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2016 Running Back Bye Week Options

by Matt Giraldi | @Mgiraldi | Featured Writer
Jul 19, 2016


Langford might now be reliable all season, but can certainly help you in key bye weeks

If you’re taking Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley, you’re likely going to be in the minority in your league. Running backs are becoming a dying breed at the top of fantasy drafts. Gone are the days of going back-to-back running backs in the first two rounds, and now the elite wide receivers are the safety valves in PPR leagues. Gone also are a bevy of 1,000 yard running backs. Three of the top 10 in rushing yards last season didn’t surpass 1,000 yards.

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You’ll also need to find a capable replacement in Week 8 for Bell and Gurley. As for the newest drafting phase known as the zero running back strategy, a perfect opportunity is being created for owners to get value pairings in the middle rounds. Given the uncertainty and turnover among top-tier running backs, you can never have too much depth at the position.

In order to maintain harmony with your roster, when securing high-upside talent, you shouldn’t overlook bye week insurance. Punting a week could come back to haunt you prior to the playoffs. While the landscape in the NFL will surely change dramatically by the onset of bye weeks, the following players provide a wide casting safety net for many of the top tier running backs. They also allow roster flexibility with some running backs that are being taken later in the draft, but offer similar upside.

Ryan Mathews (PHI) (Standard), Wendell Smallwood (PHI) (PPR)

  Week 5 Week 8 Week 9
Eagles Opponent @Lions @Cowboys @Giants
Running Backs On Bye Jamaal Charles, Mark Ingram, Thomas Rawls, T.J Yeldon, Chris Ivory Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Carlos Hyde, Jay Ajayi, Justin Forsett David Johnson, Jeremy Langford, Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard, Lamar Miller, Dion Lewis, Matt Jones

The Cowboys and Giants gave up the 7th and 8th most points per game to running backs last season, respectively. The Lions weren’t too far behind, finishing in the middle of the pack. The Cowboys will also be without linebacker Rolando McClain against the Eagles, as he is suspended for the first 10 games of the regular season.

Last season, Mathews averaged 5.0 yards per carry, but was only targeted 28 times in the passing game. From Week 5 to Week 10, where Mathews suffered a concussion in the third quarter, Mathews had 42 rushes for 295 yards (7.02 YPC) and four touchdowns. He also caught nine passes on 11 attempts, for 75 yards.

Unfortunately, I cannot look past the injuries. In his professional career, Mathews has suffered three concussions. He’s suffered an injury that has forced him to miss time in every season as a pro. In best ball formats such as MFL10’s, Mathews could pull his weight regularly. In standard scoring leagues, Mathews looks to produce dividends as a two down back. In PPR leagues however, it might be Mathews’ teammates that are the target.

The three other running backs on the Eagles roster totaled 150 targets in the passing game. One of Smallwood’s greatest assets is his ability as a receiver. He also measures up similarly to Cleveland running back, Duke Johnson. For those in PPR leagues, Smallwood needs to be on your radar throughout training camp and the preseason.

With Sproles another year past 30, and Kenjon Barner failing to make a significant dent on the depth chart thus far in his career, Smallwood has a chance to produce early for the new regime in Philadelphia. Las Vegas, in all their infinite wisdom, has pegged the Eagles as a 7.5 win team. If Pederson’s coaching debut gets off to a rocky start, Smallwood could see an increase in work (Sproles is a free agent in 2017), making him a sneaky flier at the end of drafts.

Matt Forte (NYJ)

  Week 8 Week 9 Week 13
Jets Opponent @Browns vs. Dolphins vs. Colts (MNF)
Running Backs On Bye Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Carlos Hyde, Jay Ajayi, Justin Forsett David Johnson, Jeremy Langford, Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard, Lamar Miller, Dion Lewis, Matt Jones Duke Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry

At the opposite end of the age spectrum is the veteran Forte. Now entering his ninth NFL season, the 30-year old Forte goes to an offense with some questions at quarterback. Forte also has the benefit of having a reduced cost on draft day, and a favorable schedule as a bye week replacement.

In Week 8, the Jets travel to Cleveland. Once again, Bell, Gurley and Hyde owners should keep Forte have a player that can provide immense dividends. The Browns found out terrible news to their defensive line recently.

While the Jets’ offensive line didn’t perform exceptionally well last season, both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell averaged over 4.3 yards per carry on 317 total carries. Ivory and Powell also totaled 100 targets in the passing game last season. That will benefit Forte immensely in Week 9 against the Dolphins. Miami gave up the second most fantasy points per game in PPR leagues last season.

The Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns have the week off on Week 13, which in many fantasy football leagues is the final week of the regular season. Forte offers relief for even those owners, as the Jets take on the Colts, on Monday Night Football. The Colts allowed the eighth most rushing yards in the NFL last season.

Jeremy Langford (CHI)

  Week 5 Week 11 Week 13
Bears Opponent @ Colts @ Giants vs. 49ers
Running Backs On Bye Jamaal Charles, Mark Ingram, Thomas Rawls, T.J Yeldon, Chris Ivory Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Matt Forte, Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, C.J. Anderson Duke Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry

In an ironic twist of fate only fantasy football can provide, Langford could serve as an excellent bye week replacement for the aforementioned Forte. There are known criticisms about Langford’s ability to produce consistent stats throughout the season.  The beauty of Langford’s 2016 outlook currently is that he has two things going for him:  Minimal competition on the roster (sorry Jordan Howard) and sheer volume in the backfield.

The red zone is one place where Langford specialized last season. Of his 17 carries inside the 20 yard line, six went for touchdowns. Five of those rushes were from the one yard line. The red zone is somewhere the Colts struggled mightily last season, allowing opponents to score touchdowns in the red zone 62.26% of the time.

In Week 13, the 49ers come to Chicago in December. The 49ers allowed the fourth most rushing yards (2,020) in the NFL last season and tied for the most rushing touchdowns allowed (20). Of those 20 rushing touchdowns, 13 were given up on the road and 17 were given up inside the six yard line. Remember how Langford did near the goal line?

Will Langford produce a dud periodically? Most certainly. His ability as a bye week replacement however makes him worth a shot, particularly if you address the position early in the draft. Bell cow running backs are few and far between, and opportunity often leads to success. What we know as of now is, Langford has a big opportunity this year in Chicago.

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Matt Giraldi is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Matt, check out his archive or follow him @Mgiraldi.

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