It was a bittersweet first drive for the Baltimore Ravens. Veteran running back Danny Woodhead showed both the risk and reward that comes with signing the 32-year-old pass-catching back.
Woodhead caught three passes for 33 yards — all resulting in first downs — plus added a rush for four yards before grabbing his left hamstring after a third-down play from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 7-yard line. He would eventually limp to the sideline before being taken to the locker room on the back of a cart. It’s a concerning injury for any running back let alone Woodhead, who missed 14 games in 2016 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
A fantasy darling for owners in point-per-reception leagues, Woodhead was, on average a fifth-round pick in 12-team drafts this season, perhaps causing him to be the first or second running back taken by those who utilized the Zero RB strategy. His backup, Terrance West, was an eighth-round fantasy pick, making him unavailable on the waiver wire, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to pick up a replacement to add depth to your roster.
Chris Thompson, Washington, Redskins, 60.4 percent owned in ESPN leagues
Last season, the 5-foot-8, 195-pound running back had 68 carries for 356 yards, a team-high 3.13 yards per carry after contact and two touchdowns on the ground. He also had 49 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns, giving him a success rate that was well-above average on short and intermediate passes (14 yards or less form the line of scrimmage) to the left and middle parts of the field.
During Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he played 13 of the team’s 32 passing snaps, catching four passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, a short pass over the middle from Kirk Cousins which required a spin move to get into the end zone.
Shane Vereen, New York Giants, 32.4 percent owned
Vereen was limited to five games in 2016 due to a twice-torn triceps, finishing the season with 33 carries for 158 yards and one touchdown, plus 11 catches for 94 yards. He figures to be the change-of-pace back for the Giants again, who are successful when they pass the ball to their running backs out of the backfield.
Quarterback Eli Manning completed 73 percent of his passes to his running backs last season compared to a 58 percent success rate to his wide receivers, allowing his rushers to average 5.5 yards per attempt and a robust 8.7 yards after the catch per reception.
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According to Pro Football Focus, Vereen was also the third-best running back of the preseason, giving fans hope he is fully recovered from his previous injuries and ready to contribute to both real and fantasy football in 2017.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears, 2.3 percent owned
If you’re not familiar with Cohen, you aren’t alone. A fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Cohen played his college football at North Carolina A&T, where he became the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s all-time leading rusher, compiling 5,619 yards in four years for the Aggies.
On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, the diminutive rusher played 28 snaps, six rushing plays and 22 passing plays. He carried the ball five times for 66 yards, caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, and returned three punts for 45 yards, giving him 158 all-purpose yards.
He won’t displace Jordan Howard as the team’s No. 1 rushing option any time soon, but his speed and ability to create yards — 60 of his 66 rushing yards were after contact and 30 of his 47 receiving yards were produced after the catch — is going to be a big problem for opposing defenses this season.
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