Maurice Jones-Drew :: John Biever/SI
Plenty of fantasy title hopes might have been dashed yesterday when the Dolphins announced that running back Ronnie Brown would go on injured reserve and miss the remainder of the season after he suffered what is believed to be a Lisfranc fracture in his mid-foot. The 10th-ranked fantasy back through Week 10, Brown's backup, Ricky Williams, has been a viable flex option in his own right, complicating the dilemma for Brown owners who can't simply go to the wire and pick up the injury replacement.
The Dolphins are just one of a rash of teams that have turmoil at running back caused by injuries. Here's a rundown of every current running back from the least to most stable and attractive to the most going forward from here.
32. Browns ... Just when you thought the Browns' running back committee couldn't get any more confusing, Jerome Harrison, the sometimes-starter and second string behind Jamal Lewis the rest of the time, didn't see a carry against the Ravens, watching as Chris Jennings ran into the Baltimore line seven times for 18 yards. Throw in the white towel here.
31. Chiefs ... A complete mess all season, the departure of Larry Johnson only further complicated matters as Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith and Dantrell Savage all attempt to stake claim to the top spot. As a team Kansas City ranks dead last in rushing touchdowns with one (from Charles).
30. Raiders ... Unlike the Chiefs, the Raiders triple-threat is actually that, a threat. Michael Bush is the lead back du jour, but his hold on the job is tenuous at best. Darren McFadden should get another shot at taking the top job back, if for no other purpose than as an audition for next season. And Justin Fargas, the most experienced and historically most productive of the three is worthy of a roster stash is you're able.
29. Bills ... Fred Jackson started off the season with a huge game against Tampa Bay when he rushed for 163 yards in Week 2, however that's been the one and only 100-yard game for what on paper appears to be a much better tandem than Marshawn Lynch and Jackson have proven on the field.
28. Redskins ... You can't blame Clinton Portis if he's in no rush to return from a concussion, especially with the Redskins in the throes of a disastrous season. In his absence, Ladell Betts gets most of the carries with Rock Cartwright and Marcus Mason getting spot duty.
27. Seahawks ... First reported as a broken rib, Julius Jones is instead believed to have a bruised rib that caused bleeding in his lung. Although it doesn't sound pretty, Jones may be back sooner than anyone could've hoped. Justin Forsett ran for over 100-yards and a couple of scores against the Cards last week and he even has a chance to pass a healthy Jones in the pecking order. Keep an eye out for Louis Rankin who has the tools to be a successful runner in the league.
26. Buccaneers ... For fantasy purposes the only thing worse than a three-headed monster in the backfield is a mediocre three-headed monster in the backfield. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward sap the value from each other while Earnest Graham is no longer a factor.
25. Eagles ... You'd think that Brian Westbrook's career-threatening concussion problem would mean that LeSean McCoy would have a huge impact on the fantasy world the final seven weeks of the season, however Andy Reid's squad has a tendency to abandon the run in the West Coast offense, leaving McCoy owners as frustrated as those who have Westbrook. In a pinch, Leonard Weaver is one of the few fullbacks who can actually help your team.
24. Cowboys ... Marion Barber has a bad hand, Felix Jones is much more fragile than anyone ever could've predicted and Tashard Choice might be the most reliable of the Cowboys backs -- but is forced to defer when the other two are healthy.
23. Cardinals ... No team has run the ball fewer times than Arizona (199) but Tim Hightower's 45 catches and Beanie Wells' breakout performance last week make them both interesting options for the rest of the season. Return man LaRod Stephens-Howling has been getting more of a look in the offense the last few weeks and could make a fantasy contribution by the end of the season.
22. Falcons ... Michael Turner's high-ankle sprain and Jerious Norwood's strained hip flexor have thrust big Jason Snelling into the spotlight this week at Giants Stadium and possibly beyond. There's no question that Turner is the big bird when healthy, but that may not occur for weeks. So in the meantime the Falcons ground game is up in the air with veteran special teamer Aaron Stecker the only alternative to Snelling.
21. Packers ... Despite gaining seven times the yardage of all of the Pack's other backs combined, Ryan Grant is barely ranked as a RB2 this season. The same offense that has made Aaron Rodgers a fantasy stud has made Grant, Ahman Green and Brandon Jackson duds.
20. Giants ... Brandon Jacobs has yet to record his first 100-yard game of the season and despite being one of the most physically imposing backs in the league, has only converted two runs into scores. Ahmad Bradshaw is ranked higher than Jacobs but save for a 110-yard, two TD explosion against the Raiders, he's barely a flex option.
19. Texans ... Ryan Moats has moved to the forefront in Houston but Steve Slaton and Chris Brown still stake a claim for part of the action as the change of pace to the Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson show. There's not much here to love in a fantasy sense, but Moats and Slaton make for good necessary evils if you're hard-pressed for backs.
18. Lions ... Kevin Smith is the Lions' leading fantasy player, having gained more than 700 yards from scrimmage and having scored more touchdowns than Steven Jackson, Portis, Jacobs or Westbrook. His relief is Maurice Morris, who should be nothing but waiver wire fodder.
17. Colts ... While Donald Brown was sidelined Joseph Addai was able to re-establish himself as the Colts' top back and a true fantasy asset. Brown is still around to push for carries and should get the ball a lot is the Colts find themselves in any garbage-time situations while Chad Simpson backs them both up.
16. Broncos ... Knowshon Moreno has moved into the top spot for the Broncos, however he's had just two 90-plus-yard games and one 20-plus-yard runs to his credit this season. Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan and Peyton Hillis have been invisible as the season went on with Buckhalter the logical replacement should something happen to Moreno.
15. Chargers ... Even after LaDainian Tomlinson's renaissance last week against the Eagles, the Chargers, long one of the league's top rushing teams, remains at the bottom of the rankings with just 676 yards on the ground through nine games. The combined fantasy point totals of Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, currently 14th in the league, would still be fewer than Tennessee's Chris Johnson has by himself.
14. Saints ... The Saints can do no wrong offensively this season, leading the league with 16 rushing scores. Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and even Reggie Bush have taken the lead at various times and will continue to rotate responsibilities between them the rest of the way. Use them all.
13. Patriots ... For the first time in years fantasy owners can decipher the Pats running attack. Laurence Maroney gets a bulk of the carries. Sammy Morris is the backup, Kevin Faulk as usual is the third-down back and Benjarvus Green-Ellis is there in case of emergency. And since Larry Johnson signed in Cincinnati, it looks as if nothing's going to disturb the order of things in New England ... this year at least.
12. Ravens ... With over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns, Ray Rice wrested control of the Ravens offense away from Willis McGahee after the veteran got off to a blazing hot start. McGahee and Le'Ron McClain are now simply complementary pieces to Rice, and should be treated as such.
11. Bengals ... Cincinnati seems to have dodged a bullet after Cedric Benson left last week's win against the Steelers with a hip injury. Now deemed minor, he'll likely play this weekend in Oakland leaving backups Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard to sit on fantasy benches. Should the hip flare up to a point where Benson can't go, newly-signed Larry Johnson become a major fantasy force behind a Cincinnati offensive line that shames the one he had been running behind in Kansas City.
10. 49ers ... Fears of a time-share between Frank Gore and Glen Coffee were alleviated once Gore returned to the San Francisco lineup following their bye week. Coffee has fallen off the map while Gore has taken control of the offense. Michael Robinson has no fantasy value what-so-ever.
9. Bears ... Being ranked 11th among all fantasy backs is normally something to be proud of but many observers believed that Matt Forte would be a top-three point producer this season, so he's been a pretty big disappointment. However, with only Garrett Wolfe and the oft-injured Adrian Peterson providing an alternative in the backfield for Chicago, Forte's output remains high enough to start all the time.
8. Dolphins ... Injuries to Ronnie Brown and Patrick Cobbs have left the Wildcat in the capable hands of Ricky Williams, who'll dominate the carries on the team with the second-most rushes in the league this season. Lex Hilliard, late of Montana, has yet to experience his first NFL run but is now the second option, and Lousaka Polite and Pat White (although he's only eligible at QB) don't warrant fantasy usage.
7. Jets ... A tough loss for Rex Ryan's team was a boon for Thomas Jones owners as Leon Washington, the biggest threat to Jones's dominance in the backfield, was lost for the year with a compound leg fracture. Shonn Greene is the change of pace back and given Jones's age and the Jets proclivity to run the ball, should be owned in all leagues.
6. Steelers ... The changing of the guard from Willie Parker to Rashard Mendenhall has gone over as smoothly as Mike Tomlin could ever have hoped it would and Pittsburgh's offense not missing a beat. Mewelde Moore remains a much better real player than his fantasy numbers show.
5. Panthers ... The best team of fantasy backs last season, Carolina's tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has jumped back to the top -- after a slow start -- with over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns between them.
4. Titans ... Chris Johnson became the first rusher to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season and has successfully reached the end zone nine times on the ground as compared to just one for LenDale White, putting any fears of a lack of scoring discount to rest. Still, keep an eye on Javon Ringer in the final weeks.
3. Rams ... It's a shame that the talents of Steven Jackson are going to waste on a team as bad as these Rams. A one-man wrecking crew, Jackson has gained over 100-yards in three straight games and has reached the end zone in two straight. He's backed up by Samkon Gado and Kenneth Darby neither of whom will have much value for your team.
2. Vikings ... The top pick in nearly every draft has produced like a top pick, as Adrian Peterson second in both rushing yardage (923) and rushing touchdowns (11). His backup Chester Taylor is a former 1,200-yard rusher who has 385 yards from scrimmage and a score this season and is a must-have handcuff for all Peterson owners.
1. Jaguars ... There's no more reliable fantasy back right than Maurice Jones-Drew who tops everyone in touchdowns (12) while monopolizing the carries for a run-first team, taking an 85.8 percent of the handoffs to running backs. Rashad Jennings is the backup (4.6 yards per carry) but only gets pressed into fantasy relevancy if Jacksonville loses its Mojo.
Also check out the SI Fantasy Football Extra Podcast with yours truly and my co-host Richard Deitsch, every week on SI.com.
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