There is opportunity in disaster

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Sunday's "massacre" of more than half a dozen running backs, may be painful if you had one of them in your lineup, but the aftermath opens up numerous opportunities for owners to improve their roster.

The list of running backs who were injured in Week 7 was long and started even before the opening kickoff. Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Jahvid Best and LeGarrette Blount, all solid fantasy starters, couldn't answer the opening bell. And Seattle tailback Marshawn Lynch hurt his back in warmups and didn't play a down. Lynch's last-minute injury proved to be a disaster for fantasy owners who had already locked him into their lineup and didn't get the last minute information or were away from a computer and couldn't make the change in time.

Once the games began, running backs began dropping like flies. Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, Willis McGahee, Tim Hightower, LaDainian Tomlinson, Beanie Wells, Joseph Addai and Earnest Graham were all hurt during their games.

Only Mathews returned to the playing field and two of the injuries, to Hightower and Graham, were of the season-ending variety.

Let's look at each situation to see if we can find a hidden gem for Week 8 and beyond.

Dallas - The news couldn't be any worse for Jones owners. Not only is Felix still not ready to play, but his "understudy" put up a record-breaking performance as his replacement last Sunday. DeMarco Murray's 253-yards on the ground earned him a chance to show his stuff this weekend against rival Philadelphia and their 23rd-ranked rush defense. Another good showing could turn the Cowboys' backfield into a full-scale RBBC (running-back-by-committee) situation. If he really impresses, he could push Jones into the third-down back role he previously held when Marion Barber was the starter. If available in your league, Murray is a must-claim and a must-start in Week 8.

Cleveland - Montario Hardesty got the start when Hillis couldn't play and posted a solid 122 yards from scrimmage, including 95 on the ground, but didn't show much explosiveness. Hillis (hamstring) ran on Monday, but we won't know his status until later in the week. If Hillis is ready to go, this figures to be a shared situation and against a tough San Francisco 49ers defense, which is ranked No.2 against the run, neither would be fantasy- worthy.

Detroit - With a bye looming in Week 9, there is little or no chance that the Lions will bring Best back on Sunday, even if he were close to being ready. Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams will share his duties, making neither a viable option. They could also be playing with a backup quarterback as Shaun Hill, not Matthew Stafford, has been practicing with the first team.

Tampa Bay - The Bucs' are off this weekend which is a good thing because they are running low on tailbacks. Blount (knee) is expected to practice on Wednesday (a light walk through) and will still have 11 days until Tampa Bay's next game. Blount should be ready for Week 9, but his fantasy owners might want to claim Kregg Lumpkin just in case.

Oakland - McFadden's coach Hue Jackson announced on Tuesday that the star running back's foot is "structurally sound." Sorry, but the oft-injured, slow- healing McFadden is still a big question mark for returning in Week 9 after Oakland's bye. Smart McFadden owners already had Michael Bush on their roster based on McFadden injury history. If Bush is still available in your league, I'd place a claim for him immediately.

San Diego - Mathews returned to action after his injury (thumb) on Sunday and is expected to be ready for next Sunday. Meanwhile, third-down and red zone back Tolbert (hamstring) is also likely to be ready when the bell rings on Sunday. This backfield situation should stay the same, which is to say that both players still have fantasy value and can be counted on to produce as they have all season. Mathews and Tolbert have fantasy ranks of No.12 and No.16, respectively, among running backs.

Denver - McGahee's hand injury will sideline him for a minimum of two weeks and possibly up to a month. Knowshon Moreno, the starter when the season began, gets what might be his final opportunity to show he can be a workhorse back, though Lance Ball will likely step in as a goal-line back. Moreno will face a mediocre Lions rush defense ranked 28th and yielding 129.4 ypg on the ground. He should be a viable option this week.

Washington - Though Hightower is out of the equation, the fantasy owner's worst nightmare a.k.a. Mike Shanahan, still has multiple option at running back. Ryan Torain and youngster Roy Helu both have shown the ability to run well. If Torain is healthy, he should get the majority of the carries, trouble is getting that information out of Shanahan is about as easy as getting news from Bill Belichick. If Torain practices on Friday, he's the guy to have in your lineup.

Arizona - Beanie Wells (knee) and the Cardinals aren't talking like Wells will be ready to go on Sunday, which will leave the running game in Alphonso Smith's hands. Smith may get the carries, but in Week 8 he'll be facing an angry Baltimore Ravens defense and he is not a viable fantasy option. You may still want to pick him up however, if you hear that Wells is out for a couple of weeks because down the road the Cardinals face St. Louis and Philadelphia and both teams can be run upon.

Indianapolis - Addai tried to play on Sunday night, but didn't last very long before aggravating his hamstring problem. Given their 0-7 record, there is no reason that the Colts would rush him back. The ground game will likely be handled by Delone Carter and Donald Brown. Carter was the only bright spot in the team's embarrassing 62-7 loss to New Orleans, rushing for 89 yards and a score on 10 carries. If you must pick one of these backs to play, make it Carter.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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