Week 15 of the 2016 NFL season is over. This is either your Super Bowl or semifinal. Maybe, playing for next year’s draft order. Maybe, just playing DFS. Either way, running back roles wins fantasy football.
This weekly post looks solely at the safety of primary and passing downs roles around the league up to this point. 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.
Justin Forsett and Devontae Booker, Broncos: After only five touches the previous week, Booker only had eight in Week 15, so we can all be sure he has lost the primary job, averaging 2.73 yards per carry (YPC) since Week 7. Forsett was signed off the street a little over a week ago and got 14 touches on Sunday, playing 34 snaps to Booker’s 28, but only 51 total yards. Neither did anything with the touches, nor will they.
Ryan Mathews, Eagles: Complete week for Mathews without Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood cutting into his work. He had 20 of the 32 carries out of the backfield, passed the 125-yard mark, and scored a TD. Problem is that he was out-snapped by Byron Marshall 39-36, the Eagles face a Giants team Week 16 against whom no non-stud ought to be started, and the game is on Thursday—the short week highly favoring the elite NY defense. Adding to that, Sproles is expected to play Week 16.
Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins, Giants: This thing is a mess, despite Shane Vereen likely heading to IR freeing up space. Jennings has 17 or more touches in six of the Giants’ last seven games, but has fewer than 60 total yards in four straight. Jennings’ five games with 15-plus touches and fewer than 65 yards leads the league, as well as his five games with 12-plus touches and fewer than 50 yards. Don’t touch this.
T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, Jaguars: With one guy running solo, 20 touches was not producing 100-yard games. Now, they are both back on the field. Together. Sharing. Cute.
Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner, and Theo Riddick, Lions: The Lions are among the slower teams in the league with regards to plays per game. Washington is getting the volume (33 touches in the last two weeks), but is not faring much better than Jennings. He had fewer than 50 total yards in two of his three games of 12-plus touches. Their running game is simply of the “run to line, then, fall down” variety. Against another ball control team like the Cowboys in Week 16, no, thanks.
Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr., Browns: I always want to play a read option RB, ignore the results, and just trust the process. Crowell is tough one to just let go and let it rip. He and Duke Johnson, Jr. are split 58 snaps down the middle in Week 15, which has been the M.O., but Crowell is the one getting carries. Robert Griffin III is starting again and the read option opens up the opportunity for more big plays against a Chargers team known for getting into shootouts.
No way Crowell is a play is a DFS play, but in a 12-team league with three WR slots, I can buy flexing him over a fourth WR or second TE. Same can be said for Johnson in PPR, who is 4th among all RBs in targets and receiving yards, only behind David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and James White.
Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, Jets: Forte (knee) was surprisingly active in Week 15, but only had five touches. Against a Patriots run D allowing an above average 3.9 YPC and coming into Week 15 as 2nd in DVOA against the run, this should be an easy benching/fade.
Where both become enticing is that the timeshare will get both involved in a funneled aerial attack (attempt?) which will have Brandon Marshall neutralized. NE is 24th IN DVOA against RBs in the pass game. Powell and Forte are likely to become Bryce Petty’s security blankies for the afternoon.
Terrance West, Ravens: I’ll save the drama in this backfield for your mama. In Pittsburgh, playing for a win-or-go-home Week 17. West outsnapped Kenneth Dixon 26-15, got 17 touches to Dixon’s nine, and—oh, by the way—had 122 total yards to Dixon’s 36. The guy, here, is West. But the drama is a lot to risk for fantasy players at the most crucial of crucial times against a decent Steelers run D.
Todd Gurley, Rams: This guy and his 3.2 YPC hosts the 49ers, who are allowing an NFL-worst 5.0 YPC. We can throw all of the numbers into this space and be at the same dilemma with which we entered the analysis. The lean toward playing him in GPPs and flexing him in seasonal leagues is that the Niners are clearly giving games away on purpose, so nonsensical defensive packages and substitutions can give Gurley a monster game.
Mark Ingram, Saints: 19 touches for 92 yards on 41 snaps to Tim Hightower’s useless 14 for 48 on 27 snaps. The timeshare is still there, but Ingram is the one we want to play. The holdback is the much-improved Tampa defense. Go with having this piece in a shootout or trust Gerald McCoy plugging the holes?
Backfields with Multiple Starting Options
Doug Martin and Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Don’t have the snap counts yet from Week 15, but Martin is guaranteed his 18 touches and Sims is guaranteed his five-plus targets against an improved Saints D who is at the bottom of the league in DVOA against RBs in the pass game. In New Orleans, this game should be a shootout of which we want as many relevant pieces we can take. Vegas agrees, opening this over-under at 53.0.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: 22 touches for Freeman and 16 for Coleman is a Week 15 blowout over SF. At Carolina in Week 16 is a tough matchup, but these two are the WR2 when they are on the field, with or without Julio Jones, keeping Freeman as a top-10 play. Jones is expected to play this week, which diminishes Coleman’s value, but his big play potential and targets keep him flex-worthy in PPR leagues. Terron Ward may be worth a late-week add, in the case that Tampa loses and Atlanta wins this week, making Week 17 a Ward Week with Matt Schaub
Timeshares with One Starting Option
Melvin Gordon, Chargers: The effort by the Chargers to force Antonio Gates end zone targets scares me off of Gordon (knee,hip) in DFS, but the volume will still be there. No one has been touching the ball more inside the 20-, 10-, and 5-yard lines than him, on top of guaranteed 20-touch volume. Outside of Gurley, his matchup against the Browns is the best on the board. If he sits, Kenneth Farrow is an elite play.
Ty Montgomery, Packers: I’ll eat crow on this one. I was unsure of Montgomery’s volume. Mike McCarthy loves to run the ball. All he needs in recency bias, and Montgomery’s 163 yards and TD on 22 touches in Week 15 should keep this ball rolling against a vulnerable Vikings defense. I mean, Frank Gore just ran for 101 against them.
Dion Lewis, Patriots: The Dion Game was going to happen right before the playoffs and it did in Week 15. 21 touches for 104 yards. Granted, we were waiting for such a game to contain ten catches, not two, but he is the lightning to Blount’s thunder. Blount is an easy bench against a stout Jets run D. The question is how much James White in the pass game cuts into Lewis. I like treating this situation as if Lewis will assume that role in Week 16 and White eats up the Garbage Week 17.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Against the Packers, Peterson should be fine. I don’t care about the bad offensive line. I don’t care about Jerick McKinnon’s 12 touches to AP’s seven on the wrong side of an embarrassing blowout. Minnesota is hitting the reset button on their season to win out as they planned in the preseason: through AP’s volume.
Darren McFadden, Cowboys: Alfred Morris was a healthy scratch in McFadden’s comeback, marking what we have discussed for weeks: that McFadden is the handcuff to Ezekiel Elliott for the final weeks of the season. Hope you prepared. McFadden isn’t playable in Week 16, but if your seasonal league championship is Week 17, McFadden and Morris ought both be owned, as Dallas will likely rest Elliott.
Deangelo Williams, Steelers: The volume and history of Bell says that an injury is always likely. Williams is back, so he has to be owned. Even if we don’t play Week 17 championship, if just as insurance against a mid-week injury.
Week 16 RB Depth Charts
|Bears||Jordan Howard||Jeremy Langford|
|Bengals||Jeremy Hill||Rex Burkhead|
|Bills||LeSean McCoy||Mike Gillislee|
|Broncos||Justin Forsett||Devontae Booker|
|Browns||Isaiah Crowell||Duke Johnson, Jr.|
|Buccaneers||Doug Martin||Charles Sims|
|Cardinals||David Johnson||Andre Ellington|
|Chargers||Melvin Gordon||Kenneth Farrow|
|Chiefs||Spencer Ware||Charcandrick West|
|Colts||Frank Gore||Robert Turbin|
|Cowboys||Ezekiel Elliott||Darren McFadden|
|Dolphins||Jay Ajayi||Kenyan Drake|
|Eagles||Ryan Mathews||Darren Sproles|
|Falcons||Devonta Freeman||Tevin Coleman|
|49ers||Carlos Hyde||Shaun Draughn|
|Giants||Rashad Jennings||Paul Perkins|
|Jaguars||T.J. Yeldon||Chris Ivory|
|Jets||Matt Forte||Bilal Powell|
|Lions||Dwayne Washington||Theo Riddick|
|Packers||Ty Montgomery||Christine Michael|
|Panthers||Jonathan Stewart||Fozzy Whitaker|
|Patriots||Dion Lewis||LeGarrette Blount|
|Raiders||Latavius Murray||Jalen Richard|
|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||Adrian Peterson||Jerick McKinnon|
Stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com and FootballOutsiders.com.