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Man in a box: AFC backfield options


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As Hank Williams Jr. used to say, "Are you ready for some football?" I'm not sure preseason game No. 1 counts as football, but the real thing is not too far away. The past few weeks we've hit on some situations to monitor as D-Day gets closer. One aspect of fantasy football that has come to be increasingly annoying is the way that teams handle their backfields. One primary back is now the exception rather than the norm. Some teams have a true committee situation in effect, while other teams give one back the bulk of carries, but then turn to another back in the red zone.

Many experts see this attrition of primary backs as devaluing the RB position and making room for more receivers higher in the rankings. That viewpoint is a little slanted. Yes, with fewer stud running backs, the top receivers do get bumped up a little. The major effect though, is that those backs who do get all the work become even more valuable. Other than Andre Johnson, who is playing in his own little world, there's no reason to take a receiver if there is an established primary back on the board. That's why for me, backs like Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Grant are just as valuable as top wideouts like Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald.

With the increasing importance of knowing the backfield situations around the NFL, this week's Man in a Box will spell it all out for you. As we travel through the AFC, for each team I'll identify the Primary Back (if there is one), the top red zone option, and the likely handcuff. Next week we'll run down the NFC.

Buffalo Bills

Primary back: Time share between C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson

Red zone back: Jackson with a touch of Marshawn Lynch

Handcuff: Lynch

Comments: Spiller is already running with the first team. He may become the primary back, but it's still likely the Bills will turn to Jackson inside the 10.

Miami Dolphins

Primary back:Ronnie Brown

Red zone back: Brown and Ricky Williams

Handcuff: Williams

Comments: Brown will get the chance to reclaim his role as primary back, but Williams is always just a tweaked hammy away.

New England Patriots

Primary back: Committee involving Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Red zone back: Taylor

Handcuff: Taylor and Maroney are the only two even rosterable.

Comments: If one back steps out from the crowd it will be Maroney, but this backfield is best avoided for fantasy purposes.

New York Jets

Primary back:Shonn Greene

Red zone back: Greene

Handcuff:LaDainian Tomlinson

Comments: Greene will get the bulk of the carries, but LT is going to steal a lot of third down work.

Baltimore Ravens

Primary back:Ray Rice

Red zone back:Willis McGahee and Rice

Handcuff: McGahee

Comments: McGahee will vulture some TDs, but it's not as automatic as some will tell you. Rice will get plenty of his own red zone work.

Cincinnati Bengals

Primary back:Cedric Benson

Red zone back: Benson

Handcuff:Bernard Scott

Comments: Benson will get as much work as any back in the NFL. Brian Leonard will come in on obvious passing situations, but the Bengals will rely on Benson as much as possible.

Cleveland Browns

Primary back: Time share between Jerome Harrison and Montario Hardesty

Red zone back: Harrison

Handcuff:James Davis

Comments: Early injuries have set Hardesty back, but he'll earn a part of the job as soon as healthy.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Primary back:Rashard Mendenhall

Red zone back: Mendenhall

Handcuff:Mewelde Moore

Comments: With the disappointing early play of Jonathan Dwyer, Mendenhall's value has been solidified.

Houston Texans

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Primary back: Competition between Arian Foster, Ben Tate, and Steve Slaton

Red zone back: No dedicated Red zone back

Handcuff: Tate

Comments: Fantasy experts were ready to hand the job to Tate, but he hasn't grabbed it just yet. This isn't a true committee, as one of the backs could run away with the job. Monitor this situation up until draft day.

Indianapolis Colts

Primary back:Joseph Addai

Red zone back: Addai

Handcuff:Donald Brown

Comments: Addai is holding onto the starting job, but don't be surprised to see Brown steal more time as the year goes on.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Primary back:Maurice Jones-Drew

Red zone back: Jones-Drew

Handcuff:Rashad Jennings

Comments: Jones-Drew will play every down that his strong legs can handle.

Tennessee Titans

Primary back:Chris Johnson

Red zone back: Johnson

Handcuff:Javon Ringer

Comments:LenDale White stealing the TDs is a thing of the past.

Denver Broncos

Primary back:Knowshon Moreno

Red zone back: Moreno

Handcuff:Correll Buckhalter

Comments: The Broncos would love Moreno to step up, but injuries have hampered his progress. Still Moreno will get the carries, and Buckhalter is nothing more than a third down back.

Kansas City Chiefs

Primary back: Time share between Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles

Red zone back: Jones

Handcuff: Jones/Charles

Comments: Expect the carries to be split; Charles will get the passing downs; and Jones the red zone. Charles ascent to the elite will be put on hold.

Oakland Raiders

Primary back: Competition between Michael Bush and Darren McFadden

Red zone back: Bush

Handcuff: Bush/McFadden

Comments: It's an open competition, but Bush is quickly setting himself apart as McFadden continues to be hampered by nagging injuries. Bush may have this job to himself very soon.

San Diego Chargers

Primary back:Ryan Mathews

Red zone back: Mathews

Handcuff:Darren Sproles

Comments: Sproles will fill the Reggie Bush role, but Mathews should get a huge percentage of the carries.

With fantasy owners kicking into football mode, baseball leagues tend to suffer. Use other owners' indifference to your advantage. Especially for those in keeper leagues, the next two months can be huge. Pay attention to the new names appearing in box scores around the league.

With Jeff Neimann and Wade Davis both on the DL, Jeremy Hellickson is getting the chance to build upon his outstanding debut. He's only starting as long as the other two are out, but could stick in the bullpen when they come back. He's got No. 2 fantasy starter potential as soon as next spring. If for some reason he's available in your league (any format), you need to get your mouse moving.

If J.P. Arencibia was a secret, his two-HR debut let the cat out of the bag. The power potential is huge and was hitting for average in Triple-A despite an overaggressive approach. John Buck may be an "All-Star" but Arencibia is the future.

As Bill Root pointed out in NKOTD, Mike Minor is not an intimidating pitcher. After watching him get knocked around in the Arizona Fall League. I have to admit I didn't pay much attention to his progress. Upon looking at his numbers when he got called up, I was amazed at the nice K rate. I have my doubts that his dominance is going to translate to the major leagues, but by all accounts he has shown that he knows how to pitch. Think Mike Leake with a touch more upside.

I'd be remiss if I didn't throw out props to a friend of RotoExperts; 21-year-old Chris Sale was the first member of the 2010 draft class to get the call to the majors. Bill Root and I had the chance to talk to the young lefty on the Fantasy War Room. He's got his head in the right place and it shows. He's a situational lefty for now, but he's got a chance to become a solid starting pitcher within a year or two. Keep an eye on how the White Sox plan to use him next year. He could be a huge bargain.

Don't forget to check out our Xclusive Edge Rankings for help with tough lineup decisions.

Wake up every morning with RotoExperts on Sirius XM's new Fantasy Sports Radio channel. Listen live starting at 7 am ET as covers all fantasy sports and takes your calls on Sirius channel 211 and XM channel 147.

Doug Anderson is the Executive Editor at Look for Man in a Box every Tuesday and catch him on The Fantasy War Room, Thursdays at 8 ET. Wanna climb in the box and talk fantasy sports? E-mail Doug at