Week 12 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 more than 15 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. But we are at a point where well over half of the primary jobs are solidified; and--with bye weeks over--handcuffs to our starters are more valuable than replacement level RBs on our bench.
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. Injuries have taken away so many options, bellcows are taking away snaps from receiving backs, and passing down backs are being used so much for blocking as offensive lines have depleted that without three of the top-25 RBs on our roster, we are best off going with low-floor-high-ceiling WRs in our flex spots than RBs with low ceilings.
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:
- LeSean McCoy, Bills: At no point this season has Shady's role been threatened by Karlos Williams, but Williams most recent shoulder injury may remove him as a startable option until we see that he is healthy. McCoy's volume, skill, and the positional scarcity secure him firmly as an rest of season (ROS) RB1.
- David Johnson, Cardinals: Chris Johnson may be out for the season and Andre Ellington is battling turf toe (sprained toe), so D.J. is the best show in town. There may be a threat by a healthy Ellington as early as Week 14, but there is so much reason to believe that the Cardinals do not trust Ellington with a large rushing role, as he would have taken the job from a recently struggling C.J. by now. Treating D.J.--at worst--as a top-20 ROS RB2 with RB1 upside in this high-powered offense. His big play ability, hands, and role make him a must-add and must-start in all formats.
With all of the weapons in this offense, the rookie has 35 carries and 29 targets in only 180 snaps for over 35% of the volume when he is on the field. That is a primary back level of usage. Doubling his snap count may not get him more than 12 carries very often, but we should like him for at least five or six targets every week with double digit upside underneath Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd stretching the field.
- Charcandrick West, Chiefs: West missed Week 12 with a hamstring injury and Spencer Ware (19/114/1) was fantastic for the second week in a row. Not ready to say that this is a looming timeshare, as West has earned so much trust respect from the staff. Hamstrings are tricky and can flare up at any time, so Ware is still an RB3 in all formats if West is active in a decent matchup against the Raiders. If West is out, Ware is a DFS stud.
- Devonta Freeman, Falcons: Freeman missed Week 12 with a concussion and he can return as early as this week in Tampa. Tevin Coleman (18/110/1) was excellent in his start against a good VIkings defense in Freeman's place, but Freeman has been so great that Coleman's deficiencies in the passing game will not win him a fantasy-relevant share of the snaps if Freeman suits up. Coleman is a ROS must-stash, regardless of Freeman's status or performance in Week 13, as concussions are volatile in themselves.
- Shaun Draughn, 49ers: Who knows when Carlos Hyde (foot) will return to the field and Draughn may have won himself a timeshare role as the passing downs back when Hyde returns. A role in which we can fully expect Draughn to see over half of the snaps and outscore Hyde in PPR.
Draughn has had exactly 20 touches in each of the last three games, starting all of them, with 113 receiving yards in 17 catches from 21 targets to add to his middling 3.4 yards per carry. For now, we are treating Draughn as a starter with very safe RB3 startability in PPR. The Niners face the Bears and Browns in the next two weeks, so TD regression is a hope with 20 touches per game, but sometimes a situation just sucks for getting in the end zone, and this disaster of a team is one of them, so he is probably in that RB4 range where a handcuff is more valuable than him on our bench in standard leagues.
- Antonio Andrews, Titans: There is no doubt that Andrews is the primary RB in Tennessee. He gets double digit carries almost every week. But he does nothing with them and the Titans cannot sustain a run game behind that line and with a shaky defense that has them throwing to catch up too often. Andrews is worse to own than Draughn and David Cobb is not rosterable in redraft leagues as large as 14 teams.
- Alfred Blue, Texans: Every week since Arian Foster went down for the season, Blue has dominated the touches from the backfield with no threat to take his job. Week 12 was the first time he broke 2.8 yards per carry in that volume, but his 16/77/1 game was against the Saints, so throw it away. You don't want to own him, let alone start him, and there is no one behind him to stash.
Tier 1: Timeshares where no one is startable
Giants, Lions, Browns, Washington, Chargers
Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen, Giants: The Giants are near the point of seeing in Anthony Muñoz can get propped up at that line. Jennings is barely good for 50 total yards and hasn't been in the end zone since Week 4, so his replacement level upside makes us suckers for rostering him, let alone flexing against anyone. Shane Vereen has only seen more than five targets three times this season and has seen four or fewer in six games, so he is not even a factor in this passing game worth flexing anymore in PPR leagues.
Duke Johnson, Jr. and Isaiah Crowell, Browns: With Josh McCown likely out for the season with a broken collarbone, any hope onto which we were clinging for Johnson to regain PPR flex appeal has dissipated. There is no Browns RB worth rostering in redraft leagues.
Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Lions: Theo Riddick has some upside in PPR formats, as this passing attack improves, but that deeper flex appeal is all there is to see here. Nether Bell nor Abdullah are worth rostering in redraft leagues. Riddick has five or more catches in three of the last four games, but his Week 12 TD was only his third of the season.
Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, and Chris Thompson, Washington: Morris got 23 carries in their Week 12 blowout over the GIants for 78 yards. He seems to have a closer role and that may make him a low-end flex in standard leagues again. Washington is on top of the NFC East, despite their 5-6 record, and have three very winnable games ahead against the Cowboys with Matt Cassel under center, the Bears and their bad defense, and the Bills and their regressing defense.
Washington's defense has been really strong at home all year and two of those next three are in D.C., so AlfMo may get you eight or nine in those. Otherwise, Jones is not getting the touches, regardless of gameflow besides two games this year, and Thompson's passing volume is not enough. We really don't want anyone from this backfield, but Morris is the only desperation play we can justify.
Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, Chargers: This pains me to say, but Woodhead is dropping off the face of the fantasy landscape. He will finish as a top-20 overall scoring RB in PPR because of endurance and the first half of the season, but the line is so bad that he needs to help with blocking. When he catches balls, the opposing defenses are swallowing him, and the matchups do not get nice for him ROS, besides Week 15 against the Dolphins. Woody is rosterable and maybe an RB3 ROS, but a WR is a better flex play. Gordon is just a worse version of this.
Tier 2: Timeshares that are confusing
Broncos, Bengals, Bears, Patriots
Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson, Broncos: This situation is what is has been all year: Hillman is the rusher and Anderson is the blocker who will periodically get the ball to not telegraph all of their passing plays. The Broncos defense is still great, but there is a bit of natural regression lately. Moreover, the offensive line is getting moer and more banged up, increasing the necessity for Anderson to get snaps over Hillman.
Both are RB3s with 15-point upside every week, but good luck guessing the week, as nothing is really correlating to matchups other than Hillman's better games being in easier wins, and we cannot be sure that the Broncos ride to the playoffs will be so easy, despite the record with which they should finish.
Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Bengals: Hill has an ankle injury, but isn't expected to miss time. Worse is that he played well in Week 12 with a season-high 86 yards, so we have to be tempted to flex him in a great matchup versus the Browns in Week 13. Bernard is playing around two-thirds of the snaps lately, but 12-18 touches for Hill are what we can bank on, but not that any touches will be good. Bernard is a high-end flex, especially in PPR, who cannot be trusted to score; Hill remains a TD-dependent volume flex.
Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford, Bears: The snap count is not relevant here, as Forte returned from a knee injury on a short week in Week 12, but Langford's continued usage of 13 touches--despite only around 45% of the snaps--matters. The problem is that they may both make each other TD-dependent not breaking 60 or so yards without big plays. Langford has proven himself a strong option in the passing game and as a blocker in the backfield to not overload Forte. And Forte has such a great history of being a stud. It is almost impossible to bench either this week against a Niners defense which does not travel well.
LeGarrette Blount, James White, and Branden Bolden, Patriots: Blount only had nine carries in a close Week 12 game, but that was not only gameflow. He has not had more than 3.5 yards per carry in his last three games. No one else is really going to get near double digit carries and Blount should get 15-20 carries in blowouts, but White and Bolden as receivers in empty backfield sets could make one of the two relevant in PPR leagues.
I doubt that, but what is becoming clear is that Blount is not playing well and Bill Bellichick has a short temper with RBs and is completely fine with Tom Brady dropping back to pass on 40 of 50 plays to build a lead for Blount to close. The injuries throughout the Pats' WR corps could make those leads tougher to build.
Week 13 RB Depth Charts
- Terrance West, Ravens: West got seven carries, mostly in the second half, on Monday evening in a close game. He is the clear handcuff to Javorius Allen.
- Dan Herron, Colts: Ahmad Bradshaw out for the season and Chuck Pagano describing Frank Gore as worn out opens up a role for Dan Herron to become fantasy relevant. The schedule has become tougher for the Colts, though, as their coming opponents--the Steelers, Jaguars, and Texans--have all done well against RBs who are average or worse.
- Jamize Olawale, Raiders: Oakland is not blocking the run very well at all recently, but Olawale is the handcuff for Latavius Murray, but the volume would be questionable should Murray to go down. Marcel Reece would probably be the better handcuff in PPR leagues.
|Bills||LeSean McCoy||Karlos Williams|
|Browns||Duke Johnson||Isaiah Crowell|
|Buccaneers||Doug Martin||Charles Sims||Charles Sims|
|Cardinals||David Johnson||Andre Ellington||Andre Ellington|
|Chiefs||Charcandrick West||Spencer Ware|
|Cowboys||Darren McFadden||Robert Turbin|
|Dolphins||Lamar Miller||Jay Ajayi|
|Falcons||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman|
|Giants||Rashad Jennings||Orleans Darkwa||Shane Vereen|
|Jaguars||T.J. Yeldon||Toby Gerhart|
|Jets||Chris Ivory||Bilal Powell|
|Lions||Joique Bell||Abdullah/Riddick||Theo Riddick|
|Packers||Eddie Lacy||James Starks|
|Panthers||Jonathan Stewart||Cameron Artis-Payne|
|Raiders||Latavius Murray||Jamize Olawale|
|Rams||Todd Gurley||Benny Cunningham|
|Ravens||Javorius "Buck" Allen||Terrance West|
|Washington||Alfred Morris||Matt Jones||Chris Thompson|
|Seahawks||Thomas Rawls||Fred Jackson|
|Steelers||DeAngelo Williams||Jordan Todman|
|Texans||Alfred Blue||Jonathan Grimes|
|Titans||Antonio Andrews||David Cobb|
|Vikings||Adrian Peterson||Jerick McKinnon|
Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.