Arian Foster and Bernard Pierce, two guys many owners woke up on Sunday morning expecting to start, are both inactive. That forces Alfred Blue and Justin Forsett into starter's roles in Houston and Baltimore, respectively. Both could slot as starters for fantasy owners, as well. With the matchup against the Giants, Blue is especially intriguing in Week 3. He should be considered a strong flex play in most formats. Some players I'd start him over include Darren McFadden, Jeremy Hill and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Forsett may be more involved in the offense than usual, but he's still not quite a starter in a vacuum. Your individual roster composition could make him a starter, but he remains outside my top 35 at the position. The Browns present a tough matchup, and he's much better cast as a change-of-pace back and pass catcher rather than a workhorse.
The news came as such a shock that surely it almost wasn’t to be believed. Sure enough, though, Jamaal Charles, who had suffered a high ankle sprain just four days prior, practiced on Thursday. His presence on the practice field on both Thursday and Friday has greatly complicated things for owners who were ready to plug Knile Davis into their starting lineup on Sunday.
Charles was limited in practice on Friday and is officially listed as questionable for the Chiefs’ Week 3 game with the Dolphins. High ankle sprains are debilitating for any running back, but especially one like Charles who is so dependent on his ability to cut and change directions. It’s very hard to imagine him giving it a go this week. Having said that, the mere fact that he has been able to practice a bit this week should give owners planning on deploying Davis pause. That this is a late kickoff only makes matters worse.
If you own both Charles and Davis, your best-case scenario is Charles being declared inactive before the early games begin. Then you know you Davis will be unfettered by competition in the Kansas City backfield. He brings a lot of the same things to the table that Charles does, and the Chiefs wouldn’t have to tailor their gameplan at all. He’s not nearly the skilled running back Charles is in terms of setting up his blocks and understanding how to read cutback lanes, but from an athleticism standpoint he is nearly Charles’ equal.
In the three games that Charles has missed all or most of over the last two years, Davis has averaged about 97 total yards per game while scoring six touchdowns. He’d be an easy starter and a near RB1, even in a tough matchup with the Dolphins, if Charles does indeed sit. Of course, we may not know Charles' status until about 3 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, and that makes this a really tough situation for owners who don’t have a sound insurance policy.
The bet here is that all this Charles practice time and talk that he might play on Sunday is nothing more than gamesmanship from Andy Reid. The bottom line is a high ankle sprain takes a minimum of two weeks to heal, and the Chiefs would be foolish to get Charles right back out there a week later. They may be feeling the pressure in a division with the Broncos and Chargers, but it wouldn’t do them any good to press their best player before he’s healthy enough to be on the field and have him risk further injury. Realistically, Davis at 100 percent is better than Charles at 75 percent. Reid and the Kansas City coaching staff have to know that. Get ready to satiate your risk appetite on Sunday. Plan on having Davis in your lineup.
Lamar Miller’s second chance
Miller burned a lot of fantasy owners after being a trendy pick in 2013. He never got anything going last season, except perhaps the tempters of many derisive owners. Don’t let last year cloud your decision-making this season. Miller looks like a different back, and he has a great opportunity to earn the trust of the fantasy community with Knowshon Moreno out up to two months with a dislocated elbow. It all starts on Sunday against the Chiefs.
All the focus, including the beginning of this column, is on the running back situation on the other side of the field, but it’s Miller who will have the most productive day of any back in this game. He has flown under the radar a bit in this young season, but he has been effective on the whole. Miller has picked up 105 yards on 22 carries, and also has six receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown. He had already locked down the role as the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield for Miami, getting 10 targets, including four in the red zone. With Moreno out, he’s the only show in town. Expect him to take advantage of that opportunity.
The matchup is also a beneficial one for Miller. It has only been two games, but the Kansas City defense ranks just 21st against the run, according to Pro Football Focus. They allowed the inimitable Shonn Greene to run for 71 yards on 15 carries in Week 1, then surrendered 60 yards on just 12 carries to Montee Ball last week. Ball also had three receptions for 29 yards. Miller has a similar skill set to the Broncos’ starter, and can really carve up this defense.
I know the sting Miller caused last year. I was one of the many who bought in. But that’s all in the past. Miller is ready to make up for it beginning this week.
The lurking tight end bargain
While the tight end position has never been deeper, a few guys universally drafted as starters have been a disappointment through two weeks. Kyle Rudolph ranks 15th at the position, while Jason Witten checks in at 33rd. Jordan Reed is still dealing with an injury, while Ladarius Green has been squeezed out of the San Diego offense by Antonio Gates. If you’re struggling to fill the void created by one of these players, allow me to present to you Jared Cook of the Rams.
Now I don’t see Cook as much more than a one-week fix. He has long fallen short of fantasy owners' expectations, and there’s little reason to have faith in the Rams’ offense, even with Austin Davis looking competent in the win over the Buccaneers last week. However, the Cowboys have really struggled with covering tight ends in the early stages of the season. While their defense has played much better than expected, they’ve surrendered big games to both Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The pair combined for 14 catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Davis was the second-highest scorer among tight ends in Week 1, while Walker finished third at the position in fantasy points last week. Cook is widely available in fantasy leagues, and can at least approach the numbers posted by Davis and Walker.
Carson Palmer’s elbow woes and Michael Floyd’s cratering fantasy value
The nerve issue in Palmer’s right elbow will cost him at least one more game. Bruce Arians said that it’s the sort of thing that could be better in a week or a month, which really isn’t much solace to owners tied to the Arizona offense. So long as he’s out, the Michael Floyd breakout express has to be put on hold.
Floyd makes his money on big plays down the field. In the Cardinals’ Week 1 win over the Chargers, he caught a 63-yard pass that was a shoestring away from being a 96-yard touchdown. Unsurprisingly, Drew Stanton isn’t quite as adept at throwing the deep ball as is Palmer. Stanton hit on just two of his six attempts last week that traveled more than 20 yards in the air for a total of 52 yards. Neither of those completions were to Floyd. He did target Floyd twice down the field, but neither ball was catchable. Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald got 10 targets last week, including three in the red zone. Floyd didn’t get one look from Stanton with the Cardinals inside the 20-yard-line.
It’s unfortunate, but Floyd’s ceiling is greatly limited with Stanton under center. That doesn’t mean you bench him, but you should temper your expectations, even with a surprisingly good matchup against the 49ers on Sunday.
Below are some under-the-radar options who are worthy of flex consideration this week.
Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Jacksonville Jaguars — Bradshaw outplayed Trent Richardson for the second straight week. He ran for 70 yards on 13 carries, while Richardson needed 21 touches to get to 79 yards. Bradshaw also caught five of his six targets for 26 yards and two touchdowns. Richardson fumbled twice, while Bradshaw has yet to put the ball on the ground this season. Both will be involved, but it will once again be Bradshaw who is the more productive back. He’ll do enough in a good matchup with Jacksonville to warrant a flex spot.
Brian Quick vs. Dallas Cowboys — Quick has dominated the targets in St. Louis, getting 18 of them in the first two games. He’s eighth in the NFL with 173 receiving yards, and looks like one of the few consistent weapons in the Rams’ passing attack. As we discussed earlier with Jared Cook, Austin Davis looks, at the very least, like a competent starting quarterback. Competence should be good enough to make Quick worth starting this week. At 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, he can be a real weapon in the red zone. The Cowboys should get Orlando Scandrick back this week, but Quick is still a quality flex option.
Khiry Robinson vs. Minnesota Vikings — Robinson will likely take over as the primary runner in New Orleans with Mark Ingram on the shelf. You can never be to sure how things will shake out with a Saints’ backfield, but Robinson should take over the role Ingram has made quite lucrative this season. The Saints figure to run away with their game against the Vikings this week, and that could mean a lot of Robinson in the second half. Ingram already has three short-yardage touchdowns this season, and it will almost certainly be Robinson getting those carries for the next month. Get him in your lineups this week.
Bernard Pierce vs. Cleveland Browns — There is definitely a sound argument that says Pierce can have a productive game against the Browns based on volume. If the game is close, he should get around 18 to 20 touches, and that alone could make him worth starting. I just don’t buy it, though. He’s dealing with a thigh injury and is officially listed as questionable. The Saints' running game got going against the Browns last week, but a lot of that had to do with the Browns choking off the Saints' deep passing game. Don’t expect them to give the Ravens passing attack the same sort of respect. They’ll press up more against the run, and the holes that were available to Mark Ingram a week ago won’t be there for Pierce.
Darren McFadden vs. New England Patriots — McFadden essentially had the backfield to himself last week, and ran for just 37 yards on 12 carries. He did score once and had 31 receiving yards, but it was an underwhelming performance in the best of circumstances. Maurice Jones-Drew could return from a hip injury this week, and Latavius Murray will likely be a bit more involved in the offense. Most importantly, this game at New England could really get away from the Raiders in a hurry. McFadden is not an advisable flex play this week.
San Diego at Buffalo
Keenan Allen was limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable because of a groin injury. If he goes for the Chargers, he goes for fantasy owners.
Tennessee at Cincinnati
A.J. Green was limited in practice on Friday because of his foot injury but is listed as probable. He may not be 100 percent, but he should be in your lineup. Vontaze Burfict didn’t practice all week because of a concussion, and is doubtful.
Baltimore at Cleveland
Bernard Pierce first showed up on the injury report on Thursday because of a thigh issue. He’s now listed as questionable. There are just too many red flags here. Put him on your bench.
Jordan Cameron was limited all week in practice and is questionable with a shoulder injury. If he can return this week, you should have no qualms about playing him.
Green Bay at Detroit
Joique Bell was limited in practice on Friday with a knee injury, but he is probable and should suit up on Sunday. He’s a strong play in what should be a shootout. Ziggy Ansah and Nick Fairley are both listed as questionable, while James Ihedigbo is doubtful. As if Aaron Rodgers needed any help.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
Hakeem Nicks missed practice due to an illness and is listed as questionable. He shouldn’t be on your radar.
Toby Gerhart is probable with a foot injury. If he can’t get going in this game, there are serious problems in Jacksonville. Marqise Lee is definitely out because of a hamstring injury, but it sounds like Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and Allen Hurns (ankle) will play. Paul Posluszny was a full participant in Friday's practice, and shouldn’t be held out because of a minor knee injury.
Oakland at New England
Maurice Jones-Drew got back to practice in a limited fashion, and is questionable with a hand injury. He’s still not worth starting if he plays.
Shane Vereen is questionable because of a shoulder issue. He’s right on the cusp, so this could be a tiebreaker if you need one. Julian Edelman (back) and Rob Gronkowski (knee) are both probable and good to go.
Minnesota at New Orleans
Cordarrelle Patterson (chest), Kyle Rudolph (abdomen) and Phil Loadholt (ankle) were all limited participants in practice on Friday, but all are listed as probable. Patterson is a strong play, but Rudolph is not.
Houston at New York Giants
No significant injuries.
Washington at Philadelphia
DeSean Jackson didn’t practice on Friday because of his shoulder injury. He’s questionable, so be prepared to go in another direction.
Dallas at St. Louis
Tony Romo is probable with his ongoing back issue, but Dez Bryant is questionable because of a shoulder injury. It sounds like he’ll be able to go, but be sure to keep an eye on this on Sunday morning.
San Francisco at Arizona
Vernon Davis hasn’t practiced all week due to the ankle injury he suffered late in last week’s loss to the Bears. Given the late kick, you may want to pick up someone like the aforementioned Jared Cook.
Carson Palmer is out due to the nerve issue in his right shoulder. That’s bad news for Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Ellington.
Kansas City at Miami
You know all about Jamaal Charles already. We’ll keep you abreast of the latest news on him and how it affects Knile Davis all day Sunday.
Charles Clay was a limited participant in practice, and while he should play for the Dolphins, fantasy owners should be able to do better.
Denver at Seattle
The Broncos should have Von Miller (groin), but Danny Trevathan is questionable with a knee injury.
Marshawn Lynch is probable after dealing with back spasms last week. You want to start him. The Seahawks also appear set to have Kam Chancellor (ankle) on the field to combat Peyton Manning and the Denver passing attack.
Pittsburgh at Carolina
DeAngelo Williams (hip) didn’t practice and is questionable. Jonathan Stewart would be a potentially intriguing play if Williams were out, but he’s also not worth waiting for.
Chicago and New York Jets
There is no official injury report for this game yet since it’s on Monday night, but just be aware that Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) has been limited in practice, while Brandon Marshall (knee) and Eric Decker (hamstring) both haven’t practiced at all this week. The bet here is that both Bears receivers are healthy enough to start for fantasy owners, but that Decker isn’t worth the risk, even if he is able to play.