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I've never experienced a fantasy football season in which so many running backs who started the season off the fantasy radar have become extremely relevant so early in the schedule.
Some of this is due to RBs like Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice getting into off-the-field trouble, but injuries to the likes of Jamaal Charles, Ben Tate and Doug Martin have played a role, too. Then, you also have the just plain weirdness of a season in which RBs that seem to have everything going for them - put Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy and LeSean McCoy in this group - are vastly underperforming.
It all adds up to RBs who were once assumed to be no more than handcuffs suddenly making the grade as fantasy RB-1s, and third-stringers and other heretofore complete unknowns getting a look as possible bye-week replacements.
So, are we seeing a new class of top tier RBs emerging, or is their current production just a matter of quickly passing circumstances? That and more in our review of Week 4:
* Jerick McKinnon, RB, MIN, was the latest no-name to make an impact, tallying 135 yards on 18 touches in Week 4. He only had two fewer touches than nominal No. 1 RB Matt Asiata, and showed more explosiveness. Yet, McKinnon probably will remain a week-to-week decision based on the Vikings' likelihood to run the ball, which they did a lot of last week, particularly after QB Teddy Bridgewater was injured in the second half. Week 5 could again be a good one for McKinnon at Green Bay, but in the long-term, he looks like the clear No. 2 to Asiata.
* Knile Davis, RB, KC, the back-up to Charles, ran for more than 100 yards for the second straight week even though Charles returned from injury and had a great week himself with 92 yards rushing and three overall TDs. It looked a lot like a time-share, with Charles barely getting more touches, 18 to Davis's 16. That's not a pleasing development for owners who selected Charles No. 1 overall in their drafts, but consider that Charles just returned. Assuming he stays healthy, he could get a growing number of handoffs and passes as the weeks go on. The good news for both players is that the Chiefs really need to lean on their RBs in all facets of the offense.
* Pierre Thomas, RB, NO, pretty much disappeared in Week 4. Just a week after it appeared he would get more work with an injury to fellow RB Mark Ingram, Thomas only got two handoffs and two passes, while unsung RB Travaris Cadet cashed in six receptions for 59 yards. I've seen interviews with coach Sean Payton since that suggest Cadet usage had a lot to do with running a hurry-up offense while losing to Dallas, so maybe Thomas will get busy again soon. The bad news is the Saints look pretty awful so far, and could be coming back to the hurry-up soon, too.
* There wasn't much good for our Bears in their 38-17 loss to the Packers, but TE Martellus Bennett again shined, catching eight passes for 134 yards. Despite anger management issues during training camp, and what might have been a related lack of love from fantasy experts around the same time, Bennett is second in receptions among TEs this season with 29, fourth in receiving yards with 295, and tied for second in TDs with four. In other words, if everyone else stayed away during the draft, and you took him as a back-up, you got the steal of the day.
* Going into Week 4, everyone was still pretty worried about Aaron Rodgers; then he predictably eviscerated the Bears' defense for 302 yards and four TDs. Will the critics change their tune or chalk up the solid performance to facing a mediocre defense? Personally, I think Rodgers has been fine this year - two of his four games have been 300-yard outings, and he's got nine TDs to just one INT. He's still on pace for a 4,000-yard, 35 TD season, and we probably haven't seen his best game yet - that might come when the Bears go to Green Bay next month.
* Yahoo! says it's finally the right time to be in the Bishop Sankey business.
* CBS Sports notes that TE Larry Donnell's success has caught even fantasy team owner Larry Donnell by surprise.
* Bleacher Report says McKinnon may be ready to break through.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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