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Fantasy Football: Week 8 Running Back Matchup Report

Ezekiel Elliott was the undisputed fantasy star of Week 7. Elliott led or tied for the NFL lead among running backs in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in Week 7. His performance was the second-best of the season in terms of fantasy points, trailing only Kareem Hunt’s opening night heroics. Speaking of Hunt, for the first time this season, he is not the overall RB1 on the year. Todd Gurley has taken over that mantle behind another strong performance. Hunt did manage to eclipse 100 total yards for the seventh straight game (a feat LeGarrette Blount, this week’s cover boy, has accomplished just once this season). Hunt will look to continue that streak and regain the top spot, but he has a difficult matchup against Denver’s #1 defense.

As we turn the page and look ahead to Week 8, several name-brand running backs will be watching from home this week. Todd Gurley and Leonard Fournette lead the pack, but there are five other top-36 running backs who are off this week as well. This may also be the toughest week for running back matchups in 2017. There are simply not a lot of easy matchups to exploit. Of the six teams that have allowed the most rushing yards to opposing running backs, three (Jacksonville, Green Bay, Los Angeles Rams) have byes this week. Furthermore, the top 12 defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs are all in action in Week 8. Let’s see if we can separate the contenders from the pretenders to help better gauge which running backs make the best Week 8 plays.


LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers: Following Carson Wentz’s coming out party in Week 7’s Monday night victory against Washington, LeGarrette Blount might fall a bit under the radar in Week 8. He shouldn’t. Blount has the easiest matchup on the board this week against the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco’s defense hasn’t been as historically inept as last year’s unit but has still allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Blount does not do much in the receiving game, but that won’t prevent him from putting up big numbers. Philadelphia owns the best record in the NFL and is hosting the team whose record is tied for the worst. You don’t need me to tell you that this is a recipe for a huge workload for Blount. I think Blount is in line for 20 carries in this game. I’m expecting LeGarrette Blount to finish as a top-10 and possibly even a top-five fantasy running back in Week 8.

Dion Lewis, New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Chargers: We know the pecking order in the New England Patriots’ backfield can change on a dime, but Dion Lewis is the running back in New England that you want to play at the moment. Lewis has quietly been a top-20 fantasy running back in each of the last two weeks, has run for more than 50 yards in three straight, and ranks as the overall RB19 over the last four. Lewis gets a good matchup in Week 8 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Los Angeles has allowed only three total touchdowns to opposing running backs but has also allowed running backs to average 4.99 yards per carry on the year. As is often the case, this is a game that New England should control, which could lead to a fair number of rushing attempts. Given his recent usage, Lewis has a pretty safe floor as an RB2/Flex option.

Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons: It seems there are several cases where backs who are in timeshares have a matchup that is worth paying attention to. One of those cases involves the New York Jets’ running back duo of Bilal Powell and Matt Forte. Both running backs have been in and out of the lineup at various points this season. Both appear healthy heading into this matchup, which is good news for their fantasy owners. Among teams that are active in Week 8, Atlanta has given up the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. They’ve given up an average of 153.8 total yards to running backs this season. Last week was the first time the pair have played together since Week 3, and they had almost identical opportunities and production. Powell finished as the overall RB18, and Forte finished as the overall RB19. If the workload is split evenly once again this week against Atlanta, I think it’s quite possible that both Jets’ running back ends up as RB2s in this matchup.


Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles: Carlos Hyde currently sits as the overall RB9 on the season. Hyde has reached at least 75 total yards in six of seven games this season. This week Hyde and the 49ers travel to Philadelphia to take on the red-hot Eagles. The stat that jumps off the page is rushing attempts against the Eagles. Opposing running backs have run the ball just 96 times on Philadelphia this season, an average of just 13.7 per game. A lot of this has to do with negative game script, which should once again be a factor in this game. The Eagles are nearly two-touchdown favorites here. It’s certainly within reason that San Francisco falls too far behind to give Hyde a large workload in this game. Even when teams have run the ball against the Eagles, they have not been successful. Philadelphia has held enemy running backs to just 3.06 yards per carry. Given the matchup and the likely result of this game, I would not view Carlos Hyde as anything more than a mid-range RB2 this week.

Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns: Well, I was half right last week, which I suppose is better than usual. I touted Jerick McKinnon’s Week 7 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens as one worth exploiting. True to form, Vikings’ running backs ran for 160 yards and a touchdown on a healthy 5.0 yards per carry. Unfortunately, Jerick McKinnon was not the one doing the damage, as Latavius Murray did most of the heavy lifting for the Vikings. Murray scored the touchdown and had 113 rushing yards on 18 carries, while McKinnon totaled only 57 scoreless yards on his 17 touches. Minnesota now heads across the pond to face the Cleveland Browns. Despite their winless season, Cleveland has done an excellent job limiting opposing running backs. Cleveland has held running backs to an NFL-best 2.95 yards per carry on the year. Given the matchup and Minnesota’s backfield timeshare, it’s difficult to trust Jerick McKinnon as anything more than a risky RB2 in Week 8.

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks: Lamar Miller has been one of the most consistent fantasy running backs so far this season. He has had at least 63 total yards in each game this season. Kareem Hunt is the only other running back who can make that claim. However, this consistency hasn’t exactly translated to fantasy success for Miller the way it has for Hunt. Despite the decent yardage, Miller has just one top-18 finish to his name. Miller has scored just two touchdowns on the year, both coming in the same game. His prospects for hitting paydirt aren’t particularly high in Week 8. Seattle has predictably bounced back defensively after a rough start to the season. The Seahawks have allowed an NFL-low 10.03 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs over the past four weeks. During that span, they have allowed an average of just 54 rushing yards per game to running backs on 3.12 yards per carry. Miller’s volume should keep him in the Flex conversation, but don’t rely on him for anything more than that in Week 8.


Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots: We’re digging a little deeper than normal in looking for a sleeper, but what the heck? You only live once. Besides, Ekeler can’t possibly be a worse choice than Ty Montgomery was last week. Woof. Ekeler is an undrafted rookie who seemingly has secured the backup role away from Branden Oliver. Ekeler is still a distant second behind Melvin Gordon in the pecking order, but he has impressed in limited opportunities thus far. He has averaged 5.7 yards per carry on his 13 carries and has also secured 13 of 17 targets. Gordon is banged up, dealing with shoulder and foot injuries following a knee issue earlier in the season. Gordon will surely suit up this week, but with his physical limitations and Los Angeles’ bye week on the horizon, perhaps Ekeler gets a little more run than usual in this game. Game flow may play a role, as well. If the Chargers fall too far behind, Ekeler may see an uptick in touches. We all know how badly New England has struggled to defend running backs both on the ground and in the passing game. If you’re in a bye week crunch, pick up Austin Ekeler, put him into your lineup and let him take care of the rest. He’s already been an RB2 on two different occasions this season. I say he does it again in Week 8.

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