Running backs are off to a slow start in the NFL. It would be hard to find a fantasy owner who didn’t know that. Owners who adopted the late round running back strategy are gnashing their teeth through four weeks. Just two backs are averaging over 100 yards per game. You can guess one of them (Adrian Peterson with 105.3 yards per game), and the other is Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (117.0). And only eleven players are breaking five yards per carry, two of which are quarterbacks. You can guess one of them (Michael Vick with 8.8 yards per carry), and the other is Alex Smith (5.0).
Rushers not performing up to ability include such studs as Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, Daryl Richardson, David Wilson, Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice, Stevan Ridley, C.J. Spiller and Doug Martin. There is only so much space on the Internet for the litany of underperforming backs, so you’ll be spared the remaining list (for now). Pending expansion on the latest wing of the world wide web, we’ll move on.
Buy Danny Woodhead
Darren Sproles has been one of the most consistent fantasy players in recent memory. Since 2010, he’s averaged 135 touches (73.3 catches) for 1,003.7 yards and 6.3 touchdowns. While he’s been a Saint since 2011, he began this path in San Diego. In March, the Chargers signed former Patriot and Jet running back Danny Woodhead to a two-year contract worth $3.5 million.
With a couple years of timing removed from the situation, this smells a lot like the Danny Amendola and Wes Welker situation. Sproles has already proven to be as productive a receiving back as any. In 2011, he earned the most all-purpose yards in NFL history with 2,696 yards through rushing, receiving and kick returns. The Chargers may be trying to recreate the production of years’ past with the addition of Woodhead this year.
Through four weeks, Woodhead has 41 touches for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He is on pace to earn 88 receptions, 1,008 yards of offense, and 8 scores. Philip Rivers has few viable options remaining in the passing game, with Danario Alexander out for the season, and Malcom Floyd scheduled to miss at least a month. The Chargers would be wise to leave Woodhead in on all passing downs, to give Rivers another reliable target. A fantasy owner looking for steady flex play should consider Woodhead. His ceiling is likely to remain only at the level of a consistent flex player. But given the uncertainties of other running backs, conservative owners may want this reliable 5-foot-8 back who can almost guarantee a few points every week.
Sell Greg Jennings
The newly acquired Vikings receiver is off to a snail’s pace in 2013. Jennings has 14 catches for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns. His first scores came in Sunday’s defeat of the Steelers in London. He’s averaging 3.5 catches for 63 yards and 0.5 touchdowns. That puts him on pace for only 56 yards, 1008 yards, and 8 scores, which – outside of his injury-riddled 2012 – would be his worst statistical year since his sophomore campaign of 2007.
As a keeper player, Jennings has been on quite a roller coaster of value upheaval in the past three years. There have been some buy-low moments as well as some to sell-high. There is new uncertainty at the quarterback position, which doesn’t help Jennings’ situation any. Christian Ponder finished Week 3’s contest against Cleveland with a rib injury. Matt Cassel got the week four start in London, showing good numbers in the win, with 64-percent complete for 248 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers.
Heading into a bye week, coach Leslie Frazier took the initiative to announce that Ponder will retain his starting job when healthy. But this is the fodder that every coach uses until the moment the replacement decision is actually announced. It’s not certain which quarterback gives Jennings more value moving forward, but the sheer uncertainty hurts his status as a solid fantasy starter. Coming off his best performance of the season, there may not be a better sell-high moment this year.
Hold Vincent Brown
The other player who stands to turn in great numbers for the 2013 Chargers is wide receiver Vincent Brown. The third-year receiver has been surrounded by much hype in his short time in the league. With Rivers’ lack of options, Brown could not be better poised for a breakout campaign. His season average is currently only at 3.8 catches for 22.8 yards and 0.25 touchdowns.
The only two San Diego players with more targets this season are Woodhead (27) and tight end Antonio Gates (32). Rivers trusted Brown with more work Sunday than earlier this season, throwing his way 9 times for 7 completions. Rivers has completed 73.9 percent of his passes this year, for an average of 299.8 yards, 2.75 touchdowns, and 0.5 interceptions per game. As a quarterback attempting to resurrect his career this year, Rivers is going to need continually great production from Brown as the season progresses. Brown owners should sit tight with this top flight investment.
Stats and contract data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and spotrac.com.