Wednesday, 17 December 2014 00:00

In running backs we trust/don't trust for a championship victory

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Frank Gore is banged up, and Carlos Hyde is waiting in the wings. Frank Gore is banged up, and Carlos Hyde is waiting in the wings. Mark Runyon | Pro Football Schedules

Week 16 is the championship week in fantasy football for nearly every league. Unfortunately, there are a lot of top running backs whose status is in flux on the biggest week of the fantasy football season. You may be one of those people facing the dillema of having one of those backs on your fantasy team and are still uncertain what your lineup should look like. We're here to hopefully make it a little easier to decide. Here are a bunch of running backs whose status is uncertain heading into Week 16, what their matchups are like, and whether or not we trust them to win you a fantasy championship.

Cleveland Browns Isaiah Crowell @ Carolina Panthers

Crowell's problem: Hip injury

What he did last game (vs. Cincinnati): 7 carries for 17 yards (2.9 yards per carry), 2 catches for 17 yards

What he's up against this week if he plays: Carolina ranks 12th worst against fantasy running backs (17.8 points per game)

What happened last week: Crowell has put together an impressive rookie season with 8 touchdowns and 546 rushing yards. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted. Crow's always been a bit of a touchdown dependent, boom or bust guy due largely to the Browns dual system with Terrance West. That, combined with the Browns suspect run blocking ever since Pro Bowl center Alex Mack went down for the season and you have a constant whirlwind of uncertainty going into each matchup if you have Crowell. 

To complicate matters further, the Browns trotted out rookie Johnny Manziel for the first time last week and it was a strug. The rookie quarterback forced the issue at times, made some classic rookie mistakes like throwing the ball just a half second too late on an out route which lead to an interception and overall created more doubt regarding whether the Browns will move the ball effectively this week. Of course, you can't place the blame solely on Manziel. The Browns receivers failed to reel in a few of his throws, but his mistakes were enough to severely limit the Browns offense and allowed the Bengals to bring the blitz more which limited Crowell's upside.

What could happen this week: The Panthers are a far cry from the dominant defense they were just a year ago where they ranked second best team in the league against running backs. Injuries on the defensive line sprinkled with lackluster depth at the receiver position have resulted in several low scoring outputs for the Panthers, but they have established a bit of a running identity in the last few weeks. The Panthers have shown life in the running game with Jonathan Stewart averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Panthers will also likely get Cam Newton back and he's averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Even though Crowell is banged up, he played through it last week which could indicate he's not completely against playing through pain. Still, the Browns are a complete liability on offense as long as Manziel is under center as a rookie. If you watched the Bengals/Browns game last week, you saw how the Bengals completely dominated the Browns in the run game which ate up clock and limited the offenses time on the field. That could very well be the case again this week against Carolina with Stewart.

Do we trust Crowell?: No

Who would we start over him?: Giovani Benard, Carlos Hyde, Dan Herron, Lamar Miller, Tre Mason

Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray vs. Indianapolis Colts

Murray's problem: Broken metacarpal in his left hand (same injury as Apollo Creed's opponent in Rocky I which forced the champ to find himself another ranked contender)

What he did last game (@ Philadelphia): 31 carries for 81 yards, 2 touchdowns (2.6 yards per carry)

What he's up against this week if he plays: Indianapolis ranks 6th worst against fantasy running backs (19.1 points per game)

What happened last week: While many consider Murray's injury huge in terms of affecting his value, the status of offensive linemen Zach Martin and Doug Free may actually make a bigger difference. Martin and Free suffered ankle injuries last week against Philadelphia, but luckily both avoided the dreaded high ankle sprain which could've been a sweet kiss of death for Week 16. Their status is uncertain but if either or them can't go, it could really impact the effectiveness of the Cowboys run game. 

As for what happened in the game itself, the Philadelphia Eagles front four picked up from where they left off last week after handling the run quite well a week earlier against the Seattle Seahawks and running back Marshawn Lynch. Fletcher Cox has been a force up the middle all year long and is a perfect fit for the 3-4 scheme. They kept Lynch under the 100-yard mark and held him to just 3.7 yards per carry.

Against Murray, it was more of the same. They held the league's leading rusher to a season low 2.9 yards per carry average. Even when defensive end Trent Cole went out with an injury in the second half, Brandon Graham stepped right in and the defense didn't miss a beat as far as containing Murray went. Still, the Cowboys committed to the run and Murray went on to have a productive fantasy day despite being limited. It shows you just how valuable he is to the offense even when he's not performing at his peak.

What could happen this week: Murray is currently a game time decision for Week 16. If you weren't lucky enough to grab his handcuff Joesph Randle (who's available in 87% of Yahoo! Leagues) then you may have a crisis on your hands. The matchup against Indy is tasty like a Dallas steak medium rare cooked on a cast iron grill. The Colts are allowing 110 rushing yards per game and rarely hold opponents to low scores. They've been involved in several shootouts with their No. 1 ranked passing attack and teams haven't exactly struggled when it comes to keeping up with their scoring. Two weeks ago, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West combined for over 100 rushing yards against them. They allowed 99 yards from Arian Foster last week and over 130 total rushing yards to the Texans overall. This is a team that can be run on, but you can't put Murray's status at anything better than 50/50 at this point so you'll have to monitor him throughout the week. But remember to monitor the status of the linemen as well. If Martin and Free can't go but Murray can, expect Murray to maybe be a little less effective but still startable. If Murray can't go and neither can Marin and Free, then go with Randle if you have him but temper expectations severely.

Do we trust Murray?: If Martin and Free can't go, then no. But you have to start him anyway because of the all important fantasy commandment of 'start thy studs.'

Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Charles' problem: Ankle and knee injuries

What he's up against this week: Pittsburgh ranks 12th best against fantasy running backs (14.6 points per game)

What happened last week: Charles rushed for a respectable 52 yards on 15 carries (4.3 yards per carry) and looked like his usual self until  a big hit sidelined him for virtually the remainder of the game. Originally thought to be concussed, it turned out Charles' head is just fine and he shouldn't have any more obstacles keeping him from playing against Pittsburgh this week. Backup running back Knile Davis continues to be among the top handcuff RBs in the league and is a worthy flex option regardless if Charles starts or not.

What could happen this week: The Steelers have a lot on the line in this game. They control their own destiny heading into the playoffs. Still, they remain completely inept against the pass (252 passing yards allowed per game) and allow 23.8 fantasy points to wide receivers per game which could help Charles be very effective catching the ball out of the backfield. Charles hasn't been the dominant receiver in 2014 that we've seen in the past but he still has 5 receiving touchdowns on the year to go with 235 receiving yards. Davis could be in line for some catches as well. 

Do we trust Charles?: Yes, go with him as an RB1, start Davis as a flex

San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore vs. San Diego Chargers

Gore's problem: Concussion

What he did last game: 11 carries for 29 yards, 1 touchdown

What he's up against this week if he plays: San Diego ranks 13th best against fantasy running backs (14.5 points per game)

What happened last week: Gore got off to a hot start before he took a vicious hit after trying to block down field which left him with a concussion. Fellow running back Carlos Hyde, who replaced Gore, also suffered injuries to his ankle and back. Both running backs missed practice on Tuesday and they have a short week as they're scheduled to play San Diego on Saturday.

What could happen this week: Even before his injury, Gore had been struggling. His YPC average hovered around 2.7 over the last four games and he hasn't crossed the century mark since Week 5 against Kansas City. Hyde has been waiting in the wings and looks like the fresher option at this point. He's been limited in touches, but when he's gotten the carries he runs hard and is a touchdown threat around the goal line.

Do we trust Gore?: No

What should you do: if Gore can't go, then start Hyde as a flex. If Gore can go, bench both him and Hyde or keep Gore in the flex if you're desperate. Hyde simply doesn't get enough carries if Gore is on the field to be effective.

View Pro Football Schedules Flickr page here.

 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 17 December 2014 05:01
George Banko

George Banko started talking about fantasy football shortly after graduating college. He started as an intern at FFChamps.com before working as a staff writer for Fantasy Knuckleheads. He currently contributes to the Fantasy Hot Read podcast, which is available on itunes. He also educated himself on player evaluation and is a graduate of The Scouting Academy in 2015, which is an online course run by former NFL Scout Dan Hatman. He started Fantasy Football Helpers as a blog in 2011 and converted it to a full-scale website in 2014. Read more.

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