It’s ride or die weekend in Fantasy Football. Some lucky cats get to enjoy the first-round bye, while others do battle on the imaginary gridiron with the hope of advancement. Who are the running backs to trust this week? Beyond the elite five or six who start every week no matter what, now is the time when matchups do come into focus. As mentioned last week, Matt Forte is a tremendous play this weekend, as the Jets look to rebound from an abysmal Monday Night Football loss to the Colts, with a tasty matchup out west against the 49ers. Forte should do very well, particularly because Bryce Petty will be the starting quarterback. There are others who stand to excel this week and over the rest of the second season. Here are a few players who will likely be the catalyst for owners on the drive to the chip, and a few players (and a whole team) who aren’t likely to get to Fantasy paydirt for the hopeful few who insist on trotting them out there each week, hoping for a different result.
Thomas Rawls – Sunday night’s bloodbath showed exactly why the Seahawks waited for Rawls, and why it was apparently so easy to kick Christine Michael to the curb. Rawls came out hot with two touchdowns in the first half, and finished with 106 rushing yards on only 15 carries. He missed some time in the second quarter while getting run through the concussion protocol and still managed to have a terrific night, even after returning in the second half. Rawls is a bona fide RB2 with RB1 upside down the stretch.
Alfred Morris – Alf has been little more than a ghost for the majority of the season, amassing just 231 yards on 61 carries. But the Cowboys are essentially one win away from clinching the NFC East, and two wins away from locking up the top seed in the Conference. What this could mean is heavy doses of Alfred Morris as soon as Week 15, depending on what happens this weekend against the Giants, and what the Seahawks manage against Green Bay. The Cowboys will want to preserve premier asset Ezekiel Elliott, and if they rest the rookie, Morris enters the picture as an RB2 just in time for the Fantasy Football finals. You want a lottery ticket? Here it is.
Jordan Howard – The Bears are terribly one-dimensional, and on Sunday that one dimension ran roughshod over the 49ers; 32 carries for 117 yards and three touchdowns later, the rookie is 117 yards away from a thousand-yard season. More than anything else, this shows anyone with eyes that the iron clad rule of Fantasy Football in 2016 is: Always start your running back against the 49ers. Howard is showing that he is capable of being the top back full-time for Chicago with five games of 100 or more yards on the year, and over 1,100 yards from scrimmage. Howard is locked in as an RB2 against the Lions this week.
The Green Bay Packers – With just three rushing TDs for the season, and none of them by a starting halfback, the Packers’ running game is officially nonexistent. Many of us had high hopes for James Starks, filling in for Eddie Lacy. Still others thought that Ty Montgomery would be “the man.” The signing of castoffs, Knile Davis and then Christine Michael, seemed to portend a new dawn for the Packers’ offense, but nothing has changed. This is a pass-first team with a revolving door at RB. Avoid all Packers RBs at all costs.
Theo Riddick – The Lions are having a fine season and are currently in command of the NFC North at 8-4. What’s concerning, though, is that Theo Riddick, their presumptive lead running back, hasn’t been able to get any consistency as the Lions attempt to establish their running game. With just 17 rushing attempts in his last three games, Riddick is primarily, if not exclusively, a PPR threat (18 receptions over the same span). On Sunday against the Saints, Riddick managed his first touchdown since October, and even in a mostly friendly matchup, he could only muster 17 yards from scrimmage. The Fantasy Football playoffs feature faceoffs against the Bears, Giants and Cowboys for Detroit, which is pretty middle of the road with the good (Bears) and the less good (Giants and Cowboys). Riddick has become hard to trust of late, and is ideally suited as a matchup dependent FLEX candidate, particularly in PPR formats.
Wendell Smallwood – Expectations were pretty high when Smallwood was named the starter, after Ryan Mathews was diagnosed with a sprained MCL and expected to miss a few weeks. Instead, the Eagles have gone almost 50-50 with the workload between Smallwood and Darren Sproles, whom the coaches trust in pass protection much more than the rookie. Rumor again is that he will be the “featured” running back this week against the Bengals, but the “fool me once…” line comes to mind. Smallwood has had 66 yards from scrimmage over the last two games in which he had also been the apparent “featured” running back. Wild Card weekend is not the week to throw darts and hope for a big game from a boom or bust back. When the floor is another sub 50-yard game, and an aggressive ceiling is 15 carries for about 80 yards, I just don’t see Smallwood getting the volume of work or the right kind of work (e.g. red zone/goal line); he’s simply too hard to trust in a must-win week.