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Backup running backs with big upside

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Being a backup running back in the NFL means waiting to get your "big" chance. There are two ways to get playing time - if the starter doesn't get the job done or because of injury.

Sitting behind some running backs, like Minnesota's Adrian Peterson who has started 54 of 64 games over the past four seasons (84.4%), its going to be a long wait, while with others such as injury-prone Darren McFadden (started 25 of 48 possible games = 52.1%) the odds are in your favor of getting some significant playing time.

Using this information can help you once you have drafted your starting lineup and begin the search for depth.

There are two basic approaches - handcuffing your starters regardless of the backup's talent level or seeking guys who can quickly become a starter and thrive in their new role.

A fantasy owner who drafts the aforementioned "All-Day Adrian" could use a late pick on his backup, Toby Gerhart, but could the former Stanford star actually fill the shoes of Peterson and average 94.8 yards-per-game and .8125 touchdowns per contest?

Below we have listed 10 running backs who have a decent chance of starting at some time during this season and also producing at a starter level once the opportunity arises. We have ruled out the obvious running backs in a running- back-by-committee situation (ex; DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart)

Tim Hightower/Ryan Torain - If you think McFadden is an injury risk, take a look at the Redskins' Ryan Torain who was drafted in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos in 2008. He's played just 12 games in three years and started nine times. Despite those numbers, coach Mike Shanahan is expecting him to start this year - when he returns from a fractured hand. Hightower has run very well in preseason and only needs to hold on to the football to get meaningful playing time and produce solid fantasy value.

James Starks/Ryan Grant - Grant (fantasyfootballnerd.com rank 64) is being drafted ahead of Starks (94), but hasn't looked very good in preseason. Grant missed almost all of 2010 with a torn ligament in his ankle. While Grant watched from the sidelines, Starks played a significant role in the team's Super Bowl run last year and has been the better of the two this summer. This could be a situation where the young guy simply beats out the veteran and takes the starter's spot in the lineup.

Kendall Hunter/Frank Gore - Gore and agent Drew Rosenhaus are unhappy with his contract (no surprise there), but he's seeking a lot of money for a guy who hasn't played a full season since 2006. Gore is certainly talented, but so is rookie Kendall Hunter who's preseason performance has already made him the heir apparent to the starting tailback job over Anthony Dixon. Should Gore's contract squabbles or injuries give Hunter the opportunity, he could be a star and is a great draft choice in the last round (ranked 328).

Derrick Ward/Arian Foster - Foster has already pulled the same hamstring twice this preseason and though he says he'll be ready for opening day, it is not a guarantee. Ward is a former 1,000-yard rusher with the talent to thrive in the Texans' offense. Given the current injury to Foster, he's a "must handcuff."

Rashad Jennings/Maurice Jones-Drew - Jones-Drew and his troublesome knee have been "babied" in training camp and preseason, but they won't be able to hide the problem when they start playing for real. Jennings has already been promised more playing time and with MJD's knee he could be a full-time starter at any point in the season.

Willis McGahee/Knowshon Moreno - McGahee may simply be the better of the two running backs, but he'll start the season as the backup and goal-line running back. In two seasons Moreno has yet to show he can carry a running game on his back averaging just 3.8 and 4.3 ypc in 2009 and 2010. respectively. With run- first head coach John Fox, the starter should have a great opportunity to shine. At No.161 McGahee is a solid value even in his backup role, but winning the first-string job would make him a "steal."

Javon Ringer/Jamie Harper/Chris Johnson - It's looking more and more like Johnson doesn't want to play in 2011. The situation would normally be the perfect spot for backup Javon Ringer, but he's been hurt for much of camp and preseason (hip). Head Coach Mike Munchak has said he's confident in Harper (ranked 398) who could end up being the Week 1 starter.

Michael Bush/Darren McFadden - As stated above, McFadden has started barely over half of his games during his three-year career. Bush is a solid running back with a 4.4 ypc average and owns five 100+ yard games despite starting just 10 times in his career. An obvious handcuff.

Delone Carter/Joseph Addai - Addai played just eight games last season and hasn't played an entire season since his rookie year - 2006. Meanwhile, Carter has already surpassed Donald Brown for the backup role and Syracuse's third all-time leading rusher could play a big role in the Colts' running game. Ranked at No.365 he'd be a great last-round flier.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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