Week 3 Running Back Rankings

words by Jonnie Carlyle, rankings by Paul Charchian

1. Marshawn Lynch vs. Chicago - 10
Anyone else get the feeling Marshawn Lynch is dealing with some disappointment? I know I had my own issues upon discovering Skittles had inexplicably changed the green ones from lime to green apple. And sure the switch happened a couple years ago, but we would any of us be surprised if Lynch’s realization and reaction was a bit delayed? I mean, it’s either the skittles or the fact his run blocking is atrocious, but I have my leanings. It’s not like Lynch is a different running back; he broke five tackles in Week 2 and 34 of his 41 rushing yards came after contact but even beasts need a smidge of space to get their beast on. And don’t look now, but Lynch is actually second on the team in targets. So much for that Jimmy Graham guy. Lynch will get some reprieve in Week 3, too, as Seattle welcomes the Bears to the “Clink”. Chicago has yet to keep the opposing running back out of the end zone in 2015. And they've given up 5 yards per carry to anyone not named Chris “Least Mode” Johnson Whack game script anyone?

2. Jamaal Charles vs. Green Bay – 9.75
You know you’re having a bad week, not when you literally fumble the game away against a division opponent at home, but when a guy that calls golf tournaments for a living does his best Drake impersonation and treats you like Meek Mill. Now, I don’t actually know who ‘Meek Mill’ is, but from what I can gather via the Internets, Mr. Mill might need to find the nearest burn center as the world’s greatest frontrunner torched him. Jim Nantz burning aside, Jamaal Charles has been straight fire on the field despite the fumbles and there is nothing to suggest Week 3 should be any different. Charles averaged six yards per carry in Week 2 against a Bronco defense that’s surrendered more than five per carry only twice since the beginning of the 2013 season. The Packers were dominant in Week 2 against Seattle, but that’s shaping up to be more the norm for the Seahawks in 2015. Though 166 total yards should never be the expectation, Matt Forte’s production more closely resembles what a multi-dimensional back like Charles can produce.

3. LeVeon Bell vs. St. Louis – 9.75
-Insert weed joke here-
-Insert Bell into lineup before the weed kicks in-

That’s good enough, right Charch? No, you need something more? Fine, here goes. Bell played in 16 games in 2014; he had at least 100 combo yards and/or a touchdown in 15 of them. That is insane, folks. Bell was 40th in receiving yards amongst all players in 2014. Forte snuck in at 45 behind his ridiculous 102 catches, but you know who the next non-wide receiver/tight end was and where he finished? Fred Jackson, at 90th overall. So it was Bell, a record-breaking pass catching running back and 87 non-running backs. That’s insaner. There may have been a time the Rams defensive line put some justified fear into Bell owners, but rookie Matt Jones and his 6.5 yards per carry in Week 2 had his way with their back seven. Fear dissolved. Or should we say, smoked. And the Rams can’t afford to sell out to stop Bell on the ground given what the Steelers will do via the air if they try to. Either way, Bell gets his.

4. Adrian Peterson vs. San Diego – 9.5
I think it’s probably safe to say we’re back to business as usual in Minnesota, but don’t ask me to start calling Adrian Peterson “Purple Jesus” anytime soon. Assuming there was a guy named Jesus spreading love and compassion 2000+ years ago, it is likely child abuse wasn’t a part of his parental handbook. But we digress… to a tasty matchup against a Charger defense that is surrendering over five yards per carry to opposing running backs and have exactly 2 tackles for loss in 45 rushing attempts. Peterson looked very much his old self in Week 2, breaking off runs of nine or more yards on five carries and though his fumbling issues made a reappearance on two occasions, thankfully he doesn’t have himself as a coach and received not even a tongue lashing from the coaching staff. Goal line usage was heavy too, with six carries inside the 10-yard line and Peterson did actually reach the end zone at one point before the score was overturned by review. I’ve said too much already, as Peterson is clearly the safe top-three play he’s always been.

5. Matt Forte vs. Seattle – 9.5
Jimmy Clausen starting in Seattle is not good for anyone wearing Chicago blue in Week 3, but there’s some positivity to be gleaned from recent history between the aforementioned Clausen and Matt Forte. In Clausen’s lone start in 2014, Forte caught six passes on nine targets including a touchdown and Seattle has shown some vulnerability to pass catching backs stretching back into 2014. The Seahawks gave up the 7th most receptions and the 10th most yards last season, and have already been gashed in 2015 with Benny Cunningham’s 4-77 in Week 1. Arguably the safest back in the league, Forte will likely weather any game script too as he’s had at least 100 combo yards and/or a touchdown in 75% of his starts since 2014. 

6. Mark Ingram vs. Carolina – 9.25
You might recognize Mark Ingram better by his other name, the Saints offense. Ingram has twice as many carries as any other back, leads the team in catches and has as many 20+ yard plays through the air as Brandin Cooks. Take Drew Brees out of the offensive equation, as is seeming likely for Week 3, and Ingram may account for every offensive yard, especially if Luke Kuechly and Star Lotuleilei are unable to play. Historically Ingram has excelled playing in Carolina too, averaging 17-67-1 since 2011. The Panthers rush defense has been as good as gold through two weeks, but it’s hard to know if it’s the real thing or that made for fools as they’ve faced Jacksonville and Houston.

7. Jonathan Stewart vs. New Orleans - 9
Look, if Carolina is going to be cool moving forward with their franchise quarterback doing flips into the end zone Jonathan Stewart could literally be Superman and it might not matter. Count me amongst those who think the Panthers will be more inclined to rein Newton in and Stewart would be the beneficiary of that. And it’s not like Stewart isn’t getting looks near the goal line, he’s received 5 of the 11 carries inside the 20-yard line, but just hasn’t cashed in yet. Enter the Saints;,a team Stewart carries a career 5.3 yards per carry average against with seven total touchdowns, including a 2014 line of 28-201-1. As expected, New Orleans has played the part of doormat in 2015 to opposing backs surrendering just under five yards per carry, with two total touchdowns allowed and will likely be without Drew Brees in Week 3. Flips or no, look for Stewart to feast in this divisional matchup.

8. Latavius Murray vs. Cleveland - 9
Sometimes it just comes down to something as simple as opportunity and an advantageous situation to flourish. Latavius Murray has both in Week 3. He’s been the ball handler on 81% of Oakland’s rushing attempts. He's third on the team in catches, and he faces a Cleveland team that is the only defense to give up at least 300 rushing yards through two games. The Browns are also going back to Josh McCown for some reason (newsflash Cleveland, he’s like 50. We know what he is at this point and it rhymes with merrible hoardertack), so we know game script will be on Murray’s side too. I’ll forgive the Week 1 struggles against the Jets, but Dexter McCluster just missed hitting the century mark in Week 2. Dexter. McCluster. What’s worse, starting Josh McCown at quarterback in 2015 or letting McCluster run all over your defense? Trick question, they’re both embarrassingly bad.

9. James Starks vs. Kansas City - 9
Anyone else see James Starks’ running motion as a wide-stanced stomper trying to play whack-a-mole with his feet? Now add in just a dash of waterboy Bobby Bouche? Just me? And moving on… Though we likely are going to have to wait for a a game time designation since Green Bay plays Monday night, I don’t see any reason for the Packers to rush Eddy Lacy back. They’ve already stated they feel comfortable with Starks as their guy and why wouldn’t they be. Twice in the past three seasons Starks has had to take over for an injured Lacy and he’s averaged 20-114-.5 and 4-20, including 20-95 in essentially three quarters of work in Week 2 against a still feisty Seattle defense. Kansas City shouldn’t scare anyone either as they’ve yet to face a team with a real quarterback threat, marginal running back talent and are coming off a season in which they surrendered the 3rd most rushing yards at 4.9 yards per carry.

10. Frank Gore vs. Tennessee – 8.75
Player A: 25-77 rushing, 5-29 receiving

Player B: 23-88 rushing, 3-4 receiving

Can anyone out there guess who these two players are? Well, obviously one is Frank Gore but can anyone tell me who the other guy is? Anyone? Here’s a hint: he finished the 2014 season at 246-1139-9 rushing and 42-427-4 receiving. Player A is none other than Eddy Lacy, who like Player B (Frank Gore for those of you who somehow still aren't paying attention) had an atrocious start to last season. Lacy opened at Seattle in 2014 before having to play the Jets in Week 2, which looks just as brutal as Gore opening at Buffalo before facing the Jets too. Point of it all, Gore has been bad in 2015, real bad in fact. His longest rush is 18 yards and is also his only rush longer than 10 yards. He actually had two carries for 11 and 12 yards against the Jets, but both were wiped out by penalties. Gore should have had a touchdown in Week 2, too, but just plain dropped the ball. Lemony Snicket is looking at Gore and thinking, ‘damn, this guy has had a series of unfortunate events.’ The tide is about to change, however, as the Titans defense comes calling. Tennessee’s rush defense doesn’t look too bad until you consider Doug Martin had 10 of his 11 carries for 47 of his 51 yards in one half of football and the Titans surrendered three plays of at least 15 yards to the Cleveland rushing attack. Cleveland. It’s tough to exhibit patience, especially early, but two games does a fantasy season not make and Gore will reward that patience sooner rather than later.

11. Jeremy Hill vs. Baltimore – 8.75
This is probably just late-night spitballing, but I see a parallel between Jeremy Hill and Al Pacino’s character in Scarface, namely “The World Is Yours” sculpture he has posted just outside his bedroom in his mansion. Just don’t shove your face into that pile of cocaine and you, we, the Bengals; we’re all winners. Welp, you just couldn’t help yourself could you Jeremy? Two fumbles and a 20-123 Week 2 Gio Bernard line later and we’re all trying to dodge a hail of bullets in deciding what to do against a maybe-they-are, maybe-they-aren’t Baltimore defense. The good news is the Ravens may not be the defense the Denver “offense” made them out to be, surrendering 87 combo yards and a touchdown to Latavius Murray. Already down Terrell Suggs, the Ravens may also be without starting middle backer CJ Mosley too. Hill seemed to have a long leash as well, not getting benched until the second fumble and a fairly light tongue-lashing from the coaching staff post game. More good news? More good news. Through 2 games, the Bengals have had 31 plays inside the red zone, which is music to the ears of Jeremy Hill owners.  Jeremy Hill is the guy Cincinnati wants handling the ball near the goal line. Since 2014, Gio Bernard’s touchdown efficiency inside the 10-yard line is 20%. Jeremy Hill’s, 32%. The world is yours, Jeremy; you just got to hold on to that rock. Preferably in your arm, though and not in your nostril.

12. Justin Forsett vs. Cincinnati – 8.5
Is it time to be concerned, Forsett owners? Despite forcing missed tackles on 40% of his carries and amassed 72% of his rushing yards post-contact and a game script that produced what should have been a dream scenario for Forsett’s receiving game with 45 passing attempts, the waiver wire darling from 2014 only played eight more snaps than Lorenzo Taliaferro. Yikes. Though it has been bad through two weeks, there does appear to be nuggets to be mined for Week 3. Forsett is still a preferred target in the passing game, trailing only Steve Smith in targets and receptions with an expected positive regression in receiving yards. The Bengals should help that along too, as they’ve struggled against pass-catching backs through two weeks. Amongst the bottom five in terms of receptions and receiving yards, Cincinnati has also surrendered the most receiving touchdowns to running backs. 

13. Dion Lewis vs. Jacksonville – 8.5
Dearest Bill Belichick,

Hope my letter reaches you well and you’re enjoying that invisible ink I sent you. Though your olfactory senses may be trying to tell you otherwise I promise it’s not urine. I am writing in hopes I can implore you to keep feeding the ball to Dion Lewis despite his putting the ball on the ground in consecutive weeks. You can keep feeding LeGarrette too, but maybe instead of opportunities it can be a nice big pizza pie. I am sure he’d prefer that anyway. Lewis has been electric in two games, posting 100 combo yards in both, four carries and five catches of at least 10 yards and doing in short yardage what Blount never has. The world thinks Jacksonville is terrible against the run, but you’re smarter than everyone else so you know that no team gave up more receptions to the position in 2014 than the Jags. And do you know whom Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny was drafted by? Of course you do and there is nothing you love more than torturing Buffalo linebackers, former and current alike. We’ve really got something good here Bill, please don’t ruin it.

Sincerely,

A Buffalo Bills fan

P.S. It is urine. Suck it!

14. Lesean McCoy vs. Miami – 8.25
Things McCoy owners should be excited about: dat burst. McCoy showed no ill effects concerning his hamstring and actually looked more explosive in Week 2 breaking off runs of 8, 12, 15 and 18 yards. While Karlos Williams’ snaps are sneaking up, McCoy was still on the field 70% of the time despite the ‘questionable’ tag heading into the game.

Things Lesean McCoy owners should be concerned about: a hamstring that keeps popping up on the injury report. The aforementioned Williams, who for the second week in a row scored a rushing touchdown (this time inside the 10-yard line) and saw an increase in the number of offensive snaps with the same amount of targets despite a game script that was tailor-made for McCoy’s skillset. Miami’s defense has also showed improvement in their rush defense, cutting nearly two yards off the 4.7 yards per carry allowed in Week 1, only allowed one carry over 20 yards despite facing 60 attempts and have also yet to allow a rushing touchdown.

Oh and lots of STDs. You just don’t do open casting calls for girls and the only vetting is an Instagram and a non-disclosure act without some sort of consequence.

15. CJ Anderson vs. Detroit – 8.25
It’s expected that there would be a handful of running backs with more rushing yards than CJ Anderson through two weeks, but did you know there are also four quarterbacks and one wide receiver with more rushing yards? Or that included in that bundle of backs, guys like Dexter McCluster, Bilal Powell and Chris Polk also have more rushing yards? That’s right, a 3rd-string running back for a team that’s flipping coins between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett has more rushing yards than Anderson. The toe isn’t in great shape, the offensive line is in worse shape than that, and Ronnie Hillman has wedged his way into a relevant role. Should we just go back to the list? It’s not pretty, but there’s at least some room for optimism in Week 3. Anderson got some extra rest after playing the Thursday night game and is no longer showing up on the injury report. With the Broncos trailing and needing a touchdown late to tie the game, it was Anderson who was on the field for every snap of the final drive. And then there is Detroit. Where have you gone Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley? After being the only rush defense to not allow 1000 yards in 2014, the Lions have surrendered the 3rd most in 2015 and the most rushing touchdowns despite Adrian Peterson having one called back. I don’t think we can assume or expect 2014 Anderson to suddenly show up (remember the list?), but the arrow does seem to be pointing in the right direction for Week 3.

16. Danny Woodhead vs. Minnesota - 8
A wise man once said to me, “I think you’re underestimating Woodhead. We’ll see. :)”. Well sure enough, I was doing just that in Week 1, but consider the lesson learned. San Diego has run the ball seven times inside the red zone in two games. You know how many carries Woodhead has inside the red zone in those same two games? Seven. What's more, only Shane Vereen, Mark Ingram and Lance Dunbar have more catches, and only Ingram has more combined touches. Minnesota presents a tall order for the short Woodhead, but don’t be surprised if the small-running-back-that-does is able to take advantage of a defense that has given up two red zone rushing touchdowns in two weeks. 

17. Melvin Gordon vs. Minnesota - 8

18. Gio Bernard vs. Baltimore - 8
Cincinnati’s coaching staff has moved on from the Jeremy Hill fumbles and so should Bernard owners, but that doesn’t mean Gio doesn’t have value in Week 3. Bernard has had at least 80 total yards and/or a touchdown in five straight games and has never had less than 77 total yards and/or a touchdown in his career against the Ravens. Baltimore will also be without Terrell Suggs and maybe CJ Mosley, meaning Bernard may be working the flats and underneath routes against two backups, one being a rookie and the other an undrafted 2nd-year guy.

19. Lamar Miller vs. Buffalo – 7.75
Sweet usage, bro. After coach Joe Philbin insinuated in training camp the Dolphins would finally fully take the training wheels off Lamar Miller in 2015, Miller sits at 29 touches through two games. Just for comparison sakes, Miller opened 2014 with 28 touches sharing the backfield with Knowshon Moreno. Sweet. Usage. Bro. Sure Miller didn’t finish the game against Jacksonville in Week 2 after rolling his ankle late, but it’s not like the usage was there prior to going out. A tender ankle is a concern, but the opponent is a much bigger red flag. After a season in which the Bills gave up the 8th-fewest rushing yards, Buffalo has given up the 3rd fewest in 2015. While certainly dominant on the defensive line, there’s something to be said about where the Bills are weak too. There’s a pretty good chance both safeties won’t be playing on Sunday and rookie corner Ronald Darby has been a roller coaster of good/bad play thus far. Last week, the Dolphins were content to attack Jacksonville at their weakest point as Ryan Tannehill threw the ball 44 times and it’s likely we see the same in Week 3. But hey, Miller could totally handle a bigger workload if they wanted to give it to him, right Philbin?

20. Bilal Powell vs PHI - 7.75

21. Joseph Randle vs. Atlanta – 7.75
Can we get some sort of moratorium on local beat writers continually suggesting that now is the time Darren McFadden supplants Joseph Randle. Nevermind Jerry Jones explicitly stating Randle is the guy on radio spots and TV interviews; no let’s keep hearing more from the guy outside the Cowboy circle and run with their take instead. Unfortunately for Randle owners, that hasn’t translated to much production through two weeks and things are likely to get a whole lot worse. Side note, can I just say how excited I am for Dallas fans to get a taste of what it’s actually like not having a quarterback. Oh you have one of the toughest and most efficient signal callers in the league at the helm? Poor you. Let me know when you have to watch the likes of Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, JP Losman, Trent Edwards, Kelly Holcomb and Thaddeus Lewis just to name a few. Brandon Weeden fits nicely in that list and in no way is that a good thing for Randle in Week 3. In Weeden’s 24 career starts, his running back has reached the end zone in only 9 games and passed the 100-yard mark in only 2. The Falcon’s rush defense is much improved too, surrendering the 8th fewest rushing yards so far in 2015 after a season in which they gave up the 11th most. Dallas has promised to reassert their rushing attack, but that’ll be tough to keep now that Cabbage Patch Kid Brandon Weeden is running things.

22. Carlos Hyde vs. Arizona – 7.75
A lot more hyde, than seek; Week 2’s script is exactly what I was referring to in my Week 1 rankings. Carlos Hyde is uber-talented, but unfortunately the team around him is not. When he can hit that 20+ carry mark, the production is going to follow. A matchup against Arizona will not be one of those times. Since the beginning of the 2013 season only six running backs have had 20 carries against the Cardinals. Of those six, only three managed 100 yards rushing and/or a touchdown. 2015 looks like more of the same, as Arizona hasn’t given up more than 61 yards rushing to any back and Matt Forte needed a garbage-time 27-yard scamper to get there. Hyde also has a leg contusion to deal with that prevented him from finishing last week’s game, which, no doy, adds to an already insurmountable task. We’ll see you in Week 5 Carlos, maybe.

23. Doug Martin vs. Houston – 7.75
I’ll refrain from calling my boy Doug Martin “the nickname that shall not be spoken”, but I wonder if he’d mind if I called him Loki? As in, the dude that is a god until he runs into The Incredible Hulk and is treated to an asphalt sandwich 9-10 times in The Avengers. Sorry Dougie, but that Texan defensive line is mega-Hulk and you are their next victim. Backs have averaged a miniscule three yards per carry and Houston has yet to concede a touchdown to the position. Martin thankfully has volume on his side (65% of the carries), but just isn’t getting the opportunities near the goal line. The Bucs have only seen 12 plays inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and Martin has touched the ball 3 times. Limited scoring opportunities in a low volume offense + JJ Watt = you’re gonna have a bad time.

24. DeMarco Murray vs. New York Jets – 7.75
One day when DeMarco Murray looks back on his NFL career after taking dip in his money pool a la Scrooge McDuck, is there any chance he regrets the move from Jerry’s team to Chip’s? No, of course not. He has a money pool. However, it’s likely after two weeks of rushing for A HALF YARD PER CARRY he’s remembering better days. You read that right, a half yard and that’s not even the worst of it. Murray’s longest rush is 9 yards, meaning in his other 20 carries he’s rushed for a combined two yards. Is that DeMarco Murray taking handoffs in Philly or jokester Bill Murray pulling the ultimate goof because I am believing the latter story just as much as the former. I am not sure I’d expect things to get much better in Week 3, either as Murray has to face a stingy Jets rush defense that has held the opposition to less than 3 yards per carry 15 times since the beginning of 2013. It’d be difficult for things to get worse for Murray, but a hamstring injury just might be the ticket.

25. TJ Yeldon vs. New England – 7.75
26. Matt Jones vs. New York Giants – 7.75
27. Isaiah Crowell vs. Oakland – 7.75

28. Ronnie Hillman at DET - 7.75
29. CJ Spiller vs. Carolina – 7.75

30. Chris Ivory vs. Philadelphia - 8
It may be the understatement of the millennium, but there doesn’t seem to be much going right for the Eagles in 2015 EXCEPT for their rush defense. Despite facing the fourth most attempts, Philadelphia has surrendered the 17th fewest yards. There’s probably a more suave way to relay that information, but long story short the opposition has continued to fling their running game at the Philly wall but nothing seems to be sticking. Even less suave, but oh well… And while Kiko Alonso’s absence in Week 3 could help Chris Ivory’s production, he has more to be concerned with that just a stout run defense. Of course Ivory is ailing again (when is he not?) and was quite sore following the Monday night game according to reports. Not good on a short week. Assuming that hamstring is still tender (likely), Ivory could find himself on the wrong side of the snap count again as he was in Week 2 when it was a 54/46% split in favor of Bilal Powell. Furthermore, the two backs have nearly identical carries when the Jets are leading while Powell has a 2-1 advantage in touches in the 4th quarter. What’re the chances the Jets are leading the majority of this game, especially in the 4th quarter? Exactly. I love Ivory’s talent and could do without Powell ever seeing another touch, but #BeastEast does seem to be fighting an uphill battle in Week 3.

31. Tre Mason vs Pittsburgh – 7.75

32. Alfred Morris vs. New York Giants – 7.5
Two words. Matt. Jones. There was a time when Alfred Morris’ floor was protected by volume in a run-first offense. That no longer appears to be the case. After leading all Washington backs in Week 1 with 74% of the carries, Morris found himself playing second fiddle to the aforementioned Jones in what was a single-score game headed into the 4th quarter. Take away Morris’ 35-yard burst and he averaged just under a yard and half per carry. Looking to seal the game late in Week 2, it was Jones who Washington turned to inside the red zone and the rookie delivered after receiving three straight carries. The Giants have been good against the run through two weeks in surrendering only 138 yards on 3.2 yards per carry. However, they’ve been torched via the air by pass catching backs, including the third most receptions and second most yards in Week 1. You know who doesn’t catch the ball well? Ding ding. I don’t think Morris’ grave is quite ready for the dirt, but it’s awful difficult to trust the guy after Week 2.

33. Ameer Abdullah vs. Denver – 7.5
34. LeGarrette Blount vs JAX - 7.5
35. Rashad Jennings vs. Washington – 7.5
36. Devonta Freeman vs. Dallas – 7.5
37. Bishop Sankey vs. Indianapolis  - 7.5
38. Chris Johnson vs. San Francisco – 7.5
39. Todd Gurley vs. Pittsburgh – 7.25

 

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