By John Evans
Editor’s Note: Originally published at ChiefsSpin.com, republished here with permission.
Week 14 was the very definition of a “wild one,” between the snowy fields, crazy finishes and 100 touchdowns scored. Alas, part of what made it memorable was the appalling injuries to star players. While I could use this space to write the Ballad of Rob Gronkowski (I have him in the majority of my leagues), that wouldn’t do fantasy owners much good.
Instead, I’ll look at three “handcuff” running backs who seem destined for a larger role in Week 15 and potentially, beyond. I’m assuming Denver’s Montee Ball and Detroit’s Joique Bell are owned in most leagues, but they look like better starts than this trio. So is Oakland’s Marcel Reece if Rashad Jennings has a setback and doesn’t suit up against the Chiefs.
Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
To me, the bruising former Stanford back is the safest option from the talent perspective. A complete back with soft hands and surprising straight-line speed, Gerhart won’t break your ankles, but he can sure break a tackle. I’ve seen him do well on NFL fields and the statistics bear that out. He’s averaging 7.9 yards per carry this year and in his last extended tour of duty as a starter, 2011, Gerhart was a good-to-great play in five consecutive games before a mediocre Week 17. In those six starts he averaged 90 total yards per game, scored four touchdowns and compiled 18 receptions.
Gerhart could do well against Philadelphia this week, who are a middle-of-the-pack matchup for running backs. He would probably be a focal point of the Vikings offense, which isn’t exactly an endorsement of the other weapons (Cordarelle looks good though!), but means lots of touches for Toby.
Unfortunately, there is some risk of Adrian Peterson’s understudy missing Week 15 himself — Gerhart hurt his hammy during his 41-yard touchdown jaunt against the Ravens. Monitor his practice participation but if he’s ready to go against Philadelphia, he’s a top 20 play for me, especially in PPR leagues.
Jordan Todman, Jacksonville Jaguars
Todman has speed to burn (he runs a 4.4 40) and he had an impressive preseason, turning 29 totes into 223 yards (7.68 YPC). You may even remember him showing flashes in his brief San Diego stint, if you are a dynasty owner with too much time on your hands. At a wispy 193 pounds, Todman is not a goal-line guy but he does have hands and after-the-catch ability so pencil him in as a part of the receiving game (as MJD has been, lately).
This largely unheralded 23-year-old isn’t the known quantity that Gerhart is and lacks the Stanford alum’s pedigree — he was drafted in the sixth round, not the second — but Todman has a better matchup. Bobby Rainey, a similarly smallish, speedy back, just broke a big run against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, and there’s no reason to think Todman couldn’t do the same in Week 15. The Bills have struggled to stop the run over their last four games, surrendering an average of 135 rushing yards (no less than 111) and at least one touchdown on the ground (the Falcons had three!).
Maurice Jones-Drew has vowed to play, but if he doesn’t Todman will start. I would favor a healthy Todman to a gimpy Gerhart, so if the Vikings back doesn’t get through a full practice on Friday, Todman is the better play.
Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
Thomas is an interesting case. He seems to have the build of a power runner, without the power. He has the style of a speed back, but lacks great quicks. He’s kind of the opposite of Marcel Reece, a large, powerful man who kills you with speed and finesse (as the Jets found out Sunday). Thomas didn’t even look particularly good against Pittsburgh, but by now two things have been established: 1) He’s better than he looked in his first two seasons and 2) the Miami coaching staff trust Thomas more than they do Lamar Miller.
Once again, we have a good matchup here. The Fins get the Patriots this week and it doesn’t take an assiduous observer to conclude that New England’s run defense has slipped since Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were injured. They’ve given up no fewer than 18 fantasy points to RBs in five of their last eight games.
While the offensive line is playing better, Miami gets away from the running game at the drop of a hat and I still haven’t forgiven the team for horrific outings against the Bucs (2 rushing yards) and Panthers (52) in the recent past. As I write this, there is optimism about Lamar Miller returning from the concussion he suffered on Sunday and if he does, he’ll siphon carries from Thomas.
I would stay away from the Dolphins running game unless you miss out on Gerhart and Todman.
After writing light-hearted sports columns in college, John Evans covered a variety of sports for The Olympian, a daily newspaper. While chasing Hollywood dreams for most of the last decade, he discovered that the entertainment industry loves fantasy football! For three seasons and counting, John has co-hosted The Xs & Ys Podcast with The Fantasy Football Girl and he now writes for ChiefsSpin.com. Follow him on Twitter @Evansjo5.