Running Back Roundup: Week 14 (Fantasy Football)
There wasn’t any big running back news over the last week, was there? Oh wait, what’s that you say? James Conner is hurt and Kareem Hunt is out of football? Throw in Melvin Gordon, whose status for Week 14 is still very much in doubt, and that’s three top-10 RBs who could be out of commission as we enter the fantasy football playoffs. It shall henceforth be known as the Week of the Missing Bell Cows (TM).
This serves as a good reminder of the importance of handcuffing in fantasy football, but it must also be noted that the handcuffs in question — Jaylen Samuels, Spencer Ware, and Austin Ekeler — are looking like poor bets to come close to matching the value of the starters they’re replacing. Samuels and Ware look headed for RBBCs, while Ekeler lasted precisely one half of one game as the Chargers’ clear-cut lead back.
So more than anything, this Week of the Missing Bell Cows is an untimely reminder that at its core, fantasy football is pure chaos. This game is sure to deliver a cruel blow just when you least expect it, but those of us who keep a positive attitude and persevere are sure to be rewarded with a fantasy championship eventually. Or at least that’s what we need to keep telling ourselves, right?
Chase Edmonds vultured a touchdown from David Johnson not once but twice in Week 13, a surprising turn of events that I discussed in this week’s “10 Things We Learned” column. Click through for details. I was planning to talk DJ owners off the ledge, but after reading what Cardinals coach Steve Wilks had to say about Edmonds, some level of concern is justified.
It isn’t exactly shocking considering the matchup with Baltimore’s swarming defense, but Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith combined for just 33 yards on 15 touches in Week 13. This offense has been completely lost for the last month, and it’s taken a major toll on the fantasy value of both running backs.
Coleman is still the lead back in Atlanta — he played 55 percent of the snaps compared to 45 percent for Smith — but that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering Coleman has failed to reach double-digit carries for three straight games. He’s fallen from weekly RB2 status earlier in the season into the RB3/flex realm. As for Smith, he isn’t even a realistic flex option right now — he’s just a low-upside handcuff for as long as Atlanta’s offensive slump continues.
Gus Edwards handled 20+ carries for the second straight game in Week 13. He had just 82 yards to show for it — and remained a complete non-factor in the passing game — but even so, Edwards is locked in as an every-week RB2 with that kind of rushing workload.
Edwards did enter the game with an ankle issue and limped off late in the fourth quarter, and although little was initially reported about the injury, Edwards expects to play. It will be worth watching as we head into Week 14. Were Edwards to miss time, it now appears that Kenneth Dixon would be the main beneficiary, with Ty Montgomery sticking to a passing down role and Buck Allen the odd man out.
LeSean McCoy had another high-volume, low-output game in Week 13, producing only 64 yards on 19 touches. McCoy has topped 70 yards from scrimmage in just four of the 11 games he’s played in and has not sniffed the end zone all year outside of his two-touchdown performance in Week 10. He’s still on the low-end RB2 radar thanks to his heavy workload and favorable rest-of-season schedule, but it’s hard to feel great about starting him in the fantasy playoffs.
Christian McCaffrey had yet another huge game in Week 13 and continues to play just about every snap for the Panthers. He has now gone over 100 scrimmage yards in five straight games and scored 10 touchdowns in the last six contests. He’s a top-tier RB1, and could be even more involved (if that’s possible) with Greg Olsen lost for the season. Cameron Artis-Payne is McCaffrey’s handcuff.
I threw some shade at Tarik Cohen last week, so of course he responded with his best game of the year. Cohen set season-highs in catches (12), targets (14), and receiving yards (156) against a Giants defense that had been defending pass-catching backs well this season, and also handled his second-most rushing attempts of the campaign (eight). He even threw a touchdown pass for good measure. His 186 yards from scrimmage were more than he had managed in his previous four games combined.
The Bears were uncharacteristically down by multiple scores in this game, something that doesn’t happen often for a team that features one of the league’s best defenses. In other words, fantasy owners shouldn’t get carried away and expect this kind of usage to be the new norm for Cohen. He’s still best viewed as a boom-or-bust RB2, although this game gives you a sense of his upside in the “boom” weeks.
Jordan Howard was the Bears’ primary ball carrier in the first half but was barely heard from once Chicago entered comeback mode. He finished with 80 yards on 17 touches, which represents his highest output since Week 8. He remains a touchdown-dependent RB3/flex option.
Joe Mixon ran the ball effectively against Denver (6.8 yards per carry), but he had limited opportunities in a game the Bengals trailed 21-3 midway through the third quarter. With the Bengals in hurry-up mode in the second half, Gio Bernard handled 11 touches, the most he’s had in a game this season where Mixon also played.
With Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert (remember him?) lost for the season, Mixon’s upside could be capped by the Bengals’ offensive limitations. Still, his heavy usage as both a rusher and receiver should allow him to continue to produce high-end RB2 at a minimum. Bernard will need to show he is consistently getting double-digit targets before he will merit serious flex consideration, and most playoff-bound fantasy teams shouldn’t have to resort to that anyway.
Nick Chubb had only nine carries on Sunday — the fewest he’s had since Carlos Hyde was traded — but he found the end zone for the sixth time in the last four games and again played a significant role in the passing game with three catches for 41 yards. The matchup with Houston was a tough one, but this game further illustrates that Chubb is a low-end RB1 with a fairly high floor due to his touchdown potential and passing game involvement.
There was some initial optimism in the fantasy community that Duke Johnson would play a bigger role under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, but that simply hasn’t come to fruition. Johnson caught two passes for 12 yards against the Texans and is miles away from fantasy relevance at this point.
Ezekiel Elliott struggled to find running lanes against the Saints’ league-best run defense, but Elliott’s six catches for 60 yards and a score ensured he had another strong fantasy performance. With at least 135 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in four straight games, Elliott is peaking just at the right time for fantasy owners. Rod Smith is his lightly-used handcuff.
Phillip Lindsay has been a must-start player from just about the very beginning of the season, but he’s taken his game to another level of late, averaging 125 scrimmage yards and scoring five touchdowns over the three games since the Broncos’ Week 10 bye. With a highly-favorable schedule ahead (@SF, CLE, @OAK), Lindsay could deliver high-end RB1 numbers for the fantasy playoffs. If he does, he’ll be the textbook definition of a league-winning waiver wire pickup — especially when you consider that he’s provided good value for the entire season.
Royce Freeman produced a ho-hum line of 12-48 against Cincinnati’s joke of a defense in Week 13, and that was actually Freeman’s most scrimmage yards since Week 4. He’s gradually become more of a pure handcuff than a realistic RB3/flex option.
The Lions all already mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but for now they are maintaining that prized rookie Kerryon Johnson could still return before the end of the year, perhaps even in time for Week 14. It would make little sense to rush Johnson back from his knee injury, but once the team feels he is fully recovered, there seems to be a genuine desire to see him finish out the year.
Right now everything is on the table. Kerryon could return this week or not at all. He could be eased back in or immediately return to a heavy workload. Until we know more, it’s hard to say whether he’ll be a trustworthy fantasy option for the fantasy playoffs.
LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick have both provided a bit of RB3/flex value in Johnson’s absence, but neither would be an advisable starting option should Johnson return, even if it’s in a limited role.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers inexplicably wasted 11 backfield touches on plodder Jamaal Williams in Week 13, providing a bad flashback for Aaron Jones owners. The good news is that Jones salvaged his day with a rushing touchdown, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy was fired after the game.
Interim head coach Joe Philbin is a McCarthy disciple — and was serving as the team’s offensive coordinator — but hopefully he doesn’t share McCarthy’s penchant for overusing Williams. Even McCarthy had seemed to see the light prior to Week 13, as Jones’ share of the touches had increased dramatically from earlier in the season.
Ultimately, Jones has been providing borderline RB1 numbers even as the Packers as a whole have struggled, so if the McCarthy firing provides a spark it will only further benefit Jones and his fantasy owners.
The Lamar Miller redemption tour continued unabated in Week 13, as Miller impressively topped 100 rushing yards for the fourth time in the last six games. Miller is in a major groove right now, and his owners can feel very confident slotting him into their lineup as a high-end RB2.
After several weeks of hemming and hawing, the Texans reluctantly chose to activate sophomore D’Onta Foreman from the PUP list. Foreman is returning from a major injury — a torn Achilles — and with Miller playing well there is little reason for Houston to hand Foreman a major role for the rest of the season. It isn’t even certain that Foreman will be active on game days, but if he is, he shouldn’t affect Miller but could start eating into Alfred Blue’s workload. Blue has been getting 13-15 carries each week in the Texans’ run-heavy scheme, but has little to show for it.
Marlon Mack was unable to do much of anything on the ground against the Jaguars’ stout run defense in Week 13, so the Colts opted to go with a short-passing approach that led to more touches for receiving back Nyheim Hines. The Colts ended up getting shut out, but Hines’ nine catches for 50 yards at least provided some value in PPR leagues.
Going forward, Mack is still the back to own in Indy, but this game illustrates that he isn’t as high-end a fantasy option as it appeared he was when he ran all over a series of poor run defenses earlier in the year. With more difficult matchups on tap (@HOU, DAL), Mack is just a low-end RB2, while Hines is a dicey PPR-specific flex play.
With Leonard Fournette suspended for Week 13, Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon formed an uninspiring committee against Indianapolis, with Hyde serving as the primary rusher and Yeldon doing most of his damage as a receiver out of the backfield.
Fournette will return to a tough matchup with Tennessee this week, but he still belongs in fantasy lineups as a borderline RB1. Hyde and Yeldon aren’t useable with Fournette active, but should he suffer another injury, they could both be enticing RB3/flex options considering Jacksonville’s favorable run schedule following the Tennessee game (WAS, @MIA).
Since that piece was published, the Chiefs surprisingly opted to sign Charcandrick West instead of C.J. Anderson (who ended up signing with Oakland shortly thereafter). The addition of West is further evidence that Andy Reid plans to employ a committee to replace Hunt, but West is less of a threat to Spencer Ware’s lead back duties than Anderson would have been. Damien and Darrel Williams should also be factors.
Ware is still the best bet for touches for now, but he’s unlikely to come even close to replicating Hunt’s RB1 value, and will be difficult to even trust as an RB2 for a brutal matchup with Baltimore this week.
Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley remains the clear-cut number one overall running back as we enter the fantasy playoffs, but this last week did bring some shuffling of the depth chart behind him.
Malcolm Brown, who had played very well in spot duty and established himself as one of the premier handcuffs in fantasy football, was lost for the season to a clavicle injury. Sophomore Justin Davis and rookie John Kelly are the next men up, but neither is a great stash as a handcuff/lottery ticket unless one establishes himself as Gurley’s primary backup.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers’ backfield situation was another one I addressed in this week’s “10 Things” column, so click through to see my thoughts on Melvin Gordon’s recovery timetable and how LA might split the touches between Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson should Gordon miss another game.
Kenyan Drake got into the end zone for his fantasy owners last week, but he failed to surpass 10 touches for the fourth time in his last six games. Drake remains a big play-dependent, boom-or-bust RB3/flex option.
The Buffalo game was disappointing for fantasy owners who resorted to starting Frank Gore, as he saw his fewest touches (nine) since Week 3. Still, his outlook hasn’t changed — he’s a low-end RB3/flex option.
Dalvin Cook was a lone bright spot in the Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Patriots, as he ran nine times for 83 yards and looked explosive doing it. Cook was much less effective as a pass-catcher in this one (8-22), but the fact he caught eight passes provided a nice PPR boost and is an encouraging sign for his passing game utilization going forward. It’s been a frustrating season for Cook owners, but he’s a solid RB2 for the stretch run.
The matchup with New England didn’t set up as a Latavius Murray game, so it’s hardly surprising that Murray was limited to six touches. Murray could still work his way back into RB3/flex consideration in favorable matchups where the Vikings are projected to play with a lead, but after three straight quiet games, he doesn’t belong in most lineups for a trip to Seattle during the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
New England Patriots
The Patriots predictably leaned on James White’s prowess in the short passing game against Minnesota, as White accumulated seven catches for 92 yards while Sony Michel struggled to do much with his 17 carries against the Vikings’ stout run defense.
Meanwhile, Rex Burkhead got nine touches in his first game back, and while he didn’t do a whole lot with them, it certainly looks like he could vulture some red zone work from Michel and catches from White. For now, consider Michel and White solid RB2s, while Burkhead should be owned but not started in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
New Orleans Saints
The entire Saints offense was completely shut down by the Cowboys in Week 13, but there’s no reason to overreact to the quiet performances by Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Saints should quickly revert to their high-scoring ways this week in Tampa Bay, making both Saints backs excellent fantasy options. Kamara is an every-week RB1 and Ingram is an every-week RB2, so you’re obviously not sitting them for this matchup.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley has been an elite fantasy option all season long, and with three straight 100-yard rushing performances, he looks set to finish strong. Jonathan Stewart recently returned to practice, but for now Wayne Gallman remains the better handcuff for Barkley owners.
New York Jets
Don’t look now but Isaiah Crowell had his first good game since early October, producing 107 scrimmage yards on 25 touches in a tough matchup with Tennessee in Week 13. He had a much more favorable matchup with Buffalo on tap for Week 14, but do you dare trust him as an RB3/flex option in the fantasy playoffs? He’s not an awful play, but hopefully you have a more reliable alternative.
Crowell’s large Week 13 workload came at the expense of Elijah McGuire, who remains firmly behind Crowell on the depth chart. McGuire has just seven touches in back-to-back games and isn’t a realistic RB3/flex option in the make-or-break weeks ahead.
After finding the end zone for the first time this season in Week 12, Doug Martin scored again last week against the Chiefs and saw a season-high 20 touches. He continues to build momentum as a viable fantasy option. Martin’s Week 14 matchup appears tough at first glance, but the Steelers’ run defense has sprung some leaks over the last month, so you could do worse than Martin as an RB3/flex if you’re scrambling.
Jalen Richard got loose against Kansas City for 126 scrimmage yards, but he did it on just nine touches. Richard has flashed some skills this season, but he’s surpassed 10 touches in just one game since Week 1 and will be tough to trust as an RB3/flex option against Pittsburgh, particularly in non-PPR leagues.
Josh Adams handled 20+ carries for the second straight week as the Eagles stay true to their word of featuring the rookie down the stretch. Like Gus Edwards, Adams is a non-factor in the passing game, which makes him somewhat dependent on game flow. But any player who can realistically see 20 carries a week belongs firmly on the RB2 radar at the very least, even for a tough Week 14 matchup with Dallas.
Darren Sproles finally returned to the field last week, and both he and Corey Clement had a few nice runs against Washington, with Clement also chipping in as a pass-catcher. Still, with Adams hogging the vast majority of the rushing work, there aren’t likely to be enough touches to go around for either Sproles or Clement to merit strong RB3/flex consideration, especially if they continue to share the backup job.
After initial optimism from the Steelers that he had only suffered a “contusion,” James Conner was quickly ruled out for Week 14 after tests revealed he actually had a sprained ankle. His Week 15 status is cloudy at best.
As regular readers of this column will already know, Jaylen Samuels is the preferred pickup with Conner out, but he is likely to share the workload with Stevan Ridley. The Steelers lean heavily on their running backs as pass-catchers, so expect Samuels to do a lot — if not most — of his damage as a receiver. Ridley is unquestionably the more polished pure rusher at this stage of their respective careers.
This week’s matchup with Oakland is a juicy one, so Samuels is a legit RB2 candidate (and a high-end TE1 in leagues where he has tight end eligibility). With Conner’s absence potentially extending into Week 15, Ridley is a good stash, but it would take a brave soul to start him as a flex option in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers
Matt Breida has already been ruled out for Week 14 due to his recurring ankle injury, so Jeff Wilson Jr. is suddenly a must-add player. For more on Wilson’s outlook for Week 14, check out “10 Things We Learned.”
Chris Carson dislocated his finger in last week’s game, but he is expected to be fine for Week 14. Carson has struggled to stay on the field this season, but has settled back in as an every-week RB2 over the last three weeks. Provided he officially gets the green light, he’ll be worth using next week even though he has a tough matchup with Minnesota.
Meanwhile, rookie Rashaad Penny again flashed some skill playing behind Carson and looks to have further solidified his position as the number two back over Mike Davis. Penny is a smart player to stash given Carson’s injury history and the Seahawks’ ability to run the ball.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Peyton Barber averaged fewer than three yards per carry for the second straight week against Carolina, but he still delivered for fantasy owners by finding the end zone for the third straight game. Barber isn’t doing much as a receiver, so his rushing struggles have rendered him very touchdown-dependent. The fact he’s seeing 16-20 weekly touches keeps him on the low-end RB2 radar, but he would ideally be utilized as an RB3/flex option for a tough matchup with New Orleans this week.
Rookie Ronald Jones returned to action in Week 13, but was almost invisible. With Dirk Koetter fighting to save his job, the Bucs don’t seem in any hurry to get a longer look at Jones as the season winds down. He’s just a long-shot stash, and not a particularly high-upside one at this point.
The Titans’ running game has really stagnated of late, dropping Dion Lewis from a weekly RB2 candidate to fringe RB3/flex status as we reach the fantasy season’s climax. Derrick Henry actually out-touched Lewis 12-to-eight in Week 13, the first time that’s happened since Week 6. Henry hasn’t broken 65 scrimmage yards in a game all season, but he does have five touchdowns over his last six games, rendering him a touchdown-dependent RB3/flex option.
In Week 13, Adrian Peterson became just the second player since 1950 to have a 90+ yard run and still fail to top 100 rushing yards for the game. It’s an ominous record and speaks to Peterson’s very dicey RB2 value as Washington’s offense has been completely decimated by injuries. If you’ve been relying on Peterson all season you may have no choice except to stick with him, but it’s hard to feel great about it.
Chris Thompson had six touches for 21 yards after missing six of the previous seven games due to injury. Thompson was a poor fit for Washington’s offense even when it wasn’t awful, and certainly isn’t an appealing RB3/flex option now that Mark Sanchez in under center.