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Week 3 Fantasy Running Back Depth Charts & Volatility: One Does Not Simply Replace Adrian Peterson

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.

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Know your handcuffs, kids.

Week 2 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 undefined backfield situations. Here, we attempt to make some sense of it all.

In this week’s “Burying the Lead” portion of the post, Adrian Peterson was diagnosed with torn meniscus and is out indefinitely, and that may not mean what we want it to mean. The injuries on which to report are plentiful, so the season-long waiver wires and daily fantasy value plays will be plenty. Among the injuries, other than AP:

  • Danny Woodhead, Chargers: torn ACL, season-ending injured reserve;
  • Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: hamstring, likely out Week 3, at least;
  • Ameer Abdullah, Lions: foot sprain, likely out Week 3;
  • Doug Martin, Buccaneers: hamstring, unknown timetable, MRI Tuesday;
  • Arian Foster, Dolphins: groin, day-to-day;
  • Thomas Rawls, Seahawks: leg, likely not serious, but worth awareness;
  • Ka’Deem Carey, Bears: hamstring, unknown timetable, and we should care.

If you forgot the utility of a guy like me tracking depth charts, you were just reminded.

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.

Tier 1: Temporary Starters

Buccaneers, Chiefs, Lions, Panthers, Steelers

Charles Sims, Buccaneers: The Sims Truther in me says he is a top-ten back against the Rams this week, if Martin is out. We can safely have 100% exposure to our DFS lineups at under $7k. We should not even consider ownership. He will be the bellcow with no threats to be replaced by someone else running routes. In PPR, he may be top-eight.

Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, Chiefs: Throw Sunday away. Neither Ware nor West did anything, but the Texans are really good against the run. We should be really interested in Ware, as he may get dropped in a lot of season-long leagues and low owned in DFS GPPs after disappointing so many owners.

West is also an intriguing PPR play against the Jets in Week 3. All of this assumes Jamaal Charles is out again for Week 3, of course.

Theo Riddick, Lions: Riddick is in a similar spot as Sims to the naked eye, but Riddick will give up more snaps to Dwayne Washington than Sims to Peyton Barber. Riddick is still probably top-20 for the week and top-15 in PPR in Green Bay for a Week 3 shootout.

Fozzy Whitaker, Panthers: Whitaker is not very good, but the 49ers are worse. The issue with starting Whitaker is three-fold: (1) Mike Tolbert will vulture him near the goal line; (2) Cam Newton is Carolina’s best goal line back; and (3) I am not sure Whitaker is better than Cameron Artis-Payne. Fade the Carolina guys in a slow Week 4 game against the Vikings.

Deangelo Williams, Steelers: Elite top-three option until Le’Veon Bell returns. At which point, Williams is nothing more than a handcuff.

Tier 2: Teams with no startable options

Browns, Ravens, Seahawks, Washington

Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Browns: I hate having to type these two names every week. Telling you to not start either is the only purpose. Crowell rushed for 133 on Sunday because of an 85-yard run. Yawn.

Johnson should be owned in PPR, but not sure how deep of a PPR league we would need to flex Johnson for five targets and four carries. 16? He needs Crowell to get hurt for startable value, though.

Justin Forsett and Terrance West, Ravens: Nothing to see here until someone gets injured.

Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls, Seahawks: If Rawls is out Week 3, Michael is startable against the 49ers, but we ought to manage our expectations behind Seattle’s bad offensive line. The 49ers are not very good. Sure, they contained Todd Gurley in a blowout, but then Whitaker lit them up.

Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: I don’t know what this is. I would play Duke Johnson over Thompson in PPR and Thompson is more ownable than Jones.

Tier 3: Teams with two startable options

Bengals, Falcons, Vikings

Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: The roles are clear: Hill is the bellcow rusher and Bernard is the receiving back. Hill got 11 carries and five targets in Week 2. Bernard got 11 targets and five carries. Would always rather have Bernard than Hill in PPR. Otherwise, flip a coin.

In DFS, we should take advantage of Hill being overrated by pivoting to Bernard in GPPs. Both are fine flex plays in standard scoring leagues. Their best value is in the other’s injury, though.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: We already discussed this in the Bengals backs section. Freeman had 17 carries, looking like a bellcow, but only 34 snaps to Coleman’s 30, who also had 12 carries. Astonishing is that in a game where Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards, Freeman caught zero passes and Coleman caught his two targets.

Freeman is still the better play, as a legit top-15 RB, and Coleman is a deep league flex option in standard scoring, but Coleman is a Freeman injury away from jumping 20 spots into the top-ten.

Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, Vikings: With or without Peterson, Asiata is a very trusted passing downs back for this offense. That will most definitely cut into McKinnon’s snap count. Add that Asiata will get his carries and targets, and this may be a legitimate timeshare. Both are decent flex options in all formats, but McKinnon has the higher upside.

Tier 4: Teams with one startable option

49ers, Giants, Jaguars, Patriots

Carlos Hyde, 49ers: Hyde has a solidifed job as the primary rusher, but Shaun Draughn is a little bit more than just a handcuff. We saw Draughn get double digit targets as the sole back last year. He only has three this year, but we can stash him in deep PPR leagues where we don’t have Hyde, but is a must-own in PPR where we do have Hyde.

Rashad Jennings, Giants: Jennings isn’t all that good, and his usage is questionable. 18 carries for 75 yards in Week 1 is unlucky for no TD against the Cowboys in Week 1, but getting outcarried by Vereen 14-12 in Week 2 is a gameplan for what projects to be a fast-paced game.

Vereen saw 40 snaps to Jennings’ 34. The Giants defense is not very good and there is so much depth in the receiving corps that pass plays raise the snap count of Shane Vereen. Jennings is only startable in the slower paced games like next week in Minnesota, but neither are startable this week against Washington or Week 5 in Green Bay, other than Vereen in PPR.

T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars: I expect Panthers RBs to get more TDs than Yeldon in this pass happy offense with Chris Ivory as a goal line back, to show where I am at here. Sad, because Yeldon would be a top-12 play without Ivory in an offense that could build a lead to keep.

LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: The Jimmy Garoppalo injury turns the September Patriots into the Week 17 Patriots, where they slow the game down to paint drying and running a back into the ground. Blount had 22 carries in Week 1 with Garoppalo and 29 in Week 2. He is an absolute lock for 25 in Week 3, if not north of 30, to eliminate James White from startability. The longer Rob Gronkowski is out, the more red zone usage Blount will dominate. White is a trap.

Tier 5: Undefined handcuffs

Bears, Cowboys, Eagles

Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard, Bears: If Carey misses time, the door opens for Howard to prove himself, as Jeremy Langford did in 2015. The Bears let Jacquizz Rodgers go, signaling some confidence in Howard. The handcuff role could be Howard’s to win, rather than Carey’s to lose. Where we own Langford, Howard may be the handcuff we need.

Carey was splitting snaps with Langford to an uncomfortable degree before getting hurt. Langford is safely a bellcow now, and John Fox will eventually succumb to that.

Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, and Darren McFadden, Cowboys: The depth of this backfield has always had me weary of Ezekiel Elliott’s full-season value, but not so much to take him out of my top-eight. The conundrum is how to handcuff him. McFadden has been ouchy, Morris has been spelling Elliott to a degree insignificant to Elliott, and Dunbar has been a passing downs back.

If Elliot were to go down, though, Dunbar is probably the safest PPR cuff, if McFadden is active at that point. I would project him at about 40% of snaps with McFadden and Morris splitting the other 60% for a very annoying situation behind such an elite offensive line.

Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner, Eagles: My first instinct is to look at the roster and say that if Ryan Mathews went down-—or when he goes down—-that Barner and Sproles will be in a timeshare when Barner is the primary rusher and Sproles is a receiving back who will set up in the slot here and there.

What is actually happening is that Sproles has had 17 of the team’s 58 carriels, compared to Mathews’ 31. This better than 2:1 ratio makes me wonder if Barner is a wasted roster spot for Mathews owners. Would Barner get an uptick in snaps and usage when Mathews is injured? Yes, but the timeshare may be more of a 60-40 split to Sproles, rather than 50-50, which is bad when the 40-side is not the primary receiving back.

Week 3 RB Depth Charts

Primary Handcuff PPR Option
Bears Jeremy Langford Jordan Howard
Bengals Jeremy Hill Giovani Bernard Giovani Bernard
Bills LeSean McCoy Reggie Bush
Broncos C.J. Anderson Devontae Booker
Browns Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson, Jr. Duke Johnson, Jr.
Buccaneers Charles Sims Peyton Barber Charles Sims
Cardinals David Johnson Chris Johnson
Chargers Melvin Gordon Kenneth Farrow Melvin Gordon
Chiefs Spencer Ware Charcandrick West Charcandrick West
Colts Frank Gore Josh Ferguson
Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot Alfred Morris Lance Dunbar
Dolphins Jay Ajayi Kenyon Drake
Eagles Ryan Mathews Barner/Sproles Darren Sproles
Falcons Freeman/Coleman Freeman/Coleman Devonta Freeman
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 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 Justin Forsett Terrance West
Washington Matt Jones Chris Thompson Chris Thompson
Saints Mark Ingram Tim Hightower
Seahawks Christine Michael Thomas Rawls
Steelers DeAngelo Williams Fitzgerald Toussaint
Texans Lamar Miller Alfred Blue
Titans Demarco Murray Derrick Henry
Vikings Jerick McKinnon Matt Asiata Matt Asiata

Stats via and