• Opportunity: Optimal running backs for Week 6

    Editor's note: This season-long series looks to find the best opportunity to score fantasy points at the running back position. It factors targets, goal line and red zone carries, and rushing attempts. This volume probability is predicated on game script, snap counts, and overall talent of the individual player.

    This is Week 6 of this list. You can expect more data as the season goes along and trends emerge. Also, be sure to check out our weekly rankings for complete rankings at every position for Week 6.


    As we head into Week 6 and the 2017 NFL season, the fantasy running back picture becomes more and more clear. Backs like Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Devonta Freeman, Le'Veon Bell have all established themselves as clear RB1's.

    This is also the time of year when injuries crop up and younger backs get their chance. We saw that with Aaron Jones in Green Bay, Elijah McGuire in New York and Matt Breida in San Francisco. This is the time where managing your waiver wire is crucial, as the changing of the guard between starters and second-string running backs can often lead to a new fantasy front runner for the remainder of the season.

    Here's every fantasy relevant running back for Week 6.

    Cleveland at Houston

    Total points expected: 44 (Houston favored by 12)

    Cleveland RB's: Over the past two weeks, Duke Johnson has more fantasy points (26) than Kareem Hunt (24). The Houston Texans are still a strong defense, even without JJ Watt, but Johnson's versatility keeps him on the RB1 radar this week. While Johnson saw just three targets last week, he turned them into three catches for 63 yards and a score. The Browns are switching quarterbacks, starting Kevin Hogan in replacement of DeShone Kizer. Hogan is a game manager quarterback, which could lead to more check-down throws to Johnson especially with Houston's pass rush forcing his hand. Last week, Isaiah Crowell saw his biggest volume total since Week 1 with 16 carries, but Houston's defense is only allowing 21 points to running backs this year. Best to throw Johnson in as a flex option and bench Crowell.

    Houston RB's: Lamar Miller has completely dominated the snap count as of late and is benefiting from a white-hot Deshaun Watson. Over the past two games, Miller saw nine looks in the red zone and is averaging 75 rush yards per game. He's not a prolific receiver at the RB spot, but he's averaging close to three targets per game. If Houston jumps out to an early lead, this could be a game where Miller cracks 20 carries. The Browns have been a very good run defense, not allowing a running back to rush for over 70 yards all season. Miller has some appeal because of volume, but that's about it. He hasn't established himself as a big play back, with just 52 yards coming on runs of 15 yards or more.

    New England at New York Jets

    Total points expected: 47 (New England favored by 9.5)

    New England RB's: The New England running back narrative of 'you can't trust anybody' was dashed last season with LeGarrette Blount's 18 scores. But this season it looks like it's difficult to trust anybody. Last week, four Patriot running backs saw 13+ snaps. Dion Lewis saw a season-high seven carries, which took away some of Mike Gillislee's value. The one constant seems to be James White in the passing game. White has 21 targets in the last two games and 17 catches total. The Jets have struggled against the run overall, but have bottled up top backs Jay Ajayi and Leonard Fournette. Gillislee is a risky start in that regard and Lewis should see more snaps going forward.

    New York Jets RB's: Matt Forte returns this week, Bilal Powell is likely sidelined and Elijah McGuire should see time as the second back. The matchup is a great one, with New England giving up a league-worst 38 points per game to running backs. This game has sneaky shootout potential, and both backs have dark horse RB1 upside due to their versatility in the pass game.

    Miami at Atlanta

    Total points expected: 47 (Atlanta favored by 9.5)

    Miami RB's: It's been a rough start for Jay Ajayi, who's yet to score a touchdown despite 76 carries. Only LeSean McCoy and Jonathan Stewart have more carries without a touchdown. Ajay's offensive line hasn't helped much, as the Dolphins rank in the bottom 6 in yards blocked per contact according to Pro Football Focus. The Falcons have been solid against the run this season, not allowing a 100-yard rusher. They've been weak against pass-catching backs though, giving up at least three catches to every RB1 this season. Ajayi isn't a prolific receiver, but he could find himself getting more receiving yards in this one. He's still an RB1 given his high volume of carries per game.

    Atlanta RB's: The Falcons come off the bye week at home where they will face one of the toughest run defenses in the league. The Dolphins have only allowed one running back to crack 50+ yards and that was DeMarco Murray last week. Expect Atlanta to favor the pass in this one, which could make Tevin Coleman the better back to go with. Coleman is averaging close to five targets per game and the Falcons receiving core is banged up. Mohamed Sanu is out and Miami will devote a lot of attention to Julio Jones.

    Detroit at New Orleans

    Total points expected: 51 (New Orleans favored by 4)

    Detroit RB's: The Detroit backfield remains dicey with three running backs getting valuable snaps. Ameer Abdullah is the clear No. 1 in terms of carries, but Theo Riddick continues to see plenty of targets and Zach Zenner is also getting looks in the red zone. New Orleans has been solid against the run this season, only allowing one 100-yard rusher and that was back in Week 1. They've been vulnerable to pass-catching backs though, as they were gashed by Christian McCaffrey and James White 17 catches and 186 yards combined. The game script in this game favors Riddick among all Detroit backs.

    New Orleans RB's: it will be New Orleans first game without Adrian Peterson, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals earlier this week. This is great news for Mark Ingram owners, as Peterson was taking away about seven carries per game from Marky Mark. Ingram saw a season-high 46 snaps last week and that number could creep into the 50's with Peterson gone. Expect anywhere from 15-to-20 carries this week for Ingram. Alvin Kamara has been one of the most prolific rookie pass catchers this season with 26 grabs so far. Only Christian McCaffrey and Tarik Cohen have more. The Lions have been decent against the run this season, only giving up one 100-yard game this season. Still, New Orleans is a different team at home and should fare well in potentially high-scoring game.

    Green Bay at Minnesota

    Total points expected: 47 (Green Bay favored by 3.5)

    Green Bay RB's: Ty Montgomery practiced this week and is listed as 'questionable.' He'll have his work cut out for him against a Minnesota defense that's one of the best against the run. The Vikings have held Jordan Howard, Mark Ingram and Le'Veon Bell all in check this season, and this could be a game where passing ends up being the way to go for Green Bay. Aaron Jones was fantastic in replacement of Montgomery last week, rushing for 125 yards and score. Obviously, his value is curbed if Montgomery plays. Both runners are risky options given the strength of Minnesota's defense.

    Minnesota RB's: Jerick McKinnon was dominant last Monday against Chicago, and might be the lead back going forward after out-snapping Latavius Murray 47-to-22. McKinnon was also very efficient in the pass game, catching all six of his targets for 51 yards. Murray struggled to gain yards after contact and finished with just 31 yards on 12 carries. The Packers struggled against Ezekiel Elliott last week, but they've been a solid run defense overall. Still, McKinnon's versatility and volume gives him RB1 potential each week.

    Chicago at Baltimore

    Total points expected: 41.5 (Baltimore favored by 7)

    Chicago RB's: Jordan Howard has reasserted himself as the team's lead back after Tarik Cohen's hot start lead many to believe this would be a split backfield. Howard fared well on Monday night against a tough Vikings defense, rushing for 76 yards on 19 carries. He gets another test this week against a Baltimore group that held Leonard Fournette to just 59 yards and completely shutdown Marshawn Lynch last week. Howard is an RB1 in redraft given his volume and role as an every-down back.

    Baltimore RB's: The Bears have given up a rushing touchdown to every RB1 they've faced this season. This is good news for Javorius Allen, who's coming off a solid outing against Oakland where rushed for 73 yards and a score while catching four of five targets. Allen is a solid RB2 with RB1 upside in this one. Expect Alex Collins to be in the mix as well, as he saw 12 carries last week and nine in each of the past two games. Still, Collins upside is limited since he doesn't see many targets.

    San Francisco at Washington

    Total points expected: 46.5 (Washington favored by 9)

    San Francisco RB's: After a solid start where he rushed for over 250 yards in his first three games, Carlos Hyde is starting to see less usage in San Francisco. He saw just eight carries against Indianapolis while backup Matt Breida had 10 and looked much more efficient with 49 rush yards. Washington has become very good defense overall this season. Against the run, they're giving up just 22 points per game to running backs. Perhaps even more impressive is the Redskins have put up those numbers after facing both Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley this season. This is a tough week to start any San Francisco running back.

    Washington RB's: The Washington offensive line has been a Top 5 unit this season, getting 2.26 yards of contact blocked according to Pro Football Focus. It's just too bad they haven't found a clear lead running back to make the most of those yards. Rookie Samaje Perine hasn't rushed for more than 67 yards despite two games of 19+ carries. Rob Kelley haven't rushed for more than 78 yards and he's struggled to stay healthy this season. Speaking of his health, Kelley likely won't play this week as he's listed as doubtful with a ankle injury. San Francisco isn't as bad a run defense as they were last season thanks to some promising rookie play for DeForest Buckner. Still, they're giving up over 35 points to the running back position this year. Perine is risky but there is some upside to this matchup.

    Los Angeles Rams at Jacksonville

    Total points expected: 43.5 (Jacksonville favored by 2.5)

    Los Angeles Rams RB's: Todd Gurley is coming off his worst performance of the year, rushing for 43 yards on 14 carries against Seattle. He should be in for a bounce back game against a Jacksonville defense that's giving up 30 points per game to running backs. The Jaguars are a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. They gave up 250+ yards to Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, then they held Le'Veon Bell to just 47 yards and DeMarco Murray to just 25 yards. Expect Gurley to have be better than last week, but this Jaguars team might be sneaky good. They seem to get up for the big-name backs and Gurley is a big name.

    Jacksonville RB's: The Jaguars are living up to the identity of a run-first team. Leonard Fournette is the league leader in carries with 109. His five touchdowns are tied with Devonta Freeman for the most in the league. The Rams are giving up 35 points per game to running backs this season, but have been better in recent weeks after holding Seattle's backfield to just 39 rush yards. Still, this is a great matchup for Fournette and his volume makes him one of the most reliable rushers so far this season.

    Tampa Bay at Arizona

    Total points expected: 44.5 (Arizona favored by 1)

    Tampa Bay RB's: Doug Martin burst back onto the scene following his four game suspension, finishing as an RB7 with 74 yards and a touchdown against a struggling Patriots defense. He'll get a tougher test against the Arizona Cardinals this week, a team that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher and has only surrendered two rushing touchdowns this season. Still, the Cardinals offense has struggled to score points which wears on a defense as the season goes along. The Cardinals rank 26th in points per game and will have to hope Adrian Peterson breathes some life into one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. If they continue to struggle on offense, it means a more favorable game script for Martin.

    Arizona RB's: Peterson will get his first start against a Tampa Bay defense that's giving up 30 points per game to running backs. It's difficult to say how he'll fare, especially since Tampa Bay has struggled more against passing backs than every-down rushers. The Bucs have given up at least five catches to pass-catching backs in three of their four games, making this a solid matchup for Arizona's Andre Ellington. Ellington has 24 targets over the last two games and the Cardinals will continue to pass due to injuries on their offensive line.

    Pittsburgh at Kansas City

    Total points expected: 47 (Kansas City favored by 3)

    Pittsburgh RB's: Le'Veon Bell saw a season-high 73 snaps last week to go along with 10 catches on 10 targets. There isn't a back in the league with more opportunity than Bell right now, and Pittsburgh will lean on him once again to take down an undefeated Kansas City team. Kansas City is giving up only 23.4 points per game to running backs this season, so this could be a tougher matchup for Bell. But of course, you're starting him each week barring injury. 

    Kansas City RB's: Kareem Hunt rushed for over 100 yards in his third straight game last week, but Charcandrick West sniped two receiving touchdowns from him. Still, you shouldn't worry much if you have Hunt, as he'll see plenty of volume against a Pittsburgh defense that's sneaky bad against the run. The Steelers have gotten smoked by RB1's so far this year, giving up 100+ yards to Jordan Howard, Leonard Fournette. Both running backs also had multiple touchdowns in those games. Hunt is a great play this week in all formats.

    Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland

    Los Angeles Chargers RB's: Melvin Gordon is coming off his best performance of the season against the Giants, where he rushed for over 100 yards and had two receiving touchdowns. His 65 snaps were also a season-high for him that season. The Raiders are average against the run and this should be another solid game for the third-year running back.

    Oakland RB's: Marshawn Lynch's status as an RB1 might be over if he can't dominate this matchup. The Chargers have allowed three running backs to rush for over 100 yards against them so far this season. They've also given up over 100 yards to every backfield they've faced this year. Jalen Richard is also a good sneaky play in deeper leagues as he only saw two less snaps and three less carries than Lynch.

    N.Y. Giants at Denver (Monday Night)

    Total points expected: 40.5 (Denver favored by 9.5)

    New York Giants RB's: Wayne Gallman looks like the best option for New York at this point. But this is a terrible matchup for New York and injuries at the wide receiver position will likely cost them in the run game. The Broncos have shut down RB1's this season and they've faced some studs, some of which include LeSean McCoy and Ezekiel Elliott. 

    Denver RB's: C.J. Anderson is the clear No. 1 back in this offense and has seen three games of 20+ carries. The Giants have given up at least 80 yards to every RB1 they've faced this season, and game script could help Anderson's cause if New York can't score. Jamaal Charles is a sneaky good start as well if Denver jumps out to a big halftime lead.


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  • Opportunity: The most optimal running backs for Week 5

    Editor's note: This season-long series looks to find the best opportunity to score fantasy points at the running back position. It factors targets, goal line and red zone carries, and rushing attempts. This volume probability is predicated on game script, snap counts, and overall talent of the individual player.

    This is Week 5 of this list. You can expect more data as the season goes along and trends emerge. Also, be sure to check out our weekly rankings for complete rankings at every position for Week 5.


    Each of the top six running backs from Week 4 had at least four receptions. That should tell you all you need to know about the hybrid running back's potency in fantasy football.

    It was also a quiet week scoring wise, with only Le'Veon Bell rushing for more than one touchdown. With the exception of Green Bay and Dallas, we could be seeing low numbers once again in Week 5 as high-powered offenses such as Atlanta, New Orleans, and Washington are on a bye.

    Here's a look at every fantasy relevant running back for Week 5.

    Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants

    Total points expected: 44 (Giants favored by 4)

    Los Angeles Chargers RB's: Knee problems continue to bother Melvin Gordon despite him seeing the highest volume of any Charger running back. Gordon finished as an RB49 in Week 4 and his reduced role in the receiving game has been a big part of that. In the first two weeks, Gordon caught 12 passes for 90 yards. He has just one catch for seven yards since. The matchup is a good one though, as the Giants are giving up 23 points to running backs per game. Still, Gordon is risky at best due to injuries. Branden Oliver is not startable at this time.

    New York Giants RB's: Wayne Gallman popped onto the fantasy radar in his first performance, going for 42 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown reception. His 31 snaps led all players and he was the best back, but Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen still saw 14 carries between them. It's tough to start Gallman, but it's encouraging that the Giants are working him in more. The matchup is also a fantastic one, as the Chargers have given up over 100 yards to three running backs in three weeks. Gallman's ceiling is curbed, but he's not a terrible darkhorse option in really 14-16+ leagues this week.

    Buffalo at Cincinnati

    Total points expected: 39 (Cleveland favored by 2)

    Buffalo RB's: LeSean McCoy has been good volume consistently but he hasn't made the most of it so far. Through four weeks, he's finished as an RB5, RB37, RB33, and RB21 with zero rushing touchdowns. Not exactly top numbers for a player drafted in the late first/early second round in most leagues. The Bengals are tough against the run, giving up 20.5 fantasy points per game. It's best to keep starting McCoy in standard leagues and PPR leagues because of his volume, but he's worth fading this week in Daily Fantasy.

    Cincinnati RB's: Joe Mixon continues to play well, but his offensive line is hurting him. Per Pro Football Focus, the Bengals rank dead last in yards blocked per contact at 1.31. The Bills are a solid run defense, giving up 20 fantasy points per game at the position and haven't allowed a 100-rusher yet. While he has some variables going against him, Mixon still isn't a bad play given his opportunity. He's carried the ball 35 times over the last two games and has the most targets (7) for Bengals running backs over the last two weeks. He's slowly becoming the bellcow back.

    New York Jets at Cleveland

    Total points expected: 39 (Cleveland favored by 2.5)

    New York Jets RB's: Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire combined for over 250 yards and two scores last week. Powell now has a score in each of his last two games and is averaging RB1 numbers. Last week, Powell's five targets tied for second most among all Jets and his 21 carries were a season high. With Matt Forte still out, Powell and McGuire are the top two backs in New York going forward. The Browns are average against the run, making this matchup a decent one.

    Cleveland RB's: Incoming Duke Johnson Jr. The third-year running back out-snapped Isaiah Crowell for 36-22 last week, by far his largest separation from Crowell. While Crowell had more touches, Johnson still only had three less carries and his 9 catches for 47 yards make his ceiling very high going forward. Johnson should also have plenty of favorable game scripts for receiving backs, as the Browns defense is one of the worst in the league vs. quarterbacks. The Browns have given up 31 points in each of the last two games, which should help Johnson get more yards in the second half as the Browns play catch up.

    Jacksonville at Pittsburgh

    Total points expected: 44.5 (Pittsburgh favored by 9)

    Jacksonville RB's: In one of the potentially higher scoring games this week, rookie Leonard Fournette is once again center stage. The former LSU star continues to get better as the season goes along. He finished with a season-high four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown last week and has led all Jacksonville running backs in targets every week. His 81 total carries ranks third behind Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger tends to play better at home, so the gamescript might not lend itself to as much rushing volume for Fournette. Still, Pittsburgh hasn't been great against the run after allowing Jordan Howard and Alex Collins to rush for a combined 220 yards over the last two weeks. Fournette is a no-brainer RB1.

    Pittsburgh RB's: This is another dream matchup for Le'Veon Bell. The Jaguars have given up over 100 yards to running backs in three of the last four games. Pittsburgh's offensive line ranks ninth in yards blocked per contact with 2.06. Bell's 87 rush attempts leads the league and he, Todd Gurley and LeSean McCoy lead all bellcow backs with 22 targets. The one worry for Bell could be gamescript in this one, as the Steelers might get out to a quick lead and fail to throw Bell's way for the touchdown. That's just a risk you have to take.

    Tennessee at Miami

    Total points expected: 43.5 (Tennessee favored by 2.5)

    Tennessee RB's: Miami hasn't allowed a single running back to rush for more than 45 yards this season. They have been susceptible to pass-catching backs though, giving up 10 catches to Alvin Kamara last week and seven to Melvin Gordon in Week 1. The Jets RB's were the only group they held in check, but that was likely due to gamesflow that allowed all three Jets running backs to play conservative and simply waste clock. Only six fantasy points separates DeMarco Murray from Derrick Henry through four weeks. Aside from a monster Week 3 performance where he finished as an RB8,  Murray has only 101 rush yards combined in the other three games. Henry hasn't fared much better, with his best performance coming in Week 2 with an RB9 finish. Both backs are risky in this matchup.

    Miami RB's: Jay Ajayi hasn't finished higher than RB12 since Week 2 and is currently nursing a knee injury. The Miami offensive line also ranks in the bottom 6 in yards blocked per contact, per Pro Football Focus. Tennessee is giving up 25 points to running backs, so there's so upside to the matchup for Ajayi. Still, he's risky given his health and although he's a tough player, it's best to fade him in Daily Fantasy and only start him in redraft.

    San Francisco at Indianapolis

    Total points expected: 43 (Indianapolis by 2)

    San Francisco RB's: With two RB1 finishes through four weeks, Carlos Hyde has been a great value so far in redraft and PPR leagues. He has hybrid potential each week, averaging near six targets per game. His 65 carries rank 12th highest among running backs and he has a plus matchup against a Colts rushing defense that's allowed 25 points to running backs this season. No other running back in San Francisco is startable at this point.

    Indianapolis RB's: Marlon Mack is back. It's the return of the Mack. Sorry, had to. Indy remains a run-oriented team with Andrew Luck still out, as they've opted to pass just 52 percent of the time which ranks 27th overall. Frank Gore has two RB2 finishes through four weeks, but he hasn't been very effective with just 3.1 yards per carry on 61 attempts. It's likely the Colts could try and use Mack more, but Gore is still the feature back going forward until Mack makes the most of his opportunity. In the two games he played, Mack finished with just 27 total rushing yards. 

    Arizona at Philadelphia

    Total points expected: 45 (Philadelphia favored by 6.5)

    Arizona RB's: Chris Johnson is the higher volume running back in terms of rush yards, but Andre Ellington is the most fantasy potent. Ellington's caught 14 passes for 145 yards on 22 targets over the last two weeks. Those numbers helped him rank 15th in PPR leagues, making him a boarderline RB1 in that format. Ellington is startable due to his role in the passing game, though Philadelphia has been solid against the run, giving up only 19.3 points per game.

    Philadelphia RB's: The Eagles have really gotten their run game going over the last few weeks. LeGarrette Blount has posted RB1 numbers in both weeks, totaling 203 yards and a score despite seeing less snaps than fellow back Wendell Smallwood. Speaking of Smallwood, he's averaged out to be a solid RB2 option over the last two weeks in both standard league and PPR leagues. The Cardinals run defense is one of their strongest areas, so this will be a test for Philadelphia. Still, they're run game is in sync right now and should still produce decent fantasy numbers.

    Carolina at Detroit

    Total points expected: 43 (Detroit favored by 3)

    Carolina RB's: Christian McCaffrey is currently RB20 in PPR leagues and hasn't cracked 20+ rushing yards since Week 1. He's really been struggling running between the tackles and that makes him a tough start in standard leagues. Jonathan Stewart is an RB27 in standard leagues and has yet to score a touchdown. The Lions are a middle-of-the-road rushing defense which makes matchup blander than non-salted potatoes. Keep

    Detroit RB's: Ameer Abdullah recorded his first RB1 finish last week, ranking 9th among all running backs in fantasy points with 17. His volume has been solid, as his 66 carries rank him 19th overall among RB's. He's starting to distance himself from Theo Riddick in the snap count, but Zach Zenner is also in the mix and could steal goal line touches. The Panthers have been solid in the run defense department, but they've given up 35 catches to running backs over a four game span. Abdullah could be in for a decent outing if he sees the most targets among Detroit running backs, which he did last week.

    Seattle at Los Angeles Rams

    Total points expected: 46

    Seattle RB's: This backfield might be the messiest in the NFL right now, with six running backs all seeing snaps. Converted wideout J.D. McKissic was the guy last week, finishing as an RB7 with 17 fantasy points, including a receiving touchdown. It's likely McKissic remains the top receiving back as C.J. Prosise sat out Thursday's practice. Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy are likely to split carries in some fashion, but nobody can be certain of how that will shake out. The uncertainty is frustrating because the Rams have been absolutely gashed by running backs so far this season, giving up a league-worst 31 point per game at the position. This might be the one time it makes sense to roll the dice with a Seattle back.

    Los Angeles Rams RB's: It's the Todd Gurley show once again. Gurley has cracked 20+ carries and 100+ yards in each of his last two games. He's the No. 1 running back in fantasy points through four games in standard and PPR. You start him in all leagues. If you're splitting hairs in Daily Fantasy, he's playing a Seattle team that's given up two 100-yard games to RB1's so far this season.

    Baltimore at Oakland

    Total points expected: 40 (Oakland favored by 4)

    Baltimore RB's: Alex Collins has emerged as the top back in this offense with Javorius Allen struggling. Alex Collins has been very efficient in his last two starts, rushing for over 160 yards on just 18 carries. He's only a flex option as of now, but could morph into an RB2 if he starts finding the end zone and sees more volume. With 18 targets over the last three games, Allen is still the favorite in the passing game. However, Collins did see two targets last week and could see more going forward. Oakland has been hit-or-miss against the run this year, making Collins risky but still worth a shot as a flex in deeper leagues.

    Oakland RB's: Oakland's backfield has steadily become more atrocious each week. Oakland's offensive line is getting  2.24 yards blocked per contact, so they're not the problem. Veteran Marshawn Lynch hasn't cracked 20+ rushing yards since Week 2 and looks washed after sitting out the last season. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are talented but haven't been utilized fully yet. That could change with Lynch's recent struggles, and Richard might see more carries since he's more of an insider runner than the pass-catching Washington. Still, it's a tough matchup against a Ravens defense that struggled against Le'Veon Bell but has been dominant against all the other backs they've played.

    Green Bay at Dallas

    Total points expected: 53 (Dallas favored by 2)

    Green Bay RB's: With Ty Montgomery listed as doubtful for Week 5, so expect the Packers to use Aaron Jones and pass a lot against Dallas. Since Jones is a rookie and is still earning the trust of coaches, he likely won't see the volume Montgomery has been getting. Dallas is struggling against the run, giving up 27 points to the running back which is 4th worst in the league. Still, the Packers have several ways to beat teams, and will likely use Aaron Rodgers and the pass more which will curb any value to the running back minus a touchdown reception out of the backfield. Best to steer clear of these running backs this week.

    Dallas RB's: Minus the one dud against Denver, Ezekiell Elliott has been as consistent as they come for fantasy backs this season. He has 20+ carries in three games and a rushing touchdown in his last two. He's averaging five targets per game and has finished as an RB8, RB50, RB11, and RB3. This game has great gamescript potential for Elliott, as he's scored 42 of his 57.5 fantasy points when the Cowboys have a close lead or are tied. With plenty of high-scoring potential here, Elliott is a must-start in cash games for DFS and an obvious start in all other formats.

    Kansas City at Houston

    Total points expected: 47 (Kansas City favored by 1.5)

    Kansas City RB's: Kareem Hunt's volume keeps growing, as he saw a season-high 50 snaps in Week 4. You have to wonder when Hunt's role will start to wear him down though. He looked exhausted at times during the team's close win over Washington but still recorded his third 100-yard performance in four games. Hunt's been an absolute stud but Houston's defense has been locked in these past three games, holding each team's RB1 to under 40 rush yards. Hunt's nearly matchup proof given his role in the receiving game with 13 targets over four games. Still, this will be his toughest test yet on an undefeated Kansas City team that's getting a bigger target on its back each week. It's best to fade Hunt this week in DFS.

    Houston RB's: It's weird to think Lamar Miller is actually an RB1 this year but he is. He's finished as an RB17, RB21, RB35 and RB4 through four games, averaging out to an RB12. His volume has been consistent, hovering around 16 rushing attempts per game. The Texans rank third in plays per game with 69 which has also helped Miller stay on the field. He also benefited from rookie DeShaun Watson's blowup game last week, as he caught four of five targets for 56 yards and a touchdown. Kansas City is a very good run defense, allowing just one rushing score over their last three games. Miller has a low ceiling this week, but his floor is very reliable.

    Minnesota at Chicago

    Total points expected: 40 (Minnesota favored by 3)

    Minnesota RB's: Rookie Dalvin Cook saw his promising rookie year come to an end last week, so now it's up to Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon to pick up the slack. Murray will have the benefit of playing behind an offensive line that's getting 1.94 yards per contact blocked per game, but he's playing against a Bears front seven that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Murray's health is also in flux as he's still dealing with the same ankle injury that kept him from starting Week 1. McKinnon should inherit more targets with Cook out, making him a good add in PPR leagues. Still, this is a backfield you should stay away from starting until the picture comes into focus.

    Chicago RB's: Tarik Cohen was a dominant pass catcher in the first two weeks but he's since been out-targeted by Jordan Howard 9:8. Howard has rushed for over 190 yards and three touchdowns over his last two starts. He's the clear top option while Cohen's value is dropping off a little bit. Minnesota is one of the best run defenses in the league right now, allowing just 15 points to the running back position. Best to start Howard and fade Cohen.


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  • Opportunity: The most optimal running backs for Week 4

    Stop guessing and start winning. Numberfire.com. Use the promo code 'FFHelpers' and receive your first month subscription for $9.99.

    Editor's note: This season-long series looks to find the best opportunity to score fantasy points at the running back position. It factors targets, goal line and red zone carries, and rushing attempts. This volume probability is predicated on game script, snap counts, and overall talent of the individual player.

    This is Week 4 of this list. You can expect more data as the season goes along and trends emerge. Also, be sure to check out our weekly rankings for complete rankings at every position for Week 4.


    Week 3 was weird. Several surefire players ended up tanking, including Jay Ajayi and Marshawn Lynch. But while the NFL may seem unpredictable right now, keep in mind these are the often the times when things swing back to reality.

    For example, Ajayi is still going to get a ton of volume and be a menace going forward. Marshawn Lynch might lack a high ceiling but he's just being preserved so Oakland can use him when they need to cement a playoff spot down the stretch. LeSean McCoy should still be fired up this week, as he plays the running-back-friendly New Orleans Saints in Week 4.

    Overall, we're all tested when it comes to questioning our previously held fantasy football beliefs as the new season wears on. All the data we've accumulated in the offseason starts to become useless by about Week 4-5. So prepare to have your previous notions eradicated. But for now, hang on to them for at least another week or so.

    Here's a look at every fantasy relevant running back for Week 4.

    New Orleans at Miami

    Total points expected: 50

    Game script: Pass heavy if New Orleans gets out to early lead.

    New Orleans RB's: It's looking more and like Mark Ingram is the back to own in this offense and Alvin Kamara is the PPR guy. Adrian Peterson continues to make a minimal impact with just 8 fantasy points through 3 games, with Ingram and Kamara scoring 23 and 19, respectively. The biggest surprise is that Ingram and Peterson's carry totals are similar, but Peterson hasn't made the most of his touches with just 3.3 yards per carry.

    Miami is an above average run defense, allowing just 19.3 fantasy points per game. Still, Melvin Gordon caught seven passes against them and the Ingram/Kamara combo has been good for about ten targets between the two. They're both solid starts this week with the high over/under.

    Miami RB's: Per Rich Hribar on Rotoworld, the Saints are one of two teams (Seattle) to allow a Top-12 scoring running back in each week of the season so far. This means Jay Ajayi should be in play as a rebound candidate after he struggled against The New York Jets in Week 3.

    There are elements of Ajayi's dud performance you just can't predict — sometimes one team shows up and the other doesn't. However, his lack of volume in the second half can be blamed on the game script. Not all coaches opt to go pass-heavy when their team is down, but Adam Gase does. Overall, the Dolphins threw the ball over 70 percent of the time and New York dominated the time of possession 36:23.

    Ajayi should see better volume against New Orleans in Week 4 given the Saints rank worst against running backs, allowing 33 points per game.

    Jacksonville at New York Jets

    Total points expected: 39.5 (Jacksonville favored by 4)

    Jacksonville RB's: Leonard Fournette has scored a touchdown in each game so far this season and ranks sixth in standard scoring. The gamescript was funky last week with Baltimore's stellar defense coming out flat in London, so don't worry much about Tommy Bahanon and Corey Grant taking snaps away or anything. Fournette is also averaging four targets per game. Game script should favor Fournette seeing heavy volume as long as the Jets don't get completely blown out. The Jets turned Jay Ajayi into Jay Acai berries last week, but they were dominated by LeSean McCoy and the Oakland's committee backfield in the first two weeks. Fournette is still a solid play this week.

    New York Jets RB's: People love Bilal Powell this week but I'm in the minority. Josh McCown hasn't thrown past 250 yards in a game this season which limits receiving upside in the backfield. Powell is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. Jacksonville is a dominant run defense, allowing just 16 points per game against running backs this season. Elijah McGuire has seen increased snaps each week as well, and is expected to be 'involved' this week.

    Cincinnati at Cleveland

    Total points expected: 40 (Cincinnati favored by 3)

    Cincinnati RB's: The Bengals appear ready to feature Mixon as their true lead back going forward. After seeing just 16 snaps a week ago, Mixon saw 34 against Green Bay. He finished with a season-high 18 carries for 62 yards to along with three catches for 39 yards on three targets. Cleveland is an average run defense, but will have No. 1 pick Myles Garrett in the lineup for the first time. Still, we don't know how much they'll use Garrett and even if he'll be effective in his first game. The Bengals offensive line is struggling already, averaging just .71 yards before contact to running backs per Pro Football Focus. Despite that, Mixon should get enough volume to at least have a shot at decent numbers.

    Cleveland RB's: Vontaze Burfict has been activated for Week 4 and should help in an already decent run defense. Duke Johnson is starting to see a bigger role in the Cleveland backfield. His target numbers have increased each week. He also has two more total snaps than Isaiah Crowell, a back who's yet to score a touchdown or run for more than 45 yards in a game. Johnson ranks third in reception yards with 160 and is fourth in snaps per route with Le'Veon Bell. He's recorded at least 50 receiving yards in his last two games and could be a great darkhorse play if Cleveland starts giving him more volume in the run game. He's also a great PPR option each week as always.

    Pittsburgh at Baltimore

    Total points expected: 45 (Pittsburgh favored by 1)

    Pittsburgh RB's: Le'Veon Bell is still the clear starter. Bell hasn't created yardage by himself like he has in the past, as he just ranks 23rd in elusive rating among running backs according to Pro Football Focus. He continues to be effective none the less, ranking 15th in standard scoring among running backs even though he hasn't really had a dominant performance. Baltimore handled the Bengals and Browns running backs during their first two games, but will be without one of their best run stoppers in Brandon Williams. This could be a breakout game for bell, as his target totals have been steady each game (6,4,7) and so have his reception totals (3, 4, 6). He might finally pop in Week 4.

    Baltimore RB's: Javorius Allen has been the top snap guy as of late. He also has 10 catches in his last two games. The gamescript could favor a pass-friendly day as the Steelers rank 11th in passing plays per game which will increase Allen's opportunity. The Steelers are also giving up 27 points to running backs per game, sixth worst in the league. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen put up big numbers in Week 3 and Allen could have a favorable gamescript if Pittsburgh gets out to an early lead.

    Carolina at New England

    Total points expected: 47.5 (New England favored by 9.5)

    Game script: High-scoring. Pass heavy.

    Carolina RB's: Jonathan Stewart remains the feature back in the offense, but his rush attempts have dwindled from 18 to 12 from Weeks 1 to 3. New England is coming in averaging 33 points per game, second most behind the Los Angeles Rams. It's hard to see Stewart seeing significant volume in this game. Christian McCaffrey has become Cam Newton's favorite check down guy, as he leads all Panthers in targets with 23. New England has also been soft against quarterbacks so far, so this could be a good game to start Newton and McCaffrey as a stack in DFS and avoid Stewart.

    New England RB's: Mike Gillislee remains the best volume back, averaging 15 attempts per game but has been out-snapped by James White in every contest but Week 2 where they each had 30. It's looking like Gillislee's fantasy value will be touchdown dependent at times, but that's no problem since the Patriots are scoring so much. The Panthers are above average across the board in terms of fantasy points allowed per game, and have been especially good against tight ends and quarterbacks. Still, they've given up 22 catches to running backs over three games. Gillislee and White are startable, but gameflow will likely hurt one of them.

    Los Angeles Rams at Dallas

    Total points expected: 45.5 (Dallas favored by 9.5)

    Los Angeles Rams RB's: Not a single back took a snap other than Todd Gurley last week and for good reason. Gurley is now the second highest scoring fantasy back through 3 weeks, trailing only Kareem Hunt. The Rams offense has also been potent, scoring 40+ in two of three games. What a difference Sean McVay has made already. The Cowboys haven't played a running back of Gurley's caliber yet this season aside from maybe C.J. Anderson of the Broncos in Week 2. Anderson finished that game with over 100 yards rushing and two total touchdowns.

    Dallas RB's: Ezekiel Elliott and the running game rebounded after getting throttled by Denver in Week 2. Elliott is one of the best volume backs in the league, ranking fourth in carries with 55. With just one rushing touchdown so far, you have to worry about Dak Prescott's read-option taking away scoring opportunities as teams key in on Elliott. Still, this is another great matchup for Elliott as the Rams are giving up 29 fantasy points per game to running backs, fourth worst in the league. Elliott continues to see a receiving role as well, averaging four catches per game.

    Detroit at Minnesota

    Detroit RB's: Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are seeing an equal amount of snaps from week to week but Abdullah has a sizeable advantage in the touches category. Still, Riddick has out-targeted Abdullah 19-7 through three games. It's frustrating because Abdullah could easily be the receiving and rushing back, but Detroit continues to use Riddick. Minnesota is the best team against opposing running backs so far this season, allowing just 13.2 points per game.

    Minnesota RB's: Dalvin Cook's volume so far is surprising considering the Vikings spent money on Latavius Murray in the offseason and Jerrick McKinnon was supposedly the passing down back. Cook ranks second in the league in carries with 61, trailing only Gurley. While McKinnon is still getting targets, last week he saw his fewest of the season (2) and Cook saw five. There's a chance Cook could be used more in the passing game going forward. Detroit is also not a great rushing defense, allowing 25.7 fantasy points to running backs per game.

    Tennessee at Houston

    Total points expected: 44 (Tennessee favored by 1)

    Tennessee RB's: Don't be fooled by DeMarco Murray's 100-plus yard stat line, Derrick Henry is still a valuable piece in this offense. Murray ended up with 14 carries for 115 yards but Henry also saw 13 touches of his own. This is a tough matchup for both running backs, as Houston is giving up 16.7 points per game to running backs, which is 23rd worst.

    Houston RB's: Lamar Miller is still the every-down back but D'Onta Foreman is slowly entering the picture. Foreman's three targets led all running backs last week, and turned two of them into 65 receiving yards. Foreman is worth monitoring going forward, but he's still a risky start as of now since the volume isn't quite there. Unless you see coaches clamoring to get him more involved, avoid him in this matchup.

    Buffalo at Atlanta

    Total points expected: 49 (Atlanta favored by 9.5)

    Game script: High-scoring. Atlanta ranks fifth in touchdowns per game, meaning Buffalo might have to play catch up. This game will really come down to how well Buffalo's defense plays. Atlanta has had their way on offense with every defense so far, but they haven't played a group as good as Buffalo yet. 

    Buffalo RB's: Buffalo is a run heavy team, rushing 32 times per game on average, which ranks fourth in the league. LeSean McCoy slogged through tough matchups with Denver and Carolina, scoring just 11 fantasy points in that time. He gets a dream matchup this week against Atlanta, a team that's given up 30.6 points to running backs, third worst in the league. While McCoy is the back to start this week, Mike Tolbert is also seeing decent volume as well. Tolbert has seen 10+ carries in two of three games and is known to snag a goal line touchdown from time to time. He's a risky play in DFS tournaments, but not a bad option considering how good the matchup is. If he gets a touchdown and 40 rushing yards (a feat he accomplished last week), he'll 3x his draft value.

    Atlanta RB's: Devonta Freeman continues to see plenty of carries and has at least one rushing touchdown in each game. People really want to be contrarian and take Tevin Coleman for a better value, and this might be the matchup to do it. Buffalo is giving up just just 15.7 points to running backs, good for 31st in the league. Buffalo has the speed on defense to keep Freeman in check on a consistent basis, making it likely Coleman might have to break the game open with a big run. If you think Buffalo will dominant this game on defense and Atlanta opts for a change of pace, then go with Coleman. Coleman also leads all running backs in targets with 13.

    New York Giants at Tampa Bay

    Total points expected: 44 (Tampa Bay favored by 4.5)

    Game script: Mid-level scoring. Favors Tampa Bay defense.

    New York RB's: Shane Vereen is an intriguing option this week, mainly because Tampa has struggled against pass-catching running backs. They surrendered eight catches to Tarik Cohen and five catches to Dalvin Cook. Plus, this is a desperation game for New York being 0-3, they'll be playing hard.
    Overall, the running game continues to be the Achilles Heel of New York's offense. Rookie Wayne Gallman has yet to suit up for a game, but it may be time to at least give him a shot. Paul Perkins has been anemic with just 8 fantasy points through three games and hasn't even played a stout run defense yet. Orleans Darkwa has been slightly more efficient with 7 carries for 22 yards last week but the Giants are just trying to make something work by giving him more snaps. The only thing you can hope for is a few goal line touchdowns at this point. Shane Vereen remains

    Tampa Bay RB's: Jacquizz Rodgers gets his last go-around before Doug Martin returns from suspension. He and Charles Sims split snaps last week, and neither made a huge fantasy impact against a tough group in Minnesota. The Giants are better against the pass than the run at this point, but starting Rodgers is a risk considering he lacks a role in the pass game (zero targets through two games).

    Philadelphia at Los Angeles Chargers

    Total points expected: 46.5

    Philadelphia RB's: LeGarrette Blount ran with purpose for the first time all season and finished as an RB14 with 13 fantasy points. He's dealt a tough matchup against San Diego, a team that ranks near the Top 5 in fantasy points allowed for running backs. The opportunity is still there though, as Philadelphia is tied for first in plays run per game with 69. Wendall Smallwood is an intriguing option as well this week. Taking over for Darren Sproles, Smallwood saw 43 snaps last week and should inherit anywhere between 4-8 targets and 5-10 carries.

    Los Angeles Chargers RB's: Melvin Gordon and Branden Oliver both saw 33 snaps last week. Gordon is dealing with a bone bruise but all reports indicate he will play against Philadelphia. He's still the clear-cut No. 1 back, but Oliver saw six targets last week and turned them into four receptions for 18 yards. It's not out of the question could see a similar workload in Week 4. Plus, with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox battling a calf injury, we could see an easier matchup for Gordon and Oliver.

    San Francisco at Arizona

    Total points expected: 45.5 (Arizona favored by 7.5)

    Game script: Run-heavy, defensive game.

    San Francisco RB's: Carlos Hyde is one of the top fantasy running backs in the NFL right now. He's a bit banged up with a hip injury and is 50/50 to play on Sunday, but he's still very valuable if he does suit up. Matt Breida would be the next guy up, and has only carried the ball 11 times through three games. At 5'11, 190 lbs, the rookie Breida was a standout runner at Georgia Southern but a poor 2016 season hurt his draft stock. Still, he could be an impact player given his straight-line speed (4.3 40-yard dash) and he's one of the more interesting backup running backs in the league overall. He's made a small dent in the passing game, ranking second among San Francisco RB's in targets with 6. Arizona has given up a rushing touchdown to RB1's in each of the last two games. Keep an eye on Hyde's status heading into Sunday.

    Arizona RB's: The news that guard Mike Iupati would play Sunday were dashed late Friday as four-time Pro Bowler was sent to injured reserve, likely ending his season. The matchup is still decent for Chris Johnson though, as the 49ers are surrendering 27 points per game to running backs so far. Johnson's ceiling is curbed by Andre Ellington's role in the receiving game, as Ellington saw eight targets to Johnson's two. Ellington's receiving role was heavily influenced by gamescript against Dallas and although the 49ers are still a bad team overall, their offense put up 39 points a week ago. It's tough to start either of these backs this week.

    Oakland at Denver

    Total points expected: 47

    Oakland RB's: Oakland's running backs managed a measly 22 yards rushing last week against Washington. Their matchup doesn't get much easier as they play a Denver team giving up just 16 points to running backs. They have nowhere to go but up though, and Marshawn Lynch should continue to see the most volume with Jalen Richard also mixed in. DeAndre Washington saw a season-high six targets last week due to gamescript, and it's tough to trust him or any other Oakland back in this matchup.

    Denver RB's: C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles are now the one-two punch in this offense. Charles outscored Anderson for the first time last week with 12 fantasy points and finished as an RB15. Anderson still out-snapped Charles 49-21, but the veteran back isn't going away anytime soon as he continues to make the most of his carries. Oakland is middle of the road against the run, making this a bland matchup with modest potential for both Bronco running backs.

    Indianapolis at Seattle

    Total points expected: 41 (Seattle favored by 13.5)

    Game script: Low scoring. Favors Seattle defense

    Indianapolis RB's: Seattle isn't the dominant run-stopping defense it once was. They've allowed at least a 100 yards or a touchdown to RB1's in the first three weeks of the season. With Marlon Mack out this week, Frank Gore has some dark horse potential coming off a 57-yard performance with a touchdown last week against Cleveland. Only issue is it took Gore 25 carries to do it, and he'll need that kind of volume again if he's expected to turn in a similar performance. Overall, Gore is a better option for cash DFS tournaments or deep redraft leagues due to a low ceiling.

    Seattle RB's: Chris Carson is now the feature back in Seattle and C.J. Prosise the pass catcher. Prosise is doubtful this week, making Carson an interesting RB2 with upside. If Carson was going to go over 100 yards this season, this would be the matchup to do it.

    Washington at Kansas City (Monday night)

    Total points expected: 49 (Kansas City favored by 9)

    Washington RB's: Chris Thompson's six-catch, 150-yard performance last week was sensational, but Kansas City will be his toughest task yet if he's expecting to continue his crazy efficiency numbers. Robert Kelley has been practicing this week and could assume the inside runner role due to rookie Samaje Perine's struggles. Overall, Thompson is the only fantasy relevant back in this offense as of now, and his efficiency numbers are bound to fall off at some point. Kansas City is surrendering 23 points per game to running backs this season.

    Kansas City RB's: Kareem Hunt is the best running back in fantasy by a wide margin, and gets a Washington defense that's surrendered 18 receptions to running backs over three games. Although Washington showed up against Oakland last week, Kansas City's offensive line is on another level and Hunt is locked in as an RB1 once again.


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  • Opportunity: The most optimal running backs for Week 3

    Editor's note: This season-long series looks to find the best opportunity to score fantasy points at the running back position. It factors targets, goal line and red zone carries, and rushing attempts. This volume probability is predicated on game script, snap counts, and overall talent of the individual player.

    This is Week 3 of this list. You can expect more data as the season goes along and trends emerge. Also, be sure to check out our weekly rankings for complete rankings at every position for Week 3.


    Week 2 has come and gone and while the overall picture is still cloudy, some small trends are starting to emerge in the fantasy football world.

    For one, Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt has been on a whole different level than any other running back. Hunt's 71 fantasy points through two weeks dwarfs the next highest running back, which is Ty Montgomery at 48.3. To put it in perspective, the highest fantasy scoring running back through two weeks in 2016 was DeAngelo Williams with 48.

    Todd Gurley continues to look more like the rookie who dominated for over 1,000 rush yards during his rookie season. Through two weeks, Gurley has finished as an RB6 and RB2.

    The Oakland Raider backfield remains messy. Marshawn Lynch is getting considerable volume and goal line work but lacking in the receiving category. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have combined for eight targets. Each back curbs the others ceiling from week to week.

    Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (Thursday game recap)

    Total team scoring expectation: 42 points

    Actual points scored: 80

    Game script: Run heavy, defense-based game with high likelihood of turnovers.

    Los Angeles RB's: Well everyone was wrong on this one in terms of the game script. Todd Gurley was nothing short of amazing, rushing for 113 yards and two scores and catching 5 passes for 36 yards and another score. He's been incredible through 3 weeks and is currently the top scoring fantasy running back until the Sunday games.

    San Francisco RB's: Carlos Hyde saw his highest carry total yet with 25 rushing attempts for 84 yards and two touchdowns. He's a great shot to continue producing as the 49ers coaching staff keep increasing his volume. Rookie Matt Breida didn't do much in the run game, but he did have three catches on four targets for 20 yards in this one. He's not worth a stash unless you're in a 16-team points per reception league at this point, but he's worth monitoring going forward.

    Baltimore at Jacksonville (London game)

    Total points expected: 40 (Baltimore favored by 4.5)

    Game script: Run heavy, defense.

    Baltimore RB's: Javorius Allen was the volume guy in Week 2 with 42 snaps to Terrance West's 15. Allen also received six looks in the red zone but it was West that got the lone carry inside the five and scored a touchdown on it. West did not practice this week and is dealing with a thigh injury, making Allen a primary RB1 candidate for this week against Jacksonville. Through two games, the Ravens have the second most rushing attempts in the league with 37. 

    Jacksonville RB's: Rookie Leonard Fournette ranks second in rush attempts through two weeks. He's also been sprinkled into the pass game with five receptions on eight targets. If T.J. Yeldon is active in Week 3, expect him to steal targets from Fournette. Either way, Fournette is still the primary back and should see his usual volume. Fournette is an RB8 through two weeks this season.

    Cleveland at Indianapolis

    Total points expected: 40 (Cleveland favored by 2)

    Game script: Low-scoring. Grind game.

    Cleveland RB's: Isaiah Crowell hasn't gone off yet through the first two weeks, ranking as an RB18 through two weeks. But he's had decent volume with 27 carries through two games. The Colts have been stout against the run, holding both Todd Gurley and Chris Johnson to under 50 rushing yards. The Browns should keep Indy's quarterbacks in check, as the Colts QB's have yet to throw a passing touchdown this season. This could lead to Crowell's best volume of the young season.

    Indianapolis RB's: Both Frank Gore and Marlon Mack have struggled through two weeks. But Frank Gore is still a solid RB2 option thanks to his volume. Worth noting that Robert Turbin increased his snap count from 14 to 28 in Week 2, but didn't do much with it as he finished with just three carries for 11 yards. Cleveland has been decent against the run so far, making Indy's backfield more risky in Week 3.

    Pittsburgh at Chicago

    Total points expected: 45.5 (Pittsburgh favored by 7.5)

    Game script: Potential high-scoring with Pittsburgh's offense getting considerable upside.

    Pittsburgh RB's: Le'Veon Bell is due for a big game here. His volume was crazy in Week 2, as he saw 68 snaps to James Conner's 4. The Bears surrendered over 110 yards to Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber in Week 2. Bell's role in the receiving game also makes him game script proof in case this game favors more passing. The only worry is the unfavorable road splits for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but a good matchup should buck that trend. Bell is a great option in all formats this week and in DFS lineups.

    Chicago RB's: Tarik Cohen is the guy you want to start for Chicago going forward until Jordan Howard shows some of the effectiveness he had as a rookie. Howard is dealing with a shoulder injury, as he was reportedly wearing a sling in practice this week. The Steelers kept the Browns and Vikings run games in check which makes Howard a risky play. Cohen, meanwhile, leads all Bears offensive players in targets with 21 and is a strong start with so many injuries at wide receiver. Cohen also ranks fourth in yards per route run (2) trailing only Shane Vereen, James White and Melvin Gordon.

    Miami at New York Jets

    Total points expected: 41 (Miami favored by 6.5)

    Game script: Miami defense favored heavily. Run-heavy for Miami, pass-heavy for New York.

    Miami RB's: Jay Ajayi is the clear bell cow running back in this offense. His 28 carries in Week 2 should be replicated in Week 3 against a bad New York Jets run defense. The Jets have been lit up by LeSean McCoy and the Oakland Raider backfield in Weeks 1 and 2. With points hard to come by for New York, you might have to worry about Miami getting out to an early lead and taking Ajayi out. But Ajayi's floor is probably 70-80 yards in this one and he has significant touchdown upside.

    New York Jets RB's: Matt Forte took on a slightly larger role, out-touching Bilal Powell 13 to 6 and he's clearly the back to start in deeper leagues. Rookie Elijah McGuire also got into the mix for the first time, receiving six touches of his own for 29 yards and adding one catch for seven yards. Though this backfield is messy, there's some value at the position as the Jets will likely be playing from behind a lot and all of these backs are decent pass catchers. Good garbage time points are a very real possibility. This is a game to steer clear of the backfield for now, but keep an eye out for McGuire on waiver wires in deeper leagues. There's potential for him to see more opportunity in the future.

    Denver at Buffalo

    Total points expected: 41 (Denver favored by 2)

    Game script: Lots of running, low-scoring.

    Denver RB's: C.J. Anderson leads the league in rushing attempts and finished as the top fantasy running back in Week 2 with 27 points. Anderson is looking like a good option due to an improved line, strong defense and quarterback. The Bills have been stout against the run so far this season, so this is far from a dream matchup. Still, Anderson should see around 20 touches in this game and add a few catches in as well.

    Buffalo RB's: Carolina stifled LeSean McCoy last week. The Broncos come into this matchup riding a wave of confidence after holding Ezekiel Elliott to just eight rushing yards. It's hard to like McCoy this week, even though he's averaging close to seven targets per game. He's a running back to avoid this week.

    Houston at New England

    Total points expected: 43.5 (New England favored by 13)

    Game script: Defensive battle. Low-scoring.

    Houston RB's: Lamar Miller ranks among the top 5 in attempts with 35. He also has five catches on five targets through two weeks. Still, he hasn't been effective with just 3.6 yards per carry and zero touchdowns. Rookie D'onta Foreman saw his snap count jump from 2 to 17 last week. He also received 12 touches to Miller's 20. New England is also giving up just 20 points per game, which ranks among the Top 5. Both backs are good fade options this week.

    New England RB's: It's been about as down the middle as it can get with the Patriots running backs. Last week, James White and Mike Gillislee each saw 30 snaps last week. Rex Burkhead's snap count slightly decreased from 10 to 8 but he was efficient with 3 catches for 41 yards and a score. Whatever, it doesn't matter. Overall, the volume belongs to Gillislee and White for right now, with White being the primary receiving back and Gillislee getting the goal line carries.

    New Orleans at Carolina

    Total points expected: 49 (Carolina favored by 6)

    Game script: High scoring. Pass heavy game.

    New Orleans RB's: Mark Ingram is the lead back in this offense. He also has some receiving upside with five targets per game through two weeks. Alvin Kamara also has some upside in a game that could be pass-heavy, but there's still some risk with Adrian Peterson seeing more snaps in Week 2. This is a muddy backfield. Even more frustrating is the fact that Drew Brees is still passing at an elite level. There could be more scoring opportunities but the crowded backfield limits upside. Carolina has also been stout against the run this season. Best to steer clear of this backfield in Week 3.

    Carolina RB's: Cam Newton could hit Christian McCaffrey quite a bit more in this game. James White caught 8 passes for 85 yards against New Orleans and the Saints are giving up close to 30 points to running backs this season. Jonathan Stewart could also be a good start, but his receiving upside is limited and he's yet to find the end zone on the ground. McCaffrey actually has more upside in both standard and PPR leagues this week.

    Tampa Bay at Minnesota

    Total points expected: 41 (Minnesota favored by 2)

    Game script: Lower scoring.

    Tampa Bay RB's: With 34 snaps last week, Jacquizz Rodgers is the main back until Doug Martin returns. Charles Sims saw all of the passing-down work with three targets. Both aren't great options this week as Minnesota kept the Saints in check and held Le'Veon Bell to just 87 yards on 27 carries. The interior has been strong for Minnesota, as they're allowing just 6.9 fantasy points per game according to Pro Football Focus. Rodgers is a risky play this week.

    Minnesota RB's: Dalvin Cook had a favorable game script in Week 1 thanks to Sam Bradford's dominating performance. Week 2 was a different story, as Pittsburgh got out to the early lead and Minnesota passed the ball 66 percent of the time. It didn't help that Case Keenum struggled mightily at quarterback either. Bradford was ruled out on Friday, tough matchup for the Vikings running backs. Tampa is a solid defense against both the run and pass, but they've only played Chicago and Cook is a more complete back than Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. There's dark horse potential for Cook in this matchup, but if Keenum struggles again, expect Tampa to focus on Cook.

    Atlanta at Detroit

    Total points expected: 49 (Atlanta favored by 3.5)

    Game script: Potential high scoring with a lot of passing.

    Atlanta RB's: In case you haven't noticed, there's not a clear-cut high fantasy scoring game this week. However, this game could be one of those higher scoring games. Devonta Freeman flourished last week against Green Bay has double the amount of snaps as Tevin Coleman through two weeks. Even though the Lions have been strong against the run, they haven't really played against a decent running back yet. They got David Johnson in Week 1 who excited early with an injury and the New York Giants inept backfield last Monday night. Freeman has some intrigue this week in a potential high scoring matchup.

    Detroit RB's: This backfield is messy but the matchup is dripping with opportunity Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah split snaps last week with Abdullah seeing 28 to Riddick's 27. Riddick finished as an RB20 in Week 1, which is the highest finish of any Lions back so far. The Lions have a long history of not having a true feature back, and this year is looking no different so far. Still, the Falcons have been getting lit up by pass catching backs this year. Tarik Cohen and Ty Montgomery both caught touchdown passes and combined for 14 catches and over 120 receiving yards.

    New York Giants at Philadelphia

    Total points expected: 43.5 (Philadelphia favored by 3.5)

    Game script: Lower scoring. Turnover potential on Philadelphia's side.

    New York RB's: The Giants have looked awful through two weeks. Second-year back Paul Perkins is averaging 1.9 yards per carry and no Giant running back has scored a touchdown through two weeks. Orleans Darkwa saw a slight uptick in snaps and saw four touches to Perkins and Vereen's nine. Still, he's not a back you can rely on this week against a Philadelphia team that's fared well against the run so far. Vereen has slight upside because of his volume in the passing game with 13 targets through two games. This is also a desperation game for New York, as losing would put them at 0-2 in the division and 0-3 overall.

    Philadelphia RB's: The Eagles have been equally poor in the run game, with no running back over 50 total yards through two games. Darren Sproles remains the dominant PPR back, and the Giants have been susceptible to pass catching backs so far. They gave up five catches on five targets to Ezekiel Elliott in Week 1. Sproles is a good streaming option in deeper PPR leagues and has upside in DFS tournaments as well. No other Philadelphia back is worth starting as of now.

    Seattle at Tennessee

    Total points expected: 43.5 (Tennessee favored by 1)

    Seattle RB's: The Titans are a good run-stopping unit, holding both Marshawn Lynch and Leonard Fournette to under 100 yards. Chris Carson remains the high-volume guy and rushed for 93 yards and a score on 20 attempts against San Francisco in Week 2. This will be a tougher matchup for the Seattle backfield though, and the Titans have struggled more against the pass than the run so far.

    Tennessee RB's: DeMarco Murray is banged up and all signs point to Derrick Henry getting more volume this week. Henry strung 92 yards and a score together in last week's outing against Jacksonville, a tough defense. Seattle is another difficult challenge, but the volume potential makes Henry a good RB2 play in standard leagues. Probably best to avoid him DFS since there's high bust potential with the matchup and there are better options out there at similar prices. For example, Henry's price tag is $5,300 on DraftKings and Ameer Abdullah has similar upside at $4,700.

    Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers

    Total points expected: 45.5 (Kansas City favored by 3)

    Game script: Potential high-scoring. Both teams can throw and run the ball.

    Kansas City RB's: Kareem Hunt saw his workload explode in Week 2 and he's the only startable KC back going forward barring a severe slump or injury. He's a great Daily Fantasy play as well since some might be scared off by his expensive price. You should still have some exposure to him in your lineups this week regardless. The Chargers have been soft against the run, surrendering over 100 yards to Denver running backs C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles in Week 1. They also gave up 122 yards to Jay Ajayi last week.

    Los Angeles Chargers RB's: Melvin Gordon struggled on the ground last week against a tough Miami front. Still, his hybrid status makes him close to matchup proof this season. He's averaging seven targets a game and saw good volume against Denver in Week 1 with 18 carries. Expect him to see a similar opportunity in Week 3 against Kansas City. Branden Oliver is nothing more than a change of pace back at this point and hasn't seen much work in the receiving game with just one target on the year.

    Cincinnati at Green Bay

    Total points expected: 45.5 (Green Bay favored by 10)

    Game script: Balanced with equal amount of running and passing.

    Cincinnati RB's: Cincinnati's backfield remains the most puzzling and perhaps frustrating this season. The numbers tell all really. Through two games, the rushing attempts have been Joe Mixon (17), Giovani Bernard (12), and Jeremy Hill (12). Mixon has been the most effective as of late, rushing for 36 yards on nine carries last week. Still, it's hard to get excited about him until the Bengals let him loose, which may or may not happen anytime soon.

    Green Bay RB's: Ty Montgomery continues to be a force and has a solid matchup against Cincinnati, an average run defense so far. He's slowly stepping into that hybrid role and received seven targets last week, catching six of them for 75 yards and a touchdown. Montgomery's 65 snaps last week dwarfed all other Packer backs and Jamaal Williams is no threat to overtake him right now. He should also see more rushing attempts unless Andy Dalton and A.J. Green really go off in this one and force Green Bay to play from behind.

    Oakland at Washington

    Total points expected: 54 (Oakland favored by 3)

    Game script: High scoring. Defense optional.

    Oakland RB's: Marshawn Lynch is a good option in this one since Washington has fared poorly against the run but I worry about the game script in this one. If Oakland comes out throwing, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard could see an increased role. Never much of a receiver, Lynch might see the majority of his work around the goal line if Washington and Kirk Cousins get off to a hot start. Jordan Reed is 50/50 right now but Vernon Davis is still a strong backup and Oakland struggles against tight ends. They also gave up two scores to Jermaine Kearse and Josh McCown of the Jets last week. There's a chance the Redskins put up a lot of points on them which would take Lynch out of the equation somewhat.

    Washington RB's: Samaje Perine saw his first action in Week 2 and rushed 21 times for 67 yards. While the numbers aren't eye-popping, he's the clear No. 1 back going forward. Chris Thompson continues to be ruthlessly efficient, rushing for 77 yards and two scores on just three attempts and is averaging six targets per game. Despite his performance, it's not looking like the Redskins will increase his touches anytime soon for fear of injuring his slight frame. Perine is a risky play this week but definitely worth an add in deeper leagues.

    Dallas at Arizona (Monday night)

    Total points expected: 47 (Dallas favored by 3.5)

    Game script: Above average scoring.

    Dallas RB's: Ezekiel Elliott struggled mightily against Denver after a 100-yard performance against the New York Giants in Week 1. Still, he's yet to record a touchdown this year and Arizona has been strong against the run, granted they've only played Detroit and Indianapolis so far. Elliott is an elite back and has a chance to rebound in this game, and with Arizona's offense playing so poorly, it's unlikely we see a Trevor Siemien passing game script like last week.

    Arizona RB's: Chris Johnson and Kerwynn Williams siphoned production from each other in Arizona's first outing without David Johnson. Andre Ellington led them in snaps with 30.


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  • Opportunity: The most optimal running backs for Week 2

    Editor's note: This season-long series looks to find the best opportunity to score fantasy points at the running back position. It factors targets, goal line and red zone carries, and rushing attempts. This volume probability is predicated on game script, snap counts, and overall talent of the individual player.

    This is Week 1 of this list. You can expect more data as the season goes along and trends emerge. Also, be sure to check out our weekly rankings for complete rankings at every position for Week 2.

    Week 1 saw a bunch of rushers see over 20+ carries, which is the first big indicator of consistency from week to week. We saw Ezekiel Elliott rush 24 times, and rookie Leonard Fournette was the top rusher with 26 total carries. Both backs finished with over 100 yards against good defenses in New York and Houston.

    We got our first glimpse of the identity these coaches might be establishing for their teams in Week 1. Fournette has a lot of potential as a rookie in Jacksonville, as the Jaugars look to favor a conservative, defense-first approach. Will that happen every week? Nobody knows. But it worked well in Week 1. The defense forced unproven quarterback Tom Savage into tough throws and Bortles threw just 21 times, which ranked 28th overall for that week.

    If you're looking at receiving running backs, Tarik Cohen and Shane Vereen dominated the target category with 11 and 10 respectively. Cohen finished with 25 PPR points after catching 8 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. With his price on Draftkings being so low, it's no surprise Cohen was the true contrarian play and was featured in several top Daily Fantasy lineups. Vereen didn't find the end zone, but finished 14 PPR points on a respectable 9 catches for 51 yards.

    As you can see, it was an interesting week with a lot of surprises. Here's how we can break that down in Week 2.

    Houston at Cincinnati (Thursday game recap)

    Total team scoring expectation: 38 points

    Actual points scored: 22

    Game script: Run heavy, defense-based game with high likelihood of turnovers

    Houston RB's: Lamar Miller had the highest volume in Week 1 for Houston with 17 carries. Miller saw 29 total snaps in the last game, leading all Houston rushers. But it was rookie D'Onta Foreman who stood out in Week 2. The former Longhorn rushed for 40 yards, gaining 32 of them after contact. Miller still saw the bulk of the carries, but Foreman is starting to creep into the picture. Look to add Foreman to your waiver wire list.

    Cincinnati RB's: Cincy's backfield is coming into focus. Rookie Joe Mixon lead backs with nine carries and Giovani Bernard assume the receiving back role. Bernard led all Bengals runners with 4 targets, catching two of them for 16 yards. Bernard will have some value in high-scoring game scripts or when the Bengals find themselves down at half, which is something that might happen more often as the Bengals lost their first two home games so far.

    Green Bay at Atlanta (Sunday Night)

    Total points expected: 53

    Game script: Pass heavy from both offenses. The obvious high-scoring matchup of the Week.

    Green Bay RB's: Green Bay's Ty Montgomery played 74 snaps while rookie backup Jamaal Williams played just six. Montgomery also led the team in targets with four. This is the week to start Montgomery in all leagues including PPR and Daily Fantasy. The Falcons recently surrendered eight catches and a touchdown to Bears backup running back Tarik Cohen in Week 1. Montgomery has a real shot to have one of his best weeks of the year.

    Atlanta RB's: Both Freeman and Coleman are risky options right now. Freeman was the clear leader in snaps with 36, but Coleman wasn't far behind with 24 and also out-targeted Freeman 6:2. There's a lot to like in this matchup, but you don't know which back will put up points. It's safe to steer clear of this backfield for the time being.

    Tennessee at Jacksonville

    Total points expected: 43 (Tennessee favored by 1)

    Game script: High volume for Jacksonville running backs. Low-scoring. Grind game.

    Tennessee RB's:  Tennessee got down early and passed a lot more in Week 1, which hurt DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry's value. Murray out-touched Henry 12-6 but Henry got more bang per carry with 4.2 yards. Henry also created more yards with 2.8 after contact. With no backs receiving any goal line touches, this is a backfield that has some uncertainty heading into Week 2 even with a favorable game script.

    Jacksonville RB's: Leonard Fournette saw a league-high 29 touches, a feat that could occur again as the Jaguars establish a defensive identity. T.J. Yeldon expects to return for Week 2 which could limit Fournette's targets, as the rookie saw three in Week 1. But the volume should still be there for Fournette and he's a reliable start in redraft and cash games for DFS.

    Cleveland at Baltimore

    Total points expected: 41 (Baltimore favored by 7.5)

    Game script: Favors defense of Baltimore. Low-scoring. High turnover probability with rookie DeShone Kizer playing for Cleveland.

    Cleveland RB's: Trust the Hue Jackson touch. The Browns are sneakily becoming a competitive team thanks to an improved defense. However, both running backs aren't a great bet to do damage this week. Kizer's rushing upside limits touchdown probability for Isaiah Crowell. Duke Johnson was used exclusively as a receiver last week and didn't line up in the backfield once according to Pro Football Focus.

    Baltimore RB's: There's definitely some upside to giving Javorius Allen a start this week. Allen led Baltimore with 21 carries and outsnapped Terrance West 33 to 27. Plus, Allen could see more targets with Danny Woodhead expected out until Week 10. If Baltimore can control the pace of this game, it's not out of the question Allen could see over 100 yards and a couple catches. Throw in a touchdown and he'll greatly exceed his Daily Fantasy value. 

    Buffalo at Carolina

    Total points expected: 42 (Carolina favored by 7.5)

    Game script: Favors defense of Carolina. Low-scoring.

    Buffalo RB's: LeSean McCoy rushed 22 times for 110 yards in a run-heavy game against the offensively pedestrian New York Jets. He also added 5 catches on 6 targets for 49 yards. Mike Tolbert was also effective with 12 rushes of his own for 42 yards and continued his reputation as a touchdown sniper with a short score. Per Pro Football Focus, McCoy did receive one carry inside the five-yard line, so it's not like the Bills used Tolbert exclusively around the end zone. The volume will still be there for McCoy, although this is a tougher matchup for him.

    Carolina RB's: Jonathan Stewart remains the top back in this offense with 18 rushes to Christian McCaffrey's 13. McCaffrey saw 47 snaps to Stewart's 29 and saw 7 targets which led to 5 catches for 30+ yards. This is a decent matchup for Carolina's running backs, but low value hurts their chances for a huge day. It's unlikely Stewart goes over 100 yards with McCaffrey taking touches. It's also unlikely McCaffrey scores touchdowns unless he scores on a big play since he's not getting the goal line work.

    New England at New Orleans

    Total points expected: 53 (New England favored by 6)

    Game script: Lots of passing. Favorable for wide receivers and quarterbacks

    New England RB's: This is a good game to give James White a start in redraft and Daily Fantasy. White is the receiving back in New England, led them in targets with 5 in Week 1, and New England is likely to score a ton to keep up with New Orleans. The Saints have historically been a high-scoring team at home, so New England will have their hands full, especially with a banged up defense that will put more pressure on Tom Brady to put up points.

    New Orleans RB's: Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are both good starts this week. Kamara led all Saints running backs in targets with six and caught four of them for 20 yards. Ingram wasn't far behind with five targets. Both backs struggled on the ground, but a lot of that had to do with Minnesota's stifling defense. It's unlikely New England puts up the same fight, especially if Donta Hightower is still hurt. Adrian Peterson, who was never a prolific receiver, may be the odd man out in this backfield as the season goes along.

    Arizona at Indianapolis

    Total points expected: 44 (Arizona favored by 7.5)

    Game script: Could be pass heavy for first half, run heavy in second if Arizona gets ahead.

    Arizona RB's: Kerwynn Williams is the current starting back for Arizona, a team that also signed Chris Johnson earlier this week. Williams has rushed for over 100 yards in the past, but his receiving upside will likely be curbed with Andre Ellington expected to fill that role. This backfield is cloudy, but Williams is an interesting dart throw if not for the fact that he'll be so cheap and the Indianapolis defense has struggled early on.

    Indianapolis RB's: Both rookie Marlon Mack and Frank Gore split carries with 10, with Mack getting the touchdown and the better fantasy day. It's difficult to see who will be the best option in this backfield as of now. Both running backs also saw a similar role in the receiving game, with each catching one pass on one target. There's not much to like about Indianapolis on offense right now in general, and the running back situation is no different. 

    Philadelphia at Kansas City

    Total points expected: 47.5 (Kansas City favored by 4.5)

    Game script: Some scoring potential. Both teams create a good pass rush so sacks are likely. Kansas City will likely favor pass with injuries in Philadelphia secondary.

    Philadelphia RB's: LeGarrette Blount wasn't very effective in Week 1 with just 46 yards on 14 rushes. He saved his fantasy day with a one-yard reception score. Darren Sproles tied Zach Ertz for most targets among all Philly players with eight. Neither player is worth more than a dart throw in Daily Fantasy lineups this week.

    Kansas City RB's: Kareem Hunt was incredible in Week 1. He gets another plus matchup against a Philadelphia team that surrendered four catches, 52 yards and a score to Redskins running back Chris Thompson in Week 1. Though Charcandrick West saw a lot of snaps in Week 1, expect that to diminish due to Hunt's dominance. It's likely Hunt cracks the 20+ rush attempts and sees at least five targets in Week 2.

    Minnesota at Pittsburgh

    Total points expected: 45 (Pittsburgh favored by 7)

    Game script: Potentially high-scoring. Lots of passing.

    Minnesota RB's: Forget the notion that Latavius Murray would take away touches from rookie Dalvin Cook early on after Week 1. Cook is firmly entrenched in the feature back role and should see plenty of carries in this one. Coming off a 127-yard performance where he rushed 22 times, Cook also had more targets than Jerick McKinnon with five. Cook also had four looks in the red zone which led all Viking running backs. Pittsburgh gave up several 100-yard rushing games last season, including over 200 yards to Jay Ajayi.

    Pittsburgh RB's: Recency bias might keep people from drafting Le'Veon Bell this week in DFS, but don't let that happen to you. Bell is likely to rebound in Week 2. Pittsburgh is a different offense at home, as evidenced by Ben Roethlisberger's 59 touchdowns in his last 20 home games. Bell has been on the receiving end of some of those touchdowns, and it's not a bad idea to stack him with Roethlisberger in DFS tournaments since he'll be owned less than Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

    Chicago at Tampa Bay

    Total points expected: 43 (Tampa favored by 6)

    Game script: High volume for running backs. Clock moves fast. Lower play counts.

    Chicago RB's: Tarik Cohen is still going to see targets in this offense with injuries to so many of their wide receivers. However, it's best to remain cautious with him in ppr leagues until he repeats his Week 1 feat. Even if he does do damage again in Week 2, more people will own him in Daily Fantasy than last week which will diminish his value in tournaments.

    Tampa Bay RB's: Jacquizz Rodgers gets the start. Not crazy to think he could see 20-plus rushing attempts with just Charles Sims and Peyton Barber playing behind him. If Tampa Bay favors a conservative approach due to Chicago's poor offense, then Rodgers could come close to 100-yard effort. 

    Miami at Los Angeles Chargers

    Total points expected: 44 (Los Angeles favored by 4)

    Game script: Weak Miami secondary could lead to several pass touchdowns for Philip Rivers. Dolphins might be forced to play catch up early.

    Miami RB's: Jay Ajayi is fresh after not playing in Week 1 and gets a solid matchup against a Chargers defense that's worse against the run than the pass. Game script might hurt him a bit if Rivers takes advantage of Miami's vulnerable defensive backs. Miami surrendered over 32 fantasy points per game to wide receivers last year. There's also a bit of risk with Jay Cutler potentially turning the ball over and costing Ajayi possessions. Still, Ajayi is the clear No. 1 and also has modest points per reception value. He's a great play in all leagues and in cash DFS games.

    Los Angeles RB's: It's another green-light week for Melvin Gordon. With 45 snaps, 18 touches last week and 5 catches for 25 yards and a touchdown, he's the man in Los Angeles. Miami's run defense isn't terrible, but the volume potential for Gordon is among the best in the NFL. He also received all of the red zone looks for Los Angeles in Week 1, and the Chargers will likely have an easier time scoring against Miami than they did against Denver.

    New York Jets at Oakland

    Total points expected: 43 (Oakland favored by 14)

    New York RB's: Matt Forte and Bilal Powell had a similar snap count in Week 1 and each had a similar amount of targets and rush attempts. Powell has a slight edge as he looks to be the preferred running back in the red zone, but this is a cloudy backfield where both running backs are risky plays. It's not a terrible idea to avoid this group. Oakland is middle of the road against running backs, ranking 14th overall and giving up around 22.5 points per game.

    Oakland RB's: In a game where the Raiders could be up multiple scores by halftime, Marshawn Lynch is a great start this week. He had three looks in the red zone and no other running back had one in Week 1. His 18 attempts for 76 yards showed good volume and it's hard to see him not getting in the end zone at least once this week. Though he lacks major upside, he's a must-start in cash DFS games. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are cancelling each other out but Washington still holds value in PPR leagues as he tied for most targets among running backs with two in Week 1.

    Washington at Los Angeles Rams

    Total points expected: 46 (Rams favored by 2)

    Game script: Medium range for scoring. Rams have potential to go to ground game a lot with weak Washington run defense. Washington also poor against tight ends. Washington has good passing opportunities against weak secondary.

    Los Angeles Rams RB's: Todd Gurley is a solid start this week even though he wasn't the most efficient back in Week 1 (just over 2 yards per carry on 19 rush attempts). His five catches give him some versatility though, and Washington struggled to contain Darren Sproles last week in the receiving game as well. There's enough volume here to start Gurley is every league, and he's a good upside guy in DFS tournaments. 

    Washington RB's: Though Rob Kelley is the starting running back for Washington, scat back Chris Thompson was the fantasy stud in Week 1 after catching four passes for 52 yards and a score. This matchup will be tougher on Thompson though, as the Rams are stout against running backs in the receiving last week against the Colts. Overall, they held Marlon Mack and Frank Gore to just one catch each in a game that had the kind of game script that favors running backs catching passes.

    Dallas at Denver

    Total points expected: 43 (Dallas favored by 1)

    Game script: Run heavy game with minimal scoring on both sides

    Dallas RB's: Ezekiel Elliott is a no-brainer this week. The Broncos match up worse against the run than the pass. Elliott rushed over 24 times last week and should cross the 20-rush barrier again. His five catches for 36 yards gives him PPR upside and if the Dallas defense keeps Trevor Siemian in check, there's a good chance they lean on Elliott for most of the game.

    Denver RB's: C.J. Anderson is a good start this week but this is a tough matchup. Dallas looked menacing on defense with Sean Lee and rookie Jaylon Smith running amuck. Still, the volume is there for the Denver RB. Anderson dominated the snap count with 48 to backup Jamaal Charles 21. The Broncos gave him the ball three times inside the five yard-line, but they also gave Charles two goal line touches as well. In a game that could be low scoring, Anderson might see a healthy amount of carries and also saw some modest work in the receiving game.

    San Francisco at Seattle

    Total points expected: 43 (Seattle favored by 13)

    Game script: Favors Seattle defense heavily. Low-scoring, run-heavy game.

    San Francisco RB's: Carlos Hyde has tremendous upside week-to-week due to his role in the receiving game (six catches on six targets in Week 1). His rushing volume was low but that was because the 49ers got down early. It's tough to see that not happening again in Week 2 with Seattle's stout run defense, a unit that's giving up just under 20 fantasy points per game to running backs which ranks among the Top 5.

    Seattle RB's: Thomas Rawls looks like he's going to start in this one. He's a great upside play against a very bad San Francisco rush defense that led Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart run effectively in Week 1. Still, you're taking a major risk given that we don't know how much volume Rawls will get with Eddie Lacy and Chris Carson still in the fold. He's still a great dart throw in DFS tournaments since Eddie Lacy looked sluggish in Week 1 and Carson is still developing as a rookie. He might also completely destroy your DFS lineup, but taking those risks is often how you win big money tournaments.

    Detroit at New York Giants (Monday night)

    Total points expected: 43 (New York Giants favored by 4.5)

    Game script: Shootout potential. Both teams like to run hurry up offense and pass.

    Detroit RB's: Ameer Abdullah is the lead back with 36 snaps in Week 1. Still, Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington combined for 35 snaps of their own, further muddying this backfield. New York has a stout run defense and only gave up 100 yards to Elliott because their offense was inept. They should fare better against Detroit and keep the Lions running backs in check.

    New York Giants RB's: Another struggling backfield, Shane Vereen led all backs in snaps with 31 to Paul Perkins 17. Perkins was expected to be the go-to run option and his two red zone looks suggest he'll be the goal line guy. Aside from some touchdown upside though, it's best to fade Perkins and Veren this week. No back has established a heavy-volume role and the Lions fare better against the run than in any other category.

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  • Opportunity: Finding fantasy value in Andy Reid's offense

    One of the more predictable ways to determine opportunity is to look at coaching habits. By looking at how a coach decides which plays to run, you develop an understanding of what players will be valuable in an offense. This is especially true if a coach has been on a team for a long period of time and large sample sizes exist.

    In this piece, we take a look at play calling and game script for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2016 season and how those numbers might translate to 2017.

    By looking at the overall number of plays ran and pass/run ratio, we should be able to come up with a reasonable projection for how players on the team might fare in the fantasy category this season.

    How the Chiefs started in 2016

    Kansas City was a little shaky coming out of the gate, starting off 2-2 with bad losses to Houston and Pittsburgh. They also needed one of the largest comebacks ever to put away the San Diego Chargers in Week 1.

    During that four-game stretch, quarterback Alex Smith's arm served as the primary source of offense for KC. Smith passed on 69 percent of the team's snaps.

    Smith's passing workload had a lot to do with the Chiefs playing two high-powered offenses in San Diego and Pittsburgh. The Chiefs were also playing from behind in 3 out of 4 of those games.

    Overall, Smith finished as a QB3 in Week 1, QB32 in Week 2, and QB18 in Week 3. Not very consistent overall.

    As for the running back spot, starter Spencer Ware recorded his highest carry total in Week 3 with 20 attempts against the Jets. Game script had a lot to do with Ware's volume in that game, as the Chiefs nursed a 17-3 advantage in the second half.

    Spencer Ware finished as an RB3, RB21 and RB34 in that span.

    Chiefs pick up steam

    After the 2-2 start, the Chiefs rattled off five straight victories. Their success stemmed from a change in offensive philosophy and a softer schedule. Smith threw the ball less with 22, 24, 19, 38 and 31 pass attempts in that stretch. Smith also only recorded one game with 250 passing yards.

    The Chiefs offense also played weaker defenses, scoring close to 30 points against Oakland, New Orleans and Indianapolis.

    In the run game, Ware became the team's go-to option. He out-snapped Charcandrick West 40-8, 36-14, 26-42, 0-45, and 41-20 in that stretch. The only outlier games were when Ware sustained a concussion Week 8 and missed the second half followed by missing all of Week 9.

    Rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill also emerged as a key factor, doubling his snap count from 18 to 36 by Week 8 and contributing on special teams in a big way with two punt return touchdowns and one kickoff return for a score.

    Closing out strong

    The Chiefs were fantastic down the stretch, winning five of their last six games including tough victories against Atlanta, Oakland and Denver twice. Smith's throws per game hovered around the 25-28 mark with one or two outlier games. The passing attempts were similar to his Week 5-8 numbers.

    Smith's passing yard totals were very close to the same almost every week and he averaged 238 yards per game during the stretch. He had no games deviating 30 yards + or - from that average, aside from one outlier game against Tennessee where he only threw for 163 yards.

    Ware continued to assert himself as the lead back, out-snapping West 42-33, 38-11, 40-13, 36-21, 37-29 and he didn't play in the final game. His best finish came as an RB10 in Week 13 before he dropped off and failed to crack the Top 30 for the rest of the season.

    Go for running backs and tight ends?

    Andy Reid offenses in Kansas City haven't lent themselves to high value for the quarterback spot. He has consistently ranked low in pass plays per game and it hasn't impacted the Chiefs success at all. He's yet to record a losing season with this philosophy.

    Year Team  Pass plays/game  Rank Chiefs record
    2013 KC 34.8 20 11-5
    2014 KC 30.8 28 9-7
    2015 KC 30.3 29 11-5
    2016 KC 34.1 25 12-4

     

    This conservative passing approach has affected the wide receivers ability to have fantasy value. Here's how value shakes out at each position. Hint: This should give you pause if you're thinking about drafting Tyreek Hill.

    Year QB fantasy finish Highest RB finish Highest WR finish Highest TE finish
    2013 QB13 RB1 WR45 TE40
    2014 QB19 RB7 None in top 50 TE8
    2015 QB16 RB32 WR17 TE8
    2016 QB22 RB16 WR15 TE1

     

    It would appear running backs and tight ends have the most value in Andy Reid's offense. There hasn't been a wide receiver inside the Top 15 range since Reid got to Kansas City.

    Tight ends are a different story. Kelce ranked third in targets last season and sixth in 2015. Keep in mind, Brent Celek also had a Pro Bowl caliber season under Reid in 2009 and ranked 7th in targets that year. L.J. Smith was 11th in targets in 2006. So Reid has shown a tendency to get tight ends involved.

    Year Team Run plays/game  Rank 
    2013 KC 27.8 14
    2014 KC 26.2 15
    2015 KC 28.1 9
    2016 KC 25.1 20

     

    You'd think Reid's teams would be more run heavy but they aren't. Over the course of Reid's stint in Kansas City, the Chiefs ranked near the bottom in plays run per game among the 32 NFL teams. To put that in perspective, New Orleans ran 69 plays per game in 2016 to lead all teams. So Kansas City ran over 120 less plays than New Orleans did last season.

    Despite that, running backs are still valuable because of the passing game. Reid likes to use running backs as receivers, as evidenced by the 82 targets doled out last season to running backs. In 2015, there were 75 between three running backs. Jamaal Charles was lethal in 2013 because of this alone.

    Year Team Plays run per game Rank
    2013 KC 65.2 13
    2014 KC 60.1 29
    2015 KC 61.1 25
    2016 KC 61.1 28

     

    So how do you apply this to your fantasy team?

    Glad you asked. That answer lies in drafting for value at running back and valuing Travis Kelce as a TE1. Spencer Ware finished as an RB2 in standard scoring leagues (RB16) and was also an RB2 in PPR (RB16).

    Look for Ware to be the top back out of the gate. Expect some solid RB2 weeks out of him, but don't draft him too high. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Ware is being drafted as an RB20.

    Ware's ADP is a little high with Hunt lurking but there are plenty of question marks regarding the RB's being drafted around him like C.J. Anderson, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. Still, his team has a strong defensive foundation and a coach that likes to get RB's involved. He's safe. 

    As for rookie backup Kareem Hunt, you'd be wise to draft him at his RB38 ADP. Hunt's elusiveness and ability to create yards after contact could land him the starter role at some point during the season.

    Tough road in 2017

    The Chiefs have a brutal schedule in 2017 and trail only Denver for the toughest slate in the league.

    When it comes to game scripts, the Chiefs get New England Week 1, Philadelphia Week 2 and the improved Los Angeles Chargers Week 3. Three defenses with good pass rushers and potent offenses.

    The Chiefs might have to throw more out of the gate and may struggle out of the gate like last year. Smith just isn't wired to throw for a ton of passing yards and is at his best when his attempts hover around 25-30.

    Ware will also have his work cutout for him, but there is some passing upside due to Reid's style of getting running backs involved in the receiving game. 

    Summing up Kansas City's approach

    Kansas City plays a conservative style of offense and looks to grind games out with defense. Their only true playmaker is tight end Travis Kelce due to his size and speed after the catch. Tyreek Hill has potential, but wide receivers have been stifled in Reid's offense due to low passing volume.

    Not much changed in the offseason for Kansas City to change this approach. Smith is still the quarterback, and their defense remains one of the best in the league on paper. With a now-healthy Justin Houston rushing the passer and safety Eric Berry at the helm, Kansas City should remain true to its identity.

    Cornerback Marcus Peters is also coming off a solid season, and graded out the 11th best corner in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

    Kelce, Ware and Hunt are the players you should be looking to draft. Ware isn't a great option given his ADP, but he will have good PPR value as a receiver. Hunt is a tremendous value.

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Podcasts

Episode 193: Buy low/sell high

Saturday, 14 October 2017 00:00
On Saturday's Week 6 preview pod, the Helpers discuss the why DeShaun Watson is a good sell high candidate down the stretch. They also preview some of the Week 6 slate and wonder how Willie Snead V will fare in his best game
Read more...

Episode 192: PPR backs produce

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 00:00
On Tuesday's Week 4 recap pod, the Helpers discuss the great receiving backs and why you should consider starting a few of them. They also talk about Ben Roethlisberger's road woes and why Jacksonville's defense is vulnerable
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Episode 191: We know nothing part II

Tuesday, 26 September 2017 00:00
On Tuesday's Week 3 recap pod, the Helpers discuss the protests in response to Donald Trump's twitter comments. They discuss the weird week that was with many 0-2 teams winning in surprise fashion. They also talk about trends
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Episode 190: Hunt's catch up

Monday, 18 September 2017 00:00
On Tuesday's podcast, the Helpers recap Week 2. They discuss Alex Smith's emergence as a consistent QB1, why Kareem Hunt is who he is, the weirdness at the fantasy running back position, increased snap count for players and b
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Episode 189: We know nothing

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00
On the first episode with a few games to analyze, the Helpers discuss who the high-volume players were and if those players stand a chance to repeat those performances or not. They also talk injuries, including who's the best
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Episode 188: Week 1 predictions

Saturday, 09 September 2017 00:00
The 2017 NFL season has begun. It's time for us to start helping you win in Fantasy Football. Here, we discuss all the matchups this week with the highest scoring potential. We tell you which players we're high and low on. We
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Waiver Wire

Upside vs. efficiency: Should you draft John Brown or Randall Cobb?

Wednesday, 30 August 2017 00:00
Giana Pacinelli of the the Huffington Post and 2QBs.com joins George Banko of Fantasyfootballhelpers.com to debate which receiver to draft, Randall Cobb or John Brown? Opening statements George: Randall Cobb is coming off a
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Jordan Matthews: Boring, predictable, but will exceed ADP value

Monday, 10 July 2017 00:00
In this article, we take a look at a player's potential to outperform their current ADP (average draft position) and assess the risks and potential rewards of drafting them. We look at opportunity stats including target share
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How Samaje Perine Will Help Your Fantasy Team In 2017

Wednesday, 24 May 2017 00:00
Samaje Perine proved his worth at the University of Oklahoma. In 2014 he had a stellar year. In 2015 and 2016 the stat line would suggest a decline in his performance, but that is due in part to sharing snaps with Joe Mixon.
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Why San Francisco 49ers running back Joe Williams is a perfect Zero RB candidate

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 00:00
When we look to draft a player to our fantasy team, we often seek the most talented players we can find. However, looking at the coaches offensive philosophy and which players best fit their system can be very telling in term
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Fantasy Film Projector: Alvin Kamara

Monday, 24 April 2017 00:00
When it comes to identifying traits in running backs that produce immediate fantasy value, proficiency in pass blocking, ball security, route running and receiving ability are often most important. These traits are valuable b
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Fantasy Film Projector: James Conner

Thursday, 13 April 2017 00:00
Editor's note: The Fantasy Film Projector is a process that identifies player traits correlated with fantasy football success. Those traits include receiving ability, route running, (points per reception leagues), play streng
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On Monday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers discuss the zero running back theory and why it's a big risk in fantasy leagues. They also talk about the importance of quality running backs in fantasy football. Plus Pennywise 'Bro Hym Tribute' and some other things.

The Helpers kick off the discussion talking about the value of picking in the middle of the fantasy draft. According to NFL.com, more than 12 percent of fantasy owners who drafted at the sixth spot in 2014 won their league. Also, a stunning 70 percent of fantasy owners who drafted a running back in the first round also won their league.

The Helpers try to under why running backs are so important. For one, starters typically see anywhere between 10-20 carries per game, sometimes even more depending on the offensive philosophy of the coach. A chief example being DeMarco Murray's mere 400 attempts last year. For those who want to draft WR-WR if you're picking late in the draft, it's important to consider that a wide receiver rarely sees 10-20 attempts at catching the ball in any particular game. So if you decide to draft two stud wide receivers, you'll still be dealing with some inconsistency at times due in large part to the fact that there's only so much ball to go around.

Another take is that fantasy owners typically view feature backs as so rare that if you don't end up getting one in the first round, they consider the rest of the running back class to be of similar value and wind up drafting a handful of RBs in the later portion of the draft. While this strategy can work, we don't advise it because it usually involves some luck to end up having a late-round fantasy running back do well. While it's great if you already have a stud running back and you also get lucky and draft the next Jeremy Hill, avoiding running backs all together in the early rounds is a recipe for disaster. 

The Helpers also discuss OTA's and what to think about regarding player speak and how it often deceives fantasy owners into thinking somebody is primed for a breakout season. Case in point being Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, a running back who slimmed down last season and reportedly looked even more explosive than before (if that was possible). Still, McCoy ended up having one of the worst seasons of his career from a scoring standpoint, as he only found the end zone five times and his receiving numbers took a dive due to the emergence of Darren Sproles.

It's not to say a running back losing weight can't be beneficial for him from a fantasy point of view, but other factors such as vision, instincts, decisiveness and mental processing play a big, if not bigger, factor than physical attributes. Just something to take into account before you get too hyped up on one particular player because he looks like he can bench press more or run a slightly faster 40 time.

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Catching the ball has become one of the biggest assets a running back can have both in the NFL and fantasy football. It's no surprise you see RBs like Jamaal Charles, Le'Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray and other receiving competent backs rise above the rest in fantasy points by the end of the 2014 season. But, what if the running back isn't the best receiver on the planet? What if he's just a tough, physical runner who values running over defenders for those extra yards rather than joysticking past defenders? Oh, and what if he doesn't have Adrian Peterson like breakaway speed? Is it still worth drafting the downhill running back?

The answer to that is a resounding yes, however, certain criteria should be met. First, you need to know which round to take him in. Second, you need to know what scheme he plays in and if his running style is a good fit. Third, you need to look at the talent along the offensive line. Lastly, you need to evaluate his health and current physical state of his career.

Where Morris thrives

Redskins' running back Alfred Morris is a textbook example of a downhill runner. If you watched Morris as a rookie in 2012, you saw how effective he was at moving the pile and you almost cringed at the thought of some smaller defensive back having to tackle him. Here's a clip of Morris from 2012 where his drive to will his way past the first down marker is on full display.

Notice how his feet keep moving which allows him to maintain his balance through contact and scamper for more yards. He diagnosed where the hole is going to be quickly enough so that he can burst through it before the Cincinnati defender penetrates the line of scrimmage. He keeps his pad level low, which allows him to stay moving forward and gain positive yardage. His competitive toughness is also apparent on this play, as he looks to initiate contact with the defenders rather than avoid it. It's worth noting that Morris thrived in the read option alongside Robert Griffin III and there's no doubt the threat of a rushing quarterback helped Morris out immensely.

How he changed as a runner

Watching Morris in 2014, you saw a running back that seemed a little more indecisive at times. He often waited patiently to set up his blocks, but never fully committed to the hole even when it was there at times. You factor that in with his subtle decrease in burst, agility and all-around speed and it's no surprise his numbers last year were a career worst.

The Redskins instability at quarterback certainly didn't help Morris either. The team went through all three quarterbacks like kleenex last season and Morris had a different chemistry with each of them. With Robert Griffin III, he had more freedom as a runner because of the QB-run threat. With backup Kirk Cousins, he became more of a 3-4 yard per carry guy in addition to a play action guy which helped open up the passing game for the more pocket-oriented Cousins.

The current version of Morris runs to the edge and patiently waits for his blocks to set up, a trait many consider to be a positive one among running backs. The only difference — he never fully commits and cuts hard up the field like he did in his rookie year.

This isn't to say Morris was indecisive on every play in 2014. You still saw many glimpses of what he's capable of when he decides to commit to his blocks and burst through the hole. That was very evident in the game against Tampa, where Morris rushed for 96 yards on 20 carries. That performance against the Bucs was good for the second-most rushing yards Morris had in a game all season.

Also against Tampa, Morris displayed the kind of competitive toughness that has made him one of the most consistent fantasy backs over the last 3 seasons. Click the vine video below.

Where he still wins in the NFL and on your fantasy team

One of Morris' best traits is his durability. Through three seasons, Morris has started every game. He has shown to be the rare example of a running back who can withstand the harsh punishment of hit after hit that often lead to so many injuries at the position. In fantasy football, a guy who shows up and punches the clock is a valuable commodity in terms of consistency.

You could argue Morris has achieved that durability because of his more recent choices when running the ball. In 2014, there were times when Morris could've plowed over a defender but instead chose to use lateral jukes instead. Now, Morris' agility has never been his strongest suit, and his burst and explosiveness have decreased very slightly but also noticeably over the last three seasons. While you rarely see him make defenders miss like say, LeSean McCoy, his ability to juke rather than try and run defenders over has helped him avoid the violent hits that take their toll on a running back over the years has served as key preserver to the running backs productive career early on.

A typical Alfred Morris run in 2012: Line up in read option, burst through the hole after making one lateral cut, run downhill three of four yards,  initiate contact with defender while still running forward behind pads and keeping legs churning, fall forward for another two or three yards.

A typical Alfred Morris run in 2014: Line up behind the quarterback in a half-pistol formation (typically what he ran with Kirk Cousins at quarterback), burst through the hole just a tad bit slower, shuffle feet more to make cutback instead of planting foot in the ground and cutting decisively, wait for blockers to set up before running 2-3 yards before laterally sliding around defender and falling forward for an extra yard.

While that analysis may indicate Morris has regressed a little bit, the bigger culprit isn't so much in his athleticism since he remains pretty well-off in that category. It's more so his lack of decisiveness in the hole that has hurt his production the most

That, combined with the injury woes to the Redskins at the quarterback position in addition to a young offensive line that had to play a backup tight end at times during the season plus a new coach in Jay Gruden and loss of running back guru Mike Shanahan and you got a few more ingredients to complement the slight dropoff recipe as well.

His benign role in the receiving game

Perhaps the biggest threat against Morris as a potential solid fantasy running back is his struggles in the receiving game. Morris had one of the worst drop rates in the league last season, as he failed to reel in 6 of his 26 targets. This led to the Redskins not trust him much as a receiver, and it hurt Morris' fantasy value on third down. Per Football Outsiders, Morris was only on the field for 58 percent of the snaps in 2014, which ranked him 18th among starting RBs. It hurt him the most on long passing downs, as Washington preferred the services of Roy Helu Jr.

Helu's tendency to stay on the field when the team was running their no huddle offense in hopes of trying to comeback from a deficit in the fourth quarter. It was a fate the Redskins found themselves in very often last season after winning just four games, and Morris' value suffered as he frequently came out during third downs and Roy Helu Jr. saw plenty of work in the passing game via the screen and on choice routes.

Overall, Morris compiled just 37 catches for 310 receiving yards and zero receiving touchdowns in three seasons as a starting running back. It's not the kind of numbers you want to see in a current NFL landscape that almost requires a running back be a good receiver out of the backfield. You have the feeling at any moment, a more talented receiving back like newly-acquired Matt Jones might overtake Morris at some point in 2015.

What 2015 has in store

There is optimism for Morris' fantasy owners in 2015, however. The Redskins are retooling their offensive line and spent a first-round pick on top right tackle Brandon Scherff. Scherff will likely be inserted into the starting lineup immediately and with pro bowler Trent Williams anchoring the other side, this could be a formidable unit as the season goes along. Williams is also in the final year of his rookie contract and will be looking for a pay day. Former third-round pick Spencer Long could also play a big role this season, as he's expected to play at right guard. 

New offensive line coach Bill Callahan wants to make the Redskins more of a power run team like he did with the Cowboys a season ago. This plays to Morris' strengths as a downhill runner. However, he'll have to become better at reading his blocks and more decisive in cutting up field if he wants to post another 1,000-yard season.

Final verdict

Morris is still an RB2, but he's an upper-tier RB2 with an offense that will try to rebuild its line and play more to Morris' strengths as a runner.

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The instant impact rookie running back. Seemingly every year, one or two rookies are gifted with an opportunity to see a significant workload at a certain point in the season. Some are scheduled to be their team's starter form the get go (think Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch in 2007) while others benefit from a stroke of luck due to an injury to the starting guy or the starting guy is struggling (Branden Oliver, Jeremy Hill in 2014).

As the NFL Draft nears, it's important to look at these situations so you can identify them and play them to your advantage. It's also important to look at past examples so you can hopefully spot a similar situation in the future.

What can the draft tell us about fantasy?

When it comes to identifying what round a player is more likely to have a higher probability of immediately producing at, it can vary by position. One obvious trend is that quarterbacks taken in Rounds 1-3 typically do better. Current top fantasy quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Ben Reothlisberger and Aaron Rodgers were all drafted in the first two rounds in their respective drafts.

When you look at the wide receiver position, DeMaryius Thomas was a first-rounder as was Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Jordy Nelson was a second-round pick in 2008. Top 2014 fantasy wideout Antonio Brown was one exception to the rule. Brown was selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.

Running backs are a different story

Even though there's been some late-round gems at the quarterback and wide receiver position, the running back position is place where you'll find perhaps the highest probability quality fantasy players. More frequently than you'd think, you'll find top fantasy running backs who were drafted in the later rounds or even went undrafted.

There's a lot of variables that play into running backs not getting drafted as high as they used to be, and we could list 1,000 more words telling you why that is, but for the sake of this argument lets just say the NFL is a copy cat league and selecting a running back later on is just the trend right now. Even the 2015 running back class, which is being hyped as the best in years, will still likely only draw two first rounders (Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon). So with a running back class as good as this one, which has many draftniks claiming it could be as good as 14 quality starters deep, it's important to look at how late-round running backs have come to the forefront in the past and made an impact on fantasy teams. Let's take a look at last year's impact fantasy running backs who were rookies.

Case study #1 — Branden Oliver, San Diego Chargers (undrafted)

Oliver was ranked in the Top 40 among fantasy backs in fantasy points in 2014, which wasn't bad for a 5'8 undrafted rookie out of SUNY Buffalo. Oliver got his chance when starter Ryan Mathews went down with an MCL sprain. Of course, nobody saw Oliver's start coming after Mathews was scheduled to sit out the following week. Everybody had Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown pegged as the backups most likely to benefit, myself included. It goes to show you — always look all the way down on the depth chart before picking somebody up off the waiver wire. You never know what can happen.

Well, a stroke of luck happened and Oliver took off against the New York Jets. After Brown went out with a concussion early on and with Mathews already sidelined, Oliver feasted on the weak Jets passing defense and caught four balls for 68 yards and 1 touchdown. He also rushed for over 100 yards and finished with 29 fantasy points. 

Watching that game, Oliver's ability in the passing game no doubt helped keep the defense and honest and led to him being more effective on the ground. Oliver also benefitted from Brown leaving the first half of that game with a concussion, which opened up the doors for him within the offense.

He didn't slow down afterward that game either. The Chargers leaned heavily on him the following week and Oliver made a nice second impression with a 101-yard effort against the Oakland Raiders and one touchdown. While those numbers were impressive, it's worth noting Oliver averaged just 3.9 yards a clip on 26 carries against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league, so it was no surprise that Oliver's production eventually dropped off.

While he turned out to be a nice addition off the waiver wire for a brief stretch, Oliver's fantasy value hit a snag after he ran into some tough defenses that started with a 36-yard performance against Denver on Thursday night. He tossed in six more equally ineffective games before finishing with 582 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns for the year, with half of his fantasy points coming in those two games against Oakland and New York.

Lessons learned

Oliver proved (at least in his rookie season) to be more of a scat, receiving type back. He's not a guy that can beat you with 20 carries per game. He's more of a Darren Sproles type player who will beat you out of the backfield. But in the right matchup against a weak passing defense, he proved he could produce for at least a few weeks.

One of the takeaways you can use from Oliver is to considers drafting backup running backs where the starter has an injury history. Now, this doesn't always work out. DeMarco Murray was injured almost every season but managed to finish 2014 without any major injuries to speak of. He did suffer a hand injury at one point, but it didn't slow him up much to create a ton of value for the backup running back on Dallas.

In the case of Oliver, starting RB Ryan Mathews also had a long injury history. So keep an eye out for running backs (especially the rookies in this draft) who get drafted to a team with a No. 1 back who is prone to sitting out games.

Next, always be keen on matchups. Oliver benefited from two easy defenses (New York Jets weak passing defense and Oakland's weak rushing defense) when he put up his best numbers.

Lastly, always make sure to scope out the entire depth chart of a team. Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown were the top backups but Oliver was also on the depth chart as well.

View Nathan Rupert's Flickr page here.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Friday, 10 April 2015 00:00

Prospect: RB David Cobb

Gopher it Gopher it.

That's what you should be saying to yourself when you peer into your dynasty draftboard during the later rounds and realize Minnesota product David Cobb is still available.

His journey up until this point

Aside from Melvin Gordon and Jay Ajayi, no running back had more carries (314) than Cobb did in 2014. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in a run heavy offense that allowed him to maximize his stats and finish 11th overall in rushing yards.

One of the biggest knocks on David Cobb throughout the draft process has been his speed. He ran a 4.81 40-yard dash at the combine, which ranked 4th worst among more than 30 running backs who participated. He injured his quad during the run, which likely played a role in the slow time.  Since then, Cobb recently clocked in at 4.65 and 4.70 at his pro day earlier this week. Slightly better than last, but don't let the slow 40 times fool you, there are reasons to believe this won't hinder him too much from being a relevant fantasy back in the future.

Even going back to the history of running backs and 40 times, a 4.4 40 hasn't always been the best indicator of fantasy success. Le'Veon Bell, who ranked second overall among running backs in fantasy points last season, ran a 4.6 40. C.J. Anderson, one of the hottest fantasy running backs of the year down the stretch in Denver, ran a 4.6 as well. At 5'8, 224 lbs, Anderson is similar to Cobb in size but oddly enough his college stats were very similar to Bell's senior season.

Back when he was at Michigan State as a senior in 2012, Bell ran for 1763 yards and 13 touchdowns on 382 attempts (4.7 yards per carry). Cobb ran for 13 touchdowns and 1626 yards on 314 carries (5.2 yards per carry). Both running backs were a huge part of their team's offense, and both displayed similar tendencies in yardage, yards per carry and touchdowns. Both running backs have also shown the ability to catch the football, as Bell ranked No. 1 among PPR running backs in 2014. Cobb, who obviously hasn't shown this ability at the pro level yet, is a capable receiver and we'll talk about his catching ability later in this article. But first...

His running style

A few things to take note of when you watch Cobb run. For one, he makes up for his lack of explosiveness with a decisive running style that allows him to create 4 or 5 yards of positive yardage quickly. He uses his size to his advantage, running through small gaps without slowing his feet for a millisecond. And that's perhaps the best trait Cobb possesses — he's a very fluid runner. He doesn't stop on a dime to

After that, it's just a matter of the offensive line giving him enough room down field and/or Cobb making one guy miss. Cobb doesn't rely on violent jukes to shake defenders, instead preferring quick lateral cuts that are effective at breaking tackles without slowing his feet down.

Now, Cobb is not the kind of running back that's going to break enough tackles to run for long touchdowns especially at the NFL level. But he possesses the kind of vision and purposeful north-and-south running style that allows him a certain reliability. He

A 5'11 senior, Cobb runs compact and can get slippery in tight spaces, a skill most running backs of bigger size can't replicate. He also keeps his feet moving after contact which allows him fall forward for a few extra yards more often than not. You rarely see Cobb get jacked backwards due to his low center of gravity.

Because of his compact size and aggressive running ability, you rarely see Cobb get pushed backward, get off balance or look indecisive, three traits that can often make a difference between a short gain and a big loss at the NFL level. Below you'll see a clip on how Cobb against Mizzou during the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Notice how quickly he gets up the field and how his compact frame allows him to stay upright after contact before falling forward for an extra few yards.

His other positive traits

Much like Le'Veon Bell, Cobb has an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Watch this play where Cobb lays out for a pass. Even though the catch didn't count since he was out of bounds, it was still a good example of his athleticism and hand-eye coordination.

 

Where he works best

Cobb would be very valuable in a pass-oriented offense that employs a committee-style running approach. It's unlikely he's ever a feature back (very few running backs these days are anyway) but he can definitely provide value as a PPR running back in offenses that have an elite quarterback. He's also proven to be durable which is a valuable trait at an injury-prone position. Cobb should be taken in dynasty drafts in the mid rounds which is the spot where he will offer the most value.

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You guys remember Ryan Mathews back in 2010? He was actually considered a Top 10 fantasy running back before he even saw a single snap in the NFL. Fresh out of Fresno State, Mathews (who was in his early 20s at the time) stepped into a situation where Hall of Fame running back Ladainian Tomlinson went ring chasing with the New York Jets. Fellow Chargers backup running back Darren Sproles remained with the team, but was still relegated to the role of receiving back and was never considered to be a real replacement for Mathews. So everything looked lined up for fantasy production right off the bat for the rookie.

Flashback to 2010

Due to his situation, Mathews had a rare opportunity to start off his NFL career as an RB1. It seems silly now considering Mathews was outrushed by the likes of Mike Tolbert during his rookie season. Tolbert finished 2010 with a team-high 735 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns. Mathews was much less impressive but still managed to rush for seven touchdowns and 678 yards (4.3 yards per carry).

One of the reasons Mathews ended up being a bust in his rookie season was his light workload. Even though then coach Norv Turner indicated he planned to run Mathews 20-25 times per game, that proved to not be the case in the early stages of 2010. Turner once again fell in love with Philip Rivers and the vertical passing offense, as the Chargers ranked second in the league in passing yards. This style of offense curbed Mathews' upside. Though he did rush 20 times for 79 yards in his first career game, he didn't carry the ball more than 9 times in the next three games. The coaching staff never fully trusted him to carry the offense and it resulted in passive numbers on a week to week basis.

Mathews average draft position in fantasy leagues for his rookie season was 14th overall in 2010. He was drafted ahead of players like Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Tom Brady. Sure, most of those players are quarterbacks and wide receivers and we all know running backs are the most valuable but Mathews was still highly regarded considering he never took a snap in the NFL before that season.

The situation in San Diego served as the main reason Mathews was drafted as high as he was. But ultimately, the Turner style of offense just didn't fit him.

What we have in 2015

With Mathews now departed for Philadelphia, the Chargers now have a backfield very similar to what they had when Tomlinson left in 2010. They have a scat back in Branden Oliver, who led the team in rushing yards with 562 but averaged a very benign 3.6 yards per carry and was largely shutdown by almost every good run defense down the stretch last year and was even held in check by below average defenses like Oakland and Jacksonville as well. I think it's fair to say it's unlikely Oliver morphs into a starting running back over the offseason and will likely remain a change of pace back going forward.

They also have Donald Brown, a running back who the Chargers insist will be back in 2015. Brown struggled mightily in 2014, rushing for just 223 yards on 85 carries (2.62 yards per carry) through 13 games. Brown's best season was in 2010 with the Colts when he rushed for 537 yards and six touchdowns. He hasn't had more than 134 carries in a single season and isn't likely to take over as the top back either. 

The last guy San Diego has is Danny Woodhead, a back who suffered a nasty injury last season where he fractured his fibula and ankle early in 2014 but will likely return this season. Woodhead played in just three games and finished with just 38 yards rushing.

However, Woodhead probably has the most fantasy value due to his 2013 season. Woodhead compiled a very solid 76 catches on 86 targets for 605 yards and six touchdowns.

Offensive line improvements

The Chargers were one of the worst run offenses in the league last year, ranking among the bottom in teams according to Pro Football focus. They went out and tried to remedy this problem during free agency, signing Orlando Franklin for five years and $36.5 million with $20 million of that guaranteed. Franklin helped running backs like Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson compile very good fantasy numbers during his four-year stint with Denver.

Draft picks

In the upcoming draft, the Chargers are picking at No. 17 overall, a spot that would perfect to grab one of the top running backs in this draft. If they opt to go for a guy like Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, there's no way you can't immediately put them on the same level as Mathews was in 2010.

Overall, the Chargers present possibly one of the best fantasy situations for running backs in 2015 and are a team you must monitor in the offseason if you need a running back either on your dynasty team or if you're drafting one in a redraft league. If you want more information on Todd Gurley, check out Josh Mensch's prospect piece.

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Published in Fantasy Coverage

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Breathe a sigh of relief. Go out and enjoy some of the incoming spring weather for a second. The biggest wave of free agency has likely passed us. With most of the big time players like Ndamukong Suh, DeMarco Murray and Brandon Marshall now signed with new teams, it's time to let the dust clear and really look at how some of the players might be used and what their fantasy value could be in 2015. For this article, we will focus on the newest running back tandem in the league, Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray in Philadelphia.

How they got there

The Eagles first hinted they were looking for a new running back when they traded away LeSean McCoy last week to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso. The move shaved $11 million off the salary cap for Philly, but left some wondering what the Eagles were thinking. After all, McCoy won the rushing title just two seasons ago in 2013, plus there wasn't exactly a huge free agency market for running backs. The immediate thought was the Eagles planned to grab a running back through the draft which features a talented crop of RBs this season.

But of course, that wasn't the case. They signed DeMarco Murray to a five-year, $42 million with $12 million guaranteed just a week later. At the same time Murray entered the picture, the Eagles were also in the midst of signing former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, who they eventually inked for three years and $11 million. Financially, it makes sense. McCoy was due more than $9 million in 2015 and would've saddled the Eagles with a $10 million cap hit roughly. Now, the Eagles have both Murray and Mathews for just a $7.5 million cap hit. Overall, it's two running backs, Alonso and cornerback Walter Thurmond for the price of what McCoy would've cost. Not a bad tradeoff. Another nice thing about the trade — both running backs are in the prime of their careers and have rushed for over 1,000 yards in multiple seasons. On paper, it's a worthwhile endeavor, but who knows if it'll translate to more wins on the field.

The Mathews deal looked more like Chip simply getting a potentially good running back at a bargain price, while the Murray deal cemented the former Cowboy as the newest franchise running back of the Philadelphia Eagles. But how will it all translate from a fantasy perspective.

The carry breakdown

The Eagles have become a more run-oriented team since Chip arrived in 2013. In the past two seasons, the Eagles ranked in the top 5 in total rushing attempts and have seen one of their guys win a rushing title (LeSean McCoy in 2013.) While McCoy was a true feature back, seeing the majority of carries compared to then-backups Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, it's looking like there could be more of a committee style attack in 2015 with Murray still assuming the majority of the carries.

Last season, there were 415 rushing attempts by running backs in the Philadelphia offense. Murray ran the ball a league-leading 392 times in 2013, a workload that dwarfed any other running back by 100 carries. Even though Murray ended up winning the rushing title with more than 1,800 yards, it's safe to say Philadelphia likely won't run him as hard as Dallas did. Murray slowed down as the season went along, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry in two of the Cowboys' last four games.

Assuming both Murray and Mathews are healthy, Murray is the obvious choice for the majority of the carries. While some may be wondering whether or not Mathews will still have fantasy appeal, the answer is a little cloudy but still important to know in case you plan on drafting him in redraft leagues. Mathews will have RB2/flex appeal in 2015. He might have hot and cold weeks, but some weeks he'll rush for 60 yards and a touchdown and that's still worth 12 fantasy points in most leagues. Other weeks, Murray will take over. But the track record for running backs coming off a season where they carried the ball as much as Murray did hasn't favored the running back. Going back to guys like Larry Johnson, who carried the ball over 400 times in one season, it's safe to say you're not going to get the same kind of fantasy production from Murray that you did last season.

One thing you have to remember with running backs is matchups also play a huge role. Take last year for example. Darren Sproles got off to a hot start in 2014. He rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against a lowly Jacksonville team. LeSean McCoy, on the other hand, ran for 74 yards on 21 carries. McCoy had more carries, but Sproles ended up having a slightly better fantasy day. This gave him confidence to slay the Colts in Week 2 on Monday Night. In that game, Sproles caught seven passes for 152 yards, giving those who started him in fantasy plenty of production.

You will want to keep an eye on who the Eagles play in Week 1. If they play a run defense that looks like it could be below average, Mathews is an obvious flex start in the offense. Now, he could fall flat on his face in Week 1 and not produce at all, at least then you'll know what kind of player you're dealing with this season, and can remain hesitant to start him in the coming weeks.

But overall, Mathews is a player that has to be drafted in 12-to-14 team leagues this season. He's still a talented running back in a run oriented offense. Plus, Murray always comes with a 'handle with care' sticker and could find himself on the injured reserve list at some point during the season. But even if Murray stays healthy, Mathews will likely see touches on the field and if he has the hot hand, then he'll be the one getting you 10-12 fantasy points that particular week.

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Thursday, 29 January 2015 00:00

What happened in 2014: Le'Veon Bell

A bishop can't ever morph into a king, right?

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell certainly didn't enter the 2014 NFL season surrounded by the kind of hype typically reserved for the Adrian Peterson's, LeSean McCoy's and Jamaal Charles's. Despite that, Bell defied his ADP and crystallized his talent with profound rushing numbers and even sprinkled in some Jamaal Charles-esuqe performances few people knew he could pull off.

Bell finished with a career-best 1.361 rushing yards to go along with eight rushing touchdowns in 2014. Even more impressive was his evolution as a receiver. He caught 83 passes for 854 yards and three touchdowns. In total, he had 11 touchdowns and 2,215 yards from scrimmage, trailing only DeMarco Murray who finished with 2,261.

One consistent season

Bell began 2014 with a 100-yard game against the Cleveland Browns, a game the Steelers had to eke out 30-27 after starting off with a gigantic lead early in the game. Bell ended up with 109 yards on 21 rushes (5.2 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He also added six catches for 88 yards, a feat that would become more and more consistent as the season went along.

In the following game against Baltimore on one of those ever-so-weird Thursday night games, Bell's fantasy value suffered from game flow as the Baltimore Ravens out-possessed Pittsburgh 35:08 to 24:52, which limited Bell to only 11 carries. He still averaged 5.9 yards per carry and five catches for 48 yards though, which is probably the best indicator that you have a stud fantasy running back on your hands.

Bell never had a fantasy performance lower than six points, and finished with at least 10 points in 14-of-16 games. He peaked in Week 14 against Cincinnati where he totaled 41 fantasy points in standard leagues on 21 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns to go along with six catches for 50 yards and one touchdown.

What he does

When you watch Bell on tape, he doesn't really do anything mind boggling. He's exceptional at keeping his feet moving laterally while he waits for the offensive line to develop their blocks, then he explodes through the hole with the kind of purpose that often makes the difference between a 3.5 yards per carry back and a 4.0 guy.

Although he rattled off runs of 81 and 53 yards in 2014, Bell's breakaway speed isn't exactly his calling as a runner. Instead, it's his ability to break tackles and eat up extra yardage by falling forward that makes him such a valuable asset to the offense and fantasy teams. He has a relentless style and the Steelers really committed to him especially down the stretch against below average run defenses. This was evident as the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked No. 1 in stuffed rate in 2014 according to Football Outsiders, meaning they had the fewer rushing plays go for negative yardage than any other team in the league.

After former teammate LaGarrette Blount was cut in Week 11, Pittsburgh started to lean on Bell even more heavily than they had all season. In four of the last five games, Bell rushed for carry totals of 21, 26, 20 and 20. His 290 carries ranked third in the league behind only LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray. Just a year earlier, Bell carried the ball just 244 times during his rookie season. Obviously, his high volume of carries in 2014 had a lot to do with his success throughout the season and the Steelers coaching staff's continued decisions to give him the ball as much as possible, but the offensive line of the Steelers also played a big role.

Pittsburgh's offensive line was among the best in 2014. They ranked sixth overall in run blocking and rarely allowed a play of negative yardage. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey led the charge.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Saturday, 13 December 2014 00:00

Week 15 bullet points for RBs

Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.

The playoffs, we know they're here. We know what you need. So here are our bullet points for RBs this week.

Starts of this week

Jamaal Charles vs. Oakland, Matt Forte vs. New Orleans, Le'Veon Bell at Atlanta — #1, #2, and #3 in weekly rankings

It was really difficult to pick any of these guys for the top start, so we figured just go with all three. If you're lucky enough to have snagged two of them in your draft, you're sitting on a gold mine in Week 15. The only thing you have to worry about is Charles, who is a bit banged up with an ankle injury he suffered last week. Still, Andy Reid expects Charles to be a full go for Week 15.

When it comes to Forte, the New Orleans Saints have allowed 15 rushing touchdowns this season, which is tied for second worst in the league behind Atlanta. They allow a third-worst 21.5 points to fantasy running backs and are also in the bottom 10 against receivers, which is good for Forte as well considering he's a PPR dreamboat. Sorry....got a little carried away there.

Forte has dropped off a bit over the last two games so you may be a little concerned heading into Week 15. He averaged just 2.0 yards per carry against a suspect Dallas defense and understandably struggled against the best run defense in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Still, when he isn't feeding you the steak in the run game, he's supplementing it with some mean potatoes in the passing game. With 25 receptions over his last four games, you can count on Forte to continue to catch at least five passes per game and add 40-80 receiving yards on top of it. Even better, a 10-12 catch games is the ceiling for this guy, which is a skill sket you just can't get out of any fantasy running back.

As for Bell, you already know he's morphed into a superstar this season. He's coming off his best fantasy performance of the year against Cincinnati, where he totaled over 230 yards and three touchdowns combined rushing and receiving. His soft schedule has helped him out there's no question, not unlike LeSean McCoy's schedule down the stretch helped him win the rushing title last season. Bell will be going against an Atlanta defense that gives up the most fantasy points in the league to running backs (22.3 per game). The Falcons also allow the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (17) and also allow 122 yards per game. 

Good starts

Mark Ingram at Chicago — #11 in weekly rankings

Da......Bears da Bears da Bears da Bears...have struggled on defense this season. They allowed Lions running back Joique Bell to rattle off a season-high 91 yards on Thanksgiving. They also allowed 196 yards and two touchdowns to Dallas over a week before. Ingram is coming off a dud game against Carolina and the Saints offense has been inconsistent throughout the year, but the trend with Ingram has consisted of one bad game followed by one good game. There's no reason he can't produce well in the flex spot this week. Roll with him.

Isaiah Crowell at Cincinnati — #17 in weekly rankings

Crowell is among our favorite waiver pickups and also among are favorite most frustrating start or sit options for 2014 (aside from maybe Kenny Stills). Crowell rewarded those who started him with 11 fantasy points last week and while Terrance West may see more carries than he did a week before, Crowell remains the most talented of the bunch with his 4.4 yards per carry average to go along with eight touchdowns. The Bengals are fourth worst against running backs, allowing 21.2 points per game.

Le'Veon Bell just gashed them for nearly 200 yards rushing and you have to figure with rookie Johnny Manziel starting today, the Browns may go run heavy if he struggles. Expect Crowell to see anywhere between 15-17 carries and come close to 100 yards and a touchdown today. Start him with confidence.

View Erik Drost's Flickr page here.

Published in Fantasy Coverage

If you were lucky enough to make the fantasy playoffs in your league this season, chances are your lineup is already set. It's easy to know which guys to start for Week 14 right? You simply go with the guys that got you there. Your QB1, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, TE, DEF are all ready to go.

This idea of sticking with your studs is a philosophy we will endorse to the death. Advanced fantasy football people don't think twice about it, while beginners may get too cute and bench somebody because of a bad matchup or just a bad gut feeling. Word to the wise, your best players are matchup proof, so start them.

But even though your studs are set in stone, there are last-second tweaks that you can make to your flex spot that can often make the difference between a good week and a great one. Since flex players often aren't the most electric guys, their chances of success boil down to favorable matchups and a good situation. If you can find the right guy in the right matchup who's peaking at the right time, you can really give yourself an edge over an opponent that's probably just a good as you are because he's in the playoffs as well.

Here are five running backs who we would trust as flex options for your first playoff matchup in Week 14.

Carlos Hyde (owned in 36% of leagues) @ Oakland

Hyde has been one of the top fantasy handcuffs all season. He doesn't get a whole lot of opportunities but when he does, he runs hard and usually sees touches around the goal line. The 49ers have a good matchup against a Raiders team that's given up the most fantasy points to running backs (22 points per game) this season. It's likely the 49ers utilize Hyde and Frank Gore as a one-two punch and Hyde sees some production as a result.

Over the past three games, Hyde has recorded carry averages of 9, 7, and 5, respectively. He hasn't rushed for many yards in those games, but he has scored a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints, a bottom-five team in fantasy points allowed to running backs (20.4 points per game) on average. It's likely the Raiders could allow a similar result.

If you really don't know who to start in the flex spot and don't want to leave things up to a boom-or-bust receiver, Hyde is a good bet to give you some kind of production because of the matchup. San Francisco also ranks 8th in the league in rushing attempts (347), so the opportunities should be there for Hyde.

Jonathan Stewart (owned in 27% of leagues) @ New Orleans Saints

For the same reasons as we just mentioned for Hyde, Stewart could also benefit from a good matchup against the New Orleans Saints. With DeAngelo Williams likely out with a hand injury, Stewart steps in as the best running back option on a Panthers team in desperate need of offensive firepower.

Last week against Minnesota, Stewart averaged 7.1 yards per carry on his way to 85 yards on 12 attempts. It was Stewart's best game in over a month.

When it comes to the New Orleans Saints' defense, they've allowed 95 yards from Le'Veon Bell, 182 yards from Justin Forsett and 152 yards from Jeremy Hill over the last three weeks. Their defense hasn't shown any signs of improvement so expect the Panthers to go at them with the run game.

Isaiah Crowell (owned in 67% of leagues) vs. Indianapolis

Ok, so it's unlikely you'll snag the Crow off the waiver wire this week as he's owned in the majority of leagues. This advice is more for the people who already have him and are wondering if they should start him in this week. Well, we didn't like Crowell last week against Buffalo and we were vindicated, as he ended up rushing for just 29 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per carry) against a tough Buffalo run defense that swarmed him on nearly every play. It was like watching a guy repeatedly run into a brick wall at times.

But the key number in Crowell's stats is '17.' Crowell's 17 carries are a good indicator that the Browns will continue to run the ball even if the end result isn't positive yardage. They still used him around the goal line plenty as well, so a touchdown could be play. The Browns were also trailing in that game throughout and still committed to the run game, which is a good sign gameflow won't affect Crowell's numbers. Also, fellow rookie Terrance West gave up a costly fumble which could limit his workload going forward.

As for the matchup, the Colts rank in the bottom five against running backs (19.9 points per game) and their offense hasn't taken good care of the ball all season long. Newly starting running back Dan 'Boom' Herron's has had issues with fumbles early on and quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown at least one interception in eight games this season. Add in the fact that the Browns have at least one takeaway in 8 straight games and this could be a game where we see Cleveland get a chance to turn mistakes into points.

Andre Williams (owned in 40% of leagues) @ Tennessee

Starter Rashad Jennings injured his ankle last week against Jacksonville but the injury is not considered to be serious. Even if Jennings is healthy, Williams is likely going to see some carries against a Titans team that ranks second worst in the league against running backs (21.8 fantasy points allowed per game).

Williams has not been very effective in his rookie year, as he's averaging just 2.9 yards per carry this season. Still, he's received a respectable 134 carries in 12 games. The Giants like to mix it up in the run game and Williams has the right matchup to at least snipe a touchdown and rush for 40-60 yards, making him a candidate for a solid 12-15 point game which is a great number for a flex spot.

LeGarrette Blount (owned in 63% of leagues) @ San Diego

Blount received the bulk of the workload against Green Bay with 10 carries and should be the Patriots No. 1 running back with Jonas Gray in the doghouse. San Diego has been OK against the run (15th overall) but they still surrendered over 100 yards to Justin Forsett last week and also gave up over 100 total rushing yards to both Miami and St. Louis.

It's likely Blount sees around 12-15 carries, rushes for 70 yards and scores a touchdown. You just have to take the risk that Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden won't snipe one here or there. Even if they do, there's no reason to expect Blount to not see the majority of the carries in Week 14.

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Published in Fantasy Coverage
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We believe Fantasy Football success comes down to two things — opportunity and talent. You will have Fantasy Football mastered once you understand how good a player is and how good of an opportunity he has to gain yards and score touchdowns. The thing is, you'll never master Fantasy Football. But you can get pretty darn good at it when you have even a slightly better understanding of opportunity and talent than the average Joe. That's what Fantasy Football Helpers is dedicated to doing.

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