Checking on the marquee running backs in the Week 3 Cheat Sheet

Saturday September 21st, 2013

While fantasy owners expected big things from Jackson in Atlanta, his backups have little value.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Steven Jackson,Eddie Lacy, Ray Rice and Reggie Bush are out this week. Maurice Jones-Drew is banged up. Trent Richardson is learning on the fly in Indy. David Wilson has a permanent spot in Tom Coughlin's doghouse.

That's six running backs who were all selected within any draft's first 40 to 50 picks. You can only play one of them with even a shred of confidence this week. Which one? We'll talk about that and more in the Week 3 Cheat Sheet.

We'll be updating here all Sunday morning with important news as it breaks. Meanwhile, the MMQB's Alessandro Miglio and Eric Edholm will be taking your start/sit questions on the @SInow Twitter feed from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern.

10:43 a.m. -- The Browns and Colts rocked the NFL world by swinging the huge Trent Richardson trade. ESPN's Ed Werder reports that the Colts plan to give their new running back 10 to 15 touches. I've mostly been recommending sitting him. The lack of touches combined with a tough matchup against the Niners makes him too much of a risk. If you're lacking options you can still plug him in, but you should mostly try to look elsewhere.

10:58 a.m. -- The news on Reggie Bush has been trickling in all morning, but we now have our strongest indication that he will not play. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the knee injury Bush suffered against the Cardinals last week is likely to keep him on the sideline today. All you Joique Bell owners should get him in your lineups. He's a great play against a terrible Washington defense.

11:10 a.m. -- Adam Schefter is a busy man this morning. He reports that the Browns might not be done in the trade market. The team is apparently willing to deal both Josh Gordon and Greg Little. A trade out of Cleveland would be huge for either of these guys. Depending on the landing spot, Gordon could be a huge beneficiary. He has the talent to be a top-tier receiver in the right environment.

11:20 a.m -- Quick update on a pair of wide receivers. We expected Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Wallace to play today, and it is now confirmed that both of them will suit up. I'm confident using both of them as usual. Fitz was limited by that hamstring injury last week, but he practiced Friday and should look more like his normal self this week. Wallace was limited in practice Friday, but it's hard to imagine the Dolphins chancing him if they weren't confident he could play without worsening his groin injury.

11:35 a.m. -- Schefter is at it again. His latest is that Vernon Davis is a "true game-time decision." The fact that the Niners play late makes it awfully hard to trust him. If you're inclined to roll the dice and hope Davis plays, you need to have a backup who plays late ready to throw in there if he can't go. Charles Clay would be my first choice, and he is widely available. If he's gone, consider Kellen Winslow.

11:46 a.m. -- Jason LaCanfora of CBS reports that Le'Veon Bell will definitely suit up for the Steelers next week. Given that they haven't done a thing on the ground this year, Bell will likely have a huge role in the backfield right from the start. He's a great trade target right now, especially if you're shorthanded because of all the injured backs around the league.

11:59 a.m. -- We're all aware of the carnage at the running back position. One sneaky play this week could be Pierre Thomas. Mark Ingram is out and Darren Sproles does nearly all his damage as a receiver. Thomas should get somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 touches today, and that could be enough to produce flex-worthy numbers.

12:16 p.m. -- Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says that Daryl Richardson did very little in practice on Friday because of his foot injury. He has been underwhelming this year, and the fact that the foot is still giving him troubles is disconcerting. He's a fringe flex play at best this week.

12:46 p.m. -- Rob Gronkowski looks like he's getting close to returning, but it won't be this week. It's crazy to say it, but you should be able to find a better option than Tom Brady this week. We all saw what happened last Thursday. He'll be just fine when Gronk and Amendola return, but until then I wouldn't trust him.

Bernard Pierce looking good

Pierce is a great play this week. Don't get too hung up on his season stats. The Baltimore run game was marginalized against Denver Week 1, and Cleveland has a strong defense that will give running backs fits all season. The Texans have played well against the run this year, largely holding Ryan Mathews and Chris Johnson in check, but Pierce should be in line for 20-plus touches. He'll easily produce like a fantasy starter this week.

12:55 p.m. -- Bobby Rainey will start at running back in the first game of the post-Richardson era in Cleveland. This week, none of those backs -- Rainey, Chris Ogbonnaya or Willis McGahee -- can be considered a starter in fantasy leagues. Let's wait and see how the workload is divided today and revisit the situation next week.

Detroit backfield giving fantasy owners headaches

Reggie Bush and Joique Bell split first-team reps at practice on Friday, but Bush is officially out. Bell has done well for himself in limited duty, running for 56 yards and two scores on 14 carries and looking like a serious weapon catching the ball out of the backfield. I'd be surprised if he has fewer than 75 yards from scrimmage today, giving him a double-digit fantasy-point day if he can find the end zone.

Trent Richardson owners will be happy with his move...just not this week

I wrote about the Richardson deal when it happened, so check that out if you want my full take on the situation. In short, I like it for his fantasy prospects. It was going to be tough sledding all year long in Cleveland. He now finds himself as part of a much better offense, one that should score a ton more than the Browns. That can't do anything but improve his value. However, he'd likely be on my bench this week if I owned him anywhere.

First of all, it's going to take Richardson some time to learn the Colts' protection schemes. That likely means he'll be off the field on obvious passing downs. Second, Ahmad Bradshaw isn't going to disappear entirely from the offense. Not only is he an excellent blocker, he has his virtues as a runner and receiver, too. Even when Richardson is up to speed, you can probably count on Bradshaw getting somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or 10 touches per game. Third, he's going up against one of the best defenses in the league, and I fully expect the Niners to be in control of this game from wire to wire. Marshawn Lynch put up a huge fantasy day against San Francisco last week, but he had to grind out his 98 yards on 28 carries. It's hard to bench a guy you took in the first round, but I'd look elsewhere assuming you have a few good options you can plug in there in his place.

Sports Illustrated's Week 3 player projections

Steven Jackson's replacements aren't worth starting

Jackson will mess the next two to four weeks with a thigh injury, thrusting Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling into the spotlight. Even though you'd normally be all over a new starter in a great offense, I don't see either of these guys moving the needle all that much. Perhaps I'd consider Rodgers in a full PPR league, but that's the only format in which I'd give him any run.

The reasons are multiple. I can't imagine either of them will get more than six or seven carries. Instead, the Falcons will likely lean on Matt Ryan and the passing game even more than usual. Rodgers may be a factor in the passing game, but I'm uncomfortable pinning my hopes on a running back who may only run the ball five times. Additionally, Miami's defense is no joke. Even if Rodgers does tally a handful of receptions, I don't see him racking up a ton of yardage. Snelling will likely need a touchdown to put up starter-level numbers, and I'm not betting he gets one. Atlanta will need to play very well to go on the road and beat Miami. The ball will be in Ryan's hands more often than not. Stay away from Rodgers and Snelling.

DeAndre Hopkins, your time has arrived

Hopkins showed last week just why the Texans made him a first-round pick in last April's draft. He caught seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Titans, and made some very impressive plays with Andre Johnson out. As stated above, Johnson is listed as probable after suffering a concussion last week, but I've still got Hopkins as a solid WR3. He caught five of his six targets Week 1, and Matt Schaub rewarded him with 13 targets against the Titans, a team with two of the six best cover corners thus far this season according to Pro Football Focus. He'll find the Baltimore defense a lot more inviting. Get him in your lineup.

The song does not remain the same for James Starks

Starks took over, both literally and figuratively, after Eddie Lacy left last week's game against Washington with a concussion. He became the first Packer to run for 100 yards since 2010, finishing with 132 yards and a touchdown. I do not like him to keep the ball rolling this week. Cincinnati's defense is for real and shut down Matt Forte, at least as a runner, in Chicago two weeks ago. Starks had 20 carries last week, primarily because the Packers were nursing a huge lead in the second half. I expect this game to be a whole lot closer and wouldn't look for Starks to get 24 touches again. It will be very tempting to start him, especially with all the injuries at the position, but I think he'll perform at a level outside the top 25 running backs this week.

Surprise starters at every position

Jay Cutler, Bears -- The Bears -- yes, the Bears -- have the fourth best pass offense through the first two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. That's what happens when you add some weapons, revamp the offensive line and hire a coach who builds his offense around his quarterback. Cutler will push near 300 yards with three scores to help bury the Steelers.

Bilal Powell, Jets -- Powell should be looking at about 14 to 18 touches against a Bills defense that can be exploited. I'm penciling him in for 80 combined yards and a touchdown.

Michael Floyd, Cardinals -- New Orleans has been good against the pass this year, but a lot of that has to do with playing Josh Freeman and the Bucs last week. Matt Ryan threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. I think Carson Palmer will do the same, and Floyd will total close to 100 yards with a touchdown.

Charles Clay, Dolphins -- Clay had more than 100 yards last week and ran for a 1-yard touchdown. Ryan Tannehill has looked much improved this year, and everyone in Miami is benefiting. With the Falcons banged up at linebacker, Clay will be able to post another big day.

Browns Defense -- The Browns may be in shambles on the offensive side of the ball, but this defense is legit. It has held opponents to 285.5 yards per game, the fifth best total in the league, and has six sacks. I think they'll be able to create some havoc against Christian Ponder.

Injury news lightning round

• Rob Gronkowski is listed as questionable after practicing all week in a limited fashion, but he's officially inactive.

• T.Y. Hilton was limited in practice Friday, but the Colts reversed course and listed him as probable after first saying he'd be a game-time decision. The big problem is they kick late out in San Francisco. You'll for sure want him in there if he plays. As I said earlier, I think the 49ers will win this game with relative ease, and we could see 50-plus pass attempts from Andrew Luck.

• Vernon Davis is questionable for that same game thanks to a balky hamstring. You should start him if he plays, but have a backup who plays late ready to go. If you need to add someone to satisfy that requirement, Charles Clay, Kellen Winslow and Heath Miller (who we'll get to shortly) are all widely available.

• Larry Fitzgerald's hamstring injury clearly limited him last week, but he was able to practice Friday and looks good to go against the Saints. He's got my stamp of approval for this week.

• Mike Wallace practice in a limited capacity on Friday because of a groin injury and is officially listed as questionable. Luckily, he plays in the early games. If he starts for the Dolphins he should start for you, too.

• Brandon Marshall was dealing with a bit of a back issue this week, but he was a full participant in Friday's practice. Start him as usual. Same goes for Andre Johnson, who was able to practice Thursday and Friday after suffering a concussion last week.

• It looks like Ben Roethlisberger will have Heath Miller at his disposal for the first time this season. He's worth keeping an eye on, but you should be able to find a better option for this week with all the depth at the tight end position.

Who to start and who to sit in Week 3

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