This week’s buy low, sell high will focus on cheap running backs who could season changers in the back nine of your fantasy football season. The price on these running backs vary, along with the chances of them hitting, but for each you can tell a story where they end up being your team’s hero.
Christine Michael, DAL - Michael has been discussed plenty in this column and on The Audible this season already. His physical talent is unquestioned, and Joseph Randle still hasn’t provided the spark the team needs while Tony Romo is out. Michael might only get a few more touches this week instead of the chance to take the job we’d hoped for, but the trends continue to point in his direction.
David Johnson, Andre Ellington, ARI - Chris Johnson is starting to look his age. The tale of Bruce Arians playing Rashard Mendenhall as much as or more than rookie Andre Ellington looms, but so does David Johnson being the best running back between the tackles on this roster. At least one of these backs is due a big leap in value in the second half of the season. Both have big play ability as receivers to plug right into a vertical passing offense. Ellington was slated to be the starter at the beginning of the season and a big spike for work in him would be logical if the team tired of Chris Johnson or he got hurt. David Johnson already has weekly what the heck flex value with his goal line role, but he also could add work finishing out games the Cardinals win going away, and there’s always Ellington’s injury history. In the background is a winning team with a high-scoring offense and an offensive line that is playing very well right now.
Injury Upside and More
Giovani Bernard, CIN - Bernard has been playing the best football of his career and pushing Jeremy Hill to the bench in the second half of games. Hill closing out games in the “cold weather” portion of the schedule is plan, but if Hill continues to fumble, run in wet cement, or get hurt, Bernard could pull a Devonta Freeman. The offense can certainly support an elite RB1 if one dual threat back got almost all of the work, and Bernard looks up to the task if he’s given the chance.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims has flashed speed that wasn’t apparent on his West Virginia tape, even if his turning radius still limits his big play ability. Sims has run with power and been the expected weapon as a receiver out of the backfield while providing flex value as the sidekick to Doug Martin. If Martin goes down, Sims would be an everydown back against a weak schedule with a quarterback who is very skilled at finding the checkdown for a rookie.
James Starks, GB - Like Sims, Starks is showing more speed than previously seen. He’s also more flexible than earlier in his career, and he’s finishing runs with determination and yards after contact. Experience can enhance a player’s game as much as youth can, it appears. Like Hill in Cincinnati, the plan is for Eddie Lacy to be the cold weather hammer, but things happen. In fact, things have already happened to Lacy’s ankle. The bye should help but if Lacy still looks stuck in LenDale White-land with Jeremy Hill in Week 8, Starks’ arrow for the second half of the year will be pointing way up.
Tevin Coleman, ATL - Coleman actually began the season as the lead back, but that ship sailed into the sunset and then some. In the meantime, the Falcons running game has gotten into alignment, and Coleman can be the beneficiary of that if Freeman goes down. Coleman could even have what the heck flex value if the Falcons play well and let him salt away games against their weak schedule.
Ryan Mathews, PHI - Mathews is back on the injury report, but the Eagles have at least gotten their running game on track, and we all know the history of running backs coming off of ultra-heavy use seasons like DeMarco Murray’s 2014. Mathews has his own injury history that might make any run as a lead back short-lived, but it would also be very productive.
DeAngelo Williams, PIT - Remember when Williams was the #1 running back in fantasy football? That was only a month ago. The Steelers offense is fixing to be even better than the one that fed Williams the chance to be #1. Le'Veon Bell is going to be the man in this offense, but he has suffered significant injuries in each of the first two years of his career. Williams is an insta-RB1 if Bell goes down and he shouldn’t be on the waiver wire if you can help it.
David Cobb, TEN - No back on the Titans roster has done anything to discourage the team from giving Cobb the chance to lead them in touches once he can take the field. I have serious misgivings about Ken Whisenhunt’s penchant for RBBC and the Titans offense trending towards getting stalled out more often than it moves the ball, but Cobb has a shot to do a lot in the second half of the season if rational coaching and rookie improvement kick in.
Robert Turbin, CLE - Turbin is a decent, but not great talent, but he could have more than decent opportunity in the Browns offense in the second half of the season. Duke Johnson Jr stands in his way in the passing game, but every passing week seems to add another ailment to his list. Isaiah Crowell is falling out of favor and could be supplanted by Turbin, who is a better receiver out of the backfield, too. Any running back in this offense is going to have a capped upside, but it’s not impossible to imagine Turbin getting more than half of the team’s RB touches and snaps in the second half of the season