Running to Fantasy Football
You hear it time and again from fantasy football aficionados: I need a running back. They are the most prized commodities in the game, and when draft day comes around, it seems like anyone with a pulse and even the most remote chance of touching the football out of the backfield is scooped up as if they are the second coming of Jim Brown.
So why is it that, six weeks into the season, there are a quartet of running backs around the league putting up serious numbers who likely went undrafted in even some of the deepest leagues? Let’s explore this phenomenon, along with the chances that these no-names can continue their unlikely ascension to fantasy starter status.
Chris Ivory, New Orleans: Some lucky souls out there might have taken a flyer on Ivory based on a memorable run he had in a preseason game that hit the highlight reels. He still had about eight guys in front of him on the depth chart after making the team though, and it seemed a long shot that he would get a chance even with the everybody-touches-it aesthetic of the Saints.
Lo and behold, injuries felled Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, and there was Ivory last Sunday, rumbling for 158 yards on just 15 carries. The temptation is to sell high here, but I’m not sure that’s the play. For one thing, both Thomas and Bush are coming back from tricky injuries that may linger. In addition, there’s a chance that the Saints catch fire and play some meaningless games down the stretch, in which case Ivory could be in line for some major carries.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland: He had some chances to play the last few seasons in Denver but couldn’t manage to stay healthy. When he joined the Browns in the offseason, it wasn’t exactly the transaction heard ‘round the world. With Jerome Harrison coming up some huge games at the tail end of ’09 and rookie Montario Hardesty in the fold, it looked like Hillis might be nothing more than a fullback.
But Hardesty was knocked out for the season in camp, and Hillis simply outplayed Harrison to win the job. He scored touchdowns in each of the first four games, ran for 100 yards in back-to-back games against rugged defenses, and likely crashed some computer networks as fantasy owners furiously tried to pick him up. Although he hasn’t had that success the last two games, he still caught some passes to help ease the blow for his owners. The guy is legit if he stays healthy.
Ryan Torain, Washington: He was briefly one of Mike Shanahan’s revolving-door running backs in Denver in 2008, but got hurt immediately after winning the job. He sat out all of last year, and then came to training camp with the Skins behind former stars Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker.
In my NFC-only league, 56 running backs were chosen, including fullbacks like Ovie Mughelli and Mike Karney. Torain was not one of the 56.
On Sunday night, he stormed over the Colts to the tune of 100 yards and two scores. Even if Portis does come back, which should be well down the road, it’s hard to imagine him running with that kind of authority. Torain is no fluke and he should be an excellent complementary running back on a fantasy roster from here on out.
Danny Woodhead, New England: With Bill Belichick’s seeming disdain for the running back position, you half expect the coach to suit up and take some pitchouts himself, his hoodie flapping in the breeze. His newest weapon may be the unlikeliest of all though. Woodhead was signed away from the New York Jets early in the season in what most assumed was a Belichickian ploy to gain information on a rival.
Instead, Woodhead, who’s generously listed at 5-9 and 200 pounds but looks like Frodo Baggins on the field, has become a valuable weapon playing the Kevin Faulk role. On Sunday he totaled 115 yards of offense while current starter (and former no-namer) BenJarvus Green-Ellis had little success. It’s unlikely Woodhead will be a 20-carry guy at any point this year, but the former Chadron State star has solid value, especially in points-per-catch scoring systems.