Week 6 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. Over 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-18 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
Knile Davis, Packers: Eddie Lacy (knee) is not expected to play Week 7, according to reports. The Packers trade for Davis tells us that Don Johnson, Dan Jackson, Janis Joplin, whatever his name is, on the practice squad is not an adequate spell back while James Starks is out four weeks. Starks is so underwhelming and Davis has a great history of lighting up the league when called upon, so this could be a situation where RB2 is a role that is Davis’ to win.
Lacy owners should drop Starks for Davis. The Packers do play on Thursday, making it a short week for Davis, but, as the only rusher in town, the line performing at its best, and the passing game in the dumps, we have to buy Davis.
Tier 2: Backfields with no startable options
Eagles, Giants, Jaguars, Raiders, Vikings
Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, Eagles: What a mess. Mathews had the best matchup on the board and he was automatic, 100% exposure, lock-and-load for the main and 1 p.m.-only slate. Even had him locked in cash lineups to stack Drew Brees-Brandin Cooks-Greg Olsen. The sharps were ignoring him so much, I pivoted to Ezekiel Elliott-Jimmy Graham in cash and Jonathan Stewart in GPPs because something was amiss.
I was stubborn to accept that this was a three-way timeshare in a offense without an identity. Mathews only got nine of the Eagles’ 19 carries, playing only 11 snaps. We can know that when he is in there, it is to get the ball, but so does the opponent. Sproles led the backfield with 23 snaps and Wendell Smallwood only saw one fewer than Mathews.
We have seen it all month and there is no reason to believe we can foresee a decent week from any of these guys until one gets hurt. Sproles is deceptively not in play for Week 7, either, against the Vikings. The Vikings give it up to RBs in the pass game, but that is largely up the middle; Sproles does most of his damage in the flats and running out patterns from the slot. And the Eagles are not in any rush to use Sproles as an RB3, lining up Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham outside and Jordan Matthews in the slot. The offensive line is playing matador so bad that they cannot afford empty backfields or scaling back on TEs’ snaps.
Rashad Jennings, et al., Giants: Whatever. This is a passing team, at least while the weather is still bearable. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise by wanting to start Jennings. In his return, he got nine carries for only 15 yards more than me. Overall, this team ran 17 times for 38 yards, marking back-to-back weeks of fewer than 45 rushing yards and third in their last four of fewer than 80.
T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, Jaguars: The Jags shifted to more no-huddle play and, apparently, Ivory is the more trusted back for this plan, out-touching Yeldon 13 to seven, despite a 60-40 snap split in Yeldon’s favor. This makes sense because Ivory has the bulkier frame and experience. Hard to blame coaching for a scheme that cannot better use Yeldon in the backfield when this is the worst offensive line in the NFL. This may be their only hope.
DeAndre Washington, Latavius Murray, and Jalen Richard, Raiders: Just fade these guys until more people get hurt. Without Murray, Washington had over 67% of the team’s carries. Problem is that Oakland only called 14 runs. This is a pass-first, pass-always team. Makes sense for them. Just bad for fantasy and Washington to reach his potential.
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 2.81 adjusted line yards (ALY) is 2nd-fewest, only to the above-mentioned Jags’ 2.78. McKinnon needs 25 touches to give us what we want. In Week 5, 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 3: Maybe startable primary backs with safe jobs
Melvin Gordon, Chargers: Gordon is having a rough year. He was a 27-carry bellcow in Week 5, but Thursday Night Football always highlights bellcows because there is less time to scheme a decent pass attack. Not really going to pretend shock a team isn’t cool with handing the ball to Dexter McCluster 12 times.
Also, not really going to pretend Gordon’s stock goes down only rushing for 94 yards. It was against the Broncos and this offensive line continues to be shaky. The startability of Gordon in Atlanta is fully dependent on the practice reports for the offensive line.
Matt Forte, Jets: Ugly, weird Week 6 for the Jets. I’m not entirely sure they were aware of being on the schedule. Ryan Fitzpatrick only threw one INT, out of caution; but Forte only got ten touches. The Ravens are pretty stout against the run, funneling opponents toward the pass, so Week 7 is more a Brandon Marshall day than Forte. That said, Geno Smith could start, putting the entire offense in hospice care.
Tier 4: Timeshares with two startable options
Bengals, Browns, Chiefs, Falcons, Patriots
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Hill was eased back in Week 6. The negative gamescript for Cincy made this the Bernard game we foresaw in this post, last week. Bernard had 15 carries to go with four catches for 94 total yards. No score, but whatever. As a flex, he was fine; for his DFS price, it didn’t hurt.
That said, it is really tempting to say that both need to be benched
until one of the two get hurt Marvin Lewis finally gets fired, but they draw the Browns in Week 7, who are overperforming in yard per carry. Hill is a strong play because he doesn’t really need big runs to produce. Don’t place too much on Bernard outside of full PPR or take much away, as Hill and A.J. Green should dominate the usage.
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr, Browns: I am done hating on the Browns run game. Cody Kessler has this offense functioning just fine. There is a becoming issue of whom to start. Both are averaging 5.2 yards per carry and Johnson is only behind Bernard (35) among RBs in targets. In a tight game, Johnson still saw 32 of 67 snaps to Crowell’s 38, representing a solid floor. It is Crowell in negative gamescripts, which can be concerning, but a neutral matchup against the Bengals (16th in DVOA against the run) should make him a fine standard league flex.
Jamaal Charles and Spencer Ware, Chiefs: Charles is getting eased in, so not sure he is a top-25 RB this week and he is definitely a DFS fade in cash, despite the juicy matchup against the Saints. The usage is just too unpredictable when Spencer Ware is dominating the snap count.
Ware is a must-play in Week 7, following this 162-yard performance. Throwing caution to the wind with Ware immediately after the bye gives me the feel that he is just being used up until Charles can return at full strength. In GPPs, Charles is a guy on whom I want to be overweight because I’d rather be early for the Jam when he’s cheap than only act after the fact when his price catches up to him.
Ware saw 40 snaps to Charles’ 15, but we cannot ignore that Charles touched the ball 11 with nine of those plays being runs called for him. Even an escalation to 20 snaps against the Saints—who are 30th in DVOA against the run—could get him 12-15 touches for a solid outing.
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. They are elite plays at home against the Chargers in all formats.
LeGarrette Blount and James White, Patriots: 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. Week 6 was a blowout and White still saw the field on 61% of snaps, lining up everywhere on the field.
Tier 5: Legitimate startable primary backs with safe jobs
Colts, Lions, Washington
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, including 3-4 targets. Indy’s line is performing as a top-5 unit, giving Colts backs an elite 4.32 ALY. Missing in Week 6, Ferguson is still a solid deep league flex in PPR formats.
Theo Riddick, Lions: If Riddick plays, he is a legit RB2 in PPR as one of the best receiving backs in the game. If he is out, Zach Zenner against a Washington run D last in the league in DVOA is fine, especially as a DFS bargain. In Detroit, where the pass game is heavy and Matthew Stafford is at his best, Justin Forsett is in play where we get a full PPR.
Matt Jones, Washington: Time for me to eat some crow. As the offensive line improves, Jones’ production is multiplying off of the page. Week 6’s 135 yards was his second game of over 130 total yards in the last three weeks. Chris Thompson gets his double digit touches, but Jones’ 16 carries in a tight game is about as motivating as it gets for his owners. Great play in Detroit for Week 7, who are 28th in DVOA against the run.
The concern is Jones only getting 41% of Week 6 snaps. Chris Thompson is the passing downs back, getting 40-50% of snaps on a weekly basis and this defense forces a lot of obvious passing. But if Jones is carrying the ball on half of his snaps, that just lowers his ceiling because the D knows its coming. Just don’t be too worried about the floor, as snap count would for most backs.
Tier 6: Questionable handcuff roles
Buccaneers, Cardinals, Dolphins,Seahawks
Jacquizz Rodgers, Buccaneers: Rodgers’ 35 touches in Week 5 was 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 play. The Bucs signing Antone Smith may mean that another Martin injury looks more like a timeshare for Rodgers than a Week 5 repeat.
Andre Ellington, Cardinals: It took the Cardinals to get up three scores to give Ellington some work on Monday Night Football. Since Chris Johnson went on IR, there is no effort to integrate Ellington into the gameplan. Not even the first series of the 2nd quarter, when all RBs rest. David Johnson owners should handcuff to neither Ellington nor Stepfan Taylor. Just use the bench spot on something foreseeably usable.
Arian Foster and Damien WIlliams, Dolphins: Williams was brought in to spell Jay Ajayi for 12 snaps, as Foster was eased back with 11 snaps. Foster’s mileage with this experiment should lead us to believe that an Ajayi injury would just result in a timeshare where Foster is really only startable in PPR formats, but either may be cuff-worthy in all formats.
Thomas Rawls and C.J. Spiller, Seahawks: Rawls will be out again in Week 7. With no timetable in sight and no one left, Spiller is a must-own in PPR. If Christine Michael went down with Rawls still out, Seattle likely just picks up a plodder off the street to share snaps with Spiller, but Spiller would be in play.
Week 7 RB Depth Charts
|Bears||Jordan Howard||Ka'Deem Carey|
|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||Doug Martin||Jacquizz Rodgers||Jacquizz Rodgers|
|Cardinals||David Johnson||Andre Ellington|
|Chargers||Melvin Gordon||Dexter McCluster|
|Chiefs||Jamaal Charles||Spencer Ware||Spencer Ware|
|Colts||Frank Gore||Josh Ferguson|
|Cowboys||Ezekiel Elliot||Alfred Morris|
|Dolphins||Jay Ajayi||Foster/Williams||Arian Foster|
|Eagles||Ryan Mathews||Darren Sproles||Darren Sproles|
|Falcons||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman||Tevin Coleman|
|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||Knile Davis|
|Panthers||Jonathan Stewart||Fozzy Whitaker|
|Patriots||LeGarrette Blount||James White||James White|
|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||Thomas Rawls|
|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.