The Darren Sproles cloning project is officially a success. There has been no better season than this one for running backs who can electrify you with high-production on a limited number of touches. Sure, in the past there have been other running backs who catch a lot of passes out of the backfield (LeSean McCoy, Steven Jackson), but those guys also play a large number of snaps. With the era of the running back in decline, you need to look at the dual-threat guys who eat into the numbers of bell-cow backs. Sproles has carried the torch the last couple of seasons almost exclusively, but he's not alone in 2013. Jacquizz Rodgers has been terrific during the first half of the fantasy season, and there may be a couple more runners on the way you could snatch off the waiver wire. So let's get to it!
First, how about the curious case of Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle? Nicks led the Giants with 12 targets compared to just one for Randle, a waiver-wire favorite the last three weeks. There are not going to be enough balls to go around for both of them, because the Giants offense isn't explosive enough. Nicks now has 42 targets in the last four games and is re-asserting himself as the 1B to 1A Victor Cruz in New York. Nicks is a decent No. 3 fantasy wide receiver but don't go crazy, because his overall fantasy points aren't matching the attention he's getting. So for the moment tread lightly, although after the bye he faces some potentially favorable matchups (OAK, GB, WAS, DAL, SD) to keep an eye on. For Randle? He goes back to your bench for now.
Terrance Williams (12 targets) and Josh Gordon (10) are both continuing to show they need to be in your lineup every week. Both are big flex plays but can also be low-end No. 2 fantasy wide receivers. Williams has cemented his spot as the Cowboys main outside weapon next to Dez Bryant, and Gordon proved in Week 8 that it really doesn't matter who's throwing him the football. Brian Sipe could be under center next week and I'd expect Gordon to have a big game. Gordon has now had a 20-point fantasy day with Brian Hoyer, a 12-point game with Brandon Weeden, and most recently an 18-point performance with Jason Campbell under center. That's the fantasy equivalent of making lemonade when life gives you lemons.
So who's the real Justin Blackmon? The one who was gangbusters in his first two games of the season, or the one who's been underwhelming the past two weeks? Thankfully, it's the former, because what's not changing is the number of targets he's getting per contest. Blackmon had 10 targets against San Francisco, and has had at least nine in every game he's played so far (38 overall). Keep playing him after the bye and don't be concerned about his dip in production the past couple of games.
Dexter McCluster is a bit too interesting to outright dismiss after his big day against Cleveland. Initially, his fantasy value seems thin due to the fact he's been in the league four years and has never had much fantasy relevance. But after a day with 10 targets -- leading all Chiefs players -- he bears watching. This is the second week in a row he's had more than 70 yards receiving. He won't carry the football more than once or twice a game, but he's the most exciting player not named Jamaal Charles in Kansas City, so there's going to be continued interest in getting him the football. You could probably get him with a very low waiver priority and stash him to see if he keeps it up. His ceiling was always Darren Sproles-like, and you probably have a spot on your roster at running back so why not?
Scott Chandler, Pierre Garcon, Steve Johnson and Emmanuel Sanders also had 11 targets in Week 8. Garcon bears watching, especially in the wake of his "Hey, it ain't my fault" comments following the Redskins loss to the Broncos. He's been getting the attention, but his production doesn't match it. It's possible his production could increase as the season progresses (and RGIII gets healthier), but right now Garcon's best spot is on your bench until he proves he can gain bigger chunks of yardage. He's had a lot of 50-70 yard games with just two touchdowns on the season. That production isn't getting it done for your fantasy team on Sundays.
Well, look what happened when the Dolphins finally decided to give the ball to Lamar Miller. His previous high in touches came a week ago with 16, but he flew past that with 21 on Sunday (18 rushing, 3 receiving) as part of an 11-point fantasy day. Miller's had a great yards-per-carry average this season, going over 4.9 YPC in five of his seven games. Now he finally looks to be getting the carries needed to be back in your flex conversation. Yes, Daniel Thomas had a touchdown, but Miller had more than double his number of touches. While he won't be the breakout player many of us thought in the preseason, Miller can still have great value going forward. Remember, 10 fantasy points by a running back is a good week, and Miller might be able to give you that. He has a tough matchup this week against Cincinnati, but his schedule lightens immensely the rest of the way.
This just in: Andre Ellington is good. With 17 touches Sunday, he's become a must-start at the flex position, or even as a low-end No. 2 fantasy running back. He's simply a great playmaker who has now officially overtaken Rashard Mendenhall in the Cardinals backfield. Mendenhall had under-performed all year long, and now it's Ellington's time. If he's available, he needs to be the top waiver-wire priority this week. Just don't suddenly expect him to carry the ball 20-25 times a game. Head coach Bruce Arians has said more than 35-40 snaps per game would limit his effectiveness. So what's a realistic expectation? Probably around 20 touches (or roughly a touch on half the snaps he's on the field for). With his dynamic ability, 20 touches should approach or exceed 100 total yards and 10 fantasy points every week.
Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. You can see him as the host of NFL Fantasy Live that airs Sunday through Friday on NFL Network at 5pmET/2pmPT and also at 1amET/10pmPT. Listen to him on the NFL Fantasy Live podcast available at nfl.com and on itunes. Reach out to him on Google plus or Twitter @howaboutafresca, and listen to his Fantasy Podcast with Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison every week on nfl.com. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.