Fantasy Football: What's Next for Week 11's Breakout RBs?
There are a lot of adjectives that can be used to describe the running back position in fantasy football in 2013.
Train wreck is good.
Dumpster fire works.
Craptastic isn't even a word, but it sums things up.
From Ray Rice to Arian Foster to Trent Richardson, the running back spot has been a menagerie of injuries and busts. For every ball-carrier who has met expectations, two have face-planted.
In Week 11, fantasy owners received a reprieve of sorts, as a handful of backs came from nowhere to post big numbers.
Was this a one week anomaly, or was this the start of a rebound in the backfield?
Let's take a look.
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Granted, Bobby Rainey's performance in relief of an injured Mike James two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins was solid, but no one expected Rainey to finish Week 11 as the top fantasy option at his position.
After all, Rainey is on his third team this year.
Apparently the third time is the charm for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' third different starter at running back in 2013. The second-year pro went absolutely ballistic against the Atlanta Falcons, rushing for 163 yards and scoring three total touchdowns.
That huge game has made Rainey the hot waiver pickup this week, with teams everywhere scrambling to make the add they hope will put them over the top and into the playoffs.
Granted, given how this year has progressed, any running back with a pulse is worth a roster spot. However, it's important to keep in mind three things with Rainey (might as well just give in to the theme).
First, for all the talk about how well he played, let's remember that it was against an Atlanta team that is currently doing whatever comes after imploding.
Second, the Buccaneers had a big lead in that game (that looks weird spelled out). Should the 2-8 Buccaneers fall behind in a game (impossible it ain't), Rainey will likely lose snaps to passing-down back Brian Leonard.
Third, for what it's worth, Tampa's fantasy schedule from Weeks 11-16 isn't especially favorable. According to FFToolbox.com, the Buccaneers have the eighth-worst fantasy schedule for running backs over that span.
Pick him up but don't be surprised if in two weeks many people are complaining about how Rainey "ruined their season."
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
There may be room for some skepticism where Bobby Rainey is concerned, but with Shane Vereen of the New England Patriots it's all about optimism, in least in fantasy football leagues that award a point for receptions.
It's the same optimism that Vereen entered the season surrounded by, but a big Week 1 was followed by a broken wrist and a trip to short-term injured reserve.
Vereen made his return in Sunday night's loss to the Carolina Panthers, and there was plenty to like in the third-year pro's eight catches and 72 total yards.
In a game where Vereen was supposedly going to be eased in, he played 34 snaps. That was more than LeGarrette Blount or Stevan Ridley, who lost his third fumble of the season. Tom Brady targeted Vereen in the passing game early and often.
In other words, Vereen has returned to the RB2 status he had entering the season almost instantly, with more than a little upside if Ridley keeps putting the ball on the turf.
Bill Belichick really doesn't like that.
Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
You may want to sit down, because I have something shocking to tell you.
Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden is hurt.
I know. It's a stunner.
The question now is whether McFadden will start if/when he does get healthy.
That's because backup Rashad Jennings just staked his claim for the job, exploding for 150 yards on the ground in last week's win over the Houston Texans. The fifth-year pro's performance included an 80-yard scoring scamper, and it was the second time in three games Jennings topped 100 rushing yards.
This is also the second time in three seasons that Jennings has averaged over five yards a carry, and that combined with a favorable fantasy schedule down the stretch gives Jennings more than a little fantasy shine.
It's possible this gravy train could be derailed by a McFadden return. However, Steve Corkran of The Contra Costa Times reports that head coach Dennis Allen is "unsure" how McFadden's rehab is progressing.
That's coachspeak for either "he's still hurt," or "Darren who?." Either way, it looks like Jennings will be the starter in Oakland (and a viable fantasy RB2) for the foreseeable future.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
Back when the Indianapolis Colts acquired running back Trent Richardson, fantasy owners were stoked. Now that the second-year pro was on a good team, Richardson's low yards-per-carry average would surely climb.
Or not. In eight games with the Colts, Richardson has topped three yards a tote twice.
Now, those same fantasy owners are calling for the Colts to ride the hot hand at running back in Donald Brown.
It's not hard to see why. Brown has vastly outperformed Richardson on a per-touch basis. That includes last week's win over the Tennessee Titans, where Brown posted 94 total yards and a touchdown.
The biggest issue with Brown is that even should he assume lead-back duties, the timeshare isn't going away. Unless Plodderson gets hurt, he's going to get touches, including goal-line carries.
That leaves Brown as a dicey second running back, and even as a "flex" option, he's apt to be high variance at a point in the season where most teams can least afford it.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
The fact that Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, who was drafted as a top-five fantasy pick in some leagues, is even on this list is a testimonial to how badly his 2013 season has gone.
Entering Week 11, Rice ranked well outside the top 25 fantasy options at his position this year. The 26-year-old hadn't cracked 75 yards on the ground in a game this season.
Then Rice gained 131 yards and scored a touchdown in last week's loss to the Chicago Bears, and his fantasy owners breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe Rice was finally getting untracked and at the perfect time of year to boot.
That's a possibility. However, it's far more likely that Week 11 was a one-shot deal. For starters, Rice's "big game" came in horrific conditions at Soldier Field, against a Chicago defense that ranks 31st in the NFL in run defense this year.
Even after Rice's big game, the sixth-year veteran is averaging all of three yards a pop on his 140 carries this year.
This week, the Ravens draw the New York Jets and their NFL-best run defense.
Unfortunately, that probably means a return to the "bust" list for Rice.
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