Week 2 was as bloody as it gets for running back injuries with almost one in four teams losing their primary back for the game (if not season). Were losing star rookie wideouts while they are just practicing. The Browns cannot keep healthy players and this is not a team noted for having “tons of depth.” It makes you wonder what this week is going to hold?
Pull up a chair. Here’s another six guys I’ve been thinking about.
1. RB Dexter McCluster (SD) – At first blush, this is player signing is pretty much just a yawn, but it could be more. It sort of needs to be more. McCluster has always been one of those small (5-8, 170 lbs) players that just never really fit any category. His best season was in 2011 when he totaled 844 yards with two scores for the Chiefs. His best year in Tennessee was 507 yards and two scores last season. that was running 55 times for 247 yards and added 31 catches for 260 yards with two touchdowns. That is notable because his two seasons in Tennessee were the exact same time that Ken Whisenhunt was the head coach. Now Whisenhunt is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers again ( he held that job in 2013).
The loss of Danny Woodhead is significant but at least Melvin Gordon is giving signs that he’s ready to step up to more than the 221 touches of 2015. But he will need a complement like Woodhead and thus McCluster was signed. These last two years McCluster only had 26 and 31 catches respectively on a very bad Titans team. But he had as many as 53 receptions for the Chiefs. As he stands, he is already a low-end bye week filler in a reception points league but the former second rounder could do more. He was much busier in Kansas City and Tennessee did no running backs favors for the last two years.
2. RB Dwayne Washington (DET) – Ameer Abdullah is out for at least eight weeks and it is rare that players return after missing at least half the season to turn in big stats. The team usually just moves on and gets comfortable with someone else and most players need several weeks just to get back in game shape after they return. So the seventh-round draft pick of Dwayne Washington becomes of an interest.
Theo Riddick becomes the starting back but at 5-9, 201 lbs., he is a bit under-sized as an every-down back – which he never was in his four seasons in Detroit. He never had more than 43 carries in a year and the 11 last week was a career high. He also only has a 3.3 yard per carry career average. And he was full-time at Notre Dame only his senior season when he ran 190 times. But Washington has the between-the-tackles power and size and the Lions have a decent schedule this year. Have to think this ends up as a committee but like Washington more as a runner and scorer if only later in the year.
3. RB Matt Asiata (MIN) – It is back to 2014 when Adrian Peterson was out and both Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata replaced him. That was McKinnon’s rookie season and he broke 100 yards twice and totaled 531 yards on 108 carries with Peterson out. But he missed the final five games with a lower back injury that required surgery. The 5-9, 204 lb. back did not hold up. He has speed and had a 4.8 yard per carry average though and remains the back-up to Peterson and now the starting tailback.
What bothers me is that McKinnon was injured after eight games and averaged only 14 carries. And he never scored. Asiata is much bigger at 6-0 and 219 lbs. and while he only ran for 570 yards on 164 runs, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. And he scored ten touchdowns. McKinnon has a tough schedule and is the more talented back. But I picked up Asiata pretty cheaply on waiver wires just to see if 2014 repeats. Both will play – as long as both remain healthy.
4. TE Henry Hunter (SD) – The list of rookie wideouts that mattered is so small that they were just the result of a freak situation. Hunter was the first tight end selected this year when the Chargers spent their 2.04 pick as the heir to Antonio Gate’s throne assuming he retires before the age of 40. Funny thing may happen – Hunter could start this week since Gates has a hamstring injury. At the age of 36, why wouldn’t his hamstrings hurt?
Hunter is the exact same size as Gates and while he is an all-around tight end with blocking skills, he was born to be a receiver. He has just one catch this year – a 20-yard grab in the opener. But he may start this week and play against the Colts. Then the Saints. Then the Raiders. Gates only has six catches after two games for just 35 yards and the worst YPC of his career. I am watching Hunter go against a dream matchup this week and maybe two more weeks. The rookie isn’t going to make a big splash with Gates there and just the reality of being a rookie. But he has three weeks worth of light match-ups to exploit.
5. WR Philip Dorsett (IND) – Since Donte Moncrief will miss four to six weeks with a fractured shoulder blade, Dorsett gets to move up to being the #2 wideout. This former first round pick only caught 18 passes as a rookie in the year of implosion by the Luck-less Colts. But he’s already caught five passes for 124 yards and he still runs a 4.3/40. He gets a big opportunity to shine for an offense that is going to have to throw with the next opponents of SD, @JAC and CHI. He replaces Moncrief who caught six passes for 64 yards and one score versus the Lions. This is what first round picks are drafted to do. Really, really fast first round picks.
6. Cleveland Browns – I thought about several individual players but opted for the overall approach. It has to be brutal to be a Browns fan this year. After just two games, they have lost two starting quarterbacks and their prized rookie wide receiver. I wrote last week about Gary Barnidge and how he was not going to rekindle his Cinderella season (that is the 31-year-old and 6-6 version of Cinderella). I am not so sure anymore. The loss of Corey Coleman for four to six weeks sets the passing offense back much further. They are bringing up Andrew Hawkins to replace Coleman. That is a major downgrade. Josh Gordon is back in Week 5 but to what?
Josh McCown’s shoulder will have him out likely multiple weeks and the rookie Cody Kessler will substitute. Terrell Pryor is only catching three passes per week. This all smacks of 2015 when Barnidge was mostly the last man standing (or at least closest to the quarterback). The Bad News Browns cannot afford any more injuries and it is only Week 3. Now I will be surprised not to see Barnidge become much more involved. Again.
And an extra point…
After last week’s carnage for running backs, the value of mining for starters by getting their backups pre-injury is again on display. Once the back is out, their subsitute becomes very expensive or is taken before you get reach them. So picking out a few roster squatters in the hopes of winning the ACL lottery makes a lot of sense if you have the space. But all back-ups are not equal. You own the #2 guy on the Dolphins? Jay Ajayi? So what?
This is my list of top running backs I like to have just in case the primary back is hopping off the field on one leg:
- Chris Johnson (ARI)
- Derrick Henry (TEN)
- Devontae Booker (DEN)
- Bilal Powell (NYJ)
- Alfred Morris (DAL)