Stop me if you have heard this before, but Alvin Kamara was the overall RB1 in fantasy last week. Last week was his league-leading seventh straight weekly RB1 performance. Kamara has averaged a ridiculous 24.00 fantasy points per game over his last five contests. While his rookie season has gotten better and better, the same cannot be said for several other high-profile rookie running backs. Last week, I highlighted the recent struggles of Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt, but he is not the only running back to have seemingly hit the rookie wall. Leonard Fournette has struggled just as much lately. He has been hampered by an ankle injury since the middle of the season and his numbers have dipped dramatically. This week Fournette takes on an elite Seattle Seahawks run defense, and I do not like his chances of turning things back around.
We’ve officially reached the fantasy football playoffs. If you’re reading this, odds are that you are participating in your league’s playoffs, so congratulations. The good news is that you made it. The bad news is that, in addition to Fournette, there are several other high-profile running backs with bad matchups and injury concerns. Avoiding those pitfalls and taking advantage of some favorable matchups will help you advance into the next round. Here are some of the most notable Week 14 running back matchups fantasy owners need to take into account.
PEYTON BARBER, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS VS. DETROIT LIONS
In a recent article, I glossed over Peyton Barber when discussing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running back options behind Doug Martin. In my defense, I was merely following Tampa Bay’s lead. Barber had seen the field for just 69 total snaps heading into last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Barber became the featured back when it was announced that Martin would miss the game because of a concussion. Barber made the most of his opportunity. He carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards in Tampa Bay’s Week 13 loss. For reference, Doug Martin’s last 100-yard rushing game was over two years ago. Though Martin practiced on Wednesday and appears ready to return, it’s time for the Buccaneers to give Barber an extended look. Barber’s Week 14 matchup is a juicy one, as Tampa Bay will host the Detroit Lions. Over the last four weeks, only the Buffalo Bills have allowed more fantasy points, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs than Detroit has. If you picked up Peyton Barber off waivers, start him as an RB2 this week.
FRANK GORE, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS VS. BUFFALO BILLS
Frank Gore has managed to hang on as a low-RB2 option for the season but has managed just one weekly RB1 finish in 2017. Many of us thought that rookie Marlon Mack would begin to eat into Gore’s workload as the year wore on. However, that has not been the case. Gore has averaged 18 touches per game over his last five games, compared to nine for Mack. Until we see a noticeable shift in that dynamic, there’s no reason to expect the Colts’ backfield distribution to change much this week. Gore’s matchup is as good as it gets against a Buffalo Bills team that has been routinely gashed by enemy rushing attacks. Buffalo has given up nine rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs over their last four games. Only seven other teams have allowed as many touchdowns to opposing backs this season. This matchup is essentially the stoppable force taking on the easily movable object. If there was ever a time to start Frank Gore, this would be it. I still don’t buy him as an RB1, but he should be able to post RB2 numbers in Week 14.
GIOVANI BERNARD, CINCINNATI BENGALS VS. CHICAGO BEARS
Giovani Bernard has been a non-factor from a fantasy standpoint for essentially all of 2017. Bernard hasn’t finished as a weekly RB1 all season long and hasn’t even been as much as an RB2 in any game since Week 4. But opportunity is often the mother of invention. Or, in this case, fantasy relevance. Bernard was thrust into action following Joe Mixon’s second-quarter exit due to a concussion. Bernard looked good in Cincinnati’s defeat, totaling 96 yards on just 15 touches. More importantly, he played every snap once Mixon left the ball game. Coming off a short week, it will be a tall task for Mixon to clear concussion protocol in time for this week’s game against the Chicago Bears. If Mixon sits, Bernard is a must-start. The Bears are a middling matchup for fantasy running backs and have particularly struggled on the road. They’ve allowed an average of 116.8 yards per game on the ground to opposing running backs in road games this season. Cincinnati should play this game from in front, which only adds more potential volume to Bernard’s plate. I think Giovani Bernard is a solid RB2 in this week’s matchup.
TODD GURLEY, LOS ANGELES RAMS VS. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Todd Gurley is the overall RB1 on the year and is largely responsible for many of his fantasy owners’ teams making the playoffs this season. Gurley is one of two running backs (Le’Veon Bell is the other) who are on pace for 2,000 total yards from scrimmage on the season. His owners face a fascinating and frightening dilemma when Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams host the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have given up just 549 rushing yards to opposing running backs on the year. To put that into perspective, the next lowest total belongs to the Minnesota Vikings, who have yielded 822 rushing yards. It is worth noting that Gurley has averaged just 53 total yards in the two games in which he has faced his most difficult fantasy matchups to date. He has averaged 139.6 yards per game in all other contests. There is a bit of room for optimism, however. Over 63 percent of Philadelphia’s rushing yards allowed have been permitted on the road, as well as all three rushing touchdowns. The Eagles have recently allowed also-rans Alfred Morris and Mike Davis to average 96 total yards in consecutive road games. Philadelphia has also given up five receiving touchdowns to opposing backs, second-most in the NFL. Gurley is second among all NFL running backs in receiving yards. I think Sean McVay will find enough ways to effectively utilize Gurley and spring him for a big gain or two. Ultimately, I believe Gurley owners should start him. I just would not expect to see the Gurley we’ve been accustomed to in 2017. I have Todd Gurley as an RB2 in this matchup.
LEONARD FOURNETTE, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS VS. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Leonard Fournette is an RB1 on the year with an overall RB8 ranking. Much like Gurley, Fournette begins the fantasy playoff schedule with an incredibly difficult matchup when he and the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Seattle Seahawks. However, unlike Gurley, Fournette has really tailed off as the year has gone on. Fournette averaged 122 total yards per game and a whopping 19.03 fantasy points per game over the first six games of his NFL career. He has averaged just 71.3 yards and 8.75 fantasy points per game since, while dealing with a painful ankle injury. His recent level of production effectively renders him more of a low-RB2 than mid-RB1 option heading into this week. Fournette’s Week 14 matchup is also extremely cumbersome. Seattle has found their rhythm defending the run since their early-season struggles. The Seahawks have not allowed a running back to rush for as many as 55 yards in a game since Week 3. They’ve permitted the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. I don’t expect Leonard Fournette to be able to generate any momentum on Sunday. As was the case with Kareem Hunt a week ago, recent play and the matchup paints a grim picture when forecasting Fournette’s Week 14. I would strongly suggest benching Leonard Fournette in this matchup despite his name value and year-to-date production.
CARLOS HYDE, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS VS. HOUSTON TEXANS
Carlos Hyde has been a very productive fantasy running back in 2017. He currently ranks ninth among NFL running backs in yards from scrimmage and 12th in fantasy points. However, there is cause for concern for his Week 14 prospects. Hyde’s fantasy success this season has largely been a byproduct of heavy workloads, as has not been terribly efficient this year. Hyde has averaged four yards per carry in just two of his last eight games, and he has only scored four touchdowns on the year. Hyde and the San Francisco 49ers will take on the Houston Texans in Week 14. Houston has allowed just six total touchdowns to opposing running backs this season, trailing only the Minnesota Vikings in that category. San Francisco also has the future of their quarterback decision to consider. Jimmy Garoppolo made his first start in a San Francisco uniform in last week’s victory at Chicago. The 49ers will need to see as much of Garoppolo as possible to determine whether he is the team’s long-term solution at the position. I don’t expect Hyde to be completely phased out, but I certainly do not consider him an RB1 in Week 14. Given the matchup and circumstances surrounding the team, I view Carlos Hyde as a Flex play only this week.
SLEEPER OF THE WEEK:
TEVIN COLEMAN, ATLANTA FALCONS VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
It’s not often that the overall RB13 on the season is classified as a sleeper, but Tevin Coleman continues to be underrated by the fantasy community at large. Coleman went back to playing second-fiddle in the Atlanta Falcons’ backfield following the return of Devonta Freeman after a two-game absence because of a concussion. Coleman tallied just 49 total yards on 11 touches in Week 13 as the Falcons failed to reach the end zone in their Week 13 home loss to Minnesota. He finished the week as merely an RB4 and does have that type of floor among his range of outcomes in unfavorable matchups such as the one he faced last week. However, there is reason to put faith in a Coleman bounce back. Atlanta faces the New Orleans Saints in what is projected to be the highest scoring game of Week 14. Much has been made of the Saints’ resurgence on defense, but their underlying numbers suggest some susceptibility to running backs. New Orleans has allowed backs an average of 5.18 yards per touch in 2017, the fifth-highest number in the NFL. With cornerback Marshon Lattimore expected back to tangle with star wideout Julio Jones, the Falcons will likely have to put more on the plates of their other skill players to win this game. They will also want to feature their running game to try to keep the Saints’ offense off the field. I expect the Falcons to give the combination of Freeman and Coleman a minimum of 30 touches in this game. Coleman’s piece of that pie is more than enough for him to make an impact in this matchup. I expect Tevin Coleman to emerge from his Week 14 tilt with double-digit fantasy points and a top-20 weekly finish.