What will happen in Week 4?
It was another strong week for the running back position in Week 3. Once again, there were 21 running backs who scored at least 10 fantasy points in standard scoring. Four of the top seven running backs in Week 2 (Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Chris Thompson, and Devonta Freeman) repeated the feat in Week 3. Hunt and Gurley are the only backs to be an RB1 in each of the first three weeks of the 2017 season. Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jordan Howard showed that rumors of their demises have been greatly exaggerated. Each was an RB1 in Week 3, giving their owners a chance to catch their collective breath. As we turn the page and focus on Week 4, it’s important to remember that this will be the last week until Thanksgiving in which all 32 NFL teams will play. Utilizing the matchups each week is of vital importance, but even more so when you have a full roster at your disposal. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Week 4.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts – There are a lot of factors that go into whether a call is “right” or not. It’s part of the beauty of fantasy football. Case in point – my write-up of Chris Carson last week. I cautioned owners against him because of the Tennessee Titans rushing defense. He ended up having 11 carries for only 34 yards. Then I saw that Carson had a 10-yard touchdown catch that catapulted him into RB2 territory. I was also worried about Thomas Rawls eating into his touches. When I saw Carson had just 13 total touches, I felt justified. I then found out that Rawls had zero touches and was only on the field for a grand total of one snap. In assessing his Week 4 prospects, the most important factor to me is Carson’s expected volume. Rawls and Eddie Lacy are no longer imminent threats to Carson’s workload. This week, Carson faces an Indianapolis Colts team which has allowed an average of 120 all-purpose yards to opposing running backs thus far. The Seahawks are also huge favorites in this game. Carson will surely see more than 11 carries this week, and I expect him to make the most of his opportunity. I think Carson will be a top-10 running back in Week 4.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns – Under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Joe Mixon was finally featured in Cincinnati’s offense in Week 3. He had as many touches in Week 3 (21) as he had combined over Weeks 1 and 2. Mixon responded with 101 total yards in Cincinnati’s loss at Green Bay. This week, Mixon’s Bengals take on the Cleveland Browns. Lazor would be wise to once again use Mixon as a bell cow running back against the Browns. Though Cleveland has allowed a very respectable 87.7 rushing yards per game, they’ve also surrendered 20 rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs since the beginning of 2016. I look for Joe Mixon to build on last week’s performance and score his first NFL touchdown this week. I also believe it’s likely that Mixon exceeds 100 total yards once again in Week 4. Not only do I consider Joe Mixon an obvious start, but I project him to finish as an RB1 in this matchup.
Javorius Allen, Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – Javorius “Buck” Allen mustered just 28 scoreless yards in Baltimore’s embarrassing loss against Jacksonville in London last week. It’s hard to give Allen a complete pass, but the entire Ravens squad was terrible in that game. I expect Baltimore to come into this week’s game fully prepared and focused to take on their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are traditionally known for their stout defense, but their run defense has shown some early-season leaks. Pittsburgh has already given up 343 rushing yards to opposing running backs, fifth-worst in the NFL. Allen’s primary competition for carries, Terrance West, lost a fumble last week. That surely will not curry favor with head coach John Harbaugh. I expect Javorius Allen to lead the Ravens backfield in a matchup that is a bit better than most people would think. I think Allen is a Flex option at the very worst and can easily end the week as an RB2.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New York Giants – Jacquizz Rodgers let fantasy owners down in a huge way in Week 3, finishing with just 15 scoreless yards on five carries. However, his lack of involvement in last week’s game was heavily influenced by negative game script. Tampa Bay trailed the entire way in their 34-17 loss at Minnesota, which directly impacted their offensive approach. The Buccaneers threw 40 passes as opposed to running the ball just nine times in the game. This week Tampa Bay faces the New York Giants, and the game figures to be a close contest. Rodgers had 19 carries in the Buccaneers’ first game, so his role in this offense is still secure. With Doug Martin expected to return to a starting role upon his return from suspension next week, I expect Tampa Bay to ride Rodgers this week until the wheels fall off. The Giants have allowed an NFL-high 460 rushing yards so far this season. This is another matchup that is not nearly as imposing than one would believe. Rodgers should see a minimum of 20 touches this week. Given the matchup and workload, Rodgers has tremendous upside and should be started with confidence this week.
Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers – The good news for Mike Gillislee owners is that he is the early-down and goal-line running back on arguably the best team with the most prolific offense in the NFL. His role is secure and his upside is tremendous. However, when he doesn’t score a touchdown, things get ugly quick from a fantasy perspective. That’s true for all running backs to an extent, but many running backs are factors in the passing game which helps supplement their output. Gillislee does not. Gillislee has not been targeted with a single pass at all this season. If you’re starting Gillislee, you’re basically hoping for a short touchdown run. While that’s always a possibility, it’s difficult to rely on in certain matchups. This week New England takes on the Carolina Panthers. Carolina has allowed only nine rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs since 2016. They are also eighth in rushing yards allowed to running backs this season after finishing fifth in that category a year ago. There will be better weeks and better matchups in which to use Gillislee, but I don’t believe he will be much of a factor in Week 4.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans – Lamar Miller had an unfavorable matchup last week against the New England Patriots. Though the game did not play out as many expected, Miller’s usage and production failed to improve. Miller parlayed 15 touches into 63 scoreless yards. His usage was a little unsettling for his owners, especially considering the game was close throughout. To compound the situation, rookie D’Onta Foreman has earned more of a role in the offense. Foreman has received 22 touches over the last two weeks. Head coach Bill O’Brien seems to be following through on his preseason mantra to limit Miller’s workload, which puts a damper on his prospects. This week Houston faces the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have been a middling matchup for opposing running backs to this point, but it’s hard to trust Miller in this game regardless. Miller is being treated as a must-start, but I see him more as a matchup-based Flex. I would not want him in my Week 4 lineups.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos – Marshawn Lynch had just six carries for 18 yards in Oakland’s loss last Sunday night in Washington. Compared to the rest of the Raiders, Lynch actually had a decent night. Oakland was simply abysmal. Things don’t figure to get much easier for Lynch or the Raiders when they face the Denver Broncos this week. Denver has allowed fewer than 60 rushing yards per game and an NFL-best 2.6 yards-per-carry against. It’s often difficult to put too much stock in early-season numbers due to variance and strength of opponent. But consider this – Denver has played the Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, and Buffalo Bills. All three Broncos opponents have elite running backs. Denver has held the all-world trio of Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, and LeSean McCoy to 83 combined rushing yards on 41 carries. I’d say that makes them a pretty legitimate run defense, one which I’d prefer to avoid at all costs until further notice. I don’t want any part of Lynch in this matchup.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots – Jonathan Stewart is very similar to Mike Gillislee in that his role is well-defined and secure. Unlike Gillislee, however, Stewart’s upside is crippled in games where Carolina plays from behind. The Panthers go on the road to take on the New England Patriots this week. If Carolina falls behind as expected, Stewart is the player whose production will be negatively impacted the most. New England is a heavy favorite in this game, making it difficult to envision Stewart getting a ton of work. Stewart got only 12 touches last week in a game Carolina played mostly from behind. It’s likely that this week’s contest will follow a similar script. For what it’s worth, New England’s rushing defense has also been a bit better of late, holding its last two opponents to an average of 103 rushing yards per game. I just can’t get behind Stewart as a viable fantasy option this week. I think it’s far more likely that Christian McCaffrey catches a bunch of passes out of the backfield than Stewart does any real damage on the ground against the Patriots this week. I would not trust Stewart as a fantasy option in Week 4.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks – If you read last week’s column, you will remember that I suggested starting Frank Gore against the Cleveland Browns. I said that owners should start Gore, hope he scores a short touchdown and then immediately look to sell. (There’s not really a point to that anecdote. I just wanted documentation of being right at least once in my life. In the interest of full disclosure, I also convinced my cousin to start Derrick Henry over Jordan Howard last week. My bad.) Anyway, back to Gore. I highly advise owners to sell, if possible. If you can’t, you should at least give Gore a nice warm seat on the bench this week. The Indianapolis Colts head to Seattle to square off against the Seahawks on Sunday night. Seattle had another shaky performance defending running backs in last week’s loss at Tennessee. They allowed 195 rushing yards in that game, highlighted by DeMarco Murray’s 75-yard touchdown run. However, I expect Seattle to put forth a better effort against Indianapolis this week. Even though Gore finished as the overall RB16 last week, he still managed just 2.3 yards-per-carry against the Browns. I think the chances of Gore averaging 2.3 yards-per-carry in Week 4 are far more likely than those of him scoring a touchdown. Indianapolis is also the biggest underdog on the board this week. Gore’s workload will likely be reduced due to negative game flow, further capping his already limited upside. The veteran should be avoided in all fantasy leagues in Week 4.
SLEEPER OF THE WEEK:
Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers – Chris Johnson leads the Arizona Cardinals’ backfield in rushing this season. With 61 yards. Woof. He wasn’t even on the team when the season began. However, since being signed and forced into action following David Johnson’s injury, Chris Johnson has been used as Arizona’s featured running back. He will continue to be featured in Week 4 against the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have been better against the run than they were last year, but that’s not saying a whole lot. San Francisco has still given up the tenth-most rushing yards in the NFL. Arizona is expecting left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Mike Iupati back for this game, which should open up some running lanes for Johnson. Arizona also figures to be playing this game from in front, which would increase both Johnson’s floor and his ceiling. I think Johnson is a sneaky bet to finish Week 4 as an RB2.