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Harris: Tandem Trouble – Fantasy Running Back Advice

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Matt Forte & Micahel Bush. (Credit: Getty Images.)

Matt Forte & Micahel Bush. (Credit: Getty Images.)

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By Adam Harris-

(CBS) Sharing is caring, but not in fantasy.

Before the season, I wrote a guide to having a successful draft, and rule number six was to always draft your stud running back’s backup. This is the smart thing to do, but it can cause dilemmas later in the year that many teams are going through right now. What do you do with your running back caught in a tandem? Because each scenario is different, I will go through the major tandems individually.

C.J. Spiller & Fred Jackson – Buffalo Bills

This is by far the most interesting and confusing fantasy tandem in a long time. While on the surface it looks like a simple thunder (FJax) and lightning (Spiller) duo, it is not that easy. Whether you have both of these backs, or just one of them, you have a decision to make every week.

Looking at last week, however, we get a clearer idea of who is on his way to being the lead back. Against a bad Arizona run defense, Spiller was the standout, grabbing 12 carries for 88 yards and one score. Fred Jackson earned himself a score as well, but averaged only 3.3 yards on per carry on 16 touches, compared to Spiller’s 7.7 yards per carry. Jackson fumbled twice, and Spiller did not cough anything up. The only edge Jackson had was his five receptions to Spiller’s four, but one of those catches led to a fumble by Jackson.

Everything I see shows Spiller taking over the No. 1 spot down the road, but for now, expect the touches to continue to split. Last Sunday, Fred Jackson played 40 snaps, while Spiller was on the field for 30 snaps.

Bills coach Chan Gaily looks at this fantasy problem as a real life blessing, telling reporters Monday he wants to get both running backs more carries. I see this eventually going Spiller’s way. More touches for Jackson could mean more fumbles and less yards per carry, yet every time Spiller has had the chance, he’s shown up.

If you have both, play Spiller, and if you have only Spiller, play him. If you only own Jackson, be cautious and jump on an opportunity to deal him. In Week 7, the Bills host the Titans, who’s run defense is even worse than Arizona’s. Start Spiller over Jackson, but if you own only Jackson, I would start him as well.

Matt Forte & Michael Bush – Chicago Bears

No one in Chicago is talking about their running backs, which makes this is a completely different situation than in Buffalo. Even when Matt Forte missed a game due to his ankle injury, the city remained concerned with offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s offense featuring Jay Cutler and newly acquired Brandon Marshall.

This one is a straight forward Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne Situation, but with way less touches. Forte is the main back between the 10 yard lines taking one or two series off a game. Michael Bush will punch the ball in from the goal line and will convert the third and shorts.

Forte is not needed as much in the pass game, which is good for the Bears offense, but horrible for fantasy owners. In four games, Forte has had 10 catches for 106 yards, which is way below his pace from last year. In 12 games during 2011 Forte had 52 catches, and when asked about the difference between this year and last year’s offense, Forte told 670 The Score’s Boers and Bernstein last week that he is no longer needed in the Bears passing game.

Forte will never have a blow up game, but will consistently put up 10 points per week. Michael Bush is more of a risk because you don’t know if the Bears are going to get close enough to the goal line to give him the money carry. Unless you have two stud running backs, Forte is in my starting lineup every week, preferably as a flex play. Michael Bush is used solely as a bye week fill in.

Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall & Jonathan Dwyer – Pittsburgh Steelers

If you are relying on any of these running backs as your every week back, I feel bad for you. Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall are both listed as questionable this week making Jonathan Dwyer the healthiest back for the Steelers. Yet, Dwyer is not a viable fantasy option, as he was a healthy scratch the past two weeks due to Mendenhall’s return. I realize I have just depressed anyone who owns any of these backs, but you are all in a tough situation.

Here’s what I would do: If Mendenhall plays, start him against the Bengals’ 21st run defense. If he has a good game, shop him to an Illini homer and be done with him. Redman would remain on my bench even if he plays. There is no big play potential there and maybe someone will mistake his recent surge in the passing game as worthy of a solid wide receiver. Dwyer might get some time this week if either Mendenhall or Redman are out, but he would remain on my bench. Look for a huge Ben Roethlisberger game in Week 7. This is his offense now that Todd Haley is the offensive coordinator. The hurry up offense will be used.

DeMarco Murray & Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys

This one is simple. Murray is the main guy when healthy. This became a tandem last week when Murray left the game in Baltimore due to injury and could not return. Felix Jones was a viable fill in with 18 carries for 92 yards and a score. Prior to this week, Jones had tallied only three other carries. Visiting Carolina in Week 7, Jones will benefit from facing the league’s 20th ranked run defense.

Murray has been ruled out by Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, but according to ESPN’s Ed Werder, Murray has been telling teammates he is going to play Sunday. This is something to keep an eye on during the week. If Murray plays, it would hurt both players because they would split. Obviously Jones owners hope Murray doesn’t play, but I think Murray owners should agree. If Murray is active, I would not play him. He will be limited.

Steven Jackson & Daryl Richardson – St. Louis Rams

Everything I have read and seen says the Rams and head coach Jeff Fisher see their future success without Steven Jackson. The veteran running back has been a great fantasy back year after year, and even helped lead my team to fantasy victory in 2007, but the Rams are showing signs of life, and want to continue that with their young “back-up” running back Daryl Richardson.

The rookie’s carries have gone up every week, and last week he earned 11. He totaled 99 yards on 9 touches, but the stat that stood out most to me was his 6.9 yards per carry. Richardson is not a team saver, but can be a great fill in for teams seeking relief with running backs on a bye. Jackson is still a major part of the offense, but the nine-year back is being fazed out. He only was given nine carries last week, and while he gained 58 yards on them for a very respectable 6.6 yard per carry stat, the upside just is not there any more.

I would play Jackson based on match ups going forward, and grab Richardson off your free agency pool. It’s a pure toss up on who to start if you own both, but I’m inclined to say Richardson because I love upside.

Frank Gore & Kendall Hunter – San Francisco 49ers

Frank Gore is fine. Yes, his carries are way down but his yards per carry remains at a nice 5.4 on the season. He has four scores in six games, and remains a nice RB2 option in all leagues.

Kendall Hunter takes weekly carries from Gore in blow outs (both ways) or in unimportant drives. The 49ers are just trying to keep Gore, who has fallen off during the second half year after year, healthy. Hunter is younger and more explosive, and he has done all expected of him when given the opportunity, but he is not a viable starting option. The fact that the 49ers give Hunter carries should make Gore owners happy. It will keep him fresh and they will use him all out when they need to down the road.

My advice to whoever owns both of these backs is to continue to start Gore, but do not drop Hunter. If/when Gore is injured, Hunter will step in and your team will not miss a beat. If you own only one of these players, trade for the other or trade your back to the team which owns the other part of the tandem.

Tandem’s are frustrating, and the easiest way out of the frustration is to eliminate it via trade. Timing is everything, so if a tandem back has a nice game, jump on that opportunity.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AHarris670 and ask him your fantasy questions.

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