Words by Jim Ayello, rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Devonta Freeman at New Orleans - 10
A recipe for success, by Jim Ayello:
1. First, start with a running back who has scored eight touchdowns in his past four games and is second in the league in total touches with 127. (Note: Make sure he leads the league in carries inside the five-yard line, too).
2. Stir in a reeling defense that has allowed the third most rushing yards to running backs this season and is one of only three teams to have surrendered 800 or more total yards to the position.
3. Finally, sprinkle in some uncertainty about the best wide receiver in the league playing this week. When you’re finished, you should have a 5’8 running back, approximately 206 pounds, with the name Freeman on the back of his jersey. Deploy and enjoy.
2. Le’Veon Bell vs. Arizona – 9.75
Well, all that preseason talk about who the No. 1 fantasy back in the league is sure seems silly now. Despite missing two games, Bell has surged up to No. 15 in yards from scrimmage and is tied for 5th in rushing touchdowns. He has produced 100 total yards or a touchdown in nine straight games. He has done both in seven of his past nine games including his first three this season. Neither streak will be in jeopardy this week considering his extreme usage (25-plus touches per game) and a Cardinals defense that has conceded 100 total yards or a touchdown to running backs in four of its first five games.
3. Matt Forte at Detroit – 9.75
Adam Gase, man. Adam bleeping Gase. This dude must be stuffing Bradley Cooper pills downs his throat (Sorry, those CBS “Limitless” commercials every 14 seconds have permeated my brain), because he is operating on higher plane of intelligence than the rest of his coordinating peers. I enter as evidence 1A, Denver’s running game. It has gone to pieces since his departure. I enter as evidence 2A: Forte is leading the league in rushing despite being surrounded by an averageish quarterback, an injury-depleted offensive line that wasn’t that talented to begin with and a cast of wide receivers you’ve never heard of. How Gase has prevented defenses from eliminating Forte is beyond me. But week after week, Forte has served fantasy owners well, racking up 90 total yards in all but one game. Expect no different this week, with a reeling Detroit defense on the docket. The Lions just surrendered nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns to Cardinals backs and have allowed backs to score in all but one game.
4. Adrian Peterson vs. Kansas City – 9.5
Four games into his ninth NFL season, Peterson has now rushed for a career 10,562 yards. He recently passed Tiki Barber to climb into the top 25 leading rushers of all time. Did you know he is one of only four other running backs to in the top 25 to play for only one team in his career? I’ll give you a minute to think of the other three. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you about Peterson’s matchup this week against a solid Chiefs rush defense. Kansas City has surrendered a ground touchdown in just one game this season. Granted, that was Week 4 against the Bengals, and they gave up four of them, but other than that, they’ve been fairly sturdy surrendering a season-high 71 rushing yards to Matt Forte last week. So, it’s not a great matchup for All Day, but as usual, you’re starting him anyway.
OK. Did you think of the other three? You probably should have. They are No. 2 Walter Payton (Chicago), No. 3 Barry Sanders (Detroit) and No. 9 Jim Brown (Cleveland). That’s pretty great company to keep. Appreciate him while you still can, Minnesota fans.
5. Mark Ingram vs. Atlanta – 9.5
Lost in the Saints struggles’ is Mark Ingram’s emergence as one of the top three-down backs in football. The former Heisman Trophy winner has picked up 481 yards from scrimmage this season, sixth best among running backs and 11th overall in the league. Even better, for fantasy purposes, he has been Mr. Consistent, racking up 100 total yards or a touchdown in all but one game this season. And he is in line for another standout performance against Atlanta, which has given up a league-high eight rushing touchdowns, allowed the most yards (415) to backs via the air and let him score three touchdowns in two games last season. In fact, let me take this time to call my shot: On Sunday, Ingram will total more than 128 yards (his 2015 best) and score at least one touchdown. You heard it here, first. … or maybe you didn’t, but it doesn’t change my prognostication.
6. Arian Foster at Jacksonville – 9.25
Atta boy, Bill. I’ll admit, it took you one week longer than I thought, but you eventually returned to your inexplicable ways, giving Foster -- which, fun fact, is Australian for fragile -- 28 touches in his second game back from injury. Fantasy owners rejoice while Foster’s agent surely curses his cruel gods. Anyway, enjoy while it lasts, Foster owners, because at this rate, it probably won’t be for long. He gets a Jags defense that was gashed by Doug Martin and has been giving to him in the past. In seven career games, Foster has averaged more than 100 rushing yards and a score against his AFC South brethren. No reason to expect much different this week while being force-fed the ball.
7. Eddie Lacy vs. San Diego – 9.25
I know you need this reminder like you need Trent Richardson on your roster, but the third-year Packers back hasn’t scored in four straight regular-season games for the first time in his career. The problem: In those four contests, Lacy has as many rushing attempts inside the opponent's five as you and I do. Zip. Aaron Rodgers, quite simply, has been too good. Inside the five, he is 6-for-8 with six touchdowns. Until someone finds a way to slow down Rodgers inside the red zone, Lacy’s premier bulldozing stylings will go to waste. That said, I can offer a small glimmer of hope for Lacy investors: San Diego’s run defense is terrible. It’s allowed the second most rushing yards to backs this season -- including three 100-yard performances -- and has conceded five rushing touchdowns, including, you guessed it, three from inside their own five.
8. Dion Lewis at Indianapolis – 8.75
OK. I know the comparison of Lewis to former Patriots receiving back Shane Vereen isn’t exactly apples to apples, but it’s pretty darn close. Like apples to red pears or something. I don’t know. I do know you didn’t come here for fruit analysis, so what I’ll tell you is that while Lewis has been outstanding this season -- posting 100 total yards or a touchdown in every game -- Vereen didn’t light up the Colts in his time in New England, and that worries me some this week about Lewis.
In Vereen’s final three contests against Indy, including the postseason, he averaged 51 total yards per game with no touchdowns. What happened was the Patriots preferred to attack the Colts on the ground with a thundering back like LeGarrette Blount or Jonas Gray, which in case you don’t remember, worked quite well. In the past three games against the Colts, the Patriots have run on 59 percent of their offensive snaps. Against all other opponents in 2014, they ran closer to 40 percent of the time. This year, they’re down to about 35 percent. So, how will the Patriots choose to attack the Colts this time around? I’m not sure, but if history is any guide, Blount could be the instrument of choice and not Lewis.
9. #BeastEast vs. Washington – 8.5
Feed the Beast! In his career, Ivory’s teams are 9-1 when he gets 18 or more carries. And that includes two of the Jets’ wins this season. It’s a simple formula for success that I’m hoping the Jets stick with this week against Washington. It will be tough. Before last week’s flameout against Atlanta, Washington’s run defense has been nearly impenetrable, holding running backs to about 53 yards per game and allowing just one score on the season. That said the Falcons, as pointed out by ESPN’s John Keim, exposed a weakness is the Washington run defense, picking up major yardage on stretch runs to the outside. Despite his size, Ivory is more than capable of playing within an outside-in attack, and if the Jets try it, I think Ivory could have his second straight monster game.
10. Giovani Bernard at Buffalo – 8.5
Only one back has enjoyed any success against the Bills this season, and that was shifty receiving dynamo Dion Lewis, who racked up 138 yards (98 receiving) and a touchdown against Rex Ryan’s crew. Welcome to Buffalo, Giovani Bernard, who along with a similar skillset to Lewis is enjoying an expanding workload within the explosive Bengals offense. Last week, he picked up his second 20-touch game of the season and has looked far superior to backfield mate Jeremy Hill, who is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry compared to Bernard’s 5.5.
11. Carlos Hyde vs. Baltimore – 8.5
It … Is … Alive. Hyde’s fantasy value that is. It all but disappeared following his nationally televised breakout in Week 1. But Hyde rewarded faithful fantasy owners with an excellent game against the stingy Giants’ run defense and will look to build on it this week against Baltimore. Do not let the Ravens’ reputation fool you. The 2015 Baltimore rush defense is a far cry from the ferocious fronts of yesteryear. It is allowing more than 100 total yards to running backs per game this season and has surrendered a score in three of the past four games.
12. DeMarco Murray vs. New York Giants – 8.25
Excellent analysis over at Monday Morning Quarterback revealed that many scouts and even DeMarco Murray himself worried about his adjusting to running out of the shotgun in Philadelphia as opposed to the I formation he was familiar with in Dallas. According to the article, some scouts suggested he might struggle early on before hitting his stride later in the season.
“Every back is different,” writes Jenny Vrentas, “but many say running out of the I-formation is easier, because you have better field vision when you’re lined up seven yards deep. It’s harder to make the transition from running out of the I formation to the shotgun runs prevalent in Chip Kelly’s system rather than vice versa.”
Lo and behold:
“Per Eagles beat reporters, Kelly incorporated more runs from under center in Sunday’s win over the Saints, which was Murray’s best rushing performance by far this season (83 yards on 20 carries).”
Give Kelly credit for adjusting to personnel, something many people would tell you he doesn’t do. Assuming he continues to craft the offense to fit the strengths of his players, it’s fair to guess that Murray could have an even better game in him against a Giants team he ran for 250 yards against in two games last season while in Dallas. But, the Giants are much improved against the run this year, currently allowing the third-fewest yards per game, just 73, and only 3.4 yards per carry. That makes this a tough matchup, no matter where he lines up.
13. Justin Forsett at San Francisco – 9.5
The week (Week 4) I call out Marc Trestman for breaking old and loveable Justin Forsett, is the same week Forsett breaks out and posts back-to-back 150-yard games. So, I guess what I’m saying is, you’re welcome. Clearly Trestman read my post, felt bad and changed his tune. That’s the only logical explanation for Forsett’s turnaround I can think of. Well that, and that fact that he faced a pair of lousy rush defenses in Pittsburgh (without Big Ben) and Cleveland. No matter the reasons, the most important news here is that the string of detestable defenses continues in San Francisco, where he get a 49ers unit that is one of just six teams this season to have allowed running backs to total 700 yards and score seven touchdowns.
14. Marshawn Lynch vs. Carolina – 8.25
Ugh. I hate the first game back from injuries. There are just too many question we can’t begin to answer. How much is he going to play? Is he playing at full strength? Will the backup still be involved? Who’s on first? I’m not asking you who … Wait. Sorry. Wrong rant. Anyway, it’s infuriating. There is nary a fantasy football owner who hasn’t been burned at least once by a guy who is “active” but not in the sense that actually matters. Remember Chris Ivory a few weeks ago? Or LeSean McCoy the first few Sundays of the season? I don’t trust Pete Carroll or Lynch to be honest with the media, and I don’t expect the Seahawks’ struggling offense to go too far away from the only that’s worked this year: Thomas Rawls. Considering Rawls' strong play, a mixed backfield is definitely possible. Carolina has a good run defense, allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. And opposing No. 1 runners have averaged just 61 rushing yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game.
15. LeGarrette Blount at Indianapolis – 8.25
Here’s the God’s honest truth: I have no idea if you should start LeGarrette Blount this Sunday night. I’m sorry. I wish I did. But I just have no idea. Here’s what I do know:
In his past two games against the Colts -- while wearing a Patriots uniform -- Blount has racked up a comical 314 rushing yards and SEVEN touchdowns. Seven touchdowns. Seven. Seven touchdowns. Seven. The more you say it, the crazier it sounds. It two games, he’s scored seven touchdowns and has run for more than 300 yards on 54 carries. That’s ridiculous. And in most cases, on most teams, it would make Blount a no-brainer RB1. Heck, he might be ranked No. 1. But this is not most cases. And the Patriots aren’t most teams.
While lowering the Blount boom has worked against the Colts in the past, the Patriots may very well decide to get unpredictable and throttle their AFC “rivals” another way: Namely by deploying scat back Dion Lewis. The Colts defense provides us precious little clues. They are equally average at stopping running backs on the ground and through the air, so New England will have its choice. Unfortunately, these Patriots will not employ lanterns to warn us ahead of time: one if by Blount; two if by Lewis, so the truth remains: I have no idea what they’re going to do. And I won’t until late Sunday night. For those of you starting Blount, good luck and may Belichick have mercy on your souls.
16. Danny Woodhead at Green Bay - 8
In situations this season where the Chargers trail by 10 points or more, Woodhead is out-touching runningmate Melvin Gordon 18-11. I’m thinking that a team that just lost to Michael Vick and has no offensive line to speak of is going to get behind quickly against the best team in the NFC. Just a hunch. Woodhead has been the Chargers back to own so far this season, producing 75 yards or a touchdown in four of five games. And on other side, the Packers have allowed backs to average 4.4 yards per carry and score 5 total touchdowns.
17. Chris Johnson at Pittsburgh - 8
Come on, Charch. I was with you for a while, but, come on. Three straight games with at least 94 total yards? Second in the league in rushing? 5.1 yards per carry? I think you gotta abandon the Tap Dancing Nancy moniker, because let’s be honest, he’s earned it. [Charch: "Fine, you can upgrade his nickname to "The Macarena Marauder". For now.]For this week, the stats don’t show it but I think this Steelers defense isn’t very good. Against the two competent offenses they’ve faced (New England and Baltimore), the Steelers have allowed lead backs to pick up a combined 270 total yards. Arizona is a competent offense, and with Johnson still getting more than half of the Cardinals’ carries, despite the return of Andre Ellington, Johnson is primed for yet another big game.
18. Charcandrick West at Minnesota - 8
We don’t know much about Mr. West -- he’s only carried the ball 12 times for 48 yards in his two-year career -- but he does appear to be the heir apparent to Jamaal Charles. After Charles went down last week, West picked up seven carries while presumed-handcuff Knile Davis earned just two. So I am writing with the assumption West will be the lead back, if not the bellcow, in Kansas City from here on out. His first test comes in Minneapolis where a swiss cheese run defense awaits. The Vikings have surrendered 4.7 yards per carry to running backs and in their most recent outing, made the Broncos run game look better than pee-wee-esq, surrendering 146 yards to the previously dreadful backfield combination of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson.
19. Ronnie Hillman at Cleveland - 8
OK. It’s come to this. If the Broncos ground game can’t get going against the Browns, the only team to already have surrendered a 1,000 total yards to running backs this season, then there’s no hope. Cleveland is allowing 5 yards per carry, the 2nd-worst number in the league. Broncos backs have the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the league, the fourth fewest receiving yards and have scored just two touchdowns in five games. Like I said, if it’s not now, it’s never. Oh, and I’m going with Hillman over C.J. Anderson because Anderson has yet to average more than 3.9 yards per carry in any game and hasn’t scored.
20. Karlos Williams vs. Cincinnati (if he plays, and LeSean McCoy doesn't) – 8
21. Frank Gore vs. New England – 7.75
In a word, no. Just no.. Colts running backs have totaled just 112 yards in their past two games against the Patriots. New England has not surrendered a touchdown to a lead back this season. Oh, and the Pats hate the Colts for ratting on them in the whole Deflategate mess and will probably want to win the game by somewhere between 40 and 1,000 points. I don’t know if you know this, but being down by 1,000 is not exactly conducive to a running game. This is going to be a bloodbath and a bad game for Gore. Mark my words.
22. LeSean McCoy vs. Cincinnati – 7.75
The Bills running back situation is about as easy to read as James Joyce novel, but the latest is that McCoy is practicing, while Karlos Williams is out with a concussion. Obviously, you’ll need to monitor this situation -- and quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s -- up through game time. What I can say is that no matter who is running the ball for the Bills, they could have a good matchup in front of them. If the undefeated Bengals have one weakness right now, it’s rush defense. Excluding Baltimore in Week 3, lead backs have torched Cincinnati. In three of their past four game, Melvin Gordon, Jamaal Charles and Thomas Rawls have all averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry with Rawls going ballistic, totaling 169 yards on 7.3 YPC last week. That said, if Taylor is out, and E.J. Manuel is under center, I would imagine the Bengals will load the box and dare Manuel to beat them through the air.
23. Duke Johnson vs. Denver – 7.75
The rookie out of Miami has emerged as quite the receiving threat in recent weeks, collecting 21 passes for 172 yards. Sprinkle in 56 rushing yards and a touchdown in that same time period, and you’ve got yourself 76 total yards a game with a 33 percent chance at a score. I’ll take that over Lamar Miller eight days a week. Add in the fact that Denver, while an outstanding run defense, has allowed more receiving yards to running backs than more than half the league, and I say you got yourself a pretty decent flex option.
24. Jonathan Stewart at Seattle – 7.75
Boy, is it just me, or is it getting ugly around here? Looking at the bottom of these rankings is like staring into Mark Mangino’s chins. All of them. Ugh. Stewart looks to me like the best of bad company this week against a slightly overrated Seattle run defense that has allowed three of the past four lead backs to pick up 74 yards or more. That said, they’ve yet to allow a touchdown -- rushing or receiving -- and Stewart has yet to score one, so I’m not expecting much more than a decent yardage output here.
25. CJ Anderson vs Cleveland – 7.75
26. Ameer Abdullah vs. Chicago – 7.75
This is a gut call, because it’s entirely possible Lions head coach Jim Caldwell benches the rookie as punishment for the fumbles last week, but at 0-5, I think it’s all hands on deck. The Lions need their playmakers on the field, and we’ve seen Abdullah shine in the not-so-distant past. The Bears defense is not the pushover most thought they’d be, but they have allowed running backs to run for 4.4 yards per attempt and score touchdowns in four of their past five games. Also Lions backs scored four touchdowns in two games against the Bears last season, so there’s a little more hope for you to hang on to.
27. T.J. Yeldon vs. Houston – 7.75
It's a mixed bag for TJ Yeldon this week. For starters, we need him to get on the field. He's battling a groin injury that kept him out of practice this week. And, then there's the issue of his lackluster performances so far -- Yeldon is the only player in the top 10 of rushing attempts to be averaging fewer than 4.2 yards per carry (3.6) -- but the fact remains he’s getting opportunities in bulk. And that has plenty of value in fantasy. His 291 rushing yards are 16th in the NFL, and his 364 total yards are 39th in the league, putting him squarely in the mix for lowend RB2 and and high-end flex consideration. His only issue so far this year has been hitting pay dirt. He scored his first touchdown of the season last week, and there is good reason to believe he’ll keep rolling Sunday against a Texans defense that has given up five rushing touchdowns in its past two games.
28. Lamar Miller at Tennessee – 7.75
29. Jeremy Hill at Buffalo – 7.75
30. Shane Vereen at Philadelphia – 7.75
We finally saw it. It was the fourth quarter. It was late. But the Giants finally realized what they have in Shane Vereen: a matchup nightmare, a receiver in a running back’s body. On that final drive against the 49ers last week, Vereen showed (3 catches, 51 yards and 3 first downs) the Giants what Patriots fans already know: You can run a passing game through him. And with ODB, Reuben Randle and Victor Cruz all banged up and questionable to play Monday night against Philly, the Giants might have to. Now, the Eagles haven’t been particularly susceptible to backs through air this year, but they aren’t excellent against them either. They’ve allowed 29 catches for 189 yards, and more intriguing, last season, gave up a league-high eight passing touchdowns to backs.
31. Melvin Gordon at Green Bay – 7.75
32. Darren Sproles at New York Giants – 7.75
33. Knile Davis at Minnesota Vikings - 7.5
34. Alfred Morris at New York Jets – 7.5
35. Thomas Rawls vs. Carolina – 7.5
36. Rashad Jennings at Philadelphia – 7.5
37. Theo Riddick vs. Chicago – 7.5
38. C.J. Spiller vs. Atlanta – 7.5
39. Andre Ellington at Pittsburgh – 7.25
40. Ryan Mathews vs. New York Giants – 7.25
41. Matt Jones at New York Jets – 7.25
42. Chris Thompson at New York Jets – 7.25