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Week 8 Fantasy Running Back Depth Charts & Volatility: Darren McFadden is the Cowboys Starter

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 7 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:

  • Darren McFadden, Cowboys: We knew that Joseph Randle was on an extremely short leash for Week 7 and that Darren McFadden (29/152/1) was going to elevate his role in the passing game. But #fantasyexperts were very, very wrong on a split with Christine Michael. Michael had a bye week to slip ahead of McFadden as the primary rusher to replace Randle, and obviously impressed no one, as McFadden dominated the volume:

    Week 7 Cowboys RBs
    Player Snaps Carries Targets
    Darren McFadden 59 29 2
    Joseph Randle 5 2 0
    Christine Michael 7 5 1

    It is very safe to say we can give up the ghost on Michael. He and Randle are merely handcuffs to McFadden. McFadden is an injury risk, so the great offensive line gives him great top-12 value when he plays, but it is difficult to expect the rest of season. Then, we can discuss Michael. Until then, let's just stop.

  • Charcandrick West, Chiefs: Not totally convinced that Charcandrick West (22/110/1) is good enough to be great, but we can be sure that he has no competition, for the time being. He looks much better than Knile Davis, and the coaching staff agrees, playing West on 87% of the snaps. This is the look of a solitary primary back if we can ever see one.

  • Mark Ingram, Saints: Mark Ingram only played 50% of the snaps and was spelled/vultured by Khiry Robinson, largely due to fatigue and the rare gameflow of playing with a lead. Both Ingram and Robinson got 14 carries for clock control, but Ingram is still the only startable option here in standard league. C.J. Spiller had a 6/32/0 slash in the pass game, so stays in the RB4 picture in PPR leagues, but this is not a timeshare.

  • Chris Johnson, Cardinals: Andre Ellington is nothing more than an RB5 handcuff in standard and an all--purpose RB4 in PPR. Chris Johnson (18/122/1) only played 44% of the snaps, but carried the ball on 18 of his 27 snaps to Ellington's five carries.

    When Arizona wants to run, Johnson is on the field to do it and do it often and effectively. When Ellington is on the field, he is behind Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and even Michael Floyd in the pecking order for passes.

Tier 1: Timeshares where everyone is bad

Texans, Titans, Giants, Washington

Alfred Blue and Chris Polk, Texans: It seems like Alfred Blue will start for now, but Chris Polk is clearly the better pass blocker and receiver. Seeing as the Texans cannot tackle anybody, Houston will have to throw. Blue should be owned, just in case, but treated as an unstartable RB4; Polk is a legitimate RB3 in PPR and should definitely be owned in all formats. Just wait on this one before starting either.

Antonio Andrews and Dexter McCluster, Titans: Throwing Bishop Sankey and his two snaps in Week 7 out the window. This job is a clear timeshare with Antonio Andrews (10/57/0) as the primary rusher and Dexter McCluster (5/20/0; 6/48/0 in the pass game) as the passing downs back.

The problem with starting Andrews is not that he is bad, but that his defense is so terrible that they cannot sustain a rushing attack. Therefore, even in a close game like Sunday, McCluster played 72% of the snaps. Sankey out of the picture is clearly better for McCluster to sniff RB3 value in PPR than for Andrews to be a flex option in standard leagues.

Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, and Shane Vereen, Giants: Andre Williams has been terrible and has been phased out by Orleans Darkwa. Coughlin's Giants have a history of fantasy-relevant goal line backs--Ahmad Bradshaw in 2009, Brandon Jacobs in 2010 and 2011, and Andre Brown in 2012.

This makes us take notice of Orleans Darkwa's 8/48/1 line in Week 7. Darkwa only played 14 snaps to Rashad Jennings' 11, so we don't know anything yet, but Jennings is the larger of the two and had six rushes inside the 10 in the first five games. We cannot start either in any format, even this week against the Saints, but they are both worth owning if the roles become clear and the Giants get their dung together.

Shane Vereen remains an RB4 in PPR with Spiller and Ellilngton, where you cannot bank of TDs, but only hope and pray for volume in the pass game out of desperation. Even if injuries hampered this backfield, the passing attack is such a mess right now that we cannot be sure it would matter. Darkwa will be widely owned by Wednesday morning in our leagues and we should feel fine about missing him on waivers in leagues where they do not reset every week, according to standings; otherwise, he is definitely worth a speculation claim.

Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: The good news is that we know that Matt Jones is the primary rusher for Washington. The bad news is that we cannot be sure that team is capable of effectively rushing the ball anymore. Jones saved his 9/29/0 rushing slash in PPR with a 3/22/0 day in the pass game to give us RB4 production, but this was a game where Washington gave up 24 points in the first half and had to abandon the run. The defense is porous and this should continue.

Unfortunately, for Jones owners, Chris Thompson--the passing downs back--should return after their Week 8 bye against the Patriots and we know what that should mean for the scoreboard. Thompson should be an RB3 in PPR formats with Jones as a very risky flex option in 14-team standard leagues.

Tier 2: Timeshares with one startable option:

Lions, Browns, and Chargers

Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, Lions: The Lions defense is not allowing them to run the ball. Ameer Abdullah (8/43/0) looked really well running the ball for the first time since Week 1, but Detroit needs to pass to win, and those snaps belong to Theo Riddick. Riddick played 30 snaps to Abdullah's 12. The good sign for Abdullah owners to hope he becomes a viable flex option is that Joique Bell (3/21/0) also got 12 snaps, and Bell is a terrible outing away from being phased out.

Riddick's Week 7 was unimpressive, but has 10-touch upside every week for low-end RB3 value in PPR if Detroit quits on the run. And that time has to be approaching. In Week 8, against the Chiefs, we should learn more about this situation, but all three are very risky. Abdullah may be the best flex option here where we are desperate.

Duke Johnson, Jr., Isaiah Crowell, and Robert Turbin, Browns: The Browns are another terrible defense forcing their team to abandon the run. Isaiah Crowell and Robert Turbin are splitting the rushing duties and doing nothing worth rostering to maybe fall out of the top-40.

Duke Johnson, Jr. (7/73/0 in the pass game), meanwhile, has had six or more catches in four of the last five weeks; Week 7 being the first week all season he has played less than 40% of the snaps. The Browns host the Cardinals in Week 8, so expect that snap count to rise, as Cleveland will be throwing a ton, no matter who the starting QB is. Johnson is a legit flex option in all PPR leagues.

Danny Woodhead, Melvin Gordon, and Branden Oliver, Chargers: The Chargers are a total mess. The line is banged up, so they can't run, even if they had the chance. The defense is not giving them that chance and those runs are being split by three running backs. Melvin Gordon (7/29/0) is the one hurt most by the addition of Branden Oliver (9/35/0) to the mix, as Danny Woodhead (5/26/0; 11/75/2 in the pass game) still played over 45% of the snaps:

Gordon's Week 7 was the second week in a row of less than 17% of the snaps and no targets in the pass game, while Oliver was used in a third of the snaps and very often in the pass game. Gordon is a handcuff stash we can neither start nor drop nor trade, while Woodhead is a legit RB2 in all formats and Oliver is sneaking in as a possible top-30 PPR play, who is definitely worth a waiver claim in those formats.

Tier 3: Timeshares with multiple starting options

Bengals, Buccaneers, and Patriots

Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Bengals: We cannot know what to expect from this team after the bye week, but their faith remains in Jeremy Hill, as far as we know, and that should be good enough to keep him as a TD-dependent RB3 flex. Giovani Bernard is being kept out of the end zone by this dynamic, but the usage and efficiency is still of top-15 value in all formats. Love them both in Weeks 8 through 10 against the Steelers, Browns, and Texans. We should buy Hill low now where we can in standard scoring leagues and re-evaluate him after this juicy stretch.

Doug Martin and Charles Sims, Buccaneers: This team is still terrible and Jameis Winston is still as volatile as any rookie QB should be, but there is some explosion here as they accept their identity. Doug Martin is the primary rusher with no doubt and getting 53% of the snaps this season, but Charles Sims is pulling up with 43% of snaps. The Bucs were up 24-0 early in this game and tried to coast with Martin, so he finished with 40 snaps to Sims' 23, as Sims was limited to 39% of snaps in their Week 5 victory.

The wheels fell off and Tampa lost 31-30 to a bad Washington squad. This has to sting the psyche and teach the Bucs that they cannot abandon the pass too early. Either way, the Bucs are at Atlanta in Week 8, so Martin will get his 18 touches, but Sims will see half the snaps with passing volume once again. Buy low on Sims in PPR leagues. He's still a top-30 RB3.

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: Throw Week 7 away in your mental recycle bin. The Jets are a great run defense and Bill Belichick put stubbornness aside to utilize his greatest strength in Tom Brady over forcing the run. Dion Lewis missed the game, but is still an RB2 in all formats when he plays. LeGarrette Blount is still an RB2, but is matchup-dependent; where the Pats can expect to blow a team out, he is top-10, where they aren't, he is barely top-30.

Buy low on both where you can, as they should both kill over the next four weeks against the Dolphins, Washington, Giants, and Bills--especially Blount in at least three of those four. As unpredictable as Belichick is, there is no competition. If there were, we would have seen some of it with Lewis out of Week 7 and we didn't. James White is only a handcuff.

Tier 4: Timeshare looming

Packers, Bills, and Colts

Eddie Lacy, Packers: Eddie Lacy may not start on Sunday night against the Broncos. Whether it is due to injury, poor play, or being too fat, the situation is not prime for James Starks to solidify the job. If Eddie Lacy can get his ankle healthy enough to get back in shape, this job is back to being his, as I'm not convinced that his benching in Week 6 was mostly due to injury. Coming off of a bye, we still may not learn more this week, but a great Starks performance in this tough not-Chargers matchup is when we should panic on Lacy.

Starks should be owned in all leagues. Lacy owners should be trading for Starks without a startable RB3. But Lacy should not be sold low. The offense is too great for that.

LeSean McCoy, Bills: LeSean McCoy is playing just fine. He can get 100 yards on 20 touches. But we cannot guarantee his volume whenever Karlos Williams finally passes concussion protocols. And Williams-McCoy will be a true timeshare of two startable options. Until then, neither Boobie Dixon nor Dan Herron are rosterable, even as handcuffs.

Frank Gore, Colts: Frank Gore got 14 touches to Ahmad Bradshaw's two in Week 7, and played better than the box score shows, so what is there to discuss here? The timeline may be of concern for Gore owners, as Bradshaw may be easing into the timeshare role at which he excelled when healthy last year.

On October 14, the Colts signed Bradshaw off the street. Days later he played 23% of the snaps. A week later, he played 46% of snaps. If the Colts continue to fail, he could start seeing the passing volume in those snaps that we saw last season--five targets or more in seven of ten games and eight TDs. If Gore loses passing volume, his snap count could go with it.

Bradshaw should be owned by all Gore owners and stashed in PPR formats.

Week 8 RB Depth Charts

Team Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Bears Matt Forte Langford/Rodgers
Bengals Giovani Bernard Bernard/Hill
Bills LeSean McCoy Karlos Williams
Broncos Ronnie Hillman C.J. Anderson
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson Duke Johnson
Buccaneers Doug Martin Charles Sims Charles Sims
Cardinals Chris Johnson Andre Ellington Andre Ellington
Chargers Danny Woodhead Gordon/Oliver
Chiefs Charcandrick West Knile Davis
Colts Frank Gore Ahmad Bradshaw
Cowboys Darren McFadden Michael/Randle
Dolphins Lamar Miller Jonas Gray
Eagles Demarco Murray Mathews/Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman
49ers Carlos Hyde Mike Davis
Giants Rashad Jennings Orleans Darkwa Shane Vereen
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Toby Gerhart
Jets Chris Ivory Zac Stacy
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 Taiwan Jones
Rams Todd Gurley Tre Mason
Ravens Justin Forsett Javorius Allen
Redskins Matt Jones Alfred Morris Chris Thompson
Saints Mark Ingram Robinson/Spiller C.J. Spiller
Seahawks Marshawn Lynch Thomas Rawls
Steelers Le'Veon Bell Deangelo Williams
Texans Blue/Polk Blue/Polk Chris Polk
Titans Antonio Andrews Dexter McCluster Dexter McCluster
Vikings Adrian Peterson Jerick McKinnon

Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.