One injury away
Philadelphia, PA ( - Nobody could have predicted Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings (now with the New York Giants) were going to produce so excellently last season, but it was reasonable to expect them to actually see the field at some point.

That's because of the players who were directly ahead of them on the depth chart -- Michael Vick and Darren McFadden, respectively -- are two of the most injury-prone players in the NFL.

This season, Maurice Jones-Drew is behind McFadden, and you can bet he'll have a sizeable role eventually. McFadden has missed 29 games in his six-year career.

For that reason, Jones-Drew is one of the best backup running backs to draft. He may not have as much upside as Christine Michael, Knile Davis or Carlos Hyde, but McFadden is far more likely to go down than Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles or Frank Gore.

Here are five more understudies who are one injury away from moving into a major role and just so happen to be behind an injury-prone player on the depth chart:

Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles - Matthews, a rookie out of Vanderbilt, is expected to begin the season as Philadelphia's slot receiver and could have a lot of mismatches due to his 6-foot-3 frame. However, the Eagles have a lot of mouths to feed -- Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy are all going to be heavily involved in the passing game. But Maclin is coming off a torn ACL and was banged up often in his first four seasons. If he suffers another injury, I think Matthews will ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart and Riley Cooper will remain in the same role as No. 2 receiver.

Lance Dunbar, RB, Dallas Cowboys - Cowboys starter DeMarco Murray has suffered myriad injuries going back to college and missed 11 games in his three-year NFL career. Dunbar is going to have a role even when Murray is healthy as part of Scott Linehan's offensive system, which created a flex option out of Joique Bell in Detroit last year even when Reggie Bush was healthy. Dunbar should see 15 touches per game if Murray is out of the lineup.

Donald Brown, RB, San Diego Chargers - Ryan Mathews played 16 games for the first time in 2013 and the Chargers gave him a career-high 311 touches (285 carries) even though Danny Woodhead also saw 182. But Mathews missed 10 games in his first three seasons and was inconsistent when he did play. If Mathews gets hurt in 2014 Brown probably won't see 19.4 touches per game, but he could log 15-17.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins - The injury concerns with Robert Griffin III are well-documented, and the Redskins have more weapons than ever after adding DeSean Jackson. Cousins could make a Foles-like impact this season should another injury befall RGIII. New Washington coach Jay Gruden's offensive system turned Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton into a the fifth highest scoring player at his position in fantasy last season.

Harry Douglas, WR, Atlanta Falcons - We saw what Douglas could do with a starting spot just last season. Roddy White and Julio Jones combined to miss 14 games and Douglas led the team in catches with 85, receiving yards with 1,067 and targets with 133. Tony Gonzalez' retirement opened up 119 targets and the Falcons are expected to have a base set consisting of three wideouts and an in-line blocking tight end this season. Douglas will probably see close to 100 targets even when White and Jones are healthy, and it will only take an injury to one of them for him to become a starting fantasy option.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at

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