Week 9 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.
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:
- LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: Treating Blount as a bellcow. The Patriots really only use him with big leads, but they always have big leads and he is used extremely often and effectively. He is 12th is fantasy points per game (11.91), 17th in yards per game (63.9), and 18th in carries (98) among active RBs, and tied for 3rd in rushing TDs (5), despite missing a the first game of the season.
Dion Lewis on season-ending IR with a torn ACL opens the door for James White to play passing downs, but do not discount Lewis as an individual. Lewis was 5th among NFL RBs in receptions (36), 3rd in receiving yards (388), and one of only 11 with multiple receiving TDs. With Brandon Lafell back and getting 24 targets over his first three games, expect Lewis more than seven targets per game to be spread out more among the WRs and Rob Gronkowski than to White. White is barely an RB4 in PPR, who should be owned as a desperation flex, but is just a handcuff in standard leagues. Blount's role is safe and his snap count ratio among RBs should go up with more empty backfield sets and Branden Bolden mixed in for blocking.
- Doug Martin, Buccaneers: As much as we love to love Charles Sims, the passing game now entirely--for better of for worse--to Mike Evans, diminishing Sims' fantasy relevance to the low-end RB3 range in PPR, at best. Martin's snap count dipped under 58% for the first time since Week 4, but Sims only got two targets, despite playing 51% of snaps because of gameflow. Sims rushed for an 8/78/0 slash, but that was merely running when giving passing looks. The Bucs struggling to be competitive is Martin's threat for touches more than Sims.
- Danny Woodhead, Chargers: The Chargers can't block, so we barely care about Melvin Gordon anymore. Gordon led the team in carries, but could only muster 31 yards on those 11. Catching the ball is a bonus, but catching three balls was still only good for a little more than eight fantasy points in PPR against a horrid Bears defense. Woodhead, meanwhile, has performed as a top-10 back in all formats--top-five in PPR. Woodhead is the primary back and Gordon is just a handcuff.
- Antonio Andrews, Titans: This was a struggle because it is difficult to start Andrews, but the job is his, as the Titans are reportedly disappointed with David Cobb's conditioning. Andrews played 63% of the snaps in a very competitive game against the Saints, running for a 19/88/0 slash with a 23-yard catch. The Titans can't play the Saints every week, but Mike Mularkey has always been friendly to fantasy owners by sticking to one RB as the primary workhorse. Andrews is safely an RB3, Dexter McCluster is probably just an RB5 in PPR who shouldn't be owned in 12-team leagues, and Cobb is just a must-stash in 12ers..
Tier 1: Renting the starting job
Jeremy Langford, Bears: John Fox was coy in starting Ka'deem Carey on Monday night, but Langford out-touched Carey 21 to 7 and Langford was awesome, accumulating 142 yards from scrimmage and running in a TD. The Chargers are terrible and Langford has a tough Rams matchup in Week 10, so he is still a high-end flex in standard, but an RB2 in PPR until Matt Forte returns, which could be Week 11 against the Broncos.
An expectedly bad Week 11 could create a timeshare role for Langford, so we should treat him as an RB3 until we know that Forte assumes his dominating role back from a knee injury. If Forte is back before Week 12 or 13, chances are he will be playing hurt and on a strict snap count.
Tier 2: Timeshares where everyone is bad
Shaun Draughn and Pierre Thomas, 49ers: Draughn had 96 total yards in 20 touches, including four receptions from Captain Checkdown Blaine Gabbert. Whatever. Draughn may be an RB3 in PPR while Carlos Hyde is out, but we can't trust him in standard leagues and Hyde may be back after the Niners' Week 10 bye. Draughn is droppable, if we can't sell "high" on him for a handcuff or 4th WR.... Wait? Why was Draughn on your roster?
Alfred Blue and Chris Polk, Texans: Whenever Polk assumes the primary role, he will be a decent PPR play. Until then, expect the Texans to keep feeding Blue the ball out of the bye in high volume for no fantasy production, keeping Polk on the sidelines. Blue is barely worth rostering in 16-team leagues. We are better off stashing Polk in deeper leagues.
Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: WTF? Seriously, WTF?!? Is this sucking for Jared Goff? Matt Jones had the opportunity, but squandered it, once again, running for an 11/27/0 slash. The Patriots interior defense is among the worst in the NFL against the run, so there was no excuse for him to not get holes. Jones is only rosterable in a keeper league; Thompson's PPR relevance is nil, considering only two targets in a game where Washington was behind and Kirk Cousins threw 40 times. As long as Jordan Reed is healthy, he will usurp the passing volume with Pierre Garcon and--a now active--DeSean Jackson.
Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, and Shane Vereen, Giants: Going to stay cautious on Vereen because this backfield is a mess. He has had two straight week of double digit fantasy points in all fractional scoring formats, but the targets are wildly inconsistent to keep him as an RB4 in PPR.
Darkwa was clearly not healthy yet. Andre Williams saw seven carries to waste, Jennings couldn't reach 50 yards in 14 touches, and Darkwa only saw six carries in nine snaps. Darkwa is still an RB4 in standard leagues and Jennings maybe an RB5 in PPR, but you don't want any of this backfield for any other reasons.
Theo RIddick, Ameer Abdullah, and Joique Bell, Lions: Coming off of their Week 9 bye, it will be interesting to see what Jim Bob Cooter has in store for this backfield. The Packers can give up tons of fantasy points to RBs of all sorts, making Riddick a low-ceiling legit flex play in PPR. He is among the top-5 in receptions among RBs this season, but the opportunity to score is too small to start over a WR4.
If Abdullah gets the opportunity, he can still be an RB4, but this line still struggles to block. Wait until we see it. If Bell gets double digit touches, just tear up your ticket and hit the bar.
Tier 3: Timeshares with a startable option
Marcel Reece and Taiwan Jones, Raiders: Marcel Reece can do it all. We should hope that this Raiders regime is unlike those in the past and recognize that. If so, Reece is a top-15 PPR RB as long as Latavius Murray (concussion) misses time. Over his career as a fullback on paper, Reece is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and ten per reception with high snap counts as a pass blocker. Jones has touched the ball no more than five times in a game in about the last four years.
Concussions are weird, so Reece is a must-own until Murray plays, no matter what the reports. Jones is just a big play, TD-dependent stash. He will start against the Vikings in Murray's absence, but we cannot expect much more than replacement level.
James Starks and Eddie Lacy, Packers: This pains me to write, as I have been bullish on Lacy all season, but he may be a couple of weeks from any hope for fantasy relevance, if he reaches it again at all this season. Lacy pulled his groin and left Sunday's game without returning. Starks is an RB2 in Lacy's absence or presence. The bet hope for Lacy is resting until the Thanksgiving game against the Bears to feast once again. Mike McCarthy clearly wants Lacy to be successful. We have seen McCarthy weather the hard times with a kicker, of all people, don't forget.
Duke Johnson, Jr. and some other guys, Browns: Johnson doesn't get many touches, but he keeps producing with the little catches he gets, meeting RB3 levels in PPR formats with nice upside. Robert Turbin and Isaiah Crowell should not be rostered. Johnson now has 11.8 PPR fantasy points or more in four of the Browns' last six games and should keep playing 45% of the snaps or more, rest of season for those chances, as Cleveland continues to play from behind very often, no matter which QB is under center.
Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, Broncos: W in T actual F? The Broncos were down early, so Hillman's seven carries is whatver. But only one yard from him? And C.J. Anderson still not used in the passing game? Hillman is a poor man's LeGarrette Blount on a team that struggles to accumulate points for the blowouts, despite a great defense. He can't block, so Anderson will continue to split the snaps.
Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Bengals: Jeremy Hill is the worst. He has had 15 carries in two straight games with 16 the game before, scoring only one TD and scoring 52-to-60 yards in those games. He just plods to nowhere.
Meanwhile, Bernard is back on track with 14 touches in an easy win, rushing for a 13/72/0 slash. Odd that his passing usage has plummeted, though. He has seen only six targets over their last three games, which is concerning, as Marvin Jones is healthy and Tyler Eifert is beasting. Both are RB3s; Hill maybe an RB4, as he can't even take advantage of great matchups.
Tier 3: Timeshares with multiple starting options
LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, Bills: Here we go, again. Karlos Williams hadn't played since Week 4 due to a concussion, but returned with a ridiculous 9/110/2 slash. He is big play dependent, but keeps making them, threatening LeSean McCoy (16/112/1) to play through a shoulder injury on a short week, Thursday. Both are startable RB2s and Williams has the RB1 upside of McCoy aggrevating that injury and missing time.
Week 10 Depth Charts
- Ka'Deem Carey, Bears: Adding him as a handcuff to Langford. Forte's MCL injury has an unknown timetable, so Langford owners should be safe and grab Carey for the end of their benches.
- Jay Ajayi, Dolphins: Ajayi debuted with a 5/41/0 slash against a staunch Bills run defense. He is a must-own for Lamar Miller owners and Jonas Gray is irrelevant now that Ajayi is clearly healthy and the much more talented back.
|Bears||Jeremy Langford||Ka'Deem Carey|
|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|
|Chargers||Danny Woodhead||Melvin Gordon|
|Chiefs||Charcandrick West||Knile Davis|
|Colts||Frank Gore||Ahmad Bradshaw|
|Cowboys||Darren McFadden||Christine Michael|
|Dolphins||Lamar Miller||Jay Ajayi|
|Falcons||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman|
|49ers||Shaun Draughn||Pierre Thomas|
|Giants||Rashad Jennings||Orleans Darkwa||Shane Vereen|
|Jaguars||T.J. Yeldon||Toby Gerhart|
|Jets||Chris Ivory||Zac Stacy|
|Panthers||Jonathan Stewart||Cameron Artis-Payne|
|Patriots||LeGarrette Blount||James White||James White|
|Rams||Todd Gurley||Tre Mason|
|Ravens||Justin Forsett||Javorius "Buck" Allen|
|Washington||Matt Jones||Alfred Morris||Chris Thompson|
|Saints||Mark Ingram||C.J. Spiller||C.J. Spiller|
|Seahawks||Marshawn Lynch||Thomas Rawls|
|Steelers||DeAngelo Williams||Isaiah Pead|
|Texans||Alfred Blue||Chris Polk|
|Titans||Antonio Andrews||David Cobb||Dexter McCluster|
|Vikings||Adrian Peterson||Jerick McKinnon|
Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.