The Tortoise and the Hare: Running Backs
Last Week I wrote an article about Slow Start WRs, assessing if they would pick it up or continue to disappoint. This week I am back with a similar article on the RB position. In a slightly altered Part 2, I will discuss slow start RBs and whether or not they will pick up their production (tortoises) and I will also discuss RBs who have started off hot, and whether or not they will continue their production (hares).
Lamar Miller -
Stats: Rushing: 101 carries for 371 yards (3.7 YPC) and 0 TDs
Receiving: 14 catches for 82 yards receiving and 0 TDS
Lamar Miller has been frustrating for fantasy owners this season so far and it is easy to understand why. Miller has been the “holy grail” of volume, ranking 2nd in the league among all NFL RBs with 115 touches through 5 games. The trouble is that he has failed to produce the numbers that one would expect with that plethora of opportunity. He has only posted one 100-yard rushing game and hasn’t gotten in the end zone yet (he has set a record for most RB touches without a TD and that is still live). Lamar is not and has never been a true home-run hitter and the main trouble lies with the Texans’ failure to get him in close, as he has only had 9 rushing attempts inside the red zone – good for 24th among NFL running backs (IR-native Shane Vereen has 12!). For comparison, LeGarrette Blount, who owns a comparable rushing line of 105 rushes for 352 yards, has 40 such attempts and that is a large part of why he has 5 touchdowns this year while Miller has zero. Osweiler and the rest of the offense are failing Miller to a fault. According to Football Outsiders
, The Texans’ offensive line ranks 18th in the league in aiding their running back to gain additional yards and also ranks a putrid 31st in the Open Field Yards category, which quantifies the number of yards that are earned on carries of 10 or more yards. This has to change for Miller to start returning his first round value.Will He Pick It Up?Yes.
Aside from a Week 7 date with the nasty Denver D, Lamar Miller has an extremely appealing schedule as the season wears on and that starts this week when Miller & Co. will be facing off against the Colts’ rushing D that is ranked 30th in the league in allowing fantasy points to opposing RBs and just allowed Jordan Howard to post 25+ points on them in PPR (and that was without a TD). After the Denver game in Week 8, Miller will face Detroit, Jacksonville, Oakland, and San Diego in consecutive weeks, who are ranked 13th, 17th, 24th, and 31st respectively in allowing fantasy points to running backs. The Texans have shown that they are fully committed to Miller with his workload so far and he is ranked 4th among RBs in snaps behind DJ, Lesean McCoy, and Demarco Murray. He should continue to be the focal point of this offense and they will lean on him while Brock Osweiler makes the Broncos look smart for letting him go. He’s been downright awful and that has evidently hurt Miller. I am more confident about his turn around than anyone else on this list. Look for a breakout game this weekend on SNF at home.
Latavius Murray -
Rushing: 40 carries for 172 yards (4.3 YPC) and 3 TDs
Receiving: 10 catches for 63 yards receiving and 0 TDs
Latavius Murray is the “vanilla ice cream” of NFL running backs. He’s alright, but he isn’t really anything to write home about either. Through 4 games played this season, Latavius is ranked 25th among RBs in total points (PPR), which is not atrocious by any means, but falls well short of what was expected of him by those who drafted him in the 4th and 5th rounds this year. Even as the outright starter in Week 1, Murray saw only 62% of the snaps and has seen that number dwindle to 48% of snaps in both Weeks 2 & 3 before getting a slight uptick in Week 4 with 57% (misleading because Murray only rushed 8 times in that game). His reduced playing time has translated into reduced usage as his touch totals have gone down each week as well from 15 in Week 1 to 14, 11 and 10 respectively. This is extremely alarming to anyone who planned on starting him season-long. His one bright spot has been his ability to score, punching in 3 TDS from 6 yards, 1 yard, and 22 yards out respectively. His ability to keep that trend going is seriously dented by the other RBs on the Raiders roster and their superior play. Oakland’s line has been excellent so far, ranking 2nd in Open Field yards produced, 3rd in Second Level yards produced, and have totaled the 7th fewest plays where the ball carrier has been stopped at or behind the line. One can surmise from these stats that the issue lies with Murray himself rather than his supporting cast.
Will He Pick It Up?
No. The Raiders are obviously not just choosing to abandon the run but are rather looking to other options in the backfield, which have been way more efficient that Murray. Texas Tech rookie, DeAndre Washington, has seen an increased roll in an inverse relationship to Murray’s usage and has averaged 5.3 YPC on his 32 attempts for 170 yards and has added 11 catches for 62 yards. The same is true for Southern Mississippi rookie, Jalen Richard, who has averaged a mammoth 7 YPC on 25 rushes for 175 yards with 1 TD and has also been effective in the passing game with 11 catches for 105 yards to boot. Adding salt to the wound of Murray’s owners is a 4th piece to this RBBC mess in Jamize Olawale, who has “vultured” 2 touchdowns so far and appears to be the guy that the Raiders look to when they are inside the 5-yard line. As if all of the above wasn’t enough to dissuade you from buying in, Latavius suffered a turf toe injury sometime during his Week 4 contest and his status is shrouded in mystery. He missed Week 5 and will most likely miss Week 6, and possibly beyond as turf toe injuries are no joke. Latavius Murray showed last year that he is an entirely volume dependent back, needing 266 carries to gain 1,066 yards (4 YPC). Simply put, Latavius does not have that volume this year and that is bad news for him and his owners.
Eddie Lacy -
Stats: Rushing - 54 carries for 295 yards (5.5 YPC) and 0 TDs Receiving - 3 catches for 22 yards receiving and 0 TDS
Eddie Lacy has by no means been a poor NFL running back this season, taking tacklers for a ride on a consistent basis on his way to a top 3 YPC number of 5.5 through 4 games played. The true trouble with Lacy is his lack of scoring this year and that has a lot to do with the way the Packers are using him. Through 4 games, Eddie Lacy has had 15 rushing attempts from inside the red zone which ranks
17th in the league among his peers. For comparison, the league leader through Week 5, Melvin Gordon, has 44 such attempts and has produced 7 TDs of his own. In addition to his rarity of appearance where it counts, Lacy’s problem is that he is not involved in the team’s passing game so he does not have that crutch to prop him up. This isn’t a mystery for the fantasy world to figure out, Lacy simply is not being used properly and until Mike McCarthy and the Packers’ coaching staff decides differently, his fantasy outlook will stay the same. Owners should feel comforted by the fact that Lacy has reached 80+ yards in his last two games and has done so on only 28 total attempts with a beast-like 6.5 YPC. Will He Pick It Up?Yes.
Lacy suffered an ankle injury in Week 5 and left the game and did not return. As of the moment I am writing this, he has practiced on a limited basis and it appears he will play this Sunday. Speaking long term, lack of attempts in the red zone for a back like Lacy usually spells fantasy frustration. In my opinion, he has been a victim of gross misuse of an excellent red zone weapon. I know the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and, at times, an elite passing attack but I think they could benefit greatly from using Lacy more in scoring situations. My feelings are that, as the season wears on, the weather will get colder and the coaches will get wiser to the fact that Lacy should be fed in scoring situations more often, if for nothing else but to keep the defense guessing and possibly making the game easier on Rodgers. In 2015 during Weeks 1-8, Lacy had 83 carries but in Weeks 9-17 he had 104 attempts, showing a positive correction in workload. I expect the same to happen this year.
Todd Gurley -
Rushing: 105 carries for 288 yards (2.7 YPC) and 3 TDs
Receiving: 11 catches for 94 yards receiving and 0 TDS
2.7 YPC sticks out like a sore thumb when you take a look at Todd Gurley’s 2016 campaign, one in which his owners likely drafted him as a top 5 pick. Gurley’s best yardage game came in Week 3 against Tampa where he managed 85 yards on 27 carries (3.1 YPC), but he has failed to reach 75+ yards in each of his 4 other games. The scariest stat that one can find on Gurley is that he ranks dead last in ratio of carries of 5 or more yards with only 19.1 percent of his carries reaching that benchmark. Still, Gurley has softened the blow of his back-end, mediocre production with 3 TDS. However, 2 of those scores came in the same game (Week 3 @ Tampa) so on a week-to-week basis, Gurley is largely failing his owners. Owners should take comfort in the fact that Gurley is being force-fed with 116 touches, which is good for the third most in the league among all players. Having a passing offense that ranks 26th in the league in yardage does not help as opposing defenses have been constantly keyed on Gurley, giving him little room to run. A little improvement through the air for the Rams will go a long way for Gurley and his odds of fantasy success. Still, owners have to be prepared for the inevitability of games like Weeks 1 & 2 where Gurley puts up less than 10 points.
Will He Pick It Up?
Yes, but it will be a gradual and grinding process that some owners may not have the stomach for. I don’t think he will return top 5 numbers as he was drafted to do, but I do think he has a good shot at low-end RB1 numbers and finishing in the top 30 overall (not including QBs), as long as the Rams keep feeding him. The Rams’ offensive line is ranked 27th in the league when it comes to providing production for its running backs, so that will need to be positively affected for Gurley to reach top 10 numbers. He has a great chance to get right this weekend against a Detroit Lions defense that has allowed 5.1 YPC to opposing backs through 5 games and I think that this is the first week that the Lions allow a RB to score a rushing touchdown this season. Gurley owners should sit tight unless they are offered a king’s ransom for him, an unlikely event with his current value.
Melvin Gordon -
Rushing: 89 carries for 299 yards (3.4 YPC) and 6 TDs
Receiving: 14 catches for 122 yards receiving and 1 TDS
Melvin Gordon started out the 2016 season white-hot with 159 yards on 38 carries (4.1 YPC) and 3 TDs in the first two weeks after not scoring during the entirety of his rookie campaign. The last 3 games have been a much darker picture for Gordon’s owners but this fact has gone mainly unnoticed due to unsustainable touchdown production with 7 TDs in in 5 games for an extrapolated total of 22+ TDS on the season. Since those breakout games, Gordon has averaged a paltry 2.7 YPC. To me this spells impending doom for a running back who needs to score TDs, sometimes two, every game to put up decent numbers. He has been more involved in the passing game since Woodhead went down, posting 11 catches for 104 yards over the last 3 games and scoring his first career receiving TD in last week’s lost to the Raiders. This added facet to his game will not materialize to the point that it can make up for his lackluster rushing ability. Ball security has also been a concern with two fumbles lost so far, which is tied for second in the league.
Will He Continue His Production?
No. It is true that Gordon’s stock was improved immensely by the loss of Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen and he has become a focal point of his offense but aside from his scoring, he has been similar to the largely ineffective runner that he was last year before going down with a season-ending injury. You can look at his past two contests and see what it would be like if his scoring successes regressed. In Week 5, he would have had 7.7 points without his TD. In Week 4, his 23.9 points turns into a slightly above average 11.9 points (all in PPR). As we move into the second half of the fantasy season, I think that these are the types of scores that owners should start getting used to. If I had him, I’d be selling high. A nice target might be Eddie Lacy who is the anti-thesis of Gordon so far with yardage for days but no scores to show for it. This week Gordon faces the Denver defense who, despite their reputation as a menacing squad, have allowed the 11th most yards per game to opposing RBs and rank 26th in the league when it comes to allowing fantasy points to opposing running backs. If he can’t get his YPC stats right in this game, I have even further doubts on the rest of the season.
Demarco Murray -
Rushing: 93 carries for 461 yards (5 YPC) and 3 TDs
Receiving: 24 catches for 172 yards receiving and 2 TDS
Demarco Murray has been THE fantasy shocker of this season so far as the #1 back in fantasy PPR (#2 in standard) and shows no signs of letting up. Murray ranks second in the league in rushing total with 461 yards and is tied with rookie, Zeke Elliot, for tops in YPC average. Demarco has also accounted for 34.6% of his team’s yardage (second only to David Johnson), a fact that should make owners glow with happiness. Murray has been the undisputed focal point of this offense through 5 games, as the Titans are second in the league with 148.6 rushing YPG, while Murray is averaging 92.2 YPG himself. Most impressive for Murray is the fact that his usage has GROWN week-by-week while consistently producing top-tier RB1 numbers. After only having 18 & 19 touches in his first two games respectively (He had 21+ points in both), Demarco has had at least 27 touches in his last two games, including 32 in Week 5 against Miami. Murray’s remarkably solid floor has a lot to do with his large involvement in Tennessee’s passing game. Through 5 games, Murray is averaging 5.4 targets per game with 27 total and has turned those opportunities into 172 yards and 2 receiving TDS. His production per game would put him at 77 catches for the season, which is a huge step up even from his 2014 season where he had 57 catches and was still the #1 running back in fantasy. I’m jealous of anyone who has him.
Will He Continue His Production?
Yes. Hell Yes. Barring injury, Demarco Murray is a capable and talented back who is being used as the centerpiece in a budding offense. Those who drafted Murray are getting a top 3 payout for someone who was consistently drafted after guys like Latavius Murray, Thomas Rawls, and Eddie Lacy to name a few. He is running behind an offensive line that is ranked 3rd in the league by Football Outsiders when it comes to helping their running backs be successful. Derrick Henry has been excellent in a peripheral role, averaging 4.4 YPC on 34 totes but he is not a threat to Murray’s dominance. Henry is nothing more than Murray’s handcuff and has topped a 35% snap rate only once in a game this year. Demarco is the fantasy trifecta at the moment with excellent play, high volume usage with a lack of additional playmakers, and a beastly O-line that has performed consistently well. This week should be no different against a Browns team that has allowed over 400 YPG of total offense so far this season and ranks 23rd in the league in allowing fantasy points to opposing RBs. They have also allowed a rushing score in each of their last 3 contests. As if you weren’t already, fire DMurray up and watch him do his thing.
Matt Forte -
Rushing: 93 carries for 341 yards (3.7 YPC) and 3 TDs
Receiving: 13 catches for 90 yards receiving and 0 TDS
Matt Forte has been one of the bigger fantasy surprises of 2016, possessing top ten numbers in both yardage total and rushing scores through 5 games. However, similar to the above mentioned Melvin Gordon, Matt Forte has had an early season eruption followed by a lull that has left owners uneasy. In his first 2 games Forte had 53 touches and averaged 78.5% of his team’s offensive snaps. In the following 3 games, he had just 41 touches and played on just 57% of the offensive snaps on average. Those who voiced their doubts that Forte could handle his early workload over the course of the rest of the season appear to have been dead right. This reduction in workload has translated to a decline in fantasy points as he has not toped 8.4 points in PPR since week 2. Also frightening is the rise in usage of Bilal Powell, particularly in the passing game with 6 catches for 41 yards in Week 5. After playing on just 24% of offensive snaps in the opener, Powell played on 47% of the offensive snaps in Week 5 and received the second most targets in the passing game behind Brandon Marshall with 8. The usage split between Forte and Powell is the main factor to monitor going forward.
Will He Continue His Production?
No. He is already showing signs of slowing down. If you sold high on Forte after Week 2, bravo and well done. If he is still on your roster, you must lower your expectations from the RB1 flash he showed in Weeks 1-2 to the more realistic, TD-dependent RB2 who is slowly trending towards a 50/50 timeshare with a back who has been used more in the passing game and thus lowering Forte’s floor significantly. Forte’s lack of receiving production isn’t exclusive to 2016. After catching a 102 passes in 2014 (an NFL record), Forte only caught 44 passes in his last year as a Bear and is now on pace for just 41 this year. Those who are hoping for an increased use in a broken Jets’ passing attack should be prepared to be disappointed. The Jets’ offense is not running smoothly at the moment and just lost Eric Decker for the season, who was the team’s best TD scorer. I do not expect Forte to fill that void with more scoring production. I am also terrified by the fact that he has only scored in 1 game this season with all 3 of his scores coming in a Week 2 shoot out on TNF versus a Bills’ Defense that hadn’t found its footing yet. This week, Forte & Co. get the Arizona Cardinals, which have allowed the 7th fewest points to opposing RBs. I’m not counting on Forte this weekend.
CJ Anderson -
Rushing: 84 carries for 293 yards (3.7 YPC) and 3 TDs
Receiving: 12 catches for 94 yards receiving and 1 TDS
Just like others on the “Hare” list, CJ Anderson has had a mammoth share of his team’s touches initially with 46.5% of the total touches for the entire team in Weeks 1-2. Since then he has only had a third of the touches, exemplifying a dramatic dip in workload. CJ’s counterpart, Devontae Booker, has seen an uptick in usage as well, getting to play on 41% of the snaps in Week 5 after not topping 25% in any of the previous 4 games. Anderson has not reached 13 fantasy points in PPR since Week 2 and only managed 9.2 points last week against an Atlanta defense that currently ranks 26th in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs. With all this being said, owners should be consoled by the fact that Anderson has received at least 20 looks in 3 out of the 4 games that Siemian has played in and he returns from a shoulder injury tonight against the Chargers. These numbers are certainly not going in the right direction but they appear to be more of the ebb-and-flow variety than a deliberate attempt by the coaching staff to lessen his workload.
Will He Continue His Production?
Yes. I think the large buzz and concern over CJ’s usage is somewhat of an overreaction. Yes, Booker has seen an increase in snaps and touches but hasn’t really outshone CJ by any means with the increased opportunity. Booker averaged just 3.8 YPC in in last week’s game against the aforementioned measly Falcons’ rush defense and received just 2 more targets in the passing game than CJ. I think the panic is overblown and with Siemian coming back into the fold from injury, CJ should stabilize a bit and be on the high-end RB2 side of things for the rest of the season. I said in past articles that Anderson would not be the top 5 back that his Weeks’ 1-2 numbers presented, but top 12 numbers are not unrealistic and there is some room for upside. Anderson gets a great opportunity tonight to get back on track with a match up against the San Diego Chargers who have allowed at least 22.7 points to opposing RBs in EVERY game this season and have allowed at least 35.3 points in their last 2 contests. Look for CJ to put up a solid game, especially in the passing game where the Chargers are weakest, and silence doubters who think he is losing his job. Booker will always be breathing down his neck and Kubiak’s lack of loyalty is something to be concerned about but not enough so that I am not sticking this guy in my lineup if I had him.
Coby Fleener -
I want nothing to do with this guy. He’s been a boom-or-bust option in an offense that has 3 more talented options in Cooks, Snead and Thomas. Aside from his 23.9 points in Week 3 and 25.6 points in Week 6 (PPR), Fleener has failed to top 8 points in every other game. He’s nothing more than a desperation play to me.
CJ Fiedorowicz -
The third year man out of Iowa has come on strong as of late and his involvement grows every week. In his last 5 games in PPR scoring, CJ has scored double digits in 4 of those and has scored at least 14.8 points in 3 of those games with a 20.5 point week in Week 6. During that same span, CJ has hit pay dirt 3 times as well. I love the value of this upstart and he is worth a look as a TE1 going forward, which will be cemented with one or two more successful outings.
Hunter Henry -
After scoring double digit points in PPR during Weeks 3 through 6, Henry has crashed and burned in the last two weeks by failing to reach 4 points total in either. His concussion may have something to do with that but it is my opinion that Rivers is still not ready to let Gates go, even if that ends up hurting his play in the long run. Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are both banged up for this Sunday and I think this bodes well for Henry’s prospects this weekend. Look for a bounce back game but his ROS outlook is murky at best
Jimmy Graham -
Returning from a Patellar tendon tear, Graham has been surprisingly solid so far with 3 games of 6 catches and at least 89 yards through 7 games played and has also added a TD. However, Russell Wilson’s and, by extension, the entire Seahawks offense’s poor play has limited Graham’s upside. He remains a high-upside, low-floor, risky play on a week-to-week basis until the Seattle offense can regain its form.
Eric Ebron -
Aside from a two game injury absence, Ebron has been a solid PPR tight end with at least 8.2 points in every game he has played so far this year. He led the team in yards and targets last week against the Houston secondary (79 yards and 10 targets). He has only caught 1 TD so far this year so if he can start to get in the end zone more often, the upside is there for him to finish top 10 from here on out.
Thanks for reading everyone! Be sure to check out the other parts of the Tortoise and Hare series at the links below. Good luck this weekend and keep an eye out for my article next week that will cover the best playoff matchups to target to put yourself in position to go home with a trophy!
Tortoise and the Hare Running Backs
and Wide Receivers