Fantasy Football Week 6: Injured RB Replacements to Know

Finally, some hot backup running back action! See what we think Green, Ballard, and Stephens-Howling will do the next couple weeks.

One of the unlucky souls to have Cedric Benson, Ryan Williams, or Donald Brown on your team? First of all, this has probably not been a fun season for you, and second of all, my condolences to your fantasy team. But it doesn't have to be all bad. With these three spending a bit of time on the bench the next couple weeks due to injury, it opens the door for some new faces to step in and start. Some new, slightly damaged, not too attractive faces.

Vick Ballard, Alex Green, and La'Rod Stephens-Howling have some things in common. All three are young players; Stephens-Howling is the oldest at 25 years old. All three are small; Alex Green is the tallest at six feet even, while Ballard is 5'10" and Stephens-Howling is a Sproles-esque 5'7". And perhaps most importantly, all three have very little starting NFL experience; Stephens-Howling had 93 yards on 21 carries in week 17 last year for the Cardinals, and that's it for the group. But is their ability to help your fantasy team similar as well? I decided to find out using numberFire's advanced analytics and projections system.

The RB Injury Bug

La'Rod Stephens-Howling - Arizona Cardinals
Week 6 Projected Points: 7.66 (#26 RB)
Next 3 Weeks Average Projected Score: 6.00 Next three opponents: BUF, MIN, SF

The main question coming out of Arizona is, "What will that timeshare be?" The simple answer is that, right now, we don't know. But I've never caved to a simple answer. A more in-depth look reveals that Stephens-Howling will likely be the only Arizona back relevant for fantasy purposes.

I don't buy the argument that the Cardinals don't trust La'Rod Stephens-Howling (LSH for short) as the primary back; in week 17 against the Seahawks last season, LSH ran the ball 21 times. The next closest non-QB (John Skelton had five scrambles) was Chester Taylor, who had a grand total of... three carries. In total, LSH had 81% of Arizona's carries in that game, indicating that, yes, Ken Whisenhut may indeed trust the 5'7" man to be the primary back after all. If there is any indication from this season about the timeshare, it comes from the past three Arizona games. In week 3, the last game LSH was healthy, Powell did not receive a single carry; LSH had eight. Since then, with Wells and LSH both out injured, Powell has had to take an increased role as Williams' timeshare buddy. And in those past two games, Powell has had a whopping total of three rushes. Last week, even with Williams' injury, he had one. And the argument that the Cardinals trust him comes from where, exactly? It's certainly not the official team depth chart, which has LSH as the starter as of this writing.

As for whether LSH will be effective, that's a much more difficult question to answer. His last game saw him net -14 rushing yards on eight attempts, but that was against an Eagles team that numberFire has ranked as the #4 opponent-adjusted unit in the league. This week, however, the Cardinals play the defensively-hopeless Bills, but even then numberFire does not expect too much. LSH has banked -3.86 Net Expected Points (NEP) for the Cardinals, meaning that they have lost 3.86 points of value in LSH's three games on plays where he has touched the ball. Even worse, in his 12 rushes, LSH has averaged -0.45 NEP per rush. That average is fourth-worst among all NFL backs with at least 10 rushes this season. Only Kahlil Bell, Fred Jackson, and (foreshadowing!) Vick Ballard have done worse.

Vick Ballard - Indianapolis Colts
Week 6 Projected Points: 8.12 (#25 RB)
Next 3 Weeks Average Projected Score: 8.47 Next three opponents: NYJ, CLE, TEN

In speaking of which, what about that Vick Ballard guy? A 2012 fifth-round draft pick out of Mississippi State, Ballard now steps into the starting role in Indianapolis. Or should I say based on his past performance, falls face first into the ground, which just happens to have a starting role waiting for him.

In 21 rushes so far this season, Vick Ballard has managed to lose his team over 10 NEP when carrying the ball. That's impressive, in a bad way. Even worse is his NEP per rush rating: at -0.48, it is the single worst NEP per rush of any running back with at least ten carries so far this season. Only two of his 21 rushes can be considered "successes", meaning that his rush helped increase his team's expected score output at the end of the drive. And that 9.5% success rate is the worst in the league too; Ballard's the only player with at least ten rushes and a single-digit success rate. Donald Brown wasn't much better - he averaged -0.16 NEP per rush this season with a surprisingly solid 36% success rate - but Ballard is clearly a step down based on production this season.

If you're looking to pick him up, the only thing you have in your favor is the upcoming schedule. The Jets have allowed backs free reign through their front seven so far this season; just look at Arian Foster last week. The Browns have done decently well stopping the run, but Browns-Colts also figures to be a tightly-contested ballgame that should allow Ballard more rush opportunities. And the Titans are likely the best matchup of the three, judging by their position as the #29 opponent-adjusted defense on numberFire's rankings.

Alex Green - Green Bay Packers
Week 6 Projected Points: 6.40 (#27 RB)
Next 3 Weeks Average Projected Score: 6.69 Next three opponents: HOU, STL, JAX

Alex Green turned some heads last week against the Colts. OK, maybe he didn't exactly turn those heads, but they happened to notice him in a sideways glance. 55 yards on nine carries is nothing to sneeze at, even if it did come against numberFire's #25 opponent-adjusted defense. Green's overall NEP per rush rating isn't that great at -0.22 in his 11 rushes so far this season, and only two of his 11 rushes were considered successful (an 18.2% success rate). Then again, though, Cedric Benson also had an NEP rating at -0.22, and his success rate wasn't much better at 29.6%. Green might not be a step up, but he's likely a step sideways rather than down from Benson.

However, if you're looking to pick up Green, be aware that the next couple of weeks are absolutely brutal. This week, the Packers take on the league's #1 opponent-adjusted defense in Houston. Especially considering the Texans' 5-0 record, I'd expect to see a lot more of Aaron Rodgers and a lot less of Green this week. Following that, the Packers take on the Rams, also known as that team that has allowed a single player (Marshawn Lynch) over 90 yards rushing all season. Green finally gets some relief facing the Jaguars in week 8, but then the Packers go right back to facing the Cardinals then a bye.