3 Potential Fantasy Football League-Winning Backup Running Backs
Each time there is a backfield shakeup because of injury or demotion, the new starting running back isn't the only fantasy football pickup that you should consider.
The elevation of the former backup means that there is now a new, hungry running back only one injury away from fantasy greatness.
I've identified three backup running backs that most are ignoring because they were total afterthoughts to start the season. But each has huge upside because they are the likely the next-man-up in offenses that tend to produce stud fantasy running backs.
These are running backs that you should be looking to add in deeper leagues now that we're through the byes and don't need as much roster depth.
Rod Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Now that Christine Michael-truther meetings have finally shut their doors (I'm going to miss the free coffee), Darren McFadden is left unquestionably with an extremely valuable and voluminous workload in Dallas. But, Michael's void doesn't remain unfilled. The next running back on the Cowboys depth chart is former undrafted free agent Rod Smith.
I haven't heard much buzz about Smith, but he has a few things going for him.
First, McFadden has never been the healthiest back, missing multiple games in five of his seven previous seasons and showing up Thursday on the injury report with a groin issue.
Second, the way the Cowboys are riding McFadden (averaging 23.25 carries in the last four games) after doing the same with DeMarco Murray the previous year (392 carries), means that whoever replaces a hypothetically-injured McFadden could see similar volume.
Third, the Cowboys backfield is a goldmine for fantasy production. Murray was the top fantasy back in standard scoring last year (second to Le'Veon Bell in PPR), and McFadden has averaged a healthy 13 standard fantasy points since becoming the starter. During that four-game stretch, the Dallas offense was "led" by Matt Cassel, not Tony Romo who's set to return this weekend.
But can Smith succeed if given the reins? We can't say for sure, but he does have a few things that suggests he could.
Smith was a four-star recruit out of high school and rated as the number-sxi running back in the country. Smith played college ball at Ohio State, but academic and off-the-field issues plagued his time there before the team eventually dismissed him in 2014.
The Seattle Seahawks signed Smith in 2015 as an undrafted free agent, and he impressed this preseason with 10 carries for 70 rush yards and 6 receptions. Smith was called up from the Seahawks' practice squad when Marshawn Lynch missed time with an injury, and then the Seahawks cut Smith, presumably in the hopes of adding him back to the practice squad.
The Cowboys didn't let that happen, signing Smith off of waivers. We don't know a lot about Smith's athleticism due to his lack of Combine and Pro Day workout metrics, but at 6'3" and 226 pounds, Smith looks like a prototype workhorse back.
Tim Hightower, New Orleans Saints
Tim Hightower had a mildly successful stint with the Arizona Cardinals from 2008 to 2010 and 84 carries for the Washington Redskins in 2011. After two years out of the NFL, Hightower signed with the Saints this year, was the Saints leading rusher during the preseason (29 carries for 96 yards), then was cut and re-signed twice. He's likely to stick this time with Khiry Robinson out for the year with a broken leg.
It's tough to say how much the 29-year-old Hightower has left in the tank, but we know that he's the only running back behind Mark Ingram with the size (220 pounds) to handle a significant rushing workload. The Saints' high-powered offense -- they rank third in the NFL in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) -- provides plenty of scoring opportunities for running backs, ranking as the second highest scoring backfield in standard fantasy scoring this year (first in PPR scoring).
If Ingram misses time, Hightower could be thrust into a starting role, and the Saints have a favorable fantasy playoffs schedule facing the Buccaneers, Lions and Jaguars in Weeks 14 through 16, though the Buccaneers and Jaguars rank in the top seven in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP.
Jordan Todman, Pittsburgh Steelers
Not to take anything away from DeAngelo Williams, but you have to wonder if any functional running back could be a huge producer for the Steelers when the offense is clicking on all cylinders.
Jordan Todman certainly does not have the pedigree of Le'Veon Bell or Williams, but he isn't a total slouch. Todman showed blazing speed at the 2012 Combine (4.40-second 40-yard dash), and at the University of Connecticut, Todman had almost 3,000 rushing yards in his sophomore and junior seasons, proving doubters wrong that his smaller frame (203 pounds at the Combine) would prevent him from being a workhorse.
Todman has mostly been buried on various depth chart since entering the NFL in 2011, but in one game with starter reps for the Jaguars in 2011, Todman carried the ball 25 times for 109 yards with 4 receptions. Todman isn't a sure thing to get 15-plus carries if Williams is injured, but the possibility might be worth a bench spot, especially because Williams was reported to be suffering from foot issue last week.