” Gruden said.

Let's hope Gruden is a man of his word, because Bernard would become a fantasy star with 15 carries on a nightly basis.