Go ahead and throw a penny, a dart, a stone, or anything really in any direction, and you’re bound to hit an injured NFL running back.
Yes it appears to be a very grim week for fantasy football owners. Injury reports around the league listed top rushing stars like Chicago’s Matt Forte, the Jets’ Chris Ivory, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, Philadelphia’s DeMarco Murray, Miami’s Lamar Miller, and Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy as questionable at some point in the buildup to Week 3.
There’s a good chance at least half of those top fantasy producers make it to the field this week, but owners will need some options from their bench or even a late waiver or free agent pickup as insurance before setting lineups.
Let’s delve into which running backs owners should think about starting, and those that they may deserve to stay on the bench in Week 3. Below are four to start and four to sit.
Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
The veteran totaled 104 yards from scrimmage last week, and next stares down a Vikings defense that has struggled in the early going, ranking No. 25 with 268 rushing yards. Woodhead’s played very well in tandem with rookie Melvin Gordon, who has allowed him to play to his strength as a pass-catching back rather than splitting tackles at the line. In PPR leagues, Woodhead’s a "must start."
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
The Browns have the poorest run defense in the league with 320 yards allowed through two games, and Murray’s the kind of back who can exploit Cleveland’s weak spot all game. He scored his first touchdown of the season against a much better Baltimore defense, and no other Raider back has taken any carries away from Murray. Of Oakland’s 35 rushing attempts, 26 belong to Murray.
Lance Dunbar, Dallas Cowboys
Might seem risky with Brandon Weeden now starting, but a speedy and elusive back who’s capable of running short and deep routes is just the kind of security blanket Weeden needs. Dallas’ opponent this week, Atlanta, is playing very well against the run with only 160 total yards let up in two games. But Joseph Randle will take those hits, while Dunbar should coast in PPR-league formats.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Crowell showed in Week 1 against the Jets that he’ll struggle against the league’s top defenses, especially if the Browns fall so far behind. But in Week 2 he came up with 72 yards and a touchdown against a weaker Titans defense. This week he draws an Oakland rushing defense surrendering 4.2 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Ingram’s been highly effective as New Orleans’ pass catching back, but as a traditional rusher he’s averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. And that was with quarterback Drew Brees for the first two games of the season. Next up is Luke McCown in place of Brees, and a Carolina defense ranked No. 5 against the run with only one rushing touchdown scored against them. The Panthers also have the No. 8 rushing offense, and could leave Ingram on the sidelines for very long stretches.
James Starks, Green Bay Packers
Starks soared up the waiver wire this week, but Lacy returned to practice in a limited fashion on Friday which means he might play. Owners would be right to start Starks as a FLEX1 or FLEX1 under the assumption that Lacy won’t be 100 percent. However, the Packers face a Chiefs defense that’s punished running backs for 3.7 yards per carry and has yet to allow touchdown. Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers are far more likely to exploit the Chiefs No. 22 pass defense.
Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears
Forte’s been a limited participant in practice all week, but his status was elevated to probable for Sunday’s trip to Seattle. The Seahawks just got back linebacker Kam Chancellor, which would spell trouble for any running back, even Forte. Langford’s a power back who could come in and take a few snaps to lighten Forte’s load to avoid injury, but against a rejuvenated Seahawks his production will be slim to none.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Much like Seattle rookie Tyler Lockett in Week 1, Johnson’s value increased with his incredible special teams play against Chicago last week and he could be a fantasy stud in the weeks to come. But Chris Johnson should still get the bulk of the carries against the 49ers, and owners shouldn’t bank on Johnson returning another kickoff 108 yards. But down the line he could be Arizona’s answer for the oft-injured Andre Ellington.