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NFL Fantasy Football Lister Week 14: The importance of being earnest about running backs

By Marc Hardin
NKyTribune contributor

Thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness, trades, suspensions and an epic contract holdout, this has been an especially rough season for running backs projected to be the featured guy on their respective NFL teams. The aches and pains, broken bones, broken wills, broken trust and boneheaded moves have had huge fantasy implications since training camp. It’s forced even the most diligent team owners to stay abreast of depth chart changes and have headache medicine handy.

Thanks, but no thanks.

If you made the fantasy playoffs, which for most of us commence this week, congratulations. You have more than likely enjoyed your success despite some sort of uncertainty at some point while trying to fill out the two running back spots in your starting lineup. If you somehow avoided losing running backs at a plague-like pace, you’ve been counting your lucky stars and probably winning lots of games.

Luck certainly has something to do with it, much of it bad. If you loaded up on backs at the draft, like you’re supposed to, lined up some handcuffs, like you’re supposed to, and drafted the stellar group of Le’Veon Bell, Jerick McKinnon, Jay Ajayi, Alex Collins, James Conner and Matt Breida, you may not have any of them available this week. It’s ludicrous. Ah, but this year, ludicrousy is en vogue.


History is a great teacher and the 2018 fantasy football season has once again taught us that the best way to inoculate your team and produce immunity against the injury bug and other running back woes is to have as many backs as possible. It’s the best fantasy advice I can give.

You need handcuffs as safe insurance for starters which is why I also recommend drafting seven running backs, and keeping seven running backs, on your roster the entire season. Additionally, you need to be ready to pounce on relevant free-agent backs as they make themselves known, sometimes before they make themselves known.

It’s a tough task, especially when most everybody else is taxed with the same problem. With the likes of Spencer Ware, Jaylen Samuels and Justin Jackson manning starting running back slots on the verge of the fantasy postseason, now is a great time to illustrate just how vital it is to stay stocked up on backs.


Of the 32 projected starting running backs at the beginning of training camp, six have been placed on injured reserve. Seven more have missed or could miss multiple games due to injury. Three lost their jobs because of ineffectiveness or trades. One held out the entire season due to a contract dispute and one has been suspended for the rest of the season.

That’s 18 No. 1 backs who’ve had their seasons, or significant chunks of their seasons, wiped out. Ouch! At least four NFL teams have required the services of third-string running backs in the starting role because of injuries or otherwise. Of the paltry total of 14 starting backs who’ve generally been available throughout the season (we’ll count LeSean McCoy, barely), a mere five have been consistently productive. Three of those five have had some production flaws, leaving two backs you’ve been able to count on for elite numbers all year long. Two out of 32! Let’s let some categories and category totals tell the painful story. I will provide the sad soundtrack.


The melancholy ballad “Hurt So Bad” is one of the few songs in U.S. chart history to be a hit by three different artists. It was originally recorded in 1965 by Little Anthony & The Imperials, who saw it rise to No. 10. The Lettermen took the song to No. 12 in 1969 with their cover version. Linda Ronstadt took it to No. 8 in 1980. Losing these backs didn’t feel good, which is why we’re not talking about James Brown.

Jay Ajayi (Eagles): Tore his ACL Week 5.
Alex Collins (Ravens): Out for the season with a foot injury.
Devonta Freeman (Falcons): King of pain. Out since Week 5 (groin).
Derrius Guice (Redskins): Went down in training camp with torn ACL.
Marshawn Lynch (Raiders): Out until at least Week 16 with a groin injury.
Jerick McKinnon (49ers): Tore ACL before the season started.


Two songs simply titled “Hurt”, one by Elvis Presley and one by Christina Aguilera, have been chart hits. Another by Johnny Cash was a super sad remake of the Grammy Award-nominated song by Nine Inch Nails. Cash won a Grammy with it in the best video category. Likewise, these backs have been hit and hurt. In Leonard Fournette’s case, he’s been hurt and hit with a suspension.

Dalvin Cook (Vikings): Missed 5 games with assorted injuries.
Leonard Fournette (Jaguars): Missed 7 games with injuries/suspension.
Melvin Gordon (Chargers): Missed 2 games with injuries, iffy going forward.
Kerryon Johnson (Lions): Missed past 2 games with knee injury.
Marlon Mack (Colts): Missed 4 games with injuries.
Sony Michel (Patriots): Missed 3 games with injuries.
Joe Mixon (Bengals): Missed Weeks 3 and 4 with knee injury.


Gary U.S. Bonds had an unexpected 1982 hit with his version of “Out Of Work” which was written by Bruce Springsteen. These backs lost their jobs and faded into oblivion, much like Gary U.S. Bonds.

Carlos Hyde (Jaguars): Browns traded him early in the season.
Royce Freeman (Broncos): Lost his grip on a time share after one game.
Jamaal Williams (Packers): Did little to keep his job upon Aaron Jones’ return.


“Take This Job and Shove It” was a No. 1 country hit for Johnny Paycheck. The song was about the bitterness of a man who worked long and hard with no apparent reward. There were no paychecks this year for…

Le’Veon Bell (Steelers): Few realized he would be this stubborn for that long.


Violence against women is unacceptable. There is simply no excuse for it.

Kareem Hunt (Chiefs): The latest episode in a season of shockers.


“Jump Around” was a smash hit in 1992 for hip-hop ensemble House of Pain. It was produced by DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill. These backs have avoided major pains and been able to jump around all season while mugging for cameras.

Saquon Barkley (Giants): Pass-catching numbers put him over the top.
Ezekial Elliott (Cowboys): Overcame a slow start, has unimpressive TD total.
Todd Gurley (Rams): Wire to wire stud with Week 11 the lone blip.
Alvin Kamara (Saints): Tailed off lately after blistering start.
Christian McCaffrey (Panthers): Great now, but laid some eggs first 7 weeks.


Peyton Barber (Buccaneers): Underwhelming in pass-happy offense.
Chris Carson (Seahawks): Had to break out of an early timeshare.
Isaiah Crowell (Jets): Has had just 3 high scoring games.
Kenyan Drake (Dolphins): Split carries all season with Frank Gore.
Jordan Howard (Bears): Underperformed, lost touches to Tarik Cohen.
David Johnson (Cardinals): Early slump led to inconsistency.
Dion Lewis/Derrick Henry (Titans): Season-long time share cut into values.
LeSean McCoy (Bills): Unproductive injury-marred season from the start.
Lamar Miller (Texans): Took him seven weeks to finally get rolling.


“Coming Up” was a No. 1 hit for Paul McCartney. “Career Opportunities” was a punk rock song by the Clash that did not chart. “Opportunity” quite surprisingly was not released as a single off Elvis Costello’s album Get Happy. But these backs have been plenty happy after being given opportunity (listed in order of current fantasy ranking).

5. James Conner (Steelers): Awesome but questionable for Week 14.
9. Phillip Lindsay (Broncos): Undrafted free agent is a big surprise.
10. James White (Patriots): With low carry totals, not a traditional No. 1.
12. Adrian Peterson (Redskins): Wasn’t on roster before Guice got hurt.
14. Nick Chubb (Browns): Team traded Carlos Hyde so he could play.
15. Tarik Cohen (Bears): Capitalized on Jordan Howard’s ineffectiveness.
16. Aaron Jones (Packers): Pretty good since return from early suspension.
18. Matt Breida (49ers): Surprised all by taking over for Jerick McKinnon.
20. Tevin Coleman (Falcons): Devonta Freeman understudy does it again.
22. T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars): Solid run as Leonard Fournette’s replacement.
25. Austin Ekeler (Chargers): Decent stand-alone back behind Melvin Gordon.
31. Latavius Murray (Vikings): Great for 4 weeks while replacing Dalvin Cook.
32. Mark Ingram (Saints): Missed first 4 games due to suspension.


Two different songs titled “Hurts So Good” were hits, one by Millie Jackson and one by John Cougar Mellancamp. Many of these backs experienced good things after the guy ahead of them got hurt.

Josh Adams (Eagles): Took him a while to take over for Jay Ajayi.
LeGarrette Blount (Lions): Late rally in wake of Kerryon Johnson injury.
Gus Edwards (Ravens): Another late emergence, following Alex Collins.
Doug Martin (Raiders): Stepped in when Marshawn Lynch went down.
Spencer Ware (Chiefs): Cincinnati native next man up behind Kareem Hunt.
Jaylen Samuels (Steelers): He’s next if James Conner (ankle) can’t go.

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