Friday - Jan 15, 2021

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FLAVOR OF THE WEEK: Desperate Times at Running Back High

Typically in this space we profile a young up-and-coming player in our game who may be available in your league. Not every week the market shakes out that way and we adapt; this is one of those weeks. As most leagues enter their playoffs injury problems have beset the core of many qualifying teams, specifically at running back. We are devoting this space this week to trying to make sense of it all.

First, the relatively simple cases – Christian McCaffrey, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and James Conner. As long as any of them have a full practice by Friday consider them all systems go. Carolina head Coach Matt Rhule’s commentary leads us to believe that will be the case with McCaffrey. There are no signs related to the other two at this time, but expect them as players report later in the week. Edwards-Helaire was active Week 13, but was used as an emergency option only. Whatever illness he has was severe enough for him to not play, but not enough to keep him home so we’re cautiously optimistic about him. Conner may be a different story, though. Technically, he can be cleared from the Covid list as early as Thursday. Him being a cancer survivor enhances our concern of that happening, though. Those are the details, but why are we mentioning them? If this season hasn’t taught us anything else it’s shown us to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. There are known issues with these three players, but that does not mean other healthy players on your depth chart are home free right now. It would behoove everyone to get a backup plan teed up, just in case.

That said, there are also more complex cases that need navigating this week. As of this writing Josh Jacobs, Antonio Gibson, D’Andre Swift and Cam Akers all have our attention. This time last week we had concerns about Jacobs and they unfortunately came to fruition. Video evidence indicated a potential high ankle sprain and while specifics have not been shared, the actions by Las Vegas indicate that is likely the case. It’d be best to prepare as if he will not be available. Unfortunately, we feel the same about Gibson and Swift, too. The former was quickly ruled out Monday night with a toe injury, so until information is available that leads us to believe otherwise we’re considering this turf toe. Turf toe comes in many different unpleasant flavors, but they all usually come with multiple week absences. Swift’s specific problem is more difficult to put our finger on, but just follow the flow of information and the answer likely isn’t a good one. He was put in concussion protocol on Thursday, Nov. 19 after practicing the day before. He missed the next two games before clearing protocol and putting in a limited practice Wednesday, Dec. 2. Teammate Adrian Peterson commented afterwards that he didn’t look right, then he missed the next two days of practice and missed his third straight game. What does that mean for Swift this week? We don’t know, but we wouldn’t plan on him. Speaking of preparation, with a short week on tap it may be too tall of an ask for Akers to be ready. On the back end of him seemingly taking over the lead job he was a non-participant at Monday’s practice due to a shoulder injury and with a Thursday game looming the outlook is not bright. Was his 21-carry workload just too much for the rookie to handle? We’ll see, but remember – prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Given all those problems cited above, what’s the solution? That depends on a myriad of factors that we’ll attempt to briefly summarize below in no particular order:

Darrell Henderson, L.A. Rams – Is he available? Probably not, but having not clipped 50 yards nor receiving double-digit touches since October, there were some managers that quit him. With a Thursday game looming he’s the first Week 14 band aid we’d pursue. You’ll know whether he’s useful or not long before the others and in this particular year that has value.

Devontae Booker, Las Vegas – Hopefully he was already picked up last week. We understand he left those who started him unsatisfied, but like with De’Andre Washington in 2019 head coach Jon Gruden leaned on his backup as the lead back giving him 17 touches and nothing matters more in our game than volume.

J.D. McKissic, Washington – This is likely the most realistic add of the group. He had a couple of good games early November, but remember that note from above – volume matters. A 10-touch give-or-take running back has bye week value, but after lackluster performances against Cincinnati and Dallas in which he netted 12 total touches for 96 total yards and no scores he was a popular drop last week. He’s not going to do much as a pure runner in Antonio Gibson’s stead, but Washington showed Monday night how it will use him by giving him 10 targets in the pass game. This week’s opponent (San Francisco) has capable bodies to keep up with him in coverage but the two that follow (Seattle and Carolina)? Not so much.

Benny Snell, Pittsburgh – It’s certainly possible James Conner is cleared from the Covid list later this week, but given his preconditions that does not necessarily mean he’s anywhere near 100 percent nor should Pittsburgh rely heavily on him in his first game back. For as poor as Pittsburgh’s running game performed Monday night, recall the praise heaped by head coach Mike Tomlin the week prior. This stock isn’t as shiny as it was a few days ago, but he’s produced in two-of-his three opportunities as the lead guy. That’s Meatloaf approved and who are we to argue with him.

Tony Pollard, Dallas and Gus Edwards, Baltimore – The above players may not be available for many different valid reasons, but these two are owned in less than 25 percent of leagues across multiple platforms. Why are we recommending them? Their teams have not played this week. Some systems are accounting for this in waivers, but not all, and among those that are the turnaround time is still short. Consider both of them preemptive strikes. No, we are not forecasting injuries to those in front of them, but we are preparing in the event that one does happen. In fact, if you read this early enough they may be available without needing a waiver right now.

Should you not get anyone listed above you should look for someone in a similar situation to that of Pollard or Edwards. In this particular season you never know when a starter is going to suddenly not be available, so rather than ignoring the dredge at the bottom of your depth chart churn it for the unknown … and keep your eye on alerts all week long. Good luck, everyone!

About Mark Chamberlin

A big heart with a little snark. If you've got thick skin then I think we will get along just fine. If not though...