- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Several of the running back situations in the AFC East certainly lack clarity at this point. For example, we don’t know if unforgiving New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick will permit his best running back (Stevan Ridley) to dress for Sunday’s game, or any game for that matter. The Buffalo Bills have a pair of potentially intriguing options, but fantasy owners are just guessing if they own them both (C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson) and have to pick just one. The New York Jets should give their main guy more love (Chris Ivory), but his backup is still involved (Bilal Powell). Then there are the Miami Dolphins and Lamar Miller.
This situation should be clear. After all, Miller has all the tools to succeed and on several occasions this season has done so, including his Week 13 performance against a stout Jets run defense, when he handled a career-high 22 carries Sunday and turned them into an effective 72 yards. Hey, it wasn’t Adrian Peterson running wild, but Miller’s weekly stat line has been a roller coaster ride, and now, well, he seems valuable again. Of course, here in the Friday Sneaky Pickups blog entry, we prefer to consider all options and think outside the box, and Miller does possess considerable downside as well. We’ve seen that on several occasions; in his three games prior to Week 13, he was provided 21 rushing attempts total and turned them into 27 yards. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the Dolphins really believe.
And that’s what keeps me thinking that both rookie Mike Gillislee and seemingly underwhelming third-year fellow Daniel Thomas remain potentially in play for deep-league consideration. Miller is hardly a sure thing. Gillislee, a fifth-round pick from Florida, earned his first six carries of the season in Week 13, gaining 21 yards. It was, frankly, tough to judge him based on such a small sample size, but he should be fresh, at the least. Thomas suffered a left ankle injury in Week 12 that was originally believed would end his season, but he’s rehabbing and the team believes he could return to active duty in a week. Watching Thomas run when healthy isn’t really such a treat, but the Dolphins kept him involved, much to the chagrin of Miller owners. Who’s to say that time-share cannot continue soon?
This doesn’t mean one should avoid Miller as a flex option or deep-league RB2 this weekend. He’s got skills. He ran hard against the Jets, though this weekend he faces a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has been pretty stingy against the run of late, holding its past four opponents to no more than 80 rushing yards. In Week 15, the Patriots head to South Florida. The Patriots have been gashed by the run the past two weeks for 62 fantasy points. That could be enough to make Miller a RB2 or, perhaps by then, Gillislee and/or Thomas have more value. One never knows in the AFC East.
Staying in the division, the Patriots’ Brandon Bolden and Bills’ Ronnie Wingo also fit into the sneaky running back pickup class. (I can’t find another Jets running back not mentioned above worth a thing even if I try.) Bolden looks like he can play, certainly more so than LeGarrette Blount in case Ridley doesn’t get another chance, but I think at this point it’s hard to trust him because Belichick is willing to change everything during a game. Wingo, an undrafted rookie from Arkansas, was promoted from the practice squad in late October but has yet to carry the football. With the Bills releasing Tashard Choice this week and Spiller and Jackson far from 100 percent healthy, perhaps Wingo gets late-season opportunity. It’s not like the Bills are playoff-bound.
Quarterback: By the fantasy playoffs, it’s tough to get sneaky about quarterbacks. That’s not to say one must possess a top-10 option to win, but the reason why we stopped predicting the next Billy Volek altering the fantasy playoffs (2004, look it up!) is because it hasn’t happened since. Add the Chicago Bears’ Josh McCown, even if you don’t need him. You don’t want your opponent beating you with him. It’s the same with the Tennessee Titans’ Ryan Fitzpatrick. … If in a really deep league where every starting QB matters, Drew Stanton (Carson Palmer is hurting) and Alex Tanney (the Browns are hurting) are worth a look just in case, and same goes for Kirk Cousins in Washington. I could see Robert Griffin III getting shut down.
Running back: Steven Jackson has looked better for the Atlanta Falcons lately, but in the past three weeks Antone Smith has four rushes, 137 yards and two long touchdown runs. Jacquizz Rodgers sure doesn’t. … It seems like every Carolina Panthers running back is battling some injury. Why hasn’t Kenjon Barner seen more chances? … Forget about the Dallas Cowboys’ Lance Dunbar (knee, expected to miss rest of the season), and while I think DeMarco Murray has a monster Monday night in Chicago, we know his injury history. Joseph Randle is back in play as a backup. … If you’re considering bench spots for top handcuffs, Knile Davis in Kansas City seems like a must. Toby Gerhart in Minnesota is another one. … With the Oakland Raiders running backs hurting, it’s time again to think about Marcel Reece, though the Jets matchup is not fortuitous. … The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell (concussion) seems set for action Sunday, but Jonathan Dwyer looms just in case. … There are many questions about who is the backup for the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch, in case he is shut down. I think the team would go with Robert Turbin over the more enticing Christine Michael.
Wide receiver: There are so many strong wide receiver choices each week, unlike running back, it’s hard to fathom adding someone too sneaky and using them. Check the Raiders, where Denarius Moore remains hurt, and Andre Holmes played well on Thanksgiving, and Jacoby Ford was involved, too. … Tough to see anyone using Tampa Bay Buccaneers options the final three weeks against the 49ers, Rams and Saints, but this Sunday, it’s Buffalo. Tiquan Underwood qualifies as a sneaky addition. … With Patriots rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson not assured of playing this week, the team re-signed Austin Collie. Stranger things have happened than the Patriots using him. … It’s clear the Vikings’ Cordarelle Patterson can play if the team lets him. Watch the rookie go off in Week 17 against Detroit. … The Colts have to be disappointed by their wide receivers of late, especially the frustrating Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is a mess. Da’Rick Rogers seems next in line after T.Y. Hilton.
Tight end: If you’re a Julius Thomas owner, unsure if he’ll play this week, it’s not a bad time to stash the Baltimore Ravens’ Dennis Pitta in case he’s active. Pitta has game, and his hip is healthy now. Remember, Pitta was the No. 7 tight end for the 2012 season. … The Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph is nearing a return from his busted foot; Vikings tight ends get used. Rudolph and John Carlson have combined for 60 receptions. Only four tight ends have caught 60 passes.
Best of luck the rest of Week 14 and beyond, and have a great weekend.