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Week 2 Fantasy Running Back Depth Charts & Volatility: Don't Sleep on Danny Woodhead

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.

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Week 1 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. About a couple dozen teams are in undefined backfield situations. Here, we attempt to make some sense of it all.

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. We will 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.

Tier 1: Temporary starters

Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers

Spencer Ware, Chiefs: This is easy. Ware should be owned in 100% of leagues. Even where we don't own Jamaal Charles, Ware is easily the RB4 or RB5 on our teams. Charles was a late scratch for Week 1, so he is likely back in Week 2. But ignoring Ware is banking on a 29-year-old RB with a history of multiple ACL tears to stay healthy. That cannot be a winning proposition. That said, Ware is not startable when Charles is active; Charcandrick West is decent deep PPR flex when Charles is out. If Charles is in, he makes for a great contrarian GPP play in DFS against the Texans because he is Jamaal F**king Charles.

LeGarrette Blount and James White, Patriots: Right now, Blount is the 20-plus-carry bellcow and White is the receiving back. But without Tom Brady, the bet is solely on Blount's volume and White in the Danny Woodhead-Shane Vereen role in the offense. "Without Tom Brady" is a big phrase, though. We know that once Brady is back, Blount is a low-end RB2 with RB1-potential in blowouts to closeout and White's value shoots up to the RB2 range in PPR. When Dion Lewis comes back, the passing game opens up even more to lower Blount's ceiling until the weather gets cold. Everyone loves to call Bill Belichick unpredictable, but his RB usage and roles are more predictable than the narrative would have us believe.

Deangelo Williams, Steelers: When Le'Veon Bell returns from his suspension, the great Deangelo will go back to just being a top-three'ish handcuff. We do not need to spend more time on this. Le'Veon is God.

Tier 2: Timeshares where no one is startable

Browns, Ravens, Seahawks, Washington

Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr., Browns: In PPR leagues, Johnson is a fine RB3 with low-end flex value where we drafted a QB or TE high. In all leagues, go to your roster, look for Crowell, and drop him. He is a low-floor, low-ceiling player, which equals unrosterable.

Justin Forsett and Terrance West, Ravens: This makes the brain hurt. West is the Crowell of this offense. Forsett remains interesting, though, if only for him being a good receiving back in a Marc Trestman offense on a team which should throw a lot. These two splitting work in Week 1 boggles the mind.

Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: Thompson is deceptive in PPR. He can catch balls and Kirk Cousins will check down to him, but accumulating yards and finding the endzone kills his value. Jones is a legit RB3, just for the role in what can be a decent offense, but starting either in any format is a roster in a desparate need to make a trade.

Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael, Seahawks: Michael was named the starter shortly before gametime and this was not an angle shooting. Rawls and a trimmed-down Michael actually did split the work. Maybe they are both auditioning. I don't know, yet, but I do know that this offensive line is atrocious. They ruined 2015 and may do the same in 2016. Until one guy secures a bellcow role where we can depend on 18-touch volume, they ought to be 100% owned in season-long formats but benched; and faded in DFS.

Tier 3: Timeshares with a startable option

Dolphins49ers, Giants, Jaguars, Jets

Arian Foster and Jay Ajayi, Dolphins: Foster was bad against the Seahawks in Week 1, following the baffling healthy scratch of Ajayi. If Ajayi starts Week 2, we really shouldn't care, though. We should want the RBs in an Adam Gase offense. The primary back gets 15-plus touches. A concern here is what to do with Foster in PPR leagues were Ajayi to start. Foster wouldn't be top-20, but could be in 12-team league flex territory. At New England in Week 2 may be a DFS fade, but in season-long Ajayi is usually a team's second-best RB where we went WR-heavy early, so playing him is fine.

Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn, 49ers: Hyde is the bellcow, but Draughn will have some nice PPR weeks in this Chip Kelly offense. I can't go there in a 12-team league, where he should still be a low-end RB3, but it is understandable. Draughn ought to be heavily owned, though, as a Hyde injury could get him over 20 touches per week.

Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Orleans Darkwa, Giants: Vereen is the clear handcuff to Jennings, but is a bit overrated in PPR formats. In 14-team leagues, he is a flex option, but is otherwise nothing more than a consistent RB3 with limited upside. Jennings is the clear bellcow, whose volume should keep his floor relatively high. If Jennings finished as a top-12 RB in standard leagues, we shouldn't be shocked. If Vereen finished as a top-15 in PPR leagues without a 20-point game, we also shouldn't be shocked. If Jennings went down and Vereen still did not play more than 40-42% of snaps, we also ought not be surprised, and this is where Darkwa has desperatation handcuff value in 12-team standard leagues.

T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, Jaguars: Ivory is going to vulture the living hell out of Yeldon owners this year. Inactive Week 1, Ivory should be the passing downs blocking back and goal line back to limit Yeldon's scoring opportunities where the volume of touches will fool many. It is really difficult to have Yeldon in a top-20 any given week with the limited upside, despite the high likelyhood he finishes as a top-20 back in total fantasy points.

Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, Jets: Powell will have good weeks in the receiving game, but never let them fool you into starting him as a PPR flex while Forte is healthy. Never forget how great Forte is in the passing game nor how great he can be or the volume he commands when he is on the field.

Tier 4: Timeshares with multiple startable options

Bengals, Buccaneers, Chargers, Falcons, Lions

Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: Owning any piece of this tandem is a real pain in the ass. The total numbers will make both of these guys top-25 backs this year, given the injuries around the league and having a QB who is extremely efficient when he reads the blitz. Week-to-week, we never know what we are going to get. Either one can score two TDs and both are going to get red zone snaps. Bernard will get more targets, while Hill gets the goal line carries. The losses of Mohammed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert makes Bernard the safer PPR play, but Hill is still the better standard play. That said, it is really difficult to place Hill as a top-15 back in any weekly rankings.

Doug Martin and Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Martin is clearly the bellcow and better back, while Sims is the pass-catcher, but this is what we have wanted from the Bengals backfield--a top-ten standard RB with a top-20 PPR RB. If Martin went down, Sims would easily be a top-ten RB in all formats. This situation is such an idealized version of the Bengals that we need not say more. Just fantasize about that best case scenario and Voila! Here it is.

Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, Chargers: Woodhead is one of the best GPP plays for Week 2 DFS. Gordon's two TDs will make his ownership far greater, despite: Woodhead on the field for 50 snaps to Gordon's 23; Woodhead getting 21 touches to Gordon's 14; Woodhead getting seven targets to Gordon's zero; and the lack of Keenan Allen boosting Woodhead to the primary target for possession receiving. Gordon may be a top-24 play for Week 2, keeping him in RB2 territory with Woodhead, but any PPR format gives Woodhead 20-plus point upside every week, rest of season. Handcuffing this backfield in any way other than these two to one another is a wasted roster spot, though.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: The Falcons make no sense. Last year, Coleman was supposed to be the rusher with Freeman as the receiver. Freeman stole the bellcow role in epic fashion and, now, both are being used to rush and run routes? This is all very confusing, but we should treat them both as RB2s in all formats until further notice with Freeman being the better of the two... for now.

Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, Lions: Abdullah's five receptions in Week 1 was more than he had in any game of his rookie season where he caught four on two occasions. Abdullah's 120 total yards were the first time he has broken 94. The role should increase with fewer cooks in the kitchen, but Riddick is still the safer PPR play. Abdullah is, at worst, a flex option in standard leagues; Riddick is close to RB2 territory in PPR. Both had fantastic Week 1s, but they cannot face Indy every week. With the Titans, Packers, Bears, and Eagles over the next four weeks, the two have a shot at matching the production of the three aforementioned backfields in this tier.

Tier 5: Questionable handcuff situations

Bears, Bills, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, Panthers

Ka'Deem Carey and Jordan Howard, Bears: Carey is the clear spell back to Jeremy Langford, but were Langford to go down, we cannot be too sure that Carey would become the bellcow. On one hand, John Fox does not have a great history of issuing volume to rookie RBs where he is not desperate to do so. On the other, releasing Jacquizz Rodgers displayed some confidence in Howard. The Langford owner may be better off handcuffing Carey in PPR formats, but Howard may be the guy he wants in standard leagues. In a 16-team league, the Langford owner may want both.

Reggie Bush, Jonathan Williams, and Mike Gillislee, Bills: LeSean McCoy is the bellcow, but RBs get hurt like members of Alcoholics Anonymous relapse. GIllislee is so blah, that were McCoy to go down in Week 2, Williams (ribs) should be back in Week 3. Bush is the must-cuff in PPR, as Williams is a pretty big man who only had 26 catches in three seasons at Arkansas.

Robert Turbin and Josh Ferguson, Colts: Frank Gore played 48 of 70 snaps, Turbin and Ferguson each played 12. The game being a 74-point shootout is not really relevant because that should be the norm for Indy this year. Not sure who starts the week after a Gore injury, but Ferguson is the only cuff I want to Gore. If Turbin got the job, he would just lose it to Ferguson anyway, meaning he would perform as if we should not have started him. That said, cuffing Gore means our team is way too dependent on Gore.

Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar, Cowboys: I really thought Week 1 was going to be a sneaky PPR-flexworthiness spot for Dunbar. He played 17 snaps to Morris' 14, but acted more as a blocking back for rookie QB Dak Prescott than a receiving back. And this was with McFadden inactive. I lean toward McFadden as the true cuff to Ezekiel Elliot, but Morris and McFadden should be owned in standard leagues, especially by the Elliot owner. This offensive line is too great to not be prepared.

Kenjon Barner and Darren Sproles, Eagles: Ryan Mathews injuries are in the taxes-death category of probabilities. In six prior seasons, he has only played 16 games once. We should not go crazy thinking about this, but don't say you were not warned about Sproles only being a receiving back if you are cuffing him to Mathews in standard leagues. Barner is the one we want to own in those formats, while Sproles is the PPR cuff. Not sure either would be any good in the case of a Mathews injury, but they would be borderline flex plays.

Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whitaker, Panthers: Part of me wants to not care about this situation, but a Jonathan Stewart injury either: (a) turns this backfield into a three-headed mess with Artis-Payne and Whitaker splitting, while Mike Tolbert vultures TDs; or (b) gives Artis-Payne the green light to go-go-go. Good luck figuring out which it will be, as snap counts are telling us nothing, but we can feel good that Whitaker ought not be rostered. Where we went zero-RB and have Stweart as an RB1 or RB2, Artis-Payne is a must-cuff.

Week 2 RB Depth Charts

Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Bears Jeremy Langford Jordan Howard
Bengals Jeremy Hill Giovani Bernard Giovani Bernard
Bills LeSean McCoy Reggie Bush
C.J. Anderson Devontae Booker
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson, Jr. Duke Johnson, Jr.
Buccaneers Doug Martin Charles Sims Charles Sims
Chargers Woodhead/Gordon Danny Woodhead
Chiefs Spencer Ware Charcandrick West
Colts Frank Gore Josh Ferguson
Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot Alfred Morris
Dolphins Arian Foster
Eagles Ryan Mathews Barner/Sproles Darren Sproles
Falcons Freeman/Coleman Freeman/Coleman
49ers Carlos Hyde Shaun Draughn Shaun Draughn
Giants Rashad Jennings Shane Vereen Shane Vereen
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Chris Ivory
Jets Matt Forte Bilal Powell
Lions Abdullah/Riddick Abdullah/Riddick Theo Riddick
Packers Eddie Lacy James Starks
Panthers Jonathan Stewart Whitaker/Artis-Payne
Patriots LeGarrette Blount James White James White
Latavius Murray DeAndre Washington
Benny Cunningham
Ravens Justin Forsett Terrance West
Washington Chris Thompson Chris Thompson
Seahawks Christine Michael Thomas Rawls Thomas Rawls
Texans Lamar Miller Alfred Blue
Titans Demarco Murray Derrick Henry
Adrian Peterson Jerick McKinnon

Stats via