Written and Ranked by Jonnie Carlyle
1. LeVeon Bell at San Diego
Something tells me if Bill Belichick was coaching the Steelers instead of Mike Tomlin, LeVeon would start Week 5 on the bench just because The Hoody needs to one final act to reach master troll of the universe. Of course, if Belichick was in Tomlin’s place the Ravens would be 0-4 solely on the fact he isn’t a dummy. I know Vick was efficient at stepping on the throats of dogs not too long ago (back off PETA, I am a HUGE animal lover), but maybe relying on his 35-year old legs and arm is a worse idea than running an underground dog fighting ring when you’re worth millions. Bell owners need not worry, however, as the always-out-to-prove-his-mettle Steeler coach will make sure future games aren’t literally thrown away with arguably your best player playing the part of decoy. Since Bell’s return from suspension, he’s handled 93% of all carries, received eight touches inside the red zone and is third on the team in targets, of which he has caught 93% (all while only playing two games). The matchup is right too, as San Diego has allowed the 3rd most rushing yards to the position despite facing the 10th most attempts and have yet to have a week where a running back didn’t reach the end zone.
2. Jamaal Charles vs. Chicago
Uh, his name is Jamaal Charles and he’s awesome. To be honest, I don’t like to waste my already limited jokes and pop culture references so the pickins are going to be quite slim around these parts. Not like the guy coaching Charles, amirite?! Hey oh! Joke quota met, digressing commenced. Charles has been unbelievable to start the season, but you all already know that. He’s the only running back to notch at least 100 combo yards and/or a touchdown in every week thus far and is one of four backs to average at least five yards per carry with at least 50 attempts. The matchup isn’t scaring anyone either, as Chicago has given up the 8th most rushing yards to the position despite facing the 16th fewest carries.
3. Matt Forte at Kansas City
Ever seen the movie “Cocktail”? It's the 80s bartending flick starring Tom Cruise and Elizabeth Shoe where the two meet in some tropical paradise and fall madly in love after a couple days. Before long, things predictably fall to pieces before Xenu’s number one fan ultimately wins the startlet back despite her wealthy father’s demands she stay away. There are a couple scenes where the foxy Shoe does her best to surprise the self-described unsurprisable Cruise and, spoiler alert, initially it’s that she’s pregnant before she drops the ultimate “having twins” bomb at the end of the film. It’s a real shocker, which leads me to how this all (loosely) relates to Matt Forte. There’s not a ton anymore that surprises us about Forte. He leads the NFL in carries through four weeks (yawn), is top seven in receptions (double yawn), is second in rushing yards (yawwwwwwn) and has handled 8 of 11 of Chicago’s carries inside the red zone (not always a yawn, but has become yawn-worthy in the last three years). Us Tom Cruises have seen it all with Forte and there’s no way Elizabeth Shoe is going to shock us in 2015, right? What if I told you Matt Forte is pregna…I mean, leads all running backs with 4 carries of at least 20 yards. *Gasp* Maybe your mind isn’t blown, but remember I used “Cocktail”, not “The Sixth Sense” so cool your jets. Your expectations should have been adjusted accordingly. The Chiefs are better than their 4-touchdowns-surrendered-in-Week-3 performance, but Forte has proved to be matchup-proof. He’s faced four tough defenses, including two of the top three in rushing yards allowed and still produced at a top-10 level.
4. Eddy Lacy vs. St. Louis
Things that concern me about Eddy Lacy:
Extensive, I know, but considering Lacy has had at least 19 touches in every game when he’s not nursing a bum ankle, is averaging 90+ total yards in those games where not nursing a bum ankle and plays on a team that’s averaged nine plays inside the red zone, owners just don’t have a ton to fret about. But he’s not scoring touchdowns, you whine. And that’s accurate, but I tend to think that has more to do with Aaron Rodgers averaging nearly four pass attempts per game inside the 10-yard line and less to with anything Lacy isn’t doing. Just for comparisons sake, in Rodgers’ last six seasons of at least 15 games he hasn’t had a season averaging more than two such attempts per game. Word of the day, folks, is ‘regression’. And it’s not like the matchup isn’t tasty in Week 5, either. The Rams have given up the 3rd most total yards to the position and at least six catches to running backs in every game this season.
5. Dion Lewis at Dallas
You know who has two thumbs, owns Dion Lewis and isn’t concerned about LeGarrette Blount’s three-touchdown performance in Week 3 at Jacksonville? This guy. Prior to stepping in with the 2nd team against the Jaguars, Blount had 1/6th the carries Lewis did, half as many touches inside the red zone and 20% the rushing yards. Translation: it’s been Lewis, Lewis and more Lewis when the game has mattered. The Cowboys may be without the heart of their defense too, as Sean Lee was forced out of Week 4’s contest with a concussion, further opening up an already shaky defense that’s allowed a touchdown to the position in three of four weeks, the second most receiving yards out of the backfield and the fourth most catches.
6. Justin Forsett vs. Cleveland
Justin Forsett plays the role of audience member to Cleveland’s Oprah in Week 5 as we all can faintly hear the Browns defensive front saying “you get five yards a carry and you get five yards a carry, YOU ALL GET FIVE YARDS A CARRY!!!” All 7 running backs Cleveland has faced that have received more than 3 carries has at least 42 total yards, with the average being a robust 97 yards and only one team has given up more than the five carries of 20+ yards the Browns have. It’s strange how Forsett saw an increase in production once Eugene Monroe returned to the Baltimore offensive line. Wait a minute, that’s not strange at all. Forsett broke off runs of 11, 11, 12, 22 and 33 yards in Week 4 and gets a Cleveland defense he compiled a 28-182 line against in two games in 2014.
7. Todd Gurley at Green Bay
Todd “don’t call me” Gurley made his first extended appearance in Week 4 and oh what an entrance it was. After just two yards in the opening half, Gurley snapped off runs of 23, 52, 20 and 30 yards in the 2nd half and could have easily notched his first touchdown as well had he not sat down untouched on the Arizona eight-yard on his last carry. Already more runs of 20+ yards than Jamaal Charles, Justin Forsett, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, Eddy Lacy and LeVeon Bell; Gurley was explosive, showed good vision and was also the beneficiary of the Rams best run blocking of the season as the rookie running back amassed the majority of his yards before contact. No other St. Louis running back received a touch in the 2nd half and there’s no reason to expect that to change after Gurley’s 4th quarter production was more yards than his running mates have combined for on the season. The Packers are no slouch against the run, but worth noting they’ve given up three carries of at least 20 yards already after a 2014 in which they only allowed six and have surrendered the sixth most touchdowns to the position through four weeks.
8. Devonta Freeman vs. Washington
We here at FantasyVictory never wish injury or ill-will on anyone, but I mean, if Tevin Coleman wants to make sure his ribs are extra healthy before he comes back would anyone be upset about it? Freeman has been out of his mind since Coleman’s injury and given the level this Atlanta offense has been playing at I am not sure there is not much any defense, let alone Washington, can do about it. In his last three weeks, Freeman has seven rushing touchdowns, which is more rushing touchdowns than Steven Jackson (remember him?) had total in 8 of his 11 seasons. He has 70 touches during that same stretch, which only trails Adrian Peterson and only has 10 less total yards than All Day. Best of all, Freeman has 20 total touches inside the opponents 20-yard line, which tops the NFL in 2015. You show me a Washington team that’s allowed the fewest rushing yards and I’ll counter with Lamar Miller, the Gurley-less Rams, Andre Williams, Rashad Jennings and Philadelphia. For the first time in five years, the Texans allowed more than one rushing touchdown in a game and Freeman did it in less than three quarters. Do your worst Washington.
9. Mark Ingram at Philadelphia
The leader in receptions, plays of at least 20+ yards and 3rd on the team in both targets and receiving yards. And that is just Mark Ingram the receiver. Since Week 1’s 9/8 split in carries with Khiry Robinson, Ingram has also cornered the bulk of the handoffs too, with at least 58% of the market share every week and is the only running back on the team with more than three touches inside the red zone. Ingram has 16. O_O Add that all up and you get a running back that is matchup proof, so you can spare me the Eagles being a daunting matchup pep talk. If you had to choose between any capable running back or the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Tony Romo/Brandon Weeden mash-up or Kirk Cousins; who are you selling out to stop?
10. Arian Foster vs. Indianapolis
I know there have been more highly scrutinized groins but I am not sure they’ve been as openly discussed across all mediums without heavy restrictions like what we’ve seen in 2015 with Arian Foster. Week 4’s number be damned, Foster survived 11 touches without re-injury and is headed for a team he’s traditionally feasted on. In seven games against the Colts, he’s averaged a blistering 23-137-1.2 and reached the end zone in five of the seven. A limited pitch count was expected (and delivered) in his first week back, but rest assured the volume will be there if Foster is on the field. Since 2013 Foster has played in 21 games and he’s received at least 17 touches in 16 of them. Indianapolis has shown better resistance to opposing runners than in the past, but has been shaky away from Lucas Oil with all four rushing touchdowns allowed coming on the road.
11. T.J. Yeldon at Tampa Bay
I don’t know if I am just looking at it with Toby Gerhart colored glasses, but I think the Jaguars may have found themselves quite the running back in TJ Yeldon. First of all, he’s not Toby Gerhart and I don’t think I can stress that point enough. Sure the bar has been set tremendously low, but in the last 37 games Jacksonville has had five 100-yard games and Yeldon already owns one of them. Yeldon is also the only back to rush for more than 57 yards against the Colts in 2015, which is a claim LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory cannot make. Things only get easier in Week 5 as Yeldon gets a Tampa rush defense that has been unable to slow opposing runners down nor keep them out of the endzone. The Bucs have given up the 3rd most rushing yards and at least one rushing touchdown in three of four weeks, including an inexcusable 6 yards per carry and two touchdowns to Gerhart wannabe Bishop Sankey.
12. Frank Gore at Houston
I’ve got a theory, in regards to the water at the Indianapolis team facility, that would help explain this weird anomaly that seems to be striking any talented player, and Trent Richardson, that plays for the Colts. Jim Irsay no longer saw it fit to carry all his “medication” around in a sketchy briefcase, but he needed a place to store it all after convincing the greater Indianapolis area Lucas Oil was a good drop zone for their “expired” prescription pills. If we can just put fluoride in the water supply, he thought, why not Zanex, Oxy, Ambien and Adderall? It’s all just “medicine”, right? And maybe it could serve a double purpose, as guys like Andrew Luck and Frank Gore aren’t exactly the healthiest dudes around. Well, what he’s done is turn Andre Johnson into a gargoyle that moves like the stationary stone ones on old creepy buildings, only slower and with less bend. And Frank Gore doesn’t see a football in his hands near the goal line, but hallucinates one of those slippery, squishy tubes of chemicals that are impossible to hold on to and look way too much like genitalia. How else do you explain a veteran running back with an average of 1 fumble per 79 carries suddenly averaging 1 per 27? Gore has many fumbles inside the 2-yard line as he does touchdowns and admitted his hand is bothering him enough to keep him from carrying the ball in his left hand and also is nursing a foot injury on a short week. The Colts are concerned, both about the fumbling and ailments, as they’ve reportedly been talking with Ahmad Bradshaw, which means Gore owners should be concerned too. There likely will come a time when this offense is humming again and Gore is likely the beneficiary, but I am not sure a matchup with an angry JJ Watt in Week 5 is that time. Houston hadn’t allowed more than 3.6 yards per carry to any running back in 2015 nor a rushing touchdown since Week 12 of 2014 prior to running into the Atlanta buzz saw in Week 4.
13. Thomas Rawls at Cincinnati (Lynch is inactive)
I like to think the reason Seattle traded away Christine Michael was because they decided, regardless of talent, there was just no way the guy backing up Beast Mode could have a name like ‘Christine’. Enter Thomas Rawls, a name that could just as easily be found at your local steel mill or one of those guys shoveling piles of coal into the furnaces of the Titanic. That’s the kind of guy you wanting backing up the most physical runner in the game.
‘Hey Rawls, get over here, we need someone to pull this 200-year old Redwood out of the ground.’
Or something like that… But you get the point. And Rawls has shown to be a capable back, as he’s the only runner Chicago has allowed to surpass the century mark and he did so with only 16 carries in less than a full games worth of snaps. And I am not sure I am buying Lynch being as close to coming back as the Seahawks would suggest. According to Pete Carroll the MRI results “showed something” and Lynch was clearly nowhere near ready to play in Week 4 as Seattle unnecessarily declared him out two days prior. It’s a situation worth monitoring, but don’t be surprised if the Seahawks want to give Lynch another week to make sure he’s a full go when he does come back. Cincinnati has been tough on opposing running backs, but game script has forced most of the opposition to abandon the run early. Of the teams that have played four games, the Bengals have faced the 4th fewest attempts. Seattle’s defense will keep things closer, which should allow Rawls to take advantage of the four yards per carry Cincinnati has given up.
14. Latavius Murray vs. Denver
So Jack Del Rio says he hasn’t lost confidence in Latavius Murray, eh? Maybe, but me thinks the Raiders, and Murray especially, have bigger (wild) Broncos to break come Week 5’s divisional matchup in Oakland. Outside of two big touchdown runs from Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, Denver is giving up less than three yards per carry and caused more runs of zero/negative yards than attempts that have gone for 10+ yards. If there’s a silver (and black) lining for Murray, it’s that he’s one of the few workhouse backs left in a league full of committees. He’s handled 82% of Oakland’s rushing attempts and 11 of 12 attempts inside the red zone, including all 8 carries inside the 10-yards line.
15. Giovani Bernard vs. Seattle
I don’t love the idea of putting two Bengal running backs in the top 25 because, well Seattle. However, the Seahawks have struggled with a very specific type of back going and Gio Bernard perfectly fits that mold. Since the beginning of 2014, there have been eight instances where running backs have produced more yards through the air than ground against the vaunted Seattle defense. Hell, even the greatest coach of all time saw it best to attack the Hawks with a pass catching back. Shane Vereen’s Super Bowl line was a very Bernard-like 11-64 on a team-leading 12 targets. And it’s not like Gio hasn’t looked like the best running back through four weeks, out-touching Jeremy Hill in every game but one and out-producing him in all four. Expecting the ‘Nard Dog to continue to deliver 5.5 yards per carry may be a bit of stretch, but don’t be surprised if he’s able to snatch at least five catches as he’s already done it 12 times in his short career.
16. Doug Martin vs. Jacksonville
Might be worth it to Doug Martin to injure or tweak or do whatever he did to his knee before Week 4’s game, as Martin reached the end zone for the first time since opening weekend of 2013. Yeah, you read that right, first touchdown in two years. Are Tonya Harding or Jeff Galooly still looking for motel rent money, cause I might have a job for them. Chances are, though, we’ll need more than those two goofs, as the Jaguars are a much tougher rush defense than most realize. The matchup looks great when you’re New England and have eight rushes inside the Jacksonville 10-yard line. You know who isn’t New England, Tampa Bay, who has just four rushes inside the opponent’s 10-yard line ON THE SEASON. Jacksonville has allowed the 4th fewest rushing yards and is one of three teams to allow less than 3.3 yards per carry. Sorry Dougie, time to put that touchdown dance back on the shelf. See you in 2017!
17. DeMarco Murray vs. New Orleans
Did anyone else notice DeMarco Murray’s rushing production increased over 400% after his return in Week 4?! Woo! Just like my checking account did when I got my very first paycheck from Shopko at 16. Okay, so maybe the 400% is a tad misleading, but it’s hard to argue Murray and the Philadelphia offense didn’t look at least marginally better in Week 4. Murray only had two carries of negative yards (after four in Week 2), was the leader in touches despite carrying a questionable tag, has had at least two targets in all three games. And if you prescribe to the squeaky wheel theorem, the former Cowboy running back has been loudly suggesting he needs more carries. The Saints, meanwhile, have surrendered at least one rushing touchdown in 7 of their last 10 games away from the Superdome, including Murray’s last run in with New Orleans where he put together 24-149-2 and have given up 14 runs of at least 10 yards.
18. Joseph Randle vs. New England
Remember that time Joseph Randle suggested DeMarco Murray “left some meat on the bone” in regards to Murray’s ridiculous 2014 season? Maybe he did (he didn’t), but if we’re going by Randle’s own metric then the cat busted trying to steal underpants from a department store has only looked at the meat through the butcher’s glass window. Sure the four touchdowns are nice, but outside that fluky 37-yard scamper against Atlanta the other three have been of the one-yard variety and it’s taken him four tries from that same spot to get there. You want to rely on tries from inside the one, be my guest, but don’t be surprised if Randle’s not who they trot out there after he was essentially (according to Jason Garrett) benched in Week 4 for being as loose with the ball at the goal line as he’s been with his words. New England’s offensive pace and production is their defense, forcing the opposition to try and keep up. Only one back has more than 15 carries against the Patriots since Week 1 and each week there’s been a decrease in attempts. Dallas will have no choice but to follow suit and as the game script slips, Randle’s involvement could to.
19. Chris Johnson at Detroit
It’s too bad many of us have stopped paying attention, but for those that hung on to his word like gold, Bruce Arians finally spoke some words about his running backs that weren’t completely absurd. Chris Johnson was to get 15-20 touches in Week 4 regardless if Andre Ellington made it back on the field and lo and behold, Johnson ended up with 19 (albeit with no Ellington, who was this close according to Arians). I don’t know what kind of expiration date Arians’ proclamations hold, but I am willing to guess they’re a lot more like non-pasteurized milk left out in the Glendale sun than the dehydrated stuff you can still drink from WWII era. Johnson and Ellington are similar backs, but the latter is a better version of the former; the Porsche to Johnson’s Honda CRX, if you will, and Arians is much too smart of an offensive mind to ignore that. Unfortunately for Johnson and his owners, it’s not only Ellington’s likely return that’s putting a dark cloud over Johnson’s outlook in Week 5 but also a tough opponent that has shut down every running back not named Adrian Peterson; the only running back with more than 51 rushing yards against Detroit and the only back with a carry over 15 yards. Newsflash, Chris Johnson is no Adrian Peterson. No running back has scored from outside the one-yard line since Week 1 and the Lions haven’t given up more than 36 rushing yards to any back in the Motor City since Fred Jackson’s 50 yards in Week 5 of 2014.
20. Danny Woodhead vs. Pittsburgh
If this was a comic book, we’d all see the writing on the wall for a guy named WOODhead trying to fight his way through the Steel Curtain. It’s not, but let’s be honest if it was, Woodhead would likely find his way through it. The “little running back that could” is 2nd in receiving yards amongst all running backs, has the 5th most catches and has dominated the San Diego red zone touches (8 to Melvin Gordon’s 1). The Steelers very well could be without linebacker Ryan Shazier for a third straight game, are coming off a game in which they gave up over five yards per carry and struggled mightily defending another back with Patriot ties out of the backfield in Dion Lewis.
21. LeGarrette Blount at Dallas
Something like refer to Week 3’s game script should suffice, but I’ll drop just a dash of knowledge for the lazy. It doesn’t matter than Blount is playing second fiddle to Dion Lewis as New England has shown if there are seconds on the clock, they are going to keep their foot on the offensive pedal regardless of score. Through six quarters of football, Blount had 4-29 with 2 carries inside the red zone. In his final two quarters in the blowout in Week 3, Blount had 16-51-3 with 9 carries in the red zone and 6 inside the 10-yard line. Unfortunately for Dallas, they just don’t have the offensive firepower (no Dez, Romo and now Dunbar) to keep up with the Patriots nor the help defensively, without Orlando Scandrick and likely Sean Lee, to stop them either. Of the five rushing touchdowns the Cowboys have surrendered, four were from inside the seven-yard line. Blount’s Week 3 moment is going to come and New England will make sure his opportunities are plenty when it does.
22. Carlos Hyde at New York Giants
I wish I had a lot more to say here, but sorry Hyde owners, sometimes silence is best.
Are they gone? Whew, what a group of Buzz Killingtons! I didn’t want to tell them, but things aren’t going to get any better in Week 5. The Giants quietly have been one of the league’s best rush defenses. They haven’t allowed any back to rush for more than 65 yards, only nobody Chris Thompson has a carry longer than 20 yards and of the seven rushing attempts New York’s defense has had to face inside their own 10-yard line, only two have reached the end zone. Meanwhile, Hyde has less rushing yards in his last three games combined than Week 1 and only 10 more carries. Yikes.
23. Alfred Morris at Atlanta
Jay Gruden and I have something in common. Neither one of us seems to have any clue about what is going on with the Washington backfield. And to be honest, Morris’ inclusion probably has more to do with Atlanta’s inability to keep opposing running backs out of the end zone than anything else. No team has given up more rushing touchdowns than the Falcons, surrendering touchdowns to two different backs in three of the four weeks. And if I am stuck choosing someone in D.C., it’s probably safest to roll with the guy who’s received double digit carries in three of the four weeks and leads the team in red zone touches. Right? Probably not, but may the odds be ever in your favor.
24. Jeremy Hill vs. Seattle
Now I am not saying Hill owners should be looking to flip him after his three-touchdown performance in Week 4, but what I am saying is be prepared for that value to come crashing back down after a meetup with the Legion of Boom in Week 5. The Seahawks haven’t surrendered a rushing touchdown in 10 games, stretching all the way back to Week 12 of the 2014 season and have only allowed two runners to average more than three yards per carry during that same stretch. Bad news for a running back so reliant on touchdowns for production, as 65% of Hill’s fantasy points are from reaching the end zone. Hill has had to be uber efficient as well, as he’s amassed only two more red zone touches (and two more inside the 10-yard line) than Gio Bernard.
25. Boobie Dixon at Tennessee
26. Ronnie Hillman at Oakland
If you think you’ve got an idea about this backfield, I’m all ears. But in the mean time, I’ll throw my dart at the guy that’s actually reached the end zone and hasn’t looked the part of square bowling ball trying to roll uphill in melted caramel. Despite being the official “backup” in all four weeks, Hillman has actually out-produced CJ Anderson in three of the weeks with lone outlier being a Week 3 showing where he had 11 less yards. The touches have been virtually equal and again, that was in a scenario where Anderson was the assumed lead back. The Broncos offensive line has been brutally bad, meaning the running game needs to be someone who has the ability to create. Have I convinced you yet? Oakland’s not the promising matchup they’ve been in recent memory, but sans shutting down the Browns joke of a backfield every other team has averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry and backs have caught 93% of their 29 targets.
27. Rashad Jennings vs. San Francisco
28. Ameer Abdullah vs. Arizona
29. C.J. Anderson at Oakland
30. Melvin Gordon vs. Pittsburgh
31. Chris Thompson at ATL
32. Andre Ellington at Detroit
33. Andre Williams vs. San Francisco
34. Duke Johnson vs. Baltimore
35. Isaiah Crowell vs. Baltimore
36. Matt Jones vs. Atlanta
37. Reggie Bush at NYG