The New Orleans Saints’ trio of Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and Trey Edmunds became the first trio of running back teammates to each have at least 10 fantasy points in the same game since Week 3 of the 2016 season. Not to be outdone, the Carolina Panthers repeated the feat the very next night as Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, and Cameron Artis-Payne all turned the trick against the Miami Dolphins. Ingram and Kamara are continuing their two-man assault on opposing NFL defenses. Both are top-three running backs in fantasy scoring since the Saints’ Week 5 bye and have combined for a ridiculous 170.90 fantasy points and just two weekly finishes outside the top-13 during that span. Speaking of running back trios, the New England Patriots continued their long tradition of playing musical chairs with their running backs. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead each had top-14 finishes in Week 10. The two combined for zero such finishes prior to last week. Lewis ran for a score and returned a kickoff for another score in Week 10, while Burkhead caught a touchdown and even blocked a punt! James White leads the Patriots’ backfield in fantasy points this season and is still very much relevant, particularly in PPR leagues. Lewis, Burkhead, and White are all likely to build on last week’s success as they face the Oakland Raiders poor run defense in Week 11.
In other news, Week 10 was one for redemption for several running backs who have underperformed thus far in 2017. Demarco Murray, Christian McCaffrey, Isaiah Crowell and Ty Montgomery were each drafted as top-20 running backs prior to the season. The four had combined for just six weeks as an RB1 in standard leagues through the first half of the season. However, all four achieved that mark in Week 10, bringing them closer to their perceived preseason value. McCaffrey and Crowell have each posted top-six finishes in their last two games. Unfortunately, McCaffrey will be off this week due to Carolina’s bye week. He joins San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde and the Colts’ Frank Gore as the only top-24 fantasy running backs who will be out of action this week. Let’s check out some of the running backs who will be in action to see which have the best and worst fantasy matchups heading into Week 11.
DOUG MARTIN, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS
After posting a combined 28.6 fantasy points over his first two games this season, Doug Martin has struggled greatly in recent weeks. He has amassed just 21.3 fantasy points over his last four games. He has not scored during that span and has not finished as a top-20 running back in any single week. Martin looks to turn things around when he faces the Miami Dolphins in Week 11. This is a prime spot for Martin to bounce back. Miami ceded big fantasy days to three different Carolina Panthers’ running backs in Week 10, as Carolina run for 294 yards. Miami has allowed seven different running backs to have top-20 weeks in just their last four games. Martin owners may be a little gun shy after Martin’s lack of production in recent weeks, but he is still getting significant volume, which makes him a good bet to take advantage of matchups such as this one. I would start Doug Martin with confidence this week, and I believe he will finish the week as an RB1.
DION LEWIS, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS
Dion Lewis heads into Week 11 as just the RB37 overall on the season. However, he is definitely trending in the direction, as he has improved to the overall RB18 over the last four weeks. That is even more impressive when you consider New England’s bye week took place in Week 9. Lewis has averaged 14 touches over his last four games and has had at least 50 total yards in six consecutive games, as he has supplanted Mike Gillislee as New England’s preferred early-down back. Despite Lewis’ increased usage, he has remained a fixture on the Patriots’ kick return team. His role on special teams paid huge dividends in Week 10 when Lewis took a first-quarter kickoff 103 yards to the house. While that sort of splash play cannot be counted on in any given week, it proves that Lewis can provide fantasy production in different ways. Lewis’ Week 11 matchup is not daunting against an Oakland Raiders’ defense that has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game and fourth-most rushing yards to opposing running backs this season. Dion Lewis makes for an ideal RB2 or Flex play in this week’s matchup.
KENYAN DRAKE, MIAMI DOLPHINS VS. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The scope of the Miami Dolphins’ backfield is still a bit muddled following the recent trade of Jay Ajayi. Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams have each totaled 16 carries and eight receptions in Miami’s last two games, but Drake has been the more productive of the two in their small sample size. This is especially the case on the ground, where Drake has outrushed Williams 151-33 in the last two games. Williams’ role as the Dolphins’ preferred passing-down back should remain intact, but his career 3.14 yards per carry suggests that is where he should remain. Drake’s career 6.02 yards per carry is not sustainable over the long haul, but he should be given more of an opportunity to lead the Dolphins’ backfield over the next few weeks. Miami faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. Tampa Bay has given up three top-two fantasy finishes to running backs in their last five games. While Kenyan Drake is not likely to join that group, he should be a viable fantasy commodity in Week 11 and beyond.
ADRIAN PETERSON, ARIZONA CARDINALS AT HOUSTON TEXANS
Adrian Peterson faced an incredibly difficult set of circumstances in Week 10 and predictably failed to muster even a passable fantasy performance. He scored a grand total of 0.9 fantasy points on his 21 carries against the Seattle Seahawks. He lost an early fumble and was also tackled in the end zone for a Seattle safety on his way to an RB57 weekly finish. He has been the ultimate boom-or-bust back since joining Arizona, with weekly finishes of RB2, RB47, RB8, and RB57. The good news when forecasting Peterson is that, to this point, he’s excelled in soft matchups and struggled in difficult ones. That brings us to Week 11, where he must contend with the Houston Texans. Despite suffering numerous injuries, Houston has remained tough to run on. They have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season and haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back since Leonard Fournette’s one-yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter of Week 1. Peterson will certainly improve on his Week 10 effort, but I don’t think he makes much of an impact in this matchup. I would not want to start Adrian Peterson in Week 11.
DEMARCO MURRAY, TENNESSEE TITANS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS
DeMarco Murray matched his 2017 total of three touchdowns in Tennessee’s Week 10 comeback against the Cincinnati Bengals. Murray clinched the victory with a touchdown catch in the game’s final minute. Though Murray had a monster game from a fantasy standpoint, the dynamic of Tennessee’s backfield remains the same. Murray is still essentially splitting the Titans’ rushing workload with Derrick Henry. Murray has outrushed Henry by just a 433-409 margin this season, and Henry actually led Tennessee with 52 rushing yards in last week’s game. In fact, Murray finished third on the team in rushing behind both Henry and quarterback Marcus Mariota in the victory. The Titans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers on Thursday night. Pittsburgh has permitted the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs over the last five weeks, allowing just 208 rushing yards and no touchdowns over that stretch. Murray hasn’t eclipsed 60 rushing yards since Week 3, and I don’t think he will in Week 11 either. I see DeMarco Murray as just an RB2/Flex option in this matchup.
ALFRED MORRIS, DALLAS COWBOYS VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Many fantasy owners have spent the better part of two months trying to read the tea leaves regarding the Ezekiel Elliott suspension and the effect it would have on the rest of the Cowboys’ running backs. The simple fact is that there is no replacing Elliott, and even if one back does have the potential to make an impact during Elliott’s absence, it likely isn’t Alfred Morris. Morris had 53 yards on 11 carries in Week 10, his first as a starter this season. However, he was in on just 22 of 63 offensive plays. The low snap count may be attributed to negative game script, but there’s a pretty good chance that Dallas’ Week 11 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles follows a similar path to the one they encountered in last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The Eagles have the best record and the best rushing defense in the entire NFL. They’ve given up just 161 scoreless yards on the ground to all opposing running backs over their last five games. I just can’t believe that Alfred Morris will be the one to buck that trend. I want no part of Alfred Morris in fantasy this week.
SLEEPERS OF THE WEEK:
REX BURKHEAD AND JAMES WHITE, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS
Earlier in the column, we touched on the struggles that the Oakland Raiders have had in defending the run thus far this season. They’ve had problems limiting enemy running backs in the passing game as well. Oakland has allowed the sixth-most receptions and seventh-most receiving yards to opposing running backs in 2017. They’ve also given up three receiving touchdowns, fewer than only three other teams in the entire NFL. James White is widely-known as a pass-catching specialist, but Rex Burkhead has more receptions (10) than White (8) over their last two contests. Lewis, Burkhead, and White have each been a fantasy RB2 or RB3 in both of those games. I believe this is likely to continue in Week 11, as there is plenty of fantasy production to go around, especially now that early-season fantasy hero Mike Gillislee has been exposed as a one-dimensional plodder. If you are a fantasy owner of any New England Patriots’ running back save for Gillislee, I’d fire them up in this matchup. Rex Burkhead and James White are squarely in the Week 11 RB2/Flex conversation.
AUSTIN EKELER, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS VS. BUFFALO BILLS
We’ve been here before with Austin Ekeler. Well, I have at least. I touted him as a sleeper in this very space just three weeks ago. I was handsomely rewarded with an RB49 performance, as Akeler managed just 21 scoreless yards in the Chargers’ Week 8 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. He did bounce back last week, finishing as the weekly RB3, mainly on the strength of two touchdowns in Los Angeles’ overtime loss. This week the Chargers face the Buffalo Bills. In the three games since trading defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, here are the Bills’ weekly finishes against the run in terms of fantasy:
Week 8 – 21st out of 26 teams
Week 9 – 24th out of 26 teams
Week 10 – 28th out of 28 teams
Not only did Buffalo dole out the most fantasy points to opposing running backs in Week 10, they had by far the worst performance any team has had in quite a while. The Bills allowed 62.60 fantasy points to running backs in Week 10. No other team had even allowed as much as 50 points in a single game since the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 of last year. Needless to say, Buffalo’s defense is struggling. They’ve already allowed 11 rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs in 2017. No other team has allowed more than eight. Melvin Gordon should eat in this matchup, but there will be plenty of scraps for Ekeler to pick on as well. Ekeler has averaged just under 10 touches per game in his last three games. That should be enough for him to capitalize on Buffalo’s woeful run defense. If you have a running back on a bye this week, Austin Ekeler should be a very serviceable RB2 or Flex option in Week 11.