When Mike Shanahan was in Denver, he was notorious for switching running backs at will. This wouldn't be an issue if he didn't have a good running game. When Shanahan was Broncos head coach from 1995-2008, Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns all rushed for 1,000 yards. And other guys got into the act, too: Quentin Griffin got 81 carries in the first four games of 2004 (rushing for 295 yards, including 156 in Week 1) and had only four carries in the NFL after.
Well, he has done it again. Through the first three games of the 2011 season, Tim Hightower was the Redskins' No. 1 back. He rushed 59 times for 204 yards and had a touchdown in the air and on the ground. And then, on Sunday, Ryan Torain got his shot. Hightower had eight carries for 24 yards. Torain, who didn't have a carry coming into the game, rushed 19 times for 135 yards and a score.
This isn't a huge shock, even without the Shanahan factor; Torain was the Redskins' top back at the end of last season but was injured in camp. But Hightower had a strong preseason and was the No. 1 the first three weeks. (In traditional Shanahan fashion, another running back -- rookie Roy Helu -- had 10 carries for 74 yards in Week 2. He rushed eight times for 35 yards Sunday.)
So what's a fantasy owner in need of a running back to do?
The Redskins have a bye this week, so you're out of luck if you need an option for Week 5. But Torain (owned in 21 percent of Yahoo! leagues currently) is a high-ceiling pickup; he was originally drafted by Shanahan in '08 with the Broncos and was the primary back for over half of last season. "We'll play the hot guy," Shanahan says, and for now that's Torain. If he stays healthy, he could be the guy this season -- or at least until Roy Helu (31 percent owned) becomes Shanahan's favorite.
Matt Hasselbeck, Titans (owned in 39 percent of Yahoo! leagues): The former Seahawks quarterback put up 19 fantasy points in Weeks 1 and 2 and 21 points in Weeks 3 and 4. He's thrown eight TDs and three picks. The Titans are 3-1 and Chris Johnson is averaging 2.9 yards a carry. At this point, if you need a quarterback you could certainly do worse.
Colt McCoy, Browns (33 percent): Unless your league deducts points for incompletions, McCoy could put up OK numbers in a pinch. He threw 61 times in Week 4 and has 172 attempts this season, second only to Drew Brees (174). He completes only 58 percent of his passes, but any quarterback who gets that many attempts could put up solid fantasy numbers. He has six scores and only three picks.
Charlie Batch, Steelers (0 percent): Ben Roethlisberger was in a protective boot after injuring his left foot on the final drive Sunday against the Texans. Next week the Steelers play the Titans, one of the top passing defenses in the league so far, but if you're stuck Batch has done well in a fill-in role before.
Stevan Ridley, Patriots (14 percent): The rookie led all Patriots running backs with 97 yards and a score against the Raiders on Sunday. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had more carries (16 to 10) but Ridley looks like he could be moving into more of a feature role. Even if he doesn't, the Patriots offense is strong enough to warrant him as a third RB if he keeps this up.
Kendall Hunter, Niners (29 percent): Running well (nine carries for 38 yards; two catches for 62 yards on five targets) against the Philadelphia Eagles is no huge feat, but Hunter is a nice player to stash in case Frank Gore's injury lingers. While Gore played very well (15 carries for 127 yards and a score) and is the starter, Hunter is a guy to pick up for down the line.
Isaac Redman, Steelers (7 percent): Rashard Mendenhall's leg injury doesn't appear to be serious -- and the Steelers offensive line has issues -- but he's the backup on a heavy-running team with an injured starter who isn't playing all that well. Redman rushed six times for 40 yards on Sunday and caught the one pass thrown his way for 12 yards.
Danario Alexander, Rams (17 percent): Alexander was targeted eight times on Sunday; he caught just three passes, but leads the team in receiving yards (196) and is second in targets (23 to Mike Sims-Walker's 26). Danny Amendola is out for the season and Alexander has a bit more big-play ability than the other Rams receivers; he has three catches of over 20 yards this year.
Steve Breaston, Chiefs (12 percent): Breaston caught four passes (on five targets) for 91 yards on Sunday; the Chiefs are bad, but Breaston might get enough targets to be an option in points-per-reception leagues.
Jacoby Jones, Texans (25 percent) and Kevin Walter, Texans (5 percent): Andre Johnson went down with a hamstring injury on Sunday and could miss Sunday's game. Walter is the Texans' No. 2 receiver; Jones replaced Johnson in the lineup. Neither guy caught a pass Sunday -- each was targeted once -- so they're not great options if Houston's running game is working, but if word comes that Johnson's injury is more serious, these two will be hot waiver pickups.
Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (29 percent): The second-year man out of Oklahoma has had some strong fantasy performances this season, including four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown on seven targets on Sunday. Young QBs like Andy Dalton tend to rely on the tight end and he's been targeted 28 times so far. He's almost certainly the best TE option on your waiver wire.
Ed Dickson, Ravens (19 percent): The Ravens rookie tight end caught only four passes Sunday night, but was targeted 12 times by Joe Flacco. That low catch rate isn't great, but against weaker defenses maybe he'll bring more of those in.
Benjamin Watson, Browns (17 percent): The Browns' tight end is 12th in fantasy points among TEs so far and is getting more targets than teammate Evan Moore (nine to one on Sunday; 16 to seven overall).
John Kasay, Saints (49 percent): He's been solid this year, and Garrett Hartley has been placed on injured reserve. The Saints are always going to move the ball down the field and Kasay is always going to get opportunities, and he's available in half of all leagues. He might be better than your current kicker.
Tennessee (17 percent): The Titans defense quietly is one of the best in the league this year, at seventh in yards per game and 10th in points. They've even forced seven take-aways. They should be owned in your league.