Words by Jonnie Carlyle; Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Devonta Freeman at San Francisco – 9.75
If you’re a Devonta Freeman owner and you haven’t yet complained to someone (my poor wife) about his lack of touchdowns in the last two weeks, then you’re either lying or aren’t paying close enough attention. Sure 10 touchdowns over a four game stretch was impossible to maintain, it’s called regression folks, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying on Atlanta’s part. Freeman only trails Marshawn Lynch (12) in red zone rushing attempts in the last two weeks with 11, including eight last Sunday and likely missed out on a few others after turnovers ended two red zone trips. Freeman is still dominating the carries, 46 to Coleman’s 6, and posted his sixth straight game of 100+ combo yards. Things have somehow gotten worse in San Francisco, where Blaine Gabbert ( “2012”, “The Day After Tomorrow” and “San Andreas” all rolled into one, bad) is the starting quarterback while the defense has been atrocious. The 49ers have allowed the 3rd most rushing touchdowns and given up at least 122 rushing yards and a touchdown in two straight and 100+ combo yards in four of their last five.
2. Todd Gurley at Minnesota – 9.5
I wouldn’t spend much time fretting over Minnesota’s seemingly stout rush defense. Sure they’ve allowed the 12th fewest yards and just one rushing touchdown since opening weekend, but they’ve faced just three backs in Weeks 2-8 in the top 35 for rushing yards and one of those guys (Matt Forte) missed a healthy chunk of the game. Despite the lack of rushing talent on the other side of the ball, the Vikings have allowed 4.4 yards per carry,8th worst in the league. Todd Gurley, well, you’ve probably seen what kind of damage this guy can do. He’s one of two backs to average over six yards per carry. Gurley’s had four straight games with at least 128 yards, three touchdowns in his last two games and is the only running back with less than 100 carries and more than four rushes of at least 20 yards.
3. Mark Ingram vs. Tennessee – 9.25
Just how valuable has Mark Ingram been to owners in 2015? His quarterback threw for over 500 yards and a record-tying seven touchdowns and Ingram still totaled over 100 combo yards. Mr. Consistency, Ingram has had 100 combo yards and/or a touchdown in 11 of his last 13 games and leads the NFL in red zone efficiency hitting pay dirt on 25% of his of his attempts. Drew Brees won’t repeat his record-setting performance against a decent Tennessee pass defense, but don’t be surprised if Ingram puts on a show. Facing rushing attacks with any semblance of a pulse has been an issue for the Titans. Devonta Freeman, Lamar Miller, Frank Gore and Isaiah Crowell have all reached the end zone at least once or rushed for at least 100 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
4. Doug Martin vs. New York Giants – 9.25
I learned long ago when my parents got divorced to never pick sides. Well, that is unless one of your parents is a spectacular woman (love you, mom!) who worked two jobs just so we could have Christmas every year whilst my “dad” spent holidays 17 Bud Lights deep hovering over a stack of scratch tickets that he convinced all of us children were a communal present that was ultimately used to purchase more Bud Lights and scratch tickets. #TBT. Simply put, you want to choose the side that provides. Since becoming the “Dougernaut”, Martin has yet to reach the end zone after four touchdowns the two games prior as the “Muscle Hamster”. Coincidence? I think not. Consider me #teamHamster, but just maybe nicknames aren’t tremendously relevant to output on the field. Martin has four straight games with at least 22 touches, has notched 14 touches inside the red zone during that same stretch, averaged 142 total yards and gets another tasty matchup this Sunday. There was a time we thought They Might Be Giants against the run, but since Week 5 every lead back New York has faced has averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry and three of the four have averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry. You have to look back all the way to Week 14 of 2014 to find a week when the Giants haven’t allowed 100 combo yards and/or a touchdown to a runner, and they have to travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday, where Martin has tallied all four of his touchdowns.
5. Adrian Peterson vs. St. Louis – 9.25
Had Adrian Peterson gone with the bad “seafood” explanation after a chartered trip on one of those Smoat Boats two weeks ago, I would have been more inclined to be his “John” and buy what he was selling. However, I find All Day’s bad clam story to be just as unbelievable as his lack of production once Minnesota reaches the red zone. Peterson has the second most carries inside the opponent’s 20-yard line with 26 and yet, has fewer rushing touchdowns than Ronnie Hillman, Jamaal Charles (RIP), Khiry Robinson and Joseph Randle. (Something, something, touchdown progression.) Touchdowns be damned, the Viking running back is still tearing up defenses between the 20s, as he’s averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in four of his last five, has six carries of at least 20 yards and has the third-most rushing yards despite playing in only seven games. The St. Louis defensive front is likely to be one of Peterson’s toughest tests, but they are beatable as every back that’s surpassed the 20-touch mark has produced at least 100+ combo yards and/or a touchdown. Peterson’s accomplished that feat in six straight games. The Rams have also been susceptible to the big play, giving up the 8th most rushes of at least 20 yards (7).
6. Jeremy Hill vs. Cleveland – 9.25
I could probably spend more time than necessary squawking in your ear about this and that, but sometimes it just comes down to this: the Cleveland rush defense couldn’t stop the Buffalo Jills or the Ben-Gals (don’t know if the latter is real, but it should be) from rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Every lead back the Browns have faced has 100+ combo yards, with an average of 117 rushing yards in the last four weeks and four of them have at least one touchdown. No other team is within 200 yards of 1139 rushing yards Cleveland’s allowed, which is already more than what three teams surrendered in all of 2014. The last two weeks Jeremy Hill has handled 75% of the rushing attempts, with Gio Bernard only getting one carry last week. Maybe that’s been a product of wayward game scripts (not likely if you saw last week’s game against the Steelers), but is there ever going to be a more “Jeremy Hill game script” than this one? The last time Hill faced the Browns, he feasted to the tune of 148 yards on 5.9 yards per carry with two touchdowns.
Don’t want to take my word for it; maybe Cincinnati’s coaching staff comments will intrigue you. Hue Jackson was reportedly “really happy with Jeremy Hill…the arrow is pointing up” after last Sunday’s performance.
7. Jonathan Stewart vs. Green Bay - 9
It’s not fair that a guy like Jonathan Stewart has the immense football talent he does and then they show him looking like a black Amadeus on the keys and doing so all from just hearing a song a couple times over. Chances are, Stewart’s a better football player than musician and that’s certainly been the case in the last three weeks. After struggling to amass more than 62 yards rushing in his first four games and just one game of more than 3.7 yards per carry, the former Oregon Duck has reached the end zone and rushed for at least 78 yards in three straight. The sudden emergence of touchdowns is no shock, either, as Stewart was averaging just two red zone carries despite the team as a whole averaging almost seven per game through the first four weeks. In the three games since, the Panthers are still averaging right around seven carries inside the red zone but Stewart’s usage has surged to just under five totes per game. A middle of the pack(er) rush defense, Green Bay has struggled with high volume backs. Eight backs have tallied at least 19 carries against the Packers since the beginning of 2014 and they have averaged 115 yards and almost a touchdown per game, which should be music to the ears of Stewart as he’s had at least 20 carries in three straight.
8. Latavius Murray at Pittsburgh - 9
When it’s Week 9 and you’re responsible for more than 25% of the rushing yards given up by the league’s stingiest rush defense, there isn’t much you can put in front of a player to scare them (or their owner). Such is the case with Latavius Murray, who just made the Jets his ladyboy last Sunday in becoming just the fourth back in the last 40 games to average more than 5.0 yards per carry against Fireman Ed’s “favorite” (nothing says real “fan” like being the loudest jerk when your team is winning and vanishing when they aren’t) team. Murray is everything you want in a running back, handling 77% of the backfield’s carries, an even more robust 83% of the red zone carries, averaging 91 total yards per game and plays on an offense that’s 8th in scoring (and 3rd in the last two weeks). Sunday is another test for Murray, as the Steelers are the only team to allow just one touchdown to the position but they have allowed three ball carriers to amass at least 120 total yards.
9. Dion Lewis vs. Washington – 8.75
I don’t know if you’ll find a more complained about and less trusted top-10 scoring running back in all of football, but before you go all Fox News on me just consider the following: Dion Lewis has played in six games. He has as many games of double-digit touches as Marshawn Lynch (5), reached the end zone in more games than Adrian Peterson (4), has more 100+ total yard-games than Frank Gore (3), has a touchdown and 100+ total yards in more games than Justin Forsett (2),has fewer games of less than 67 total yards than Doug Martin (1), and he plays on a higher percentage of snaps than workhorses Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. Chances are Sunday’s game against Washington is going to look a lot like the majority of Lewis’ games in 2015. The once-stout Washington rush defense is allowing 5.6 yards per carry in their last three games despite facing a massive 95 rushing attempts and have given up at least three catches to the position in five of seven games against opponents nowhere near the passing level of the Patriots.
10. Ronnie Hillman at Indianapolis – 8.75
Much has been made of the struggles of the Denver offense (mostly the ineptitude of the quarterback play), but Ronnie Hillman has quietly been putting together an impressive and productive stretch over his last four games. He’s averaged 5.2 yards per carry, which is a yard more than what CJ Anderson has produced, and has compiled more rushing yards during that month than Anderson has all season. Hillman has tallied at least 100 rushing yards and/or a touchdown in four of five and was the only Denver running back to receive a red zone carry last weekend. After a better than average start to their season, the Indianapolis rush defense wheels really started to come off right around the time Hillman was putting his on. Since Week 4 the Colts have given up a touchdown or 100 combo yards in each game, with four different backs reaching the end zone five times in their last three games.
11. Jeremy Langford at San Diego – 8.75
Though there isn’t a ton of tape on rookie Jeremy Langford given he sits behind snap hog Matt Forte, I think it’s safe to say we likely have all the tape we need on his mouthwatering matchup Monday night. Seven different backs have compiled double-digit (a number Langford likely hits) touches against the sieve-like Charger run defense, while averaging 21-141 when doing so, including six total touchdowns. San Diego is also the only rush defense to allow over five yards per carry and have only had two weeks in which a back didn’t catch at least three passes. The Bears have been annoyingly quiet on injuries all season so we’re not entirely sure what’s going on with Matt Forte, but the coaching staff has reportedly suggested this week Langford can be a feature back if Forte misses any time. And do we blame them? It’s Langford and then Jacquizz Rodgers. Double-digit touches here come!
12. Danny Woodhead vs. Chicago – 8.5
San Diego might be just one more offensive line injury away from giving the running game the double-barreled salute and going full on 100% aerial attack moving forward. I mean, let’s be honest, they’re already about as close to that as a team gets as Philip Rivers has 19 more pass attempts in the last three weeks than any other quarterback. Not surprisingly, Danny Woodhead has benefited tremendously as during that same stretch he’s leading all running backs in targets, catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. It’s been so lucrative for Woodhead, it’d be easy for one to wonder if there is anywhere for his production to go but down. And then Keenan Allen and his 89 targets were lost for the season after a kidney operation earlier this week. That’s more than 10 targets per week that’ll need to be redistributed and though I am not so naïve to think a majority of them will go anywhere near Woodhead, there’s a non-zero percent chance he sees at least a slice of that pie. Chicago doesn’t necessarily look like a great matchup paper but a Vegas over/under of 49 would suggest the guys that know better than everyone else think this could turn into a shootout. If (when) it does, look for Woodhead to be one of the main beneficiaries.
13. LeGarrette Blount vs. Washington – 8.5
Trying to read the Bill Belichick tea leaves reminds me of my dealings with the opposite sex when I was in high school. I was always trying to decipher which “I’m fine” I was dealing with that particular day. And if I misjudged (likely the case), I was sure to pay for it by missing out on loads of scoring. Who knows what gameplan Belichick is going to roll out this week, but recent LeGarrette Blount history suggest we can safely (relatively speaking) assume some things about his usage. Since joining the Patriots in 2013, Blount has played in 10 games where New England won by at least 14 points. In those 10 games Blount has averaged 16-84 and reached the end zone a staggering 14 times. Sunday’s spread against Washington, 14.5. Boom.
14. Lamar Miller at Buffalo – 8.5
So maybe Dan Campbell isn’t the greatest coach of all time that nobody’s ever heard of, but that doesn’t we have to go back to hating Lamar Miller’s prospects. Sure Buffalo was once Siberia for opposing running backs, but that defense took a tremendous blow two weeks ago when uber-talented defensive tackle Kyle Williams went down with a knee injury. It was no surprise the following week the Bills surrendered their first 100-yard game since Week 7 of the 2014 season and just their second carry of 20+ yards in 2015. Williams will be out again on Sunday, which will only help Miller and his career 5.4 yards per carry against Buffalo. The talented running back has averaged 17 touches since Campbell took over. In the 13 games in which he's had 17 touches, Miller has averaged 106 total yards and scored a touchdown in three of them.
15. LeSean McCoy vs. Miami – 8.5
Which version of the Dolphins defense will LeSean McCoy see this week? The Dolphins defense that was surrendering an average of 132 rushing yards to the opposition, including three rushing touchdowns, prior to the trip across the Atlantic? Or the defense that returned without coach Joe Philbin to give up an average line of 6-67-1 through the air in the three games since? Either way, Miller has to like his chances at producing this weekend. McCoy has a touchdown in two of three (and just missed a third after getting smacked on the goal line in London), has averaged 99 total yards in his last two games despite playing without numerous starters on offense, including Tyrod Taylor and the right side of the offensive line (all three should be back on Sunday), and is likely as healthy as he’s been since joining Buffalo this offseason. Karlos Williams is also likely to return, but in the two full games the two played together, a hampered McCoy out-touched the rookie back 32 to 12.
16. Darren McFadden vs. Philadelphia – 8.5
Who knows how long his creaky body is going to hold up, but that’s what makes owning, and starting, Darren McFadden so much fun. He’s the NFL’s version of that timeless and in no way creepy jack-in-the-box toy we’ve all made every attempt to avoid during play time, with each crank potentially being the last one before all hell breaks loose. Sure he’s playing with the only NFL quarterback who might be worse than Brandon Weeden, but that hasn’t prevented the former Razorback from producing. McFadden had his first back-to-back games of 20+ carries since 2011, and led the team in carries, catches, rushing and receiving yards and he even threw a pass last weekend. Joseph Randle was cut due to off the field issues (but how about that impending Greg Hardy extension right Dallas!?!), so his volume isn’t going anywhere. The Eagles are likely to be another stiff test, but it won’t be any more daunting than the Seattle defense McFadden compiled 113 combo yards against last weekend. In three consecutive weeks Philadelphia has allowed more rushing yards than the week prior and lead backs have averaged 5.0 yards per carry during that same stretch.
17. Gio Bernard vs. Cleveland – 8.25
Though the luster does seem to be wearing off Gio Bernard just a bit after the lowest touch outing of his career, it’s hard to look at Sunday’s matchup with the Browns and not feel like you have to put on shades (because the future’s so bright!). If you need the detailed version of Cleveland’s many, many foibles against the run feel free to scroll up to Jeremy Hill and bask in the glory of it all. However, if you just need the “Gio Bernard” version (get it, the “short” version), consider comparable pass-catching backs Marcel Reece, Danny Woodhead, Justin Forsett, and David Johnson have averaged 3-58 through the air with Bernard himself never catching less than three passes or posting fewer than 75 total yards against the lowly Browns.
18. Eddy Lacy at Carolina – 8.25
I’m not ready to call Eddy Lacy baby back, baby back, baby back, Chilis! Baby back yet, but his showing last Sunday night was encouraging. Let's call it, baby steps. Lacy lead his team in carries (finally!) for the first time since Week 5, was physically able to handle three carries in four plays on Green Bay’s lone foray into the red zone and notched two carries of at least 10+ yards for the first time since Week 5. James Starks is still hobbled too, which should keep Lacy in line for the majority of touches again on Sunday. A matchup with Carolina isn’t exactly ideal, especially in Charlotte where opposing lead backs are averaging just 54 rushing yards per game on 3.2 yards per carry but they have given up three of their five rushing touchdowns allowed at home and will feel like the Little Giants compared to the monsters Green Bay faced last weekend.
19. DeAngelo Williams vs. Oakland – 8.25
There was a time when a matchup with the Oakland rush defense required two things: 1) A bag of confetti to toss into the air and 2) extra wide cells in Excel just to make sure all those stats could fit into your homemade spreadsheet. Those were Al Davis’ Raiders, and oh my, how things have changed. One of three teams yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, Oakland has allowed the 2nd-fewest rushing yards to the position, haven’t allowed any back to rush for more than 36 yards in the last three weeks and haven’t surrendered a rushing touchdown since Week 2. But don’t just take my word for it, ask Chris Ivory and his 1.1 yards per carry last week. Admittedly, the Steelers offense should be a tad more potent than a Geno Smith-led team and DeAngelo Williams will see the lion’s share of the carries (pour one out for Lev Bell), but it won’t be as simple as seeing silver and black and plugging Williams into your top-10. Even if the veteran back struggles to find much space between the tackles, however, there are still yards to be had slipping out of the backfield. A solid pass catcher, Williams has twice caught four passes in 2015 and that’s an area the Raiders have struggled in. Yes, Danny Woodhead’s 11 catches two weeks ago are an outlier but Oakland has allowed at least three receptions on six other occasions. There is something to be said about red zone opportunities for Williams as well, as he’s had 13 carries inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in games started by Big Ben where Bell wasn’t on the field.
20. DeMarco Murray at Dallas – 8.0
I am still not sure DeMarco Murray is the best back for this Philadelphia offense, but (surprisingly?) Chip Kelly doesn’t seemed too concerned with what I, or numerous others think about what’s best for his running game. Murray has lead the Eagles in carries every week he’s been on the field and is the only back of the three to have received double-digit carries since Week 1. The red zone carries haven’t looked much different with all three backs active, either, as Murray has seven more carries than Mathews and Sproles combined despite being able to produce just one more touchdown. The matchup likely gives the former Cowboy nightmares after his 13-2 (yeah, I don’t have dyslexia, it was that bad) line in Week 2, but since that debacle Murray’s averaged 90 total yards and at least 4.2 yards per carry in three of four. Struggling against this Dallas defensive front wouldn’t be a surprise as the Cowboys haven’t allowed any back to rush for more than 74 yards since the world’s biggest jerk returned from suspension in Week 5, but Murray’s pass catching prowess coupled with Dallas’ inability to cover backs out of the backfield should help offset that. Seven different backs, including Murray himself, have caught at least four passes against the Cowboys and averaged 55 receiving yards in the process.
21. Ryan Mathews at Dallas - 8
Given the way this Philadelphia offense looked in the first three weeks it’s nearly impossible to believe it’d ever be able to support more than one running back in any given week and yet, here we are. Though he’s inexplicably not getting the usage DeMarco Murray is, Ryan Mathews is still the most productive running back in the Philadelphia backfield. He has the most rushing yards, just as many touchdowns as the higher paid Murray and is averaging nearly three yards more per carry too, despite 43 less touches. Mathews is one of three backs since the beginning of 2014 to surpass the century mark against the Jets and the only one to do it when New York had competent quarterback play. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Chip Kelly adjust coming out of the bye, but even if he doesn’t the incompetent Dallas offense will likely do their best to ensure the Eagles get few extra possessions as more than half their drives last week were three and outs.
22. Chris Ivory vs. Jacksonville – 7.75
If things weren’t already bad enough for Ivory heading into a tough matchup with (say it with me again, folks. The Jags are not the droids you’re looking for) a stout Jacksonville rush defense, he's going to be taking one-handed handoffs from Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday. The Jaguars will scheme to stop Ivory, especially if Brandon Marshall can't play. As if you needed more bad news, Ivory could be without starting center Nick Mangold who's trying to recover from a neck ailment after missing last week’s game. Without Mangold last week, Ivory averaged barely one yard per carry. The Jaguars have held five of the seven lead backs faced to less than 3.8 yards per carry and have allowed just 3.7 yards per carry to the position on the whole, which is the 8th best in the NFL. All six of their rushing touchdowns allowed came in two games, with one being a game against a Patriot offense that consistently used the pass to get near the goal line and then hammered Blount home from one-yard out three times.
23. TJ Yeldon at New York Jets – 7.75
“If I had a gun, with two bullets, and was stuck in a room with Hitler, Bin Laden and Toby [Gerhart], I would shoot Toby [Gerhart] twice.”
-TJ Yeldon, dressed as Michael Scott for Halloween (probably)
It’s great news for Yeldon owners the rookie back is headed toward more goal line looks after Gus Bradley finally came to the realization we all did months ago: that Toby Gerhart is a terrible running back. However, I doubt we see immediate results as Yeldon draws a furious Jets defense that’s surrendered just one rushing touchdown all season and given up 113 fewer rushing yards than the next best team. In five of seven games. the Jets have allowed 2.4 yards per carry or less, and have only allowed one running back to rush for more than 22 yards in those five games. There’s no denying Yeldon looked great against a short-handed Buffalo defense two weeks ago, but in half of his starts he’s averaged 3.0 yards per carry or less, has just two runs over 20 yards and plays on an offense that averages the 14th fewest red zone opportunities per game.
24. Frank Gore vs. Denver – 7.75
Is it possible that Andrew Luck is actually killing whatever value Frank Gore might have with his inexplicably poor performances when it isn’t the 4th quarter and the Colts aren’t trailing by double-digits? Gore’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry with a lead, but only 22% of his rushes have come with Indianapolis ahead. Might we be on to something? Quick someone get Trent Richardson on the phone, we must know the truth! Oh, you can’t reach him because his signal has just a 3.3-yard radius and always seems to drop at the first sign of interference? Whatever the reason may be, there’s no denying Gore’s production and opportunities have diminished substantially since Luck returned to action in Week 6. Through the first five weeks Gore had 14 carries inside the red zone and that included a week in which he had none. The last three weeks, Gore has just one such carry and none in the last two weeks. What about the matchup? Man, I don’t know if I want to get that depressed right now. Only Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have rushed for more than 43 yards and it took Peterson a 48-yard touchdown run to surpass that number. The Broncos have given up five rushing touchdowns in seven games, but remember all that talk about Gore’s red zone carries disappearing? Not to mention the Colts need to move the ball through the air to sustain drives and Denver just held Aaron Rodgers to 77 passing yards. Yikes.
25. CJ Anderson at Indianapolis - 7.75
Welcome back to fantasy relevance, Mr. Anderson. I don’t blame you if you gave up on CJ Anderson weeks ago or if you look at his 28-yard touchdown run last Sunday night as fluky. Some might say I even agree with you, but it’s hard to ignore the consistent volume Anderson has been getting despite his glaring production issues. He’s only had one game where he didn’t receive double-digit carries, has at least one catch in every game and is still the back the Broncos prefer to have in pass protection. Luck for Anderson, the Colts have been one of the league’s most giving to running back duos. Three times the Colts have, 1) allowed two different backs from the same team to find pay dirt and 2) allowed two different backs from the same backfield to churn out 50+ total yards.
26. CJ Spiller vs. Tennessee – 7.75
27. Melvin Gordon vs. Chicago – 7.5
28. Charles Sims vs. New York Giants – 7.5
29. Duke Johnson at Cincinnati – 7.5
30. Rashad Jennings at Tampa Bay – 7.5
31. Isaiah Crowell at Cincinnati -7.5
32. James Starks at Carolina – 7.5
33. Karlos Williams vs. Miami – 7.5
34. Matt Jones at New England – 7.25
35. Chris Thompson at New England – 7.25
36. Antonio Andrews at New Orleans – 7.25
37. Marcel Reece at Pittsburgh – 7.0
38. David Cobb at New Orleans – 7.0
39. Alfred Morris vs New England – 7.0
40. Orleans Darkwa at Tampa Bay – 7.0
41. Shane Vereen at Tampa Bay – 6.75
42. Tevin Coleman at San Francisco – 6.75