Week 5 of the 2016 NFL season is over. There is a lot of confusion for owners to fill their RB2 and flex spots, make trades, craft our benches to cover our tails, and to find adequate value in our DFS cash and GPP lineups. Only a dozen teams are in clear situations of whom is startable and how we handcuff them, but the majority of the league always some questions in the backfield.
This weekly post looks 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. Generally, 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.
We are gauging volatility here more situationally than based on the skill of the players. A very talented back can not get the ball enough to trust. 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. Unfortunately, we do not, yet, have much data with which to work. As the season rolls along, usage, snap counts, and gameflow data will enter the fold.
Ranking volatility, one-by-one, is trite and oversimplifying. Instead, we 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.
RBs not mentioned here are just bellcows we plug in every week as top-15 options. Do not worry about them. Handcuff them and be thankful for having them on your roster. There is a reason why they are priced as they are in DFS—safety.
Tier 1: Temporary starters
James Starks, Packers: Not sure the extent of Eddie Lacy’s ankle injury until he actually attempts to use it on the practice field. Lacy was having a great game before the injury, rushing for 81 yards on 11 carries, averaging 6.57 yards per carry over the last six quarters he has played. Starks finished with only 52 yards on 15 touches, but is usually a decent play when he gets those touches. If Lacy is out, he is in a great spot; if Lacy is in, there is PPR flex value, as well.
Tier 2: Backfields with no startable options
Giants, Raiders, Washington
Bobby Rainey, Orleans Darkwa, and Paul Perkins, Giants: No word on when Rashad Jennings returns, but no one is taking the reigns here. Rainey had 74 yards on 12 touches with six catches, playing 50% of the snaps, but this may be his ceiling. Darkwa and Perkins split the other half of the snaps and did nothing. This is a middle of the road offensive line without the backfield talent to transcend any of its shortfalls.
DeAndre Washington, Lataivus Murray, and Jalen Richard, Raiders: Murray was a later inactive for Week 5 and I did not follow my own advice from this column—that if Murray went down, it probably wouldn’t mean anything. Washington was the insta-cash play in DFS at his punt price and probably in GPPs, but the reason to fade him stood true.
The Raiders have been playing the hot hand theory out and this is limiting everyone’s upside. Richard and Washington each had 14 touches, Richard had 97 yards to Washington’s 52, while fullback Jamize Olawale also had seven touches. Just fade until more people get hurt.
Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: Don’t say I have not been warning you. Matt Jones just is not that good. The Washington offensive line is playing very well, at 4.39 adjusted line yards per carry (ALY), second only to the Cowboys’ 4.42, and is seventh in power success rate (83%). But Jones is actually averaging fewer yards per carry past what his line gives him at 4.1 per carry.
This is a rare case where great line performance is not inflating a back’s floor, as Jones showed with only 31 yards on 14 carries against a great Ravens run defense. Hosting Philly’s decent run defense can be OK for Jones, but we should find spots elsewhere to flex, marking our calendars for his Week 7 match in Detroit.
Tier 3: Maybe startable primary backs with safe jobs
Chargers, Colts, Dolphins, Jaguars, Vikings
Melvin Gordon, Chargers: I don’t care how good your quarterback is. When your line is busted up and 3.5 yards per carry is a struggle, TDs alone cannot be a viable saving grace and this is Gordon’s problem. Hosting the Broncos in Week 6 should worsen his TD-dependent floor. His 4.31 yards per carry in Week 5 in Oakland should have the asterisk reminding everyone that the Raiders are allowing 4.9 per carry on the season.
Frank Gore, Colts: Not sure when Gore is playable. This has been true for years, but he cannot even be a safe RB2 outside of an elite matchup. He is guaranteed 15 touches every week and the line is giving him 4.17 of his 4.20 yards per carry, but the TDs just are not there. Josh Ferguson’s 25 targets rank sixth among all NFL RBs to make him someone to watch in PPR leagues, and a must stash where we can in the case Gore gets hurt.
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins: For the first time all season, the Dolphins backfield usage did not look like the Raiders. Ajayi had 13 of the 17 runs Miami called, playing 68% of snaps, in a game where the Dolphins’ win probability was under 35% and falling the entire second half. This offensive line is giving Ajayi an elite 4.30 ALY, so his 3.8 per carry should regress toward the mean, but the Miami line is very banged up. I only stop short for Week 6 because the Steelers are 8th in DVOA against the run.
T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars: I am usually down on Yeldon because the Jaguars offensive line is giving the man the third-worst ALY in the NFL (2.85) and Chris Ivory cuts into at least 50% of his snaps in a normal gameflow. What is startable about Yeldon is that nothing about the Jags’ gameflow is normal.
Starting the season without much to exploit in their favor hurts Yeldon, but the negative game scripts help. Yeldon is averaging over 5.5 targets per game and the ALY shows that his 3.2 per carry is not so much his fault. Against a bad Bears run defense in Week 6, he has the shot at repeating his Week 4 100-yard performance with nearly five catches. Legit PPR RB2, for sure.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings: This is line is bad. The narrative is that it is great because it is built to maximize Adrian Peterson, but its 2.73 ALY is at the bottom of the league. McKinnon needs 25 touches to give what we want and Matt Asiata got 14 carries to McKinnon’s 20 and they split snaps about 55-45 in a positive gamescript. McKinnon is the primary back, but bellcow is a stretch and this line needs to start overperforming. it baffles the mind that Minnesota is 5-0, I don’t care how much defense can be thrown at the wall.
Tier 4: Timeshares with two startable options
Bengals, Browns, Falcons, Jets, Patriots
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Hill (shoulder) is expected to practice this week and both should fair well against the Patriots in Week 6, who are 18th in DVOA against the run and 23rd against RBs in the pass game. Their normal 60-40 split could be closer to 50-50 in a negative gamescript, giving more promise to Bernard while not hurting Hill.
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr, Browns: I am done hating on the Browns run game. Fourth-string Charlie Whitehurst may start Week 6 and their run volume is already high. The line is fourth in ALY, Crowell is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and Johnson 5.3 with Johnson among the backfield league leaders with 28 targets.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: Best two-man backfield in the game and it isn’t even close. Both are active in the run and pass game with red zone usage to boot. Just play them every week. This week at Seattle, we can still play them for work in the receiving game as RB2s. Coleman actually has more targets than Freeman.
Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, Jets: This tandem is on the verge of losing all startable value, but the volume for Forte in the rush game and Powell in the pass game makes them a Bengals-lite. In Arizona, the volume for Forte and the Cardinals weakness against the pass gameup the middle bodes well for Powell.
LeGarrette Blount and James White, Patriots: Week 5 is what the Patriots season will look like for a while. 18 carries for Blount and six targets for White, giving both shots at 75 yards where a TD is the cherry on top. White is not startable in standard and Blount is very, very risky in PPR, but any significant market share in a Tom Brady offense is startable. Ignore snap counts with these two and look at gamescript, which should never take much away from Blount.
Tier 5: Legitimate startable primary backs with safe jobs
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs: After their Week 5 bye, Charles should blow up against the Raiders in a rivalry game for Week 6. There will be noise about Spencer Ware splitting snaps, but the game should be even enough to keep Charles on the field for over 60% of snaps and that is fine. KC’s line has performed below average, but Charles only needs average against a bad Oakland D for over 100 and a TD or two. Ware is only considerable in deep PPR leagues.
Theo Riddick, Lions: Add another six targets for Theo’s league-lead in backfield targets. His TDs aren’t fluky because of the seven red zone targets on the year for almost 37% of the Lions passes. Just keep playing him and ignoring Zach Zenner because the line is bad.
Tier 6: Questionable handcuff roles
Bears, Broncos, Buccaneers
Ka’Deem Carey, Bears: The concern is not who Jordan Howard’s handcuff is until Jeremy Langford returns in November, but whether Carey is worth owning for the Howard owner. The answer has to be no, and Langford can be dropped for a couple of weeks. Carey is just getting no activity, as this is all Howard all the time.
Devontae Booker, Broncos: Ten touches for Denver in a competitive Week 5 game to C.J. Anderson’s 14 may be telling of a timeshare to come. Booker is no longer a must-own just for Anderson, but a good stash. The problem is what to do with Anderson. Selling at this point may be an overreaction. In a short week before facing the Chargers on Thursday, the high run volume, as a whole, will tell us more.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Buccaneers: Rodgers’ 35 touches in Week 5 can be tempered with the Buccaneers’ Week 6 bye and Doug Martin expected back for Week 7. But Charles Sims on IR opens the legitimate door for Rodgers to get 40% of the snaps and double digit touches often for a strong PPR add.
Watch the Bucs’ activity. Any RB they pick up has the shot to become the primary rusher if Martin misses any time, pushing Rodgers back to a receiving role.
Week 6 RB Depth Charts
|Bears||Jordan Howard||Jeremy Langford|
|Bengals||Jeremy Hill||Giovani Bernard||Giovani Bernard|
|Bills||LeSean McCoy||Mike Gillislee|
|Broncos||C.J. Anderson||Devontae Booker|
|Browns||Isaiah Crowell||Duke Johnson, Jr.||Duke Johnson, Jr.|
|Buccaneers||Charles Sims||Peyton Barber|
|Cardinals||David Johnson||Andre Ellington|
|Chargers||Melvin Gordon||Dexter McCluster|
|Chiefs||Jamaal Charles||Spencer Ware|
|Colts||Frank Gore||Josh Ferguson|
|Cowboys||Ezekiel Elliot||Alfred Morris||Lance Dunbar|
|Dolphins||Jay Ajayi||Kenyan Drake|
|Eagles||Ryan Mathews||Wendell Smallwood||Darren Sproles|
|Falcons||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman||Devonta Freeman|
|49ers||Carlos Hyde||Shaun Draughn||Shaun Draughn|
|Giants||Bobby Rainey||Orleans Darkwa|
|Jaguars||T.J. Yeldon||Chris Ivory|
|Jets||Matt Forte||Bilal Powell||Bilal Powell|
|Lions||Theo Riddick||Zach Zenner|
|Packers||Eddie Lacy||James Starks|
|Panthers||Jonathan Stewart||Fozzy Whitaker|
|Patriots||LeGarrette Blount||James White||James White|
|Raiders||Latavius Murray||DeAndre Washington|
|Rams||Todd Gurley||Benny Cunningham|
|Ravens||Terrance West||Kenneth Dixon|
|Washington||Matt Jones||Chris Thompson||Chris Thompson|
|Saints||Mark Ingram||Tim Hightower|
|Seahawks||Christine Michael||C.J. Spiller|
|Steelers||Le'Veon Bell||DeAngelo Williams|
|Texans||Lamar Miller||Alfred Blue|
|Titans||Demarco Murray||Derrick Henry|
|Vikings||Jerick McKinnon||Matt Asiata|
Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.