For all the talk about the NFL turning into a passing league, there are a few names at running back that are really stealing the show this year. Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and Saquon Barkley are leading the charge in a running back resurgence of sorts as teams return to running feature backs who can stay on the field for all three downs and keep defenses guessing. This is in stark contrast to the wide receivers where it seems like 75% of the league is a WR2/3 and, for the most part, interchangeable. The consensus 1-2 at receiver this year (AB and Nuk), while still solid WR1’s, aren’t quite dominating in the fashion we’d expect. Not like Adam Thielen and Tyreek Hill, anyway. Didn’t expect to be typing that sentence this year.
In a year with so much parity, it’s crucial to pick the right players to start and the right players to sit. That’s where we come in. Before we jump into this week’s pick though, let’s look at how we did last week.
Last week’s Starts: Keke Coutee, Dalvin Cook, Nyheim Hines, Chris Carson, Patriots offense, Chiefs offense
Well…that wasn’t pretty. We’re giving ourselves a pass on Cook since we gave the caveat that he might not be playing, but neither Coutee (3/33/0) nor Hines (3/14/0 rushing, 2/21/0 receiving) received anywhere near the target share we were expecting (Hines because Andrew Luck spread the ball around, Coutee because the Texans simply couldn’t string together enough plays on offense to build up any volume). In theory Carson was set up perfectly in London as the Seahawks were up big on a hapless defense, but his numbers were downright pedestrian (14/59/0) after last week’s explosion. At least we were mostly right about the Pats’ and Chiefs’ offenses, as chalk-y as those picks were. The Patriots’ offense was all startable, if not necessarily stud material, and the only disappointment on the Chiefs’ side was Sammy Watkins.
Last week’s Fades: Alshon Jeffery, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott
And if the Starts weren’t bad enough, there’s this lot. Jeffery absolutely tore through the Giants defense to the tune of 8/74/2. For what it’s worth, our prediction was based on the assumption that Jeffery would be seeing a lot of Janoris Jenkins while a fair chunk of that production came on Eli Apple. Still, those are eye-opening numbers against a defense that held much better receivers to much less. Zeke didn’t explode with quite the same gusto, but 24/106/1 on the ground is nothing to sneeze at either against what was presumed to be a top tier defense. The only one we kinda got right here was DJ, and even then he had a touchdown salvage an otherwise mediocre 70 total yards on 20 touches (even when the Cardinals have the second most dysfunctional offense in the league, DJ just keeps finding the end zone).
Overall, last week was not a week to remember. The silver lining? We can only go up from here! (Furiously knocking on wood)
Lindsay may be competing with Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker for touches (although I have no idea why Booker is still in that mix), but there’s no question that Lindsay has been the most effective of the group. He’s been rewarded for it too; despite sharing backfield duties, Lindsay has gathered at least 10 touches in five of six games so far this year and has hit 15 touches three times. He’s explosive and is finally getting some catches as well. Good time to run into the Cardinals then. The Cards have been poor against the run this season as they have allowed 151.2 yards per game on the ground, good for second most in the NFL. They’ve also allowed 7 carries of 20+ yards (third most) and 10 touchdowns on the ground (most), and are a little more susceptible than average to receiving backs. Freeman should also benefit from this matchup, but Lindsay’s explosiveness and receiving chops should make him the better back on Thursday night.
Despite playing behind Melvin Gordon, Ekeler has kept himself fantasy-relevant through extreme efficiency; he’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 14.8 yards per catch. He’s been a consistent flex option, but typically can’t get over that hump to be a surefire start due to a lack of volume (he’s only reached 10 touches three times and only exceeded it once). This week, however, should bring Ekeler some extra room to run. The Titans have been poor against the run this year (123.2 yards per game, 7th most), which is complemented by an entirely dysfunctional offense. Melvin Gordon will be the biggest beneficiary from this matchup, but if the Chargers start running away with it Ekeler will likely see more touches in garbage time. 75 total yards and a touchdown is not out of the question.
Bye weeks are starting to hit home. Do you have your fill-in? If you need someone this week, take a look at Mayfield. It’s true that he’s been inconsistent and kinda mediocre in terms of numbers, but Tampa Bay has been a remedy for struggling quarterbacks all year. They’re allowing an absurd 355.8 yards per game through the air (most in NFL) at 9.3 yards per attempt (most), have allowed 16 touchdowns (tied for most), and have managed only a single interception (tied for fewest). Oh, and did I mention that they’ve already had their bye? Those league-worst 16 touchdowns allowed have come in one fewer game than most other teams. Expect Mayfield to add to that total.
Snead’s stock has been slowly rising throughout the season, seeing more and more catches as Joe Flacco’s security blanket out of the slot. This week he takes on his old team which happens to have a glaring weakness at nickel corner. As if that weren’t enough, the Saintly triumvirate of Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara will undoubtedly find a way to score no matter how good Baltimore’s defense is, so Flacco will likely be dealing to keep up. Good matchup, positive game script, and revenge game. What more could you want?
It’s much easier to avoid being a victim of Beli-tricks when there are only two running backs left in the stable. With James White filling the scatback role, Michel has had the early-down role to himself. He hasn’t been super efficient, but certainly hasn’t been bad either, and he’s had enough volume to establish himself as a RB1/2. Don’t expect that to continue this week. The Bears did just get gashed by Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake, but their defense was also visibly gassed from the get-go as the Miami heat beat down on them. They’ll have no such problems in Chicago. They should return to the form that kept every running back they faced below 60 yards through 5 weeks. They can be beat with quick bubble screens and shifty checkdown targets, but that’s more White’s territory than Michel’s.
T. Y. Hilton
With Hilton practicing in full, Andrew Luck is on track to getting his top target back after a multi-week absence. It looked like they were really starting to click right before Hilton went down so he should come back in a big way, right? Not so fast. For all of Buffalo’s offensive woes, they actually boast one of the NFL’s better defenses. After a rough two weeks to start the season, they held their last four opponents to 15 points per game. This is a group that included Minnesota, Green Bay, and Houston. Not bad. Hilton will come back to life and should produce WR1 numbers more often than not as the apple of Luck’s eye, but consider this week a “not” week.
Sure Saquon Barkley just lit up the Philadelphia defense, but Barkley has been doing that to every opponent this year. Quite frankly, he’s lived up to his billing as a generational talent. Here’s something to consider though; before Barkley, the Eagles defense was holding opponents’ rushers to 3.4 yards per carry and under 70 total yards per game. CMC is a far more talented back than most of the running backs Philly faced while piling up those numbers, but he’s no Saquon. He’s also slowly gaining competition for targets as the Panthers’ receivers come back from various injuries. Facing a tough Eagles run defense and likely seeing fewer targets than we’ve become accustomed to, McCaffrey is set up to disappoint this week.