Week 3 of the 2015 fantasy football season projects to be the week of the grinder running backs. With injuries to quarterbacks handcuffing offenses to the run and blowouts on the horizon, there are a slew of RBs who should get great volume to produce, regardless of how pretty it looks.
We don't need pretty. We need fantasy points and that begins with RBs who actually touch the football.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Bears
We are never benching Lynch, but he has neither broken 75 yards nor scored a touchdown in the first two weeks of the season. There is a temptation to panic and sell low to recoup losses earlier rather than suffer through under-production week-after-week, especially when we are 0-2. Never fear, though, the Bears are here.
Eddie Lacy ran for a 19/85/1 slash in Week 1. The unspectacular Chris Johnson went for 72 yards in 20 carries, and David Johnson spelled him for a 5/42/1 slash in Week 2. Moreover, the longest run the Bears have given up is only 16 yards, but in the bottom-third of in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.3) and number of runs allowed over ten yards (8). All Lynch needs is volume and he should get it.
Over the last six quarters, the Bears have had win probabilities under 30% for 17:35 of the 90 minutes, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. With Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, that trend will only get worse and Seattle will run it down Chicago's throats with big leads in a game where Vegas has the Seahawks as dominating 14.5-point favorites at home, as of this article's publication.
Latavius Murray at Cleveland
An option who constantly presents discussion is Murray, but he is must-start this week. There is zero competition for carries, as he has carried the ball on 26 of the Raiders' 32 designed runs over the first two weeks.
With Cleveland is 29th in the league, allowing nearly five YPC, there is almost a guaranteed 18+ touches for Murray at high levels of efficiency plodding between the tackles, on the outside, and in the passing game. The Raiders offense may not be the definitive top-level offense we saw in Week 2 against the Ravens, but it shouldn't slow down against a Browns defense which is decent enough against the pass that Oakland--traveling west to east--should be exploiting their bad run D with a bellcow day for Murray.
Mark Ingram at Panthers
Drew Brees (shoulder) may not play in Week 3, but even if he does, his effectiveness will be highly questionable. Against a top-8 run defense in Carolina, the Saints will have to lean on Ingram. It may not be pretty because the matchup is bad, but consider that the Panthers may be without Luke Kuechly (concussion) and there may be a weakness for Sean Payton to exploit.
Carolina has been giving efficient production to opposing RBs in some situations where it is easier to run. They are giving up 4.5 yards per carry (YPC) in 14 1Q runs, a whopping 5.1 on eight of 24 2nd and 10 or more to go, 4.5 and a TD on two 4th and short carries, 4.1 in their own zone, and 4.4 and three 1st downs in 14 plays from the shotgun.
Ingram is known as a plodder and should get the opportunity to carry the team on his back between the tackles, but he also has 20 rush yards on four carries and ten catches for 107 from the shotgun this season. Will he average 4.5 per carry on Sunday? Probably not over four, but 25 touches and a monopoly on the goal line offense should yield sweet fantasy returns.
Alfred Morris and Matt Jones at Giants
The Giants are only allowing 3.0 YPC, but Jay Gruden DGAF. Washington can't pass with Kirk Cousins at the helm and they ran it down the throats of a very strong, athletic Rams front in Week 2, despite St. Louis shutting down Lynch the week before. Running the ball 37 times again this week against the Giants is a tall task, but not impossible, even if the game is as close as Vegas projects it (Giants -4).
In 18 games with Gruden, Morris has the fourth-most carries in the NFL (308) and is leading the NFL two weeks through this season with 43. As for Jones, he should spell Morris often, but the offense is dependent on the backfield that there is more than enough cheese to go around.
Jones is the receiving back in this offense, who can breakout in this game as a weapon in the little pass game Washington can sustain. The Giants have given up 19 catches for 205 yards to RBs through the first two weeks.
Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and (gulp) Darren McFadden vs. Falcons
This is not a very strong matchup for the Cowboys, as Atlanta has shut down Demarco Murray and Rashad Jennings in Weeks 1 and 2. That said, Murray and Jennings were shut down in their respective other games, too, and the brain cannot wrap around the Falcons as a good run defense.
With Tony Romo (clavicle) on short-term IR, Dez Bryant (foot) out for months himself, and Jason Witten running out of ligaments to tear, the Cowboys have no other choice than use this three-headed backfield attack. Randle leads the way with 38 touches this season, Dunbar with 13 targets, and McFadden has 19 touches. Randle doesn't need to be efficient; he just needs to touch it near 25 times to be an RB2 this week; Dunbar only needs the targets he is already getting for PPR relevance; and all of these touches to Randle and Dunbar could create opportunities for McFadden to vulture a TD or actually use his elite speed to take advantage of a big hole and break off a big one for a deep desperation play.
Chris Ivory vs Eagles
The Eagles defense is without their great middle linebacker, Kiko Alonso, and Chip Kelly DGAF about time of possession. Kelly being more concerned with total plays run and wearing down a defense with speed allows for opponents to get tons of plays in for their own offense. Since Kelly entered the league as a head coach for Philly in 2013, their opponents have run the most plays, and are facing 70 plays per game from their opponents this season.
Ivory has been a machine, gathering 148 yards at 4.4 YPC over the first two weeks of the season. His 34 carries consist of 27.9% of the 122 plays the Jets offense has run this season.
Translated to 70 plays, that's 19-20 designed runs for him. Philly hasn't allowed a rushing TD yet and is only allowing 3.1 YPC this season, but there is enough volume for yardage to be accumulated by Ivory where a TD is more a luxury than a necessity.
T.J. Yeldon at Patriots
On one hand, the Patriots should tan the Jaguars' hides, as Vegas has them 13.5-point favorites. On the other, their defense is so weak up the middle that they're at the bottom of the league in YPC allowed (5.7) and have allowed three rushing TDs.
This season, Deangelo Williams, Lesean McCoy, and Karlos Williams have combined for 129 yards on 25 carries up the middle against New England.
26 of Yeldon's 37 carries this season have not only been between the tackles, but between the guards directly up the gut against stout Panthers and Dolphins run defenses. His volume will be a question due to gameflow, but 19 of their 55 runs have come in the first quarter, so winning the coin toss and preventing TDs on one of the Pats' first two drives can get Yeldon 20+ carries again and the efficiency should be very high.
LeGarrette Blount vs Jaguars
Where Yeldon can yield us fantasy value in the first half up the middle, Blount can dominate the ball late in a blowout.
Including the playoffs, the Patriots have run the ball 48.4% of the time when up by ten or more. In the ten of those games Blount has been the lead back for Bill Belichick, accumulating 63 carries on 208 plays run when up by ten or more for a 30.3% share of the Pats offense.
It would be so Belichickean to make Week 3's awesome matchup for Dion Lewis--who has fumbled in both games--the week when he begins using Blount as a high-volume closer. Could be a sneaky deep flex in standard play or contrarian DFS value pick.