Running Back Roundup: Week 4 (Fantasy Football)
Week 3 was thankfully a week largely devoid of major injuries at the running back position, meaning there are few if any RB situations that have been completely turned on their head. Wait, what’s that? Rex Burkhead is going on IR??? Forget I said anything!
So it looks like Sony Michel’s audition as New England’s lead man will now be an extended audition. Plus, Chris Carson reasserted his authority in Seattle, Kerryon Johnson flashed every-down skills in Detroit, the Packers’ backfield got murkier with Aaron Jones’ return, Buck Allen continued to be a major thorn in the side of Alex Collins owners, and the Cardinals continued to misuse David Johnson.
We’ll cover all that and much more in this week’s Running Back Roundup. But if you have a question about a player not referenced here, just hit me up on Twitter @andrew_seifter.
David Johnson owners had better hope that Josh Rosen provides a spark for this offense, because as it stands Johnson is going to struggle to put up RB1 numbers, let alone top-three RB numbers. DJ failed to surpass 13 carries and 50 rushing yards for the third consecutive week, and he was rarely used as a wide receiver in Week 3 as the Cardinals promised.
Johnson has mystifyingly ceded roughly 30 percent of the carries this season to fourth-round rookie Chase Edmonds, including a critical 3rd-and-2 carry in the waning moments of Arizona’s two-point loss to the Bears. The Cardinals coaching staff apparently felt they needed to teach Johnson a lesson for missing a blitz pickup on the previous play.
The bottom line is that Johnson is not getting bell-cow usage right now and the Cardinals’ offense isn’t generating enough snaps and scoring opportunities to make up for it. Johnson isn’t going to be a high-end RB1 unless Arizona’s offense dramatically improves, and it’s difficult to even view him as a low-end RB1 until he starts getting 20+ touches per game.
Devonta Freeman doesn’t look like a good bet to suit up in Week 4, and as long as he is out Tevin Coleman is a locked-in RB1. Coleman couldn’t find any running room against the Saints (2.2 yards per carry), but he received 15 of the team’s 17 RB carries and caught a touchdown from Matt Ryan to salvage his fantasy day.
Backup Ito Smith was a non-factor in the running game, but he did chip in three catches for 41 yards and will again be on the deep league flex radar if Freeman misses the Falcons’ Week 4 matchup with Cincinnati.
It was more of the same in Baltimore in Week 3, as Alex Collins dominated backfield touches but Buck Allen ended up with the better fantasy day thanks to goal-line and receiving-game work. Collins did manage a six-yard rushing score, but Allen remained the primary red-zone back, scoring on a 12-yard catch and again on a one-yard plunge.
Allen is averaging a putrid 2.0 yards per carry, but coach John Harbaugh praised him as “one of the real legitimate players in this league,” so it’s safe to say he isn’t going to be phased out of the offense anytime soon. There’s no way he can maintain his current touchdown pace, but he is fast becoming one of the ‘real legitimate’ flex options in this league, particularly if this league is PPR. Collins is still the more valuable Baltimore back, however, in a low-end RB2 kind of way.
Marcus Murphy out-snapped and out-touched Chris Ivory through the Bills’ first two games. But with LeSean McCoy out in Week 3 with cracked rib cartilage, it was Ivory who served as the primary ball carrier in Buffalo’s surprising demolition of the Vikings, carrying the ball 20 times compared to only eight for Murphy.
Should McCoy miss any more games this season — whether due to injury or suspension — it looks like Ivory would be the Buffalo back to own. He would still likely only be a flex consideration, however.
For one week at least, Christian McCaffrey received the ginormous workload that his coaches had been promising, piling up 30 touches for 194 yards. While CMac did most of his damage as a receiver in Week 2, 28 of his 30 Week 3 touches came on the ground.
Cam Newton vultured two goal-line rushing TDs, and that could be an issue for McCaffrey owners all season. But ultimately, McCaffrey should be one of the most highly utilized RBs in the league, which makes him an every-week RB1, even in leagues that do not award points per reception.
The Bengals had just 12 backfield carries in Week 3, but all 12 of them went to Gio Bernard, who posted 61 rushing yards including a one-yard TD plunge. Bernard was also heavily used in the passing game, catching five of his nine targets for 25 yards.
It doesn’t look like the Bengals want to give any meaningful work to rookie Mark Walton or veteran Thomas Rawls, so Bernard will be a borderline RB1 if Joe Mixon if forced to sit out again in Week 4. Cincinnati faces the Falcons, who have already surrendered 100-yard receiving performances to Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara.
When Mixon returns, he’ll be back on the RB2 radar and Bernard will be a dicey flex. Bernard wasn’t much of a factor in the offense before Mixon went down, but perhaps that will change if he continues to impress while Mixon is out.
Nothing has really changed in terms of roles in this backfield, but Carlos Hyde could be a beneficiary of the shift from Tyrod Taylor to Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Hyde isn’t going to maintain his current touchdown pace (four TDs in three games) but if Mayfield can continue to perform like he did in his debut, the Browns are going to move the ball and create plenty of scoring opportunities for Hyde.
The Browns have made noise about getting Duke Johnson more involved, but it has yet to actually happen. He’s a drop candidate in most formats even with Mayfield boosting the ceiling of the entire offense.
It’s hard to take much from the Broncos’ backfield usage in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens because Phillip Lindsay was ejected in the second quarter. Royce Freeman performed reasonably well (13 carries for 51 yards and a score) in Lindsay’s absence, but Lindsay remains the slight favorite for weekly touches going forward until proven otherwise. Devontae Booker was also used more than usual with Lindsay out, but don’t expect that to continue.
For now, Lindsay should still be looked at as a borderline RB2, Freeman as an RB3/flex option, and Booker as waiver wire fodder.
I shared my thoughts on the Lions backfield in this week’s “10 Things We Learned” column, so I’ll keep it brief here. Second-round rookie Kerryon Johnson looked great in Week 3 on his way to Detroit’s first 100-yard rushing performance since 2013. But Johnson still shared the carries evenly with LeGarrette Blount and ceded passing down work to Theo Riddick.
Johnson has the skill set of an every-down player, but it will likely take more than one big game from Kerryon for Matt Patricia and Co. to throw Blount and Riddick to the curb. For now, treat Johnson as a borderline RB2 with clear upside.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones returned from suspension in Week 3 against Washington. Jones played fewer snaps than Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery, but he led the team in rushing attempts (six) and yards (42) in his first game back while adding one catch for five yards. That workload obviously isn’t enough to sustain a lot of fantasy value, but it’s a promising sign that Jones could soon take hold of this backfield.
Jones already looks like the best bet to lead the team in rushing, and he was also on the field late in the game when the Packers were in comeback mode, a sign that he could play more on passing downs despite past concerns about his pass blocking. That said, Williams was hardly bad against Washington, turning seven touches into 45 yards, and Montgomery posted 64 yards on 10 touches of his own.
Mike McCarthy has typically gravitated towards heavily relying on a single RB each week, but that wasn’t the case in Week 3. It is difficult to recommend any of this trio as fantasy plays in Week 4 without knowing how McCarthy will use them. Jones currently looks like the favorite for rushing work, but the passing-game work could go to any of the Packers’ three backs — and that is a role that earns a lot of snaps in Green Bay. I would continue to hold both Jones and Williams in all formats, and Montgomery should probably be rostered in most PPR leagues.
Leonard Fournette practiced throughout last week and seemed likely to return from his hamstring injury in Week 3, but that didn’t happen. Meanwhile, T.J. Yeldon, who seemed more likely than Fournette to miss the game based on practice reports, ended up playing.
Yeldon and Corey Grant split the carries almost evenly against Tennessee, but Yeldon was much more effective, turning his seven carries into 44 yards while Grant totaled just 11 yards on his six carries. Unlike Grant, Yeldon also figured prominently in the passing game, hauling in six passes for an additional 46 yards.
Fournette should return in Week 4, but at this point we should know not to take his health for granted. He’s still a low-end RB1 when healthy. Yeldon won’t be a reliable flex option against the Jets if Fournette suits up, but he’ll be an RB2 consideration if Fournette again sits. Unless Fournette suffers a setback, Grant can safely be sent back to the waiver wire.
Kenyan Drake was one of the more mystifying no-shows in Week 3, getting just seven touches for 10 yards in the Dolphins’ 28-20 victory over Oakland. Miami ran the ball just 11 times in the game, and six of those went to Frank Gore.
Drake has been a big disappointment thus far, failing to top 70 yards from scrimmage in any of Miami’s first three games. He’ll continue to split the workload relatively evenly with Gore, and therefore looks more like an RB3/flex than an RB2 at the moment. But Drake should trend up as the season goes along — he’s not a bad player to gamble on as a buy-low.
Dalvin Cook sat out Week 3, setting up Latavius Murray as a volume-based RB2 in an appealing matchup with the Bills that Vegas expected the Vikings to win by 17. Instead, Buffalo got off to a shocking 27-0 first-half lead, and Murray ended up seeing a grand total of two carries.
Minnesota plays on Thursday night this week, so it’s far from certain that Cook will return. Even if he does, his workload will be too uncertain to consider him anything more than a risky RB2. But he should eventually get back to RB1 territory if his health cooperates. Murray will again be in the RB2 conversation if Cook misses another game, albeit in a pretty challenging matchup with the Rams.
New England Patriots
Rookie Sony Michel operated as the Patriots’ clear lead back in their Week 3 matchup with a Lions defense that had been run over the two previous weeks, but a breakout game was not to be as Michel carried the ball 14 times for just 50 yards.
Still, while the results were disappointing for Michel owners, the usage was promising. Now that Rex Burkhead is heading to injured reserve, Michel’s arrow is pointing up in a major way. He should be considered a legitimate RB2 moving forward, especially in non-PPR formats.
James White played his customary third-down and hurry-up role in Week 3, but it’s likely that his usage increases now as well. White was already a worthy flex option, particularly in PPR formats, but he could approach RB2 value if the Patriots opt to give him more carries or end up abandoning the running game entirely. He is similar in stature to Dion Lewis, who put up borderline RB1 value for the Patriots last year. White isn’t Lewis’s equal as an evasive rusher, but the opportunity to make a big fantasy impact is certainly there.
With Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles sitting out in Week 3, Corey Clement led Philadelphia’s backfield with 19 touches, finishing with 75 yards from scrimmage. But Wendell Smallwood was the more productive Philadelphia back, turning his 13 touches into 91 yards and a touchdown. Both backs were featured in the passing game and the red zone, so their roles appeared relatively interchangeable.
Ajayi and Sproles are both trending towards returning this week, but Smallwood’s impressive play only serves to make this backfield even messier. The Eagles have shown a willingness in the past to utilize three different backs, but if that number were to balloon to four it would make it exceedingly difficult to trust any of them for fantasy purposes.
The most likely scenario is that Ajayi retakes the lead in this backfield, with Clement and Sproles playing complementary roles and Smallwood being phased out. But that is far from certain, so it will be worth keeping a close eye on this backfield once Ajayi and Sproles are back to full health.
San Francisco 49ers
Before Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season with an ACL tear in Week 3, it looked like Matt Breida was the 49er who had suffered a season-ending injury. Fortunately, Breida escaped with only a hyper-extended knee and is considered questionable for Week 4.
Regardless of his Week 4 status, Breida’s rest-of-season upside will be capped by Garoppolo’s injury. But Breida’s receiving volume could actually increase if C.J. Beathard shies away from throwing down the field and becomes a check-down artist. And Breida has shown enough big-play ability to remain in the low-end RB2 conversation even without Garoppolo.
Alfred Morris, meanwhile, is heavily reliant on scoring opportunities to deliver fantasy value, so his rest-of-season outlook takes a bigger hit than Breida’s does following Garoppolo’s injury. Morris will be a risky flex option until we see that Beathard can effectively handle this offense, although he will be a more palatable one if Breida is inactive.
After inexplicably sitting out the second half in Week 2, Chris Carson finally got the workload that Pete Carroll and Co. had been promising in Week 3. Carson’s 32 carries against the Cowboys were more than twice as many as he was given in Weeks 1 and 2 combined, and it resulted in the first 100-yard rushing performance and rushing score of Carson’s young career.
It’s hard to fully trust the Seahawks to commit to Carson for the long haul, but we have to consider him the heavy favorite for weekly touches right now, putting him squarely back on the RB2 radar. Rashaad Penny played just 14 percent of the snaps in Week 3 and is nothing more than a Carson handcuff/lottery ticket at the moment.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another week, another middling performance by Peyton Barber as Tampa Bay’s lead back. To be fair, Barber was only given eight carries against Pittsburgh, and Ryan Fitzpatrick went to the air on just about every play.
Whether he sees volume or not, Barber is consistently falling short of even RB3 production on a weekly basis. As long as he is getting the bulk of the RB touches, Barber has to be considered a decent flex option, but I wouldn’t blame you for sitting him in favor of someone who has been actually producing fantasy points.
Meanwhile, Ronald Jones was inactive for the third straight game. The Buccaneers had little incentive to change things up at running back when they were 2-0, but now that they’ve suffered their first lost you have to wonder if Dirk Koetter is at least beginning to contemplate whether Jones could give the Bucs’ anemic running game a boost. As such, Jones isn’t a bad bench stash if you’ve got the room.