Fantasy owners made Ben Tate, Andre Brown and Bernard Pierce the most important backup running backs on draft day. Those three figure to pay off down the stretch now.
With Arian Foster (back) and David Wilson (neck) officially out for the season and Ray Rice running like a "little kid in a snowsuit," according to the Baltimore Sun's Matt Vensel, it is time to release the handcuffs.
Brown returned Sunday as a Giant workhorse, rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown. Clearly, he has put to bed any questions regarding whom the Giants are going to go with in their crowded but plodding stable of backs. Tate is getting used to playing with four broken ribs, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, and he has taken over as the feature back. Pierce, meanwhile, is positioned to take over as the Ravens' feature back, too.
This trio of preseason backups is thrust into fantasy prominence for the stretch run.
And you're one of those who doesn't believe in handcuffing your starter? Shame on you.
Brown and Pierce are going to be tasked with fixing two of the worst running teams in football. The Ravens are third-worst at 73.1 yards per game, while the Giants are only slightly better because of Brown's big Week 10 effort at 76.9 (fourth-worst). In the case of all three disappointing teams, the running game will be a top priority in November and December, so fantasy owners stand to reap the benefits.
Tate and Brown are obvious commodities, but Pierce is still flying under the radar here. He is owned in just 40 percent of CBS Sports leagues and starting in five percent. This column is out to change that.
The Bears' beleaguered defensive front has allowed the second-most rushing yards. Chicago is conveniently next up on the schedule for Rice and Pierce. Both backs can be viable plays in fantasy. Pierce might even be ready to take off.
Pierce is already the leader in the court of public opinion. As of early Wednesday morning (Nov. 13), only 19 percent of the Sun's poll respondents here believe Rice should remain the primary ball-carrier for the Ravens. The Sun's Jeff Zrebiec, one of the best team insiders in the business, fully expects John Harbaugh to turn to Pierce for the important carries going forward.
Zrebiec pressed Harbaugh on whether Pierce will be made the feature back Monday:
What would that mean? One guy is the featured back by definition? Both those guys are going to get a large number of carries, and I think whichever guy is playing better should get more carries as we go forward. Both of those guys have to play for us to play well. You can't have one back carrying the ball 35 times nowadays, and we don't need to do that. We think we have two very good backs, but I don't think [replacing Rice as the starter] would be the solution.
If Rice continues to run like a "little kid in a snowsuit," the decision will become academic for Harbaugh, who continued on Rice:
You've got to look at the numbers, and definitely, it's not the same. There's no doubt about that. So, what is it? It's injury or it's not as much room to run or it's both. His health has been a factor, no doubt. He's working hard to become healthier. That's important. That's a hip flexor. That's a muscle injury, and it's hard to predict exactly what impact that has, but you've got to assume it's had an impact.
The Ravens (and fantasy owners) are hoping Rice's decline is related to injury and not the end of a career at age 26 or a pitiful offensive line. Otherwise, this week could be a changing of the guard...er, running back...for the Ravens.
Another (Questionable) Running Back Vote of Confidence
You don't need to look as closely to see Andre Ellington is the more explosive back in relation to starter Rashard Mendenhall for the Cardinals. You also don't have to listen closely to hear the catcalls for Ellington to be the feature back.
Which preseason reserve running back will be the best fantasy player down the stretch?
Instead, Bruce Arians is playing Harbaugh here and keeping Mendenhall as his primary back and Ellington as the change of pace.
"Rashard, I thought, played extremely well [Sunday] until the fumble at the end of the game, which I still thought he was down by the forward progress rule," Arians told Kyle Odegard of the team's official website.
Arians will continue to give Mendenhall the starts and the bulk of the work, particularly between the tackles.
"Instead of taking all those hits up the middle, (Arians) was kind of saving me a little bit, getting me out in space," Ellington told Odegard.
Ellington got just 13 touches (11 carries and two receptions).
"I think it's right where it needs to be," Arians told Odegard of Ellington's workload.
This news is important to fantasy owners, because like Chicago above, the Jags are awful against the run. They are dead last in that category defensively.
This stands to be a big week for Rice-Pierce and Mendenhall-Ellington for fantasy owners.
We cannot be all about the backs here. This could be a significant week for receivers coming back, too.
First, Percy Harvin (hip) is expected to play Sunday against his former team, the Vikings, while Mario Manningham should be more ingrained into the 49ers offense at New Orleans. Also, Shane Vereen, a receiving back, might be activated from the Designated for Return IR in time for Monday night's game at Carolina.
None of this long-awaited trio will have the impact the Giants' Brown had right away for fantasy owners—Manningham already returned to modest results—but we were cautious in this space on Brown last week, too.
The important note here is Harvin, Manningham and Vereen are going to be the next wave of stretch-run contributors for fantasy owners behind the likes of Tate, Brown and Pierce above.
Thursday Night Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
- Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Donald Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Adam Vinatieri
- Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson and Kendall Wright
The Titans are third in fantasy against quarterbacks, but Luck is still too promising to sit, especially in prime time. Richardson also cracks the top 25 among running backs despite his dreadful Week 10 performance. They are sixth-worst against running backs, and Richardson is coming off a light workload that can set him up nicely for this division game. Brown, Hilton and Fleener are starts because they are Luck's primary weapons.
Despite being in the top 10 against running backs, the Colts are seventh-worst against the run, so CJ2k remains a must-start coming off his own disappointing week. Wright is more of a PPR play, but the Colts have allowed the eighth-most points to fantasy receivers.
- Indianapolis Colts: Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill and Colts D/ST
- Tennessee Titans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Shonn Greene, Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter, Damian Williams, Delanie Walker, Rob Bironas and Titans D/ST
The Titans are the best team in fantasy against wide receivers, so the Colts' fringe options are tough to trust. Also, the Colts defense blew it at home for fantasy owners last week and has to be cut.
The sits for Tennessee are not matchup-based as much as they just aren't consistent scorers. You might consider Walker coming off his past performance, but the Colts have allowed the second-fewest receptions to tight ends and just one touchdown. This is a bad matchup to trust Walker in.
Roster Trends Review
We break down the top 50 moves on the waiver wire in fantasy Week 10, using CBS Sports leagues as a guide.
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Case Keenum is the best add, statistically speaking, but Carson Palmer is the sleeper streaming play of the week at Jacksonville. The Jags are coming off their first victory, but the Cards are hot and Palmer is capable of posting a 350-yard, three-touchdown week, particularly if the Jags show as much spunk offensively as they did a week ago. The Jags also happen to be the third-worst team in fantasy against quarterbacks.
Fantasy footballers have it all wrong. It is Brian Leonard who should have been the No. 1 add over Bobby Rainey. They apparently didn't watch Monday Night Football. Leonard was in the game running strong early. It was Rainey who merely spelled him. Also, Mark Ingram is the third fiddle in New Orleans and facing a tough 49ers defense this week. Pierce and his potential to overtake the hobbling Rice is the most intriguing fantasy sleeper at the position right now.
Here is another case of overrating last week's fantasy total and ignoring the game within the game we play. Rishard Matthews was Ryan Tannehill's go-to man Monday night, reeling in 11 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted 14 times, which is just one less than the total snaps Tavon Austin played on offense, according to ESPN's Nick Wagoner. As much as fantasy football is about talent, it is more about opportunity. Matthews should have been the add over Austin.
John Carlson and Delanie Walker have better numbers, but Rob Housler is the sleeper that truly intrigues down the stretch. Housler's numbers were not good until the first touchdown of his career Sunday, but he is the talent who can become one of the steady starters at the position in fantasy. Carlson and Walker are circumstantial performers. We could get another big week out of Housler facing the Jags, the third-worst team in fantasy versus tight ends.
This is a position fantasy got right Tuesday night. The Jets, Texans and Cardinals—albeit not necessarily in that order—are the three best streaming options off waivers in standard leagues. We would lean on the Cards again here, but the Jets vs. Buffalo or the Texans vs. Oakland are solid fallback options, too.
Nick Folk went into the bye week as the second-highest-scoring kicker. He comes out of it owned in just 41 percent of leagues. He warrants starting in all leagues down the stretch. Ryan Succop is not a bad consolation prize if you are making a final move at this position. Don't agonize over your kicker's matchup week to week. Pick up one of these guys and forget about it.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.