There are six games left in the Fantasy Football regular season, meaning we are past the half-way point. In each league, there might be one or two obvious great teams, one or two clearly inferior squads thanks to injuries or terrible drafting, and then in most other cases, a whole lot of bunching in the middle. Over the next several weeks, the contenders will become more apparent, and the pretenders will fall away. Some of the below names will surely be on the rosters of each, the contenders and the pretenders, and may directly contribute to the trajectory their teams take from this point.
Jonathan Stewart – After missing significant time with a lower leg injury, Stewart returned in a big way in a must-win game against the Cardinals on Sunday. He dominated the carries, and the Arizona D, with 25 carries for 95 yards and two scores. Now sitting at 2-5, the Panthers needed Stewart to return healthy almost as much as they needed this win to at least preserve the illusion of competition within the NFC South. Now, we wait and see if the Panthers can get back on track against the Rams, Chiefs, Saints, and Raiders. It is entirely conceivable that Carolina could head into a Week 13 tilt with the Seahawks at 6-5 and within a game of the top team in their division. Stewart will be the barometer they use to determine success given the dynamic he adds to their offense. J-Stew is a solid RB2 going forward.
Darren Sproles – The Eagles’ backfield situation has become about as muddled as any team after 8 weeks. Case in point, Sunday night’s game saw Sproles – who was largely thought to be little more than a change-of-pace player at the season’s outset because of his advanced age – take 15 carries for 86 yards, adding five catches for a meager 17 yards. Nonetheless, he still saw seven targets, and the next closest back in terms of carries was Ryan Mathews with, wait for it … four. True, Mathews got the goal line work and did punch in a score in the first half, but Sproles was the guy in there early and often, as well as late when the Eagles were trying to push for overtime and a hard win. At 33, I’m not sure anyone saw Darren Sproles becoming the top back for the Eagles, but heading into Week 9, that’s exactly what it seems is happening.
Derrick Henry – He has played second fiddle to a transcendent DeMarco Murray all season and rightfully so. Murray has been playing like the top running back and an absolute MVP candidate as he approaches 800 rushing yards on the year. Henry was able to earn a few more looks when Murray went down with a foot injury in the blowout of the Jaguars, and he sure made the most of it. Henry took a season-high 16 carries for 60 yards and added a touchdown for good measure. Plus, he was also effective in the passing game, taking four receptions for 37 yards. You can expect to see Murray if he is feeling well enough to suit up. Of course, the Titans are 4-4 and one game behind the Texans for the division lead. So, essentially, if his foot is attached to his body by either tendons or duct tape, he’ll be playing. Nevertheless, Henry is an elite handcuff, and could end up garnering standalone value as a FLEX consideration if he can get 10-15 touches a game.
Mark Ingram – Mark Ingram was benched sometime early in the second quarter after fumbling the ball, his second fumble in as many weeks. Tim Hightower entered and promptly took over the game for the Saints. Hightower amassed 102 yards on 26 carries, while Ingram finished the day with three carries for a robust five total yards. One thing that was concerning: goal line work. Yes, Ingram often gets passed over in goal line sets, much to the chagrin of his Fantasy owners, but in this one, Hightower had at least six carries from inside the two and scored on 0% of them. That’s terrible, obviously. Going into the week, Hightower had just 19 carries on the year. It’s great to see a guy who had such promise while in Arizona before dealing with a series of knee injuries forced him to bounce around. He’s now healthy and contributing at the ripe ol’ age of 30. Let’s hope he finds a permanent role with the Saints in some capacity, ideally one that allows Ingram to coexist and still earn 15-plus carries per game. If either back does take the lead as the bell cow, they have RB2 upside.
T.J. Yeldon / Chris Ivory – The final score in the Jags’ Week 8 tilt, even at 36-22, is completely deceiving. The team added two touchdowns in the final frame, which was around the time a majority of the Tennessee starters were relaxing on a heated bench. The game was a stinker across the board, and the running game of the Jaguars hasn’t helped. Yeldon has had a couple of good games and Ivory has yet to have even a good run, frankly. The pair amassed 26 combined rushing yards on seven carries, and this might be the coup de grace to Greg Olson’s tenure as OC in Jacksonville. This team has too much talent on the offensive side to be struggling this mightily. Perhaps the promotion of Nathaniel Hackett will spark something for the squad, and get the running game back on track. If you had to have one, I guess the one to own would be Yeldon.
Latavius Murray – Odd as it may be to include a player from a 6-2 Raiders team on the wrong side of this list, it’s worth looking at Murray’s stats and workload here for that very reason. The team is winning, and they’ve been doing it entirely without a workhorse back, and have in fact instituted an RBBC approach to complement their potent aerial attack. Murray hasn’t topped 60 rushing yards in a game this season, and has gotten over 15 carries just once. If you hold him, he’s little more than a back-end RB2/FLEX play at this point. I wouldn’t seek him out in deals if you’re trying to better your team unless you can get him without surrendering anyone above an RB3/WR3 station. I like Murray, and it’s obvious he has the skill set when healthy. But until the coaching staff commits to giving him 20 touches a game (he’s a great dual-threat player! Legs and hands!) he’s probably worth avoiding.