Words by Jonnie Carlyle; Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay – 10
If M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong ever wanted to do a “Signs 2”, there’s a pretty good chance he could cast Adrian Peterson as the alien and not one person who’s ever seen this guy run the football would bat an eye. Despite being a grandpa in NFL running back terms, Peterson leads the NFL in rushing yards (by a staggering 227 yards), has at least 20 touches in eight straight games and has at least three red zone carries in every game but one since Week 2. The Green Bay rush defense has shown flashes, but that was against a slew of terrestrial beings. Historically, their attempts to slow the not-so-little purple man have been futile as Peterson has at least one rushing touchdown in every Packer game but one since 2008 and averaged 124 rushing yards at home against Green Bay.
2. Devonta Freeman vs. Indianapolis – 10
I wish there was something to be said about facing a 97 year old Matt Hasselbeck-led Indianapolis team and how that positively affects Devonta Freeman’s outlook, but given the Falcons are a couple weeks removed from losing to a Blaine Gabbert-led San Francisco team, those narratives are forever removed. Regardless, owners have to be excited their fantasy cash cow is back and production is sure to pick right back where it left off. Freeman has handled 81% of the carries since taking over in Week 3, 93% of the red zone carries and is second on the team in every major receiving category except yards, including just two fewer red zone catches than Julio Jones. Though serviceable at home, the Colts have been dreadful against backs on the road. Six different backs in four games have gained at least 100 total yards and/or a touchdown, with at least 46 receiving yards allowed to running backs in all four games.
3. Todd Gurley at Baltimore - 9.75
I don’t think you’ll hear about Todd Gurley celebrating the recent quarterback swap in St. Louis, but that’s because machines are emotion-less and only operate with one directive in mind, to perform. And perform Gurley has. Maybe not to the tune of 120+ rushing yards and well over five yards per carry like Weeks 4-8, but I am more than content with Gurley’s average of 98 total yards and a touchdown in his last two games. There’s also little to no concern the rookie will fall into a game script that only allows 15 touches like he had last weekend as the Ravens have just two victories by a combined six points. Baltimore has faced five non-RBBC backfields and in each case, the lead back has had at least 18 touches, with the averaging being 22 touches.
4. Lamar Miller vs. Dallas – 9.75
So Joe Philbin is basically Ron Livingston’s character from “Office Space” in real life, right? Goes to a hypnotist, get’s abandoned in this weird, suspended state and suddenly doesn’t care about keeping his job. I’ve spent weeks thinking about this and I just can’t come up with any other logical explanation for Lamar Miller’s usage during Philbin’s tenure. Since that old creep was given the boot, Miller has averaged 124 total yards and scored at least one touchdown in five straight games. You know how many times Miller totaled 124 yards in Philbin’s 2+ years in Miami? Four. I know there was some trepidation about stud rookie running back Jay Ajayi too, especially given Dan Campbell’s comments about more touches headed his way prior to last Sunday, but Miller still handled 79% of the backfield touches and 82% of the offensive snaps. The Cowboys have only given up 100 rushing yards once in 2015, but Dallas has given up the sixth-most catches to the position and third-most receiving yards. Nine different backs have caught at least four passes averaging 56 receiving yards and the linebacker corps is all sorts of beat up. Sean Lee’s recovering from what feels like his 100th concussion and could sit out again on Sunday whilst Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain were both hobbled headed into last Sunday’s game.
5. Jonathan Stewart vs. Washington – 9.5
He’s pretty much everything you’ve ever wanted in a running back, but chances are through 10 weeks you still don’t know it because Jonathan Stewart’s about as flashy as pair of ash gray sweatpants. Since Carolina’s bye in Week 5, Stewart has had 20+ carries in five straight games and averaged more than four red zone carries during that stretch resulting in at least one rushing touchdown in four of five games. Assuming Stewart hits that 20 carry mark, production is sure to follow. Washington has given up at least 129 rushing yards and a touchdown to every running back that’s reached 20 carries, and have allowed the most rushing yards in the last five weeks despite playing just four games.
6. Charcandrick West at San Diego – 9.5
Lead dog in a run first offense? Check. Tasty matchup? Check. Best nickname in football? Discount double check. Charcandrick West has been on fire in the last three weeks, posting more rushing yards than Chris Ivory, Doug Martin and Lamar Miller and more touchdowns that Adrian Peterson, LeGarrette Blount and Mark Ingram. And West has done that despite playing in one less game. Charknado (yisssss) has 24+ touches, at least one touchdown and 120+ total yards in three straight games, which doesn’t bode well for a San Diego rush defense that’s given up the second most total yards to position (of the teams to play nine games) and only held one opposing lead back to less than 100+ combo yards and/or a touchdown. If you listen real close on Sunday, you might just catch Charger defensive coordinator John Pagano whispering through the headset, ‘we’re gonna need a bigger boat’ as Charcandrick runs on to the field.
7. Marshawn Lynch vs. San Francisco – 9.5
Did Marshawn Lynch have some sudden media obligations on Sunday and that’s why this abdominal issue came out of nowhere on Friday? I mean, I know I used to tell my mom my belly hurt every Tuesday morning before school in hopes I’d get to stay home and catch the noon showing of “Baywatch” on channel 24 in an empty house. See Marshawn, you and I, we aren’t that different. Whatever the scare was, Lynch looked good on Sunday night and was hindered not by injury, but an immediate double-digit deficit that forced Seattle into a pass heavy offense. This Sunday should be much better in that regard, however, as coming to town is Blaine Gabbert—or what I like to call the exact opposite of what would cause a pass-heavy game script. Lynch has reached the end in two straight at home and 8 of his last 11 and gets a dreadful road 49er defense he already trucked four weeks ago in his lone trip over 100 yards this season. San Francisco, when not playing whatever derogatory term you’d call the Giants backfield, has allowed an average line of 20-116-2 on the ground to lead backs and has given up at least one touchdown to the position in all four road games.
8. LeGarrette Blount vs. Buffalo - 9
Traditionally Bill Belichick has smartly gone after the Bills through the air, as Buffalo’s rush defense has been one the league’s best in recent years. However, things changed in Week 6 when defensive tackle Kyle Williams went down with a knee injury. In the three weeks since, Buffalo has allowed 306 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Just for comparisons sake, their first six games saw the Bills give up just 315 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Williams won’t be on the field Monday, which got LeGarrette Blount looking like Eddy Lacy leering through the front window of a Golden Corral. Twice Blount has posted double-digit carries against the Bills —he’s averaged 24 since Dion Lewis went down—and all he’s done in those games is average 17-125-1. He’s received an absurd 15 red zone carries in the last two games, easily the most in the NFL and there’s no reason to expect number to change given the Patriots have averaged well over five trips into their opponent’s 20 yard line when playing at home.
9. Darren McFadden at Miami - 9
We know enough about Darren McFadden as a player to drop a simple "Matt Cassel is no longer his quarterback" and be done here, but that just wouldn’t be (clearly I am a tad verbose (sorry Charch!)) prudent of me. McFadden has had an overwhelming amount of opportunity since taking over for Joseph Randle in Week 7, with an average of 26 touches in the last four weeks but it hasn’t necessarily been the best kind of opportunity. That all changes with Tony Romo’s return. The Cowboys averaged 3.2 red zone scoring attempts per game in 2014, with DeMarco Murray averaging just under four red zone touches per game. Fast forward to 2015, with Matt Cassel and his horrible goatee (and first down celebrations, seriously WTF dude) thing, Dallas has averaged 1.5 fewer such attempts per game.. Miami will likely do their part too, as in the last five weeks no team has given up more touchdowns on the ground AND given up more receiving touchdowns to the position than the Dolphins. Only four teams have allowed more rushing yards during that same stretch and only the putrid Saints have surrendered more receiving yards than Miami. Cha-ching? Cha-ching!
10. Chris Ivory at Houston – 8.75
PSA time folks. If you’re upset the guy you drafted to be your third or fourth running is “only” totaling 100+ yards or scoring at least a touchdown in three of his last four games, maybe fantasy football just isn’t for you. Should we be stoked about Chris Ivory’s back-to-back games of averaging a yard per carry? No, but one of those games was supplemented by a two touchdown performance. You know who’d love a two-touchdown performance? CJ Anderson, Alfred Morris and Melvin Gordon owners, all of whom were taken prior to Ivory and have a combined one touchdown between the three of them. The Jet running back has had at least one red zone carry every week he’s played and has reached pay dirt on 20% of those carries. Ivory’s had to play one game without his center and his quarterback, another without his right guard and faced two of the better rush defenses in the last four weeks. And again, #BeastEast has reached the end zone or totaled 100+ yards in three of them. Houston’s been better of late, but are just three weeks removed from Lamar Miller’s 236 total yards and two touchdowns, which was the sixth time the Texans have allowed a back to total 100+ yards and/or score a touchdown.
11. LeSean McCoy at New England – 8.75
Normally a matchup against what has been a surprisingly strong Patriot rush defense would have me concerned. However, after watching LeSean McCoy jump cut his way through a full strength Jet defensive front to the tune of 112 rushing yards, including more than five yards per carry on the final drive of the game when New York knew McCoy was getting the ball, I find myself less so. McCoy forced eight missed tackles on Thursday night and frequently made that tremendous defensive line look silly. Since coming back from his second hamstring strain four weeks ago, McCoy has averaged 119 yards per game—fourth best in the NFL during that stretch The Patriots have only allowed 100+ total yards to a runner twice in 2015, but one of those was a not-fully healthy McCoy in Week 2..
12. Latavius Murray at Detroit – 8.75
Forget everything James Starks didn’t show you against this Detroit defense and just remember back to, well, just about any other week in 2015. Like three weeks ago in London, when every running back reached the end zone. Or that time in Week 5 when David Johnson and Andre Ellington had just six carries, but still managed three touchdowns between them. What about that time Trent Richardson balled out to well over 3.5 yards a carry and even broke off a run of six yards. Okay, so maybe that last part is made up but the point remains, this Detroit rush defense is not good. Coincidentally, the only thing missing from Latavius Murray’s game in recent weeks has been the end zone. He’s averaged at least 5.6 yards per carry in three of his last four, averaging 16 carries during that stretch but was only able to convert one of his six red zone carries into a touchdown. That changes on Sunday.
13. Danny Woodhead vs. Kansas City – 8.75
Here’s all you need to know about Danny Woodhead the pass catcher: he has more receiving touchdowns than Jimmy Graham, just eight fewer receiving yards than Randall Cobb and has caught more passes than TY Hilton. But wait, there’s more! The offensive line is in shambles, but that may actually be a good thing for Woodhead and his competition for receptions are an underperforming Stevie Johnson, Antonio Gates, who’s basically the equivalent to a wooly mammoth trying to traverse through tar and he’s only got one leg to do it, and a crew of other scrubs that are only listed on the San Diego depth chart as “Let’s hope we never have to actually play these guys 1 and 2”. Also working in Woodhead’s favor, Kansas City has two linebackers than pressure the quarterback more than any other tandem in the NFL and that likely means Philip Rivers is headed for Dumpoff City, Population: Danny Woodhead.
14. DeMarco Murray vs. Tampa Bay – 8.5
I know all the injury talk in Philadelphia has centered around whichever bum they’ll be slotting in to play quarterback going forward, but that isn’t what we’re concerned about here. Ryan Mathews left Sunday’s game with a concussion and has yet to practice this week, which means if he can’t go, his five red zone carries in the last two weeks will be up for grabs. Darren Sproles you say? Guy hasn’t taken a carry inside the 20 since Week 3. And if DeMarco Murray’s owners are being honest with themselves, those vultured looks are really all they’ve had to complain about now that the running game is at least somewhat functional. Murray hasn’t had less than 18 carries (even with a healthy Mathews) since Week 4 and has totaled 100+ yards in three of his last four, including two straight games of six catches and at least 58 receiving yards. Tampa Bay is probably better at stopping the run those most realize. They haven't allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 3, and over that span, lead backs are averaging just 46 rushing yards on a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. This is an elite run defense. Your glimmer of hope: volume backs (16+ touches) have still managed to cobble together 100+ total yards and/or a touchdown in four of five against the Bucs, with the lone outlier being a Matt Cassel quarterbacked game.
15. Jeremy Langford vs. Denver – 8.25
Though Denver’s defense has been downright nasty for the majority of the season, the past couple weeks that hasn’t really been the case. The Broncos have given up a rushing touchdown in three straight weeks, but even more importantly to Langford, two straight weeks of a running back catching a touchdown. The 152 rushing yards allowed over the last two is their most allowed since Weeks 1 and 2 and the Broncos have given up 174 receiving yards to runners in the last three weeks, which is the fifth-most over that time. Peyton Manning isn’t there to giftwrap great field position to the opposition, but I don’t think we can confidently say Brock Osweiler will be much better.
16. Chris Johnson vs. Cincinnati – 8.25
In the words of the immortal REO Speedwagon:
“And I can’t fight this feeling anymore
I’ve forgotten what I started fightin’ forrrrr
It’s time to bring this ship into the shore
And throw away the oars, foreverrrr.”
C’mon Charch, sing it with me! I think we’ve all been fighting this Chris Johnson resurrection just a little too long. And yes, I have been too. *cue my best Rocky Balboa voice* But if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change! Johnson is on pace for 295 carries, which would be the most he’s had since 2010 (the second best rushing total of his career). He trails only Adrian Peterson in rushing yards, has the second most runs of 20+ yards (6) and set a season high two weeks ago followed by his second most last weekend despite Andre Ellington’s return. And regardless of what the Bengals are defensively, they’ll be nothing like facing a desperate Seattle team playing at home. When not chasing down the Alfred Blues and Isaiah Crowells of the world, the Bengals have been vulnerable. Prior to the last two weeks, Cincinnati had allowed 100+ total yards and/or a touchdown in four of five.
[Charch responds with a voice of reason: Last week, Jim Ayello correctly noted the following: "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." Take, that away, and he's averaging less than 3.6 yards per carry in four straight games.]
17. Frank Gore at Atlanta – 8.25
Who would the Denver Broncos rather have at quarterback right now, Peyton Manning or Matt “my sister-in-law Elizabeth is insane” Hasselbeck? Not even close, right? Dig warranted, but we digress. Who knows how this offense shapes up as whole without Andrew Luck and Rob Chudzinski taking over as offensive coordinator, but after watching Frank Gore with each part individually, I think we have to be at least marginally excited about the sum of the parts this Sunday. Gore set a season high in rushing yards in Hasselbeck’s second start, accumulated his lone game of 100+ total yards in Chud’s first game two weeks ago and has averaged 24-96-.66 in the three games without Luck or Pep Hamilton, including four red zone carries in all three games. The Falcons have been playing the part of solid rush defense, but apparently have only mastered one half of the equation as they’re one of two teams to give up double digit rushing touchdowns and three times have allowed two or more touchdowns to position. Atlanta hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 6, but stop me when you’re impressed by any of the guys they’ve faced in that stretch: Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews, Charles Sims, Doug Martin (maybe), Shaun Draughn, Kendall Gaskins, Pierre Thomas (already cut) and Bruce Miller. Yikes.
18. Doug Martin at Philadelphia – 8.25
You want to see an all-time great rant about Doug Martin, go check out the tremendous Jim Ayello going off in last week’s running back rankings. Amazing. Now, I am a Boise State alum so I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Martin but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in Martin at times in the last few weeks too. However, I think last week’s game was two horrible Jameis Winston interceptions deep in Dallas territory away from turning what ended up be a good-not-great game into something much heartier. Despite the interceptions, Martin still tallied 100+ total yards and posted his second highest snap count percentage of the season eliminating any concerns about his benching from the week prior. Philadelphia’s rush defense impressed early on, but seems to be withering as of late. In three straight weeks they’ve allowed at least 93 total yards, including two games of at least 117 rushing yards and a touchdown in the other. Philadelphia will again be without leading tackler linebacker Jordan Hicks too, who was tremendous both against the run and covering backs slipping out of the backfield. It was evident his absence contributed to Lamar Miller’s 6-50-1 receiving line last week.
19. Karlos Williams at New England – 8.0
It’s as simple as this, right: Karlos Williams is guaranteed to reach the end zone on Monday, right? Okay, maybe not, but there is something to be said about a guy that has a touchdown in every game he’s ever played. Williams isn’t one dimensional either, as he’s caught two touchdowns on pass plays specifically designed for him and could see a huge matchup advantage out of the backfield if linebacker Jamie Collins (who tends to draw pass coverage assignments on running backs) isn’t full recovered from the illness that kept him out of the last two. It’s always risky starting the second back against a powerful team like the Patriots, but I think Williams has shown he’s far from your standard backup running back.
Prediction: Karlos Williams scores a touchdown on Monday night AND Buffalo knocks off the awful Patriots. Let’s go Buff-a-lo!
20. Justin Forsett vs. St. Louis - 8
It’s always a little disheartening when we’re 11 weeks into the season and it feels like we’re still staring at the same production, but we keep expecting it to get better. That’s Justin Forsett in 2015 (and I think the very definition of insanity?) and sadly I am not sure it’s going to get much better. Forsett has just two touchdowns on the season, hasn’t totaled more than 72 yards in three straight and has just four plays over 10 yards during that same stretch, with just one since Steve Smith went down six quarters ago. St. Louis’ aggressiveness has shown them prone to making mistakes (Jeremy Langford’s 83 yard touchdown on a simple screen last Sunday comes to mind), but Forsett has been far from the pass catching playmaker we expected to see once Marc Trestman signed on as offensive coordinator with seven games of just 16 receiving yards or fewer. The Ravens also just put their starting center on IR, which can only be viewed as a negative for Forsett.
21. TJ Yeldon vs. Tennessee – 7.75
Stop me if you’ve heard this before in regards to a young, talented Jacksonville player: I love TJ Yeldon’s talent, but I hate the situation. This isn’t your same old Jagoffs, however, as the issue isn’t necessarily red zone trips—they’re averaging just as many as Green Bay and more than Denver and Miami—but what they do when they get there. 63% of Jacksonville's plays inside their opponent’s 20-yard line has been Blake Bortles’ passes with Yeldon having just three games of more than one red zone carry. The rookie running back has been terribly inefficient too, converting just one of his 18 red zone carries into a touchdown. There’s also concern about Yeldon’s health, after he was in a walking boot on Monday and faces a tough Titan rush defense on a short week. He’s since shed the boot and declared he’ll be playing Thursday night, but it’s not the kind of lead up you want against a Tennessee defense that’s allowed just three yards per carry in their last three games and only one rushing touchdown in their last four.
22. Gio Bernard at Arizona – 7.75
Catching a case of the Jeremy Hills apparently, Gio Bernard’s production has really gone by the wayside in recent weeks. He’s averaged just 66 total yards, has only topped double-digit carries once (after four occurrences in six before the bye) and seen a dramatic drop in his red zone usage with just five carries (after 19 in the first six games) in his last three games. The Cardinals are not really a team you get healthy against, either. Only LeVeon Bell and Todd Gurley have rushed for more than 61 yards, and they don't share time with anyone. Further, only Theo Riddick and Duke Johnson have tallied more than 15 receiving yards since Week 3 and only one back has reached the end zone in Glendale.
23. Jeremy Hill at Arizona – 7.75
I may be speaking to a completely dissolved (Jeremy Hill) audience at this point, but kudos to you if you’re still hanging on, I guess. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen at this point, like at all. 47% of Hill’s point production has come from touchdowns, which sounds okay until you learn that he’s had just three carries inside the red zone in his last five games. The big play has completely evaporated for Hill, too, as he has had eight carries of 20+ yards in 2014 and hasn’t had a run longer than 15 yards in 2015, including just seven of 10+ yards. For comparison’s sake, Alfred Morris, Joseph Randle and Eddy Lacy all have more runs of 10+ yards. Arizona’s defense is nasty (see Bernard, Gio) and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Hill provides much in terms of production on Sunday.
24. Matt Jones at Carolina – 7.75
Yeah Matt, I promise you, we’re all thinking the same thing you are, ‘why can’t you just play the Saints every Sunday?’ Unfortunately for Jones the going gets a lot tougher on Sunday as Washington heads to Carolina and faces a stout defense that’s only allowed one lead runner to average more than four yards per carry since Week 1. Only Doug Martin and Ryan Mathews have rushed for more than 70 yards against Carolina, and more than of opposing lead backs have produced 51 yards or less. Jones’ production has essentially all come in two games, too, as 44% of his rushing yards came in Week 2, 89% of his receiving yards last Sunday and all three of his touchdowns coming in those two weeks. New Orleans was like the honeymoon and this Panther defense, it’s the next thirty years of marriage.
25. James Starks at Minnesota – 7.75
I don’t mean to sound blasphemous, but maybe the problem with the Packer running game wasn’t Eddy Lacy’s inability to rehab his injured ankle because he couldn’t figure out where his calf ended and his ankle began, but instead the shockingly inept Green Bay offense as whole? Because let’s be honest, James Starks has been dreadful outside of two huge runs and especially so last week against an incredibly soft Detroit defense. Take out that 35-yard run against Seattle and the 65-yard scamper against San Diego and what do you have; Starks barely averaging three yards per carry, which is nearly a full yard less than Lacy’s much criticized mark. Starks is also one of three backs in the top 44 in terms of red zone carries to have at least nine and no touchdowns to show for it. His partners in crime: Charles Sims, Alfred Morris and CJ Anderson. And if Starks can’t produce against Detroit at Lambeau, I’d be very wary of a matchup with the Vikings in Minnesota. All you need to know about the Vikings, they were the first team to corral the beast that is Todd Gurley, holding him below 100 yards and his worst yards per carry mark since taking on a full workload. Minnesota has also allowed only two rushing touchdowns since opening weekend and just one in their last five games. What's more, they're giving up just 3.5 yards per carry at The Bank meaning Starks will likely have to spend one more week amidst that group of goal line scrubs.
26. Ronnie Hillman at Chicago – 7.75
27. CJ Anderson at Chicago – 7.75
28. Antonio Andrews vs. Jacksonville – 7.5
29. Melvin Gordon vs. Kansas City – 7.5
30. Ameer Abdullah vs. Oakland – 7.5
31. Andre Ellington vs. Cincinnati – 7.25
32. Eddy Lacy at Minnesota – 7.25
33. Darren Sproles vs. Tampa Bay – 7.25
34. Carlos Hyde at Seattle – 7.25
35. Jay Ajayi vs. Dallas – 7.25
36. Charles Sims at Philadelphia – 7.25
37. Joique Bell vs. Oakland – 7.0
38. Theo Riddick vs. Oakland – 7.0
39. David Johnson vs. Cincinnati – 6.75
40. Alfred Morris at Carolina – 6.5
41. David Cobb vs. Jacksonville – 6.5