Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette left Sunday’s game against the New York Giants after injuring his hamstring in the second quarter and did not return, forcing the team go in another direction with its running game. If serious, it is a huge blow to the Jaguars’ rushing attack, and to the fantasy teams that feature him.
Fournette was an early draft pick in fantasy leagues after producing 1,342 yards from scrimmage with 10 total touchdowns as a rookie in 2017. Replacing Fournette won’t be easy, but any attempt to keep the momentum going on your roster starts with his backup, T.J. Yeldon.
Yeldon has seen his production decline steadily since his rookie season of 2015, totaling 1,019 yards from scrimmage that year, 777 in 2016 and 477 in 2017. Part of that has been the presence of other running backs eating into his opportunities — Fournette last season and Chris Ivory before that. That said, his career touchdown totals are anemic, with a career-high three scoring plays three years ago the high water mark. Still, Yeldon is the best waiver-wire pickup for this week, no matter what your status is with Fournette. Yeldon touched the ball 17 times for 69 total yards and a touchdown in relief of Fournette against the Giants — 32 of his 51 rushing yards coming after contact — and could see the majority of the carries in Week 2 against the New England Patriots, as hamstring injuries are notoriously troublesome.
If Yeldon isn’t available, here are five other running backs you’ll want to consider:
Jordan Wilkins, RB, Indianapolis Colts (available in 62 percent of ESPN leagues)
Wilkins carried the ball 14 times in Week 1 and was targeted three times out of the backfield, resulting in 61 yards from scrimmage. Not an earth-shattering total, but Indianapolis has the easiest set of games in relation to each defense’s ability to limit the efficiency of the rush, per Sharp Sports.
Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers (available in 24 percent of ESPN leagues)
Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers (available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues)
The 49ers fed the ball to their running backs 23 times in their loss to the Minnesota Vikings, with almost an equal split between Morris (12) and Breida (11), with each doing what he could against a stingy defense. Breida produced 46 yards, and Morris chipped in 38 — lackluster, to be sure, but not terrible considering the Vikings entered the season with the fourth-best run defense in the NFL, per the game charters at Pro Football Focus.
Next week’s opponents, the Detroit Lions, have the 26th-best run defense, giving both rushers a chance to redeem themselves. If you are torn between the two, give the edge to Morris, who created 30 of his 38 rushing yards after contact. Breida had just 22 yards after contact.
Frank Gore, RB, Miami Dolphins (available in 88 percent of ESPN leagues)
Every year pundits predict Gore will start to decline, and every year he puts up a productive season. He starts his stint with Miami coming off a 2017 campaign in which he had 1,206 yards from scrimmage with four total touchdowns. A year earlier, he found the end zone eight times — four rushing, four receiving — making him a worthy replacement for Fournette in point-per-reception, or PPR, leagues.
Darren Sproles, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (available in 90 percent of ESPN leagues)
Sproles isn’t going to unseat Jay Ajayi as the main back, but he will get some carries and be featured as a receiver out of the backfield. In Thursday’s Week 1 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, Sproles turned five carries and seven targets into 61 all-purpose yards, one fewer than Ajayi.
With the exception of last season — Sproles was limited to three games — he has seen 60 or more targets every year since signing with the Eagles in 2014.
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