Backup running backs are showing their value in fantasy football.

But that’s not anything new. Backups are inconsistent, but they can provide solid value if they either overtake the starter for playing time or play a secondary role with the opportunity to score touchdowns.

Tevin Coleman, Christine Michael, Darren Sproles and Charles Sims all finished in the top-10 for scoring in week 3 among running backs. All four of those running backs started the year as the backup on their teams. Now, Michael and Coleman are making a run at being more than just a secondary option, while Sims and Sproles offer value through the passing game.

It’s difficult to assess how consistent these players can be on a weekly basis. But on a case-by-case basis, it’s worth keeping these backups in mind when filling out your starters for the week.

Start

DeMarco Murray vs. Houston Texans

Murray is showing why last year is a distant memory.

He’s pretty much the lone bright spot for a Titans offense that has been utterly underwhelming this season. He’s a true three-down back and hasn’t lost too much work yet to Derrick Henry. And with the way he’s playing, Henry may have to take a back seat for awhile longer.

Murray has 300 total yards in the last two games. He hasn’t scored less than 14 points yet in fantasy and is second only to David Johnson in scoring among running backs this season.

I’m riding the hot hand with Murray against a defense that hasn’t done well stopping the run this season. The Texans are allowing 125 yards per game on the ground, the sixth-worst mark in the NFL this season. They aren’t stopping the run consistently enough to trust them this week against a team focused squarely on the run.

The Titans can’t move the ball through the air. They need Murray and will give him the ball plenty again this week.

Charles Sims vs. Denver Broncos

Sims looks to be the main guy for at least another week in Tampa Bay. And you would think a matchup against Denver would be a death sentence.

But that hasn’t been the case this season. The Broncos have been uncharacteristically leaky against the run this season, allowing the fifth-most rushing yards per game this season at 127 yards per game.

That works well for how I anticipate this matchup to go with Denver in the middle of a two-game road trip and Tampa Bay looking to bounce back from an upset loss in week 3 against Los Angeles.

Sims does well enough out of the backfield that he’s going to give you three downs to work with. He’s more of a pass-catching running back, but he did a decent job running the ball in his starting role against the Rams.

The Broncos will be tough once again on quarterback Jameis Winston. That concentration on Winston should open up some opportunities for the run game and give Sims an opportunity at being a solid RB2 this week.

Matt Jones can provide solid numbers for your fantasy football roster this week. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1OOVyhz/Keith Allison
Matt Jones can provide solid numbers for your fantasy football roster this week. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1OOVyhz/Keith Allison

Matt Jones vs. Cleveland Browns

He was basically an after-thought entering this season. But his usage is trending upward and I like this matchup against a Browns team unable to stop much of anything this season.

Jones ran hard in week 3 against the New York Giants and totaled the most carries of his season. He’s also catching balls out of the backfield and becoming more of an option at moving the chains for the Redskins.

Washington is trusting Jones more and that is a boon to fantasy owners with Jones on the roster. Washington is a high-volume offense that has shown the ability to utilize running backs in the past.

And against the Browns that increased usage will lead to more fantasy points. Cleveland is allowing almost 110 yards per game and this one won’t be any better. Cleveland is on back-to-back road trips, meaning this could get out of hand early, necessitating┬ámore of a run approach by the Redskins.

Jerick McKinnon could be a major producer this season as a handcuff. Flickr
Jerick McKinnon could be a major producer this season as a handcuff. Flickr

Sit

Minnesota running backs vs. New York Giants

Minnesota’s offensive line is just not very good. Adrian Peterson had a tough time finding any holes in the first two weeks, and it didn’t have anything to do with his sudden loss of running ability.

Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata are not exactly splitting carries, but neither of them have standalone value. McKinnon gets the majority of the carries, while Asiata will get the majority of the goalline work. And against an improved Giants run defense, I anticipate more opportunities for quarterback Sam Bradford in the red zone than the running backs.

The Giants rank fifth in rushing yards allowed this season and have allowed 3.2 yards per carry, the second-best mark in the NFL.

The Vikings running situation may be one to avoid not only for this week, but for the majority of this season.

Justin Forsett has been terrible this season for Baltimore. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1P4ogsF/Keith Allison
Justin Forsett has been terrible this season for Baltimore. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1P4ogsF/Keith Allison

Baltimore running backs vs. Oakland Raiders

This should be a matchup with upside for the Ravens. The Raiders own the third-worst rush defense in the NFL and the Ravens are getting the Raiders on back-to-back road games. It should be a perfect opportunity for Justin Forsett or Terrance West to exploit a bad rush defense.

But you’d be wrong if you thought that would happen.

The Ravens rushing attack has been putrid in the first three weeks. And two of those three matchups, against Cleveland and Jacksonville, were plus matchups for the running backs.

However, they are in a full-blown committee. And that committee is atrocious. Forsett and West have combined for a little more than 25 fantasy points combined in three weeks. The rushing game just isn’t there for the Ravens, so pretty much Joe Flacco throws it on every down. And if those throws are directed at a running back, it’s generally for small gains.

This should be a good opportunity for one of these running backs to put up points, but I can’t pull the trigger on any running back for the Ravens.

Tevin Coleman vs. Carolina Panthers

Coleman may have rattled off the most fantasy points in week 3 against New Orleans, but he can’t be considered the most consistent option for the Falcons.

So far, he and Devonta Freeman have been a nice one-two punch for fantasy owners. But don’t forget who the matchups have been in the first three weeks. The Falcons have squared off against Oakland and New Orleans in two of the first three games this season.

Those matchups make it easier on offenses with two running backs. This week’s game against Carolina won’t be as easy.

The Panthers are showing me some weaknesses, but they’re still good enough against the run that two running backs can’t be main contributors in fantasy football from the same team. Freeman is still the more reliable fantasy weapon, despite the gap closing considerably from the beginning of the season.

Coleman is more of a touchdown dependent running back, while Freeman is able to churn out far more total yards. I’d rather take my chances with player less dependent on scoring touchdowns in fantasy football.

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