Words by Jim Ayello; rankings by Paul Charchian
1. DeAngelo Williams vs. Cleveland - 10
There will be a time to unleash pent-up skepticism of DeAngelo Williams’ astounding season, but it’s not this week. Not when the Steelers' stars have aligned so well for him once again. Not only does Williams face a Browns defense that has allowed a league-high 1,724 total yards to running backs, but Big Ben resumed his role as Big Oaf on the Shelf, and Williams stands to be the benefactor. While Landry Jones has proved serviceable, Williams assuredly will be the offensive focal point, all but guaranteeing him the 25 touches per game he’s averaged in his three starts this season. He’s going to have a monster day and is a must-own in DFS. Quick note: The Browns’ 1,724 yards is 66 more than the Ravens allowed all of last season.
2. Todd Gurley vs. Chicago – 9.75
While his 100-yard rushing game streak came to an end last week, his 100-total yard streak is up to five thanks to his third consecutive game with three or more catches. That’s where I’d like to draw your attention in this matchup. We all know how devastating Gurley can be on the ground, but it’s his aerial prowess that excites me this week. I think the Bears were exposed a bit on Monday Night Football, where Danny Woodhead caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Chicago’s back seven are very young and wary of making costly mistakes. That often leads coordinator Vic Fangio to leave his safeties high and forces his linebackers to make a lot of one-on-one tackles in space. If you watched Monday night, this did not go so well. I expect the Rams to have noticed this flaw and expose it Sunday. With the receiving yards tacked on to what should be a 100-yard rushing day — the Bears have surrendered two of those this season — Gurley is in line for a monster game.
3. Mark Ingram at Washington – 9.25
We get it, Drew. You’re really good. We never should doubted you. You’re one of the best quarterbacks of your generation. One of a kind. You’re funny, handsome, charming and just the right amount of spontaneous. There? Is that enough to satisfy the ego? Will you stop hogging all the touchdowns and start sharing some with Mark Ingram? Please! The Saints have scored 11 touchdowns in their past two games, and 10 began with Brees slinging it to a receiver or tight end; the other was Brees just being mean and sneaking in a one-yard score that just as easily could have been Ingram’s. Listen, I have no complaints about Ingram’s workload or production. He’s gotten 20-plus touches in both games and racked up 215 yards. I just need Brees to let him walk one or two in once in awhile. He’s got a perfect opportunity this week against Washington. The Redskins have flipped their defensive script over the past month, with a dramatically improved passing defense and a horrible rush defense. They've allowed four straight 100-yard games and 4.6 yards per carry for the season.
4. Adrian Peterson at Oakland – 9.25
Linda Del Rio: “Jack! Would you quit tossing and turning and go to bed! For God’s sake, you haven’t had a good night’s sleep all week.”
Jack Del Rio (dripping sweat): “I … I can’t, Linda. He’s coming.”
Linda: “Ugh, every night, the same thing. He’s just a man, you know”
Jack: “Just a man! Just a man! No. He’s so much more. So much stronger. So much faster. We’re not prepared, Linda. We’re not ready!”
Linda: Yeah, that’s what you keep saying. But, I mean, (giggling) how could it be worse than what DeAngelo Williams did to you guys last week?
Jack: “Oh, realllll nice, Linda. Real nice! No problem throwing salt in that wound, huh!”
Wow. that Linda Del Rio is kind of a jerk, right? Guy tries to open up to her, and she’s making jokes. Plus, she’s wrong. It can be worse. Adrian Peterson can make Jack Del Rio’s life much, much worse. Peterson, now the NFL’s leading rusher, has put to bed any worries that he wouldn’t be the same at age 30, posting 100 total yards in three straight games. ... I wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing that was coming either.
5. DeMarco Murray vs. Miami – 9.25
Shout out to the NFL schedule-makers for this alley-oop. Had the Eagles taken on the Dolphins earlier in the season, we might be unsure if the Eagles’ RBBC could succeed against Miami. But thanks to those schedule makers, we just witnessed a pair of Buffalo runners trample the Dolphins, racking up 100 yards each and 3 touchdowns. So, no reason to think both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews won’t be highly effective here. Murray has gotten the lion’s share of the work — 95 touches to Mathews’ 41 in the past four games — despite Mathews continuing to look like the more effective back. However, no news out of Philly suggests there will be a change, so owners can feel safe continuing to ride Murray, whose high-volume has allowed him to total 100 yards in three of the past four games and score three touchdowns. Expect him to be especially productive through the air in the red zone: The Dolphins have allowed a league-high four receiving touchdowns to backs, including three in their past four games.
6. James Starks vs. Detroit – 8.5
Well, at least it’s official. Mike McCarthy announced Wednesday that James Starks will get the starting nod over Eddie Lacy come Sunday, providing clarity to what has been a cloudy situation. Hopefully, most Lacy owners handcuffed him with Starks and aren’t completed screwed by this fairly predictable news. The timing is wonderful for Starks, as he gets a chance to impress against one of the worst rush defenses in the league. The Lions have allowed lead runners to compile 100 total yards or score in four straight games. And for the season, they’ve surrendered a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns, including three in their most recent contest.
7. Justin Forsett vs. Jacksonville – 9.0
Good matchup checklist: Workload? Check. Justin Forsett is averaging 20 per game. Opponent? Check. The Jaguars are giving up just 3.4 yards per carry to backs, but they have allowed eight rushing touchdowns this year, fourth most in the league. Aerial threat? Check. Forsett’s caught four or more passes in five games this season, and Jacksonville has conceded 50 catches and three touchdowns to backs. Roger that. You are cleared to deploy Forsett this week.
8. Jonathan Stewart at Tennessee – 8.5
I’d like to share a little good news with Jonathan Stewart owners following a rough game against the Packers and leading into a tough matchup against a Titans defenses that’s held backs to fewer than 4.0 yards per carry and just four total touchdowns. First, in his past four games Stewart’s averaging 22 carries per contest after getting about 15 in the Panthers’ first four. So, the volume is there. Second, while Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert have sniped some of Stewart’s potential touchdowns, he’s still getting opportunities inside the opponent's’ five-yard-line. His six carries in that area match Newton and double the work of Tolbert.
9. LeGarrette Blount at New York Giants – 8.5
As a LeGarrette Blount owner, I hate this matchup. Not because the Giants are good against the run, because they aren’t. In fact, they are terrible (fifth-most rushing yards allowed). I hate this matchup, because they are even worse against the pass (No. 1 in passing yards allowed). And assuredly, when the Patriots have a choice of which way they’d prefer to drub their opponent, they usually let Tom Brady deliver the dagger (63 percent of New England plays have been passes). Plus, I truly wouldn’t put it passed a psychotically-competitive Brady to see what Drew Brees did two weeks ago against the Giants and think, “I bet I can do that.”
James White will likely slot into Dion Lewis' role, but Blount will get the majority of the team's work, including any goal line carries.
10. Latavius Murray vs. Minnesota – 8.25
The latest reports out of Oakland are that the Raiders expect Latavius Murray (concussion) to be ready for Sunday’s game. To me, that's good, not great news. Frankly, this is a bad matchup, and I'd rather not be tempted to start him. Since Week 6, the Vikings have been outstanding against the run, limiting running backs — including Todd Gurley and Matt Forte — to 3.7 yards per carry and one touchdown. That said, Murray has been spectacular of late, averaging 5.6 yards per carry in each of his past three games.
11. Doug Martin vs. Dallas – 8.25
F*** this. This is what I get for talking to that probably too nice guy at the airport, reading those surprisingly comforting pamphlets and drinking the f***ing Kool-Aid. I knew it. I f***ing knew it. The moment I began to trust Doug Martin would be the moment he turned back into a f***ing pumpkin. I have regrets. I do. I regret paying five grand to upgrade my spiritual awareness to Operating Thetan Level II, and I regret ever trusted Doug F***ing Martin. F***!
Sorry about that. But I should have known better. We all should have.
Two games against two of the best fantasy defenses to exploit (Falcons, Giants), and Martin’s total return on investment: 121 yards, 0 touchdowns and a lost fumble. So, yeah, I’m done. Go ahead and start him against Dallas at your own peril. The Cowboys are a fine matchup, having surrendered 390 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns to backs in the past three weeks, but I don’t trust him. Yes, I’m a spurned lover, but I also don’t trust him because backs have torched Dallas through the air (third most yards allowed), and that’s more Charles Sims’ game than Martin’s.
12. Lamar Miller at Philadelphia – 9
Lamar Miller’s receptions in the weeks since Dan Campbell took over the Dolphins: 2, 3, 5, 7. Symptom of a greater good: He’s averaging nearly 18 touches per game in the Campbell era after receiving just south of 12 under Joe Philbin. So, while the Dolphins are struggling, Miller’s value has never been higher. I expect the heavy workload to continue this week in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles have conceded consecutive 100-yard rushing games to backs less talented than Miller (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart).
13. Jeremy Langford at St. Louis - 8
I usually am not a proponent of using home/road splits in this space, but I’m making an exception, because the Rams defense is Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to location. In their four home games, the Rams have held lead running backs — including Marshawn Lynch and Le’Veon Bell — to 2.6 yards per carry and one touchdown. On the road, lead backs have enjoyed much greater success, piling up 4.6 yards per carry and three scores. St. Louis undoubtedly is a better defense at home, and that is where Bears rookie Jeremy Langford will find them this Sunday. Langford looked fantastic in his workhorse debut (152 total yards and a score), but that was against the Chargers. The Rams will be a much stiffer test.
14. Chris Ivory vs. Buffalo - 8
Chris Ivory’s recent work on and off the field is beyond troublesome. In his past three games, against the Patriots, Raiders and Jaguars, he’s received 55 carries and has plodded to a Richardsonian 1.5 yards per tote. When asked what the trouble was, Ivory said his offensive line has blown a lot of assignments. … Nice. Way to endear yourself, there Chris. He better be careful or #BeastEast is going to turn into #ReleasedEast really quickly. To be fair, though, the Jets offensive line has struggled mightily without guard Willie Colon and center Nick Mangold. Mangold is expected to play Thursday night, so that should help, and so should the matchup. In their past four games, the Bills have allowed runners to collect 4.1 yards per carry and score five touchdowns. One other piece of good news: No one has more attempts from inside their opponent's’ five-yard-line than Ivory’s 13. He’s punched in five.
15. T.J. Yeldon at Baltimore - 8
If the B in Baltimore didn’t already stand for Baltimore, it would stand for bad. (Jokes like that are why Charch pays me the big bucks.) [Charch – "consider that joke your walking papers."] Unfortunately for T.J. Yeldon, the Ravens are dreadful...er (killin’ it) against the pass than they are against the run, limiting backs to 3.8 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns this year. While Yeldon is sturdy out of the backfield (19 receptions this season), the Allen twins tend to be the apple of Blake Bortles’ eye. That said, Yeldon is rolling right now, posting four straight games with 100 total yards or a touchdown. His most recent two successes were against the Jets and Bills, each of whom boast far superior defensive units than the Ravens.
16. Darren McFadden at Tampa Bay – 8.0
Darren McFadden has been good. Very good. So, do I trust him to keep at his current pace? Well …
2008: Sprained shoulder, turf toe, turf toe, undisclosed shoulder injury; games missed: 4
2009: Torn meniscus that required surgery; games missed; 4
2010: Pulled hamstring, pulled hamstring, sprained right ankle; games missed: 6
2011: Fractured orbital bone, lisfranc sprain; games missed: 13
2012: High ankle sprain, ankle reinjury; games missed: 5.5
2013: Sprained ankle, pulled hamstring; games missed: 5
2014: ………….. (a minor miracle)
2015: Pulled hamstring, pulled the other hamstring; games missed: 0 so far
Career summary: Human injury bug; games missed: More than two season’s worth.
I feel like we’re all watching “Monty Python’s Holy Grail,” and the scene with the Black Knight is about to begin. He’ll fight valiantly for a bit, then, one by one, the limbs will begin to fall off. This is Darren McFadden, football’s Black Knight. For those counting on his services in the fantasy playoffs, you deserve what’s coming to you.
As for this week, if he avoids injury, he’ll be a fine RB2 based on volume, but I wouldn’t expect him to repeat recent performances. Tampa Bay hasn’t given up a rushing touchdown or a 100-yard game since Week 3.
17. LeSean McCoy at New York Jets – 8
It’s back. That signature explosiveness that will forever define LeSean McCoy’s legacy — and once caused me to compare to him Barry Sanders — has returned. Shady entered the season undoubtedly banged up (hamstring) but determined to play through the pain. He looked OK, producing decently in three games but never really demonstrating that elite skill that made him a superstar. Then, McCoy took some time off. Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 18, he didn’t play a single snap for the Bills, missing two games. It’s clear to me now that the nearly three weeks of rest were crucial. In the three games before the break, he averaged 3.39 yards per carry with, and this is important, zero runs of longer than 18 yards along with no rushing touchdowns. Since he’s returned: 5.29 yards per carry, including runs of 33 and 48 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Shady finally looks like Shady again. But the fly in the ointment is Karlos Williams, who is averaging a full yard per carry more, and syphons off 10+ touches every game. The Jets have allowed — by far — the fewest total yards to backs (97 per game). Add in a shoulder injury, and I'm nervous about his chances of repeating last week's heroics.
18. Giovani Bernard vs. Houston – 7.75
Hue Jackson isn’t stupid. He’s long been an above-average offensive coordinator with a history of excellent seasons on his resume and is in the process of doing what previously was thought to be impossible — turning Andy Dalton into an MVP candidate. So being that we’ve established he’s good at his job, it befuddles me that he continues to feed Jeremy Hill when it is agonizingly clear Giovani Bernard is the superior talent. I know he sees it. Everyone does. Not only is it clear on game tape where Bernard is bursting through holes, while Hill is falling through them, it’s obvious in the stats. Hill has zero games with more than 70 total yards; Bernard has six. Hill averages 3.4 yards per touch; Bernard averages 5.9. Hill has zero 20-yard plays. Bernard has five. The only area where Hill has been statistically superior to Bernard is runs inside the five-yard-line. Bernard has four carries for zero yards and no touchdowns. Hill has six carries for 12 yards and four touchdowns. That fact has plummeted Bernard’s value. With the yards he’s been piling up, if he paired him with short scores, he’d be a top 5 back. Alas, nothing indicates Jackson is moving away from this game plan. So, Bernard owners must remain satisfied with his high RB2 upside this week against a Texans defense that is slightly below average at stopping backs on the ground (10 most yards allowed) and above average through the air (No. 17 in receiving yards allowed).
19. Antonio Andrews vs. Carolina – 7.75
Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. It’s fantasy, it’s the real estate equivalent of location. And Andrews has it in spades right now. Over his past two games, the NFL sophomore is averaging 19.5 touches per game and has totaled an impressive 193 yards in this burgeoning Titans offense. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a sore sight for eyes to watch run, plodding and burst-less, but he’s made the most of his opportunities, which is more than most backs — insert photo of Trent Richardson here — can say. He ranks as a low-end RB2 against an overrated Panthers defense that has surrendered 90 total yards or a touchdown to running backs in six straight games. Carolina’s biggest deficiency is corralling backs in the passing game. It has allowed seven catches to backs per contest, second most behind only Atlanta. And while Dexter McCluster is the Titans’ primary receiving back, don’t underrate Andrews’ pass-catching ability. No one will ever use the term explosive when they see Andrews run after the catch, but the kid did haul in 41 passes his senior season at Western Kentucky.
20. Matt Jones vs. New Orleans – 7.75
The Saints bafflingly continue to employ one of the worst defensive coordinators in the league, and opponents keeping taking advantage. Last week it was the Titans, this week it’s Matt Jones and Washington’s turn to deliver a monster performance against a Rob Ryan unit in the bottom 10 in the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed. For Jones, this is an excellent opportunity to get back on track, as he’s failed to top 50 yards in his five games since Week 2. Despite the poor performances — and some fumbling troubles — his coaches have continued to feed him. He’ll reward their faith against a defense that concedes 4.7 yards per carry. And if they decided to feed him in the passing game, Jones’ day could be even better. The Saints have allowed backs the fifth-most catches and fourth-most yards through the air.
21. Charcandrick West at Denver – 7.75
Charcandrick West has done an admirable Jamaal Charles impression since the latter went down with an injury, but I don’t see him matching Charles’ outstanding Week 2 performance against Denver. In that game, Charles racked up 125 rushing yards and a touchdown. Since then, Denver has allowed only two backs to enjoy fantasy relevant days — Adrian Peterson (16-81-1) and Frank Gore (28-83-1) — and West is not as talented as his predecessor or either future Hall of Famer.
22. C.J. Anderson vs Kansas City – 7.75
“Oh, Magic 8-Ball, will C.J. Anderson be a reliable back this week and for the rest of the season?”
Here are the 20 possible — Can you believe there are 20? — answers to that question:
It is certain; It is decidedly so; Without a doubt; Yes, definitely; You may rely on it; As I see it, yes; Most likely; Outlook good; Yes; Signs point to yes; Reply hazy try again; Ask again later; Better not tell you now; Cannot predict now; Concentrate and ask again; Don't count on it; My reply is no; My sources say no; Outlook not so good; Very doubtful.
Don’t you feel like every one of those is a reasonable answer to that question? Isn’t that a little crazy? Anderson’s roller-coaster season hit one of its’ valleys last week when he totaled just 38 yards. Then again, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and was coming off of his first 100-yard game of the year. So, maybe he’s about to hit another high against Kansas City. Then again, the Chiefs held him to 27 yards on 12 carries in Week 2, so maybe not. I just don’t know. I’ve never been on this ride before; I’m getting dizzy, and I’d like to get off.
23. Jeremy Hill vs. Houston – 7.75
Jeremy Hill hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown in more than month. He hasn’t run for even 61 yards in more than two months. He hasn’t caught more than one pass in a game all season. But Houston is No. 10 in rushing yards allowed and has given up a touchdown to a back in three of the past five weeks. And he’s still getting 15 touches per week in an explosive offense. So, you know, I guess he’s usable.
24. Karlos Williams at New York Jets – 7.75
25. Ryan Mathews vs. Miami – 7.75
26. Thomas Rawls vs Cardinals - 7.75
27. Duke Johnson Jr. at Pittsburgh – 7.75
28. Marshawn Lynch vs. Arizona – 8.5
A well-rested BeastMode is a … bad BeastMode? It surprised me too, but in his past three games coming off byes, Marshawn Lynch can be described with one word: underwhelming.
2014: 17 carries, 72 yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
2013: 16 carries, 45 yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
2012: 19 carries, 46 yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
My best guess: The Seahawks cryogenically freeze him (like Austin Powers) during bye weeks, and it takes him a couple weeks and a spin with Rollergirl (OK, now I’m just mixing movies; kudos if you kept up) to get his mojo back. Lynch hammered the Cardinals in their most recent meeting, last December, for 113 yards and two touchdowns. But, Arizona has surrendered the second-fewest rushing yards to backs, and just two touchdowns.
29. Chris Johnson at Seattle – 7.5
I think Chris Johnson is showing signs of slowing down. Blasphemy, I know, but the NFL’s third-leading rusher hasn’t looked great his past three games. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry against the Steelers in Week 6 and 3.6 YPC against the horrendous Browns in Week 8. And the 6.8 YPC against Baltimore in Week 7? I hate stats like these, but if you take away that 62-yard run, you know the one where the Ravens thought they had tackled him, but his knee never touched the ground, and he scampered away before anyone knew better? Fluke play. And if you take it away, his YPC falls to 3.5 for the game and gives him a three-game average of 3.4. Guess what team is holding running backs to 3.6 yards per carry this season and has only allowed two touchdowns? Yeah, it’s Seattle. Deploy CJ if you want, but he’s outside my Top 20 this week.
29. Isaiah Crowell at Pittsburgh – 7.5
30. Charles Sims vs. Dallas – 7.5
31. Eddie Lacy vs. Detroit – 7.5
32. Ronnie Hillman vs. Kansas City – 7.5
33. Shane Vereen vs. New England – 7.5
34. Joique Bell at Green Bay – 7.5
35. Rashad Jennings vs. New England – 7.25
36. James White at New York Giants – 7.25
37. Andre Ellington at Seattle – 7.0
38. Theo Riddick at Green Bay – 7.0
39. Chris Thompson vs. New Orleans – 7.0
40. Alfred Blue at Cincinnati – 7.0
41. Orleans Darkwa vs. New England – 7.0