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Week 4 Running Back Depth Charts & Volatility Rankings: Blount Days are Numbered

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.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Week 3 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. 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.

Volatility

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.

Tier 1

Temporary Starters

Bears, Buccaneers, Panthers, Patriots

Jordan Howard, Bears: Jeremy Langford left Sunday night with an ankle injury, which will leave him out for at least a month. After Langford exited the game, Howard had 92 yards from scrimmage on 13 touches, including six targets. With Ka’Deem Carey banged up, Howard can be an elite play in the meantime with the greatest chance on this tier to be the rest-of-season all-purpose bellcow.

Charles Sims, Buccaneers: Doug Martin is week-to-week, so stay tuned in. But Sims is a lock for 30-40% of the snap count with Martin in. Moreso, in a pass-heavy game. The Bucs will be in a slow-paced game against the Broncos this weekend, but they should be down and pass-heavy as their horrid defense makes them play from behind. Sims has 16 targets through Week 3 to keep him as a deep PPR flex with Martin, but probably no more than a touchdown-dependent RB3 in standard as the bellcow.W

Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whitaker, Panthers: This is a true timeshare where neither will be on the field at the goal line. Jonathan Stewart is expected to Miss 4 in Atlanta, so there is some interest here in Artis-Payne, who had 13 touches to Whitaker’s ten, despite Whitaker getting 35 snaps to Artis-Payne’s 31.

Forget the Week 3 production against a stout Vikings defense. Both are in play in PPR, only Artis-Payne as a good desperation 12-team league play. Artis-Payne is a very interesting GPP play on FanDuel for $5,700 this week in a fast-paced game where the high dropback volume for Cam Newton will still give Artis-Payne the shot. Artis-Payne is a great cheap option to stack with Cam’s high price tag.

LeGarrette Blount, Patriots: While Tom Brady remains out, Blount is a great RB2 and justifiable for $7,500 on FanDuel. He has 22, 29, and 24 carries in the first three games this year with four TDs. A Patriots RB guaranteed 20 carries and all of the even be goal line work may even be a cash play. In season-long, this is the time to sell high for a high-end WR2 or even the frustrated Jordan Reed owner, because Brady—and, later, the Dion Lewis comeback—will raise Blount’s variance.

Tier 2

Timeshares with No Startable Options

Browns, Dolphins, Jaguars, Ravens, Washington

Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, Jr., Browns: I don’t care about the Browns’ QB situation. Crowell’s ceiling is too low to make him rosterable. Johnson is an RB4 in full-PPR where we wait for a Crowell injury or bye week desperation, but that’s it. This whole team is toxic.

Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake, Dolphins: The main issue here is not the near-50-50 split to expect from week-to-week so much as these two backs are not very good and Miami’s offensive line is not the elite line to give them a boost. The Adam Gase offense is going to abandon the run within weeks, making Arian Foster the only backfield play whenever he returns, and that is only in full-PPR formats.

T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, Jaguars: Remember when Yeldon was the chalk in Week 1? He now has only 135 total yards from scrimmage through three games, including only 28 in a great matchup against the Ravens. Worse, he only got six carries to Ivory’s 12, splitting the snaps 50-50.

Early assumptions said that Yeldon would get the bulk of the carries and targets while Ivory just vultures at the goal line. Ivory’s first week back matters because it communicates a plan. The roles may change as the season goes on, but knowing what this team wants to do is what they will do, for now.

Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, Washington: Jones’ 17 carries is optimistic, but only 65 yards. Even worse, Thompson still got 34 snaps to Jones’ 33. The Browns should be a great spot for this backfield in Week 4. There is just no evidence to support any efficiency coming out of it.

Tier 3

Timeshares we can play both options

Bengals, Falcons

Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, Bengals: The snaps were 50-50 in Week 3, but when Hill was out there, he got the ball. Of his 32 snaps, he had 17 carries for 97 yards and two TDs, while Bernard had five short catches and five nothing-carries, coming off of a 100-yard game. They are both high-upside plays in any format—especially Bernard in PPR—but the risk is always a completely stinker.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Falcons: Freeman had one of those Madden cheat mode games of over 200 total yards against the Saints in 19 touches, but Coleman had 15 touches in what shaped out to be a 60-40 split in snaps, favoring Freeman.

Coleman is a great bye week play in standard scoring leagues, but the upside always sits with Freeman, who won’t ever slip below 45% of the snaps and will dominate good matchups. Still difficult to justify flexing Coleman over a wide receiver.

Tier 4

Timeshares with one legit starting option

Lions, Raiders, Seahawks, Vikings

Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington, Lions: The snaps favored Riddick 45 to 25 to give him the bellcow role in which we expected him to slip. Washington’s ten carries could imply that when the Lions are not down by three TDs in the first quarter that he will get some more run, but Riddick is probably still safe for 15-to-18 touches, including at least five catches, on a weekly basis. Washington is flex-able in Week 4 against the Bears, though, because the Bears just called my dad to see if he was free to start on the line.

Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington, Raiders: Murray only played 48% of the snaps and only ten of the Raiders’ 23 designed runs were called for him. The thing is that no RB dominated the other 52% of snaps or the other 12 carries and Murray is at 4.8 yards per carry in a dynamic offense.

Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls (INJ), Seahawks: Michael had the first big-time-bellcow game of the year with 20 carries and 105 yards. When Rawls comes back, C-Mike is likely still safe for a 2-to-1 edge in carries. What holds me back from anointing him a bellcow in the sense we would with Marshawn Lynch in the past is that this year’s Seattle line is really bad.

The offensive line suppresses Michael’s yards per carry, but it also elevates the need for the better receiving back in Rawls for checkdowns to avoid sacks. We saw this coming over the last two years where targets to RBs were going up as the sacks went up with this team.

Jerick McKinnon, Vikings: Asiata is rosterable in deep leagues, if only for snaps behind this offensive line. It is preferable that the Vikings are greatly overmatched because Asiata is preferred on passing downs. That said, the snaps were 65-35 to McKinnon, who got 17 touches to Asiata’s seven, and McKinnon is clearly the better back.

Tier 5

Bellcows with unclear handcuffs

Eagles

Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner Eagles: Mathews did not practice on Tuesday, but there is no reported sprain in the ankle, just that he experienced stiffness. Darren Sproles is obviously the primary handcuff in PPR, but I would have told you last week that Kenjon Barner is the guy you want to cuff to Mathews in a deeper standard league, but Wendell Smallwood had 17 carries to Barner’s eight. The assumption is to cuff Smallwood to Mathews, but this could turn into a 40-40-20 split, favoring Sproles and Smallwood, if Mathews misses time.

Week 3 RB Depth Charts

Primary Handcuff PPR Option
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 Kenneth Farrow
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 Smallwood/Sproles Darren Sproles
Falcons Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman Devonta Freeman
49ers Carlos Hyde Shaun Draughn Shaun Draughn
Giants Rashad Jennings Orleans Darkwa
Jaguars T.J. Yeldon Chris Ivory
Jets Matt Forte Bilal Powell
Lions Theo Riddick Dwayne Washington
Packers Eddie Lacy James Starks
Panthers Cameron Artis-Payne Fozzy Whitaker
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 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.