Week 4 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.
Le’Veon Bell is back for Week 4 and all is right with the world. Deangelo Williams is nothing more than a handcuff. A must-own handcuff, but not startable.
Bears, Buccaneers, Panthers
Jordan Howard, Bears: The Bears signed Joique Bell last week with injuries keeping Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey out of play. It did not matter. Howard got 26 touches for 132 yards to Bell’s three. Until Langford returns, Howard is unbenchable in Weeks 5 and 6 in Indianapolis and hosting the Jaguars, respectively. Over this time, he should win a bellcow role to minimize Langford, but Langford will remove some usage. I am holding out on ruling a timeshare out until John Fox is put in an undeniable spot, as he does not have a great history of handing such reigns of the backfield over to rookies.
Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Doug Martin is likely out for Week 5, as well, in Carolina, and Tampa looks awful without him. Sims had fewer than two yards per touch against the Broncos, and—for all of the bad in the Panthers secondary—won’t face a much better matchup in Carolina.
That said, he is a flexworthy PPR start, as Carolina is a funnel defense and Sims is a good receiving back. The concern is that he saw only saw three of Jameis Winston’s 35 passes attempted his way and split carries almost 60-40 to Jacquizz Rodgers. It is almost as if Tampa is attempting to put him in the Martin role with Rodgers in the Sims role when Sims is not really capable of being more than Sims. This will be a highly paced-up game for the Bucs, so the volume is more optimistic for this week, but Martin should return in Week 6.
Fozzy Whitaker, Panthers: In PPR, Whitaker is a boring, safe play. He caught all nine targets for 86 yards and was Cam Newton’s primary checkdown safety blanket. The Falcons played Kelvin Benjamin a lot better in Week 4 than anyone on Tampa can in Week 5, so the usage should not funnel down again.
But Carolina only called nine runs to their RBs in 67 offensive snaps their second week without Jonathan Stewart. Cameron Artis-Payne and Whitaker have combined for only 87 yards in 26 carries over the last two weeks, with only two runs over six yards.
Stewart should miss Week 5. If he returns Week 6 in New Orleans, he is obviously an elite play. Whitaker is an automatic RB2 and a strong PPR play, if Stewart is out.
Timeshares with No Startable Options
Browns, Dolphins, Giants, Raiders, Ravens, Washington
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr., Browns: Isaiah Crowell is a trap. The third-string QB and Terrelle Pryor gimmick makes for volume to Crowell. But Week 4 is likely the only time Crowell cracks 100 yards from scrimmage this season, let alone his 134-yard performance being an indicator of potential.
Johnson is still a low-end RB3 in PPR, despite six catches and a high 25 targets this season. An RB over whom we should be starting WRs in our flex spots. This is still the Browns and they had a soft matchup with Washington. Hosting the Patriots in Tom Brady’s Kill Everyone game will be very bad for the entire Browns squad.
Jay Ajayi and some other guys, Dolphins: Ajayi had twice as many touches in Week 4 as the next guy in their backfield. But the next guys had four. Ajayi’s eight touches were outnumbered by the 11 touches to the other guys in this backfield, which is bad and a mess.
Rashad Jennings and Orleans Darkwa, Giants: Jennings’ status is unclear for Week 5, but not sure this matters, as predicting his usage is impossible; and high usage does not really mean anything. Shane Vereen’s trip to IR is just opening the door for Orleans Darkwa, Bobby Rainey, and Paul Pressey to underwhelm.
The Giants should be throwing a lot in Week 5 against the Packers, so it will be a good week to take their temperature, but Jennings may still be the only rosterable option here. Rainey’s seven catches on nine targets in Week 4 against a strong Vikings defense is what is most interesting to watch in PPR leagues.
Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, some other guys, Raiders: The Raiders don’t really seem to trust any of their RBs. Murray’s touches have gone down from 15 to 14 to 11 to ten in each week, but no one else is getting anything from it. Rookie DeAndre Washington is probably the best own in this backfield, as a stash, but I don’t know what "winning the job" from Murray even means when Jalen Richard gets 15 snaps to Washington’s ten in Week 4.
The Raiders were in extreme comeback mode to keep Washington off the field, but that is not an outlier. The Raiders defense is going to create a lot of scenarios in which they playing from behind or in shootouts.
Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, Ravens: The release of Justin Forsett is almost unanimously believed to be the opening for Kenneth Dixon to become the bellcow in Baltimore. The 4th round pick out of Louisiana Tech (I don’t know what that is) is coming off of a sprained MCL, so this could just be a mess.
Dixon is rosterable, but we have to see it first. If Dixon is inactive in Week 5, let others make the mistake of overrating Terrance West’s 113-yard performance against a bad Raiders defense.
Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: Before Week 4, Jones was averaging 4.05 yard per carry and his touches went up from eight in Week 1 to 14 to 19 in the following weeks, leading up to a 139-yard performance in 24 touches.in Week 5.
To throw cold water on this, the Browns run defense were huge regression candidates coming into the week. The Redskins defense just cannot make this volume for Jones sustainable. Week 5 against the Ravens could be a shootout, but this makes Jones more of a sell high candidate that a hold with expected negative gameflows against the Eagles, Lions, and Bengals before his Week 9 bye, after which he gets the Vikings, Packers, and three straight road games.
Timeshares where we can play both options
Bengals, Falcons, Jets
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Whenever we see a line like Hill’s 21 touches to Bernard’s 13, it is tempting to chisel usage projections into stone, and then Bernard has a 100-yard game with multiple red zone touches and a score while Hill gets two yards per carry on the same quantity of touches. Just play them and hope for the celings.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: This is similar to Cincinnati, but Freeman is an RB1 every week. Coleman is the confusing one. The initial thoughts on this backfield were Coleman in a rusher role with Freeman as the all-purpose back. Coleman, actually, has 15 targets to Freeman’s 12, so this is just a timeshare where Freeman is the elite play and Coleman is a fine prayer to find the endzone, rising in PPR value.
Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, Jets: Forte may not be bad when we look at his guaranteed 15 touches. Powell may not be bad when we see his nine targets in Week 4 to put him in the top-ten among RBs on the year. The problem is that there is no production on which to rely.
But not sure how of this is their fault, so much as an underwhelming O-line, but moreso the historically INT-prone performances of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not sure what stops the Jets from killing drives, but Forte and Powell will benefit. Still on Forte as an RB2 and Powell as a PPR flex, but their stocks are falling.
Timeshares with one legit starting option
Chiefs, Jaguars, Lions, Patriots, Vikings
Jamaal Charles and Spencer Ware, Chiefs: Charles is the best back here, and that is not in question. It is Charles’ third down and goalline usage, which is in question. Ware is not a startable flex, but ought to be owned in every league as Charles’ handcuff or a stash. All of this said, Charles on the field is elite, even if only for 60% of the snaps, which is his floor.
T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, Jaguars: I am not a Yeldon Truther. Not saying he is bad. I am saying that Jacksonville’s line and the Colts are worse, so his 71 rushing yards on 14 carries to Ivory’s 29 on eight in ho-hum. Yeldon still did not find the end zone in this matchup. He is still rosterable for a 100-yard ceiling in dream matchups, but Ivory’s goalline touches and volume spells diminish the ceiling too much.
Yeldon is a perfect sell-high candidate in seasonal leagues. In DFS, just let others overreact to this pretty line of 114 total yards on 18 touches. His value is rising to RB2 levels in PPR formats, as he is fourth among all RBs with 23 targets for a pretty safe 15 touches per game.
Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington, Lions: Riddick leads all RBs with both 26 targets and 20 catches. In Week 4, he had 15 touches to Zach Zenner’s four and Dwayne Washington’s three in a gameflow which should have favored the bigger runners. Riddick’s 3.1 yards per carry should threaten his snap counts, but they aren’t.
Riddick played 81% of Detroit’s snaps in Week 4 after 66% in Week 5. 60% is his floor, but his primary production being in the passing game opens the door for one of the other two to become a trusted rusher.
James White and LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: Pour one out for Blount’s bellcow role until it gets cold because Tom Brady may throw 50 times in each of the next two weeks. And that is just to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
Seriously, though, White is the guy to play here as the receiving back and Blount should be stashed until it gets cold or a blowout is looming a bit further down the road from Brady’s suspension. The Patriots should blow out the Browns in Week 5, but there won’t be any mercy. The Pats are more likely to make the NFL watch, Clockwork Orange-style, as they torture the Browns into "Who’s Your Daddy?" mode.
Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, Vikings: McKinnon is showing what he can do in positive gameflows to solidify his role as the Vikings’ bellcow. He has 38 touches in two weeks without Adrian Peterson and improved in Week 5 (95 yards in 21 touches and a TD) from a bad Week 4 against a strong Panthers run D.
Bellcows with unclear handcuffs
Chargers, Colts, Eagles
Melvin Gordon, Chargers: Gordon has 36.7 FanDuel points (0.5 ppr) in the last two weeks, averaging 2.03 yards per carry.
Dexter McCluster was signed last week and was too green for more than his five touches, but he is this scenario every year and underwhelms.
The biggest reason to lookout for Gordon’s handcuff is the reverse TD regression, but also that his 72 touches in the last three weeks carry the higher risk of injury behind a line which will struggle to stay healthy all year. Just not sure who that handcuff is. We just cannot be sure it is McCluster.
Ryan Mathews, Eagles: We can believe the Wendell Smallwood hype for the guy we want if Mathews misses Week 5, but Darren Sproles is still the better PPR guy. This already limits Smallwood’s snap count and on-field usage. Add the Kenjon Barner presence and maybe we cannot believe it. Maybe it is the mistake we let others make. Just be sure to play Sproles against the Lions in DFS if we want shares in this backfield.
Week 5 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||Chris Johnson|
|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||Rashad Jennings||Orleans Darkwa||Bobby Rainey|
|Jaguars||T.J. Yeldon||Chris Ivory|
|Jets||Matt Forte||Bilal Powell||Bilal Powell|
|Lions||Theo Riddick||Dwayne Washington|
|Packers||Eddie Lacy||James Starks|
|Panthers||Fozzy Whitaker||Cameron Artis-Payne|
|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.