The NFL may be a passing league, with quarterbacks dominating fantasy leagues the way top running backs used to, but making sure your team has quality rushers is still key, and finding the Nos. 2-4 backs can sometimes be a crapshoot.
It’s difficult to handicap backup running backs on every team because of a few reasons. For one thing, many teams have as true a split backfield as you can get (i.e., the Panthers with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Wiliams) and some teams still are trying to work out their RB groups (it’s anyone’s guess how carries will be divvied up in San Francisco between Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James behind Frank Gore).
For the purposes here, the focus is on true No. 2 backs, players that appear most likely to get the second-most carries for their respective clubs but potentially enough to be worthy of a spot in fantasy-football starting lineups. These are the type of backs I look for in fantasy drafts — backs that are clearly No. 2 in the sense that they are the backup, and there is not a third back owners have to worry about. The preseason is key for fantasy owners to see how teams use their reserve backs.
Here's a look at three No. 2 backs worthy of starting spots in your fantasy lineups:
Bills RB C.J. Spiller — Head coach Chan Gailey has made it clear there will be a work-share in the backfield, but Fred Jackson is still expected to get the lion’s share of touches because of his abilities as a blocker and receiver. On the subject of the workload for the Bills' backs, Gailey told the club's website: “I can promise you this, we will not make everybody happy. That will not happen this year. The only thing that will make everybody happy is winning. That’s what the goal is, to come up with plans that incorporate everybody’s abilities that allow us to win. Other than that I can’t predict what’s going to happen as far as percentages for their touches.”
Spiller proved himself last year down the stretch, and the Bills will continue to find ways to put the ball in his hands, as a receiver and a runner. Without many weapons at pass catcher outside Stevie Johnson, Spiller could still see plenty of offensive snaps, just in different spots. Spiller had only 21 carries through 10 games last season, but that won’t be the case at the start of 2012, even if he assumes the back seat to Jackson. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if Spiller started to see more carries late in the season.
Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings — Jennings showed his big-play abilities in 2010, averaging 5.5 yards a carry and showing value as a receiver as well. He missed all of 2011 with a knee injury, but there is no question in Jacksonville that he is healed and ready to go this summer. Jennings has no competition for his No. 2 role behind Maurice Jones-Drew and could see more work in training camp if MJD holds out.
The two knocks on Jennings are his inexperience (he only had 84 carries in ’10) and that he sits behind one of the league’s few workhorse backs, who happened to win the rushing title last season. If there’s a year to expect better things from Jennings, though, it will be 2012. Assuming Jacksonville’s offense improves, Jennings will be one of the beneficiaries, and he's worthy of a flex spot on fantasy teams.
Texans RB Ben Tate — Tate came on strong in 2011 after missing his entire rookie season in ’10. He rushed for 942 yards and gained 5.4 yards per carry. He is big, yet explosive, and totaled four 100-yard rushing games. The hard thing for fantasy owners to decide with Tate is how many touches will he get behind Arian Foster. Foster is the dual-threat back and PFW’s top-ranked fantasy running back. He had 278 carries last season, and that was while missing three games. Foster is also much more of a receiving threat than Tate.
From Weeks 12 through 16, Tate had a total of 37 carries and zero touchdowns. He didn’t show week-in, week-out consistency last season, but Tate is good enough to warrant a spot in a starting lineup in that explosive offense. Foster may be a No. 1 pick in some leagues, but he has an injury history, which could increase Tate’s value.