- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The NFL season is two weeks and one game old, and already quite a few backup running backs have stepped to the forefront with big performances and clear fantasy relevance. New York Giants running back Andre Brown was the latest example Thursday night, as he skewered the Carolina Panthers for 24 standard fantasy points, something injured starter Ahmad Bradshaw has accomplished one game in his career.
For most players it's impossible to predict injuries, and while it's certainly possible Brown returns to reserve duty in Week 4, certainly we have more clarity on New York's running back hierarchy. We'll probably hear from rookie David Wilson at some point this season, but that point isn't now. Frankly, Brown -- 25 years old and well-traveled in his short career (waived a combined eight times by the Giants, Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins before coming back to Giants) -- looked so good that Bradshaw owners might not be pleased at a potentially looming timeshare.
Brown and St. Louis Rams surprise Daryl Richardson are two of the more popular running back adds this week, quickly vaulting over highly touted and now seemingly insignificant (for fantasy) rookies Wilson and Isaiah Pead, each of whom are now expendable in the short-term for fantasy purposes. As we continue to look ahead in the weekly Friday edition of Sneaky Pickups, focusing past the upcoming/in progress week, let's try to find three other situations in which the next guy in line isn't a hot-shot rookie.
Tennessee Titans: We know Chris Johnson isn't happy, and he certainly isn't productive, and while fantasy owners should be patient in owning him, what if this situation doesn't improve on or off the field? Johnson has been blaming everyone but himself for his struggles, and that attitude could help dictate changes as well. The offensive line is capable of doing better, and perhaps they would if the next Titans runner got a shot. I'm not watching Jamie Harper or Javon Ringer, but Darius Reynaud, a 5-foot-9 speedster who has lined up at running back and wide receiver. The 26-year-old West Virginia product has returned kicks and punts for the Giants and Vikings and excelled this preseason running the ball for the Titans, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on his 24 attempts. It's not a great sample size, but he made the team and got a few carries and a few receptions in Week 1. I think Johnson is healthy and a wise buy-low choice, but I'm interested to see whether Reynaud gets more of a look soon.
New York Jets: Shonn Greene is a capable starter for this team, a 1,000-yard rusher with little upside for big things, but certainly relevant in fantasy for flex purposes. Greene left the Week 2 game briefly with what was feared a concussion, but he returned to the game and did little. Reserve Bilal Powell stepped in with nine carries for 33 yards, hardly an offensive explosion, but meaningful nevertheless. The Jets have the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans over the next three weeks, and Greene has performed poorly in six career games against Miami, and running against San Francisco and Houston will be a challenge. It's reasonable to think Greene's stock, perhaps internally in North Jersey, falls a bit more and Powell sees more action in preparation for when the schedule turns easier. Powell has improved his pass blocking, can catch passes and has leaped ahead of Joe McKnight on the depth chart. Greene isn't special, so one would think the Jets would be open to possibility, and if they are, fantasy owners should be.
Eric Karabell's sneaky pickups for Week 3 include running backs who might emerge if something happens to the starter.