Running Back Roundup: Week 13 (Fantasy Football)
Welcome to the Week 13 edition of the Running Back Roundup. The Rams and Chiefs were on bye last week, but they have fairly straightforward situations that are easy enough to summarize, so you’ll see all 32 teams covered this week. But if you happen to have a question that isn’t answered in the treatise that follows, ask away on Twitter, @andrew_seifter.
David Johnson failed to reach 100 scrimmage yards for the first time in a month, but there is no need to overreact to his quiet Week 12 performance. Johnson is still dominating touches in this backfield and has a favorable schedule during the fantasy playoffs (DET, @ATL, LA Rams), so he has a good shot to return mid-to-low end RB1 value when it matters most. Chase Edmonds is still his handcuff.
The Falcons’ offense has gone in the toilet the last three weeks, and it has taken a toll on Tevin Coleman‘s fantasy production. Coleman saved his fantasy day with a garbage time touchdown against the Saints last week, but he totaled just 23 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches. Of course, Coleman deserves some of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles, as his league-leading share of negative runs demonstrates.
The good news for Coleman owners is that he is still the clear lead back in Atlanta and has at least three catches in four straight games. Coleman is still in the weekly RB2 conversation, but he’ll need Matt Ryan and company to get back on track to be a difference maker down the stretch.
“Judge” Ito Smith has also been a victim of Atlanta’s offensive malaise. Smith hasn’t broken 30 scrimmage yards in any of the last three games, and he hasn’t scored during that stretch, either, after finding the end zone four times in five games earlier in the year. Smith is a touchdown-or-bust RB3 even in a best case scenario, but he loses any semblance of standalone value when the Falcons are struggling like they are right now.
Devonta Freeman is eligible to return from IR in Week 16, but it is hard to see the point of rushing him back with the Falcons already all but eliminated from playoff contention.
Alex Collins sat out against the Raiders with a foot injury, paving the way for waiver wire sensation Gus Edwards to post this second straight 100+ yard rushing performance in Week 12. Edwards is a total non-factor in the passing game, but luckily the Ravens are a decidedly run-heavy team with rookie Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Edwards is proving to be the perfect complement to Jackson, and with a very favorable schedule ahead, Edwards should be able to provide every-week RB2 value down the stretch.
Also of note from last week’s game is that Ty Montgomery finally got involved for his new team, handling 11 touches for 64 yards. Montgomery isn’t a threat to Edwards’ workload, but it will be worth watching to see if he overtakes Collins for the number two job. If Montgomery can settle into a pass-catching role in Baltimore, he could provide a little bit of flex value in PPR formats.
The Bills put an end to Jacksonville’s long-shot playoff aspirations with a surprising victory on Sunday, but they did it on the legs of quarterback Josh Allen rather than running back LeSean McCoy. Allen ran the ball 13 times and fell just a yard short of 100, while McCoy garnered just 46 yards on his 17 carries.
Jacksonville is not an easy team to run on, so it makes sense that the Bills would try to catch the defense off guard with more quarterback runs than usual. McCoy still got a healthy dose of touches and remains a low-end RB2 moving forward, with Chris Ivory serving as his direct backup.
What else can we say about Christian McCaffrey? CMac set a franchise record with 237 scrimmage yards against the Seahawks, and became only the fifth player since 2000 to compile at least 100 yards and a touchdown as both a rusher and receiver. With nine touchdowns over the last five games and terrific matchups on tap in three of the final four weeks of the fantasy season (@TB, @CLE, ATL), McCaffrey could find himself on a lot of championship-winning rosters this year.
Cameron Artis-Payne has just one carry all season, but he is the handcuff for McCaffrey owners.
A trip to Detroit on Thanksgiving may have looked like a Jordan Howard kind of game, but it was once again Tarik Cohen who had the better fantasy day. I had Cohen ranked higher last week, and will continue to do so regardless of matchup because he is simply the better player and better fit for this offense.
Cohen hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire of late — his 59 yards against the Lions were his most since Week 8 — but he has managed to score in six of his last eight games. He’s a decent RB2, particularly in PPR formats. Meanwhile, Howard has only topped 81 scrimmage yards once this season — and it was in Week 1. He is what he’s been all year: a touchdown-dependent RB3/flex option.
Andy Dalton has been placed on IR due to a sprained thumb, but I don’t expect it to have much of an impact on Joe Mixon, as I explained in this week’s “10 Things We Learned” column. After two relatively slow games, Mixon piled up 155 scrimmage yards against the Browns on Sunday, and fantasy owners will surely take it even though much of the production came with the Bengals facing an insurmountable second half deficit. With a favorable rest of season schedule (DEN, @LA Chargers, OAK, @CLE), Mixon could approach RB1 value even with Jeff Driskel under center.
Gio Bernard caught just a single pass for 12 yards against the Browns, and isn’t getting enough work to merit standalone value as long as Mixon remains healthy.
Nick Chubb followed up his 200-yard game against Atlanta with 128 scrimmage yards against Cincinnati, and also scored two touchdowns for the second game in a row. Perhaps most promising of all, Chubb has been utilized in the receiving game since new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens took over, and Chubb has proven he is up to the task. Sure, the matchups have been very favorable, but Chubb has done enough over the last two games to show that he will be a high-end RB2 at worst even when he faces off with tougher defenses.
Chubb’s emerging involvement in the passing game is not a good sign for Duke Johnson‘s fantasy viability. After catching nine passes in Week 9, Johnson has just four and one over the last two games. He isn’t a very appealing flex option right now, even in PPR leagues.
Ezekiel Elliott topped 140 scrimmage yards for the third straight game on Thanksgiving, and with the Cowboys’ offense finally clicking, Zeke is set to deliver high-end RB1 value down the stretch. He did miss some practice time over the weekend with hip soreness, but it isn’t going to cost him any game action and the Cowboys were likely just looking for an excuse to give him some rest.
Should Elliott suffer a more serious injury, Rod Smith would immediately become a viability fantasy starter. He’s a solid handcuff/lottery ticket to stash.
Phillip Lindsay continued to make his case for waiver wire pickup of the year in Week 12, rushing for a career-high 110 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. Lindsay isn’t going to see massive workloads, especially with Royce Freeman back, but he’s been incredibly efficient on a per-carry basis and his remaining schedule is a thing of beauty. He’s a high-end RB2 who could even approach RB1 territory down the stretch.
As for Freeman, he’s only going to see 5-10 touches most weeks, and will need a touchdown to deliver as an RB3/flex option. Most playoff-bound fantasy teams can do better in their starting lineups.
The Lions have yet to announce Kerryon Johnson‘s status for Week 13, but it stands to reason that they will be in no hurry to bring him back. Detroit is already all-but-eliminated from the playoffs and can kill two birds with one stone by ensuring that Johnson fully recovers from his knee injury while also perhaps getting a higher draft pick next April. The fact that the team chose to send Marvin Jones to injured reserve is not a great sign for Kerryon owners who are hoping he returns soon with the fantasy playoffs right around the corner.
With Johnson out on Thanksgiving, LeGarrette Blount turned back the clock, handling 20 touches for 103 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time this season Blount surpassed 65 yards from scrimmage. He’s likely looking at another heavy workload this weekend — and perhaps beyond — and the schedule is quite friendly over the next few weeks. You’ll never feel great about starting Blount, but he’s worked his way into RB3/flex consideration, particularly in non-PPR leagues.
Theo Riddick saw just two carries last week, proving that the Lions do not view him as an option in the running game even with Johnson sidelined. Riddick has caught at least five passes in four straight games, though, so he has some PPR-specific flex appeal, like the running back equivalent of Willie Snead.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones continues to be a lone bright spot as the Packers’ season circles the gutter. Facing a tough Vikings defense, Jones reached 85 scrimmage yards for the fifth straight game and scored his sixth touchdown over that time span. Much like Nick Chubb, Jones is going to have RB1 value in favorable matchups and high-end RB2 value in tough ones — but a trip to Chicago in Week 15 is the only daunting game left on Jones’ schedule.
With Jones handling 15-20 touches each week, Jamaal Williams has become a complete afterthought in the Packers’ offense. He’s nothing more than a handcuff.
The Lamar Miller resurgence continued in Week 12, as Miller became the first running back to break a 97-yard touchdown run since…Lamar Miller. Outside of a quiet game in Denver in Week 9, Miller has been excellent of late, topping 100 scrimmage yards in four of his last fives games. Miller has been the primary beneficiary of the Texans’ shift to a more run-heavy approach, and with a pretty favorable schedule ahead, he’s emerged as a high-end RB2 in time for the fantasy playoffs.
The Texans are running the ball so often that there are plenty of carries left over for backup Alfred Blue, who has at least 13 carries in three of the last four games. Still, Blue is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry this season and has only scored one touchdown, so he isn’t much of a standalone flex option. With D’Onta Foreman still working his way back from his torn Achilles, Blue is locked in as Miller’s backup, but there are other handcuffs available in most leagues that possess more upside.
Marlon Mack had a solid 96 yards on 17 touches against the Dolphins, but he exited the game with a concussion and his status for Week 13 is uncertain. If he’s able to suit up, Mack merits low-end RB2 consideration even though he faces a brutal matchup at Jacksonville, and even if he misses the game, Mack should be a solid RB2 option for the fantasy playoffs.
If Mack misses the Jacksonville game, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins will form a committee in his place. Hines surprisingly out-carried Wilkins nine-to-zero last week, but what a team does immediately after an injury occurs isn’t always a great sign of what they will do with a full week of preparation. The Colts were also playing from behind in the fourth quarter, which necessitated using passing formations that were more likely to feature Hines than Wilkins.
Based on past usage, expect Wilkins to handle plenty of early down work if Mack sits out, with Hines serving as the passing down back. Both would be iffy flex options considering the matchup.
Leonard Fournette has been suspended for Week 13 for engaging in fisticuffs last week with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson, so hopefully you’ve already clinched a playoff spot if you’re a Fournette owner. With the way the Jags were leaning on Fournette as a bell cow back, he’ll be a high-end RB1 once he returns from the suspension.
With Fournette out this week, Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon will form a commitee for Jacksonville. Hyde had 10 carries against Buffalo compared to just three for Yeldon, and in the only other game the duo played without Fournette in Week 8, Hyde similarly out-carried Yeldon six-to-two.
The fact that Jacksonville went out and acquired Hyde in the first place suggests they have reservations about leaning on Yeldon as their primary ball carrier. So expect Hyde to assume that role this week against Indianapolis, with Yeldon serving as the passing down back. Yeldon could still end up with more touches given the likelihood that Jacksonville falls behind the red-hot Colts, but ultimately both Hyde and Yeldon are reasonable RB3/flex options this week.
Kansas City Chiefs/Los Angeles Rams
The Chiefs and Rams were off last week following their breathtaking Monday night battle the previous week, but Kareem Hunt/Todd Gurley remain high-end RB1s and Spencer Ware/Malcolm Brown remain two of the best lottery tickets/handcuffs in fantasy football.
Los Angeles Chargers
I led with Melvin Gordon‘s knee injury in this week’s “10 Things We Learned” column, so head that way for analysis of Gordon’s timetable and the fantasy outlook of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson.
Kenyan Drake had one of his “boom” weeks in Indianapolis, turning 13 touches into 96 yards and two scores. Drake missed some snaps during the game due to a recurring shoulder injury — and will avoid contact in practice for the second week in a row — he is on track to play in Week 13. The peaks and valleys in Drake’s week-to-week production mean he’s more of an RB3/flex than weekly RB2, but there’s no doubting that he can swing fantasy matchups when he hits.
Frank Gore is also an RB3/flex option, but a very different kind. He is very consistent, but severely lacking upside. His 15 touches for 77 yards in Week 12 is right around what you can expect from him each week.
Dalvin Cook delivered three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown for fantasy owners last week, but he was wholly ineffective on the ground. He now has 19 carries for 41 yards over the last two weeks, so it’s not surprising that Minnesota is giving Latavius Murray a fresh look as a runner after he produced a few decent rushing performances earlier in the season.
I warned several weeks ago that Cook was unlikely to deliver the RB1 value that he was drafted to provide, and the last two games have only strengthened my conviction on that point. Expect this to be a fairly even committee going forward, with Murray perhaps seeing more of the between-the-tackles carries and Cook being utilized on outside runs and as a receiver out of the backfield.
New England Patriots
Sony Michel saw his first bell cow workload since returning from a knee injury in Week 10, and responded with a career-high 133 rushing yards. Michel did have an injury scare in the third quarter, tweaking his back in a way that looked potentially serious at first glance, but he ended up quickly returning to the field. James White had a solid rushing day himself — nine carries for 73 yards — but surprisingly just caught one pass for five yards. Chalk that up as a major outlier.
Michel and White proved earlier in the season that they could both approach low-end RB1 value while working in tandem, but the one fly in the ointment is the return of Rex Burkhead. Burkhead is sort of a hybrid of Michel and White, so he has the potential to steal away some goal line work from Michel and some receiving work from White.
This backfield works very well for fantasy owners with two backs, but all bets are off it it becomes a three-way committee. For now, Michel and White owners shouldn’t overreact — they are both still confident RB2s at worst until proven otherwise, while Burkhead is merely an interesting stash.
New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara had a quiet Week 12 by his standards in a mouth-watering matchup with Atlanta, but he still produced 98 yards from scrimmage. Kamara didn’t score, but he had 12 touchdowns in the previous seven games, so it’s not exactly cause for concern. He’s a no doubt RB1.
Mark Ingram also had a mildly disappointing game, producing just 66 scrimmage yards despite the soft matchup. Ingram has proven to be much more of a boom-or-bust fantasy commodity than Kamara. But if you figure he’ll produce RB1 value half the time and RB3 value half the time, he settles in as an every-week RB2.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley went over 140 total yards and scored multiple touchdowns for the second straight week in Week 12. This just in: He’s good. Barkley’s rest of season schedule isn’t amazing, but he’s forced his way into the top-five RB discussion regardless.
Wayne Gallman remains the handcuff here, but it’s fair to wonder if Gallman would be even half as valuable as Barkley if given the same opportunity. Barkely is a special talent to be producing like this given his team context. Gallman isn’t an awful stash, but he’s not on the same level as higher-upside backups like Spencer Ware and Malcolm Brown.
New York Jets
The Jets continued to evenly divide backfield duties between Isaiah Crowell and Elijah McGuire in Week 12, with Crowell again having the marginally better fantasy day. This isn’t a team known for assigning designated roles to its running backs, so expect Crowell and McGuire to continue to be essentially interchangeable, just as Crowell and Bilal Powell were earlier in the year. Crowell still has a slight edge over McGuire as an RB3/flex option, but hopefully you’re not relying on either in the fantasy playoffs.
Jon Gruden talked up Jalen Richard during the week as a player capable of producing over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, so of course once the game started, Gruden went right back to “feature back” Doug Martin as Oakland’s primary ball carrier. Richard finished with one rushing yard and 15 receiving yards (not quite a 1,000/1,000 pace).
To be fair, Martin had done nothing to lose the starting job — he’s been quite effective on limited touches since taking over for Marshawn Lynch, and produced 72 yards and a TD in a tough Week 12 matchup with Baltimore. The concern for Martin is always game flow — he sees fewer opportunities when the Raiders fall behind — but he’s proven to be a low-end RB2 whereas Richard is more of a PPR-specific RB3/flex.
It’s been a bit of a struggle of late for James Conner, who failed to break 100 scrimmage yards or reach the end zone over the last two games in Jacksonville and Denver. Still, Le’Veon Bell isn’t coming back and this is most likely just a blip on the radar, part of the ebbs and flows of a fantasy season. Conner remains a top-10 RB for the stretch run, and quite possibly top-five.
The Conner handcuff situation remains somewhat muddled, although Jaylen Samuels is the preferable stash to Stevan Ridley. The likelihood that the two would form a committee if Conner were out makes Samuels a less desirable lottery ticket stash than guys like Spencer Ware and Malcolm Brown.
San Francisco 49ers
Matt Breida appears to be healthy for the first time in months, and it is paying big-time dividends for his fantasy owners. Breida has exceeded 100 rushing yards and 30 receiving yards in back-to-back games, and is shaping up as a high-end RB2 for the fantasy playoffs — provided he can stay out of the blue tent.
Alfred Morris was a healthy scratch in Week 12 and no longer needs to be owned in fantasy leagues. With San Francisco out of the playoff chase, it makes sense to get a look at some younger players, which could explain why undrafted rookie Jeff Wilson served as Breida’s backup last week. Wilson looked decent in his audition, and he’s a name to keep in mind going forward given Breida’s injury history.
Chris Carson‘s Week 12 numbers don’t jump off the page, but he found the end zone for the third time in his last four games and more importantly continued to serve as Seattle’s obvious lead back. He’s a confident RB2 play for the stretch run.
Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny continued to split backup duties, meaning neither is the clear-cut handcuff to Carson. Both have conceivable upside given the potency of Seattle’s running game, but I would generally prioritize stashing other backups with a more straightforward path to a heavy workload.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Peyton Barber didn’t do much on the ground last week against San Francisco, but he did see 18 carries and find the end zone for the second straight week. Barber will be a borderline RB2/3 as long as he’s operating as Tampa’s clear lead back. It’s possible the Bucs eventually want to get another look at rookie Ronald Jones, but that hasn’t happened yet — Jones missed his fourth straight game on Sunday due to a hamstring injury.
Dion Lewis has found running lanes hard to come by over the last three weeks, and his fantasy production has lagged as a result. As a capable receiver and the Titans’ most dynamic runner, he’s still the preferable fantasy play to Derrick Henry, but this is once again shaping up as a fairly even committee. Lewis could still have some RB2 appeal in favorable matchups, but both he and Henry will just be RB3/flex types in the tougher ones.
Adrian Peterson‘s fantasy fortunes have predictably declined along with Washington’s decimated offensive line, and with Colt McCoy now at quarterback, it will be even harder to keep defenses from stacking the box to stop the run. You can still make a case for Peterson as a low-end RB2 based on volume, but most playoff-bounded teams shouldn’t have to rely on him.
Chris Thompson looks on track to finally return after missing six of the last seven games, but it is hard to know what kind of role he’ll have. Thompson is a dynamic player when healthy, but he is a poor fit for Washington’s conservative, grind-it-out approach. He’s traditionally delivered for fantasy owners on limited touches, but that could be hard to do on an injury-ravaged team that will struggle to score points. Thompson is a reasonable stash for his conceivable RB2 potential, but expectations should be kept in check.