Words by Jim Ayello; rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Adrian Peterson at Atlanta – 9.5
He’s scored in three straight. He’s picked up 100 total yards or a touchdown in five straight. He’s about to play one of three defenses that has allowed backs to score 13 total touchdowns this season. It’s hard to make an argument for anyone else as the No. 1 back this week. The only concern for Purple Jesus is that despite the touchdowns, the Falcons have been excellent against the run, allowing no back to exceed 75 yards in their past seven games. However, if Minnesota can get Peterson involved in the passing game, surpassing 100 total yards should be a breeze; Atlanta has surrendered a league-high 81 catches to backs, along with the second-most yardage (649).
2. Chris Johnson at San Francisco – 9.25
Soooooooo, Chris Johnson is going for $4,600 on DraftKings, $100 fewer than Jeremy Hill. There might be no better bargain this week. San Francisco is coming apart at the Tomsula, as they just gave up 209 yards to Thomas Rawls, their third contest in four allowing a 100-plus yard game. Anyone want to bet against a fourth such occurrence when the NFL’s third-leading rusher coming to town with one of the league’s top offenses? Me neither. Johnson rolled to 150 total yards and a pair of scores in the teams’ last meeting in Week 3. I’m guessing a similar outburst is in store.
3. Thomas Rawls vs. Pittsburgh – 9.25
If Chris Johnson at $4,600 on DraftKings is the best bargain of the week, Thomas Rawls at $4,500 is a close second. All the rookies has done in his four relief appearances is rack up three 100-yard games. His 604 rushing yards are nearly 100 more than DeMarco Murray, and he’s done it on 40 fewer carries. Pittsburgh is far from an easy matchup (9th fewest rushing yards allowed), but only the Panthers run more often that the Seahawks (51 percent of plays) …
“Hey! Hey would you put that rope down! Give it. Give it to me!”
Sorry, guys. Had to stop another Jimmy Graham owner from calling it quits. Fifth one this week.
Anyway, Rawls is an excellent play in both daily and yearly formats.
4. Doug Martin at Indianapolis – 9.25
Doug Martin. That guy. He is far from a human highlight reel, but if you get a chance, do yourself a favor and go back and watch the tape of his two long runs against the Eagles. On the first, Matin bursted through the Eagles’ secondary, looking like he was going in for the long score. But Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hit turbo, caught him from behind and brought him down. Martin would not forget. On his second huge gainer, Martin sprinted down the left sideline with, once again, no one in front of him. But, once again, Rodgers-Cromartie flipped on the NAS and caught up to him. This time, though, Martin was ready. He slowed down, waiting for Cromartie to catch him, and then Last Crusaded him, whispering, ”You’ve have chosen poorly.” Martin then proceeded to embarrass Cromartie by delivering a pair of wicked stiff-arms, the second of which sent him flailing to the ground. If not been for a hustling Connor Barwin, Martin would have scored. It was probably one of my favorite plays of the year.
Anyway, onto this week. Martin has a matchup with a Colts defense missing its two best interior defenders (Arthur Jones, Henry Anderson), so it should be a matchup he can exploit. That said, he has blown big opportunities before (94 rushing yards against the Cowboys and Giants combined), so he's not quite a lock.
5. Jonathan Stewart at Dallas – 9.25
Forty-six more yards is all he needs. With 46 more rushing yards, Jonathan Stewart’s will reach 810, his highest total this decade. Stewart has not run for the 810 yards since his breakout sophomore season in 2009 (1,133). Safe to say, the 28-year-old back is an enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Actually, what he’s truly enjoying is playing without DeAngelo Williams and next to an MVP candidate in Cam Newton. While Newton occasionally snipes Stewart scores, the QB has been a boon to Stewart, now the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher. With teams focusing on slowing Newton, Stewart has flourished, cruising to 100 yards or a touchdown in five of his past six games. This week, he gets a solid matchup against a Dallas defense that has given up the seventh-most total yards to backs this season and 10 total scores.
6. DeMarco Murray at Detroit - 9.25
I don’t know what’s gotten into the Lions defense, but they have stiffened up against the run the past couple of weeks, holding Latavius Murray and James Starks to a combined 70 yards on 28 carries. Of course, Starks still hauled in six passes for 54 yards, so DeMarco Murray owners can hold out hope that’s where he’ll rack up fantasy points as well. In his past three games, Murray has 16 catches, vaulting him to fifth among backs in receptions (39). At 3.7 yards per carry, Murray has been far from his 2014 self, but instead a case study in the value of volume production. Despite the meager average, he’s stayed healthy, allowing him to climb to 13th among backs in yards from scrimmage and score five touchdowns, putting him in sturdy low-end RB1 territory for the season and for this week. It appears that Ryan Mathews will not play in this game, and if that's the case, Murray's value goes up further.
7. LeSean McCoy at Kansas City – 9
Put it on some currency: In Shady, I trust. Bad matchups be damned when the second-most talented back in the NFL — do I even have to say it? — is healthy. In his past two games, LeSean McCoy has faced the Jets and Patriots, Nos. 4 and 3 in total yards allowed to backs. It didn’t matter; he went off against both, totaling 282 yards a touchdown. So, you can understand why I’m not worried about him this week against the Chiefs, the No. 1 team in the league in yards allowed to backs. I’m not saying Shady will enjoy his best game of the season. I am saying that he has posted 100 total yards in four straight games, and I expect that number to jump to five come Sunday night.
8. Todd Gurley at Cincinnati – 9
Well, it’s official. The league has adjusted. That’s not to say Todd Gurley’s days as a star running back are over. Far from it. He’s still one of the best; he just won’t be rattling off 100-yards games every week like he did when he took the NFL by storm. Gurley has struggled mightily in his past three games, averaging a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry. To his credit, he’s still producing solid fantasy games — with the help of 66 receiving yards and three scores — despite playing for the worst passing team in football. He should have a slightly easier time Sunday against the Bengals, who have allowed running backs 4.45 yards per carry this season.
9. T.J. Yeldon vs. San Diego – 9
The Chargers are the new Browns. Yeah, it’s that bad. Pick a metric, any metric, and it's U-G-L-Y. Rushing yards allowed to backs: 1,160, fifth-worst in the league. How about receiving yards allowed to backs: 573, again fifth-worst in the league. Touchdowns allowed to backs: 13, worst in the league. The Chargers have given up at least 90 total yards to nine different backs, including fantasy superstars Ameer Abdullah, James Starks, Duke Johnson and Spencer Ware. And by the way, all of those guys scored, too. Have I dumped on the Chargers enough yet? Probably. Suffice to say, Yeldon — despite curiously ceding goal line carries to Denard Robinson last week — is an excellent play and strong contender to finish in the top 10 this week.
10. Spencer Ware vs. Buffalo (If Charcandrick West is out) – 8.25
11. Chris Ivory vs. Miami – 8.75
The Jets offense is stuck in neutral (reverse, maybe), but there's a solution on the horizon: #BeastEast. Not only did Chris Ivory hammer the Dolphins in their Week 4 matchup (166 yards, 1 TD), but the Dolphins are a materially worse run defense now than they were back in early October. Running backs for their last three opponents have put up a staggering 609 yards of offense. With Ryan Fitzpatrick struggling, Todd Bowles should be able to rely on his workhorse back for another big game.
12. Tevin Coleman vs. Minnesota (if Devonta Freeman is out) – 8.5
The Vikings have been exposed on occasion — they’ve surrendered three 100-yard games — but have limited an all-star cast of running backs (Matt Forte/Jeremy Langford, Latavius Murray, Todd Gurley and Eddie Lacy) to a combined 3.8 yards per carry and one touchdown in their past four games.
13. Darren McFadden vs. Carolina – 8.5
He’s not scoring much — he has just two touchdowns on the season — but Darren McFadden has piled up at least 100 total yards in four of his past five games. What’s more, he’s stayed healthy despite receiving a league-leading 137 touches in that span. And that includes 32 in Tony Romo’s return to action, which was great news for McFadden owners. Even with the star quarterback on the field, McFadden continued to be the focal point of the offense. There’s no reason to suspect anything will change Thursday against Carolina, though picking up 100 total yards will be a challenge, as it is something the Panthers have allowed only two backs to garner.
14. Mark Ingram at Houston – 8.5
As Hawk Harrelson would say, if Mark Ingram didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. In their past three games, the Saints have scored 13 touchdowns; Ingram has accounted for exactly zero. Drew Brees threw for 12 of them and ran for the other. And it’s not like Ingram was shut out of the game plan; he put up at least 96 total yards in all three of those games but somehow never found the end zone. Maybe sans Rob Ryan, the Saints defense actually can stop someone long enough to let Ingram take on a bigger role. I have little faith in that, but my faith in Ingram remains, if not only because of the matchup. The Texans have allowed lead backs to average 4 yards per carry or more in four straight games. On the downside, though, Ingram’s touchdown woes could continue: Houston has’t ceded a rushing touchdown since Week 7.
15. Matt Forte at Green Bay (if he plays) – 8.25
Let’s start here: Multiple media outlets are reporting Matt Forte is “on track” to play on Thanksgiving. I suppose that means if he just “stays the course” on his “road to recovery,” he’ll be able to give his team “110 percent,” which, in the grand scheme of things, is “all you can really ask of a player.”
Useless coachspeak aside, if Forte plays, we know he’ll leave it all out there on the … just kidding. If Forte plays, he’ll be solid RB2 for fantasy purposes. Though he absolutely torched the Packers in Week 1, picking up 166 yards from scrimmage and a score, Jeremy Langford looms. Forte still will be the primary back, but the Bears aren’t just going to forget how well Langford performed in his stead. Forte out-touched Langford 29-1 against the Pack in Week 1 and 27-6 in his last full game. I expect the gap to be much smaller in Forte’s return, maybe 20-12. It’s also important to remember the Packers’ run defense has been improved of late, holding backs to just 2.7 yards per carry in their past three games, two of which included bouts against Jonathan Stewart and Adrian Peterson.
16. Eddie Lacy vs. Chicago – 8.25
And on the 11th week, Eddie Lacy said, LET THERE BE LIFE!
Eddie Lacy works in mysterious ways. After being left for dead by a majority of the fantasy community, he turned in his best performance of the season (22 carries, 100 yards) against one of the top-run stuffing units in the league. Is your faith in the good lord Lacy restored? I think mine might be — at least so much as I trust him this week against a Bears defense that just got bowled over by the modestly stylings of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson (161 combined rushing yards). Now, on short-rest, Chicago will have to prepare for a seemingly rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers, which could open the door for Lacy, just as it did in the good old days. Lacy’s second best game of the year came way back in Week 1 against these same Bears, when he racked up 99 total yards and a touchdown. A similar performance could be in store.
17. Danny Woodhead at Jacksonville – 8.25
Time for a fun who’s who game. You already know Danny Woodhead is one, but can you guess the other?
Player A: 46 catches, 767 yards from scrimmage, 3 touchdowns
Player B: 45 catches 724 yards from scrimmage, 3 touchdowns
Player A is Danny Woodhead, currently No. 28 in yards from scrimmage. Player B? T.Y. Hilton. Kind of crazy, right? Hilton’s having somewhat of a down year, but still, Woodhead’s been phenomenal this year, relative to where you got him — likely the scrap heap.
Forget Woodhead’s ugly week against a phenomenal Chiefs defense and look to the immediate future against the less-than-phenomenal Jaguars. Their defense has allowed backs to catch more passes (65) than all but three teams. Their 537 yards are eighth-most. This is a prime matchup for Woodhead to take advantage of, especially considering the dearth of talent remaining on the Chargers’ after the injury bug has them eaten the alive.
18. DeAngelo Williams at Seattle – 8.25
Five running backs have received 20-plus carries against the Seahawks this season, and all five have been sent home without 100 yards. Seattle has not ceded a 100-yard rushing game in their past 16 regular-season contests. They’ve also surrendered just three rushing touchdowns this year, tied for fifth fewest in the league. All this to say, I’m not expecting much from DeAngelo Williams this week. He’s been a stellar stand-in for the multi-faceted Le'Veon Bell, but the Seahawks are even excellent against the pass, holding backs to the sixth-fewest yards and zero touchdowns. If you have other options this week, I’d consider them.
19. LeGarrette Blount at Denver – 8.25
I’m actually kind of glad LeGarrette Blount has struggled since Dion Lewis went down. And I’m a Blount owner. And not masochist. I’m just happy every person who thought Lewis’ injury would transform Blount into a top-10 back got that ridiculous notion thrown back in their face. Oh, you thought you’d figured out the Patriots, did you? Thought you’d cracked that nut? Please. Yes, Blount has banked 35 carries since the Lewis injury, but that didn’t mean he became Patriots’ one-and-only. I couldn’t help but crack a smile watching James White snag a red zone score Monday night. Maybe I am a masochist. Or I just like being right. Either way, Blount is a mediocre back playing behind a mediocre line in an unpredictable system, and none of that changed with Lewis got hurt. Anyway, on to this week. As you probably guessed, this is bad matchup for Blount. Denver has surrendered the fourth fewest rushing yards (752), despite teams continuing to try to get the ground game going against them. Denver is the only team in the top-12 of rushing attempts allowed not to have surrendered at least 900 yards.
20. Giovani Bernard vs. St. Louis – 8.25
Giovani Bernard hasn’t scored in a month. He just posted his first 100-yard game in more than five weeks. With that, he remains a pretty consistent flex player but not much more. You can probably expect the same this week against St. Louis, is league-average at stopping the run, but below average against backs out of the backfield. They have allowed five backs this season to pick up at least 45 yards through the air, including Jeremy Langford (7 catches, 109 yards) and Javorius Allen (5 catches, 48 yards) in their past two games.
21. Frank Gore vs. Tampa Bay – 8.0
Say this for Lovie Smith’s unit: Ever since letting Alfred Blue undress them in Week 3, they have become a feared run-stopping force. In the last six games, no back has scored a rushing touchdown or topped 88 rushing yards against them. Between the Bucs’ recent ferocity, and the emergence of Ahmad Bradshaw as a vulture extraordinaire — 3 red zone touchdowns in the past two games — I’m not counting on a banged up Frank Gore (knee) to deliver any more than his usual 80-85 yards per game.
22. Latavius Murray at Tennessee – 8.0
I don’t love this game for Latavius Murray. One, he’s coming off his lowest touch total of the season against a Detroit, a game in which the Raiders coaching staff tried to let Marcel Reece snipe one of Murray’s touchdowns not once, but twice. Two, Tennessee is a force in the aerial game. No team has surrendered fewer catches, yards or scores to backs than the Titans. Three, Tennessee is holding backs to fewer than four yards per carry, and Murray himself has not exceeded 3.0 yards per carry in his past two games. Something’s up with this once dominant Raiders offense; don’t keep paying the price to find out when it'll end.
23. Lamar Miller at New York Jets – 8.0
Lamar Miller’s rushing yards the past four weeks: 15, 44, 43, 44. What happened? I have a guess, though I must a credit a friend who wished only to be referred to as my life coach. He pointed out that — while bored at work — that more than 75 percent of the Dolphins’ runs have been either up the middle or to the right. Feels a little predictable, right? I couldn’t tell you if this is the problem with Miller and the Dolphins, but something is rotten in Miami. Anyway, this is a terrible matchup for Miller, who was stifled for 36 total yards in his Week 4 meeting with the Jets — a team that has yielded the second-fewest rushing yards in the league.
24. Ronnie Hillman vs. New England – 8.0
It’s strange to me that Ronnie Hillman still doesn’t have this job outright. In the six games he’s received double-digit carries, he’s produced a 100-yard game in half of them. Meanwhile, C.J. Anderson has seven double-digit carry games, and his return on investment: just one 100-yard effort. Hillman doesn’t have a fumbling problem, is a good receiver; is adequate in pass-protection and again, has proved to be the superior runner to Anderson. Maybe his 21 carries Sunday to Anderson’s 12 are a sign of things to come. I certainly hope so, not that it matters too much this week. New England is outstanding against the run, limiting backs to just 3.7 yards per carry and four total touchdowns. My feeling for this game is that Bill Belichick torments Brock Oswelier, while the Patriots put up enough points to force Denver to abandon the run game sooner than they’d like, therefore stifling the fantasy production of both Hillman and Anderson.
25. Alfred Blue vs. New Orleans – 7.75
This is another case of quantity over quality. Alfred Blue is by most measures terrible, yet in his past three games, he’s averaged more than 18 touches. That workload combined with a matchup against a porous Saints defense that has surrendered the most yards from scrimmage to backs (1,846), well, even Trent Richardson would be a solid RB2 in that situation.
26. Antonio Andrews vs. Oakland – 7.75
Rumble on, big fella. Let people keeping talking about David Cobb taking your job, and you just keep not giving a damn. I love it. I wish Andrews would wear a T-shirt or a hat or something that reads, “Average is as Average does.” He’s perfectly mediocre, and that will suit you just fine against a Raiders run defenses that is perfectly terrible. In the past three games, backs have totaled a league-high 648 yards against Oakland, and that includes that terrible Lions triumvirate picking up 172 yards.
27. Jeremy Hill vs. St. Louis – 7.75
28. Javorius Allen at Cleveland – 7.75
29. Duke Johnson Jr. vs. Baltimore – 7.75
30. Karlos Williams at Kansas City – 7.5
31. C.J. Anderson vs. New England – 7.5
32. Shaun Draughn vs. Arizona – 7.5
33. Charles Sims at Indianapolis – 7.5
34. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Tampa Bay – 7.25
35. Rashad Jennings at Washington – 7.25
36. Darren Sproles at Detroit – 7.25
37. Shane Vereen at Washington - 7.25
38. Jay Ajayi at New York Jets – 7.0
39. Theo Riddick vs. Philadelphia – 6.75
40. Bilal Powell vs. Miami – 6.75
41. Ka’Deem Carey at Green Bay – 6.25