Written/ranked by Jonnie Carlyle
1. DeAngelo Williams at Cleveland
There is plenty of blame to go around after Pittsburgh’s embarrassingly bad offensive performance in Baltimore last Sunday, but feel free to excuse DeAngelo Williams from those meetings. He was only the second back to top 100 yards rushing against the Ravens in their last eight games and the only one this season to have more than 150 yards from scrimmage, doing so on just 22 touches. He’s had at least 132 total yards and/or a touchdown in eight of his nine starts and has tallied five rushing touchdowns in his last three games.. Though the Browns have played better of late, they still lead the league in rushing yards allowed (121 yards per game) and have only had one visiting team fail to have a runner total 100+ yards and/or reach the end zone.
2. Devonta Freeman vs. New Orleans
After scoring just one touchdown from Weeks 7-13, Freeman has reached the promised land in back-to-back weeks and that streak is likely to continue with the Aints coming to the dirty South in Sunday’s regular season finale. In their last five games, only Jacksonville (trailed by 21 early) didn’t have a rushing touchdown against New Orleans, running backs are averaging well over five yards per carry and no team has given up more receiving yards to the position. Freeman already blasted this defense to the tune of 156 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in Week 6 and there’s no reason to expect Sunday to be any different. In the last three weeks, Freeman has handled 87% of the carries, all the red zone attempts, received 20 targets in the passing game and oh yeah, leads the team in red zone targets as well.
3. Adrian Peterson at Green Bay
Not that anyone has ever had concerns outside of his parenting skills, but the bum ankle that forced Peterson to miss some practice last week proved to be a non-issue on Sunday night. He’s on the verge of another rushing title (1418 yards), is second in rushing touchdowns (10) and has at least one rushing touchdown against the Packers in every matchup since 2010. I don’t think Green Bay is scaring anyone and that’ll especially be true if stud defensive tackle BJ Raji isn’t fully recovered from a concussion he sustained in Sunday’s game against Arizona. The Packers have given up the 5th-most rushing touchdowns, including four in their last six games and allowed an opposing back to top 100+ total yards and/or score in a touchdown in five of seven home games.
4. David Johnson vs. Seattle
You’d be hard pressed to find a hotter running back in the NFL right now than Johnson. He’s had at least 112 total yards in every game since taking over as lead back—averaging 148 total yards—and has six touchdowns in the last five. Expect those opportunities to continue, too, as the Cardinals lead the league in red zone trips (4) per game. Johnson has had at least four targets in all three of his starts and that could prove troublesome for a Seattle defense that’s allowed the 8th-most receptions to the position.
5. Tim Hightower at Atlanta
Be it the fountain of youth or a load of Doc Brown’s plutonium, Big Time Timmy Jim Hightower appears to have stumbled upon one of them as he’s suddenly relevant again. Hightower has 60 carries in the last three weeks (the most he’s ever had over three games), has at least four red zone carries in every game during that same stretch (14 total) and was one dumb penalty away from having at least one touchdown in all three games too. No team has more red zone attempts in the last three weeks than New Orleans, which is always a positive but especially so given their opponent this Sunday. The Falcons have given up the 2nd-most rushing touchdowns in 2015 (15), including two to Mark Ingram in Week 6 whose role Hightower now fills. Atlanta is also the only team to allow more than 100 receptions to the position, which suggests Hightower’s three catches in two straight should be considered his receiving floor.
6. Todd Gurley at San Francisco
You won’t find me suggesting Gurley has really struggled at any point this, but his production has tended to slip in games where the Rams are forced to abandon the run due to game script. The 49ers are averaging less than 15 points per game and haven’t topped 17 points at home since Week 6, so no issue there. And the way Gurley’s been playing of late, it likely wouldn’t matter. He’s averaged 106 yards from scrimmage in his last three, reached the end zone in three straight as well and is the first opposing back to average at least four yards per carry and score a touchdown playing in Seattle since Week 6 of 2014. Say what you will about San Francisco’s home/road splits, but they’ve allowed the most rushing touchdowns (17) in the league and at least one in three of their last four in Levi’s Stadium.
7. Doug Martin at Carolina
Only two backs have rushed for more than 100 yards against Carolina, but good news Martin owners, Dougie was one of them after posting 20-106-1 in Week 4 (along with 5-37 through the air). He’s only averaged less than five yards per carry twice in the last six games, but Martin reached the end zone in both. There’s also the league’s rushing crown incentive, which the Tampa offensive line has been vocal about helping Martin reach. As solid as the Panthers have been defensively, opposing backs have reached the end zone in three of their last four.
8. Rashad Jennings vs. Philadelphia
It’s probably taken about 14 weeks too long, but it appears the Giants have finally settled on who their best running back is and it’s Rashad Jennings. In the last three weeks, only David Johnson and Timmy Hightower have more yards from scrimmage than Jennings. He’s totaled 100+ in three straight games and handled all the red zone carries since Week 14. Few teams have been as bad as the Eagles have been during that same stretch. They’re allowing 134 rushing yards per game since Week 14 and at least one opposing back has reached the end zone in seven straight.
9. Darren McFadden vs. Washington
Is it possible, Run DMC makes it through an entire season without breaking down and missing some time? Certainly looks that way and that means he should be in your lineups. McFadden’s actually seen his usage drop of late, but his production hasn’t seemed to slip at all. In the last four weeks, he’s had at least 99 yards rushing three times and the lone week he failed to reach that mark, McFadden scored a touchdown. Washington has only allowed 85 rushing yards per game since Week 13, but don’t tell that to their goal line rush defense. In their last four games, Washington has allowed five rushing touchdowns and that includes one from McFadden in Week 13 and at least one in every game after that.
10. Jeremy Hill vs. Baltimore
The Bengal backfield has been pretty easy to telegraph in 2015 and given the assumed game script on Sunday, it looks like it’ll be a Hill game. He’s led the team in carries in five straight weeks, including a 19-4 edge over Gio Bernard in the red zone and is the only running back to rush for a touchdown in their last nine games. Of the seven rushing touchdowns the Ravens have allowed, five of them have come inside the red zone and four of them from inside the two-yard line suggesting if there are any rushing touchdowns to be had, it’ll likely come in Hill territory. Baltimore haven’t exactly been the run stoppers of old either, surrendering 100+ rushing yards and/or a touchdown and more than five yards per carry in three of their last four contests.
11. James White at Miami
To suggest I hate all things New England would be a slight understatement and that’s especially true in the fantasy realm when it comes to running backs not named Dion Lewis, but it’s hard to argue with James White’s production. He’s reached the end zone six times in the six games since Lewis went down, including one touchdown in four straight and has had at least four catches in all four of those games too. Miami has been downright terrible, in pretty much every facet of the game, but especially so against pass-catching backs. They’ve given up a league-high eight touchdown receptions to the position, with four of them coming in the last four weeks.
12. Chris Ivory at Buffalo
Ivory certainly has some question marks headed into Sunday’s pivotal matchup with Buffalo after just 75 rushing yards in the last two games combined, but game script played a huge role in that limited production. He’s still the preferred battering ram in the Jet offense--double-digit carries in every game he’s played but one--and that’ll mean plenty facing a depleted Buffalo defense. Already short one defensive tackle (and four defensive starters overall), it’s possible the Bills will be without their other tackle as well after Marcell Dareus left Sunday’s game early with a stinger.
13. Latavius Murray at Kansas City
Murray’s been an absolute bore since shredding the Jets in Week 8, but that’s not to say there isn’t something comfortable about him too. He’s topped 20 touches and at least 80 total yards in four of his last five and has handled 80% of the red zone carries during that same stretch. There’s a good chance Murray enjoys the matchup as well. In his three games against Kansas City, he’s averaged 95 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns, including a game four weeks ago where he had 97 total yards and reached pay dirt.
14. Matt Forte vs. Detroit
Backfield committees suck (duh), but that hasn’t prevented Forte from being serviceable since returning from injury in Week 12. He’s averaged 82 yards from scrimmage on 14 touches in his last five games and despite the annoying cluster at the goal line has still managed three touchdowns in those five games because he’s the preferred back, by a three to one margin, in the red zone. If Detroit’s rush defense is overtly vulnerable anywhere, it’s been at the goal line as they’ve allowed the 2nd-most rushing touchdowns (15) this season.
15. Buck Allen at Cincinnati
Given another shot to run the show after a case of fumbleitis, Allen not-so-surprisingly looked like the best back in the Baltimore backfield last Sunday. Allen had nearly three times as many yards as did Terrance West on 10 more touches. And when Allen has been trusted in the lead role (and not faced Seattle), he’s delivered. Justin Forsett went down early in Week 11 and in the resulting 5+ games, Allen’s topped 100 total yards and/or scored a touchdown in four of them. The Bengals have only allowed six rushing touchdowns all season, but four of them have come in the last three weeks as the Andy Dalton injury has prevented them from running away from teams.
16. Frank Gore vs. Tennessee
I was happy for Gore after his impressive performance last Sunday in Miami, but if you’re expecting something similar in the season finale you’re gonna have a bad time. According to Chuck Pagano, Stephen Morris is the only healthy quarterback in Indianapolis currently and it’s not like Gore was lighting the world on fire with any of the other Colt quarterbacks anyway. His 3.1 yards per carry in the last six games is the same Trent Richardson averaged in his time in Indianapolis and outside of last week’s unusual explosion, Gore hadn’t rushed for a touchdown in five straight. The Titans meanwhile, have only allowed one back to surpass 59 rushing yards or rush for a touchdown in their last six games.
17. CJ Anderson vs. San Diego
Part matchup and part I don’t know how to quit this guy, Anderson draws a healthy ranking after showing flashes of his 2014 form on Monday night. The Chargers have given up 6th-most rushing yards this season and in 11 of their 15 games at least one opposing running back has topped 100+ total yards and/or a scored a touchdown. Anderson hasn’t exactly been healthy, well all season, but in his two most recent games where health wasn’t a concern going in, Anderson has averaged 117 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns.
18. Bilal Powell at Buffalo
There’s a pretty strong case to be made from the moment Powell returned from injury in Week 11, he’s been the back to own in New York. Powell’s averaging 13 more yards per game than Chris Ivory and has three touchdowns to Ivory’s one. Powell’s also become one of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite targets, posting at least five catches in four straight games. Buffalo has been notoriously bad against screens in 2015 and that’s contributed to them allowing the 5th-most touchdown receptions to the position.
19. Lamar Miller vs. New England
The coaching staff has no idea how to use him, the wheels have completely come off the offense and the offensive line’s most important pieces, Mike Pouncey and Brandon Albert, are hobbled. That about sum up Miller’s outlook on Sunday? Oh, and he faces a Patriot defense that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown in four weeks, no back to top 66 rushing yards during that same stretch and held Miller to 15 yards on 9 carries in their first meeting in Week 8. In fact, in six career games against New England, Miller has averaged just 47 rushing yards and has just one rushing touchdown. I wish I had some fu*** to give, but after 16 weeks of this buffoonery, I just don’t. #sorrynotsorry.
20. Eddy Lacy vs. Minnesota
It’s been harder to predict which #FeastMode we’re going to get than the repercussions of eating the meatloaf at your local Golden Corral, but Lacy has proven the reward might just be worth the risk. Lacy’s topped 100+ yards from scrimmage and/or reached the end zone in four of his last five games and was one John Kuhn vulture job away from making it a perfect five for five. He’s likely salivating at the matchup too as the Vikings were the first course in that five game stretch and have continued to struggle since. Going back to Week 11, every team Minnesota has faced has had at least one back total 100+ and/or reach the end zone and two of them have done both.
21. Alfred Morris at Dallas
Entirely contingent on the health of Matt Jones, but assuming his hip keeps him out on Sunday Morris is a solid play against a fledgling Dallas rush defense. With Jones on the sideline last week, Morris handled 81% of Washington’s rushing attempts and was the only back to get a carry inside the red zone. That kind of usage should yield results on Sunday. The Cowboys have surrendered five rushing touchdowns and 25 more rushing yards than the next closing team in their last three games and have done so against what many would consider questionable talent. Game script will also keep Morris on the field as Washington doesn’t have to worry about this Dallas offense (10 points per game in their last three) forcing Washington into catch up mode.
21 b. Insert Pierre Thomas if Alfred Morris sits
22. Danny Woodhead at Denver
He has a tendency to disappear at times, but after his last two games there is a pretty good chance you won’t see Woodhead on any milk cartons prior to this Sunday’s game in Denver. He was the entire Charger red zone offense two weeks ago as he had as many carries and targets inside the Miami 20-yard line as the rest of the offense combined on his way to a four touchdown performance and followed that game up with his 8th game with at least 50 yards receiving and a season-high 55 yards on the ground. The Bronco defense has brutalized the opposition in 2015, but if San Diego is to produce points they’ll need a heavily involved Woodhead. The Chargers are averaging 10 more points per game when Woodhead touches the ball at least 10 times.
23. Spencer Ware vs. Oakland
With a playoff berth all locked up, it’s hard to know for sure what Andy Reid will do on Sunday but I tend to think his decision takes the form of an Alex Smith forward pass. He may drop back like he wants to attack, but if the going gets tough a safe dumpoff may be the preferred route. Even if Reid went for it, there are still concerns about a backfield split now that Ware has returned to action, further muddying this situation. In the two games both were healthy, West received two more touches than Ware, but it was the latter that dominated the red zone looks (3-1) and that’s why I give the nod to Ware. Oakland hasn’t allowed more than 55 rushing yards since Week 10, but they have allowed a rushing touchdown in two straight and three of their last four, which is Ware territory.
24. Alfred Blue vs. Jacksonville
Lead backs are hard to come by these days and that’s just what Blue has become in Houston. He’s had at least 15 carries in four of his last five games and has 100+ total yards and/or a touchdown in three of them. He’s also led the team in red zone attempts in every game he’s played since Week 9. I still think Jacksonville doesn’t get the credit they deserve as a rush defense, but lead backs have found success in the last two weeks. The Jaguars have surrendered an average of 135 yards from scrimmage and they’ve given up four touchdowns total to the position.
25. Jeremy Langford vs. Detroit
If you’re like me, you want no part of this now three-headed committee (apparently) but it’s the regular season finale so smoke em if you got em. Langford has had double-digit carries in nine straight games and despite Forte’s return, has led the team in attempts in each of the last three weeks. As long as Detroit continues to give up 5.4 yards per carry as they have done in the last three weeks, that volume should amount to production on the field.
26. Ronnie Hillman vs. San Diego
27. Charcandrick West vs. Oakland
28. Karlos Williams vs. New York
29. Cameron Artis-Payne vs. Tampa Bay
30. Brandon Bolden at Miami
31. Denard Robinson at Houston
32. Theo Riddick at Chicago
33. Ryan Mathews at New York Giants
34. Ameer Abdullah at Chicago
35. DeMarco Murray at New York Giants
36. Isaiah Crowell vs. Pittsburgh
37. Charles Sims vs. Carolina
38. Joique Bell at Chicago
39. Gio Bernard vs. Baltimore
40. Shane Vereen vs. Philadelphia
41. James Starks vs. Minnesota
42. Mike Gillislee vs. New York
43. Christine Michael at Arizona
44. Steven Jackson at Miami
45. Duke Johnson vs. Pittsburgh
46. Darren Sproles at New York Giants
47. Andre Ellington vs. Seattle
48. DuJuan Harris vs. St. Louis
49. Fozzy Whitaker vs. Tampa Bay
50. Kadeem Carey vs. Detroit
51. Donald Brown at Denver
52. Terrance West vs. Cincinnati
53. Antonio Andrews at Indianapolis
54. Bryce Brown at Arizona
55. Mike Tolbert at Tampa Bay