Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Owning backup running backs in fantasy is certainly akin to playing the lottery, but sometimes those tickets hit.
Yes, you can start some of them when the starters go down, but most of the time that proves to be fool's gold. The real grab comes in the form of a trade, taking advantage of the mass hysteria fantasy owners display when an injury strikes and a formerly worthless understudy gets a lead role.
Just take Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones, for example. I'm sure plenty of owners spent the majority of their FAAB budget or expended a top waiver priority on Jones this week because he'll be starting against the Panthers in place of DeMarco Murray.
Unfortunately, Jones is not Murray, he's proven that plenty of times in the past. Why would Jones suddenly become competent five years into his NFL career? He's a little older and a little slower than when he entered the league in 2008. But because he came off the bench and rushed for 92 yards in Week 6 against a mediocre Baltimore defense that had prepared all week for Murray's style of running and instead got Jones, he's suddenly a hot commodity?
That got me thinking about the different tiers of backup running backs. There are some guys who make for worthwhile flex plays even though they aren't the primary ball carrier on their team. Those players are followed by the running backs who just aren't very good but are behind injury-prone starters and would likely become desired properties if the starter went down. And then there's the guys who have no shot at contributing to your fantasy team this season.
Here are my 2012 backup running back rankings, presented in order from the player I'd most like to own to the player I'd least like to own for the rest of this season:
1. Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams - Steven Jackson is worn down from years of carrying the load for a lousy team. Richardson is fresh and it shows. The rookie will likely continue to cut into the veteran's workload.
2. Michael Bush, Chicago Bears - Bush had his chance to start a game after Matt Forte went down with a sprained ankle and he really didn't do much to impress, but he's still considered Chicago's goal-line back and should see at least 10 touches per game going forward.
3. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints - New Orleans figured out last season that the only way to keep Thomas healthy is to use him in short spurts. He's still a valuable fantasy contributor, however, turning an average of 10 touches into 64 yards per contest.
4. Brandon Bolden, New England Patriots - Oh, those Patriots. They're always producing some unknown player to take value away from their expected performers. Bolden is the latest player to emerge, rushing for 219 yards on 36 carries over the past three weeks. He's punched in two short touchdowns this season to boot.
5. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Rookie Doug Martin has been largely average, opening the door for Blount to recapture a role in Tampa Bay's offense. The bruising back has pounded in a touchdown in each of the last two games.
6. Ben Tate, Houston Texans - Tate would have ranked No. 1 if I did this list prior to the season, but Houston has featured Arian Foster so heavily that Tate has been virtually useless in fantasy in four of the five games he's played this season. Still, he would immediately jump to must-start status if Foster went down.
7. Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers - Hunter has had value this season when San Francisco has gotten ahead in games -- 201 of his 227 rushing yards have come in San Francisco's four wins. Unfortunately, there aren't many games left on the schedule that the 49ers will be able to dominate like they did against the New York Jets and Buffalo.
8. Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers - Battle had his run as a useful fantasy player but Ryan Mathews is back in Norv Turner's good graces, so Battle is currently riding the bench. Still, fumbling problems have a tendency to pop up at the worst times, and Mathews isn't exactly out of the woods yet.
9. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions - Bell is fourth among NFL running backs with 178 receiving yards this season, and his fantasy value just got taken off life support with the announcement that Jahvid Best won't return this year.
10. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs - Hillis has missed the last three games after injuring his ankle in Week 3, but I'm not ready to write him off as a bust. He should be ready to return after the Chiefs' bye in Week 7, and the Chiefs are going to have to lighten the load on Jamaal Charles so they don't burn him out. Shaun Draughn has received 45 touches in the last four games, most of which will go to Hillis when he comes back.
11. Danny Woodhead, New England Patriots - If you catch Woodhead on a good week, he can provide solid flex numbers in a PPR league. New England employs him heavily when it runs its third-down offense.
12. Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks - Marshawn Lynch dealt with back spasms in the preseason, but it hasn't hindered him at all. Prior to Week 6 against New England, Lynch had carried the ball 20-plus times in all five games this season and 13 of his last 14. Still, Turbin looks like he has some talent and Seattle can run block, so the rookie would have value if Lynch suffered a major injury.
13. Mike Goodson, Oakland Raiders - Goodson has made some big plays for Oakland this season, running for a long gain of 43 yards and catching a 64-yard touchdown pass. He's not going to have much value unless Darren McFadden gets injured, but that's not a terrible spot to be in considering McFadden's injury history.
14. Jamie Harper, Tennessee Titans - Harper poached a short touchdown from the insufferable Chris Johnson last Thursday against Pittsburgh and Titans coach Mike Munchak said the running back could get more short-yardage carries in the future.
15. Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys - DeMarco Murray is already telling his teammates that he'll be ready for Week 8, so Jones may only have one week to carry the load. Plus, like I said above, he's just not very good.
16. Cedric Peerman, Cincinnati Bengals - BenJarvus Green-Ellis has made former Bengals running back Cedric Benson look explosive. The Law Firm has only rushed for 362 yards on 107 carries (3.4 ypc) with a long gain of 20 yards. Peerman only has six carries this season, but he caught eight passes for 76 yards in Week 6 and had a 48-yard run in Week 4 against the Jaguars.
17. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons - Rodgers is supposed to be the speedy complement to Michael Turner, but he is only averaging 3.2 ypc on 88 career carries, including 2.5 this season. If Rodgers was a capable NFL player, he would have eclipsed Turner already in the Falcons' lineup, but he's had virtually no impact.
18. Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins - Reggie Bush isn't the picture of health, but neither is Thomas. The running back has already suffered two concussions this season. When he's been healthy in his two-year career, Thomas has been average at best, rushing for 694 yards on 201 carries (3.5 ypc). Still, Miami doesn't have confidence in Lamar Miller to handle more than a few snaps per game, so Thomas is the clear-cut backup when he returns to the field.
19. David Wilson, New York Giants - Wilson is an intriguing player, but Ahmad Bradshaw has been playing so well lately (57 carries, 316 yards, two TDs) that it's tough to see Wilson having a large role in this offense. Even if Bradshaw gets injured, Wilson will probably cede carries to Andre Brown again.
20. Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings - The superhuman Adrian Peterson prevented Gerhart from starting the season as the No. 1 back and he's been all but erased from the offense, aside from a few carries per game lately.
21. Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts - Ballard is starting while Donald Brown recovers from knee surgery, but Brown is only expected to miss 1-2 more weeks and Ballard hasn't proven he is much of a threat this season.
22. Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers - Redman had his chance to shine with Rashard Mendenhall sidelined and couldn't stay healthy enough to do anything with it. Redman had 105 receiving yards in Week 6, but both he and Mendenhall left the game with injuries. Redman is only averaging 2.5 ypc this season, so even if he gets another crack at the starting job, I wouldn't let him near my fantasy lineup.
23. James Starks, Green Bay Packers - Starks' stock fell quicker than Facebook's once training camp got underway. He struggled with drops, fumbles and was sidelined with turf toe before the Packers went out and signed Cedric Benson. He played in Week 6 for the first time this season, but he's firmly behind Alex Green on the depth chart.
24. Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos - The Broncos rookie was a popular preseason sleeper, but he struggled with a hamstring injury and learning the team's pass protection schemes. He's been getting more playing time recently as a change- of-pace back but shouldn't threaten Willis McGahee's spot much.
25. Tashard Choice, Buffalo Bills - Choice is the best No. 3 running back in the NFL. He sat behind Marion Barber and Felix Jones in Dallas and always played well when pressed into action and he did the same this season for Buffalo when C.J. Spiller went down in Week 3. Since Buffalo uses Fred Jackson as RB1A and Spiller as RB1B, Choice counts as Buffalo's entry on this list. Unfortunately, the odds are against both Jackson and Spiller being out of the lineup at the same time again.
26. Bilal Powell, New York Jets - It looked like Powell was going to cut into Shonn Greene's playing time, but Greene exploded for 161 yards and three TDs on 32 carries in Week 6. Greene's performance aside, I tend to stay away from Jets players in fantasy, and that includes backup RBs.
27. Evan Royster, Washington Redskins - Alfred Morris has sprinted away from the competition in the Redskins' backfield -- Morris has 116 carries; Royster is second among RBs on the team with eight. Royster would probably be the first guy up if Morris were to go down, but you never know with Mike Shanahan.
28. Chris Ogbonnaya, Cleveland Browns - Trent Richardson is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Ogbonnaya is not in Richardson's league. Therefore it is impossible to see Ogbonnaya having fantasy value this year.
29. Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars - Jennings started in Week 1 after Maurice Jones-Drew held out for the entire preseason, but he was injured, missed a couple of games and hasn't carried the ball more than three times in a game since. Jones-Drew is one of the most durable backs in the NFL and one of the only RBs in the league who can succeed despite Jacksonville's offensive failings. There's no proof Jennings also could do that if Jones-Drew succumbed to injury.
30. Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers - Like Choice, Tolbert is Carolina's main "backup" since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams split carries. Tolbert has some value due to his past goal-line success, but, unfortunately, quarterback Cam Newton gets the majority of this team's short rushing scores and Tolbert spends most of his time at fullback.
31. La'Rod Stephens-Howling, Arizona Cardinals - Stephens-Howling started in Arizona's first game since Ryan Williams was placed on injured reserve, but the 5-foot-7 back couldn't generate much on the ground and appears to have lost his spot to William Powell.
32. Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles - LeSean McCoy is the alpha and omega in the Eagles' backfield. McCoy has 136 touches to Brown's 20 this season.
33. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens - Ray Rice is so durable and does so much for Baltimore that I had to double-check who occupies the second spot on the Ravens' depth chart. Apparently it's this guy. Pierce has as good a chance as I do of having fantasy value this season.