Running Back Brutality
If you’ve paid any attention to the fantasy production of NFL running backs, you’ll know it’s been a rough few weeks. Whether it’s injuries, committees, or underperforming, the running back position proves to be the most volatile position in Daily Fantasy Football.
The argument that injuries are a part of the game and subsequently, Daily Fantasy, is correct; however, the situation is far worse than anything we’ve seen in recent years. After just four weeks, the following running backs have been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season: Adrian Peterson, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Oliver, along with twelve others. At the end of the 2015 season, a total of thirty-nine running backs were placed on injured reserve. This means we are almost halfway to matching that number at only four weeks into the season.
Now, lets include every running back who has missed at least one game this season thus far: Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Langford, Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Ryan Matthews and Thomas Rawls. This means that over one-third of NFL franchises have been severely impacted by the injury bug, thus, so are Daily Fantasy players. Yes, I’m well aware that Le’Veon has missed three games due to suspension, not injury.
Onto the bane of Daily Fantasy players everywhere, running back committees. In some cases I would argue this is far worse than an injury. At least an injury completely eliminates a potential ball carrier. The trade-off is that the next man up is often less talented or experienced. With a running back committee, touches can be distributed seemingly at random, with no real explanation or pattern.
The following teams unfortunately subscribe to the running back by committee philosophy: Oakland, Atlanta, Detroit, Carolina, Philadelphia and Kansas City. The situation could improve if Jonathan Stewart, Ryan Matthews, and Jamaal Charles return healthy. But for the moment, stay away from Latavius Murray. Don’t be fooled into thinking he’s a viable Daily Fantasy running back. His touches have steadily decreased since week one of this season.
The only saving grace to Murray’s production is that he has managed to score a touchdown in three of the first four games. If Oakland is a do not enter sign, then Atlanta is a flashing yellow: proceed with caution. Outside of the Steelers, the Falcons have the two most talented running backs on any team in the league. So, there is reason to play Freeman or Coleman, but only if the price is right.
I believe Coleman is the play moving forward. Not only does he have twice as many touchdowns as his counterpart, but also has played a larger role in the passing game thus far. If you’re looking for a value play in your second running back spot, Coleman is decent, but against a stout Broncos D this week, Frank Gore and Terrence West will prove to be the better options.
I would love to write about how I completely understand the usage of the Philadelphia running backs in the absence of Ryan Matthews, but I have no clue. Darren Sproles, Kenton Barner and Wendell, freaking, Smallwood, all managed to find the end zone and all had a minimum of eight touches. Maybe Matthews will return this week, or one of these running backs will emerge as the leader of this trio versus an anemic Lions defense this Sunday.
Possibly the most frustrating aspect of Daily Fantasy Football: underperforming. Whether it’s negative game flow that takes your running back out of the game plan, or John Kuhn stealing touchdowns from Mark Ingram, no one is immune from a classic dud. Trust me, I paid top dollar for David Johnson against my former franchise, and almost on cue, he had his worst fantasy outing of the year. There isn’t a concrete way to avoid a dud, but here are the running backs that are least likely to burn out this week.
1. DeMarco Murray: Fanduel Price $8,400
- The Titans have clearly established themselves as a run first team
- Murray is currently averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 16.5 attempts per game and in his most recent outing had 25 carries
- Murray has played an unexpectedly high role in the passing game, catching 19 of his 21 targets, meaning these are not catches of high difficulty. Rather, they are designed screens or check downs
- The Titans square off against the 29th ranked rush defense this weekend in Miami
2. Melvin Gordon: Fanduel Price $7,700
- Gordon has remained a staple in the Chargers offense regardless of game flow, which is rare, so if Sunday’s matchup against the Raiders turns into a shoot-out you won’t have to worry
- Gordon is literally the only viable back on that roster since the departure of Danny Woodhead due to injury
- Like Murray, Gordon has caught almost all (13) of his 17 targets, so his involvement in the pass game will remain consistent
- Gordon is playing against the absolutely awful Raiders run defense, who allowed over 100 yards and a touchdown to Terrence West in his first start this year
3. Terrence West: Fanduel Price $6,400
- Justin Forsett was a healthy scratch this past Sunday, so you don’t need to worry about another running back detracting from West’s production
- As stated earlier, West had a productive first start, getting over 20 carries and averaging over 5 yards per carry
- If you’re still reading, you might notice that I like running backs playing against bad run defenses, so this play should not come as a surprise because West is set to run through the 30th ranked Washington defense
- West is by far the riskiest of these options, but his price tag is too attractive to pass up this week given his favorable matchup
4. LeGarrette Blount: Fanduel Price $7,500
- Brady is back…Blount will no doubt benefit from the return of a legitimate passing attack, and will not continually see eight or nine man fronts
- New England is being favored by ten points; such a large spread usually indicates a positive game flow for the running back of the favorite
- Blount is averaging over 20 carries per game, even with this past Sunday’s unusually low carry amount of 13
- Like West, Blount’s value is too good this week, given his matchup against the 24th ranked Browns run defense, and Brady’s return
5. Le’Veon Bell: Fanduel Price $8,600
- One of the most talented running backs on the most explosive offense in the NFL, yes, just yes
- Bell’s usage on Sunday night was unique in that he had five catches on six targets, most of which occurred when he lined up at wide receiver
- Bell was able to eclipse the 100 yard mark, including an explosive run for 44 yards down to the goal line, which was then vultured by DeAngelo Williams
- His price tag and matchup against the 3rd ranked Jets run defense makes him too rich for my blood this week, but I would not be shocked if he had a 25 five plus point game
If you’re looking to lock yourself in a room and comb through a seemingly endless amount of statistics I would recommend these sites, which I also used for the content of this article.