Are These 4 NFL Backup RBs Worth the Fantasy Start in Week 1?
If non-Bill Gramatica kickers are at one end of the potential injury scale, then running backs are at the exact opposite end. If you don't believe me, take a look at the injury chart. Entering week 1, eight of the league's 32 projected starting running backs were nicked up enough to be on the injury report in some fashion. Some of these guys, like Ahmad Bradshaw and DeMarco Murray who were both listed as probable last night, will go out there and be just fine. Others, like the injured backs in this article, might need a little TLC before they're able to take the wear and tear of the NFL schedule. That's where the second-stringers swoop in to the rescue.
OK, maybe "swoop" is a bad choice of words. In actuality, these second-stringers are more likely to trip over their own shoelaces. Not a single replacement RB is in the top 20 at his position according to our current week 1 projections. But can they provide any value whatsoever, even at a flex position? Let's break each of them down.
Toby Gerhart - Minnesota Vikings
Replacing: Adrian Peterson
Week 1 Projected Stats: 10.27 carries, 44.34 rushing yards, 0.23 rush TDs, 2.93 receptions, 23.66 receiving yards, 0.13 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 8.83 (#24 Ranked RB)
Minnesota Vikings fans may be hoping (read: desperately pleading) for big things from Toby Gerhart while AP is still in recovery-mode, but for fantasy owners, there's no reason to force yourself to join the chanting. Peterson straight up told his coaches he plans to be on the field Sunday. While he had some injury troubles in college and in his rookie season, most of them had seemed to be behind him before this last injury; AP only missed one game in three seasons between 2008 and 2010. If you're Leslie Frasier, do you really tell AP "No" when he knows how to ask/sing so nicely? But even if Gerhart does get all of the carries, rather than just a majority, I still would not expect too much. For one, the Jaguars were 9th against the rush last year in terms of overall yards, with an even better 3.8 yards per rush allowed (tied for 4th lowest average in the NFL). Second, Gerhart was only moderately effective last year, with a 36.7% success rate on his rushes and an average -0.05 NEP per play rushing the ball, and that might not be enough for a high fantasy total if given the full reins. It sure didn't work last year: he didn't have a single TD after taking over as the starter in the final four games of the season.
Rashad Jennings - Jacksonville Jaguars
Replacing: Maurice Jones-Drew
Week 1 Projected Stats: 9.21 carries, 28.34 rushing yards, 0.18 rush TDs, 3.48 receptions, 32.70 receiving yards, 0.31 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 8.58 (#26 Ranked RB)
Coach Mike Mularkey said Rashad Jennings would "start" on Sunday. He didn't say how long Rashad Jennings would "play" on Sunday. I personally see a big difference. This particular case is a bit of a different puzzle for the Fantasy Football Sleuths to solve, seeing that MJD isn't actually injured, just in the doghouse after sitting out most of the preseason. But exactly how long will Mularkey force Jones-Drew to sleep on the couch before inviting him back to bed? numberFire's guess is not long. Jennings is projected to receive 9.21 carries in week 1, but numberFire projects Jones-Drew to have even more at 9.74 carries on the day. When Jennings has been in the game, he's been effective for the Jaguars - his 38.10% success rating in his most recent playing season (2010) was higher than MJD's 36.45% rating that same year. However, if the Jaguars are in a close game, and numberFire does expect it to be close, the proven talent usually wins out. I expect to see MJD take over as the game wears on.
Ronnie Brown - San Diego Chargers
Replacing: Ryan Mathews
Week 1 Projected Stats: 11.25 carries, 48.27 rushing yards, 0.47 rush TDs, 2.39 receptions, 13.40 receiving yards, 0.07 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 9.01 (#23 Ranked RB)
As of the current week 1 projections, numberFire has Ronnie Brown as the highest scoring running back out of the four on this list. How often can you say that? The last time that Brown put up 150 fantasy points in a season, George W. Bush was President and Chad Pennington was not only Brown's starting QB, but effective. However, don't get your hopes up on Brown just because he's first on this list - he's still a projected 23rd on the overall RB projections despite playing numberFire's 31st ranked defense in Oakland. Brown's success rate declined each of his last four seasons as a starter in Miami before bottoming out at an abysmal 29.21% in 2010. It rose slightly back up to 35.71% last season in 42 rushes for the Eagles, but his Net Expected Points (NEP) per play rating stayed down in the gutter at -0.15. For those of you new to numberFire, that means that every time Brown rushed the ball for the Eagles, the Eagles could be expected to gain 0.15 less points at the end of their drive as compared to the average play. Ouch. With Brown sporting that kind of effectiveness, it's no surprise that numberFire has him not even reaching the 50 yard mark this Sunday.
Robert Turbin - Seattle Seahawks
Replacing: Marshawn Lynch
Week 1 Projected Stats: 6.02 carries, 21.95 rushing yards, 0.21 rush TDs, 3.05 receptions, 22.28 receiving yards, 0.02 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 5.81 (#35 Ranked RB)
The last name on this list might actually be the one to get your Fantasy Football Senses tingling the most: Robert Turbin. The fourth-round rookie out of Utah State entered the preseason as Marshawn Lynch's backup, not a bad position to have considering Lynch has missed at least one game in four of his five NFL seasons. It was just that nobody expected the injury bug to hit this early. As of now, all indications are that Lynch is going to fight through the pain and play on Sunday, which would result in the low fantasy numbers for Turbin you see here. Just because it's my idea of a good time though (I'm a hit at bars), let's take a look at Turbin's projected stats if Lynch did not play, courtesy of our stats guru Keith Goldner:
Week 1 Projected Stats: 15.72 carries, 75.78 rushing yards, 0.38 rush TDs, 2.86 receptions, 26.87 receiving yards, 0.08 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 12.79
Not bad, rookie. Not bad at all. If Turbin were to get the full start and Lynch not play, those 12.79 projected fantasy points would place him in the top ten of all running backs, right above Detroit's Kevin Smith at #10 by 0.01 points. Strangely enough, his number of receptions would go down by virtue of moving from the third-down back to the starter, but the uptick in rushing yards and increase in expected TDs more than makes up the difference. Beware: Seattle-Arizona has a 4 PM EST start time, so you may not be able to wait to see whether Marshawn Lynch is going to play before setting your Sunday fantasy lineup. If your other options are fellow late-game-players like Cedric Benson, Isaac Redman, or Doug Martin though, I'd absolutely take a flier on Turbin and see what the injury report reveals.