As you rigorously prepare and research leading into each week of DFS, injuries are always going to change the landscape. “Next Man Up” is a series that examines players who are now being propelled into the starting role (thus creating a larger opportunity for that player), whether it be via injury, or simply a change to the depth chart.
James White — RB, New England Patriots
Fantasy darling Dion Lewis had been one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL this season. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Lewis tore his ACL in a win over Washington on Sunday, which means his season is over.
Welcome to a Bill Belichick edition of “Next Man Up,” which pretty much means none of us have any idea how this will play out. Let’s try and at least make a good guess, though.
For the first time since perhaps Corey Dillon, the Patriots had a real weapon in their backfield in Lewis. Typically the Pats could care less who’s lined up at RB as long as they aren’t putting the ball on the ground. This season feels different.
The most likely individual to fill Lewis’ shoes will be James White. But he’s also not going to do it alone.
Despite already having a big role in the offense, bruiser LeGarrette Blount figures to see some more touches in the ground game. Blount and Lewis were essentially in a time share, but were never stealing each other’s snaps because of their different style (thunder vs. lightning). Blount was already on pace to set a career-high in carries, but look for him to raise his numbers a tad, even though he’s already in line for 1,000+ yards and 10 touchdowns.
Brandon Bolden was the next man up on Sunday after Lewis went down. However, there’s only so far you can read into that. White was inactive for the game, which meant Bolden was the only option Belichick had as a change of pace compliment to Blount. Bolden produced when called upon, though, gaining 39 yards on four touches and catching a TD from Tom Brady.
It’s still White who should be getting the work on Lewis’ passing snaps and crafty draw plays, though. White has never received an opportunity in his brief career, but the Patriots coaches always speak highly of him. Last year he was stuck behind Shane Vreen, before Lewis took over that role this season.
Dion Lewis racked up 234 rushing yards, 388 receiving yards (on 36 receptions) and four combined touchdowns in seven games over the first half of the season. If White can accumulate 75 percent of that production, it’d be a huge success — for both New England and White’s fantasy value.
It is the Patriots, though. Bolden is a staple on special teams, but if White struggles, Belichick won’t hesitate to give Bolden a crack at the job. Right now, the backfield hierarchy is clearly Blount, White, Bolden, but it’s White that has the most to gain.
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