Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): I don’t know about you guys, but I still can’t believe DeMarco Murray played last week. The Titans had every reason to sit this guy—Murray’s been battling a bad hamstring all year, they were playing the worst team in football and their bye week was right around the corner. Yet there he was, leading the Titans’ backfield with 21 touches on Sunday. Derrick Henry didn’t show much in that game (13 yards on 13 carries), but he’s been the better back all year and deserved to see a full workload on Sunday.
We saw a similar situation play out in Green Bay with rookie Aaron Jones finally taking the reins from Ty Montgomery after a two-week tug-of-war. Across the league, the Colts are still stubbornly clinging to Frank Gore instead of featuring Marlon Mack while deeply mediocre Lamar Miller continues to work ahead of D’Onta Foreman in Houston. Matt Breida, Wayne Gallman, Elijah McGuire, Samaje Perine and Wendell Smallwood also belong in this discussion as young backs who could flourish under the right circumstances. So, of the handcuffs I just mentioned, and any others I may have forgotten, which ones have the best chance of breaking through and becoming fantasy factors this season?
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): I took a while to get on board because I did not—and still do not, I suppose—know how much the Colts trust Mack, but his usage in the passing game last week was very encouraging. He ran a team-high 26 routes against the Jaguars and saw six targets. Two of those were dropped, but he flashed big-play ability with a 34-yard gain up the sideline on what amounted to a dump-off. If Indy is going to trust him and get him touches in the passing game, Mack has the upside to be a usable fantasy option even if Gore continues to see around 15 touches a game. It is also not inconceivable Mack’s role will expand as a lost season wanders further into the wilderness.
I am also in on Foreman in deeper leagues because he is not a pure handcuff. He has double-digit touches in four of his last five games and has averaged 54 yards from scrimmage during that span. That said, I think the notion of Foreman taking over the starting job from Miller without an injury is more wish-casting than anything. Miller’s snap share has been rock-solid all season, and they trust him in the passing game. Unless there is an injury, I think Miller is going to keep that job, but Foreman could still be useful in deep leagues.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): Mack is certainly the most intriguing. You have to take notice any time a player out-snaps a veteran like Frank Gore. His big-play ability might be the only fun thing the Colts have going for them down the stretch. Smallwood is another one to pay close attention to since he already has some standalone value. With the Eagles’ offensive line issues, who knows. Maybe they’ll have to go more up-tempo/pass-heavy, paving the way for Smallwood to leapfrog LeGarrette Blount. Perine has been atrocious. It’s hard to see his 2017 amounting to much.
C.J. Prosise would be someone to pay attention to if he could stay healthy for more than five minutes. The Raiders sophomore backs, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, were already making a case for more work before Marshawn Lynch got suspended. They could make things really interesting this weekend.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): D’Onta Foreman is my favorite stash here. He’s seeing double-digit touches almost every week in a highly efficient Houston offense and could offer league-winning upside if something happens to Lamar Miller. The Texans also have a cupcake rest-of-season schedule.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I feel like we did a similar roundtable a few weeks ago and nothing has changed for Derrick Henry since then. As long as DeMarco Murray is active, Henry has almost no standalone value week to week. He’s scored double-digit fantasy points just twice in seven games and in both instances, almost all of his production came in the fourth quarter. Henry is still just a stash player no matter how you slice it and I think Tennessee’s offense has underperformed as a whole this season. I had a Twitter follower last week ask if he should trade Henry for Zach Ertz and when I responded with an emphatic yes, the Henry “league winner” hive immediately surfaced. I totally agree that Henry would instantly have top-10 credibility if Murray were to actually miss time, but in the present, how could you turn down an immediate difference-maker like Ertz?
I think Mack has the clearest path to immediate value as a flex play with potential for much more. He’s now been active in just five games and has led the Colts’ backfield in fantasy points in three of them. Mack already has more double-digit scoring games than Joe Mixon, who is still a darling among all. Sure, he’s a boom-or-bust runner, but in an offense that’s starving for big plays, he’s exactly what the Colts need right now. Mack already has three runs of 20 or more yards this season. That’s one fewer than the Colts had as a team last year.
The issue with Mack is what Ray alluded to. Will he get consistent usage on a week-to-week basis? I want to believe the answer is yes given how desperate the Colts are to get anything going on offense and I think he can be a lesser version of Tevin Coleman if everything goes right. But right now, it’s hard to have any faith in this organization making the right decision. I think it’s worth finding out, but I’m still just holding Mack for now.
Pantuosco: I think Alex Collins is someone to consider. Obviously, he’s taken a much different path than the other players we’ve mentioned. He resurfaced as a practice-squad player in Baltimore this summer after a failed stint with the Seahawks and was only promoted to the active roster after Danny Woodhead went down with a hamstring injury. It took a perfect storm of circumstances—he’s been splitting carries with Buck Allen since Terrance West tweaked his calf a few weeks ago—but Collins has quickly asserted himself as Baltimore’s best back.
Collins has yet to find the end zone but he’s been crazy efficient, rushing for a league-leading six yards per carry. Allen continues to be very involved and he’s probably the preferred back on passing downs, but given the great lengths Baltimore has gone to hide its quarterbacks this year, I think there’s enough work in this backfield for both players to maintain standalone value. I expect Collins’ ownership—he’s owned in just 32 percent of Yahoo leagues at the moment—to go way up after his breakout 143-yard game against the Dolphins on Thursday night.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): I am definitely on board with Mack here and I agree that the Indianapolis backfield should tilt more in his favor the longer the Colts continue to sink into a lost season. It definitely doesn’t constitute a buy-low situation, but the price to acquire Mack in keeper/dynasty leagues will only increase as Mack gets a larger share of the work and the closer he gets to running this backfield behind Andrew Luck in 2018. If you’re looking to buy in those type of leagues, this is the time to get moving.
I also agree with Pat on C.J. Prosise, who could make an immediate impact in Seattle’s mediocre running back stew. The guy has missed 12 of 22 games to begin his career, so the odds of this are slim. But he’s still worth monitoring depending on your desperation level at running back.
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