Running Back Roundup: Week 14 (Fantasy Football)
Well, we’re finally here: The fantasy football playoffs. If you made it, congratulations! If you didn’t, my condolences. And if your league’s playoffs don’t start until next week…you can go ahead and disregard this opening.
No matter how you slice it, we’ve reached the most critical juncture of the fantasy football season. And it just so happens that the running back position is in as much flux as it has been at any point all season long. A rash of upper body injuries (head, neck, and shoulder) have sidelined starting running backs across the league, paving the way for their unsung backups to shine.
People often talk about the late-round QBs who end up atop the fantasy leaderboard in any given week, but consider this list of RBs who put up 96 or more yards from scrimmage in Week 13: Alfred Morris, Kenyan Drake, Jamaal Williams, Derrick Henry, Peyton Barber, Kerwynn Williams, Rex Burkhead, Giovani Bernard, Latavius Murray, Alex Collins, and Mike Davis. Some of those guys (Henry, maybe Morris and Burkhead) had more preseason hype than others, but none of them were drafted as fantasy starters.
Several of those names have just become relevant in the last week or two, and that’s where we’ll focus our attention in this week’s Running Back Roundup. So let’s get to it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I gave my thoughts on Peyton Barber in this week’s “10 Things We Learned” column, but the long and short of it is that Barber was far more effective in Week 13 than Doug Martin has been at any point this season. You can never predict with 100 percent confidence what an NFL coaching staff will decide to do (it looked until shortly before kickoff like Jacquizz Rodgers was Martin’s immediate backup), but it is logical to assume that Barber remains heavily involved even if Martin is able to return from his concussion this week.
Barber is a young player coming off a big game who has a very friendly home matchup with the Lions on tap and a clearer path to rest-of-season value than other RBs like Gio Bernard and Kerwynn Williams. He has a chance to make a big impact down the stretch.
While he may not have as much rest-of-season upside as Barber, Bernard arguably has an even better setup for Week 14. And that is plenty important in the fantasy playoffs, when our number one priority is to live to fight another week.
While Barber owners have to worry about whether Martin will return to steal touches, Bernard owners have no such concern if Joe Mixon misses Week 14 due to the brutal concussion he suffered on Sunday. Bernard operated as an every-down back against Pittsburgh once Mixon left the game, and that should continue if Mixon misses Cincinnati’s home matchup with the Bears in Week 14, since recently-signed rookie Brian Hill is the only other running back on the roster. Bernard played well against the Steelers, and his dual threat ability and 20+ touch potential give him a very high floor if Mixon is out.
Mike Davis looked to be making a bid for the Seahawks’ starting running back job in Week 11, until an injured groin cost him the rest of that game and Week 12. But Davis picked up right where he left off in Week 13, piling up 101 yards on 20 touches against the Eagles.
Owning Seahawk RBs has been an exercise in frustration since Chris Carson went down in Week 4, but perhaps Davis is the Seattle back who can produce in this offense. Davis dominated the snaps against Philadelphia, and he has some legit RB2 potential if he is able to maintain that usage rate and touch total. His emergence means that you can forget about J.D. McKissic, Thomas Rawls, and Eddie Lacy once and for all, but it will be very interesting to see what happens in this backfield if Carson is able to return in the next few weeks.
Adrian Peterson was beginning to be utilized as an every-down back in the desert following the departure of Andre Ellington. But then AP missed Week 13 with a neck injury, opening the door for Kerwynn Williams to carry the ball 16 times for 97 yards against the Rams. Williams was decidedly not used as an every-down back, as he saw zero targets in the passing game while D.J. Foster was targeted five times.
Peterson’s status for Week 14 is completely up in the air, so Williams could be looking at another week as the team’s main ball carrier in a difficult matchup with the Titans. If so, he’d be a flex consideration. Peterson will presumably regain the starting job when healthy, but the Cardinals are just about eliminated from playoff contention, so they don’t have much incentive to rush him back, and it also continues to sound like David Johnson‘s return is a longshot.
With Ameer Abdullah sitting out Week 13 due to a neck injury, undrafted rookie Tion Green surprisingly led the Lions in carries, rushing 11 times for 51 yards and a touchdown. Theo Riddick, the expected lead back, carried the ball nine times for just 21 yards, although he did add five catches for an additional 41 yards.
Abdullah’s status for Week 14 is unclear, and even if he is cleared to return, he hasn’t been an effective runner this season (3.4 YPC), so it’s possible that Green is given more opportunities going forward. But Abdullah and Riddick aren’t going to disappear completely, and I would need to see more from Green before I’d feel confident that he can consistently succeed in a rushing offense that has been the second worst in the NFL. Green is a decent enough “stash and hope” candidate if you have the roster space, but the Lions’ crowded backfield and season-long inability to run the ball cloud his outlook.
Alex Collins has clearly established himself as the running back to own in Baltimore, averaging over 18 touches per game over the last five weeks and crossing the goal line four times in the last three games. But Collins reportedly dealt with migraines following Sunday’s game, and as we saw with Sterling Shepard, that is an ailment that can cause players to miss games.
If Collins is able to recover quickly, he will be a strong RB2 option, even in a fairly tough matchup against Pittsburgh. But if Collins misses time, the Ravens’ backfield will again become too unpredictable to trust in the fantasy playoffs, with Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen, and Terrance West all likely vying for touches.
The Broncos have become an unmitigated disaster of a team, dropping eight games in a row after starting the season 3-1. With their season in the gutter, it looked like Vance Joseph would increasingly hand running back duties over to second-year back Devontae Booker, but on Sunday it was C.J. Anderson who received 19 touches compared to just three for Booker. It was the most touches Anderson has received since Week 4.
If Anderson continues to see 15-20 touches, he’ll be back on the low-end RB2 radar. But it’s hard to trust that will happen this week, so he is more of a high-variance flex option for a tough Week 14 matchup with the Jets. Booker is ideally worth stashing a little longer, but he’s running out of time to make an impact and should not be prioritized over players who can help you win right away.
Devonta Freeman returned from a two-game absence (concussion) on Sunday, and was the lone bright spot for a Falcons offense that struggled against a stout Vikings D. Freeman out-touched Tevin Coleman 13-to-11 and consistently churned out sizeable chunks of yardage, averaging an impressive 6.2 YPC despite a long run of just 13 yards.
The big takeaway here is that the Falcons backfield is quickly returning to normal, despite Coleman’s excellent performance as the feature back in Week 12. Both of these backs have been worth using all year, and that isn’t about to change, but Week 13 was a reminder that Freeman is still at the top of the pecking order in both fantasy and reality.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones returned from a knee injury on Sunday and won the game for the Packers with a 20-yard touchdown run in overtime. But it was Jamaal Williams who dominated touches and posted his second 120+ yard game in a row.
Williams has gotten better with each game he’s played, and does not look like he is going to relinquish the starting job to Jones. With Ty Montgomery on IR, this is now a two-man backfield, but it remains to be seen whether Jones can manage to turn it into a true committee. Facing a Browns defense that has begun to struggle against the run, Williams is on the RB1 radar, while Jones is nothing more than a stash who probably shouldn’t be in the starting lineup of a playoff-caliber fantasy team.