Every summer, rookie running backs come into the NFL and every summer fantasy analysts slobber all over them as potential break-out stars. Few actually pan out in their first year, but the top two backs taken off the draft board in April look like they might actually approach those lofty expectations.
Trent Richardson’s rushing totals haven’t been particularly gaudy, but his surprising involvement in the passing game (20 receptions, 169 yards) and his consistent touchdown production are more than making up for it.
Stuck in a similarly pedestrian offense, Doug Martin‘s production tailed off after Week 1, but this could be the week he gets back on track. Both rookies are strong plays in Week 6, along with many of the guys listed below.
The Bears, Jaguars, Panthers and Saints are on their byes this week, so if you’ve got Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall or any member of the Saints passing game, you may be looking for fill-in. We’re here to help.
Thursday night game
Steelers at Titans: Steelers defense
It is a short week, and Pittsburgh does have to travel, but the Titans continue to be one giant mess offensively and will remain so until running back Chris Johnson gets on track.
- Deep threat: Titans WR Kenny Britt – The guy can’t stay on the field, but he’s listed as probable, and if you’re willing to take a flier on him, he could reward you with one of those big games we saw last season. Besides, it’s clear they can’t run the ball.
The 1 p.m. games
Bengals at Browns: Browns RB Trent Richardson
Richardson has scored in each of his last four games, and while his average per carry isn’t stellar, the Bengals run defense gives up the eighth most fantasy points (23.7) to running backs.
- Deep threat: Bengals QB Andy Dalton – Despite his mediocre outing against the Dolphins, the second-year starter is approaching starter status in 12-team leagues. The Browns have given up 23 or more points in four straight weeks and rank 26th against the pass. Count on Dalton for another nice day.
Chiefs at Buccaneers: Bucs RB Doug Martin
Martin is primed for his best showing since Week 1 thanks to a Chiefs run defense that ranks 22nd in the league (121 ypg) and gives up the 10th most fantasy points to running backs (22.1).
- Deep threat: Chiefs RB Shaun Draughn – Not much to like here, especially with Brady Quinn under center, but the second-year back got 12 carries last week against the Ravens, and if Peyton Hillis is out again, he makes for a decent hail mary.
Colts at Jets: Jets RB Shonn Greene
Greene has been a fantasy afterthought for most of the season, but the Colts yield nearly 134 rushing yards per game, the eighth most in the league, and 22.5 fantasy points (ninth most) to running backs.
- Deep threat: Colts WR Donnie Avery – The Jets have to double-team Renaissance Man Reggie Wayne, and Andrew Luck is going to keep throwing the ball. There will be more catches to go around this week and Avery should be a recipient.
Cowboys at Ravens: Ravens defense
The Cowboys are averaging the second fewest points per game (16) and face a traditionally strong defense that has allowed 17.8 points per game (seventh best in the league) and has six interceptions (tied for eighth).
- Deep threat: Cowboys TE Jason Witten – The veteran tight end sounded the siren that he’s back to full health with his 13-catch, 112-yard outing against the Bears, and the Ravens defense is no longer the shut-down unit it once was.
Lions at Eagles: Eagles TE Brent Celek
The Lions permit the fourth most fantasy points (10.8) to tight ends, and Celek is second on the Eagles in catches (21) and yards (324). His 35 targets also are tied for fifth most at the position.
- Deep threat: Lions RB Joique Bell – Detroit loves to dump the ball off to this guy and let him run in space. His catches have increased each week and with Mikel Leshoure not doing much, Bell’s role will continue to expand.
Raiders at Falcons: Falcons defense
Atlanta’s defense isn’t a regular play, but it has an enticing matchup vs. an offense that ranks 29th in points (16.8) and must travel across country to play in a noisy dome.
- Deep threat: Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey - He’s back from that scary concussion (practiced full Wednesday) and still has serious play-making ability. Oakland should fall behind early, which means Carson Palmer will be throwing it a ton.
Rams at Dolphins: Dolphins RB Reggie Bush
In what figures to be a low-scoring affair, Bush remains the Dolphins’ best scoring threat and is guaranteed touches both by hand-off and as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
- Deep threat: Rams defense – Over the last two weeks, St. Louis has held a pair of mediocre offenses to 16 combined points while piling up 11 sacks and four turnovers. The ‘Phins don’t exactly have a prolific offense, which makes the Rams a sneaky bye-week play.
The 4 p.m. games
Bills at Cardinals: Cardinals RB LaRod Stephens-Howling
Stephens-Howling is in line to get carries because of injuries to Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, and his starting debut comes against a run defense ranked 28th and giving up 27.3 fantasy points (second most) to running backs.
- Deep threat: Bills TE Scott Chandler – Yes, him again. Cardinals pass rushers will be licking their chops and Ryan Fitzpatrick will looking for quick passes and check-downs. Chandler has great hands and continues to be a major red zone threat. If you’ve got Jimmy Graham or Greg Olsen on the bench this week, Chandler is a high-upside fill-in.
Patriots at Seahawks: Seahawks defense
The Seahawks certainly aren’t a first option this week, but for owners in a pinch, they could be a waiver wire sleeper given they’ve allowed 9.5 ppg at CenturyLink Field, perhaps the nastiest place to play for opponents.
- Deep threat: Patriots RB Brandon Bolden – Although the encore performance didn’t live up to the first act against Buffalo, New England still gave Bolden 14 totes against Denver. The Pats appear committed to keeping the ground game going this season, and Bolden could break off a couple big runs when Stevan Ridley needs a breather.
Giants at 49ers: 49ers RB Frank Gore
Gore has one touchdown in each of his last two games and is assured touches in the 49ers methodical offense. The Giants are just middling against the run, allowing 111.4 yards per game.
- Deep threat: Giants WR Domenik Hixon – Over the past two weeks, Hixon has established himself as the team’s clear No. 3 receiver with 11 catches for 169 yards. If Hakeem Nicks is out again, Hixon becomes flex-worthy in a deep league. And even if Nicks plays, he could be a decent sleeper.
Vikings at Redskins: Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph
The Redskins are surrendering the second most fantasy points (12.0) to tight ends, and Rudolph has a touchdown in three of his last four games. Rudolph also leads the Vikings with four touchdown catches.
- Deep threat: Redskins TE Fred Davis – If you’ve got him, you’re probably playing him anyway this week, but the Vikings have given up four touchdowns to tight ends this season and if someone other than RGIII is under center, Davis becomes a nice safety blanket against Minnesota’s pass rush.
Sunday night game
Packers at Texans: Texans TE Owen Daniels
Defenses sometimes neglect Daniels given the big-play ability of WR Andre Johnson and RB Arian Foster, so QB Matt Schaub often looks to his tight end. Daniels is tied with Johnson for the team lead in targets (30).
- Deep threat: Packers RB Alex Green: One of the top waiver-wire pickups this week, Green should get first crack at filling Cedric Benson’s starting tailback role. Houston is ninth in the NFL against the run, but without Brian Cushing, there could be a few more running holes on Sunday night.
Monday night game
Broncos at Chargers: Chargers TE Antonio Gates
Gates owners are frustrated, but this matchup is favorable on several levels. The Broncos allow the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends, and Gates appears the healthiest he’s been all season.
Deep threat: Broncos TE Joel Dreessen – The veteran tight end now has touchdowns in three straight weeks, and Denver should find itself in the red zone plenty.
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