2012 Fantasy Football Backups: Changing of the Guards
Once Backups, Now Starters
Heading into the 2012 fantasy football season, there was a lot of hype surrounding a few particular players.
For instance, there were talks of Darren McFadden being a potential top-3 fantasy running back (if he could just stay healthy for an entire season), the Philadelphia Eagles offense being a fantasy goldmine that included the likes of Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and Titus Young being primed for a breakout season as that dynamic No. 2 receiver the Detroit Lions have been desperately seeking.
For most of these players I mentioned above, we most likely bought in to the preseason hype and drafted a lot of these players in the early to mid-rounds in our fantasy drafts. As the season progressed, irritation slowly shifted to aggravation. At the midway point, aggravation turned into full-blown frustration. Unfortunately for us, things don’t always pan out as we hoped, and many factors such as that dreaded injury bug or just flat out ineffectiveness offers lesser-known players with the rare opportunity to take the reins.
There’s that term tossed around in fantasy football known as handcuffing. Personally, I never liked wasting a roster spot on a backup, but there’s always that special circumstance where a backup player is in a prime position to take the starting job (at least for a handful of games). By way of illustration, it is a well-known fact that McFadden can’t stay healthy for an entire season, so that’s why picking up the Raiders’ backup running back (last season it was Michael Bush and this season it’s Marcel Reece) is always a good idea.
Here’s a look at some of the players that have been quietly out producing their counterparts.
C.J. Spiller vs. Fred Jackson
Last season, Fred Jackson was having a career year and was ranked third in rushing yards (934) prior to breaking his leg that prematurely ended his season. This season, the 31 year old Jackson only lasted one quarter as the lead dog in the Bills’ first regular-season game before going down with a sprained knee versus the New York Jets.
Since filling in for Jackson, C.J. Spiller has flashed elite running ability and is a home run threat any time he touches the ball. Spiller has averaged a total of 105.6 yards per game with five touchdowns this season, despite playing in a timeshare for a majority of those games.
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey has recently acknowledged that they need to feed Spiller the ball more and has named Spiller the starter in a 60:40 timeshare in the Bills’ backfield moving forward. With an uptick in snaps, Spiller is not only a must-start but belongs in the elite category of RB1’s the rest of the way.
Marcel Reece vs. Darren McFadden
In his first nine games before suffering an ankle injury, Darren McFadden averaged a meager 50.5 rushing yards with 21.1 receiving yards per game. In comparison, rookie Doug Martin has averaged 88.2 rushing yards with 27.2 receiving yards per game in the same amount of games. That’s far from what we expected out of the talented yet extremely fragile running back.
Some might attribute McFadden’s recent lack of production to the newly implemented zone-blocking run scheme but that sure hasn’t stopped the versatile Marcel Reece from racking up the stat sheet. Since filling-in for a hobbled McFadden, Reece has totaled 225 yards on the ground with 250 yards through the air in the last four games, that’s an average of 56.2 rushing yards and 62.5 receiving yards per game. Particularly in Points Per Reception leagues, Reece has been on a tear and should be locked into your lineups so long as McFadden is out.
If you haven’t noticed, Carson Palmer loves making his check down passes to his running backs and with Reece being a true route runner (having played receiver in college), I’d expect him to continue to be heavily involved in the passing game even when McFadden finally returns.
Bryce Brown vs. LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy hasn’t been a complete bust in 2012, but by no means is he the top-3 fantasy running back he was in 2011, and if it wasn’t for his special ability to contribute in the passing game, he would have been a complete bust. I wouldn’t place all the blame on him for his lack of production though, or even the pathetic play of the offensive line this season, but rather on head coach Andy Reid and his poor lack of judgment.
Not to say that I have any coaching knowledge or experience, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the passing game isn’t going to work if the line can’t protect the quarterback. I mean, it really took a major concussion to Michael Vick and another to McCoy before Reid realized that the offense’s strength is pounding the ball on the ground. Unfortunately for McCoy owners, Bryce Brown is now the running back reaping the benefits of this newfound offensive approach.
I realize that it’s only been one game and that lone game was against the Carolina Panthers’ 25th ranked rushing defense, but Brown absolutely abused the Panthers as he went on to rush for 178 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns (that’s a Madden-like average of 9.4 yards per carry). If McCoy ends up missing more time, Brown could be a solid RB2/flex, especially if Nick Foles is still the quarterback.
Ryan Broyles vs. Titus Young
The Detroit Lions offense had high expectations heading into the 2012 season after Matthew Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards with 41 touchdowns, 16 of those touchdowns going to Calvin Johnson. Stafford’s draft stock climbed into the first round in most fantasy drafts while Johnson was viewed as the only receiver worthy of being taken in the first round.
Unfortunately, both of these players failed to meet expectations in the first half of the season mainly because opposing defenses drew all their coverage to Johnson with a lack of a true No. 2 threat in the passing game, eliminating the NFL’s most explosive offensive weapon from the game plan.
Titus Young figured to be the one to step up and assume the No. 2 role opposite Megatron, but a lack of maturity on and off the field has overshadowed the youngster’s undeniable talent and has led him to Jim Schwartz’ dog house. Aside from a monster Week 8 performance against Seattle’s elite defense where he racked up 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns, it's safe to say that Young has fallen short of his 2012 expectations.
The Lions’ second round pick, Ryan Broyles, has quietly emerged as the second best option in the passing game after securing six catches for 126 yards on Thanksgiving Day. Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Broyles has bypassed Young on the depth chart and is locked in as the No. 2 receiver moving forward. Thanks to his dependability and polished route-running, Broyles will be an attractive WR3 for the remainder of the season.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Alex Smith
Former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith has carried around the dreaded labels of draft bust and game manager for most of his career, but now that the San Francisco 49ers are winning again, Smith appears to be one of the best game managers out there (which still doesn’t say a whole lot). Smith held a record of 6-2-1 this season before suffering a concussion in Week 10 versus the St. Louis Rams, and looks to have finally lost his seat as the starting quarterback.
Backup Colin Kaepernick has been on absolute fire since leading the 49ers to two straight victories in two starts. Kaepernick was surgical in Week 11 against the best Chicago Bears defense we’ve seen since 1985, as he went on to complete 69.6 percent of his passes with 243 yards and two touchdowns. Then there was the win over Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints as Kaepernick finished with a total of 258 yards with two touchdowns.
With Kaepernick in over Smith, it seems that the chains have been lifted from the quarterback position and with the more versatile and athletically gifted Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers offense appears to be more dangerous than ever. If he’s still available on the waiver wire, pick him up and roll him out with confidence the rest of the way.
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