With the MLB postseason upon us, fantasy baseball is still fresh on my mind. And I can’t help but see similarities between baseball bullpens and football backfields.
Running backs are like closers. You have workhorses, committees and players next in line for the throne, or handcuffs. It’s those players who could bring the most value. They might take up a roster spot for a while, but waiting them out could be worth it in the end.
A few such players have come onto the scene recently, to varying degrees. If you own the lead back, you’ll want these handcuffs on your roster:
Aaron Jones, Packers: The Packers took three running backs in the draft, and Jones, the second selected, vaulted into the lead Sunday, when he rushed 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown. He took advantage of the opportunity with starter Ty Montgomery (ribs) and fellow rookie Jamaal Anderson (knee), the first selected, out of action. Jones played on a whopping 88 percent of the Packers’ offensive snaps. He has earned more time when Montgomery returns.
Marlon Mack, Colts: Starter Frank Gore still led the way Sunday with 39 snaps, and Robert Turbin was next with 21. But Mack did more with his 17, rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on nine carries after missing two games with a shoulder injury. The rookie had runs of 11, 22 (touchdown), 16 and 35 yards. Gore figures to keep the lead role for now, but Mack is forcing his way into action. Keep in mind, Gore is about 13 years older than Mack and is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry.
Matt Breida, 49ers: He had more touches and total yards than starter Carlos Hyde for the first time this season Sunday. Hyde has been bothered by a hip injury, but he wasn’t on the injury report last week. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he went with the “hot hand,” and he’ll continue to. Hyde owners should protect themselves. He’s a free agent after the season, and without a connection to the new front office, he could be pushed aside to give the team’s prospects more of a chance.
Elijah McGuire, Jets: Yes, he’s a Jet. But he’s a Jet who could carry the load this week if Matt Forte (toe) and Bilal Powell (calf) are out. McGuire was the lead back in the second half Sunday, though he finished with only 30 yards against a tough Browns run defense. The rookie could have some success against the Patriots’ 24th-ranked unit.
Austin Ekeler, Chargers: With Branden Oliver (hamstring) injured, Ekeler is the top backup to Chargers starter Melvin Gordon. Ekeler, an undrafted rookie, had 10 looks Sunday (four rushes, six targets), catching three passes for 28 yards. Two weeks ago, he had a 35-yard touchdown run on his only carry.
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WEEK 6 OUTLOOK
Byes: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Seahawks.
Redskins QB Kirk Cousins: QBs have averaged 321 passing yards in the last three games against the 49ers, who will play their third consecutive road game.
Broncos RB C.J. Anderson: He could have a big game against the Giants, who have faced the fourth-most rushes and rank 29th in run defense.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald: The Buccaneers have the second-worst pass defense, and they’ve allowed the most PPR points to WRs.
Raiders QB Derek Carr: He’s expected to play after missing one week with a back injury, but the offense hasn’t inspired much confidence to rely on him again.
Panthers RBs: Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey figure to struggle against the Eagles, who have a strong front seven and rank second in run defense.
Rams WR Sammy Watkins: They want to get him the ball more, but that will be difficult against the Jaguars, who have allowed the third-fewest PPR points to WRs.
WEEK 5 PICKS
Jameis Winston: 334 yards, TD pass
Carlos Hyde: 8 rushes, 11 yards
Randall Cobb: 4 catches, 29 yards
Cam Newton: 355 yards, 3 TD passes
Jordan Howard: 19 carries, 76 yards
Amari Cooper: 1 catch, 8 yards