In PFW's late-week fantasy tips for running backs, Fred Jackson's injury makes C.J. Spiller an absolute must-start, while Steven Jackson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Trent Richardson are all strong plays and Danny Woodhead could be a sleeper.
C.J. Spiller’s fantasy owners can feel more comfort in the final weeks of the season, as Spiller should expect 20-30 touches a game with Fred Jackson on injured reserve. Even against a stout Seattle defense, Spiller will get his opportunities. For deep leagues and owners desperate for a back, Tashard Choice will be Spiller’s No. 2. When Spiller went down in Week Three, Choice rushed for 91 yards against Cleveland. Spiller hasn’t gotten touches near the goal line, and Choice could factor in those situations.
Matched up against legitimate league MVP candidate Adrian Peterson this Sunday at home, don’t be surprised if Rams featured back Steven Jackson, as prideful a performer as there is in the game, turns his already high-octane motor up a notch and goes all out in an effort to overpower a Vikings defense that is above average vs. the run but gave up 119 total yards to Bears RB Matt Forté last week (85 rushing, 34 receiving).
Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (437 rushing yards in his last four games) is a solid play in Week 15 at Philadelphia. Green-Ellis has a rush of at least 38 yards in each of the last three weeks. The Eagles are allowing 119.3 yards per game on the ground.
Browns RB Trent Richardson racked up just 42 rushing yards in the Week 14 win vs. Kansas City, but he scored twice, and he had another score taken away on a pass interference penalty. Richardson has scored at least one TD in each of the last three weeks for an improving Cleveland offense, and his 10 total TDs are tied for second-most in the AFC. He’s a very solid every-week start, even if his yards per carry average (3.5) is lowest among the conference’s top 10 rushers.
The Cardinals have allowed 634 rushing yards in the last three weeks, which makes Lions RB Mikel Leshoure an interesting RB or flex start. Joique Bell could also appeal as a flex play in bigger leagues. Leshoure has slightly more value because of his goal-line work.
By now, your patience and trust in Titans RB Chris Johnson is likely maxed out, but the once-2,000-yard rusher could be ready for one last uptick at the most important juncture of fantasy seasons. Johnson has a tasty Week 15 matchup against the Jets’ 29th-ranked run defense. The Titans are out of the playoff discussion, but Johnson needs a strong finish to give team brass as many reasons possible to ensure his $9 million 2013 roster bonus is picked up in March.
Everyone is curious to see how the Patriots’ offense fares on Sunday night vs. the 49ers, one of the league’s top defenses. One player who may benefit is RB Danny Woodhead. In crucial games over the past three seasons against good defenses, the Pats and Tom Brady tend to look to Woodhead as a change-of-pace back, through the screen game or on the ground. Stevan Ridley is still a fantasy starter, but owners in deeper leagues — especially of the PPR variety — should consider Woodhead.
Ryan Mathews has fallen well short of fantasy expectations, and while he has a good matchup, on paper, in Week 15 vs. Carolina, there are still some things going against Mathews. The Panthers’ defense did halt Atlanta’s rushing attack in Week 14, and should Carolina jump out to an early lead, like it did vs. the Falcons, the Chargers will be throwing it more. And San Diego brought back RB Curtis Brinkley, who, if active, could be a goal-line vulture, and Mathews has enough of those with Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle.
With Donald Brown done for the season and third-stringer Delone Carter missing practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury, the Colts could have to lean on rookie Vick Ballard even more than usual against the Texans Sunday. Houston has a stout run defense, having surrendered 100 or more yards on the ground just four times this season, but the Texans were gashed by the Patriots for 130 rushing yards in Week 14. Ballard is a strong flex play this week.
It would make sense for the Giants to sit ailing RB Ahmad Bradshaw Sunday against the Falcons, so you too should be prepared with a Plan B. David Wilson, who broke out last week, would get the lion’s share of the carries in his stead.
One of the few positives to emerge in Houston’s lopsided loss to the Patriots on “Monday Night Football” was the solid work in garbage time from third-string RB Ben Tate. After missing more than a month with a hamstring injury, Tate was passed by on the depth chart by sparkplug Justin Forsett. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Tate go back to being Arian Foster’s primary backup following his eight-carry, 46-yard showing in Foxborough. To wit: both Tate and Forsett could have added value in the final few weeks, depending on how much head coach Gary Kubiak wants to rest Foster prior to the postseason. Sunday might be more of a wait-and-see proposition, but keep an eye on the work distribution for a possible hint at how the backs will be deployed against the Vikings in Week 16.
Bears RB Michael Bush played only two snaps in Week 14 after aggravating an injury to his ribs and the injury is still bothering him. Aside from a two-TD game against the Vikings in Week 12, Bush has not offered fantasy owners much production of late. We don’t expect that to change against the Packers this week if he is able to play. There is always a chance Bush could score a TD or two because he gets the call in goal-line situations, but we recommend benching him in most formats.
Owners with RB Jonathan Stewart on the roster should look elsewhere for running-back help this week. Stewart has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain and he did not return to practice Wednesday. He would have a tough matchup — the Chargers’ run defense ranks fourth in the league — even if he made a surprising recovery and played Sunday.
LeSean McCoy won’t play against the Bengals on Thursday