The first Thursday night game of the NFL season is just a day away, and there are plenty of early choices you need to make about your fantasy rosters this week — namely Michael Bush or Mike Tolbert in the battle of No. 2 running backs.
Bush, the No. 2 RB of the Oakland Raiders, takes the lead against San Diego on Thursday night as Darren McFadden has already been ruled out. Tolbert, the No. 2 RB for the Chargers (although that is debatable) might have to split time with No. 1 Ryan Mathews, who is battling a groin injury.
Mathews will likely have the dreaded “game-time decision” tag associated with his name as San Diego is preparing for the game on a short week and Mathews missed playing in Sunday’s game against Green Bay entirely. But would you trust Mathews even if he were in the lineup? I find it hard to at this point.
With that said, let’s look at which Mike to start — Bush or Tolbert.
The Chargers are the second-best team in the league when it comes to fantasy point production per game from the RB position. The Raiders are third, just four-tenths a game behind. San Diego is up that high thanks to 72 catches for 686 yards and two scores against Oakland’s 43 catches for 423 yards and four scores from RBs. The Raiders have rushed for 1,040 yards and seven scores to 862 yards and eight touchdowns for the Chargers. Both teams have run the ball 203 times.
It is not as even on the defensive side. San Diego remains near the top of the league in points allowed to fantasy RBs, ranking fifth. Meanwhile, Oakland is on the complete opposite end at 30th in the league against the position. The teams are separated by 8.4 points per game.
The Chargers have surrendered 30 catches for 219 yards and a score this season to running backs, which probably does not affect Bush. The five-year veteran has just 11 catches on the year. Bush will have to rely on getting in the end zone to produce, and that is something San Diego has allowed just three times to RBs this season.
Oakland has allowed backs to catch 37 balls for 434 yards and two TDs, and it is coming off a game where Denver’s Willis McGahee (20-163-2) and Tim Tebow (12-117-0) combined to rush for 280 yards and two scores.
Tolbert already has 32 catches for 290 yards and two scores. He has been targeted nine times in three games, including Sunday’s loss to Green Bay; he also added 83 yards rushing on 19 carries in the loss.
Both San Diego and Oakland allow over 19 points per game to fantasy receivers and over 20 points per game to fantasy quarterbacks. I see this one being a QB game, and that is where Tolbert certainly edges out Bush with his pass-catching ability. He had six catches for 47 yards the last time he played the Raiders.
Whether it’s legit called passes to Tolbert or check downs, he is producer out of the backfield via his receptions. And it is for that reason, even if Mathews were to play, that I would go Tolbert over Bush this Thursday night — in any scoring format.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter