Words by Jim Ayello; rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Todd Gurley vs. San Francisco - 10
Awesome stat I saw from ESPN Stats & Info: In his past three games Todd Gurley has rushed for 107, 111 and 118 yards on first down. Defenses know he’s coming, and they still can’t stop him. He’s been a beast. Of course, and this is important to remember before you get too excited about the rookie, these outstanding performances have come against some pretty poor run stoppers. The Browns are the worst in football, and Green Bay has allowed 4.7 yards per carry, seventh worst in the NFL. Of course, going off against Arizona as he did three weeks ago, is pretty impressive and likely indicative of what’s to come this week. Both Arizona and San Francisco have conceded just 4.0 yards per carry this season. And the 49ers have only given up one rushing touchdown the past three weeks. Still, Gurley looks unstoppable, and I sure as hell am not betting against him against the dysfunctional 49ers.
2. Le’Veon Bell vs. Cincinnati – 9.75
No excuses. Just merciless, machine-like production. You’d think running behind the Michael Vick/Landry Jones combo platter the past four games, Le’Veon Bell would have slowed down with defenses focused on stopping him. The man hasn’t given an inch. Instead, he’s averaging 125.5 total yards per game in those contests and, though he hasn’t found the end zone in a couple weeks, he is sure to rediscover it Sunday. The Bengals have given up scores to running backs in back-to-back games, not to mention 250 rushing yards to Thomas Rawls and LeSean McCoy. And did I mention Big Ben is probably playing? No? That’s because it doesn’t matter. Merciless, machine-like production. Forget who is under center.
3. Justin Forsett vs. San Diego – 9.75
Does taking pleasure in another man’s failures make me a bad person? Absolutely. Do I care? Not even a little. As a Bears fan, watching Marc Trestman squirm on the Ravens’ sideline is a weekly delight. Communications issues, baffling play calls, insufferable postgame interviews, it’s all part of the fun with Trestman calling the shots. Enjoy him, Baltimore. Had you watched any of last year’s Bears games, you’d have known you not only invited but paid a plague to ruin … I mean run your one-win offense.
I do feel bad for Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett, who each were coming off career-best seasons. Their chances to repeat such success were shot the minute Trestman signed the dotted line. This year, Flacco barely has thrown more touchdowns than picks (9-8), and Forsett has yielded a full three feet from his yards per carry average from last season (5.4, down to 4.3). Atta boy, Marc. With those numbers, you’ll be back in Canada before you can says ashafhafdha. What? I said aadfhafdhad. … Damn these communications issues.
OK, on with the show. Despite Trestman’s ineptitude, Forsett should enjoy a big game here, as San Diego is dreadful against the run. Backs are averaging 5.4 yards per carry and have scored in all but one game against the Chargers this season. Even in that game, Cincinnati runners racked up 180 total yards. Forsett is a strong RB1 this week.
4. Chris Johnson at Cleveland – 9.5
Since Chris Johnson is providing fantasy owners an amazing and completely unexpected blast from the past, I thought I’d honor him with a throwback bit you kids might appreciate.
Ehem. Sorry, have to channel my inner Billy Crudup.
Owning football’s second-leading rusher this week on Fanduel: $6,900
Owning the back taking on the only defense that has allowed 1,000 rushing yards this year on DraftKings: $6,100.
Seeing the look on Charch’s face when his patented rankings formula spits out a top 10 grade for the running back he so lovingly dubbed then “The Tap Dancing Nancy.” Priceless.
5. Mark Ingram vs. New York Giants – 9.5
This one’s simple. Mark Ingram has racked up 100 total yards or a touchdown in six out of seven games this year. The Giants defense has surrendered 100 totals yards or a touchdown to a back in all seven of their games. Don’t overthink it.
6. Marshawn Lynch at Dallas – 9.5
You know how you hear that some backs get better as games go on? That they wear down opposing defenses? That’s what Lynch does, but over the course of an entire season. For his career, he has been a slow starter — by his lofty standards — and a dominating finisher. In games played in September and October, Lynch has run for 3,872 yards and 29 touchdowns. Not too shabby. But in November and December, he has an absurd 4,966 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns. And don’t you know, this Sunday is Nov. 1. Now, BeastMode got a little anxious and destroyed the 49ers defense last week as a little show of things to come. Expect more of the same against Dallas, a defense that has given up five rushing touchdowns in its past four games.
7. Devonta Freeman vs. Tampa Bay – 9.25
Oh, I’m sorry Freeman owners, did Devonta not score last week? How sad. How truly awful that must have been for you. A tragedy beyond tragedies. A fate worse than death. I’m trying to hold back the tears, but they just keep coming. ...I’m sorry. But I don’t own any shares of Freeman this season, so I’m relishing the first week in six he hasn’t scored. Freeman owners have been living in a dreamworld where their 12th-round running back scores twice a week. I’m happy they finally got a taste of what the rest of deal with every Sunday. And I’m pleased to say their bitter encounter with touchdownlessness might stretch to two weeks (practically a reign of terror in Freeman terms), as he takes on a Tampa Bay defense that hasn’t surrendered a rushing touchdown to a back since Week 3 and has limited them to 3.8 yards per carry this year.
8. Matt Forte vs. Minnesota – 9.25
Much like pimpin, running on the Vikings ain’t easy. Most Minnesota foes have hesitated to even try. Since Week 1, no lead back has eclipsed 14 carries against the Vikings. Only the Jets, Bengals, Packers and Patriots have yielded fewer rushing attempts. That being the case, this week should be interesting for Matt Forte, who has yet to carry the ball fewer than 14 times this season has eclipsed 20 in four of his six games. One streak will have to end, and I’m betting on it being the Vikings.' The Bears have proved persistent in feeding Forte — his 147 touches are second in the NFL. While you shouldn’t expect big numbers out of him, it’s reasonable to expect a fourth straight game with either 100 total yards or a touchdown.
9. Jonathan Stewart vs. Indianapolis - 9
As the great Cameron Frye once said, “Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole!” I’m talking to you, Jonathan. Stewart continues to flabbergast fantasy owners with terrible games in great matchups and great games in terrible matchups. He totaled 220 yards and zero touchdowns in four games against the Jaguars, Texans, Saints and Bucs, and then, when everyone had left him for dead, he rattles off 203 rushing yards and two scores against the Seahawks and Eagles. What the hell? This week, he gets a terrible Colts defense that has been consecutively ambushed by the running backs of the Jaguars, Texans, Patriots and Saints (650 yards, five touchdowns). In Stewart language, I guess that means he’s due for a terrible week.
10. Doug Martin at Atlanta – 8.75
We’re seven weeks through the season, and this, against all odds, is happening:
Player A: 511 rushing yards (5.0 YPC), 3 rushing touchdowns, 8 runs of 20-plus yards.
Player B: 541 rushing yards (5.0 YPC), 3 rushing touchdowns, 7 runs of 20-plus yards.
Player A is Le’Veon Bell.
Player B is inexplicably Doug Martin.
Sure, Martin has played one more game than Bell, but did anyone actually expect their stat lines to be anywhere near comparable at this point? I absolutely, 100 percent did not. Yet here we are. And Martin's fantasy numbers should only get better this week against a Falcons defense that has given up a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns.
Note: A couple of streaks on the line in this one. Martin has rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive games, while the Falcons have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 4 of last season (19 games).
11. Adrian Peterson at Chicago – 8.75
Working theory: Adrian Peterson is so good that he has to handicap himself to even the playing field. Last week, the league’s fourth-leading rusher swallowed some shellfish despite a shellfish allergy (???) but, dammit, ran for 98 yards. Still too easy. This week, I hear he’s thinking of going padless, though severing a toe could be in play as well. Check Twitter for updates on his status....
I predict a good, not great, showing in AP’s future. Most teams elect to throw on the Bears, who haven’t seen a running back earn 20 carries against them since Week. 2. They also are fairly stingy against the run, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, no rushing touchdowns since Week 2 and only four runs of 20 yards or more.
12. Frank Gore at Carolina – 8.75
Curse the football gods for allowing Frank Gore to sign with the Colts! They are wasting what could have been one of the best stories in football this season. Unless you have watched the Colts this season, you probably don’t realize how great this should-be-retired back is playing. Gore is 14th among running backs in yards from scrimmage and, he ranks sixth with 4.6 yards per attempt. And he’s 32! But because offensive coordinator Poop Hamilton continues to insist Andrew Luck chuck it 65 percent of the time and because Luck continues to insist to throw it to the other team, Gore has yet to enjoy the breakout game he deserves, settling for steady performance after steady performance. Overall, the Panthers are a very good defense, but they've struggled against the run this year, and in the last three games they're allowing over 5 yards per carry. You beat Carolina on the ground, not through the air. Hopefully Poop knows that.
13. LeGarrette Blount vs. Miami – 8.5
The Patriots’ week-to-week game plans are riddles wrapped in enigmas, trapped inside a giant 40-color Rubik's Cube. Power runners, like LeGarrette Blount, have hammered the Dolphins this year. Alfred Morris put up 25-121-0; Karlos Williams ran for 12-110-1, and Chris Ivory pounded them for 29-166-. . Then there's this: Last season against Miami, Brady chucked it 91 times, while non-Shane Vereen running backs earned just 29 attempts. Go figure. Blount's usage is always a confounding prospect for opponents and fantasy owners alike, and this matchup is no different.
14. Giovani Bernard at Pittsburgh – 8.5
Since Week 1, the Steelers defense has been either very good against the run (four games holding backs to 60 yards or fewer) or very bad (two games allowing 130 yards or more). The return of emerging star Stephon Tuitt this week should help, but even when he was around against Baltimore, Justin Forsett still went off. This makes the already tough task of projecting Giovani Bernard that much more difficult. Despite being out-touched by Hill 17-9 in their most recent outing, Bernard owns the yearlong lead 97-77, meaning more often than not Bernard is the go-to back. Combined with his league-leading 120 red zone rushing yards (5.71 YPC) — compared to Hill’s 42 (2.63 YPC) — Bernard remains the superior option.
15. Charcandrick West vs. Detroit – 8.5
No team in the NFL has yielded more red zone scoring attempts than Detroit this season. Allowing opponents 4.9 tries per game, the Lions lead the pack is this dubious statistic by a wide margin — three teams are tied for second at 4.0. It is no wonder they have conceded the second most rushing touchdowns in the league (nine). Detroit’s bend-and-also-break defense presents a wonderful opportunity for West to repeat last week’s success (122 rushing yards and a score), especially considering his high usage in the red zone. The second year man out of Abilene Christian toted the ball a league-high seven times inside the 20 in Week 7, giving us ample reason to expect another score or two this week.
16. Dion Lewis vs. Miami – 8.25
Before their miraculous turnaround under Dan Campbell, about the only thing the Dolphins were good at was limiting receiving yardage to running backs. For the season, Miami has yielded the third fewest yardage to runners through the air. Then again, the quarterbacks they’ve faced have been a who’s who of meh, and Tom Brady is about as far from meh as you can get. Considering the Patriots’ penchant for airing it out (66.2 percent of plays are passes), Dion Lewis — who reportedly is healthy — should get plenty of looks.
17. Lamar Miller at New England – 8.25
How bleak is the NFL running back landscape? Through the first four weeks of the season, Lamar Miller’s highest rushing total was 58. Now, with back-to-back 100-yard games under his belt, he is 31 yards away from being in the top 10. And that’s with a bye week included! Bleak, bleak, bleak. What’s worse is that Miller’s opponent this week, New England, doesn’t concede many running back receptions, hasn’t given up a 100-yard game since Week 1 and hasn’t allowed a running back rushing touchdown since Week 2 ... And he’s still this highly ranked.
18. Chris Ivory at Oakland – 8.25
Color me a forest green shade of cynical, because I don’t think Chris Ivory does much this week against the Raiders. For one, he’s still nursing a quad issue, which clearly hindered him last week (2.7 yards per carry) against a beatable Patriots run defense. Two, only one back has racked up more than 68 yards against Oakland (Matt Forte)and it took him 25 tries to get to 98 yards. Finally, the Raiders have given up 11 passing touchdowns as opposed to just three on the ground. You beat them through the air, and betting on #BeastEast catching a touchdown pass for just the third time in his career — and for a second straight week — is a fool’s errand.
19. Danny Woodhead at Baltimore – 8.25
Let me start by saying this: Melvin Gordon is not as bad as he’s looked. I think his 3.9 yards per carry are about all you can expect from a rookie running behind the human band-aid that is the Chargers offensive line. That said, the fumbles are inexcusable — Mike McCoy has said as much — and Woodhead is the Chargers back to own these days. His touches have increased each of the past three weeks (9, 12, 16) and with them, he has not disappointed (248 total yards, two touchdowns). My only concern here is the Chargers were playing from behind in many of these games, and that might not be the case against the 1-6 Ravens. … Ah, who am I kidding? Baltimore stinks and has given up the 10th most receiving yards to backs. With Gordon on McCoy’s naughty list, Woodhead looks primed for another solid RB2 game.
20. Ronnie Hillman vs. Green Bay – 8.0
Local reports out of Denver suggest Hillman is getting more first-team reps than backfield mate C.J. Anderson. This a changeup from earlier in the month, when the pair was splitting first-team work. Hopefully the reports prove true, and we get a little clarity on this long-murky situation. Hillman certainly has earned the opportunity. He has posted 100-yard efforts in two of his last three outings, and if he does get a majority of the work, could be in line for another. The two backs who have carried the ball more than 16 times against the Packers have run for a combined 300 yards (Matt Forte, Todd Gurley). Sadly, Hillman has only hit that plateau one this year. Touchdowns might be hard to come by, as the Packers have allowed just four rushing touchdowns all season, and three were delivered by Jamaal Charles in a game the Pack had all but wrapped up in the first half.
21. Charles Sims at Atlanta – 8
22. Jeremy Hill at Pittsburgh – 7.75
The Bengals run the ball more than 30 times per game, third most in the NFL. Giovani Bernard has received 15 or more carries just once this season, while Jeremy Hill accomplished the feat twice. I thought it was important to know both of those things in case you thought only one can be a fantasy relevant back. Though the Steelers have only given up one rushing touchdown this year, no one has scored more touchdowns from inside the opponent's five than Hill (four).
23. Darren McFadden vs. Seattle – 7.75
No. Just no. I’m sorry, but I will not be buying into a Run DMC rebirth. I’ve been burned too many times before, and he just has too many things working against him this week. For one, only one back has scored against Seattle, and nobody has hit the 100-yard mark. Second, Christine Michael and Joseph Randle are still lurking, just waiting for McFadden to get injured or even off to a slow start. And three, Matt Cassell. He looked shaky last week, and this is the Seattle secondary we’re talking about. The Seahawks would welcome a gameplan where Cassell tries to beat them, but odds are, Dallas will want to run, and Seattle knows it.
24. Antonio Andrews at Houston – 7.75
25. Latavius Murray vs. New York Jets – 7.5
In three games against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league against the run, Murray has flourished, racking up 322 yards and three touchdowns. But in three games against defenses ranked in the top half, he’s struggled mightily, registering 198 total yards and zero touchdowns. You know where this is going. The Jets are outstanding versus the run, having allowed only one running back rushing touchdown and the fewest rushing yards in the league. And it’s not even close. Their 300 yards allowed (50.0 per game) is 187 fewer than second-place Denver.
26. Eddie Lacy at Denver – 7.5
One more time, right? This game isn’t even about production, because it probably won’t be very good against an outstanding Denver defense (second fewest rushing yards allowed to backs). No, this game is all about touches. More specifically, it’s about whether Lacy out-touches James Starks, who earned almost twice as much work (11-6) as Lacy two weeks ago and only trails Lacy 76-74 for the season. Even though McCarthy called Lacy a fatty (kind of) in a recent news conference, Lacy appears primed to get the majority of the touches with Starks dealing with an ankle injury. If he doesn’t, his owners will have more than enough reason to hit the panic button.
27. Duke Johnson Jr. vs. Arizona – 7.5
28. Ameer Abdullah at Kansas City – 7.5
29. Melvin Gordon at Baltimore – 7.5
30. James Starks at Denver – 7.5
31. C.J. Anderson vs. Green Bay – 7.5
32. Reggie Bush at St. Louis - 7.5
33. Shane Vereen at New Orleans – 7.5
34. Orleans Darkwa at New Orleans – 7.5
35. Dexter McCluster vs Houston – 7.5
36. Khiry Robinson vs. New York Giants – 7.5
37. Alfred Blue at Tennessee – 7.25
38. Rashad Jennings at New Orleans – 7.25
39. Andre Ellington at Cleveland – 7.25
40. David Johnson at Cleveland – 7.25
41. C.J. Spiller vs New York Giants – 7.25
42. Branden Oliver at Baltimore – 6.75