With one cut up field, Kansas Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles simultaneously put his team’s and fantasy football owners’ chances of making the postseason in doubt.
The 28-year-old’s right knee buckled without contact and he crumpled to the ground in Kansas City’s 18-17 loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 5. Charles underwent an MRI on Monday and the injury was confirmed as a tear but he didn’t sustain damage to other ligaments, according to ESPN. The fact that the Pro Bowler Charles, who leads the Chiefs with 364 rushing yards and four touchdowns, didn’t completely tear up his knee is a good long-term sign for Kansas City as he's one of the best backs in the NFL when healthy.
But in the short-term, fantasy football owners are left scrambling for a replacement at the point of the season when the flesh has usually been picked from the waiver wire’s bones.
Yet, this season, with so many typically elite running backs floundering production wise, many back-ups and rookies have shined and should continue to do so this season. The Chiefs are likely to turn to second-year back Charcandrick West and are also working out free agent veterans Pierre Thomas and Ben Tate, but for fantasy owners it’s too soon to weigh in on West. Meanwhile, Tate and Thomas are both past their primes.
Instead, take a look at our five running backs who could be available in your league as short and long-term replacements for Charles.
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks
OK, Marshawn Lynch is expected to return in Week 6’s matchup against Carolina after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury, which typically would completely deflate the rookie Rawls’ fantasy value and production. But this is the same back who ripped off two 100-plus yard games over the last three weeks behind an inexperienced and struggling Seattle offensive line and head coach Pete Carroll reiterated to The Seattle Times how regularly he cycles Lynch in and out of the lineup and that Rawls could garner 10 carries this week. It’s a miniscule amount but if he flies against a Panthers D allowing an average of 19 fantasy points a week to opposing running backs, the Seahawks won’t risk Lynch re-injuring that hamstring and Rawls could get more touches. Currently, Rawls is owned in just 51 percent of Yahoo and 50.2 percent of ESPN leagues.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
As the No. 2 back in the league’s No. 2 rushing attack, Johnson’s only garnered 18 attempts but he’s gained 5.1 yards a carry and he actually leads Arizona with three rushing scores. In PPR leagues he could be invaluable with nine receptions for 137 yards and two scores, and if your league counts return yardage Johnson’s worth even more. Johnson’s owned in just 42 percent of Yahoo and 53.4 percent of ESPN leagues.
Shane Vereen, New York Giants
Injuries to Odell Beckham Jr., Rueben Randle, and Victor Cruz potentially leave the Giants receiving corps in shambles, but Vereen’s the kind of versatile back that head coach Tom Coughlin said he’s never had on his team before. Owned in just 53 percent of Yahoo and 61.1 percent of ESPN leagues, the former Patriot isn’t a traditional between-the-tackles runner, even though he is averaging 4.0 yards per carry. But Vereen is fourth on the Giants with 24 targets, catching 20 for 208 yards and one touchdown, numbers that should rise if Beckham or Randle are out at any point this season. If you’re in a standard, non-PPR league Vereen isn’t for your squad, but otherwise he’s a must add for your FLEX or RB2.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
Star Lions receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate have combined for 58 receptions, but only one has resulted in a touchdown through five games. Instead, Riddick’s accounted for 36 targets and 228 receiving yards with two scores, and 28 of those targets have come in the last three games. He’s in the same mold as Vereen, a pass-catching back who should benefit from a struggling group of receivers. Of this group, Riddick’s the one most likely to be available with 20 percent ownership in Yahoo and 21.1 percent in ESPN leagues.
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
No Sproles isn’t what he used to be and no one can get a handle on what the Eagles will do on offense from week to week, but based off Philadelphia’s next five games Sproles could bust out some big numbers for potential fantasy owners. The Eagles next face the Giants, who surrender 17.4 points per game to opposing running backs, followed by at Carolina (19 ppg), then take their bye and come back at Dallas (23.4 ppg, third-worst in the NFL), with Miami (19.5 ppg) next, and then Tampa Bay (16.6 ppg).
There’s obviously a logjam in Philly’s backfield with DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews ahead of Sproles, but in deep 12 or 14-team leagues he’s worth a risk if you have a roster spot available. At this point Sproles is a FLEX2 or RB3 but could move up your lineup. He’s owned in 47 percent of Yahoo and 61.7 percent of ESPN leagues.