Earlier this week, there was likely a feeding frenzy on the waiver wire in your league, as several barely owned running backs suddenly became fantasy relevant -- Tre Mason, Denard Robinson, Bryce Brown and even a guy named Boobie Dixon, which is either the best or worst name ever.
Running backs are gold in fantasy football, and finding gems off the waiver wire (especially if you used the Zero RB draft strategy, which I plan to write more about next week) can win a league championship.
Hopefully, you got one of more of these hot commodities in your leagues. Now what do you do with them?
I'm leaving them all on my bench this week, unless I'm truly desperate at the position. (Full disclosure, I have shares of everyone but Robinson in my leagues. I'm starting none of them, but I also have pretty good RB depth.)
Of the four, I think I'd be most comfortable rolling out Mason. Despite St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher saying "Zac Stacy could get 25 carries this week" I don't suddenly see him playing the starter with Mason running as well as he has the past two weeks. Stacy has been banged up though, and it really could be a three-headed monster for the Rams going forward.
Benny Cunningham actually "started" last week's game against the Seahawks where Mason broke out, and had a useful day, especially in PPR leagues, although he did gain about 20 of his yards on that fake punt late in the game, but he also got looks near the goal line. So even Mason isn't truly a "must-start," as his workload is still to be determined. He should make the most of his opportunities though. Kansas City, who the Rams are facing this week, have given up 4.7 yards per carry to opposing running backs, so the match-up isn't super-intimidating.
Robinson is a wild card, quite literally. At least in Yahoo leagues, he's still listed as a RB/WR, meaning you could start a running back as your WR3. That's seemingly a nice advantage because it seems to guarantee touches, but I don't have high hopes for Robinson because of the match-up this week. He easily had the best performance of any Jaguars running back this season, but it came against a Cleveland team that is just getting gashed on the ground.
(Side note: if for some reason Darren McFadden is unowned in any of your leagues, go get him. He's been a baller since Tony Sparano took over the Raiders and gets to feast on the Brownies this week.)
The Jaguars O-line is still wretched and they are facing a much more daunting task this week in a Miami defense that is stout against the run. Robinson will start the game, but Toby Gerhart is back in the mix and might get goalline work (You know, the set-up I predicted for Storm Johnson last week) which is another reason to use caution with "Shoelace."
Dixon and Brown presents a different set of obstacles in the path to fantasy greatness -- namely, each other. With both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller sustaining injuries last week, Dixon was thrust into the leading role and performed admirably against a so-so Vikings defense. Brown wasn't active on game day, so we didn't get a chance to see what he could do.
The Buffalo Bills backfield face the New York Jets, an while Dixon will likely get the start, the Jets have been very good taking away straight-ahead backs like him, but have struggled to contain slashers like Brown. However, we still have no idea what Brown's role will be. Does he inherit a Spiller-like role in the offense? If so, is that enough to start him? Would you have started Spiller before the injury? The answer to last question, for me at least, is probably not. The volume just wasn't there week-to-week, so my answer -- at least this week, is no to Brown.
Does that mean start Dixon? Nope. While he gushed to the media immediately following last week's win that he was miscast in San Francisco and wants to show he can be a lead back, I expect players to think they are better than the role they are given most times. There's a reason Dixon was what he was in San Fran — Just A Guy. I can't trust him in a feature back role just yet.
So, we have to be patient and see how the Bills backfield shakes out. The real kick in the head, though, is that Buffalo is on bye next week, meaning they'll have some extra time to re-evaluate how to use their pair of runners and we could see a completely different ground attack in Week 10.
Next big thing Hyde-ing this week?
Now that I've rained on your parade of waiver wire running backs, allow me to show some optimism for another who might be a juicy pick-up in another week or two: Carlos Hyde.
Call it a hunch, but with Frank Gore's struggles the past few weeks, the 49ers insistence on giving the rookie Hyde the ball in high-stakes situations (third-and-short, and near the goalline), plus a report that Gore wasn't promised a roster spot that came out a few weeks ago (although that's since been refuted), I think there is a good chance Hyde could take over the bulk of the carries, if not the starting job, in the second half of the season in San Francisco.
The Niners are on bye this week, which means fantasy owners stashing Hyde might've dropped him (he's just 40 percent owned in Yahoo leagues) to pick up one of the above mentioned guys or to cover another bye-week hole. If you've got the room and he's floating out there, he's worth a stash. Get ahead of the curve.
Early bird gets the worm, and maybe Calvin Johnson
Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware that an unprecedented 9:30 a.m. EST NFL game is being played today between the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons in London.
From a fantasy perspective, if you have Lions and Falcons on your roster, you'll need to check in a little early for the inactives list, which could include Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. Calvin has been frustrating to own thanks to a lingering ankle injury and the Lions using him as a decoy a couple of weeks before resting him the last two weeks to make sure he got healthy. He's a game-time decision this week and, if he's going to play, he's got to be in your lineup, even with the two previous duds, and here's why: If he plays, he's actually healthy and not a decoy.
Think about it, the Lions have their bye next week, they are playing really well right now, and are facing a team that's been struggling to defend the pass. Why risk their best player to aggravating his injury again instead of getting him two more weeks rest? Personally, though, I think he sits. The Lions are just playing games and forcing the Falcons to think about defending Johnson, but he's going to get a few more weeks rest, then come back in week 10 and do what Calvin does the rest of the way.
By the way, you're still starting Golden Tate if you have him regardless of Calvin's status.
As for Bush, I'm probably fading him this week. He's listed as doubtful but said he's going to play. Joique Bell has been excellent the past few weeks and Atlanta cannot stop the run, so I suspect Bell will get a bulk of the work. Theo Riddick should be back too, and could eat into Bush's workload if Reggie isn't 100 percent.
What the schedule-makers probably envisioned as a competitive shootout between two of the league's high-powered offenses could get kind of lopsided in favor of the Lions, even with those injuries. The Falcons are really struggling right now on both sides of the ball. While it is technically a home game, where Matt Ryan has played better, Wembley Stadium isn't exactly the Georgia Dome. Ryan and company will be playing outdoors and the Lions defense has been downright dominating anyway. Avoid all Falcons not named Julio Jones, who is also struggling, but is still getting a ton of targets and is too talented to bench.
Sunday night shootout
Want to talk about a fantasy football bonanza? That's what the Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints nightcap should give us.
For Green Bay, it's all the usual suspects -- Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and even Eddie Lacy -- but even third receiver Davante Adams should have some flex appeal. He's been a bit boom-or-bust, but he should get plenty of targets.
On the Saints side, I really like Travaris Cadet at running back in a PPR. He's had a couple 5-catch, 60-plus yard games and New Orleans' resident pass-catching RB Pierre Thomas is out this week. Mark Ingram isn't a bad start either, although he struggled in his return from injury last week. Khiry Robinson is also out this game. My only concern with Ingram is that the Saints abandon the run in favor of airing it out.
Drew Brees should obviously be started in all formats, but I know some owners are getting frustrated with their return on investment as we near the halfway point of the season. Take this into consideration though: The Saints play six of their next nine games at home in the Superdome, where Brees is much better than he is on the road.
I can understand if fantasy owners bench Jimmy Graham this week after last week's 2-target, no-catch performance. He's a game-time decision again, and because it's the Sunday night game, it doesn't leave you a lot of options if for some reason he doesn't play. (Basically, Jordan Reed in the Monday nighter, and he's probably owned.) If your league allows you to flex a tight end, like the only one in which I own Graham, then you've got some options: the aforementioned Adams and Cadet, with 87 and 88 percent availability in Yahoo leagues, for example. I just hate to leave a talent like Graham on the bench though.
Tight end troubles
The tight end position has been in a bit of flux all season. Even the reliable Julius Thomas has been down his past two games, giving fantasy owners just a couple of points in Thursday's match-up with the Chargers.
One guy I really like this week is the Eagles' Zach Ertz against the Arizona Cardinals, who have notoriously struggled against tight ends. Ertz hasn't seen as many snaps as his fantasy owners have liked as Philly has used Brent Celek, a better blocker, to help get its running game going, but Ertz is still getting plenty of usage in the passing game.
The aforementioned Jordan Reed should be a nice start this week too on Monday Night Football, although I worry about Colt McCoy's ability to get him the ball down the field. (Not a tight end, but I'm scaling back WR DeSean Jackson this week too, who isn't likely to see a lot of deep throws from McCoy's arm, which resembles more pop-gun than his first name implies. Pierre Garcon, who turned a short pass into a 70-yard TD on McCoy's first throw last week, will matter this week, to the chagrin of Richard Sherman.)
The other Jordan -- Cameron, who caught just one pass for five yards last week in a dandy match-up with Jacksonville, thanks to Brian Hoyer's sudden inaccuracy -- gets another plus match-up with the Raiders. Hopefully, Cameron and his QB get back in-sync this week.
Bears WRs fearing Revis Island?
Much has been made about Darrelle Revis returning to form with the Patriots, but that shouldn't scare you away from starting either Bears WRs Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery this week. Revis hasn't faced a lot of great wide receivers just yet, and in the one challenging match-up, a limited AJ Green still had 81 yards and a TD. Marshall and Jeffery should be fine (besides, Revis can't cover them both at the same time).
No, my trepidation for the Bears offense comes from Jay Cutler, who is starting to do what Jay Cutler does, and that's throw bad interceptions. He should still throw the ball a ton, which means Marshall and Jeffery will get theirs. But don't be scared of the hype of Chicago's high-powered offense, New England's defense is a solid play.
For the Patriots, the assumption is that Shane Vereen will dominate the backfield touches after his big performance last week with Stevan Ridley on injured reserve. Not so fast. That game was played on a short week, and now that Bill Belichick has had time to get his other backs up to speed, I suspect we could see Vereen have a few more 29 yard days and someone like Jonas Gray ends up with 18 carries for 80-100 yards. It's Belichick, so own Patriot runners at your own risk.
I've heard a lot of talk about fading Bengals RB Gio Bernard against the tough Ravens defense this week. Forget that noise. When AJ Green isn't on the field, Gio is the Bengals best player on offense. Fire him up every single week.
Maybe I was wrong about Seattle's Karl Marx offense. With the trade of Percy Harvin, it sure looks like Doug Baldwin is going to emerge as the No. 1 target for Russell Wilson. Think Deion Branch in New England. Awesome match-up against Carolina's sieve secondary this week.
Ryan Tannehill has entered QB1 territory. Just further proof that you should wait on quarterbacks in your draft. Fire him up against the Jags, and maybe San Diego's banged-up secondary next week too.
Want a sneaky defensive play? The Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Bucs are playing each other, and both allow a lot of points for opposing D/ST units. This one could be ugly. Pick one and hope for the best.