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Week 6 Fantasy Running Back Depth Charts & Volatility

Every Tuesday, we go around the NFL at the running back depth charts around the league telling you which backs are secure in their jobs, others who are threatened, listing fantasy-relevant non-starters and handcuffs.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Week 5 of the 2015 NFL season is over and the fantasy football running back landscape is as volatile as it always is at this moment. We are at a point where it is unclear if there are 20 RBs who are safe to start, which means there is a lot of confusion for owners to fill their RB2 and flex spots, make trades, craft our benches to cover our tails.

This weekly post has looked solely at the safety of primary and passing downs roles around the league up to this point. For the remainder of season, we will contextualize the individuals with rest of season rankings in a separate post.

Remember we are gauging volatility here more situationally than based on the skill of the players. On one hand, a very talented back can not get the ball enough to trust while a mediocre back is higher in ranks simply because he can be trusted to get a high quantity of touches. No matter what the talent level of the back, an RB is only good in fantasy as his situation.

Volatility

Ranking volatility is trite and oversimplifying. We will separate them into tiers, from the most to least volatile. The most volatile situations are mostly ones to avoid, unless otherwise noted; and the least are one where roles are shared, but there is still startable weekly fantasy value to be had.

Notable situations not ranked in volatility this week:

  • Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: Thomas Rawls (23/169/1) was fantastic, but Lynch is already expected to return for Week 6, like, for real, for real. Rawls is nothing more than a handcuff, albeit a very valuable one. Stashing him in a deeper league is good for the prospect that Lynch goes down again, but--for now--he is only trade bait to the Lynch owner, therefore should not be dropped until those options are exhausted and we see Lynch get through a full game.

  • T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars: Yeldon left a high leverage game in the 4th quarter of Week 5 with a groin injury and did not return. Whether or not this injury lingers is unknown. What is known is that there is no league deep enough to consider Bernard Pierce or Toby Gerhart. The Jags will simply be a very nice aerial assault for fantasy. The line is too terrible to support any RB outside of Yeldon, and that has been shaky.

  • Karlos Williams, Bills: Williams may miss Week 6 with his concussion, but LeSean McCoy may miss all of October and the other Bills backs suck. Neither Dan Herron or Boobie Dixon are worth owning in 12-team leagues, so Williams' job is safe until McCoy is near a return.

  • Chris Johnson, Cardinals: Nothing to see here, folks. He is the clear primary rusher. In blowouts, David Johnson will sneak in some nice play from time to time; and Andre Ellington may ease into a nice PPR-worthy receiving role, but C.J. is a legitimate top-15 RB, rest of season, with no one threatening the types of touches he gets in this awesome offense.

  • Mark Ingram, Saints: Believe the C.J. Spiller value when we see it. Until then, Ingram is putting together poor man's Matt Forte numbers in the receiving game. His glass ceiling comes mainly from the Saints inability to run on the road when down so many points.

Tier 1: Timeshares where everyone is bad

Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams, Giants: Every week, this post has highlighted how terrible all of these rushing options are, but there is a bright side: Tom Coughlin is self-actualizing that it is terrible. Williams only played eight snaps, despite being the Giants' best rusher, because he is completely ineffective in the passing game. Two of his three carries were inside the 20, continuing to sabotage any value for Jennings.

Jennings and Vereen, on the other hand, were highlighted in the passing attack. Vereen played almost half the snaps--39 to Jennings' 30--and was targeted eight times for a great 8/86/1 slash in the passing game. Jennings ran well for an 11/46/0 slash in the rushing game, but the volume was not trusted; that he added four catches shows that he is being utilized in the passing game to keep him as a top-40 PPR back. There just isn't enough volume or scoring potential for him to even have upside in standard scoring, though.

Vereen has a top-30 shot in PPR and is a solid RB4 to have in standard, as any injury to Jennings would give him quite the workload.

Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey, and Dexter McCluster, Titans: Still not sure if Andrews is good, but outperforming Sankey is optimistic. Sankey got more snaps, carries were split between the three, Sankey and Andrews were utilized in the passing game, and McCluster was oddly only there for picking up blitzes in the passing game. Andrews has the TD but far less yards.

Tennessee faces two of the worst rushing defenses in the Dolphins and Falcons over the next two weeks, so someone can emerge, and that is most likely Andrews, so he is the only Titan back worth owning. If he cannot do anythign with these matchups, David Cobb becomes a must-stash.

Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, Lions: In this total mess, Riddick is becoming a legit flex option in PPR leagues. Bears are 25th in the NFL, allowing 4.4 yards per carry, so there is potential for Abdullah to bounce back, but he is near the bottom of the top-40 and unstartable until he exploits another matchup, as he did in Week 1. Riddick is a high-end PPR flex and maybe a low-end RB3 in standard this week.

C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, Broncos: Both ought to still be rostered, but neither are startable, as both are low-end RB3s, at best until one gets hurt or this offense bounces back. With Peyton Manning at the bottom of QB play across the board, the opportunity to run is not opening up. Neither has taken this job, both are splitting carries and doing nothing with them, and neither could exploit a good Raiders matchup in Week 5

Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, Chiefs: The reaction to shock like Jamaal Charles out for the season is to pounce on the next man up. Before the season, there was little doubt that if all starters went down, the best handcuff would be Davis

That is no longer the case. Despite how awesome Davis has been for fantasy when given the opportunities, West has been playing more snaps and series over the last two weeks and West is slated to have this job. What makes this situation volatile is that Charles struggled to get carries due to the terrible Kansas City defense and we cannot picture much better. West has the job right now, but could be on a short leash due to issues beyond his control, as early as midway through their Week 6 game in Minnesota. Davis is the more experienced back who has proven himself in the passing game, as well as the run game.

Tier 2: Timeshares with startable options

Duke Johnson, Jr. and Isaiah Crowell, Browns: Roles are defined here. Johnson is the passing downs back who will get at least five targets per game and Crowell is the rusher. The Browns are terrible, though, and will be passing so much rest of season that Crowell is unstartable before their Week 10 matchup in Pittsburgh and that is iffy.

Crowell struggles to get 15 touches, but he can get them; they just aren't the quality touches Johnson receives. Johnson has become a very safe flex in PPR, but Crowell is little more than a must-own RB4.

Demarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles, Eagles: The squeaky wheel got the grease. Murray got 20 carries for the first time this season in a blowout victory. He took 51% of the snaps (43) with Mathews and Sproles each in the field for 20 and 25, respectively.

We still don't know what to expect, moving forward. Hard to sell high without this knowledge. Better off risking the fluke that giving Murray away for less than his top-12 potential.

Mathews was a no-show is Week 5 and may be again in their Monday night Week 6 matchup against the Giants. This should be a shootout to make Sproles a better option, but even Sproles is barely a top-35 RB in PPR. The Giants showed weakness in Week 5, so Murray can cement himself back into the top-15 with a similar outing.

Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, Cowboys: Randle continues to be a desperate TD-dependent RB3 in all formats, but McFadden has emerged into Lance Dunbar's role of the passing downs back. He showed decent pas protection for checkdown artist Brandon Weeden and was rewarded with season-highs in snap count (32) and targets (10).

McFadden was on the field for three more snaps than Randle, as the Cowboys found themselves playing from behind and abandoning the run. McFadden's nine receptions for 62 yards eclipsed the three catches for 40 yards he had in the first four weeks, combined. After their Week 6 bye, the Cowboys should find themselves in similar 2nd half situations against the Giants, Seahawks, and Eagles, making McFadden the better play. Beware, Randle owners, as this could be the run that gives Christine Michael the starting job.

Doug Martin and Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Week 5 showed that if this team didn't suck, Martin would be a top-8 RB in all formats and Sims a legit RB2 in PPR. Alas, they do suck and can't face the Jags every week. Martin should keep getting his volume early and retain RB2 value, but Sims is right there with him in PPR as he gets the bulk of the passing downs work.

Sell high on Martin where we can for a top-12 WR, but don't do so without another top-20 option at RB. May be more prudent to attempt overpaying a bit in a WR3 for Sims where we own Martin.

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: It is so nice to have a Patriots backfield that is comprehensible. Lewis is the early game back and Blount is the closer. Usually, this would suck, but New England is so good, there is almost a 75% chance at Blount getting north of 70 yards closing a game and he is still near the top of the list among goal line carries and touchdowns. Lewis is an all-around stud, only hampered by Blount's closing value, but a very safe RB2.

Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, Chargers: This situation just sucks until the Chargers offensive line gets healthy. And, even when it does, the defense is so terrible that they cannot afford to run. Woodhead is the better pass blocker and receiver, while also getting more red zone touches, and those are going away. Gordon is simply a rusher before the opponents' 20-yard line who can catch two or three ball per week. Woody is a low-end RB2 in PPR and desperate flex in standard; Gordon is an RB3 with the RB2 upside in all formats should the Chargers get their act together.

Week 5 was a close game and both were meh in the rushing game, but Gordon's seven catches were optimistic. Gordon was not blocking well, though. This week, against the Packers, look for Gordon to get the bulk of touches in a blowout, but only in the run game. Both may be unusable, as Woodhead will be on the field more often than Gordon and mainly for blocking:

Weeks 1 and 4 Wins
Player Snaps Carries Targets RZ Carries RZ Targets
Woodhead 78 20 11 6 1
Gordon 66 26 5 1 0
Weeks 2 and 3 Losses
Player Snaps Carries Targets RZ Carries RZ Targets
Woodhead 65 12 10 1 0
Gordon 57 30 2 0 0

Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Bengals: Bernard is the best fantasy back in this offense and we should still regard him as top-15 in all formats. But don't give up on Hill, long-term. The recent weeks have been terrible and this weeks will not get better against the Bills. After their Week 8 bye, CIncy is at Pittsburgh, then host the Browns and Texans for three straight juicy matchups where Hill should get great goal line work.

Will Hill average close to 4.0 YPC? No. But this team is great and Hill will closeout those blowouts. Despite Bernard getting more red zone snaps, the goal line itself belongs to Hill. Don't take too much away from the Seahawks. No one plays normally against the Seahawks; and, when they do, that looks even worse.

Tier 3: Timeshare looming

Jonathan Stewart and Cameron Artis-Payne, Panthers: Coming off of their Week 5 bye and a Week 4 where Artis-Payne got eight carries, a changing of the guard may be coming. Don't expect it any time soon, but let's get honest here.

When can we expect 15 touches for Stewart? And when he gets them, when can we expect 70 yards? And when he gets 15 carries for 70 yards, when can we expect a TD? An RB with 7-8-point upside is below replacement level and not worth a roster spot.

There is non-zero chance that Artis-Payne closes out games well enough to transition into a timeshare and steal the job from Stewart. This is important to note, whether or not we own Stewart shares because here is the Panthers schedule for Weeks 13 through 17: at Saints, vs Falcons, at Giants, at Falcons, vs Bucs. There is a legitimate shot that Artis-Payne wins us our leagues.

Where we are 5-0 or in 14-team leagues or larger, Artis-Payne is worth a stash. He has more potential starting lineup value than Andre Williams, Rashad Jennings, Joique Bell, David Johnson, Boobie Dixon, Bishop Sankey, Torrey Smith, the other Texans WRs, Rueben Randle, and the like who have replacement level upside from week to week and may be wasting space on our rosters.

Lamar Miller and Jonas Gray, Dolphins: I amost feel as if this already is a timeshare of which no one is speaking. Gray looked like the better back in Week 3, is much better between the tackles, and there is a major shakeup in Miami which may favor Gray's ground-pound rushing attack. We can still feel as if the primary job is Miller's, but it is as much his to lose as it is Gray's to win. Gray is a must-own where we are hoping on Miller beause Gray has RB2 potential should he take the job, especially not knowing what Jay Ajayi will be should he ever suit up.

Curious to see what happens in this week against Tennessee. Where we have a roster spot to burn, Gray is a sneaky Sunday morning pickup where we don't own Miller. Better to be wrong and drop him on Tuesday than miss out and lose a bidding war on Wednesday waivers.

Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, and Chris Thompson, Washington: Where Jones made this look like a legit timeshare where he and Morris could each get 15 touches per game, Thompson has emerged as the passing downs back. Morris (8/15/0) really looked terrible in a favorable Atlanta matchup, while Jones (11/20/1) dominated the carries to shake things up. The only real playable option here feels like Thompson in PPR.

Thompson had six catches for 33 yards and three carries for 15. This is not good, but, hey, it's near 10 PPR points. He now has 21 targets in the last three weeks and had more snaps than Morris or Jones in Week 5. He's played 97 snaps in the last three weeks to Morris' and Jones' 61 each. Morris has never played less than 50% of the team's snaps in a season and is now under 40%. Week to week is a swing, but with neither Thompson nor Jones showing consistent value, Morris is still on top, but his job is slipping away, if it hasn't already.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: I am done being bearish on Freeman. I am a believer. There is still a ceiling because of Coleman's talent. Coleman is still hampered by his ribs injury and is good enough to steal snaps when Freeman inevitable regression toward the mean begins. Freeman may be a top-12 RB, rest of season, in my ranks, but regression means that Coleman and fate will reign in his top-3 production. His talent and this offense is promising, but Coleman lowers Freeman's ceiling and may re-create his own value.

Week 6 RB Depth Charts

Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Bears Matt Forte Langford/Rodgers
Bengals Bernard/Hill Bernard/Hill Giovani Bernard
Bills Karlos Williams Herron/Dixon
Broncos Anderson/Hillman Anderson/Hillman
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson Duke Johnson
Buccaneers Doug Martin Charles Sims Charles Sims
Cardinals Andre Ellington Andre Ellington
Chargers Woodhead/Gordon Woodhead/Gordon Danny Woodhead
Chiefs West/Davis West/Davis
Frank Gore
Cowboys Randle/McFadden Christine Michael Darren McFadden
Dolphins Lamar Miller Jonas Gray
Eagles Demarco Murray Mathews/Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman
Carlos Hyde
Giants Jennings/Williams Jennings/Williams Shane Vereen
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Bernard Pierce
Lions Ameer Abdullah Theo Riddick Theo Riddick
Packers Eddie Lacy James Starks
Panthers Jonathan Stewart Cameron Artis-Payne
Patriots Blount/Lewis Blount/Lewis Dion Lewis
Raiders Latavius Murray
Justin Forsett Lorenzo Taliaferro
Alfred Morris Chris Thompson
Saints Mark Ingram Robinson/Spiller C.J. Spiller
Seahawks Marshawn Lynch Thomas Rawls
Le'Veon Bell Deangelo Williams
Texans
Titans Antonio Andrews Bishop Sankey
Adrian Peterson Jerick McKinnon

Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.