Around Fantasyland: Running backs

William Del Pilar
May 31, 2012
Chargers RB Mathews suffers broken clavicle

During the offseason you often hear what we call "coach-speak" — when a coach or player raves the positives about someone coming back from injury or rookies potentially making an impact. Determining which statements are actually true is key to making the correct value pick. If you monitor the offseason news, you will have an easier time figuring out what is true and what is "coach-speak."

Remember history
Chargers head coach Norv Turner continues to talk up Ryan Mathews and said he can lead the league in rushing this year. Without a clear-cut No. 2 back to help carry the load, it's possible, which would make Mathews worthy of being a first-round pick. Remember, featured backs are a rarity now, and Turner has made elite fantasy stars out of Emmitt Smith, Terry Allen, Ricky Williams, LaMont Jordan, Frank Gore and LaDainian Tomlinson. Sure, some were already elite, but in a Turner offense as the bell cow, 1,000-plus yards and double digit touchdowns are the norm.

Looking good
The Titans have nothing but positive comments about Chris Johnson, who has been a regular in the team’s early OTAs. The fact that he would lose $250,000 by not participating didn’t hurt, but the team is stating he looks like he’s added upper-body weight and looks strong. CJ2K has to prove he can be consistent, but also prove he can produce against strong defenses after amassing solid second-half numbers against poor stop units. He remains a No. 1 fantasy back, but not elite.

Time to carry the load
According to Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times, Raiders RB Darren McFadden has been impressive and shows no sign of the Lisfranc injury that ended his 2011 season. Michael Bush is now a Bear and the drop-off in talent after him means McFadden will need to carry the load. He has yet to play a full season and has missed 12 games in the last two seasons and 19 in his four-year career. At 25 years old this season, he should be entering the prime of his career and could finally be ready to bear the physical pounding that goes along with being a featured back. If he can, he’s a steal after the third round in a typical 12-team league.

Two miracles in one season?
Many believe the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson will be ready and productive to return from his ACL, MCL and meniscus injury, and now Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall is saying he won’t rule out his possible return by Week One. With soreness and swelling in the knee, he’s working on the side during OTAs. There is no time frame for his return and outside being a late-round gamble, he has minimal fantasy value right now.

Does it matter?
The Patriots have had second-year player Shane Vereen working with the first-team during OTAs, but at this point it doesn’t mean much. The team is hoping both he and Stevan Ridley improve well enough to handle most of the carries with Ridley working the inside and Vereen the perimeter. Ridley is the early favorite to grab as a low-end No. 2 with Vereen as an early late-round flier after a nearly invisible rookie season.

Third-down back and fighting the Turk
The last line of defense to protect the quarterback from the blitz is the third-down back and that was the reason the Browns gave Brandon Jackson $4.5 million for two years, including a $1 million signing bonus. Brad Childress pulled Adrian Peterson — who has lackluster hands — out of games on passing plays and that could happen to rookie Trent Richardson. As good as Richardson is, Jackson can also help keep him fresh all season, as "hitting the rookie wall" is a real issue for many players. Jackson is the third-down back and Montario Hardesty is listed as the primary backup, which means Chris Ogbonnaya could be on the bubble. Regardless, outside Richardson, no Browns back has any fantasy value until we see them during the preseason. 

Battling the Turk
This is the first season Knowshon Moreno knows his roster spot with the Broncos is not secure. Injury-prone and not very good, Moreno is fighting for a roster spot as the No. 3 back right now. With Willis McGahee entrenched as the starter and rookie Ronnie Hillman being seen as the No. 2, Moreno will battle Lance Ball and Mario Fannin. While a long shot to make the team right now, Moreno’s skills are a great fit in the offense that is being built around QB Peyton Manning. The problem is he has not shown he can play the pro game. He currently has no fantasy value.

Quick hits

  • Excited to return to a "three yards and a cloud of dust" philosophy, Rich Cimini of ESPN New York wrote that Shonn Greene looked lighter and had extra pep during OTAs. Due $615,000 in salary in 2012, he’s playing for a contract and looks like a No. 2 fantasy back with upside.
  • The Bears envision Michael Bush playing the same role he did in Oakland, where he was the change-of-pace and complementary back. Bush is a flexy, bye-week or injury fill-in.
  • If you draft Willis McGahee, you still have the option of taking Ronnie Hillman in hopes that he can become an injury and bye-week fill-in. He’s impressed the team catching the ball and will be immediately involved in the rushing attack.  
  • Don’t expect much fantasy production from Panthers FB Mike Tolbert, who has been focusing on fullback duties — unlike the dual role of fullback and ball carrier that he played in San Diego. Barring injury to Jonathan Stewart or DeAngelo Williams, Tolbert has no fantasy value.

Injury updates

  • The Chiefs aren’t worried about Jamaal Charles (ACL tear) and expect him to be 100 percent, but he will share time with Peyton Hillis. That makes him a No. 2 with No. 1 upside and Hillis a flex, bye-week and injury fill-in.
  • Since being medically cleared in February, there have been no setbacks for Fred Jackson and his fractured fibula. He will share time with C.J. Spiller, making him a No. 2 fantasy back this year and Spiller a flex, bye-week and injury fill-in.
  • The Colts’ Delone Carter has not practiced after thumb surgery, but assume he will be ready by training camp. Entering as Donald Brown’s backup, his smash-mouth style seems a better fit than making him an early late-round flier pick.
  • Last season the Broncos lost Mario Fannin to a torn ACL, but the second-year player (5-11, 224 pounds) will have the opportunity in camp to carve a role out for himself. Right now, he has no fantasy value while battling for the No. 3 role.
  • The Dolphins expect RB Lamar Miller (shoulder) to be ready by training camp after December surgery, but he’s a gadget player right now with his role to be defined. That means there is no fantasy value right now.

Follow William Del Pilar on Twitter