clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fantasy Football RB Depth Charts & Volatility: Week 4

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.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Marshawn Lynch (hamstring) played hurt and left Sunday's game early. His status for Week 4 is unknown, but this feels like it will remain annoying for fantasy owners because Lynch is pretty much never inactive.

Demarco Murray (hamstring)  was a late scratch for Week 3 and Ryan Mathews had a monster game against a solid Jets defense to argue against the Eagles rushing problems being more about the offensive line than Murray. Not implying that Murray is bad, but we have to question if he was playing hurt, at the least. Leaving the Eagles off of the Volatility List for this week, but Mathews and Darren Sproles should be owned in all formats.

Speaking of hamstrings, Lesean McCoy is likely playing hurt. The passing game is efficient and Karlos Williams is spelling him with success, so he should be owned in all formats. The Bills face the Giants in Week 4, who have been stout against the run. Does Rex Ryan trot McCoy out hurt because of his talent, or figure that it will be a tough day to run anyway and sit him?

Thomas Rawls and Jonas Gray need to be our new handcuffs for Lynch and Lamar Miller, respectively. Both primary backs have been banged up and struggling, so we need to protect ourselves here.


As per usual, for every situation that became more clear, there were others that raised more questions. We are still working with tiny sample sizes, so bear with us. Here are all of the volatile RB situations across the NFL, from the jobs at most risk to the least:

Tier 1: Renting the starting job

Alfred Blue, Texans: Ignore his big Week 3. Bishop Sankey killed Tampa, too. He may have solidified this role to take Chris Polk off of his back. We have no clue how long Arian Foster will be out, but he will dominate the role when he returns. If Foster remains out Week 4, Blue has a nice matchup in Atlanta. He's a very risky flex option for volume.

Chris Johnson and David Johnson, Cardinals: For the time being, we have to stay conservative and attribute C.J.'s success to a mixture of talent and situation, but enough situation to say that he will just spell Andre Ellington when Ellington returns from his PCL injury. Ellington can be back as early as this week and we should assume the job is his when he returns as an RB2 in all formats with C.J. as little more than a handcuff who should be owned in all leagues, whether or not we own Ellington.

D.J. is missing out on this opportunity to solidify a role. C.J. is creating a situation where he can be the rusher in a timeshare with Ellington as the receiving back and D.J. as a fantasy-irrelevant special teams guy. If Ellington is out Week 4, C.J. can tear up the Rams as an RB2, but D.J. has fallen to a desperation flex in PPR. The Cards need more competitive games to feel the need to change pace to D.J.

Tier 2: Safe job, but low upside

Isaiah Crowell, Browns: On one hand, Crowell is only getting 3.5 yards per carry (YPC), only had ten carries in Week 4, and no targets to Duke Johnson's seven. On the other, Johnson only got four carries, himself. Considered putting this as the most volatile timeshare, but the upside is so low that there is just enough reason to see Crowell as holding this job until Johnson breaks out.

Lamar Miller, Dolphins: Miller was playing around replacement level before hurting his ankle in Week 2 and was outcarried nine to seven by Jonas Gray in Week 3. Gray has a shot to steal this job somewhere down the road, but the Fins are committed to Miller and we would see a clear timeshare before a significant role change. Even when Miller is healed, there just is not enough rushing volume in this offense to even want to flex him into a lineup for Week 4 against the Jets.

T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars: There is no one in the Jags rushing attack who threatens to steal any of Yeldon's shares in this offense. But the defense allowing so many points so early is forcing Jacksonville to abandon the run. They want to ride Yeldon for 25 carries every week, but the gameflow is always likely to be against them. And when he gets the 20-25 carries, it doesn't really matter because the offensive line is giving him nothing, so his 3.2 YPC is totally sustainable. There should be no surprise if he doesn't significantly regress to the mean.

Tier 3: Unpredictable Timeshares

Antonio Andrews and Bishop Sankey, Titans: Don't lie and say you didn't wonder if the name was made up when you saw that Andrews got 61 yards and a TD on 13 touches against a bad Colts defense. Sankey only got seven touches and Dexter McCluster got six. Expecting McCluster to only get more involved in the passing game could phase out the anemic rushing attack altogether or we will get sub-replacement level production out of Andrews and Sankey splitting carries. Andrews is worth a free agency grab, maybe a waiver claim on ESPN formats where the priority resets every week to the standings; but we shouldn't be giving up high priority in the Yahoo formats where we move to the bottom until others make claims.

Todd Gurley and Tre Mason, Rams: The Benny Cunningham thing seems to be fizzling out to where you can never faithfully start him to predict when the next big game is coming. Gurley returned in Week 3, but is getting eased in slowly. Mason outtouched Gurley ten to seven and we just don't know when Gurley outright takes this job. That said, Mason is unownable and Gurley should be stashed in all formats for when it does happen.

Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings, Giants: Calling Williams the primary rusher for now because of how the shorter 230-pounder is getting his touches:

Week 3 vs Washington
Off. Snaps Carries Targets Carries Inside the 10
Williams 23 14 0 2
Jennings 21 11 3 0

This is just one game and it is still difficult to define who teams' goal line backs are, but this is an extension of 2014 where Williams had six TDs in 19 carries within the 10-yard line, playing all 16 games, and Jennings had three TDs in 14 carries over 11 games. Nothing looks optimistic for Jennings who can't take a receiving role with Shane Vereen healthy and Williams can become a new shiny toy. None of these options are startable against the Bills in Week 4.

C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, Broncos: This situation is becoming a war of attrition. Anderson overcame his turf toe to not miss time, but then missed snaps in Week 3 to be checked for a concussion. Anderson only totaled 27 yards on nine touches, but Hillman was worse, totaling 16 yards in eight carries. Anderson also got 35 snaps to Hillman's 23, so Anderson is clearly the safe primary back until Hillman can reasonably threaten him. They are splitting carries, but Anderson is still more trusted in pass protection, and that is valuable with Peyton Manning as his QB in a Gary Kubiak offense. Talk to five different people and you will hear ten different places to rank Anderson.

Tier 4: Role-based timeshares

Doug Martin and Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Martin is still the only startable option here in all formats and is getting more than two-thirds of the carries week-to-week, but Sims is creating a role in the passing game to change pace. He was on the field for over 50% of the Bucs snaps in Week 3 and has caught seven of his ten targets for 73 yards and a TD this season. The team is not getting much better and the scoreboard will force them to pass, so Sims is slipping into desperation flex territory for PPR leagues, where he is a must-own, and the clear all-purpose handcuff to Martin.

Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Joique Bell Lions: This situation is very similar to the Browns in that they have no primary rusher between the tackles who can do much of anything. Where this is a better situation is that Abdullah has actually proven himself, has not been significantly outtouched by Bell yet this season, and leads all Lions backs in snaps with 86 to Bell's 61.

The complication is Riddick getting 16 targets in 50 snaps in the last two weeks. This is cutting into Abdullah's value more than Bell, who is playing himself onto the practice squad. Abdullah is the only startable Lion; Riddick has desperation flex value and is becoming the clear handcuff; and Bell has no value on a fantasy roster, as he can never actually enter a lineup.

Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, Chargers: Throw Week 3 out the window. San Diego abandoned the run because they were down early, but also because their offensive line is banged up very badly. Gordon is barely startable in 12-team standard leagues until that line rebounds. The snap counts are split close to even for the two, but Woodhead is the receiving and red zone back, so he is the better own.

Neither are being utilized in the red zone lately because San Diego is struggling to get there, but Woody remains an RB2 in PPR and a decent flex in standard against a terrible Browns defense in Week 4, though. The line cuts down on their ceilings, as this should continue to be the Kennan Allen show with Woody checkdowns until further notice.

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: If you're starting one Patriots RB from week-to-week, it's Lewis and you should feel good about that, but in weeks where New England looks to blowout opponents, Blount is a high-end RB2 in all formats. Lewis is an RB2 until further notice, as this is definitely only a two-man show, which is saying something for New England

Blount had six carries within the 10-yard line in Week 3 where he scored three TDs. He will dominate the offense when the Pats are up big, as he always has, but those leads will be built with Lewis' early production.

Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, Washington: Both of these guys have RB1 potential in all formats, but they are cutting into one another. Kirk Cousins won't throw 49 times again, as he did in Week 3, so 15-20 touches to each of these two backs is always in the cards. Morris only saw 12 snaps in this uphill battle, but Jones only saw 26 against a very strong Giants run defense. They get the Eagles in Week 4, who should allow Washington to run over 65 plays, so more than 30 designed runs for these two is completely expected.

Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, Bengals: Hill is not getting the job done and it will be over a month before a soft run defense gets to their schedule again. It is a stretch to say that Bernard may phase Hill out of the offense, but there is no question which of the two owns a larger share of it:

Bengals RBs through Week 3
Off. Snaps Carries Targets Carries Inside the 10
Bernard 123 41 13 5
Hill 81 41 1 6

The parallels between this situation and the Patriots are glaring. The difference is that the Bengals run more often, in general, so Hill is less dependent on an overwhelming commanding lead. The schedule softens greatly after their Week 7 bye, so this is a nice time to buy low on Hill where we can afford to punt him on the next four weeks.

Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar, Cowboys: Brandon Weeden is starting for Dallas for a couple of months, so they will be running a lot, and Randle showed that this offensive line is great. Randle is a legit top-12--if not top-8-- back in all formats until further notice. He has no goal line threat and Darren McFadden's five or seven carries here and there won't affect him.

Dunbar currently leads all RBs in targets (23), receptions (21), and receiving yards (215). Weeden can't get the ball downfield, so this trend should continue to keep Dunbar as a top-25 RB in PPR. There is no more efficient, mutually beneficial timeshare than this in the NFL.

Tier 5: Timeshare looming

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: Freeman pulverized the inefficient Cowboys defense, but has the Texans looming. Cam Newton's Week 2 has skewed the Texans rush defense numbers. They are 19th in the NFL in total rushing yards allowed, but 11th in rushing yards and 9th in fantasy points allowed to RBs.

Coleman is likely out in Week 4, which would make Freeman more of a top-18 back than a top-25, but they will split duties when Coleman returns and we will re-evaluate then.

Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliferro, Ravens: Taliaferro has a foot injury, but Forsett continues to do nothing with his opportunities. He had ten carries and seven targets, but only amassed 29 total yards. The Ravens defense is making things worse by the scores not being run- or checkdown-friendly. Forsett should dominate the backfield on Thursday night against an all-around dreadful Steelers defense.

Forsett can secure his job or underperform himself into a permanent timeshare, which would be a wasteland for him, as he is not utilized near the goal line. Marc Trestman created a record-breaking gameplan for Matt Forte in 2014. That potential is here, but the opportunity is getting squandered.

RB Depth Charts

For the time being, we're expecting Lynch, Murray, and McCoy to play, but leaving Coleman off the chart.

Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Matt Forte Langford/Rodgers
Bengals Jeremy Hill Giovani Bernard Giovani Bernard
Bills Lesean McCoy Karlos Williams
Broncos C.J. Anderson Ronnie Hillman
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson Duke Johnson
Buccaneers Doug Martin Charles Sims
Cardinals David Johnson David Johnson
Chargers Melvin Gordon Danny Woodhead Danny Woodhead
Jamaal Charles Knile Davis
Colts Frank Gore
Cowboys Joseph Randle Darren McFadden Lance Dunbar
Dolphins Lamar Miller Jonas Gray
Eagles Demarco Murray Mathews/Sproles Darren Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman*
Carlos Hyde
Giants Andre Williams Rashad Jennings Shane Vereen
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon
Lions Ameer Abdullah Theo Riddick Theo Riddick
Eddie Lacy James Starks
Patriots Blount/Lewis Blount/Lewis Dion Lewis
Latavius Murray
Rams Todd Gurley Tre Mason
Ravens Justin Forsett Lorenzo Taliaferro
Morris/Jones Jones/Morris
Mark Ingram Khiry Robinson C.J. Spiller
Marshawn Lynch Thomas Rawls*
Steelers Le'Veon Bell Deangelo Williams
Texans Alfred Blue* Chris Polk
Titans Antonio Andrews* Bishop Sankey Dexter McCluster
Adrian Peterson Jerick McKinnon