This has been the most stressful, most frustrating, most anxiety-driven fantasy football season I’ve ever experienced. Something as simple as choosing which player to start each week has felt like choosing the red or blue pill — and I am sure I’m not the only fantasy manager feeling this way. Heading into the playoffs, I am the No. 6 seed in my home league and No. 1 with one of my public league teams. In the other public league team, I missed the four-team playoffs with an 8-6 record.
It was two months ago when I wrote about how I went from having five solid running backs to having just one – Derrick Henry – on my home league team. When Henry went down with the broken foot in week 8, I had zero. First, let me define a solid running back. This is someone you count on for top 20 RB production each week. Myles Gaskin is the running back on my home league team with the most fantasy points in 2021, and he’s RB22. He’s the best I’ve got, and he’s not solid.
Gaskin is the poster child of inconsistency. In 13 games, he has 12.6, 8.6, 10.4, 0.3, 31.9, 3.4, 17.7, 8.5, 15.7, 5.5, 18.6, 19.2 and 6.9 FP. Until week 12, it was a predictable pattern. He was good in odd weeks and bad in even. But then he had two good weeks before craping the bed last week. In spite of that, I have had him in my starting line-up every week. But he may not even be available this week (COVID). During this six-week stretch, I’ve had different starting running backs each week
My phone rang last Thursday morning, and my son had no pleasantries to exchange before blasting me for picking up Bears RB Khalil Herbert. He has David Montgomery rostered, and he learned that Montgomery was listed as questionable. I had already added Herbert to my team. “What is your bizarre obsession with other people’s handcuffs?” he asked me pointedly, knowing the answer to his own question. Backup running backs can become valuable in the right scheme.
The Bears are one of the right schemes because they are a “run-first” team. Lead back David Montgomery has carried the ball 144 times in the nine games he’s played. That’s an average of 16 carries per game. Recently, the Bears started targeting him more, which makes him even more valuable. When Montgomery was out in weeks 5-8, Herbert carried the ball 19.5 times per game. That’s why I added Herbert from the waiver wire when Montgomery was questionable.
Cleveland is another run-first team. The difference between the Browns and the Bears is that they have two running backs who are widely owned – Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. However, when both of the were ruled out in weeks 7 and 10, a guy named D’Ernest Johnson carried the ball 41 times for a total of 245 yards and scored 23.8 PPG. Hunt is injured and looks like he’ll miss week 15, but Chubb is healthy. But if something happened to Chubb, Johnson could win you a championship.
Still another run-first team is Minnesota. Dalvin Cook, who is 100 percent owned, is the workhorse. But when Cook was out in weeks 3, 5 and 22, Alexander Mattison carried the ball 73 times for 315 yards. If Mattison was on another team, he would be an elite running back that would be drafted in the first round. But in this situation, he’s just a player that could win you a championship if Cook gets hurt again. If you’re in the playoffs, you might want to add him from waivers if he’s available.
There’s one more team that’s running the ball more is New England. Bill Belichick has been directing rookie quarterback Mac Jones to pass less as the Patriots rack up wins. Consider that the rookie quarterback only threw three passes in the Patriots 14-10 victory over the Bills right before their bye. In that particular game, Rhamondre Stevenson carried the ball 24 times for 78 yards. If Damien Harris is still out with a hamstring injury, Stevenson is worth starting this week.
While Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota and New England are all run-first teams, the team that runs the most is Tennessee. That’s one of the reasons why Derrick Henry was the No. 1 running back in fantasy by a wide margin. The Titans are a committee backfield now, but things have been tilting to Foreman recently. He doesn’t get many targets, but he is the red zone back. Foreman will be in my starting lineup again this week. Check your waiver wire and see if he’s available.
If you’re like me, and your fantasy team is decimated by injuries, you’re looking for a running back that could be a difference-maker. They are still out there. With Montgomery’s delicate condition, you should acquire Herbert ASAP. With Hunt likely out, Johnson could be in for a much larger snap share in Cleveland. If Mattison is still on the waiver wire in your league, get him right now with the injury-prone Cook playing ahead of him. One of your lottery tickets could pay off.
Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.