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Week 7 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.

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Week 6 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, and 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. This week has very clear cut binary situations where we either know exactly what the situation is or cannot even try to parse data to find an answer.

Notable situations not ranked in volatility this week:

  • Devonta Freeman, Falcons: I have spent weeks erring on the side of caution, saying that I will believe Freeman as an all-purpose back when we see while Tevin Coleman is at full strength. It seems Coleman is and Freeman still played 86% of Atlanta's offenive snaps in Week 7.

  • Demarco Murray, Eagles: We're done here. The writing is on the wall. 25 touches for 123 total yards and a TD makes Murray the clear bellcow. Ryan Mathews should be owned in all leagues as a handcuff and Darren Sproles as a handcuff in PPR leagues, but the backups are unstartable in all formats and Murray is back in the top-18 and rising.

  • Mark Ingram, Saints: The Saints have been on and off in this post in anticipation of more C.J. Spiller usage in the passing game. Ingram is clearly the all-purpose back, getting over 50% of the snaps and a near lock for 20 touches every week. Khiry Robinson and C.J. Spiller should both be owned as handcuffs. Spiller isn't even a replacement level flex in 12-team leagues, so he barely cracks the top-40 in PPR.

  • Lamar Miller, Dolphins: With bad offensive line play, Miller not making anyone miss, and an interim coach with something to prove in a shakeup, I was heavily speculating a timeshare looming between him and Jonas Gray. Miller dominated the touches 21 to 8 and had 118 total yards to secure his job.

  • Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: Like a bad slasher franchise, he simply will not die. After a terrible first four weeks where he neither scored a TD nor cracked 62 rushing yards, Stewart came out of the bye to log a 20/78/2 line in Seattle. I'm hanging it up on this situation.

  • T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars: T.J. Yeldon missed Week 6 with a groin injury. Neither Toby Gerhart nor Denard Robinson are rosterable replacements. Yeldon is the only RB capable of fantasy relevance here and will not lose his job to injury at any point where he is healthy.

Tier 1: Timeshares where everyone is bad:
Giants, Titans, Lions, Chiefs, Washington

Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen, Giants: The bright side is that Rashad Jennings dominated the ball for the first time in weeks without Andre Williams up his butt. The bad end is the Giants defense won't allow them to stick with the run, so the quality of his quantity is bad. Only 63 yards on 13 carries, but three catches for 20 makes him a top-35 flex option in PPR. Shane Vereen had a low volume week of only four targets, but he is still a better PPR option. None of these Giants back are worth owning in 14-team standard leagues.

Antonio Andrews, Titans: Antonio Andrews had nine of Tennessee's 17 carries out of the backfield in Week 7. He is the clear primary back, but that doesn't mean anything as injuries are setting in to show us that the Titans are who we thought they were: a bad football team. They are forced to abandon the run at every turn, Marcus Mariota's sprained MCL is only making things worse, and Dexter McCluster being the only back who can pick up a blitz makes all of these RBs unstartable. Andrews is a low-end TD-dependent RB4 worth owning in all formats, but is really just for desperation bye weeks.

Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, Lions: Ameer Abdullah had his only decent week against the terrible Chargers. Since that week, despite Joique Bell out of the mix, he hasn't broken 65 yards and has only one TD. Theo Riddick is actually the one playing over the half of the snaps in the two weeks since their bye, as the Lions cannot run the ball and Riddick is the best pass catcher and blocking back. Abdullah is droppable in 10-team leagues, but no better than an RB5 stash, otherwise; Riddick is nothing more than an RB4 in PPR with RB2 upside from week to week, and an RB5 stash. Neither have genuine top-35 flex value as long as the other is healthy.

Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, Chiefs: This is just really bad. The line stinks and the defense is forcing Kansas City to abandon the run, so neither are capable of doing anything. In a fairly close game, according o only the scoreboard, West got nine carries to Davis' five; whoopie! They are barely top-50 RB5 stashes and that is only in the hopes they can be replacement level producers should the other get injured or lose the job entirely.

Matt Jones, Alfred Morris, and Chris Thompson, Washington: Jay Gruden is running out of people to bench. Jones sat Week 6's tough matchup against the Jets with a toe sprain, Alfred Morris squandered the opportunity and got benched, then Chris Thompson left the game with a back injury. All three should probably still be owned, but none are better than desperation flex plays in even 14-team leagues for their Week 7 matchup against the Buccaneers.

If one of these three is scratched or out, the other two get bumped up to the top-35 for the week in all formats by default of facing Tampa and losing five-to-seven six fantasy relevant RBs to bye weeks. Thompson is much preferable top-30'ish PPR option. Otherwise, we're playing the show-me game or washing our hands of it altogether.

Tier 2: Timeshares with startable options:
Chargers, Broncos, Browns, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Patriots, Bengals

Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, Chargers: Just as this situation was getting messy and headed to Tier 1, Gordon started catching passes, then he got benched for fumbling twice; and, in return, Woodhead became a sixth lineman in the backfield to not get used at all. This offensive line makes it difficult for either back to get carries or run routes.

Woodhead is barely a top-25 PPR option, only because five catches are in the bag for him. But Branden Oliver even got seven carries, just as Woodhead and Gordon. Otherwise, the two are benchable low-end RB3s until some health is restored to the line. As long as the line is bad, San Diego will be passing over 45 times per game and this has Woody dominating the snap count, as their tight end is still Philip Rivers' most trusted receiver.

Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, Broncos: This team. On one hand Ronnie Hillman's 20/111/0 slash tells us that this carousel is over and we know who has the top-12 potential in this backfield. On the other, C.J. Anderson still got 17 touches in this game, playing 40 snaps to Hillman's 44. The fact is that Denver did not have to pass in this game and that favored Hillman. The defense helps to this end, but Anderson picking up blitzes and the more trusted route runner for Captain Checkdown Peyton Manning keeps Hillman's Week 6 volume a fluke.

Anderson was dropped in many leagues and this is a mistake. Hillman is an injury risk and cannot play 60% of snaps because of the liability he poses as a blocker. Anderson is still an RB4 in all formats, though Hillman is trudging his way toward the top-20, as a legit flex option.

Duke Johnson, Jr. and Isaiah Crowell, Browns: Isaiah Crowell is the clear starter and primary back, but the Browns can neither create nor hold a lead and Johnson is dominating the passing downs. Crowell has not cracked 40% of the snap count since Week 3, making him unrosterable outside of 16-team standard leagues.

Johnson has played over half the snaps in Weeks 2 through 5, with over 60% in Weeks 4 and 5. Throw this Week 6 game away for the two in an awful matchup with Denver, where neither could see the field enough, but Johnson may be a top-25 RB in PPR and a great bye week replacement in 12-team standard leagues, as a top-30 play from week to week.

Robert Turbin got ten carries, making Cromwell less ownable. May even rank Turbin over Crowell, purely for speculation. We know what Crowell is; at least there is a possibility for Turbine to be better. If Johnson is out Week 7, Turbin becomes must-own.

Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Christine Michael, Cowboys: The enigmatic Christine Michael has never had double digit touches in an NFL game, but may be the primary rusher for the Cowboys in Week 7 and beyond, as Joseph Randle is doing nothing to win the job. Randle has been a serviceable TD-dependent option for us in fantasy, but the IRL failures are making Dallas explore their options. The surest thing here is Darren McFadden in the passing game, as an RB3 in PPR leagues. Treating Randle and Michael as outside of the top-35 for Week 7 to wait and see is probably the most prudent approach. All thre should be owned in all formats.

Doug Martin and Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Doug Martin is a stud, only hampered by a bad team which is forced to abandon the run when they fall behind. Charles Sims is getting near half the snaps in every game as the passing downs back and is consistently putting up double digit weeks in PPR scoring to make him a safe, legit RB3 to flex. Martin would be top-12 on a better team, but the inconsistent volume will always lower his floors, despite the top-8 ceiling every week.

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: The Patriots will be blowing people out and plodding through with LeGarrette Blount all season. Both are RB2s every week with Dion Lewis getting a PPR boost. In the occasional matchup against tougher teams, where the score can be closer, the risk with Blount rises, but he is among the league leaders in goal line carries and the Patriots get inside the five better than any NFL team. Lewis was limited by a mid-section injury in Week 6 and still played almost 57% of the snaps. These two are the only acts in town and both have diametrically opposing skill-sets to give us faith in their roles.

Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Bengals: Jeremy Hill is the bane of the 2015 fantasy football season. He was selected as an RB1 who is now TD-dependent and he is cutting into Giovani Bernard owners' ceilings. Hill has cracked 4.0 yards per carry only once in six games this season and still got 16 carries. The bright side for Bernard owners is that this was a blowout and maybe Hill was just closing. That said, both are still splitting red zone action. But Cincinnati is 6-0, and as long as they are winning, Hill needs to fumble his way out of the way for Bernard owners.

For Hill owners, he is nothing more than a TD-dependent RB3 right now. At least, his role as a goal line and timeshare back are safe to hope every week, which is more than we can say for Joseph Randle. Hill played 57% of the snaps and has now cracked 50% in all three of the Bengals' blowouts. In the closer-looking matchups, bench him as an RB4 and elevate Bernard to top-10 status.

Tier 3: Timeshare looming:

LeSean McCoy, Bills: Well, this is awkward. Days after reports were saying the LeSean McCoy would miss all of October with a hamstring injury, he was the bellcow, seizing the opportunity granted to him by Karlos Williams' concussion. McCoy is clearly healthy, as he played over 80% of the snaps for a 17/90/1 slash on the day. Has he fully secured his job or are he and Williams splitting for now. Williams should still be owned in all formats, but selling high on McCoy for a decent WR2 would not be a bad idea right about now.

Eddie Lacy, Packers: I am inclined to believe that James Starks' snap count going from 32.9% to 41.9% to 52.8% over the last three weeks is more about Eddie Lacy's health than talent or general trust from the staff. Lacy sprained his ankle in Week 2 and has been limited in practice since. Meanwhile, his weight is noticeably becoming a problem, presumably due to the ankle limiting his mobility to stay well conditioned.

The Packers have a bye in Week 7 and they all have the week completely off. Lacy now has two weeks to rest up and get back in shape. Week 8 and 9 will be tough against the Broncos and Panthers, so we may see a timeshare to preserve Lacy over those two weeks out of the bye. Starks is therefore a must own for the next three weeks where you need a bye week replacement.

But buy low on him when you can because we should expect all systems go after that. Green Bay's schedule from Week 10 through 15 is: vs. Lions, at Vikings, vs. Bears, at Lions, vs. Cowboys, at Raiders. This offense has all of the tools to be matchup-proof at every position and bye weeks cure these ills to make talent win out.

Week 7 RB Depth Charts

Handcuff changes to note:

  • Jeremy Langford, Bears: Jeremy Langford has become the spell back in Chicago and should be owned by Matt Forte owners in 12-team leagues. Forte is a horse, but there is volume-related injury risk. In the case of an injury, Jacquizz Rodgers may hold some PPR value in super deep leagues, but it seems Langford is the clear handcuff.
  • Zac Stacy, Jets: Bilal Powell left Sunday's game with an ankle injury, so that makes room for Zac Stacy. Stacy is primarily a kick returner for the team, but got 15 touches in the Week 6 blowout for 61 yards. Chris Ivory is another volume-related injury risk, so Stacy should be owned by Ivory owners, as this offensive line would make him a top-12 stud in the case of an injury, whereas Powell would just be a PPR flex option.
  • Marcel Reece, Raiders: Just not convinced there is any competence in Oakland's backfield were Latavius Murray to go down. Marcel Reece has been trusted in the past as a PPR beast in the handful of times he has carried the load and would be again if Murray's volume caught up with him. Murray owners should have Reece over Taiwan Jones or even Roy Helu.
  • Javorius Allen, Ravens: Lorenzo Taliaferro was put on IR, so Buck Allen is the clear handcuff to Justin Forsett and legitimate top-40 RB in standard leagues as a goal line back. Forsett has only had five rushes inside the 10 to Allen's three and Taliaferro's two. With only one legitimate backup to Forsett and Forsett's age and skill-set, Allen can find the volume.
  • Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts: Josh Robinson was a healthy scratch on Week 6 right after the Colts brought Ahmad Bradshaw back in. Whether or not Bradshaw can get back to where he was last year, Indy trusts he's healthy enough to do it.
Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Bears Matt Forte Jeremy Langford
Bengals Bernard/Hill Bernard/Hill Giovani Bernard
Bills LeSean McCoy Karlos Williams
Broncos Anderson/Hillman Anderson/Hillman
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson Duke Johnson
Buccaneers Doug Martin Charles Sims Charles Sims
Cardinals Chris Johnson Andre Ellington Andre Ellington
Chargers Woodhead/Gordon Woodhead/Gordon Danny Woodhead
Chiefs West/Davis West/Davis
Colts Frank Gore Ahmad Bradshaw
Cowboys Randle/McFadden Christine Michael Darren McFadden
Dolphins Lamar Miller Jonas Gray
Eagles Demarco Murray Mathews/Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman
49ers Carlos Hyde Mike Davis
Giants Jennings/Williams Jennings/Williams Shane Vereen
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Robinson/Gerhart
Jets Chris Ivory Zac Stacy
Lions Riddick/Abdullah Riddick/Abdullah Theo Riddick
Packers Eddie Lacy James Starks
Panthers Jonathan Stewart Cameron Artis-Payne
Patriots Blount/Lewis Blount/Lewis Dion Lewis
Raiders Latavius Murray Marcel Reece
Rams Todd Gurley Tre Mason
Ravens Justin Forsett Javorious "Buck" Allen
Washington Alfred Morris Matt Jones Chris Thompson
Saints Mark Ingram Robinson/Spiller
Seahawks Marshawn Lynch Thomas Rawls
Steelers Le'Veon Bell Deangelo Williams
Texans Arian Foster Alfred Blue
Titans Antonio Andrews Bishop Sankey
Vikings Adrian Peterson McKinnon/Asiata

Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.