Free-agent finds: Week 8
Plethora of injuries, suspensions open door for RB committee situations
There was quite a lot of running back carnage in Week 7, but there are precious few clear solutions for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, we're at that point in the season where most of the players worthy of heaps of playing time are already getting it. That means when stars (or in some cases "stars") like Darren McFadden, Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower, Willis McGahee and Earnest Graham suffer injuries, there often isn't one guy who can replace them.
Ah, yes, replacement-by-committee. How fun is that?
Sometimes the situation works itself out. Felix Jones gets hurt, and Jerry Jones tells the media he envisions a 50-50 split between DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice. And then Murray sets a single-game Cowboys rushing record, and any controversy gets put to bed. Unfortunately, it doesn't usually happen that way. That makes your waiver-wire job a bit more hit-and-miss. But we're undaunted. Let's sort through the potential replacements and figure out the week's "best" fantasy football adds.
Week 8 byes: Bears, Buccaneers, Falcons, Jets, Packers, Raiders.
Standard ESPN League Finds
Bernard Scott, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (owned in 4.0 percent of ESPN.com leagues). It's Scott's time to shine. Cedric Benson will serve a one-game suspension and thus miss Week 8's game against the Seattle Seahawks, leaving Scott as Cincy's No. 1 rusher. Brian Leonard does have a way of finagling his way into the game plan when Benson isn't around, so it would probably be a mistake to say Scott is a lock for 20 touches Sunday. But I feel pretty good penciling him in for 15. In a week where there just aren't many good free-agent adds, Scott qualifies as the top guy available in most leagues. Just realize that he's really only a one-week option (since Benson will return in Week 9), and the Seahawks have a pretty OK run defense, having allowed 14.8 fantasy points per game against opposing RBs, which is a respectable 15th in the NFL.
Alfonso Smith, RB, Arizona Cardinals (0.1 percent). Surprise! Beanie Wells is hurt. Wells went down trying to pass protect in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while his knee injury reportedly isn't structural in nature, it's bruised badly enough that the team thinks he might miss Sunday's game. Given Wells' history of sitting out when he doesn't feel right, I consider that a safe bet. Smith, an undrafted second-year man out of Kentucky, did an OK job filling in for Wells in Week 3, and he will probably lead Arizona in touches in Week 8. Two caveats: (1) Third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling (1.2 percent) made a big play in the passing game Sunday and could get involved, though I view LSH as more of a deep-league add; (2) The Cardinals play in Baltimore against a very angry Ravens squad that was embarrassed on Monday night. It's tough to imagine I'll have Smith among my top 20 RBs this week. Still, in terms of a path to playing time, he might be one of the best bets on the waiver wire. (I told you it was a thin week.)
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins (15.3 percent). Helu made this column after Week 2, when he submitted the best afternoon of his young NFL career, a 10-carry, 74-yard effort against the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he has only 16 carries in the four contests since, as Mike Shanahan has been busy yanking around fantasy owners with the likes of Hightower and Ryan Torain. But Hightower suffered a torn left ACL in Week 7, which probably inserts Torain back into the starting lineup and puts Helu as his backup. I say "probably" because one ever knows with Shanny. Of course, Torain has never made it through more than 10 games in an NFL season and is a good bet to get hurt again, which could leave Helu atop the woodpile. Then again, practice-squader Evan Royster is reportedly set to become the third-stringer, and who knows: Maybe it'll be Royster who springs into the starting spot eventually. Divining Shanny's RB moves is like trying to deduce when the NBA season will get rolling. Your guess is as good as mine.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Washington Redskins (6.6 percent). Did I mention it gets thin fast? Gaffney is the only starting-caliber receiver standing in D.C. after Santana Moss fractured his left hand in Week 7. Moss will reportedly miss 5-7 weeks, which makes him borderline droppable in 10-team leagues. Gaffney will almost certainly see an uptick in targets; he got eight looks (and caught four of them) in Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers. Of course, Gaffney has never had much separation, and that's become truer of late (though he's only 30 years old). He'll be the highest-rated Redskins wideout in ESPN.com's ranks this week, but he almost certainly won't register in the top 30. Fred Davis is the man who'll become Washington's obvious favorite target with Moss out.
Keiland Williams, RB, Detroit Lions (0.4 percent). I still prefer Maurice Morris (11.9 percent) in the beaten-up Detroit backfield, and frankly we don't know whether Jahvid Best is a possible candidate to return from his concussion in Week 8, though I tend to doubt it. But the fact remains that while Morris did out-touch Williams 11-9 on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Williams was given entire series throughout the game to be the team's feature back. What's also interesting was that Williams wasn't targeted once in the passing game, despite the fact he had 39 catches for the Redskins last season. I'm not trying to sell you Williams as a no-doubt starter for fantasy, but I'll wager he winds up inside the top 40 RBs (at least on my list) for Week 9 versus the Denver Broncos.
Javon Ringer, RB, Tennessee Titans (2.0 percent). I'm going to write more about Chris Johnson in this week's Hard Count (which will be posted Friday), but suffice it to say the game film I watched of Week 7's Titans-Texans contest was eye-opening. CJ2K looked awful, and significantly worse than against the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in his two previous contests. I'd read lots of pundits questioning Johnson's burst, conditioning and desire through the season's first five weeks, but I hadn't really seen stark evidence on the film. Well, anyone who watched Sunday's game knows that has changed. Johnson looked like a flat-out dog in that game. Perhaps he was demoralized by the inevitable comparisons to Arian Foster, who was tearing it up on the other side. Maybe he really is out of shape. Or maybe he's lost a step for some reason. But I'm telling you: it was ugly. Anyway, Ringer isn't anything close to an elite back, and he's nobody you can start in a fantasy league right away. But I think he's definitely worth a stash as this potential melodrama plays out.
Braylon Edwards, WR, San Francisco 49ers (44.4 percent). This is a reminder that Edwards returns from knee cartilage surgery this week, for a matchup against the Browns. Clearly, the Niners' passing offense is sub-par, and Edwards might be the team's No. 3 target, behind Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. Also, y'know, Alex Smith isn't great. But every season, just when we're ready to write Edwards off, he does tend to submit a few games that make you take notice. As a bye-week fill-in, I'm imagining you can do worse.
Lance Ball, RB, Denver Broncos (0.1 percent). Willis McGahee is probably out for two games with a fractured bone in his right hand, which means Knowshon Moreno re-enters the starting lineup. Moreno is unowned in about one-quarter of ESPN.com leagues, and if he was dropped in your league, he should be your No. 1 waiver claim if you're in search of RB help. But presuming Moreno isn't available, Ball is the next-best option. The Broncos pretty clearly don't consider Moreno much of an inside rusher, and they had the aptly named (Bowling) Ball carry it six times on plunge-style carries (which netted only 14 yards) Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. I'll concede that typically Ball would get listed as more of a deep-league option; after all, Tim Tebow is the Broncos' short-yardage artist when the offense gets close to the end zone. But if you're down to scraps, Ball is better than a sharp stick in the eye.
Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers (14.0 percent). If you typically ride with Jermichael Finley, Tony Gonzalez or Dustin Keller and you're looking for a replacement, Miller might be the best one on most waiver wires this week. He's scored in two of his past three games, as the Steelers have really taken to the airways. The New England Patriots, this week's opponent, don't exactly have a fearsome pass rush, so I wouldn't make Miller a candidate to stay home and block on every down. He's not an elite target any longer because Ben Roethlisberger spreads passes to so many folks. But he's quietly No. 15 in fantasy points at his position.
New York Giants Defense (40.6 percent). This unit was last seen making Tarvaris Jackson look like a solid NFL quarterback. Yikes. But let's try it again. Justin Tuck might be this unit's most important player, and he hasn't been able to go since Week 3. He'll almost certainly return from his groin and neck injuries after sitting during New York's bye, which is great news. In addition, the G-Men get another woeful (at least on paper) offense this week, as Matt Moore and the winless Miami Dolphins come to town. It should be a good time to get healthy. If the Giants are taken in your league, you can still invest in the Cincinnati Bengals' defense (39.5 percent), though I'd prefer its matchup against the Seahawks if it weren't in Seattle, where the Hawks occasionally rally for surprising efforts.
Other acceptable bye-substitutes, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals (10.8 percent); DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys (34.2 percent); Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs (50.1 percent); Maurice Morris (11.9 percent); Delone Carter, RB, Colts (16.9 percent); Steve Breaston, WR, Chiefs (35.4 percent); Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos (2.7 percent); Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers (5.9 percent); Jermaine Gresham (30.6 percent).
Deeper League Finds
Leon Washington, RB, Seattle Seahawks (1.0 percent). Marshawn Lynch was a surprise scratch for Week 7's field goal contest against the Browns, as he suffered back spasms during pregame warm-ups. Pete Carroll subsequently revealed that Lynch has been dealing with a back injury for several weeks, and acknowledged that maybe he should've been on the injury report. Gee, y'think? Anyway, as of this writing, it's unclear whether Lynch will be able to go in Week 8 against the Bengals. If he can't, Washington is likely to serve as the team's early-down back, with Justin Forsett (1.4 percent) remaining the pass-catching option. Washington had 11 touches compared to eight for Forsett in Cleveland on Sunday, so we're probably talking committee.
Kregg Lumpkin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.3 percent). The Bucs are on bye, so adding Lumpkin in deeper leagues is speculative at this point. We know Earnest Graham is out for the season with a torn Achilles'. But we don't know whether LeGarrette Blount will return from his left knee injury in time for Week 9. If he doesn't, Lumpkin likely becomes Tampa's starter (unless the team follows through on rumors and adds someone like Tiki Barber). However, I'm assuming Blount will return, and that would mean Lumpkin will be the team's third-down option. Graham carved out an interesting little niche in that role, having grabbed 23 passes in four games while Blount was healthy. So Lumpkin might have a bit of PPR value.
Michael Jenkins, WR, Minnesota Vikings (2.6 percent). Yeah, I know. Jenkins is best known as a blocking wideout, and only recently posted the first 100-yard game of his NFL career, here in his eighth pro season. But he does have three TDs this year, and it's encouraging that Christian Ponder played decently in his first NFL start. Percy Harvin had to leave Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers because of continued rib pain, and it's uncertain whether he'll be able to play in Week 8 versus the Carolina Panthers. Devin Aromashodu (0.3 percent) actually plays the most WR snaps for the Vikings these days, but he just isn't productive enough to be useful in any fantasy leagues (he had one catch on five targets Sunday, while Jenkins had three grabs for 111 yards on eight looks). You'd rather stay entirely away, most likely, but if you had to pick a Harvin replacement from this team, I think right now it's probably Jenkins.
Chris Ivory, RB, New Orleans Saints (0.2 percent). At this point, the Saints maintain that Mark Ingram's heel injury is only a bruise and that he's day-to-day. But we should note that Ivory is recovered from his foot and sports hernia surgeries and is off the team's PUP list, thus is eligible to play going forward. Darren Sproles is the best fantasy entity in this crowded New Orleans backfield and Pierre Thomas posted a terrific bounce-back game against the Colts in Week 7. Plus, as I say, Ingram isn't expected to miss time. But deep-leaguers with a roster spot to spare could grab Ivory with a low waiver claim and just see how this all plays out. Let's face it: It would be an upset if all three of these Saints rushers made it through an entire season without missing time due to injury.
Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland Raiders (0.2 percent). The bye comes at the right time for Darren McFadden, who suffered a foot injury in Week 7's humiliating home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. As of this writing, the Raiders reportedly hope Run-DMC will recover from his mid-foot sprain in time to make it back for Week 9. But given McFadden's past foot and ankle issues, it would be wrong to consider this fait accompli. Michael Bush would obviously be the prime beneficiary if McFadden can't play, and in the past Bush has proved eminently capable of carrying a full load. The dude is a horse. But Jones might be worth a lottery ticket anyway. He's got blinding speed and did break a garbage-time 30-yard screen pass Sunday, though he's also incredibly raw and was injury prone in college at Eastern Washington.
Other acceptable bye-substitutes for deep-leaguers, about whom I've written in previous weeks: Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (2.4 percent); John Beck, QB, Washington Redskins (3.9 percent); Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (2.5 percent); Isaac Redman, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (11.8 percent); Evan Moore, TE, Cleveland Browns (2.1 percent).
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.
Fantasy Football Week 8
DeMarco Murray, filling in for an injured Felix Jones, ran wild in Week 7 for 253 yards and a touchdown. What will he do for an encore?
Fantasy Football Tools
Week 8 Rankings
• Harris: Hard Count
• IDP Rankings for Week 8
• Daube: Trendspotting
• Carpenter: Gridiron Challenge preview
• Cockcroft: Consistency ratings
• Harris: Top Week 8 free agents
• Harris: Instant Impressions from Week 7
Bell Injury Blog
• Week 8 sneaky pickups
• Football Outsiders: Top matchups
• Top 100 flex (RB/WR/TE) rankings
• Ranks reax: Which Panthers RB to start?
• 2011 ranks: Rookies on the rise
• Pass Plays: Pick up Ponder
• Four Downs: Murray breaks out
Fantasy Focus Video
Fantasy Focus Podcast
• Monday 11 a.m. ET: AJ Mass
• Tuesday 3 p.m. ET: Stephania Bell
• Wednesday 11 a.m. ET: Christopher Harris
• Wednesday 3 p.m. ET: Tristan H. Cockcroft
• Thursday 11 a.m. ET: Eric Karabell
• Friday Noon ET: Stephania Bell
• Friday 3 p.m. ET: KC Joyner