It's put up or shut up time for fantasy owners as they make their final pushes toward the postseason. Many backfields have been decimated by injuries, which makes patrolling the waiver wire essential for success.
Adrian Peterson’s high ankle sprain kept him out for Week 12, and he is unlikely to return in Week 13. On the plus side, the injury is of the grade one (least severe) variety, meaning fantasy owners have a good chance of getting him back for the playoff weeks.
Owners of Darren McFadden (foot) and Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) might also be forced to go another week without their fantasy studs, but there are likely numerous options on the waiver wire that could fill the void in the short term.
This week, we profile a few RBs that could provide adequate numbers if you are in need of an injury replacement or bye week fill-in.
Next to each player is his team’s remaining schedule through Week 16. In bold are the favorable matchups against the 10 worst defenses that allow the most fantasy points to opposing RBs.
In italics are matchups with the top 10 run defenses allowing the least fantasy points to opposing RBs.
Toby Gerhart: (versus DEN, @DET, versus NO, @WAS)
The 2010 second round pick from Stanford got the start in Week 12 and had a modest day against Atlanta’s stout run defense.
Gerhart rushed 17 times for 44 yards (subpar 2.6 YPC) with a TD and added two catches for 19 yards. Adrian Peterson is questionable at best to return for the Week 13 meeting with Denver, so Gerhart could garner another start.
The 6’, 231-pound Gerhart runs more like a fullback but is averaging a serviceable 4.0 YPC on 41 carries this season.
Minnesota’s offensive line has been less than impressive this season, and Gerhart lacks the playmaking ability to get more than what is blocked, leaving him as more of a flex play when the matchup is favorable.
Which is the case in Week 13 against Denver’s 19th-ranked run defense (120 YPG).
CJ Spiller: (versus TEN, @SD, versus MIA, versus DEN)
With Fred Jackson ruled out for the season with a broken leg, Spiller got the start and dominated the workload against the Jets in Week 12.
Spiller rushed 19 times for 55 yards and caught three passes for 15 yards in the Bills’ Week 12 loss to the Jets.
Head coach Chan Gailey praised Spiller’s pass protection, and he appears locked in as the workhorse for Buffalo despite the presence of Tashard Choice and Johnny White (each got only one carry in Week 12).
Spiller’s big play ability intrigued the Bills to take him as the first RB off the board in 2010 (ninth overall). He averaged 182 offensive touches, 1,242 total yards and 11 touchdowns per year at Clemson but was a non-factor in his rookie NFL season.
In 2010, Spiller had only 98 touches for 440 yards and one touchdown. A foot injury force him to miss two games, and the rookie topped 10 or more carries only three times (he never topped 50 yards in a single game).
In Week 13, the Bills face a Titans run defense that has been below average (22nd in yardage allowed at 124 YPG).
Spiller’s dual threat ability makes him an intriguing lower end RB2 option, especially in PPR leagues.
Donald Brown: (@NE, @BAL, versus TEN, versus HOU)
When the Colts announced Joseph Addai would get the start in Week 12, I made the mistake of removing Donnie Brown despite the juicy matchup against Carolina (which cost me a playoff birth).
Donald Brown rushed 14 times for 80 yards with a touchdown and added one catch for 17 yards in Sunday’s loss to Carolina.
Over the past four weeks, Brown has 54 carries for 236 yards (4.4 YPC).
The oft injured (missed eight games in 2009-2010) 2009 first round pick could finally be proving his worth and should be started in leagues. He’s likely to lead the Colts' backfield for the remainder of the season.
In Week 13, the Colts face the Pats' 12th-ranked run defense (102 YPG).
Brown faces a much stiffer test this week, but his pass-catching ability should keep him in the backfield as Indy will be forced to pass early and often.
Maurice Morris: (@NO, versus MIN, @OAK, versus SD)
Javhid Best’s concussion problems have knocked him out for the year, and last week’s waiver wire darling, Kevin Smith, suffered an ankle sprain that has him questionable for Week 13.
Smith has returned to practice but is no sure thing to start on Sunday night. In four starts this season, Morris averaged 10 carries for 45 yards with one touchdown but only five catches for 34 yards.
In Week 12, Morris filled in for Kevin Smith (injured in the first quarter) and finished with seven carries for 39 yards and nine catches for 81 yards in a loss to Green Bay.
In Week 13, Detroit will again be forced to pass early and often to keep up with the high-flying Saints, making Morris a solid flex option.
New Orleans' run defense ranks 17th (117 YPG), and they have allowed eight rushing TDs in 11 games.
Kendall Hunter: (versus STL, @ARZ, versus PIT, @SEA)
We've profiled Hunter for the past few weeks, and he remains one of the best handcuffs to own. Especially considering Frank Gore’s injury history (missed 10 games over the last four seasons).
Through 11 games in a limited role, Hunter has 69 carries for 298 yards (solid 4.3 YPC). He is a dual threat, much like Gore, and could be a solid start if and when Gore misses a game or two.
We had Hunter ranked as the No. 10 rookie RB, but he’s climbing the charts as one of the best RBs from the 2011 draft class.
Stash Hunter, as the 49ers could very well clinch the NFC West in the next few weeks and could decide to rest Gore if he’s not 100 percent.
Shane Vereen: (versus IND, @WAS, @DEN, MIA)
This is more of a dynasty league option, but it could also pay off down the stretch this season.
The rookie from Cal has all 15 of his carries over the past two weeks and could see an increased role in the final weeks of the season if the Pats lock up a playoff spot.
Vereen is a solid receiver and is a strong cut-back runner with surprising speed. BJGE is a free agent after this season, and one of the rookies (Vereen or Ridley) could very well be starting for New England in Week 1 of the 2012 season.
In Week 13, the Pats host the winless Colts and will likely have the starters on the bench in the second half.
Which means Vereen could very well surprise in garbage time against an Indy defense that ranks 31st against the run (151 YPG).
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