We are a quarter of the way through in the Fantasy season and production from rookie running backs has been up and down. Outside of Todd Gurley, few backs are showing the consistency needed to earn a spot in your lineup on a weekly basis. There have been flashes one week, and duds the very next, which can cause headaches for many owners. Of course, expectations for rookies have to be tempered based on the difficulty of picking up the pro game, but every so often you can grab a back that can carry you to a title, ala Doug Martin. As opposed to seasons past, there seem to be more rookies involved in rotations around the league. You could point to more teams being willing to go with the committee approach, or just the lack of true talent altogether. Either way, these running backs are either those that you have your eyes on to trade for, or the type that you are looking to move to improve depth elsewhere.
Two weeks into his NFL career and we are seeing that the hype may not be blown out of proportion. In a difficult matchup on the road against the Cardinals, Gurley exploded for 146 yards on the ground. Most of the damage came in the second half, in which he broke loose for four runs of 20-plus yards. Gurley showed the vision and speed that made him a star in college, and made the Rams’ coaches look very smart for easing him into action. Those of you that drafted him and have waited may have made the right move, as Gurley looks to have the potential to finish the year as a RB1.
Keep in mind that he is coming off an ACL injury, so hitting a wall at some point in the year could come into play. Luckily enough for the Rams, there are adequate backs to spell Gurley and keep him fresh, which will only help his productivity going forward.
The matchup for Week 5 could be a great test for Gurley, as the Rams go on the road to Green Bay. The Packers’ run defense is currently ranked 22nd in points allowed to RBs at 16.4 PPG. Part of that reason could be that teams are constantly playing from behind vs. Green Bay. This could be a week in which we see another dimension to Gurley’s game, as he could get involved in the passing game. Expect the Rams to use Gurley plenty to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. Start him with confidence going forward.
Picked by many to eventually take over the duties in the Browns’ backfield, Duke Johnson had been sporadically used until Week 4. Johnson had himself quite the game on the road against the Chargers, and not in ways you would expect either, as he was primarily a pass-catching back last Sunday. He was targeted 10 times, hauling in nine passes for 85 yards and a beauty of a touchdown working the corner of the end zone.
With Isaiah Crowell still a heavy part of the rushing attack, Johnson’s upside could be limited. In PPR leagues, it could be a smart move to try and move Johnson to an eager owner coming off his recent performance. The Browns’ offense is not considered the most potent out there, so repeat performances of Week 4 could be few and far between.
Up next for the Browns is a tough divisional matchup at Baltimore. The Ravens currently allow 14.7 PPG to opposing RBs, which may not bode well for the Browns in general. This sets up as a low scoring affair between these two teams, so I would shy away from Johnson this week and see how the workload splits.
I know it’s early, but Melvin Gordon has been disappointing, to say the least. There have been some contributing factors to the early season struggles. The Chargers have been decimated along the offensive line, being without three starters in Week 4. The continued involvement of Danny Woodhead (who is getting more red-zone looks) is also slowing the learning curve for Gordon, as he is a volume back and he simply is not getting the touches. The previous two matchups (at Minnesota, vs. Cleveland) should have been stat stuffing matchups for the rookie, but he did not come through in either, which can be deemed troubling.
Depending on your draft strategy, you drafted Gordon as either your RB2 or RB3, so you’re certainly stuck in a wait and see approach unless the right deal comes along. It’s highly unlikely that you could get the value you paid for, so unless you are desperate, I would hold off and see how his game improves and whether the touches increase.
The going is not getting any easier for Gordon against a Steelers’ defense that is only allowing 12.3 PPG to opposing running backs. This is shaping up to be a Phillip Rivers’ scoring week, which means you may see quite a bit of Danny Woodhead. The only chance I see of Gordon making this his breakout week is the Chargers getting ahead early and relying on the run. But Gordon is starting to wear thin many a Fantasy owner’s patience.
Since his explosive Week 1 debut, it’s been tough sledding for Abdullah the last three games; he’s rushed for only 65 yards over that span. All this while Joique Bell has either been out or hampered by injury. Coupled with the low rushing stats, the catches have been minimal as well (only five over the last three games). Granted, the Week 4 matchup was a tough one on the road in Seattle, whose defense seemed to be in the backfield all night long. Matt Stafford and the passing game did not do much to take pressure off Abdullah either, so it was an all-around poor effort for Lions.
Abdullah is an intriguing player going forward. Playing on a seemingly well balanced offense, Abdullah is a complete back who can run and catch, which is especially useful in PPR leagues. If an owner is losing faith early, throw an offer out to try an obtain Abdullah as a RB3/Flex. You could very well come off with a steal if you can buy him low enough, as he could very well round out into a low end RB2 by season’s end.
This next game will pit the Lions against a very angry Cardinals’ defense that just got shown up at home by Todd Gurley. Arizona will be hungry to prove that last week was a fluke, and hone in on stopping the Lions’ offense. Abdullah will have the task of trying to score against a team that is only allowing 15.8 PPG to opposing backs. His true value this week could be coming out of the backfield, but with Theo Riddick holding down many of the RB targets, Abdullah could find the scoring tough. Expect another down week for Ameer Abdullah.
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