Running Back Roundup: Week 10 (Fantasy Football)
Welcome back to the Running Back Roundup. Once again we have a ton of backfield intrigue to cover as we enter the make-or-break period of the fantasy football season.
As always, if you don’t see a team listed here, it’s because my thoughts on that backfield haven’t changed recently. You can read up on the rest of the league’s backfields in the Running Back Roundups from previous weeks (last week’s Roundup is here and the rest can be found here), or just shoot me a question on Twitter.
I covered Tevin Coleman’s big game in this week’s “10 Things We Learned” column, so click through for details. Long story short, Coleman’s usage in the passing game could be a big boost to his rest-of-season value should it continue.
Ito Smith has settled in nicely as the Falcons’ number two back, and like Coleman, he put up his best game of the season against Washington in Week 9. Smith is playing about 40 percent of the snaps and seeing around 10-12 touches per game, which is enough to give him some standalone RB3/flex value, particularly in favorable matchups like this week’s game against the Browns.
Buck Allen and Gus Edwards were once again relative non-factors in Week 9, as Alex Collins was the only Baltimore back given more than one carry. Facing a tough Pittsburgh run defense, Collins didn’t have a great day by any means, but he did find the end zone and should improve along with his schedule following the Ravens’ bye.
Allen did grab five catches against the Steelers, but they amounted to just eight yards. Allen’s passing-down role could be further scaled back following the bye week when newly-acquired back Ty Montgomery gets in on the action.
LeSean McCoy was completely stymied against the Bears in Week 9, marking the second straight week where McCoy averaged barely one yard per carry on double-digit rushing attempts. McCoy should have better days ahead based on his rushing and receiving volume if nothing else, but he will still be held back by the Bills’ anemic offense. He’s a low-upside, low-end RB2.
Chris Ivory sprained his shoulder against the Bears and is considered “day to day” for now. Should Ivory miss time, Marcus Murphy will step in as McCoy’s direct backup, although that role hasn’t produced enough fantasy value to warrant picking up Murphy outside of very deep leagues.
Christian McCaffrey unsurprisingly had his best game of the season against a pathetic Bucs defense and has now scored multiple touchdowns in back-to-back games. McCaffrey is playing on 97 percent of the Panthers offensive snaps — the highest rate of any running back in the league — and is locked in as an RB1 right now. C.J. Anderson is nothing more than a handcuff.
The Bears’ Week 9 matchup with the Bills had the look of a Jordan Howard game, and that’s exactly what happened, as Howard handled 14 touches compared to just seven for Tarik Cohen. Howard averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, but he scored twice, demonstrating the upside he has in games against soft run defenses when the Bears are playing with a lead. This week’s game against the Lions could be another smash spot for Howard.
Cohen burned fantasy owners by producing just 13 yards from scrimmage against Buffalo, and it is at least mildly concerning that he has been given a grand total of 13 touches over the last two weeks combined. That said, the Bears won’t face many teams as inept as their last two opponents (the Bills and Jets), and Cohen should fare better in matchups where the Bears aren’t playing with a big lead. He is also always capable of delivering a huge fantasy line via a single big play (as he did in Week 8), making him tough to sit in fantasy leagues unless you have a wealth of options.
While Johnson finally got going as a pass-catcher, Nick Chubb continued to serve as a workhorse on the ground, carrying the ball 22 times for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. Chubb has been steady if unspectacular as the Browns’ lead back in the three games since Carlos Hyde was traded away. We may need to pump the brakes a bit on Chubb’s RB1 potential, at least in 2018, but he’s still a perfectly serviceable every-week RB2 who’s seeing one of the league’s heavier workloads.
Ezekiel Elliott is still an RB1, but there is little doubt after the Cowboys’ dreadful Monday night performance that Dallas’ offensive struggles are limiting Zeke’s weekly upside. The Cowboys have failed to score more than 17 points in three of their last four games, and Elliott had 61 or fewer rushing yards in each of those contests. He’s still serving as a bell-cow back, but he needs more positive game script to fully realize his scoring potential — something that simply might not happen this season with a challenging schedule ahead.
Phillip Lindsay handled 19 touches for 84 yards against a tough Texans defense in Week 9 and could have had a bigger week if Devontae Booker hadn’t vultured a rushing touchdown. Booker was not much of a factor outside of that one play.
Royce Freeman is expected to be back following Denver’s Week 10 bye, at which point Lindsay will revert back to a mid-range RB2, Freeman will be a touchdown-dependent RB3/flex option, and Booker will again fall off the fantasy map.
The presence of LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick continues to be a major problem for Kerryon Johnson owners, just as I predicted before the season began. Blount has three rushing touchdowns this season; Kerryon has one. Riddick has 37 targets in six games; Kerryon has 31 targets in eight games. Kerryon is good enough that he could succeed with one of these obstacles, but if he isn’t the primary goal-line back or the passing-down back, it will be hard for him to produce the kind of high-end RB2 numbers fantasy owners are hoping for.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones has played 62 and 58 percent of the snaps in the two games since the Packers’ Week 7 bye, and his touches and yardage have increased correspondingly. Jones’ 6.0 yards per carry is the best in the NFL among players with at least 50 rushing attempts, and with only plodder Jamaal Williams as competition, Jones is now a good bet for around 15 highly-productive touches each week. He would see closer to 20 in an ideal world, but that is still enough to return RB2 value.
Jones did lose a costly fumble against the Patriots that proved to be a turning point in the game, but he was not benched for the miscue, and it’s unlikely to be a concern going forward. Mike McCarthy is on the hot seat, and he seems to have finally realized that he simply can’t afford to sit one of his best offensive playmakers any longer.
Coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts, it was only a matter of time until the wheels came off for perennial underachiever Lamar Miller. But it was still somewhat surprising to see Miller struggle so badly against a Broncos defense that had been gashed by the run earlier in the season. Miller managed just 21 yards on 12 carries against Denver, and while his two catches for 27 yards slightly eased the pain, Miller alarmingly received one fewer touch than Alfred Blue in a game that was competitive throughout.
Blue did next to nothing with his 15 carries (2.6 yards per carry), so Miller is most likely still the lead back in this backfield. But this was the third time in five games that Blue handled at least 15 carries, suggesting this is more of a committee backfield than Miller owners would like. Miller could still have some RB2 appeal in favorable matchups following the Texans’ Week 10 bye, but he will be more of an RB3/flex option in tougher ones. Owners will also need to monitor the potential return of D’Onta Foreman, which would only even further cloud the situation.
Kansas City Chiefs
For the second time in three games, Kareem Hunt scored three touchdowns, this time against the Browns. While a lack of receiving game usage was limiting Hunt’s upside earlier in the season, that is no longer a concern — he’s produced at least 50 receiving yards in four of the last six games. As a near-bell cow back in one of the league’s very best offenses, Hunt has cemented his status as a top-five fantasy RB.
Spencer Ware isn’t playing enough snaps to have standalone flex value, but he is one of the better handcuffs/lottery tickets out there in case something should happen to Hunt. You’ll want to start any skill position player getting major playing time in this offense.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon played a full complement of snaps in Week 9 following a one-game absence due to a hamstring injury. The game off, combined with a well-placed bye week, seems to have been just what the doctor ordered, as Gordon carved up the Seahawks for 123 total yards and a touchdown on 17 touches. He’s back to being a top-tier RB1 going forward.
Austin Ekeler played just nine snaps and handled just four touches against Seattle. His standalone flex value is dimming a bit as the season progresses, but he’s still an outstanding handcuff/lotto ticket.
Just when fantasy owners were starting to trust Kenyan Drake again, he put up another dud against the Jets in Week 9. To be fair, it wasn’t really Drake’s fault, as he was given seven lousy touches while Frank Gore handled 21. Gore was woefully unproductive on the ground (2.7 yards per carry), but the Dolphins won the game so I’m sure Adam Gase is convinced he made the right decision.
The full season numbers for Drake are still solid — he’s currently 20th among running backs in non-PPR formats — but it was disappointing to again see him given so few opportunities after he had gotten double-digit touches in four straight games. It looks like Drake owners are just going to have to live with the ups and downs — he’s sort of the running back equivalent of a deep threat receiver like DeSean Jackson who will give you massive weeks and dud weeks and finish somewhere in the top 25 at his position.
While Drake is still a boom-or-bust RB2, Gore remains a low-end RB3/flex based on volume alone. There just aren’t that many running backs who can say they’ve received 20 carries in a game this year.
I touched on Dalvin Cook’s return to prominence in “10 Things.” Cook reasserted control over this backfield quicker than expected, given the reports he would only play 10-20 snaps last week, but I still have my doubts he’ll be a true RB1 over the rest of the season. Click on through if you’d like to see my rationale.
New England Patriots
It was getting too simple in New England with just two fantasy-relevant running backs. This is the Patriots, after all.
When Sony Michel was healthy, he and James White were both looking like borderline RB1s, in PPR and non-PPR formats alike. But then Michel went down with a knee injury, and many fantasy managers scrambled to add Kenjon Barner — only to see the Patriots opt to use WR Cordarrelle Patterson to fill-in for Michel’s between-the-tackles work. Patterson didn’t do much with the opportunity in Week 8, but he came alive on Sunday night against the Packers, rushing 11 times for 61 yards and a touchdown.
White’s value has ballooned even higher with Michel out as he’s handled more goal-line work. But White is going to be a very appealing fantasy option whether Michel is healthy or not.
Michel’s injury turned out to be less severe than it initially appeared to be, and he’s expected back this week. The most likely scenario is that Michel steps right back into his old role, once again joining White as elite every-week fantasy plays at the running back position. But this being the Patriots, we never quite know for sure, so it will be worth watching whether Patterson maintains any kind of role going forward.
New Orleans Saints
It feels like ages ago that Alvin Kamara owners were panicking over Mark Ingram’s return. Kamara’s five touchdowns in the last two games have definitively extinguished those concerns, which never had much merit in the first place. He’s an elite RB1, as he’s been all along.
Ingram owners, on the other hand, have somewhat more valid reasons for concern. Ingram is getting 3-4 fewer touches per week than he did last season, and he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry thus far. The Saints have had some tough matchups since he returned, so that is no doubt part of the reason he’s struggled.
But Ingram is clearly not the Saints’ primary passing-down back, and as it turns out, he’s not their goal-line back, either. Since the Saints’ Week 6 bye, Kamara has 11 red-zone rushing attempts while Ingram only has four, a marked change from last season, when Ingram totaled 33 red-zone rushing attempts and Kamara had 24.
What we’re left with is a player who will see about 15 touches per week, most of them on the ground, and who isn’t as likely to find the end zone as it might first appear. The New Orleans offense is potent enough that Ingram could still produce RB2 value, but he isn’t going to come close to last year’s production with his current usage.
New York Jets
In his first game back from injured reserve, sophomore running back Elijah McGuire out-snapped incumbent starter Isaiah Crowell 36-to-23 and handled 10 touches for 67 yards. McGuire’s inflated snap count likely was due in part to the Jets’ unusually pass-heavy approach — Sam Darnold attempted 39 passes — but there is little doubt that McGuire has stepped into Bilal Powell’s role as the clear-cut backfield partner to Crowell.
Crowell had a few massive games early in the season, but the Jets’ offense is too dysfunctional right now for either Crowell or McGuire to approach weekly RB2 value — they’re both better treated as RB3/flex types. It now appears that McGuire may be the better play of the two in games against tough run defenses or when the Jets project to fall behind early. I’d rather start Crowell in this week’s matchup with Buffalo, however.
Doug Martin has now run the ball effectively in two straight games since the Raiders lost Marshawn Lynch and should remain the clear early-down back in Oakland going forward. The problem for Martin owners, of course, is that this team is terrible, meaning that a lack of scoring opportunities and negative game script will be continual issues for him. He’s just a fringe RB2.
As the Raiders’ designated pass-catching back, Jalen Richard should continue to benefit when the Raiders fall behind. But Richard is a complete non-factor in the running game — he hasn’t had more than two carries since Week 1 and was out-carried 5-to-2 by DeAndre Washington last week. That means that Richard is little more than a PPR-specific RB3/flex option.
The Eagles were on bye last week, so this backfield hasn’t changed much since I went over it last week. Wendell Smallwood looks like the best bet for RB3/flex value, with Josh Adams starting to build some momentum and Corey Clement fading from fantasy relevance.
Now Philadelphia will likely be adding Darren Sproles back to the mix, so all bets are off on this backfield for Week 10. If I had to guess, I’d say Smallwood, Adams, and Sproles all see action, with Clement being the odd-man out. Smallwood and Adams are the only ones I’d consider rostering in most fantasy leagues.
In this week’s episode of “As The Le’Veon Bell Turns,” Le’Veon bid adieu to Miami, where he’s been training. But there is reportedly a real chance that Bell doesn’t report to the Steelers at all this year now that he’s realized he will be deemed a third-year franchise player even if he doesn’t show up, meaning it would be prohibitively expensive for Pittsburgh to try to keep him under team control next year.
As has been the case all season, nobody other than Bell and perhaps the Steelers have any idea what is going to happen, but the writing has been on the wall for a while that the Steelers simply don’t need Bell anymore. James Conner has been nothing short of excellent as Pittsburgh’s bell-cow back, and at this point, it would be a big surprise if Bell overtakes Conner on the depth chart — even if he does return.
The chances of Conner maintaining RB1 value are going up by the week, and at this point, it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t at least hold RB2 value no matter what Bell decides to do. Owners who have been stuck holding Bell in redraft leagues may need to come to grips with the fact that their first-round pick will return flex value in a best-case scenario — and may well sit out the entire season.
Brieda has been an iron man playing through various ailments over the last month, but it has taken a real toll on his efficiency and fantasy production. Breida had just 33 carries for 101 yards over the last three games, which works out to barely 3.0 yards per carry. But if he can just get healthy, the door is wide open to rest-of-season RB2 value.
Alfred Morris will no longer have to fight off Mostert for the number two job in San Francisco, but he’s still just an RB4 or desperation flex play. Morris has managed less than 30 yards from scrimmage in four of his last five games, and has scored just once all year.
Chris Carson played through a hip injury in Week 9, but he didn’t make it through the whole game, producing just 40 yards on eight carries before departing. As he’s done several times already this season, Mike Davis stepped right in and produced in Carson’s absence, piling up 107 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches.
Carson is looking very iffy for Week 10, and we know by now that Davis is a reliable RB2 if Carson is out. This running game has been really productive all year, whether it is Carson or Davis doing the heavy lifting.
Rookie Rashaad Penny would get a bit more interesting if we learn that Carson is facing a multi-week absence, but he is a distant third of the depth chart when both Carson and Davis are healthy.
I was a big Dion Lewis booster and Derrick Henry detractor coming into the season, and I’m feeling pretty good that this is one I got right. Lewis has put a ton of distance between himself and Henry over the Titans’ last two games, completely dominating snaps and piling up at least 122 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back games.
It’s just plainly obvious that Lewis is the most dynamic Tennessee running back, and he’s looking like a confident RB2 option going forward. Henry is nothing more than a desperate touchdown-dependent flex option.
Adrian Peterson had a down game against the Falcons, something that is always possible when Washington gets blown out. That has been a pretty rare occurrence this season, but the much bigger concern for Peterson owners is Washington’s decimated offensive line. The team lost both of its starting guards, Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff, to season-ending injuries, and left tackle Trent Williams is expected to miss a month. For now, I’d cautiously project Peterson as an RB2 going forward, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see things completely go south in a hurry.
The offensive lines issues would be less of a concern for Chris Thompson, who does most of his damage via the passing game. The problem is that Thompson has been under-utilized and injured for most of the season. Thompson isn’t guaranteed to return this week, and he hasn’t done much for fantasy owners since Week 2, but he’s still worth holding onto based on his proven upside and would get a great matchup with Tampa Bay if he is able to suit up.
If Thompson remains out, Kapri Bibbs would continue to fill in as Washington’s pass-catching back, but he has considerably less upside than Thompson and isn’t a must-own player in fantasy leagues.