Last week, Going Deep focused its attention on the fantasy owners out there putting their rosters in mothballs until next summer. We took a way-too-soon look at wide receivers and tight ends who are worth paying attention to as we barrel headlong toward the 2014 season.
But like little pigs, bears and Donald Duck's nephews, things seem to work better in threes. So we continue marching along by looking at the guys who help offenses march along. That's just a convoluted way of saying running backs. Enough jibber-jabber. Let's get to it.
5. Jordan Todman, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars:
Todman could be aiming for a starting gig in Jacksonville when the 2014 season begins. Maurice Jones-Drew will be a free agent in the offseason, and it's worth wondering whether the Jaguars will want to commit the resources necessary to keep him in town. MJD will be 29 by the start of next season, which isn't old in general running back terms. However, he could command the type of contract that could prevent Jacksonville from addressing its myriad other issues.
Plus, Todman has fared well in some late-season chances. He broke loose for a 100-yard day last week against a respectable Buffalo Bills run defense. This week, he gets a crack at the Titans, who have been anything but respectable against fantasy rushers. Overall, Todman's fantasy production has improved in every game since Week 11. If Jones-Drew can't go in either of these final two games, it'll be Todman's show. Let's see what you can do, kid.
Way-too-soon 2014 draft projection: RB3 in Rounds 13-15
4. Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts:
Playing in relief of the injured Donald Brown last week, T-Rich finished the day with 16.20 fantasy points -- just his second double-digit game of the season. Yet a bigger reason for optimism has been Richardson's greater production in the passing game. He's had four or more catches in three of his last five contests, and is averaging nearly 12 yards per reception in his past two games.
Let's face facts. The Colts gave up a lot to acquire Richardson in a trade from the Cleveland Browns. They're not going to give up on him just yet. Especially with Donald Brown hitting free agency in the offseason. T-Rich's problems haven't spawned from a lack of talent. It's been an issue of vision, and an overzealous desire to always make the big play when sometimes the simple one will do. Some guys just take a little time to put it together. Having a full offseason to get acclimated to Indy's offense, and hopefully some film study to recognize his mistakes, will help Richardson get things going. He'll certainly be devalued after his poor 2013 and could come back in 2014 with sleeper written all over him.
Way-too-soon 2014 draft projection: Low-end RB2 in Rounds 8-11
3. Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals:
Ellington is another player who could make a serious run at his team's starting job next season. Through the first 15 weeks, Ellington has nearly half as many carries as Rashard Mendenhall, but trails the starter by just 19 rushing yards.
A lot was made of Bruce Arians' preseason statements that he'd like to find one running back who can be the workhorse and avoid a committee situation. But like so many other NFL coaches (see: Marrone, Doug; Shanahan, Mike and Belichick, Bill), what is said and what is done are often two different things.
Still, Mendenhall's deal with Arizona expires at the end of this season while Ellington comes as a relative bargain for the next three years. It certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see the Redbirds hand the young back the keys to the running game.
Way-too-soon 2014 draft projection: Mid-RB2 in Rounds 6-10
2. Rashad Jennings, RB, Oakland Raiders:
Start/Sit: Ryan's hope
Darren McFadden has likely played his last down in Oakland as injuries have made him too unreliable to reasonably bring back in 2014. The craziest part of this season is that the zone blocking scheme installed to help resurrect Run DMC's career has worked to the benefit of his backups.
Marcel Reece came in and played well in a relief role. But it was Jennings who really stole the show for the Silver and Black. He's scored double-digit fantasy points in each of his last six games and bested 20 points in three of them -- including games against the Texans and Chiefs. In total, he's looked like a completely different back than the one who underperformed in the wake of Maurice Jones-Drew's injury in 2012.
Way-too-soon 2014 draft projection: Mid-RB2 in Rounds 6-9
1. Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans:
It's hard to imagine Tate returning to Houston next year after the yeoman's work he's done as Arian Foster's backup over the past few seasons. Tate has proven that he's worthy of seeing a more consistent workload and should have some offers to compete for someone's starting running back job in 2014.
Over the past month and a half, Tate's numbers have been fairly pedestrian. He's only scored in double digits twice, although one of those was a 28-point outburst in Week 13. But it's fair to note that he played much of the second half of the season with broken ribs and in an offense that has been nightmarishly inconsistent.
That said, Ben Tate will be a tantalizing fantasy commodity heading into 2014. Potentially even more so depending on the city he calls home next year.
Way-too-soon 2014 draft projection: RB2 in Rounds 6-8
Come back next week for our regular season finale when we look at quarterbacks.