As we head into Week 15 of the NFL season, which in some leagues is the start of the fantasy football playoffs, league managers are really feeling the pressure as they scramble to set lineups featuring as many fantasy relevant running backs (RBs) whose potential snap counts, receiving targets, and carries give them the best chance to win their weekly matchups.
Health and the effects of a long and grueling season have already taken their toll on several NFL running backs forcing some teams to have to reshuffle their backfield depth charts. Teams such as the Patriots, Texans and the Seahawks may not have their lead backs available in Week 15.
There were a few backup running backs that suffered injuries in Week 14 and their progress should be monitored this week. Derrick Henry’s handcuff, Dontrell Hilliard, suffered a neck injury on Sunday. If Hilliard is unavailable, Hassan Haskins or Julius Chestnut might see limited action for the Titans against the Chargers on Sunday. Broncos RB Mike Boone, suffered an ankle injury that may cause him to miss the rest of the season. Marlon Mack will likely backup Latavius Murray moving forward. Dolphins RB Jeff Wilson Jr. suffered a hip injury in Week 14 and is considered day to day. With Raheem Mostert as the team’s lead back, Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin (who’s been dealing with a shoulder injury) will provide depth in the Dolphins’ backfield.
There are several other backfields that deserve our attention this week as well. Let’s analyze their recent and potential future RB usage and attempt to project how their RBs will be utilized as the season continues winding down.
New England Patriots
Rhamondre Stevenson suffered an ankle injury which forced him from his Monday night matchup against the Cardinals. Prior to Week 14 he had played an average of just over 81% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps. More will be known about the severity of Stevenson’s injury as we get closer to kickoff on Sunday. Rookie RBs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris would share the Patriots backfield in Week 15 if Damien Harris, who has missed the Pats’ last two games due to a thigh injury, is inactive again this week. If active, Damien Harris would likely be the Pats’ lead back this week. If he’s not, the Pats would probably ride the hot hand between Strong and Kevin Harris. Both scored a TD in Week 14 playing in place of the injured Stevenson but Strong was the more explosive of the two, rushing 5 times for 70 yards (14 YPC). He also caught two passes for 20 yards. Kevin Harris had eight carries for 26 yards (3.25 YPC).
Ken Walker (ankle) and DeeJay Dallas (ankle) were inactive in Week 14 and despite last minute speculation prior to kickoff that Tony Jones Jr. would start over Travis Homer, Homer played the majority of snaps out of the Seahawks’ backfield against the Panthers. Homer played 49 snaps and ran 27 routes last week compared to just five snaps and two routes ran for Jones Jr. Both Walker and Dallas were limited in early week practices ahead of the Seahawks’ Thursday night matchup against the 49ers. Walker has a better chance at playing in Week 15 than Dallas but if both are out, Homer should once again fill in as the teams’ lead back. With the 49ers giving up the fewest fantasy points to RBs this season you might want to avoid starting any of the Seahawks’ banged up RBs.
Dameon Pierce is expected to miss at least one week due to what has been described as a mild high ankle sprain. With the Texans mysteriously cutting the recently signed Eno Benjamin on Tuesday morning, Rex Burkhead is the likely candidate to operate as the team’s lead back. The veteran Burkhead has shown occasional flashes of brilliance when he’s been called upon to pound the rock and he faces a Chiefs team that gives up the most fantasy points to RBs. Of course, if the Chiefs get out to an early big lead, the Texans might not be running the ball very much. Dare Ogunbowale, whose snap count has been on the rise over the past three weeks, will likely steal some carries away from Burkhead and should also be on the field in passing down situations.
Just when we thought D’Andre Swift’s season had turned the corner and that he would have a consistent and prominent role in the Lions’ run game, Jamaal Williams stepped up and led the team with 16 carries in Week 14. Swift, who had just six carries, only played one less snap than Williams, but led Lions RBs in routes run (17) and targets. Williams’ usage as a goal line back and the inconsistency in the way the Lions have utilized Swift this season, probably makes Williams the less risky start during the fantasy football playoffs. Swift’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield adds to his potential production and gives him the higher ceiling over Williams, but Williams’ nose for the end zone and higher carries per game average give him the higher floor over Swift.
J.K. Dobbins saw his first game action since Week 6 and he had a very productive Week 14, rushing 15 times for 120 yards (8 YPC). He also converted his lone red zone carry into a TD. However, Dobbins, who suffered an ACL injury last season and missed time due to injury this season, admitted that he is not fully back in game shape just yet. Gus Edwards played seven less snaps than Dobbins and only took two fewer carries than him in Week 14, but likely still has some fantasy value left in him heading into the fantasy football playoffs. With QB Lamar Jackson possibly missing his second straight week due to a knee injury, the Ravens will likely continue to lean on their run game against the Browns on Saturday, providing Dobbins and Edwards with plenty of opportunities to help fantasy football managers during their playoff runs.