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Week 12 Fantasy Football Running Backs Depth Charts: Enter Dion Lewis

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.

Week 11 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.

Possible Temporary Starters

Mike Gillislee, Bills: LeSean McCoy had surgery, Monday, on a dislocated thumb he suffered in Week 11. He will likely not practice this week, even if he is going to play. Gillislee should be owned in all leagues for the gametime fill-in spot, should McCoy sit out against the Jags in Week 12. He should be treated as a must-play in DFS cash games and an RB2 in all seasonal formats if he starts.

Gillislee is outperforming McCoy in yards per carry (YPC)—5.8 to 5.2—in about 40% of the volume, but that both are performing so well tells us that this offensive line is legit. In Week 8, he started against the Patriots and ran for 85 yards in 12 carries with a TD, adding three catches for nine yards.

Chris Ivory, Jaguars: T.J. Yeldon exited Sunday with an ankle injury and did not return. The Jags offensive line is in the bottom-three in adjusted line yards, so it is really hard to trust anyone back there. They face the Bills in Week 12, who are allowing an above average 4.0 YPC and are 7th in opponents average field position (26.8-yard-line). If Yeldon is out, we can like the volume for Ivory to flex him in standard leagues, but the YPC should be so low that we will need very difficult TDs.

Unstartable Backfields

Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr., Browns: Nothing to see here. Johnson has the shot to emerge as the top back over the next couple of weeks, but both will look terrible against a stout Giants defense in Week 12. Crowell outsnapped Johnson in Week 10, but only 35-32 in a negative gamescript. The 0-11 Browns ought not to be expected to be in a neutral gamescript any week, which favors Johnson, so he ought to be owned, as the third-leading RB in targets (58). They are on bye Week 13, after which Johnson may be usable against the Bengals and beyond. Crowell is completely unrosterable.

James Starks and Christine Michael, Packers: The only thing worse than Starks for the Packers right now is their defense, which should suppress the run effort. Starks is averaging an embarrassing 2.5 YPC, so we can assume that he will be a victim of this 4-6 team’s Desperation Mode. Drop him now.

GB has until Monday to get Michael into the mix for their bout with the Eagles, in which they opened as only three-point underdogs, suggesting a shot for the run game. The spread has since gone up to 3.5, but the over-under has also gone up a full point from 47 to 48. Michael has rosterable qualities, as an RB4, and he should be owned to see what the Packers do this week.

Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, Ravens: West had nine touches to Dixon’s six in Week 11 after dominating the touches 22-11 in Week 10. The snap count was virutally split 23-21 for West in Week 11, down from 34-26 the previous week, all signaling a progression toward Dixon as the top dog in Baltimore. Hosting a Bengals defense near the bottom of the league in YPC allowed (4.5), one of these two should fare well, but good luck guessing the guy. If I were to gamble on one, it is Dixon, but both are bench-worthy RB3s.

Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, Vikings: Every week, I tell you that this line is the worst run blocking bunch in the league. The math still checks out on this. Neither should be on rosters. Adrian Peterson (knee) should be owned, though, as he will start running again this week, aiming for a Week 15 or 16 return. Deadlocked at the top of the NFC North with the Lions, the 6-4 Vikings will need him in those meaningful games against the wafflecrushable Colts, Packers, and Bears in the final three weeks.

Questionable Timeshares

Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews, and Wendell Smallwood, Eagles: Sproles has a broken rib and Mathews has a sprained MCL. If neither can play Week 12, Smallwood is a legit RB2 against a Packers defense which has been exposed recently. If all three are active, Sproles is the only startable option (especially in PPR), as his targets are guaranteed, despite the three-way snap split. The rib is of concern, though, as Sproles is dependent on speed and that injury makes it exceptionally difficult to breathe, so avoiding the backfield is likely the most prudent direction.

Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins, Giants: Perkins is unstartable, but Jennings moves out of my unstartable list for this week because the Browns are awful and the Giants are seven-point favorites. He is only averaging 3.4 YPC on the season, but has 44 touches over the last two weeks, so he is a lock for 20 touches, including a couple of catches. The floor is a solid 75 total yards. The concern is that the Giants are a passing team in the red zone and Jennings only has two TDs in seven games, making him no better than a desperation flex.

Latavius Murray, et al., Raiders: One week, Murray bends the Broncos over a barstool, the next, he limited to 12 carries. The bright spots are that he totaled 92 yards, added five catches, and played 55% of the snaps on Monday night. Hosting a stout Panthers run defense without Luke Kuechly in a game with no line, the funnel may have Oakland just dropping bombs in the pass game where Murray is solely a PPR must-play as all eight of his TDs have come on the ground.

Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower, Saints: Neither Ingram nor Hightower are completely benchable, but where we own both, whom is the start? In DFS, with whom do we roll as a contrarian play. Since Week 8, Hightower has 81 touches to Ingram’s 43, but is only averaging 4.04 YPC to Ingram’s 6.69. In Weeks 8 and 11, Hightower played 61 and 57% of snaps and Ingram hasn’t played more than 44% since Week 7.

Ingram is in the concussion protocol, so he should be a gametime decision for their Week 12 game against the Rams. The game is in New Orleans, so both would be usable where Vegas has them implied as the highest scoring team on the weekend at 30, as seven-point favorites where the run game should effectively closeout with Hightower. The question is: is Ingram a part of how NOLA build up the blowout? The Rams are a funnel defense—fourth in the NFL, allowing only 5.6 net passing yards per attempt, but only 13th in YPC allowed.

Timeshares with Two Startable Options

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: Coleman (hamstring) is on track to return in Week 12. The Falcons-Cardinals game has a high 50-plus over-under and Vegas only has them as 4.5-point favorites, signaling the market still trusts Arizona a bit more than recent results may have us thinking.

With Patrick Patterson threatening some of Julio Jones’ value and the Falcons RBs being Matt Ryan’s secondary targets, Freeman and Coleman will be PPR startable. Freeman a must-start in standard leagues with Coleman as a dart throw at the flex.

The Cardinals are still one of the best defenses in the league, but the Falcons at home peel away layers of the onion, here and there. Zona has allowed the fewest passing TDs in the league, but are 23rd in rushing TDs allowed. If Atlanta is one of the top scoring teams on the slate, one of these two backs—if not both—are scoring.

LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis, Patriots: For now, Blount is a must-start in standard leagues every week and Lewis is a must-flex play in PPR. This week, Blount may be outside of the top-20 against a stout Jets run defense where Lewis can approach 40% of the snaps.

In his Week 11 debut, Lewis had five targets in only 21 snaps, putting him in line to get back to the seven he was averaging before injury ended his 2015. The snap count is the only thing separating him from that and this is the weekend for Lewis to move James White out of his role and become a volume receiving back again, rest of season.

Timeshares with One Startable Option

Matt Forte, Jets: Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Week 12 against the Patriots, but the Jets don’t like him. This is great for Forte to continue the four-game trend of getting 22 carries per game. He is a lock for 80 yards and a couple of catches, making him a must-start, but this makes Bilal Powell nothing more than a handcuff, no matter what the projected gamescript.

Theo Riddick, Lions: Despite only playing eight games this season, Riddick is fourth among RBs in targets (56). Per game, his seven are behind only Le’veon Bell (9.3) and David Johnson (7.3). He exited Sunday with an ankle injury, breaking his six-game streak of double digit carries, but is the only startable option in this backfield against a phenomenal Vikings defense. Minnesota can really only be had by RBs catching balls. They play Thursday, so there is a high probability Riddick misses Week 12. Do not take the bait on chasing the next man up because he is unique.

Handcuff Uncertainty

Rex Burkhead, Bengals: A sneaky-decent receiving back because he never plays. All in all, the ACL tear to Giovani Bernard just makes Jeremy Hill a bellcow, but Burkhead may have flex appeal in PPR leagues because of the system. That said, in standard leagues, don’t do it. If Hill were to go down, the Bengals are more likely to sign someone off of the street than make Burkhead the bellcow.

Charcandrick West and Knile Davis, Chiefs: The case for West as the handcuff to Spencer Ware is easy: he is a really good passing downs back who Andy Reid seems to like and the Chiefs do not trust Knile Davis anymore. The other side of this is that KC is stuck with Davis as one of only two healthy RBs because West may miss time with "concussion-like symptoms" and there is never a reasonable timetable with concussions.

Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden, Cowboys: Rookie Ezekiel Elliott is third in the NFL with 245 touches behind only Demarco Murray (252) and Melvin Gordon (250). The biggest differences between Elliott’s situation and those two are that: Dallas has the best offensive line in the game behind which any RB can be a top-10 RB; and there are two guys behind him who have been top-10 RBs in the past.

Morris’ goalline work has frustrated Elliott owners, but the sooner McFadden returns, the more this frustration can fester. Remember that Elliott’s volume has benefited from the Cowboys sole receiving back, Lance Dunbar, going down for the season. McFadden can step into this role and we may see a three-headed backfield cut Elliott’s snap count from the 70-plus ranges to the 55-60% range. Elliott will still be great behind this line, but an injury to Elliott may result in a Morris-McFadden timeshare, as McFadden should return in three weeks.

Remember that McFadden had an elbow injury, so he should not be slowed down. Elliott owners may want to stash him in PPR leagues next week.

Week 12 RB Depth Charts

Primary Handcuff
Bears Jordan Howard Jeremy Langford
Bengals Jeremy Hill Rex Burkhead
Bills LeSean McCoy Mike Gillislee
Broncos Devontae Booker Kapri Bibbs
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson, Jr.
Buccaneers Doug Martin Peyton Barber
Cardinals David Johnson Stepfan Taylor
Chargers Melvin Gordon Kenneth Farrow
Chiefs Spencer Ware Charcandrick West
Colts Frank Gore Robert Turbin
Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott Alfred Morris
Dolphins Jay Ajayi Damien Williams
Eagles Ryan Mathews Smallwood/Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman
49ers Carlos Hyde DuJuan Harris
Giants Rashad Jennings Paul Perkins
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Chris Ivory
Jets Matt Forte Bilal Powell
Lions Theo Riddick Zach Zenner
Packers James Starks Michael/Montgomery
Panthers Jonathan Stewart Fozzy Whitaker
Patriots LeGarrette Blount Dion Lewis
Raiders Latavius Murray DeAndre Washington
Rams Todd Gurley Benny Cunningham
Ravens Terrance West Kenneth Dixon
Washington Robert Kelley Matt Jones
Saints Mark Ingram Tim Hightower
Seahawks Thomas Rawls Alex Collins
Steelers Le'Veon Bell DeAngelo Williams
Texans Lamar Miller Alfred Blue
Titans Demarco Murray Derrick Henry
Vikings Jerick McKinnon Matt Asiata

Stats via and