Words by Jim Ayello, Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. LeSean McCoy at Philadelphia - 10
I heart Shady. Guy doesn’t pretend he’s friends with the team that dumped him like he wasn’t one of the best in the league — as if they could replace with the likes of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Nah. Shady is too cool to play it cool. He wants everyone to know he’s going to run in down the Eagles’ throats. Well, maybe around their throats. Somewhere in the throat vicinity, there will be damage … I lost it. By whatever means he gashes the Eagles, he’s going to draw blood. Lots of it. Not only because Philadelphia has allowed 156 total yards per game to running backs, the sixth most in the league but also because Rex Ryan is the kind of cat who loves playing up stuff like this. Remember when he signed the guy who punched Geno Smith? Remember when he made him captain before the Bills’ game against the Jets. Rex loves revenge. And Shady will have his. And his playoff-bound owners will prosper. It appears that Karlos Williams will miss the game with his shoulder injury.
2. David Johnson vs. Minnesota – 10
David Johnson has an extremely unique opportunity. You know what it is? It’s the chance to be the workhorse back in the league’s most prolific offense. The Cardinals lead the league in both yards (419) and points (31.8) per game, and Johnson has found himself in position to snag a large piece of the action. With Chris Johnson out and Andre Ellington perpetually banged up, the third-round pick out of Northern Iowa is likely to repeat his 24-touch performance last week this Sunday against the Vikings, a team that has conceded back-to-back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, and won’t have nose tackle Linval Joseph for this game. Despite only totaling 78 touches on offense this season, Johnson has scored eight times, four on the ground and four through the air. With all the others Cardinals weapons the Vikings will have to account for, Johnson seems a safe bet to score and to finish the week inside the top 10. Andre Ellington is not expected to play due to his turf toe injury.
3. Doug Martin vs. New Orleans – 9.75
What do you think the Vegas odds were that Doug Martin would lead the league in rushing this season? 500-1? 1000-1? The guy ran for 950 yards in 2013 and 2014 combined. With 1,133 rushing yards this season, he is nipping at Adrian Peterson’s heels, fewer than 50 yards away from the top spot. And with a matchup against the which-way-did-he-go Saints defense coming up, he might just take the lead this week. New Orleans has conceded 100 total yards and/or a touchdown to a running back in four straight weeks. And in the game before that, even the running back-challenged Giants managed to get a guy above 80 yards. Meanwhile, Martin has rushed for at least 95 yards in three straight, and while he didn’t light up the Saints in their first matchup in Week 3 (21 carries, 78 yards), the Bucs offense around him has gotten much better, which theoretically should open up more space for Martin to run.
4. Devonta Freeman at Carolina – 9.75
After rattling off 100-yard rushing games in his four of his five starts, Devonta Freeman has now failed to eclipse the century mark for four straight. No matter. Freeman has more than made up for his faltering rushing numbers with exquisite receiving totals. Coming off a career-high 10-catch game, Freeman now has 58 receptions on the season and more yards after the catch (307) than Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green and Randall Cobb. He is fifth in the league in yards from scrimmage (1,287) and tied for second in total touchdowns (11). Those receiving skills should come in handy this week, as only one team has surrendered more catches to backs than the Panthers.
5. Thomas Rawls at Baltimore – 9.5
Thomas Rawls is 10th in the league in rushing, despite receiving double-digit carries just six times. Tenth! He’s averaging 5.6 yards per tote and has scored in three straight games. His seven rushes of 20-plus yards are tied for fifth in the league and are more than Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard have combined. What else? He has 14 carries in the red zone this season, three of which he’s converted into touchdowns, giving him a 21.4 percent success rate. The NFL leader in rushing touchdowns, Devonta Freeman, has a 20 percent success rate. Had enough? Good. On to this week then. Rawls gets the Ravens, a mediocre defense that just gave up 113 rushing yards to Lamar Miller, but has been stingy otherwise — 3.7 yards per carry allowed this season. No matter. The Seahawks offense is flying high, and Rawls even higher. He’s in sturdy RB1 territory this week.
6. DeAngelo Williams at Cincinnati – 9.5
In each of the past four weeks, DeAngelo Williams and the Steelers have put up at least 30 points. In that time, Williams has accounted for three touchdowns to go along with an incredible 576 yards from scrimmage. However, the game before Williams and the Steelers went on their tear, they were held to just 10 points by the same opponent they face this week. The Bengals intercepted Big Ben three times in that game, though they struggled to contain Williams, who totaled 110 yards on just 13 touches. I sincerely doubt Cincinnati will be able to repeat their performance against what has become the game’s scariest offense, and I expect Williams to prosper. That said, while I think he’ll rack up yards, he might struggle to find the end zone. Cincinnati has yielded just one score to a back in its past four games.
7. Jonathan Stewart vs. Atlanta - 9
It hasn’t been pretty. Jonathan Stewart is the only back among the top-10 leading rushers to average fewer than 4.0 yards per carry (3.9). But who cares about pretty? It’s fantasy playoff time, and the only thing that matters is production. And in that area, Stewart — who has received 20-plus carries a stunning eight weeks in a row — delivers consistently. In the past four weeks Stewart has given you a touchdown in three and at least 75 yards in all four. He should continue that pace this week against Atlanta, as the Falcons have conceded 100 total yards to lead backs in their past two games, along with a set of rushing touchdowns to give them a league-worst 13 allowed.
8. Lamar Miller vs. New York Giants – 9
This feels pretty easy, right? The three games the Dolphins have given Lamar Miller 20 or more touches: 3-0. The games he’s received fewer than 20 touches: 2-7. Quick! Someone get me a phone so I can tell … whoever the hell is calling plays for the Dolphins. Ray Finkle? In all seriousness, this team, no matter the score, needs to find a way to get the ball in Miller’s hands. He’s one of the most talented backs in the league, and it’s inexcusable he gets so few opportunities to show it. This week, Miami has no excuse not to get Miller heavily involved against a Giants defense that has surrendered 90 total yards or a touchdown to a running back in seven of its past eight games. He could and should thrive in the passing game, as the Giants have given up the fifth-most receiving yards and catches to backs.
9. Matt Forte vs. Washington – 8.75
Well, Sunday provided your answer. When fully healthy, Matt Forte will out-touch rookie backup Jeremy Langford at about a 2-1 rate. This outcome felt fairly predictable, but it is nonetheless reassuring news for Forte owners, who will have a borderline RB1 this week playing against a porous Washington defense. Washington has been mauled by running backs recently, surrendering 4.3 yards per carry and five total touchdowns in its past five games. And that was with the benefit of facing a nonexistent Giants rushing game and a one-dimensional Cowboys offense the past two weeks. Before those two matchups, Washington conceded 99 total yards to lead running backs in six straight games.
10. Ronnie Hillman vs. Oakland – 8.0
C.J. Anderson has been the superior runner in the past three weeks, averaging more than two yards per carry better than Ronnie Hillman (6.2-4.0) and picking up 65 receiving yards to Hillman’s two. Sounds like I should be advising you go with Anderson, but I’m not. He has a bum ankle, and though coach Gary Kubiak said he might be able to play through it, I’m not taking any chances during the fantasy playoffs. Hillman is healthy, has been receiving the heavier workload (54 carries to Anderson’s 34) and is my pick to lead the Broncos this week in what should be a tough matchup. After giving up 373 rushing yards to DeAngelo Williams and Adrian Peterson in consecutive weeks, the Raiders’ defenses has stiffened up. In its past three games, Oakland has held lead backs to 3.4 yards per carry and no rushing touchdowns. Combined with the fact that the Raiders held Anderson and Hillman to 43 rushing yards in their Week 5 matchup, I’m bearish on both backs’ prospects.
11. Shaun Draughn at Cleveland – 8.75
In his four games with the 49ers, Shaun Draughn’s lowest total yardage output has been 77. He and his owners can thank emerging checkdown champion Blaine Gabbert for that, as Draughn is averaging six catches and 41 receiving yards per game. Next up for Draughn, the Browns, a defense that has yet to meet a running game in can contain. The Cleveland defense has surrendered at least 95 total yards or a touchdown to a running back in 10-of-12 games. It has allowed backs to average 4.8 yards per carry, and six backs have caught at least four passes against them in games against them this year.
12. Spencer Ware vs. San Diego – 8.5
It’s hard to argue with results. With 11 carries against the Chargers three weeks ago, Charcandrick West rushed for 16 yards. With his 11 carries, Spencer Ware rushed for 96 yards, including a 52-yarder, and two touchdowns. Now, I don’t think because of those numbers Ware will get all of the work Sunday, but I do think Andy Reid(who’s far from a beacon of logic) will allow Ware to get a heavier share of the workload than he got last week (seven carries to West’s nine). Combined that with the fact that Ware will have a better chance at scoring, as he’s easily the more effective short-yardage back — five touchdowns on 14 carries inside the opponents’ 10, and I think Ware (again) out-produces West.
13. Adrian Peterson at Arizona – 8.25
This has to be one of all-time favorite headlines: “Mike Zimmer admits (Adrian) Peterson should get more carries.” He admitted it, NFL.com? Did someone shine a bright light in his face, waterboard him, then put him through a torturous few rounds of the old good cop-bad-cop routine, one guy kindly offering him coffee, the other callously slapping it out of his hand? I assume the Vikings coach was read his Miranda Rights before this breathtaking confession was coerced out of him? I’d hate to think someone got him on record saying something so ludicrous and for it to be inadmissible in court. … Come on, guys. The headline should have been: “Mike Zimmer states the obvious: ‘Peterson should get more carries.’” Whatever. He will Thursday night against the Cardinals. Of course, that probably won’t do he or his owners much good, as Arizona has surrendered just 3.7 yards per carry the past three games. I will note that the Cardinals are particularly susceptible to receiving backs (seventh most yards allowed), but the Vikings are loathe to throw Peterson the ball: He averages only two catches per game.
14. T.J. Yeldon vs. Indianapolis – 8.25
He averages 87 total yards per game, but hitting pay dirt has been the hitch in T.J. Yeldon’s climb toward fantasy greatness all season. However, he broke a four-game scoreless streak last week, and he’s about to begin a new streak with a score Sunday against the Colts. While Indianapolis has not conceded a running back rushing touchdown since Week 8, they’ve practically been begging for it the past two games. Relying on young and inexperienced interior lineman and linebackers, the Colts have yielded 231 rushing yards to lead backs it their past two games, yet somehow have managed to avoid surrendering a score. They won’t be so lucky this week, with a piping-hot Blake Bortles-led offense coming to town. The Jaguars ran 15 plays in the red zone last week, and Yeldon received 33 percent of the action (four runs, one catch), tied for the team lead with Allen Robinson.
15. Jeremy Hill vs. Pittsburgh – 8.25
Ugh. Whatever, Cincinnati. I give up. Go ahead, keep giving the ball to Jeremy Hill. He’ll continue to take exactly what is given — and nothing more — while the far superior Giovani Bernard watches from the sideline. Despite 42 fewer caries, Bernard still has 19 more rushing yards than Hill, not to mention 332 more receiving yards. Alas, Hill has out-touched Gio 39-18 the past two weeks, rendering Bernard all but useless. So owners can feel safe rolling out Hill, who has rumbled to respectability in a thriving offense, putting up at least 86 yards or a touchdown in each of the past three weeks. He was the back of favor the last time these teams met (Week 8), when he snagged stole 15 touches to Bernard’s three, so there’s no reason to expect different this time around. He gained just 68 total yards in that game, and that’s about what owners can expect this week considering the way the Steelers have played defense of late. Pittsburgh has held backs to 3.8 yards per carry to backs in their past four games, and that includes the otherwise unstoppable Thomas Rawls (21 carries, 81 yards).
16. Darren McFadden at Green Bay – 8.25
I really hate having to write nice things about Darren McFadden. It’s almost like Charch said, “Hey you know that girl who repeatedly broke your heart in high school? Yeah, gimme 250 words on why other guys should date her.” Uhh. I’d rather not.
But if I must: Of the Cowboys past 19 plays run inside their opponent's 10-yard-line, nine have been runs with McFadden and one was a pass to him. So, yeah, he’s their only offense without Romo. And while Green Bay — No. 9 in rushing yards allowed — will be keyed in on him, sheer volume and a good chance at a touchdown make him a solid play.
17. Frank Gore at Jacksonville – 8.0
Frank Gore is Diet Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has given you about 83 yards per game and has scored a touchdown in five contests, while Gore gives you about 79 yards per game and has scored in four. The only thing that separates them is, obviously, the directions their respective offenses are headed in. While the Panthers are thriving, Indy is flailing, having notched just 10 points in its most recent game against a Steelers defense that had given up at least 30 in two of its past three games. Now the Colts face the Jaguars, a defense that has been lit up for 72 points in its past two games. Yet, I don’t feel confident in Gore. He had just 54 yards rushing in these teams’ first meeting this year, and the Colts scored only one touchdown. Furthermore, most teams have doing their damage to the Jags through the air. Seven of the touchdowns scored against Jacksonville in the past two games were passes to tight ends and wide receivers. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have allowed just one running back touchdown in their past five games.
18. Javorius Allen vs. Seattle – 7.75
With their entire team on injured reserve, the Ravens have entrusted the offense to Javorius Allen, who has received 24 touches per game since taking over for Justin Forsett three weeks ago. Give the rookie credit. He has thrived with the opportunity, registering 123 total yards per game and two touchdowns over that stretch. While he might struggle to find running room this week against Seattle, the Seahawks defense recently has been exposed by backs in the passing game. In their past five games, opposing backs have caught five passes per game, after they mustered three catches in the Seahawks’ first seven contests. Coming off a 12-reception performance last week, expect Allen to remain heavily involved no matter who is at quarterback this week.
19. Latavius Murray at Denver – 7.75
Forget running. No one runs on the Broncos, including Latavius Murray who picked up a meager 39 yards on 13 carries in these teams’ Week 5 matchup. Since that game, only one back has recorded more than 70 rushing yards against Denver: Frank Gore, and it took him 28 carries to get to 83 yards. Where Murray and his owners can find hope is in the passing game. Only four teams have yielded more catches to backs, and none have given up more than Denver's five touchdowns. While Murray is no Danny Woodhead, he’s hauled in four or more passes three times, including last week against Kansas City. If Derek Carr and Co. design to get him involved in the passing game, he could deliver a decent RB2-type day.
20. Jeremy Langford vs. Washington – 7.75
21. Chris Ivory vs. Tennessee – 7.75
Hard pass. Sorry, I’m just not buying Chris Ivory this week. Why? Well, first there’s this from ProFootballFocus’ Mike Clay: “In three games since he returned from injury, Bilal Powell has been on the field for 115 snaps. Chris Ivory, meanwhile, has played 85.”
Then there’s the fact that the Titans haven’t given up more than 59 rushing yards to any back for the past three weeks. There’s also the issue with the Titans’ secondary: It’s terrible, having surrendered 652 passing yards and eight touchdowns the past two weeks, which means the Jets likely will opt to attack through the air. And finally, this: The Jets ran six plays inside the Giants’ 10-yard line last week. Guess how many touches #BeastEast got? Zero. Ivory hasn’t scored a red zone rushing touchdown in more than a month after scoring seven in his first seven games.
22. Todd Gurley vs. Detroit – 7.75
Evening, folks. Just stopping by to check in on a missing persons case we received. Guy goes by the name of Todd Gurley. Have you seen him around? You know, rookie phenom drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson after he ran for 100-plus yards in his four starts? About yea high, dreadlocks? I probably shouldn’t be worried, but it’s been a month since anyone’s see that guy, and I’m just following standard missing fantasy persons procedure, here. I’ve heard rumors he’ll be in St. Louis this week for a game against Detroit, but considering the Lions haven’t allowed a running back to eclipse 42 rushing yards in their past four games, I’m betting we probably won’t find him there. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking. You want my honest opinion? Well, all I’ll say is statistically, if you don’t find a fantasy running back after the first month, you’ll probably never find him (especially with games against the Bucs and Seahawks coming up).
23. Charcandrick West vs. San Diego – 7.75
24. Charles Sims vs. New Orleans - 7.75
25. Ryan Mathews vs. Buffalo – 7.5
26. Eddie Lacy vs. Dallas – 7.5
Has all been forgiven in Packerland? Who knows. I guess we’ll find out Sunday. If Lacy is on his best behavior from now until game time, I suspect he’ll go back to being “the man” for Green Bay. If that’s the case — and it’s risky to assume it is — Lacy owners still shouldn’t expect much. Despite Lacy’s stellar performance pre-benching (back-to-back 100 yard games) and 101-yard day against Dallas in the playoffs last season, the Cowboys have been tough to run on this year. The past four lead backs to face them have failed to eclipse 68 rushing yards and none has scored a touchdown. Dallas is susceptible to receiving backs, but considering Lacy’s 16 catches on the season and the emergence of James Starks as the primary third-down back, I’d say that’s not an avenue for success.
27. LeGarrette Blount at Houston – 7.5
Put on a blindfold; tie a hand behind your back; walk into your kitchen; and make a baked Alaska. When you’ve finished, let me know, and we can talk about which is tougher, doing what you just did or forecasting production for LeGarrette Blount. It used to be easy. If we knew the Patriots were going to dismantle an unworthy opponent (Washington), or if a foe’s fatal flaw was stopping the run (Indianapolis), you knew Blount would have a big game. But ever since Dion Lewis and the rest of this offense hit the injured list, it’s been near-impossible to predict. Even when the Pats play an inferior foe (Philadelphia) or a team that isn’t great against the run (Buffalo), Blount has failed to produce more than a handful of yards. Which brings us to the puzzle of this week. Blount gets a Houston defense that has given up nearly five yards per carry the past three games and has allowed the 11th most-running back rushing yards in the league. A seemingly favorable matchup, right? So I should rank him up high? You’d think, but then I’ve never made a baked Alaska.
28. Matt Jones at Chicago – 7.5
The good news: He didn’t fumble. The bad news: That’s the only good news. Jones was given another opportunity to establish his presence in the Washington backfield with authority (Can we call him Nuke?), and again failed. He received double-digit touches for the first time in three weeks, turning 18 carries into a measly 49 yards. What this means for his future is unclear, but if he sees similar workload against a mediocre Chicago defense, he’s capable of providing serviceable flex production. The Bears run defense is far from impenetrable, having allowed backs to average 4.8 yards per carry the past three weeks and a pair of 100-yard games (Eddie Lacy, Ronnie Hillman).
29. James White at Houston – 7.5
30. C.J. Anderson vs. Oakland – 7.5
31. Darren Sproles vs. Buffalo – 7.5
The last time Darren Sproles carried the ball 15 or more times — as he did Sunday night against New England — was in September of his second-to-last season as a San Diego Charger: 2009. So, the odds of him repeating the act amid a crowded backfield with a multi-millionaire cry baby whining to the owner? Pretty slim. That said, Buffalo has given up receiving scores to backs in two of the past three games, and Sproles has hauled in three or more passes in four straight games. You could do worse in the flex spot.
32. Giovani Bernard vs. Pittsburgh – 7.5
33. Ameer Abdullah at St. Louis – 7.5
34. Danny Woodhead at KC - 7.5
35. James Starks vs. Dallas – 7.25
36. Antonio Andrews at New York Jets – 7.25
37. Melvin Gordon at Kansas City – 7.25
38. Duke Johnson vs. San Francisco – 7.25
39. DeMarco Murray vs. Buffalo – 7.5
40. C.J. Spiller at Tampa Bay - 7.25
41. Chris Polk vs NE - 7.25
42. Isaiah Crowell vs. San Francisco – 7.25
43. Tim Hightower at Tampa Bay - 7.0
44. Alfred Blue vs. New England – 7.0
45. Rashad Jennings at Miami – 7.0
46. Orleans Darkwa at Miami – 6.75
47. Alfred Morris at Chicago – 6.5
48. Kenjon Barner vs. Buffalo – 6.5