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Fantasy Football: Start Devontae Booker versus Chargers

Rich Gabrielson/Icon Sportswire

Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry stole all the headlines among running backs coming out of college last spring, but fantasy owners need to know about at least one other rookie this weekend – Devontae Booker.

The Denver Broncos have been consistently giving the 24-year-old between 4-9 touches since Week 1, but with starting running back C.J. Anderson out indefinitely, Booker should receive a lot more work and is a solid RB-2 this week against the San Diego Chargers.

After playing football at a California community college, Booker transferred to Utah and worked his way to becoming the team’s starter. In two seasons with Utah, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry, scored 23 total touchdowns and rushed for over 1,200 yards each year.

In his first chance to be a feature back at the NFL level, he performed very well last week. Against Houston on Monday night, Booker rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He had 18 touches in the victory, which was the same amount he had the previous two weeks combined.

He’s done well in spot duty too. Overall, Booker is averaging 4.8 yards per attempt on 51 carries this year.

The 24-year-old is an interesting rookie to have on the fantasy bench the rest of the season. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak is a run guru, and Booker should only benefit from the opportunity to play in his system.

Kubiak has been a head coach or offensive coordinator with three different teams since 1995. In his two decades and a year of coaching, eight different running backs have rushed for 1,000 yards in his scheme. Some started as no-name players and then became Hall of Fame candidates like Terrell Davis and Arian Foster; others were one-hit wonders such as Olandis Gary, Steve Slaton and Justin Forsett. They never had any other success in schemes other than Kubiak’s.

08 November 2015: Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak in action during a game between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

08 November 2015: Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak in action during a game between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

In 15 of his 21 seasons as a play-caller, Kubiak has had a 1,000-yard rusher. And again, some of them were All-Pro backs and others were no-names – it really doesn’t matter, Kubiak can get running production just about out of everybody.

Interestingly, the Broncos did not have a 1,000-yard rusher last season when they won the Super Bowl. Ronnie Hillman led the team with 863 rushing yards while Anderson had 720 and averaged 4.7 yards per attempt. Through the first seven games this year, Anderson was just barely on pace to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

If a Broncos running back is going to accomplish that feat this year, though, it will have to be Booker. He’s a guy definitely worth having on the fantasy bench, but he should come off it and into the lineup this week.

On the surface, the Chargers seem like a semi-tough matchup for running backs. San Diego is ranked eighth in rush defense, and they allow 4.0 yards per carry, which is middle of the road.

However, the Chargers have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs in standard leagues thanks in large part to allowing nine rushing touchdowns. Only three teams have yielded more scores on the ground.

That pretty much makes him a must-start guy, especially with six teams, including guys like Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Jay Ajayi and Carlos Hyde on bye this week.

Denver and San Diego just played each other on Thursday Night Football a couple weeks ago, and the Broncos offense really struggled, but they did average 5.3 yards per rushing attempt. That’s an encouraging sign particularly since that game was in San Diego.

Look for Booker to have a pretty decent day in his first NFL start, which could be the beginning of another rise of an unknown back in Kubiak’s system.

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