Fantasy Football: Grading Potential Emergency Starting RB Options Heading into Week Three

by Jake Ellenbogen
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I’ve never been a huge fan of drafting less than five running backs in a fantasy league. Whether you did or not, if you are reading this you are probably guilty of drafting Melvin Gordon (a long-term move) or maybe you drafted Derrius Guice and his injury has backed you in a corner. Both could be true but let’s be honest, you are probably reading this because you are panicking that you just realized that Devin Singletary has been ruled out for Sunday and you never picked up Frank Gore because you didn’t buy Singletary would miss this game. Okay, maybe that was just me. Even still, you are reading this for a reason, I intend to go over your options in free agency.

Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers (ESPN PROJECTED PTS: 7.2)

Williams is the backup in Green Bay behind Aaron Jones. He brought in nine carries for 28 yards last Sunday versus the Minnesota Vikings while also hauling three catches for 13 yards and a touchdown. It’s safe to say Williams is touchdown-dependent. The Packers do utilize him a bit and he did find the end zone last week but the week prior he had five carries for no yards and two catches for 15 yards. Basically, it’s consistent in Green Bay. Jones has 79 snaps through two weeks and Williams has 56. It’s not bad for a backup but Williams is not being featured in his snaps while Jones has logged 41 touches.

As for this weekend’s matchup versus the Denver Broncos, it’s worth mentioning Denver has allowed 125.5 yards on the ground per game which ranks 24th in the league. On top of that, Denver has allowed three touchdowns to running backs thus far. If anyone is getting in on that action it’s going to be Aaron Jones.

Should you play Jamaal Williams? 

NO, Williams is a touchdown-dependent emergency option that is projected to get the most points of the likely remaining free agents depending on your league. It’s due to his PPR value (if you don’t play PPR format he is beyond useless) It’s due to the offense he is in, it’s due to the snap count but let’s be honest, he won’t save you unless Aaron Jones goes down with an injury and leaves the game.

Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots (ESPN PROJECTED PTS: 6.5)

Burkhead is part of a thick three-headed backfield-by-committee approach in New England. First, you have Sony Michel then you have James White and then Burkhead. I don’t love getting into these situations but if you are desperate enough you may have to. All in all you have a fairly even split with the snap counts. Michel leads the pack with 57, White had 55 and Burkhead has 49 snaps which leads me to believe this might be an interesting play. Burkhead is second in team rushing with 65 yards on the season on 13 carries. He’s fourth in team receiving with 88 yards on 10 receptions. Burkhead oddly enough is leading the running backs in total yards which means while he is getting the fewest snaps, he is making them the most productive.

The Jets are the opponent this week for New England and while many expect them to get run over at will, the Jets aren’t even allowing 100 yards per game on the ground. Will Burkhead be utilized much on the ground? Probably not, and the Jets are indeed allowing the 23rd most passing yards in the league to this point. According to ESPN in PPR format, the Jets are averaging 18.5 fantasy points given up to running backs so far. That’s total running backs and Burkhead does have two other guys he has to share snaps with.

Should you play Rex Burkhead?

Perhaps, it’s not cut and dry. He’s a better option than Williams due to consistency in snap count and what he does with the limited number of opportunities he gets. James White is normally a PPR wizard but this year Burkhead is out-receiving him and rushing him which is odd. We will see moving forward but if you do decide to start Burkhead in an emergency, he makes some sense to pick up and play.

Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs (ESPN PROJECTED PTS: 6.4)

Thompson is the exciting PPR rookie back that flourished in the preseason but lost significant snaps once the Chiefs signed LeSean McCoy. Well now, Damien Williams is out with an injury and that means Thompson will get more of a look this weekend in a tough matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens. One would say the idea of starting Thompson against the best run defense in the game right now would be a flat-out stupid move. However, it’s not about Thompson as a runner, it’s about Thompson as a pass-catcher. Thompson has logged just six snaps all season long, but Damien Williams has been a part of 84 snaps and will not play. As for McCoy, he’s been on 50 snaps, so the Chiefs do have a void to fill and their rookie back would make the most sense to fill it.

As mentioned, the Chiefs do play the Ravens who have only given up 41 rushing yards. I will mention that was against the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals but still, it’s an impressive start nonetheless. As for backs pass-catching out of the backfield, the Ravens gave up only two catches for 15 yards from Chase Edmonds. The week prior it was two catches for 15 yards from Kenyan Drake and one catch for 13 yards from Kalen Ballage. This is the Chiefs offense of course, if Thompson gets used in the passing game the way he was in preseason, he should be fine as a fantasy play this week and a potentially explosive one at that. It’s worth mentioning without Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs have really spread the ball around and it’s led to Sammy Watkins exploding in week one and DeMarcus Robinson exploding in week two. With hardly any tape on Thompson could he be the one that explodes in week three?

Should you play Darwin Thompson?

I think this is the potentional “where did he come from?” type of play. As for me, I watched and have interviewed Thompson on the podcast so I am well aware of the player he is. I felt he would have a bigger role and then the Chiefs went out and grabbed McCoy. This weekend could be a coming-out party for Darwin Thompson. I would say, for the “safe” fantasy football players out there, don’t even touch Thompson. I would say for the boom-or-bust players that lay it all on the line, Thompson is your boom-or-bust play of the week. You could end up with 18-plus points or 6 points but Thompson might be your best option since you are in this emergency situation, to begin with.

T.J Yeldon, Buffalo Bills (ESPN PROJECTED PTS: 5.8)

Yeldon signed with the Buffalo Bills hoping to revitalize his career. Unfortunately for Yeldon, the Bills also signed the ageless wonder Frank Gore and drafted the aforementioned Devin Singletary. Due to these occurrences, Yeldon fell out of favor early in his tenure and has been a ghost. That was until Singletary was ruled out for this Sunday and now Yeldon is the number two back in Buffalo. Here’s why that’s good, Yeldon is going to back up the 35-year-old Gore who is expected to get the brunt of the carries. Here’s why that’s bad, Yeldon is going to back up the 35-year-old Gore woh is expected to get the brunt of the carries. It’s been made clear by Sean McDermott that this team likes Gore a ton and he will be the workhorse back until Singletary is back out there. Yeldon is a much better pass-catching back but Gore has him beat in everything after that.

The Bills are going up against the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, a team that held the Seahawks to 64 yards on the ground but just gave up 244 yards on 36 carries against the 49ers banged-up backfield. Buffalo would have run rampant on the Bengals with Singletary healthy but the proposition becomes interesting with Gore and Yeldon this week. Yeldon is actually quite the darkhorse play here.

Should you play T.J. Yeldon?

No, you should have picked up Frank Gore earlier in the week…Okay, that’s directed at me. In all seriousness, Yeldon is another similar boom-or-bust play like Thompson but I don’t trust him as much as Thompson.

Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons (ESPN PROJECTED PTS: 5.7)

Let’s just get one thing straight. Ito Smith is, in fact, the best running back on the Atlanta Falcons. Why is he likely available in your fantasy football free-agent pool? Because the Falcons don’t know what they are doing at the moment. Ito Smith is averaging 6.3 yards per carry on 10 carries while Devonta Freeman averaging 2.2 yards per carry on 19 carries. Freeman has six catches for 54 yards and Smith has three catches for 22 yards. Basically, Smith is giving the Falcons more per snap. Freeman is coming off injury but so is Smith and their running game is going to need to start doing something to help open up the passing game for Matt Ryan.

Indianapolis has given up 33 points per game to running backs in fantasy and they will be without Darius Leonard on the defensive side of the ball. Could this be a breakout game for Ito Smith or Devonta Freeman or both? I wouldn’t entirely count on the Falcons using their running game the right way. I think Ito is productive again but not productive enough for fantasy.

Should you play Ito Smith?

No, it’s a shame because he could really be a nice play if given the opportunity but I don’t see it coming while Freeman is there, a guy the Falcons have prioritized long-term.

Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions (ESPN PROJECTED PTS: 3.8)

This is a mega boom-or-bust play. Ty Johnson is the talented running back the Lions drafted in the sixth round out of Maryland this year. The Lions just made a surprising move in which they let go of veteran free agent running back C.J. Anderson who helped bring the Rams to the Super Bowl last year. That move signals that the Lions offense is looking to get faster at the running back position. Johnson is a speedy back that can make plays in the passing game. He runs with a much different style than Anderson. The issue with Johnson is that the Lions also added Paul Perkins to the roster and still have J.D. McKissic. Kerryon Johnson is the starter moving forward but he has definitely had a rough time staying healthy. This is an interesting long-term option but can you afford to trot out Ty Johnson to save your week? I don’t know about that. Johnson did log five carries for 30 yards last week in the Lions win over the Chargers.

The Lions are playing rough tough Philadelphia this week in a game that just doesn’t look like a good matchup for Johnson. Again, moving forward he could be a smart pickup but for this week, justifying the idea of playing a rookie who has carried the ball just six times, has barely been used as a pass catcher and someone who is going against a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 55 yards rushing this season in either game isn’t ideal.

Should you play Ty Johnson?

Unfortunately no, I am so excited for Johnson moving forward but this is not the time to play him. After this week you may want to scoop him up but don’t try to outsmart everyone here. Kerryon Johnson is a legitimate bell cow and Johnson might not see much of any playing time with or without Anderson this week.

In conclusion, I’ve decided that if you have to choose between these names to start this week in an emergency circumstance, I would go with either Rex Burkhead or Darwin Thompson. I think for the easy-going and non-risk taking fantasy player, your best bet is Burkhead. As for me, I’m going with Thompson. We will see if going all-in pays off next week.


Williams – 4 carries for 16 yards, 2 catches for 25 yards (6.1 PTS)

Burkhead – 6 carries for 50 yards, 3 catches for 45 yards (12.5 PTS)

Thompson – 2 carries for 22 yards, 6 catches for 72 yards and TD (21.4 PTS)

Yeldon – 5 carries for 42 yards, 1 catch for 9 yards (6.1 PTS)

Smith – 12 carries for 80 yards (8 PTS)

Johnson – 8 carries 33 yards, 2 catches for 6 yards (5.9 PTS)

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