With the election behind us, it’s time to turn our focus to what matters most. No, not bipartisanship. The Fantasy Football playoffs! With just four weeks left in the regular season, and with most leagues approaching their trade deadline this week or next, knowing which running backs might step on the gas to drive their teams toward the playoffs is crucial. Here are some running backs who have stepped up over the last couple of weeks, and another few who can’t seem to get out of their own way, and whose grasp on work keeps slipping away with each lackluster week.
Latavius Murray – No one could have predicted such a resoundingly dominant performance from Murray on Monday. He notched 20 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders. It was the most impressive part of a major victory for a suddenly legitimate Raiders team. Murray has 20, 16, and 21 touches over the last three games, pacing the Raiders’ backfield in the process. Murray is shaping up as a player with RB1 upside who, just weeks ago, seemed to be headed toward dreaded committee-member status. With the Chiefs, Chargers, and Colts as the Fantasy playoff slate for the Raiders, targeting Murray now for the stretch run, may be the move that earns you some hardware this Fantasy Football season.
Melvin Gordon – What a game for the Bolts’ running back! Gordon took an astounding 32 carries for 196 yards and a score, and added another 65 yards on four receptions in the 43-point effort for the Chargers. Gordon has 221 touches on the season already, including 193 carries – most in the league by nearly 20, although the Bolts don’t have their bye week until Week 11. Gordon has nine rushing TDs (11 total) on the season, and he’s had the breakout campaign so many were expecting during his rookie season. Kenneth Farrow is an intriguing stash because of the workload Gordon is handling. Farrow is the clear backup in the wake of Dexter McCluster’s forearm injury, and if anything were to slow down the Wisconsin product, Farrow would immediately have RB2 value at worst. Place trust in Gordon as a solid RB1, and note he’s scored in all but two games.
Darren Sproles – The Eagles’ backfield is also confounding because there are almost more players than opportunities; but it’s worth discussing. On Sunday against the division rival Giants, Sproles was the lead back with 13 carries and he handled roughly 60 percent of the snaps. Meanwhile, Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner had just six carries and 18 yards between them, but they tallied two scores. With 28 carries in the last two games, Sproles has ascended to “top dog” in Philly, which was confirmed by Coach Pedersen last week. Sproles has always thrived in a change of pace role, so it will be interesting to see how he handles this. Part of the reason for his success was the offenses’ emphasis on highlighting his speed in the open field, a stark contrast to the way bigger, between-the-tackles are typically used. Rookie Wendell Smallwood is like Sproles in stature and is used in similar fashion. It remains to be seen whether Sproles is worth starting in Fantasy because he’s rarely used in the red zone and has only one touchdown this season. Nonetheless, it’s always worth noting when a member of any committee is garnering double-digit touches each week, and right now, Sproles is that guy for Philadelphia.
T.J. Yeldon – New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is apparently a fan of riding the hot hand and on Sunday, that hand (or legs, as it were) belonged to Chris Ivory. Ivory exploded for 107 yards on 18 carries, season highs for both numbers. The Jags still had over 40 pass attempts in the game, so the emphasis is still on Blake Bortles and the potent passing game, but it remains to be seen how the workload will be divided between the top two running backs. Yeldon took a backseat to Ivory and tallied just seven carries and 33 yards on the afternoon, though his five receptions for 32 yards and a score certainly buoyed him. The fact that Ivory garnered nearly three times the carries is concerning, so let’s see what happens this weekend against division rival Houston.
Matt Asiata & Jerick McKinnon – Now that Ronnie Hillman has entered the fray during the Vikes’ three-game slide, this is a situation to avoid if possible. Hillman led with 30 yards on seven carries, McKinnon had only eight yards in seven totes, and Matt Asiata gained just 27 yards with his nine carries. If any of them were worth a flier until Adrian Peterson comes back, I’d have to put money on Hillman, even though he’s the newest to the pack, and hasn’t performed consistently yet. Overall, this is a rough backfield that should be avoided.
Rashad Jennings – Jennings missed some time earlier in the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wished that he was still on sabbatical. The sledding is tough for him, and the evidence is a 2.6 YPC and only one touchdown for the season. The Giants’ running game is struggling. Despite double-digit carries in back to back games, Jennings only has 51 yards on 24 carries. Rookie Paul Perkins is eating into his work and will continue to do so going forward. Side note: Starting left guard Justin Pugh will miss some time with a knee injury, so things aren’t going to get easier for the running game. Jennings should be held onto simply because of a lack of RB depth, but he’s not easy to trust in starting lineups.