Running Back Roundup: Week 5 (Fantasy Football)
Welcome to another edition of the Running Back Roundup, your trusted source for the latest fantasy-related happenings in backfields across the NFL. It was another wild week at the position, with surprising performances in Chicago, Seattle, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and more.
As always, if you don’t see a team listed here, check out earlier editions of the Roundup — my thoughts on those backfields likely haven’t changed drastically. You can also always hit me up with questions on Twitter, @andrew_seifter.
It was just one game, but David Johnson finally saw the usage in Week 4 that fantasy owners expected when they drafted him. Johnson only averaged 3.2 yards per carry against the Seahawks, but he was given 22 carries, scored a touchdown, and also had his best receiving game of the year. It was the first time this season that Johnson has surpassed 20 touches and 100 yards from scrimmage.
His upside is still capped by Arizona’s offense, but this week provided a good bit of confidence that Johnson can at least provide low-end RB1 value.
Alex Collins caught a three-yard touchdown to salvage his fantasy day, but his performance in the Ravens’ victory over the Steelers did little to instill confidence that he can return RB2 value over the rest of the season. Collins has yet to rush for more than 68 yards in a game this year, and his passing game usage has been sporadic at best. The Ravens are creating a lot of scoring opportunities for their running backs, which is keeping Collins’ fantasy value afloat, but he’s fast becoming a touchdown-dependent flex option whose role could be further reduced if Kenneth Dixon returns from IR later in the season.
Buck Allen, on the other hand, saw a season-high 10 carries in Week 4, although it was the first time this season he did not find the end zone. Allen will rarely put up big yardage totals, but he has become a fixture for the Ravens in the red zone and as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s close to matching Collins in terms of fantasy value, and you could make a pretty good case that Allen is the better play in full point PPR leagues.
Whether due to injury or his team’s offensive ineptitude, LeSean McCoy has yet to receive double-digit carries or surpass 68 yards from scrimmage in a game this season. He actually received one fewer carry than Chris Ivory in Week 4. McCoy’s upside was already capped by the state of the Bills’ offense, but if he isn’t even going to be a bell cow, he becomes completely unusable in most fantasy leagues.
Perhaps McCoy’s usage will increase as his rib injury gets further in the rear view mirror, but his chances of securing RB2 value look very slim at the moment. The only thing that could save his fantasy value would be a trade to a better offense — but the odds of that happening probably aren’t much greater than the risk he ends up getting suspended by the league over the burglary at his ex-girlfriend’s home.
Tarik Cohen was an afterthought in this backfield through the first three weeks, failing to exceed eight touches in any of those contests. But things suddenly changed in Week 4, as Cohen handled 20 touches for 174 yards and a touchdown in the Bears’ annihilation of the Buccaneers. Cohen did most of his damage in the receiving game, but he also handled 13 rushing attempts for just the second time in his career.
Meanwhile, Jordan Howard, who would typically be heavily utilized in clock-killing mode, got nine fewer touches than Cohen in a game the Bears were winning by 35 points at halftime. Perhaps the skewed touch distribution was simply a function of how Bears head coach Matt Nagy wanted to attack the Bucs’ vulnerable defense, but it has to be concerning for Howard owners. The danger is that Nagy will come to the conclusion that putting Cohen in the backfield gives the Bears a more dynamic, multi-faceted offense that is capable of putting more points on the board.
We’re not at that point yet, and Howard owners shouldn’t panic and sell him for beans. But how the Bears line up against the Dolphins coming out of their Week 5 bye will be telling.
Carlos Hyde continued to produce at a high level for fantasy owners in Week 4, handling 22 touches for the third time in four games and scoring his fifth touchdown of the young season. But for one game at least, Hyde was overshadowed by rookie second-round pick Nick Chubb, who broke off not one, but two 40+ yard touchdown runs.
Chubb had only three carries in the contest, but he certainly made them count. How many he’ll see in the Browns’ next game is anyone’s guess. Following the performance, Browns coach Hue Jackson indicated that Chubb needs to get more work, but Jackson has made similar promises about Duke Johnson that have not materialized. Perhaps Chubb can force Jackson’s hand with a few more amazing runs, but for now, I would look at Hyde as a borderline RB1 and Chubb as a high-upside handcuff/lottery ticket.
Green Bay Packers
For the second straight week, the Packers divvied up their running back touches between three backs, with Aaron Jones receiving 12, Jamaal Williams 11, and Ty Montgomery seven. And for the second straight week, Jones looked far and away like the most explosive option.
Jones ended up with 82 yards from scrimmage and a score, and that seems like a fairly reasonable expectation for him going forward, particularly in favorable matchups like Green Bay’s Week 5 contest with the sieve-like Lions. It’s possible Jones runs away with the job if he can just learn to pass protect, but it’s looking like he could approach low-end RB2 value with even 12-15 touches per game.
Montgomery managed 74 yards from scrimmage in Week 4, most of it as a receiver. He’ll continue to have some flex appeal in PPR leagues as long as Green Bay continues to rely on him in passing situations, which may happen even more often with both Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison nursing injuries.
Jones’ emergence largely comes at the expense of Williams, who lacks the talent to put up impressive fantasy stats without a very heavy workload. He and Jones may both be able to have nice games against Detroit, but if Williams falls flat in that matchup it will be time to move on in just about every single league.
I made my distaste for Lamar Miller well known in the preseason, and while there have been plenty of things I’ve gotten wrong so far, this is one I feel pretty confident I got right. Miller is simply not a special talent — it’s only his role as the lead back in an above-average offense that gives him value in fantasy leagues. And now it looks like his days as the Texans’ bell cow are numbered, if not already over with.
Miller was given 14 carries in Week 4, while career backup Alfred Blue got 13. Neither back did much of anything with the opportunity against an at-best middle of the road Colts D.
Blue’s limitations as a football player likely ensure that Miller will remain atop the running back depth chart for now, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a near-even split continue going forward. And if and when 2017 third-round pick D’Onta Foreman is activated off the PUP list, he could quickly take hold of this job if he can prove that he’s fully recovered from last year’s devastating Achilles tear.
The Colts continue to exhibit one of the worst running games in the entire league, casting serious doubt on whether any running back can produce consistent fantasy value in this backfield.
Fifth-round rookie Jordan Wilkins’ four-game audition as the lead back likely came to an end on Sunday, as he managed just 16 yards on eight carries. Perhaps Marlon Mack or Robert Turbin will step into the lead back role and succeed, but a far more likely outcome is that no Colt RB will be worth starting based on rushing production.
That’s where Nyheim Hines comes in. Hines, a fourth-round rookie, hasn’t had any more success running the ball than Wilkins. But Hines is an adept pass catcher who has caught at least five balls in three of the Colts’ four games and had a breakout of sorts on Sunday with nine catches for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
Indianapolis has the classic look of a team that will eventually give up on running the ball completely, which could mean that Hines plays the majority of snaps going forward. That probably won’t result in RB2 value, but it could make him an appealing flex option, particularly in PPR formats.
Fournette is an RB1 when he’s healthy, but he’s rarely been healthy this season. After missing two games with a pulled hamstring, he couldn’t make it through a full game without re-aggravating the injury. The Jaguars likely realize in hindsight that they should have given Fournette more time to recover, suggesting they won’t rush him back this time around. He will reportedly miss at least two weeks, and it would hardly be surprising if he was kept out through the Jaguars’ Week 9 bye.
Stepping in for Fournette once again was T.J. Yeldon, who ended up with 100 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in Week 4 despite averaging less than three yards per carry. Yeldon clearly isn’t as talented as Fournette, but his ability to handle a heavy workload and catch passes out of the backfield gives him weekly RB2 value for however long Fournette is out.
Corey Grant hasn’t seen consistent enough touches in the games Fournette has missed to merit flex consideration, but he is worth keeping an eye on and stashing in some deeper leagues.
Kenyan Drake has gone missing again. As I touched on in this week’s edition of “10 Things We Learned,” Drake was given five or fewer carries for the second game in a row in Week 4, while 35-year-old Frank Gore was given 11 carries.
Unless we see Dolphins coach Adam Gase start to give Drake the 15 or so weekly touches he was expected to garner, Drake can’t be considered a trustworthy flex option, let alone an RB2. It’s a tough pill to swallow for fantasy owners who took Drake in the third round of their drafts.
Meanwhile, there’s little mystery about what Gore is at this stage in his career. If he continues to get 9-13 touches each week, he will continue to put up 40-60 yards and he’ll occasionally score a touchdown. With his current usage, Gore is a flex consideration as the bye weeks hit, particularly in favorable matchups. Try to contain your excitement!
Fantasy owners who risked putting a gimpy Dalvin Cook in their lineups last week were punished, as Cook hardly saw the field in the second half. He ended up with just 10 carries for 20 yards on 24 percent of the snaps. Cook has yet to rush for more than 40 yards in any game this season, which is not exactly the RB1 production that fantasy owners were hoping for.
Cook admitted after the game that his hamstring still isn’t 100 percent, so the Vikings may continue to go easy on him for a while. Until we see him look healthy and handle a heavy workload, Cook will be a risky RB2, while backup Latavius Murray may have a little bit of flex appeal in deeper leagues, especially in favorable matchups.
New England Patriots
As I covered in my “10 Things” column, this backfield has become much simpler since Rex Burkhead landed on IR. Sony Michel and James White now both have a clear path to RB2 value, and they demonstrated that value by both going over 100 yards from scrimmage and scoring in Week 4 (twice in White’s case). Michel will continue to earn his yards between the tackles while White does most of his damage in the passing game, and both belong in fantasy lineups until further notice.
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram is back from his suspension this week, and it will be interesting to see what his role will be and whether his return will have any noticeable impact on the current number one overall fantasy RB, Alvin Kamara.
Ingram and Kamara were both top-six fantasy running backs in non-PPR formats last season, but it is possible — if not likely — that Ingram’s role will be scaled back a bit as the Saints prepare for life without him in 2019 (he’ll be an unrestricted free agent). Ingram owners shouldn’t expect him to provide RB1 value again, but he has a decent shot to be an every-week RB2.
Kamara disproportionately earns his keep as a pass-catcher rather than a runner and essentially plays a different position than Ingram. He will continue to be a high-end RB1 even if Ingram takes away a few touches.
With the Saints going on bye in Week 6, Ingram may see less work in Week 5 than he will after he has more time to get re-acclimated to the offense. So we may not get a great read on this situation until Week 7 and beyond.
The Eagles’ backfield continues to be beat up and highly volatile. Jay Ajayi had a strong return to the lineup in Week 4, putting up 81 yards on 18 touches despite playing with a small fracture in his back. He remains the best bet in this backfield for weekly RB2 value.
Wendell Smallwood has played well in the absence of Darren Sproles and Corey Clement, averaging 10.5 touches for 72.5 yards over the last two weeks. Smallwood may go back to an afterthought once Sproles and Clement are healthy, but it’s also possible that his performance has earned him more opportunities going forward. Smallwood could have a bit of flex appeal if Sproles and Clement continue to miss time, but none of these three backs can be confidently deployed by fantasy owners if they are all active on game day.
The latest chapter in the Le’Veon Bell saga played out this week, as we learned that Bell reportedly plans to report to the Steelers during the team’s Week 7 bye. Whether he ever makes it to Pittsburgh remains to be seen, however, as there is still a chance he is traded away before Week 7.
James Conner hasn’t done much as a runner since his big Week 1 performance in Cleveland, but his every-down usage and high level of passing game involvement keep him in the RB1 conversation for as long as Bell is gone. He should be in store for a big game in Week 5 against a welcoming Falcons defense that gives out receptions to running backs like Halloween candy.
If Bell does end up returning to Pittsburgh, he may share work with Conner for a week or two but should eventually resume bell-cow duties. It is fair to point out that teams can find productive running backs without devoting high draft picks or big free agent dollars, but it has also become quite clear that Bell is in a different class than Conner as a rusher.
If I had to pick one team to find its way into this column every week this season, it would probably be the Seahawks. The drama just never seems to stop with Seattle’s backfield.
After his huge Week 3 performance, Chris Carson looked like a surefire RB2 for a friendly matchup with the Cardinals in Week 4. The problem is that Carson didn’t play, thanks to a hip issue that was thought to be minor. In his place, it was Mike Davis — not Rashaad Penny — who exploded on the scene, piling up 124 yards from scrimmage and two scores on 25 touches.
Carson is expected to return this week, but it will now be very hard to trust him or Davis in fantasy lineups. The best course of action is to take a wait-and-see approach here, as both Carson and Davis have shown they can produce RB2 value if given the opportunity. The fact that Penny has fallen behind both Carson and Davis on the depth chart is demoralizing for Penny owners, who may have to give up the ghost and search for running back value elsewhere.
Peyton Barber has averaged a measly 3.0 yards per carry through the first four games, and while Tampa Bay didn’t have much incentive to bench Barber when they were winning football games, they’ve now lost two straight. The Buccaneers are a team that will head into its Week 5 bye looking for answers, and having already turned back to Jameis Winston at quarterback, Jones could be next.
Whether any running back can succeed in this offense is an open question, but Jones is a second-round pick with explosive burst and big-play potential. Plus, Dirk Koetter has not really shown an inclination to deploy a committee at running back, so a decent workload could await Jones in Week 6. It’s time to see what the rookie can do.