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Week Eight fantasy tips: RBs

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By PFW staff

In the late-week fantasy tips for running backs, the PFW staff thinks Chris Johnson and Mikel Leshoure are both strong plays, while the injury situations with the Steelers, Browns and Colts should be watched closely.

The Chris Johnson of old was on display in Week Seven, running circles around Buffalo’s league-worst run defense to the tune of 195 rushing yards and a pair of scores on just 18 carries. Johnson now has turned in positive performances in three of the past four weeks, and he is a must-start Sunday against the Colts, who, despite putting forth their best defensive performance against the run in Week Seven, were gashed one week earlier by the Jets for 252 yards.

With starter Maurice Jones-Drew expected to miss several weeks with a sprained foot, the onus is squarely on Rashad Jennings to contribute on the ground for the Jaguars. It was tough sledding for Jennings against Oakland after Jones-Drew went down, as he managed just 44 yards on 21 carries, but he did chip in 58 receiving yards on seven catches. The Jaguars this weekend travel to Green Bay to face a Packers squad on the upswing, but it is one that has allowed 109.9 rushing yards per week. It remains to be seen how effective Jennings will be, but he should definitely be busy enough to warrant a flex start.

Browns RB Trent Richardson (ribs) was limited to a mere eight yards on eight carries in Week Seven. According to head coach Pat Shurmur, Richardson wanted to play, but Shurmur made the call to sit him because of the injury. How Richardson performs with the injury in practice will be key to his status for Sunday’s game vs. San Diego, Shurmur indicated. If Richardson can’t go, Montario Hardesty likely would get the start. Fantasy owners will want to stay up-to-date on Richardson’s health before making a call on whether to start him.

Check the status of Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) before making a call on whether to start him in Week Eight. It might not be a bad idea to pick up Jonathan Dwyer as both short- and long-term insurance. With Mendenhall out, Dwyer racked up 122 yards in the Week Seven win at Cincinnati, and the Steelers’ running game was impressive in all facets. Perhaps the Steelers’ running game is hitting its stride, which wouldn’t hurt the fantasy value of any of their backs.

In four games, Lions RB Mikel Leshoure has received at least 17 touches per contest, and he has racked up 374 combined yards. His production and volume of work gives him value even in a tough matchup like the one he faces Sunday vs. Seattle, which is allowing just 85.0 rushing yards per game.

Colts RB Donald Brown returned to practice this week, after missing the previous two games while recovering from a knee scope. Brown potentially returning Sunday would come on the heels of Indianapolis’ best running game of the season, complicating the fantasy value of Colts backs. Rookie Vick Ballard had the best game of his young career against Cleveland, totaling 103 yards from scrimmage. Interim head coach Bruce Arians loves Ballard — and second-year player Delone Carter also was effective in Brown’s absence. Although Brown, the former first-rounder, offers game-breaking ability that Ballard and Carter do not, it might be wise to take a wait-and-see approach on the carry distribution once he returns before rolling with Brown.

The Giants are managing RB Ahmad Bradshaw’s foot injury, but the fact that he played last week and received a moderate share of touches (16) shows that he’s likely to be used in similar fashion this Sunday against the Cowboys.

It’s looking very dicey for RB DeMarco Murray to play this week against the Giants. We likely will see Felix Jones, whose knee injury is also worth noting, for the majority of carries, with Phillip Tanner likely to receive some decent work as well.

Peyton Hillis owners, rejoice (quietly). He’s likely to give it a run this weekend following a painful ankle injury against the Raiders and could be somewhere in the 8-15 range for carries. Fifteen would be the extreme high end, but if Brady Quinn starts struggling or Jamaal Charles gets banged up, don’t be surprised if the pitch count is higher than expected.

We take back what we said last week about William Powell suddenly being the second-most attractive fantasy weapon the Cardinals have to offer aside from WR Larry Fitzgerald. Say hello to LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is coming off a first-class fantasy effort in Arizona’s 21-14 loss to the Vikings. Easy to overlook because of his diminutive 5-foot-7 size, “The Hyphen” dashed for a career-best 104 yards and a TD on 20 carries vs. the Vikings, in addition to catching four passes for another 45 yards. A case can be made for Stephens-Howling as maybe the Cardinals’ MOST attractive fantasy option, considering how effectively opponents continue to limit Fitzgerald with extra coverage. But daily team observers remain concerned about Stephens-Howling’s durability in an unfamiliar starting role. The strong 49ers run defense he will be facing Monday night is another concern for fantasy players, although Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch was able to effectively move the chains against San Francisco in the Niners’ Thursday-night Week Seven victory over the Seahawks. In any event, until Beanie Wells hopefully comes back from knee and toe injuries at the end of November, Stephens-Howling remains an interesting fantasy option, particularly in a flex role.

Outside of Stevan Ridley, it’s difficult to have confidence in starting a Patriots running back, especially when Brandon Bolden gets healthy, giving the Pats four capable backs. If there were a second choice for this week, though, it would be Danny Woodhead. He doesn’t score touchdowns, but he has consistently gotten opportunities. Woodhead is averaging 8.6 touches a game, and against a fierce Rams pass rush, the Pats could go to the run and screen game to keep Robert Quinn and Chris Long honest, and Woodhead is a key contributor in both of those areas.

Coming off a game in which he played only five snaps, owners are likely steering clear of Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams this week, and that is the right approach to take. Williams only had six carries in Carolina’s previous outing — he has clearly taken a backseat to Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert is becoming the top option in goal-line situations.

If you have room on your roster, Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman is not a bad idea as someone to stash. The team wants to get him more involved and the bye week gave him more time to continue getting acclimated to the offense. Keep an eye on how he’s used against New Orleans.

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