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Running back roulette
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Week 12 might seem a little late in the season for introductions, but sometimes things don't go exactly as planned.

In a perfect world, Maurice Jones-Drew, LeSean McCoy and Willis McGahee would all be healthy for Week 12. In this world, however, none of them are.

Instead, the anonymous running back trio of Bryce Brown, Jalen Parmele and Ronnie Hillman will all be making their first NFL starts this weekend.

Arizona halfback Beanie Wells, out since Week 3 with a toe injury, will also be in action this Sunday. He is still available in nearly half of ESPN fantasy leagues.

Which of these four will provide the biggest lift in fantasy for this week and, if necessary, the rest of the season? Why don't we take a look:

Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles: Brown is the most unfamiliar of the backup bunch, a rookie from Kansas State who didn't hear his name called until the final round of last April's NFL Draft. Brown has seen 32 carries this season as a change of pace back for LeSean McCoy, collecting 141 yards on the ground.

With Michael Vick out, you'd expect the Eagles to run the ball more than usual but they actually haven't. Last week, quarterback Nick Foles hoisted up 46 passes in a loss to the Washington Redskins.

The good news is that Brown faces a pretty favorable matchup Monday night against Carolina (19th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed). The bad news is that Philadelphia has had a really tough time moving the chains recently, even against mediocre defenses like the Redskins and the New Orleans Saints.

If the Eagles get down early (which is often the case) Brown probably wouldn't see many chances in the second half, which lowers his ceiling quite a bit. Even if Brown does receive a heavy workload, we just haven't seen enough of him this season to know if he'll really be a reliable fantasy contributor.

Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos: Hillman, a speedy rookie out of San Diego State, will get the start Sunday in place of Willis McGahee (broken leg, torn MCL). With McGahee out for at least the rest of the regular season, Hillman should be the team's starter for the forseeable future.

Denver's schedule the rest of the way is another reason why owners should consider holding onto Hillman. Five of the Broncos' next six games are against teams ranked in the bottom 10 in rushing yards allowed with the one exception being Tampa Bay (No. 1 against the run) in Week 13.

Sunday's matchup against Kansas City might be the easiest of them all. The Chiefs are 25th against the run this season and come into Week 12 with seven straight losses.

Having a red-hot Peyton Manning under center will only help Hillman's chances. Even if Manning ends up doing most of the work, Hillman should still see some goal line opportunities and as fantasy owners know, one touchdown is all you need to turn a bad fantasy day into a good one.

Jalen Parmele, Jacksonville Jaguars: Parmele emerged onto the fantasy scene with a solid 80-yard performance against Houston in Week 11. He has officially passed Rashad Jennings on the team's running back depth chart and Sunday he faces one of the league's most generous run defenses in Tennessee (28th against the run).

Blaine Gabbert has held the Jaguars' offense hostage with his poor play this season but now the much more capable Chad Henne is finally getting a chance to start. A strong passing game always opens up the run, so this news bodes well for Parmele.

Unfortunately, Parmele is only averaging 3.1 yards per carry this season and he's never scored a touchdown in 18 career games. Jones-Drew insists he'll be back this season, so Parmele's reign as starter might only last a week or two even if he plays well.

Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals: Out of our four candidates, Wells has the strongest body of work. Wells actually rushed for 1,000 yards last season and opened the year as Arizona's starter.

Unfortunately that strong track record hasn't resulted in much success for Wells this season. He's missed the Cardinals' last seven games because of turf toe and even before that he was only averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

To make matters worse, Arizona's QB situation is among the most dire in the league. The Cardinals are so desperate they've resorted to using rookie Ryan Lindley as the starter. Wells could get a lot of touches if Lindley struggles in the passing game, but after a while that approach will become predictable and Wells probably won't break off many big gains.

The running back situation might be just as foggy. LaRod Stephens-Howling is coming off his best game of the season (127 yards on 22 carries) and could command almost 50 percent of the touches Sunday against St. Louis, especially if Wells gets off to a slow start.

Wells doesn't have the benefit of a cupcake schedule, either. The Cardinals still have to face Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, all teams ranked 12th or better against the run this season. The only easy game left for Arizona is against the New York Jets in Week 13 (30th in the league in opponent rushing yards).

The pick: All signs point to Hillman. We know he'll be the starter for the rest of the year and Denver's high-powered passing game gives Hillman some vulture potential (all four of McGahee's touchdowns before he got hurt came from inside the five-yard line). And if that wasn't enough to already tip the scale in Hillman's favor, remember the Broncos have an incredibly light schedule coming up.

If Hillman is available on waivers, scoop him up now and make sure he's in your lineup before Sunday's 1 p.m. start in Kansas City.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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