Eric Mack
Friday October 28th, 2011

Take a look around the NFL and what do you see? OK, focus your attention on the trainer's room. There are running backs galore stuck in there with little hope of being set free.

DeMarco Murray's performance notwithstanding, the players who are increasing in fantasy pertinence after last Sunday's watershed day of injuries don't look like much to write home about. There are too many timeshares, too many backs who just aren't capable of truly helping us in fantasy.

Still, though these backups filling in for injured starters may not amount to much, for the short time they might be starters.

Maybe this is why rushing attempts are down throughout this modern pass-happy NFL. The life of an NFL running back is a short and dangerous one.

You got that, Brandon Jacobs? You cannot stay healthy as Ahmad Bradshaw's change-of-pace back; how in the world are you going to be more productive getting more carries elsewhere? But we digress.

Let's try to make sense of all the running back carnage around the league and forecast, which, if any, of this new money is worth watching. We deal with just those who might be candidates to spot start this weekend.

We will leave out the likes of banged-up backs on bye weeks like: Darren McFadden (foot), LeGarrette Blount (knee) and Cedric Benson (suspension). And assume these banged-up backs still play and start for you in fantasy: Adrian Peterson (ankle), Ryan Mathews (thumb), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe), Mike Tolbert (hamstring) and Daniel Thomas (hamstring).

It is a mess on our hands here -- to the point we need to just start dealing with the question if any back is truly healthy this time of year.

1. Out (potentially) is: Joseph Addai (hamstring)

In are: Delone Carter and Donald Brown

Addai was cleared to play last week and he managed to get just two carries against the Saints. Even if Addai does play in Week 8, the most useful of this bunch clearly is Carter, who should be good for 60 yards and a score. The Colts face the Titans, who are fifth-worst in fantasy against RBs. Carter's time is coming and it just might be this week he takes over the starting job for good.

2. Out (potentially) is: Mark Ingram

In are: Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas

Ingram was getting those Rams, absolutely the softest rushing defense in the NFL. Instead, he could be getting the clipboard to watch Sproles and Thomas work. Even if Ingram does play, he figures to be in a three-way timeshare and playing with a bum heel. You probably have to start him if he plays -- like you should be keeping the receiving back Sproles active -- but Thomas is the real sleeper here. He could post 100 yards and a touchdown against the defense that is getting gashed by everyone on the ground.

3. Out is: Willis McGahee (hand)

In are: Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball

Moreno is back to being a potential factor in fantasy, but the fact the Broncos are even considering him splitting carries with that stalwart (joking) Ball, suggests they don't think much of Moreno. The Lions are the seventh-best team in fantasy against RBs, so you shouldn't expect the Broncos to be overly successful on the ground unless Tim Tebow is scrambling out of the pocket. With a timeshare, the Broncos need to be really successful on the ground to truly make Moreno exciting. Moreno at least once had talent and isn't too banged up right now, so this option isn't terrible.

4. Out is: Peyton Hillis (hamstring)

In is: Montario Hardesty

This scenario is at least clear for the Browns, who want to get an extended look at Hardesty as their feature back with Hillis headed for free agency. The problem is Hardesty will be facing the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, the 49ers. They have not allowed a rushing touchdown yet in six games, averaging just 56 rushing yards allowed per game. That is not quite a day to get excited about in fantasy, but it might be the best of this lot of misfit toys.

5. Out is: Beanie Wells (knee)

In are: Alfonso Smith and La'Rod Stephens-Howling

This one had promise for fantasy owners, because Smith figures to handle the running downs and goal line, while LS-H would do the pass receiving out of the backfield. It could have given both timeshare backs value in deeper leagues. But, alas, the Cardinals are facing the Ravens ... on the road ... with that Ray Lewis defense coming off a loss. It should be ugly. Only the 49ers are better than the Ravens against RBs in fantasy. Then, Wells could be back the following week against the Rams. Yes, those Rams that helped Murray pass an Emmitt Smith Cowboys record in his breakout game.

6. Out is: Tim Hightower (knee)

In are: Ryan Torain and Roy Helu

This one had potential, but we have to be wary the Redskins are going to mess it up with a split of carries. Hightower was enjoying a breakthrough out of the gate. Torain threw up a surprise 135 yards -- against, guess who: The Rams! -- and then disappeared since. Now, they are not naming a starter immediately with Hightower out for the season. That is great news for Helu, who should be picked up in all leagues. Torain is probably the play this Sunday against the Bills (the sixth-worst team in fantasy against RBs), but Helu could have his Murray moment. That, actually, would be the best-case scenario for us in fantasy. There could be some juice there with this rookie.

7. Out is Jahvid Best (concussion)

In are: Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams

There is a recurring theme here. All of the replacement backs are facing elite run defenses. Well, sort of. The Broncos have given up over 100 yards per game, but they are tied with the 49ers for the fewest touchdowns given up to backs in fantasy, and both teams have given up just one TD (via the pass). Morris and Williams are thoroughly in a 50-50, if something can thoroughly be split 50-50. It should keep either from being a real impact player in fantasy this week. Then comes the Lions bye and Best might be back for Week 10.

8. Out (maybe) is: Marshawn Lynch (back)

In (maybe) are: Leon Washington and Justin Forsett

Lynch had a sudden back spasm before Sunday's game and needed to sit out, posting a goose egg for the week. While he did return to practice, do you trust him now? Lynch was already one of the lowest fantasy-scoring starting running backs in the NFL. He faces the Bengals, who are still in the top half of fantasy against RBs, too. Washington and Forsett are rendered useless and Lynch is too risky.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List and his Sunday night staple: Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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