We’re entering the final stanza of the first quarter of the Fantasy Football season, which could only mean one thing: Bye Weeks are coming. This week is a little light with just Tennessee and New England putting their feet up on Sunday. But now is the time to plan for the weeks ahead by reviewing your roster, and making pick-ups that could help both in the immediate, and long-term.
For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on running backs, but there is plenty of talent across each position group to make a difference. Week 3 offered even more proof that offensive production is at record levels for the NFL, and that this will always be a quarterback-dominant league. Across all the games this week, eight teams scored 32 or more points in their contests, with five of them scoring 38 or more. Eight quarterbacks attempted 40 or more passes. It’s important to realize these numbers, and chart them to notice any trends, particularly as we see running back usage trend downward toward committee arrangements. Without further adieu, here are some of the key committees to watch as we head into Week 4.
Week 4 Byes: New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans
New England Patriots
Trending Up: Dion Lewis (8 carries, 37 yards 1 TD; 5 rec., 30 yards)
Trending Up: LeGarrette Blount (18 carries, 78 yards, 3 TDs; 1 rec. 14 yards)
Once again, Lewis got the start in this one, and as many predicted, this one got out of hand right after halftime, meaning it was time for Blount to do what he does best: run people over. If you look at the box score alone, you’d think that Lewis should be considered an after-thought. The truth is, Blount didn’t even enter the game until there were around six minutes left in the first half. He’s built like an Abrams tank, and is very fresh after receiving just two carries in Week 2’s shootout with the Bills. The Pats are still starting Neon Dion, still passing at a near-historic clip and still running two and three-tight end empty backfield sets with Lewis (or Brandon Bolden or even James White) flaring out in the slot. For a team that has put up 119 points in three weeks, there is plenty to go around for both of these backs, and even when they return from the bye. Lewis is the preferred back, but Blount is no worse than a RB3/Flex consideration each week.
New York Giants
Trending Up: Andre Williams (14 carries, 29 yards 1 TD)
Hold: Shane Vereen (6 carries, 23 yards)
Trending Down: Rashad Jennings (11 carries, 32 yards; 3 rec. 25 yards)
The Giants finally got the win that had eluded them through the first two weeks and did so primarily thanks to forcing turnovers. They also employed a very equitable timeshare between their backs due to the way the carries and flow broke down. First it’s important to point out that Andre Williams was the leading rusher for the G-men last season, his rookie campaign. Second, this is a clip of him plowing through a Washington defender on Thursday, his most inspiring run of the game. Third, Rashad Jennings was playing special teams on Thursday and contributed immediately with a punt block. He’s a consummate pro, and a great veteran leader, but these facts all make me think that Williams is the one to own between the two. Vereen will continue to enjoy his role, and with Victor Cruz expected back this week, there could be a slight decrease in Vereen’s usage. It remains to be seen how effective Cruz can be after coming back from a devastating knee injury, coupled with calf issues early this year. If you have to pick one to own, I’d say I’d put my chips on Williams. Vereen is a good stash at this point and could be a flex play during the bye weeks, but Williams received the goal line looks and dominated the touches in the second half of this one. That being said, Week 4’s battle with the Bills is probably not the time to utilize his services unless you are truly desperate.
Trending Up: Joseph Randle (14 carries, 87 yards, 3 TDs; 2 rec. 18 yards)
Trending Up: Lance Dunbar (1 carry, 5 yards; 10 rec. 100 yards)
Hold: Darren McFadden (6 carries, 35 yards, 1 TD)
Coming as a shock to precisely no one, Brandon Weeden was the epitome of a game manager last weekend. He attempted as many passes to his Top 2 wide receivers (Terrance Williams and Devin Street) as I attempted: zero. He was a check-down king, and when Dunbar or Jason Witten weren’t available (10 and 8 targets out of 24 total targets, respectively) he was at a loss. Cole Beasley finished the day with four receptions on four targets for 20 yards. You could make the case that all three of these backs are trending up and worth rostering, but I believe that Randle continues monopolizing carries at a 2:1 ratio over the others, and Dunbar is far and away the best receiving back of the bunch and will continue to earn his reps. The ‘boys head to The Superdome this Sunday night for a match-up with the Saints, which is a good bet to mean decent stats for the aforementioned backs. The Saints defense is ranked 29th in total yards per game, giving up 397 per contest. Of those, 126 yards are coming on the ground; meaning we could see Randle push toward a similar line as this past week, however, don’t count on three scores again. Ride this backfield for the foreseeable future if you like the volume play; without Dez Bryant and Tony Romo, this is a very, very one-dimensional team, and you can count on Randle getting 10-15 carries (15-18 touches), and Dunbar getting 6-8 receptions per game.
Trending Down: Ronnie Hillman (7 carries, 13 yards, 1 TD; 1 rec. 3 yards)
Trending Down: C.J. Anderson (8 carries, 18 yards; 1 rec., 9 yards)
This is almost as strange as it gets. If we discussed this in August, and you told me that you would bet me a million dollars that C.J. Anderson would have less than 75 yards rushing after three games, I would’ve taken that bet. If we assumed that was true, and then you told me that the Denver Broncos would be 3-0 anyway, I would’ve been even more incredulous. But that’s exactly what’s happened: the Broncos are undefeated, and they’ve done so thanks wholly to a top defensive unit and the wet noodle arm of Peyton Manning. What is most concerning, at least for your dear author, is the complete and utter lack of any semblance of 2014 C.J. Anderson, or any running game in Denver, period. Anderson has looked slow and overmatched, has found no spaces to run, and has generally been a total bust through three weeks. Here’s the upside: The next three weeks before their Week 7 Bye include match-ups with the Vikings, Raiders and Browns, all three teams that can be run on and in increasingly greater capacities. If C.J. Anderson doesn’t crack 100 total yards and a score in any of these next three games, I will venture to say he will be prime for a drop.
Hold: Chris Ivory (Suited Up; DNP)
Trending Down: Bilal Powell (10 carries, 31 yards; 7 rec., 44 yards)
If you heard the news Sunday morning that Chris Ivory was going to suit up, you may have put him in your RB2 slot figuring he’d see at least 15 carries in a slugfest. Well, by the start of the afternoon games, you were probably hearing this when you checked your lineup. Ivory goosed his owners thanks to the coaching staff holding him out even after stating he was “good to go” before the game. This week, the J-E-T-S head to foggy London town for an early morning tilt against the Phins, who are struggling defensively right now and could offer some room for upside as an RB2 play. Monitor the news coming out of the U.K. before the 10 a.m. ET start, but the expectation is that Ivory will be the lead back for New York. Separately, Bilal Powell continues to be a factor in the passing game when he gets to operate in space, but running out of a split backfield or I-formation is not his forte. He remains a stash for Ivory owners, but isn’t worth a roster spot for anyone else except in the deepest of leagues.
Trending Up: Karlos Williams (12 carries, 110 yards, 1 TD)
Hold: LeSean McCoy (11 carries, 16 yards; 1 rec. 10 yards 1 TD)
Shady has been hurtin’ and it’s looking less and less likely he’ll play in this week’s game against the Giants. Rookie Karlos Williams has been outstanding spelling McCoy and is the only running back in the league to score touchdowns in each of the first three weeks. With the expectation that he’ll amass the majority of carries for the Bills, he’s a very solid RB2 candidate this week. As for Shady, he’s obviously still a hold. Once healthy, he could return to form as one of the Top 10 backs in the league. I expect to see him back at close to full strength by Week 5 after a week off, and that could help to get him back in his groove. Regardless, this one looks to be shaping up to be an equitable timeshare, so if Williams is available on your waiver wire, you better make a very healthy bid to secure his services.
Hold: Alf Blue (31 carries, 139 yards, 1 TD
Trending Down: Jonathan Grimes (6 carries, 19 yards; 4 rec. 19 yards)
Trending Up: Arian Foster (Still waiting in limbo)
Just as everyone decides to move on after a couple of disappointing weeks in Houston’s backfield output, Alfred Blue steps up to the plate to deliver an eye-popping 139 rushing yards on 31 attempts, out-touching his next closest teammate by twenty touches. He’s the only (active) ownable player in this bunch, and all bets are off if Foster suits up this Sunday. However, if he is absent, Blue is a prime candidate for another 20-plus carry game against the Falcons, which is undeniably RB2 territory because of the volume of work.
Hold: Chris Johnson (22 carries, 110 yards, 2 TDs; 1 rec. 40 yards)
Trending Up: David Johnson (7 rec., 25 yards; 3 rec. 18 yards)
With Andre Ellington resting, Chris Johnson has out-touched David Johnson 42-12 in the last two games they’ve worked without A.E. with Chris putting up a very solid 182 yards on the ground during that span. Ellington is still on the mend, and there is no firm word on whether he’ll be back this week to take on the Rams. If he’s not ready – and the 3-0 Cardinals are certainly not desperate for his services at this point – expect Chris to again dominate carries with David serving as the caddy with big-play ability. David remains the Johnson to own in all future-focused leagues, and even in redrafts, I believe he’ll have a role even when Ellington returns and will be a high-ceiling Flex candidate, whereas his elder battery-mate should be relegated to the bench.
Trending Down: Jeremy Hill (12 carries, 21 yards)
Trending Up: Giovani Bernard (13 carries, 49 yards; 3 rec. 34 yards)
Another prime example of the fact that box scores only show so much when analyzing a game. The Bengals started the game going right off the script, trying to establish the run, get into a flow and focus on overpowering their division rivals. On the Bengals’ opening drive, Hill totaled eight of his 12 rushes – three-quarters of his touches for the entire game – in the first 7:40. As the flow turned more toward an aerial back-and-forth, Gio Bernard remained on the field for almost the entire second half. The Bengals take on the Chiefs at home this weekend, which should be an entertaining one. Expect Hill to again get the start and every opportunity to prove he can be the workhorse for Marvin Lewis’ team. However, should he again be pedestrian, and if Bernard is able to get yards Hill was leaving out there, well, this duo will be a 50/50 split going forward.
This may be burying the lede, but how about Devonta Freeman, huh? After everyone under-selling him all week figuring he’d be a RB3/4 against a stout Dallas defense, Freeman promptly quieted all of the naysayers by throwing up a 35-touch/193-yard/three-score day. Tevin Coleman is expected to miss at least another two weeks with his broken ribs, and even when he comes back, it would appear that Freeman has earned the title of lead back in Atlanta, and could do even more for his case this week against the Texans… Washington’s duo of Alf Morris (6-19) and Matt Jones (11-36-1 key goal line fumble) were very average on Thursday night. The tide continues to flow in Jones’ direction, and his workload should continue to increase over the coming weeks. Both backs are still holds, but Jones is trending up because of his great potential. Worth noting: Chris Thompson finished the game with two rushes for 29 yards to go with eight receptions for 57 yards and a score on 11 targets. He’ll be worth monitoring even though most of his damage was done in garbage time simply because of his pass-catching ability, and the comfort Kirk Cousins has in him… It would appear that Antonio Andrews has risen to claim the crown for the Tennessee Titans. After out-touching his next closest teammate 13-7 (Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster both), it appears that Andrews may have done enough to hang onto the job after the team’s Week 4 bye… Ryan Mathews became the bellcow for Chip Kelly last weekend against the Jets, and boy, did he deliver. Mathews dominated the touches for the Eagles, which resulted in a 25-carry/108-yard rushing performance to go along with his two catches for 20 yards and a score. With DeMarco Murray likely back this week, his stock must be somewhat tempered, but if for any reason he’s available in your league, scoop him up. He’s looked fresher than Murray, hungrier than Murray, and, frankly, a better fit in this offense than Murray. Darren Sproles didn’t have as much of an impact despite also scoring (11 carries, 17 yards, a TD plus four receptions for 19 yards). He’s a strong hold, but little more than a Flex play during bye weeks once four teams are out of commission each week… Thomas Rawls, the undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, actually got the start for the Seahawks because of ankle and hamstring issues Marshawn Lynch was dealing with that eventually pushed him from the game after five carries for 14 yards in the first half. Rawls responded (albeit against the lowly Bears) with a 16-carry, 104-yard day. Rawls is a very solid pickup for this week if Lynch can’t go, and an even better long-term stash in all non-redrafts. After seeing him run on Sunday, you can now understand why the Seahawks had no remorse about parting ways with both Christine Michael and Robert Turbin after years of grooming. Rawls is the real deal.