Adam Levitan

Football Daily Dose

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Running Luck

Friday, November 09, 2012

Andrew Luck is not Robert Griffin III. He’s not Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Steve Young or Steve Grogan either. He is, however, an exceptional running quarterback.

It’s not just Luck’s underrated straight-line speed (he ran a 4.59 at the Combine). He also has the size (6’4/234) to be dominant on sneaks and has ridiculously good feet and feel in the pocket. All that led to two rushing touchdowns for Luck and another big fantasy day in Thursday’s 27-10 win over the Jags. The first came on a bootleg and the second came via a goal-line sneak.

Through nine games, Luck has rushed 34 times for 159 yards with five touchdowns. Note that in Vick’s last 21 games, he has run for two scores.

It’s obvious that Luck is the real deal in both real life and fantasy. Along with RG3, Peyton Manning, Josh Freeman, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, he’s reminding us that spending a high fantasy draft pick on a quarterback is rarely optimal. The depth of the position compared to the number of starting spots in most leagues (one) is unmatched.

* Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) claims he’s going to be back in two weeks. We’ll see. The Jags are 1-8 and he feels he’s underpaid. No reason to rush a tricky injury.

* Blaine Gabbert aggravated his left (non-throwing) shoulder injury late, bringing Chad Henne on. Sadly, there’s no gap in projected production between the two.

* Even though Donald Brown (knee) was announced as the starter, it was actually Vick Ballard that started and handled the first two series. After that, the two backs rotated pretty evenly. They each finished with 14 touches as the Colts nursed a big lead all game.

* Donnie Avery (hip) played through a questionable tag, as expected. He started and played in all two-wide sets. T.Y. Hilton ended up with just one target.

* Reggie Wayne had eight more catches, giving him 69 in nine games. It’s not a fluke. He doesn’t have long speed anymore, but he gets open at will with unbelievable routes. Wayne made the Jags’ corners look silly.

* Rashad Jennings never had a shot as the Jags’ offense continues to exclusively flow horizontally. He sees eight guys in the box constantly.

The fantasy story of the week revolves around Marcel Reece and Taiwan Jones. It’s not pretty, but it’s the state of the world we live in.

Here are the facts as we know them now:

1. Darren McFadden (ankle) and Mike Goodson (ankle) are both all but ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Ravens. Both are notoriously slow healers. Both are reportedly dealing with severe sprains and are in walking boots.

2. In last week’s loss to the Bucs, Reece was the clear feature back after McFadden and Goodson went down.

3. During Wednesday’s practice, Jones took the first-team reps. On Thursday, Reece and Jones split the first-team work.

OK, so what will happen Sunday? Well, expect Jones to start. He’s a natural running back, but is just 195 pounds and the coaches have questioned his ball security. Ideally, Jones is a change-of-pace back. He does have a shot to make big plays thanks to world-class speed.

Reece will form the other half of an even timeshare, handling most of the passing-down work. He is the better bet in full PPR formats as the guy more likely to get 5+ receptions.

The bottom line is that both backs are desperation flex plays. Their roles will depend on game flow and we can’t trust either one to get more than 10 touches.

We’re gaining some clarity in Pittsburgh’s backfield. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson said once Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) is healthy, he’s the starter. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s Dose, this is a no-brainer.

However, this doesn’t mean it won’t be a “hot hand” situation as head coach Mike Tomlin has previously stated. It just means that Mendenhall will get the first shot at the hot hand.

As for this week, Isaac Redman is expected to get the start. He’ll share the load with Jonathan Dwyer (thigh), who is practicing in full. Mendenhall will get another week to rest. Just like in Oakland, both Redman and Dwyer are mere flex plays.

Marshawn Lynch (wrist, back) missed another practice. We still expect him to start Sunday. … Darren Sproles hasn’t been ruled out yet, but it’s hard to see a passing-down back play so soon after hand surgery. … Owen Daniels (hip) hasn’t practiced yet this week and could be headed for a game-time call. … DeMarco Murray (foot) finally got some individual drills in. He appears to be targeting Week 11 for his return. Felix Jones will start again this week. … Aaron Hernandez (ankle) looks like he’ll be a full go Sunday.

Calvin Johnson (knee) isn’t practicing, but says he feels better this week than last. … Jake Locker (shoulder) is ready to return this week. He’ll start. … Percy Harvin (ankle) was limping badly Thursday, but he’s still hoping to get some practice in Friday. He’s a longshot, but stay tuned. … Antonio Brown (ankle) isn’t going to play Monday night. I prefer Emmanuel Sanders over Jerricho Cotchery thanks to big-play ability. … Hakeem Nicks (knee) insists he is going to play this week, but the swelling is a concern. … Titus Young (knee) has missed two straight days of practice. His status is unclear.

Texans DC Wade Phillips has promised to double-cover Brandon Marshall on every play. … When the Packers come out of their bye, James Starks is expected to be the early-down workhorse. John Kuhn will be the third-down back. Alex Green will be a change-of-pace guy. … Saints RB snaps from Week 9: Pierre Thomas 21, Mark Ingram 18, Chris Ivory 13 and Travaris Cadet six. Adjust accordingly.  

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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