The rosters of my fantasy teams are rarely stocked with elite running backs. Not that I don’t love me some Adrian Peterson; it’s more that in auctions I see more value in top-tier WRs and mid-range RBs, and in drafts I’m usually picking in the back end of the round where once again I see more value in elite receivers than second-tier backs.
And while my collection of mid-range backs often yields much fruit—last season’s middle tier, for example, included LeSean McCoy and Darren McFadden—it also leaves me short-handed on teams where the byes fall unfortunately, the injury bug bites, and or my gaggle of backs doesn’t generate enough top-end producers.
So I’m intimately familiar with the scavenger hunt that is looking for mid-season running back help on the waiver wire.
The past few weeks have yielded some unique opportunities, with none being more near and dear to my heart than the one afforded Cleveland’s Chris Ogbonnaya. A couple weeks back when I first mentioned Ogbonnaya I had no real attachment to him—or, truth be told, knowledge of him other than the basics: I knew he played collegiately at Texas, looked pretty good in the preseason while leading Houston in rushing, and suddenly found himself behind a couple injury-prone backs in Cleveland.
The more I dug, the more I liked. Ogbonnaya was drafted by the Rams and spent a couple training camps in Browns’ coach Pat Shurmur’s offense, so it wouldn’t take him long to get up to speed. He had more receiving yardage than rushing yardage in both high school and college, so he clearly had some acumen as a receiver. And the guy he was pushing for touches, Montario Hardesty led all NFL running backs in dropped passes (six) despite being targeted just 19 times.
By the time Hardesty had been kicked out of practice for yet another drop, I was in the process of adding Ogbonnaya in multiple PPR leagues. Bye week issues forced me to start him in two leagues, and I was rewarded with five catches for 43 yards; mix in 15 rushing yards and in my leagues I got double-digit production from my waiver-wire wonder. Ray Rice and Mark Ingram scored exactly the same number of points that week; among the backs scoring less were Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Rashard Mendenhall, and Beanie Wells.
Last week I was back on the stump for Ogbonnaya, starting him in three leagues and anointing him my “Take a Chance on Me” running back on my Saturday radio show. Another 10 points, with an interesting development: the oft-injured Hardesty suffered a torn calf muscle and will be down for a few weeks. With Peyton Hillis still nursing a tender hamstring, Ogbonnaya could very well go from Texans’ practice squad to Cleveland starter in just over a month.
As an added bonus, the Browns will play in Houston—Ogbonnaya’s home town—against the team that kicked him to the curb.
Depending on how your waiver wire works—I’m a huge fan of the free agent acquisition budget and blind bidding, but I’m in leagues where it’s a worst-to-first waiver-wire as well—you may not have a shot at Ogbonnaya (currently available in 95% of MFL leagues, despite me owning him in five of my eight leagues) this week. But there are a plethora of other guys whose name was nowhere near a cheat sheet in the preseason who could make some noise this week as well as further on down the road (a topic I’ll touch on later).
So here’s Week 9 Waiver Wire RBs for Dummies:
Kevin Faulk, Patriots (available in 97% of MFL leagues): Bill Belichick threw a monkey wrench into the New England backfield situation by giving Faulk 39 snaps in his first game off the PUP list; by comparison, BenJarvus Green-Ellis played 13 snaps and Danny Woodhead was on the field for just four plays. While Faulk saw only six carries, only three backs had more receptions than the five Faulk produced against Pittsburgh. Playing with the Patriots backfield is akin to playing with fire, but worst-case you have to think Faulk has taken over Woodhead’s role as the pass-catching back and could generate another four or five grabs this week against the Giants. And if Belichick insists on another throwback backfield game, Faulk could get you carries as well.
Curtis Brinkley, Chargers (available in 96%): Prior to Monday night, Brinkley’s claim to fame was surviving a shooting in his home town of Philadelphia in 2009. But with Mike Tolbert out and Ryan Mathews gimpy due to a groin injury, Brinkley leap-frogged Jacob Hester and took 22 snaps, getting 10 handoffs and three receptions for 67 yards of offense—plus a touchdown. Early indications are that Mathews won’t be available for San Diego’s home tilt with the Packers, but Tolbert was lobbying to play Monday night so he should be back in the mix. But San Diego’s secondary back has seen double-digit touches in six of seven games this year, so even if Tolbert takes the RB1 role Brinkley should have a shot at fantasy-relevance—assuming, of course, he’s cleared to play after suffering a concussion in the loss to KC. If that’s the case: paging Jacob Hester…
Taiwan Jones, Raiders (available in 90%): Darren McFadden has had an extra week to recover from the foot injury he suffered in Week 7, and even if he can’t go Michael Bush would be in line for the bulk of the carries. But Jones touched the ball four times in that loss to KC, picking up 48 yards in the process. He’s got the speed the Raiders covet, and you can bet if McFadden is out of the lineup Hue Jackson will find a way to get Jones the ball for at least a few big-play opportunities. Back when McFadden’s injury was first mentioned I couldn’t help but think “mid-foot sprain” equated to “Lisfranc” or at least “plantar fasciitis”; if that turns out to be the case, Jones might be more than a short-term fantasy fix.
Alfonso Smith, Cardinals (available in 64%): Beanie Wells continues to prove me wrong, with his gritty and gutty 22-83-1 against the Ravens his fifth game with a touchdown. But he also has indicated his knee will be an issue the rest of the season, and he’s already tapped out of one game due to the injury. If the knee does act up, Wells might miss out on the most favorable portion of the Cardinals’ schedule—and Smith would be in line to pick up the slack. He’s a speculative pickup at best, but in larger leagues where the running back pickings are slim you’ll want to be ahead of the curve—especially if you have Wells and can afford the insurance.
As the column is titled “Off Tackle” and I’m a firm believer in the axiom “It all starts up front,” it only makes sense to chronicle a few offensive line notes here.
• Ryan Torain has been a disaster since “taking over” for the injured Tim Hightower in Washington, but he also had the misfortune of assuming the lead-dog role just as the Redskins lost two starting linemen due to injury. Center Kory Lichtensteiger is on IR, but the ‘Skins hope tackle Trent Williams can return after missing two games with a high ankle sprain. It may not matter much this week against the stout run defense of the 49ers, but Washington will be better across the board once Williams returns.
• Only one team can wind up with Stanford’s Andrew Luck, but there are several notable consolation prizes—including two potential franchise left tackles: USC’s Matt Kalil (brother of Carolina center Ryan) and Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. If the draft order holds and the two winless teams—Indianapolis and Miami—claim Luck and USC’s Matt Barkley, a pair of teams with (what they believe are) franchise quarterbacks already in place will have the opportunity to upgrade their protection. Of course the Rams could opt for WR Justin Blackmon, leaving Kalil for the Cardinals and Martin to slide into the bottom half of the top 10. Iowa’s Riley Reiff and Ohio State’s Mike Adams also appear in many mock first rounds, but the Roger Goodell handshakes may not be limited to just tackles; Stanford guard David DeCastro, Wisconsin center Peter Konz, and Iowa State guard Kelechi Osemele could crack the first round as well.
• The Saints struggled to handle Chris Long and the Rams last week, but they remain atop the New York Life Protection Index for the season with a score of 81.8. Chris Johnson might be surprised to learn the Titans hold down second place at 81.4, followed by the Bills (76.7) and another team who struggled last week, the Patriots (74.3). The Jaguars aren’t making it easy for rookie Blaine Gabbert, affording him the league’s worst protection with a 41.0 score on the NYLPI.
In addition to driving the Chris Ogbonnaya bandwagon via Twitter the past couple of weeks (yes, he's on Twitter at @ChrisOgbonnaya, not that I've been stalking him or anything), I’ve also been answering WDIS questions and building towards a potential Huddlers Celebrity fantasy football league for 2012. We already have an enthusiastic “in” from Josh Saviano (@joshsaviano), whom you may know better as Paul Pfeiffer from “The Wonder Years.” If you have any celebrity suggestions, both to follow and as candidates for the HCFFL, as well as any other fantasy football related questions (I’m also well-versed in 80s music trivia), send them my way at @jtuvey.