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Week 14 Fantasy Running Back Depth Charts & Volatility: Demarco Murray & Ryan Mathews Now a Timeshare

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.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Week 13 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.

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:

  • The Giants, Texans, Titans, Browns, Washington RBs: We are in playoff mode. There is no reason to be rostering Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Isaiah Crowell, or Chris Thompson. Shane Vereen and Duke Johnson, Jr. as a PPR stashes or Antonio Andrews in any format for the desperate situation of our starting RB with an unattainable handcuff going down is reasonable, but that is about it. There is literally nothing else to reasonably gain with them.

Tier 1: Timeshares where no one is startable

Chargers


Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, Chargers:
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Only weeks ago, Danny Woodhead was a top-10 RB in standard and top-5 in PPR. This offense has become a complete mess. It started with the injuries to the line, then Antonio Gates being up and down, to Keenan Allen being lost for the year. It is reasonable to roster these two, but Woodhead is the only must-own as a high-upside RB3 in PPR. I was going to throw the numbers at you, but we do not need convincing that there is little hope for this situation.

Tier 2: Timeshares with a startable option

Lions, Bengals, Broncos, Chiefs, Packers


Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, and Joique Bell, Lions: Riddick has been a viable flex option in PPR leagues and Abdullah has had 14, 17, and 13 touches the last two weeks. They are both rosterable, but it is hard to see a playoff team getting to the playoffs and having to flex these guys in 12-team leagues over a WR.

Riddick has 39.5 PPR points in the Lions last three games. The Lions face the Rams, Saints, 49ers, and Bears to close the season, so there is room to play either of the two at least twice. Dare I call them both RB3s because of this schedule? Definitely RIddick in PPR, but the swings are too heavy to have them in the top-35 for standard leagues.

Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Bernard's snap rate has gone down each of the last four weeks from 73.1% in Week 9 to 68.4% to 45.8% to 32.8%. Despite only six touches in Week 13, we can still probably bank on 12-14 touches for him, but the ceiling is very low in standard leagues and he's basically a slightly better Riddick in PPR.

Hill has had 51 carries and three TDs in the last two weeks, so the Bengals strategy to secure home field in the playoffs clearly is riding through Hill, who is a TD-dependent volume RB3. Flex them both in PPR, but only Hill in standard leagues.

Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Juwan Thompson, Broncos: Thompson is only in this mix if Anderson misses time because Hillman does not play many passing downs. Hillman has maybe slipped under Hill. He is better for yardage, but not for TDs. He had 22, 15, and 19 touches over the last three games, but the TDs have gone down.

Still ranking Hillman ahead of Hill because the yards per carry with more volume has to regress toward more TDs. Helps to still have the Raiders and Bengals in Weeks 14 and 16 with the Chargers in Week 17 to keep him in RB2 territory, despite his ceiling being closer to 55% of snaps than 60%.

Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, Chiefs: West's first game back was more pass-heavy, but he played 66.7% of snaps. This isn't the 80% domination he had before pulling his hamstring, but we can likely chalk this up to easing him back. But if this is a timeshare with Ware, we should still expect at least 18 touches for West, who is averaging 10.4 fantasy points per 15 touches in standard leagues this season.

Still treating him West an RB1, though Ware is a boom-bust PPR flex in, maybe, 12-team leagues. The schedule to close the season is great. They get the Chargers, Ravens, Browns, and Raiders. Doesn't get better than that.

Eddie Lacy and James Starks, Packers: Don't start James Starks. Eddie Lacy was benched in most of Week 13 because he was late for a meeting. This is the second time this season Mike McCarthy has done this to send a message to Lacy. This was perfect timing to ride him, rest of season. We should still be careful because Lacy's effectiveness is volume-based, so he may be blowout-dependent. Stayin bullish on him as a top-20 play, other than Week 16 at Arizona.

Tier 3: Timeshares with multiple startable options

Patriots, Jets, Eagles, Bears

LeGarrette Blount and James White, Patriots: Blount is still the volume rusher, but White has emerged as the de facto slot receiver. White is not the talent that Dion Lewis is, but 6-8 catches for more than 50 yards with 100-yard scoring upside makes him a low-end RB2 in PPR and a flex in standard leagues.

Blount is falling to RB3 levels, averaging only 3.56 yards per carry, but no one is cutting into the 13-18 carries he should consistently get. Blount is basically Jeremy Hill in a better offense right now. He has gone three straight weeks without a TD, but touches in this offense equals TDs, so keeping him as a top-20 play. Hey, he has more upside than Lacy.

Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, Jets: With Powell healthy, the Jets don't have to run Ivory into walls. The Jets are not blocking the run well. His touches have not suffered much, as 15 is probably his floor from week to week and somehow the yards per carry stay comfortably over 4.0, so Ivory remains a top-15 RB, despite Powell's availability

in the pass game again.

The Jets found themselves down by ten after the Giants scored 20 in the second quarter in Week 13, so Powell was on the field for 43 snaps to Ivory's 30, but Ivory still got his 15 touches. Is Powell 8/91/1 line in the pass game repeatable? No, Powell should be in the 40% snap range and be a safe PPR flex for James White type volume with less scoring upside.

Demarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles, Eagles: Mathews (concussion) is expected to return in Week 14 after missing the last three weeks. He scored six TDs in the Eagles first games, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, while active in the passing game with 14 catches. Murray's dwindling touches to single digits is perplexing, but they have trended downward after consistently smashing 20 touches with Mathews active.

We cannot predict this timeshare, but we can probably safely treat Murray as an RB2 and Mathews as a flex against a struggling Bills run defense this week and then we can re-evaluate. Sproles is still just a desperation high-upside flex in PPR, despite his 19 touches in Week 13.

Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford, Bears: The Bears are out of the playoffs and reports are that Forte will be a free agent after the season. Does this mean they limit Langford's touches to the 12-14 range and run Forte into the ground with 18-20 or split them? We don't know, but both are low-end RB2s with chances to get into the end zone every week.

Week 14 RB Depth Charts

Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Bears Forte/Langford Forte/Langford
Bengals Jeremy Hill Giovani Bernard Giovani Bernard
Bills LeSean McCoy Karlos Williams
Broncos Ronnie Hillman C.J. Anderson
Browns Duke Johnson, Jr. Isaiah Crowell
Buccaneers Doug Martin Charles Sims Charles Sims
Cardinals David Johnson Andre Ellington Andre Ellington
Chargers Danny Woodhead Melvin Gordon Danny Woodhead
Chiefs Charcandrick West Spencer Ware Spencer Ware
Colts Frank Gore Dan Herron
Cowboys Darren McFadden Robert Turbin
Dolphins Lamar Miller Jay Ajayi
Eagles Murray/Mathews Mathews/Sproles Darren Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman
49ers Shaun Draughn
Giants Rashad Jennings Orleans Darkwa Shane Vereen
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Toby Gerhart
Jets Chris Ivory Bilal Powell Bilal Powell
Lions Theo Riddick Ameer Abdullah Theo Riddick
Packers Eddie Lacy James Starks
Panthers Jonathan Stewart Cameron Artis-Payne
Patriots LeGarrette Blount White/Bolden James White
Raiders Latavius Murray Jamize Olawale
Rams Todd Gurley Benny Cunningham
Ravens Javorius "Buck" Allen Terrance West
Washington Morris/Jones Morris/Jones Chris Thompson
Saints Mark Ingram Spiller/Hightower
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.