Week 7 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.
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
49ers, Buccaneers, Lions, Packers
DuJuan Harris and Mike Davis, 49ers: Neither of these two are playable in DFS or seasonal leagues, if Carlos Hyde continues to miss time. Davis got the start and punched in an early TD, but only 21 snaps and seven touches to Harris’ 14 touches on 26 snaps and Shaun Draughn’s seven targets on 23 snaps. Draughn is a the rosterable soul here, as a deep league PPR flex. Harris is a desperation roster for the Hyde owner.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Buccaneers: Doug Martin’s hamstring kept him out of this great matchup and Rodgers served as the bellcow with a whopping 27 touches after 35 in his previous start. Against the Raiders in Week 8, who are 29th in DVOA against the run and 26th against RBs in the pass game, Rodgers is a great play, regardless of Martin’s status. And an excellent DFS GPP play if Martin practices this week and is active on Sunday.
Zach Zenner, Lions: Justin Forsett had ten touches to Zenner’s nine, but Zenner was on the field for 32 snaps to Forsett’s 16. As long as Riddick is out, Forsett remains a deep PPR flex play only, but Zenner’s volume and 3.3 yards per carry (YPC) are just far too low to consider rostering. Theo Riddick is week-to-week with an ankle injury and unlike the timeshare to which Martin will return, the Lions have to just be all the more convinced that Riddick will have be on the field for 70% of snaps at a high usage for any chance at palatability.
Ty Montgomery, Packers: Montgomery is the top dog with Eddie Lacy (ankle) is on IR and James Starks (knee) out at least three more weeks. He was in the role RB-WR hybrid role that I have to imagine Mike McCarthy envisioned for Randall Cobb on. Montgomery’s 19 touches included ten catches in a game where Aaron Rodgers threw an extraordinary 56 times. When the pass volume decreases, there is room for Knile Davis to steal some run, but this still leaves about 15 plays up in the air for more run volume—at least seven of which can go to Montgomery.
Projecting him as a 18-touch guy over this stretch behind a strong offensive line keeps him as a legit RB2. If Davis were a pounder, there could be room for concern, but he isn’t. And if Don Jackson were competent, Davis would not be ahead of him on the pecking order.
Tier 2: Backfields with no startable options
Eagles, Giants, Jaguars, Raiders, Vikings
Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, Eagles: What a mess. Mathews had 15 touches in 26 snaps (45%), but this was a blowout. A startable primary back plays near or over 60% of snaps in a similar gamescript. Sproles played 26 snaps, but no one is emerging in this pass offense as a target machine, let alone someone for dependable targets.
Rashad Jennings, et al., Giants: Jennings is a bellcow like a conversation with your mother is bonding: sure, you are bonding with your mother, but starting it is a slow bleed. In Week 7’s London game (which is usually run-heavy for lack of time to prep a complex passing attack), Jennings ran 13 times for 25 yards and caught two for 24, with Paul Perkins and Bobby Rainey totaling seven touches. The G-men are now on back-to-back weeks of 38 rushing yards from their RBs, three straight under 45, and four of their last five under 80.
T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, Jaguars: Mark Sanchez’s buttfumble laughs at this offensive line. It is giving a third-worst 2.96 adjusted line yards (ALY) to the RBs and the backs are running for a second-worst 2.98 YPC. Yeldon led the team with seven carries to Week 7 to Ivory’s five; Blake Bortles also had five. Just stay away.
Latavius Murray, Raiders: Murray’s two TDs were fool’s gold, but if there is room for hope in this four-way timeshare, it is that Murray saw 58% of the snaps in this blowout., displaying that he is the closer on a 5-2 team. In the five games Murray has played, Oakland is 4-1. In those four wins, he had double-digit touches in three, including 20 in Week 7. The coaching staff has to be looking at this. What they do in a shootout versus the Buccaneers will be more telling, but it is another projected blowout far away from home in the southeast. Watch the Raiders’ travel schedule to gauge Murray’s startability.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings: The Jaguars rushing attack is saying, "At least we’re not the Vikings." Minnesota’s line is giving its backs an NFL-worst 2.81 ALY and the RBs have an accompanying worst 2.62 YPC. So, pick your STD or just keep your pants on.
Tier 3: Timeshares with two startable options
Bengals, Broncos, Falcons, Patriots
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Hill’s 168 rush yards are refreshing against a regressing Browns run D, but nine carries in a blowout may be concerning. That said, he is coming off of injury. Bernard is securing that larger role we wanted a year ago with 17 touches. Just start both of these guys are RB2s in all formats. Against Washington funnel run defense (31st in DVOA against the run, 11th against the pass) this week, they may both be top-12 options. Starting both in DFS is a sneaky play.
C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker, Broncos: It’s happening. In a blowout against the Texans, Booker had a 17-83-1 breakout on Monday Night Football. Anderson’s 16-107-1 line secures his role, but lest we forget his 4.0 YPC to Booker’s 4.8. This was not only a positive gamescript. This is a looming timeshare where Anderson’s role could diminish to being a passing downs back and therefore unstartable for us. We are still safe starting both against the Chargers, Raiders, and Saints until through Denver’s Week 11 bye, though.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: A bit concerned with Coleman only getting nine touches, but any time the Falcons are heavily favored, we have to go toward these two. Hosting Green Bay’s overperforming run defense looks as if this will just funnel up to Julio Jones, but the two have virtually split 52 targets among them. Julio has 62 and Mohammed Sanu is second on the team with 40, so the RBs are definitely option #1a in this offense.
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; Week 7’s blowout still saw White on the field for 44%, despite the disappearing act. Buffalo is legitimately an average defense, but the opening line of Pats - 5.5 has already jumped to -6.5, suggesting a big time Blount game with hopes for White.
Tier 4: Timeshares with one startable back
Browns, Ravens, Washington
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr, Browns: The struggle with the Browns will always be finding a positive gamescript with them, as they will always be down. Also, the RBs 5.18 YPC to the line’s 3.71-and-falling ALY implies regression. Cleveland has no choice but to use their RBs, though, as their only weapon, as they may be on their sixth QB of the season in the otherwise-bagging-groceries rookie, Kevin Hogan.
Crowell has 14-plus touches in six of seven games this year with no gamescript correlation. Johnson’s targets are his saving grace, and his usage is stuck in the 4-6-target range on a weekly basis, reaching double digit touches in Week 7 for the first time in three weeks after back-to-back weeks of 14-plus. Johnson is only a low-upside, low-floor player until the regression catches up to Crowell.
Terrance West Kenneth Dixon, Ravens: After 325 total yards in 61 touches in the previous three games at 5.36 YPC, West only got eight touches in Week 8. The Ravens did not follow up with saying he needed more run, but that rookie Kenneth Dixon will get more work, now that he is healthy. With the Ravens on bye for Week 8, this is the time to sell on West and move toward Dixon in fantasy.
Matt Jones, Washington: Chris Thompson got 19 touches to Jones’ ten. Washington lost this weird, tight game, and Jones was under 50% in the snap count once again, but the trend of him getting the touches a large percentage of his snaps should remain to keep him as a matchup-dependent start. Against the Bengals in London should get him those 15-plus touches again, regardless of the gamescript.
Tier 5: Questionable handcuff roles
Cardinals, Chargers, Colts
Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals: David Johnson cannot play 90% of the snaps, as he has been doing so often this year, let alone getting 41 touches, as he did in Week 7. Ellington only getting 11 snaps is telling of a no plan for a Johnson injury. Taylor only has four touches on the season and only one snap in Week 7, but Taylor still strikes me as the primary back in the case of a Johnson injury; if it would be Ellington, some confidence would be showed in Ellington now.
This matters because Zona’s offensive line is second in the NFL—only to Dallas—with 4.39 ALY. Whomever would step into the role should have some success. Maybe, they would pull a Packers and just slide WR J.J. Nelson into the role.
Kenneth Farrow and Dexter McCluster, Chargers: Melvin Gordon’s old-fat Michael Turner impression has to wear off soon. Gordon saw 87% of the snaps and had 28 touches after 27 the previous week. McCluster is being ignored, despite a history as a decent receiving back, despite Gordon’s 3.3 YPC on the season. Given SD’s below average offensive line, pretty sure we just fade cuffing Gordon.
Robert Turbin, Colts: Gore has 16-plus touches in every game this season, good for ninth in touches and carries on the season, as well as tied for 13th among RBs in targets and receptions. With Josh Ferguson out of the picture and Robert Turbin as simply a handcuff, I question if Turbin would have the role to himself, given Ferguson’s 25 targets in the first five weeks of the season.
Week 8 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||Stepfan Taylor|
|Chargers||Melvin Gordon||Dexter McCluster|
|Chiefs||Spencer Ware||Jamaal Charles||Jamaal Charles|
|Colts||Frank Gore||Josh Ferguson|
|Cowboys||Ezekiel Elliot||Alfred Morris|
|Dolphins||Jay Ajayi||Damien Williams|
|Falcons||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman||Tevin Coleman|
|Giants||Rashad Jennings||Bobby Rainey|
|Jaguars||T.J. Yeldon||Chris Ivory|
|Jets||Matt Forte||Bilal Powell|
|Lions||Theo Riddick||Zach Zenner|
|Packers||Ty Montgomery||Knile Davis|
|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|
|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.