Week 17 Running Back Rankings
Words by Jim Ayello; rankings by Paul Charchian and Jim Ayello (@jamesayello)
- David Johnson at Los Angeles – 10
I hope 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns is enough to silence any doubters still out there that David Johnson is the unquestioned No. 1 pick in all 2017 fantasy drafts. He is one of just 10 backs in NFL history to post a 2,000-20 season, and he still has one game left to build on his historic campaign. I fully expect him to record his 16th straight 100-yard game against a Rams defense that has given up 145 yards from scrimmage to backs over their past five games.
- LeSean McCoy at New York Jets – 10
Though the Bills aren’t playing for anything Sunday, the same cannot be said of interim coach Anthony Lynn and star back LeSean McCoy. Reports have suggested Lynn will be in the running to secure the Bills’ head coaching job, so he’ll want to put his best foot forward. That starts with feeding McCoy, who is currently tied with Bilal Powell for the league’s yards per carry crown at 5.5. McCoy also sits just nine yards back of DeMarco Murray for the AFC rushing title. So with both marks at stake, expect Shady to be at his best against a Jets team that has given up 4.4 YPC and six running back touchdowns over its past five games and has long since quit on the season.
- Jordan Howard at Minnesota – 9.5
Jordan Howard continues to shine as one of the few bright spots in a dark, dark season for the Bears. You can now make it nine games in a row the rookie has provided at least 99 yards from scrimmage. He’ll go for 10 against the team he started his streak against back in Week 8, the Minnesota Vikings. In their last meeting, Howard ravaged the Vikes for 202 total yards and a touchdown.
- DeMarco Murray vs. Houston – 9.5
While I believe Derrick Henry might see more work than the much-older DeMarco Murray on Sunday, I still think Murray could be a good play. Back in Week 4, he rushed for 95 yards and a pair of scores against the Texans, who at this point, have nothing left to play for and could rest their starters to prepare for the playoffs. One reason to think I’m wrong about Murray getting less work: He’s two yards back of Le’Veon Bell for the AFC rushing title, and while Bell isn’t expected to play much, Murray will need to hold off LeSean McCoy, for whom he leads by only nine yards.
- Devonta Freeman vs. New Orleans – 9.25
Did you know that Devonta Freeman is 275 yards and two touchdowns away from matching his 2015 totals (1,639 total yards, 14 TDs)? Surprised me, too. While it would take an historic day for him to post those numbers Sunday, he still is very capable of recording a banner day. The Saints have yielded the second-most receiving yards to backs and have the dubious honor of being the only team other than San Francisco to have allowed at least 20 total touchdowns to backs.
- LeGarrette Blount at Miami – 9.25
LeGarrette Blount has become the face of the 2016 running back rushing touchdown renaissance. His 17 lead the league and are the most since LeSean McCoy scored the same amount way back in 2011. One more score would tie him with 2009 Adrian Peterson and 2008 DeAngelo Williams for the most rushing touchdowns since LaDainian Tomlinson ripped off 28 in his historic 2006 campaign. And he has a good chance to do it, too, against a Dolphins run defense that has crumbled of late, yielding the fourth-most yards to backs over the past three weeks.
- Bilal Powell vs. Buffalo – 9.0
If Todd Bowles loses his job, one of the reasons will be because he waited until Week 14 to #FreeBilal. At 5.5 yards per carry, Bilal Powell leads all qualified runners. And it’s no fluke: In five of the six games he received at least six carries — including the past three — Powell has averaged 4.0 YPC or better. What’s more, despite the Jets’ best efforts, Powell has quietly snuck up on 1,000 total yards. With just 27 to go, he should have no trouble attaining that milestone for the first time in his career against a Bills defense that has given up 200-yard rushing performances in two of its past three games.
- Mark Ingram at Atlanta – 8.75
It’s too late, Mr. Ingram. Your recent surge is too little, too late for us to forgive what you did all season. With 70 total yards and a touchdown, Ingram will have one of the most disappointing 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown seasons in recent memory. I mean, there was almost no point during the year when you could really count on him, yet his year-end totals look sterling. Ingram puts a cap on an inconsistent season Sunday against a Falcons team trying to lock down a first round bye. Atlanta allowed one of Ingram’s four 100-yard games back in Week 3 and has allowed the most receiving yards to backs in the league.
- Alex Collins at San Francisco – 8.75
Assuming Thomas Rawls can’t play (sore shoulder), Alex Collins is the back you want, as the Seahawks prepare to face the worst run defense in football. The 49ers have surrendered a league-high 2,250 rushing yards to backs, 339 more than the runner-up Browns. When Collins and the Seahawks pick up 17 rushing yards Sunday, the 49ers will have allowed the most yards to backs since the 2010 Buffalo Bills (2,382). Expect Collins, like every other back, to have his way with the 49ers defense, as Seattle tries to secure a first-round bye.
- Darren Sproles vs. Dallas – 8.75
There are many reasons to like Darren Sproles in this game. 1. Ryan Mathews isn’t playing, which means Sproles should see plenty of work. 2. Sproles totaled 100 yards in these teams’ last meeting (Week 8). 3. Dallas might get smart and decide to rest starters in the second half, meaning Philly should have an easier time on both sides of the ball.
- DeAngelo Williams vs. Cleveland – 8.5
Let’s diagnose this situation using kindergarten sentences, because a 6-year-old’s understanding is about all it takes to know this is a good matchup for DeAngelo Williams, who is likely to replace the resting Le’Veon Bell in the Steelers’ starting lineup. Ready? Browns is bad. Steelers is good. (Turn page) Williams is good. Browns still bad. (Turn page). Williams run far. Browns miss tackles. (End of book). In all seriousness, the Browns have given up the second most yards to backs and were shredded by Bell (37 touches, 207 yards) in the teams’ most recent matchup. No reason to think Williams can’t approach those numbers. Oh, and if DeAngelo Williams (knee) doesn’t play, Fitzgerald Toussaint is an excellent option.
- Frank Gore vs. Jacksonville – 8.5
Frank Gore is 36 rushing yards shy of becoming the first back aged 33 years or older to rush for 1,000 yards since John Riggins did it 1984. Last week, he became the first player ever to post 11 consecutive 1,200 total-yard seasons. Frank Gore is still good, and he will continue to prove it Sunday against the dreadful Jaguars run defense that’s given up touchdowns to backs in four of their past five games.
- Jonathan Stewart at Tampa Bay – 8.5
Year after year, Jonathan Stewart recovers from a slow start and saves his best for last — 2016 is no different. In four of his past five games, Stewart has averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better. That comes after only achieving the feat once in his first seven games. Look for his late hot streak to continue against a Bucs defense that has conceded 4.6 yards per carry and four touchdowns to backs in its past five weeks.
- Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Carolina – 8.5
Serious question: Is Jacquizz Rodgers better than benched starter Doug Martin? Martin has averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per carry on 144 attempts this season with zero games above 4.0 YPC. Meanwhile, Rodgers, already the superior receiving option, has posted 4.3 YPC on 112 carries and boasts four games above 4.0 YPC. This leads one to wonder: Are the Bucs primed to shed Doug Martin and his awful-the-moment-it-was-signed contract? I think so. I also think Rodgers could have a solid game against a Panthers defense that has yielded 4.1 yards per carry and five scores to backs in its past five games.
- Jay Ajayi vs. New England – 8.5
When Jay Ajayi does it, he does it big. After Saturday’s 206-yard performance against the Bills, he now boasts four 100-yard rushing days this year and three of them were actually 200-yard games. That puts him in a three-way tie with O.J. Simpson and Tiki Barber for second all-time in 200-yard games in the same season. He trails only Earl Campbell, who did if four times in 1980. Does he have a chance at tying Campbell? Probably not. The Patriots haven’t allowed any back to rush for more than 60 yards in their past four games.
- Thomas Rawls at San Francisco – 8.25
[Upgraded on news that Rawls should be able to play this week.]
- Mike Gillislee at New York Jets – 8.25
- Isaiah Crowell at Pittsburgh – 8.25
A little tidbit for you to remember heading into your fantasy drafts next season: Isaiah Crowell will likely finish as one of only 10-12 backs to total 1,000 yards from scrimmage and average better than 4.4 yards per carry. He’ll have a good shot at building on those impressive numbers Sunday against a Steelers unit that has given up the third-most receiving yards to backs and will likely be resting starters.
- Robert Kelley vs. New York Giants – 8.25
Robert Kelley is yet another quietly impressive rookie whose shimmer is only dimmed by the twin bright lights coming from Dallas. That said, Kelley has struggled a bit of late, failing to accumulate 100 yards in his past five games. My guess, assuming he plays through a knee injury, is that the streak grows another game against a Giants defense that has limited backs to 3.7 yards per carry and has allowed just one running back touchdown in its past games. The Giants are locked into the No. 5 seed, and may rest starters, which gives him some upside he wouldn’t otherwise have.
- Chris Ivory at Colts – 8.0
- Tevin Coleman vs. New Orleans – 8.0
- Darren McFadden at Philadelphia – 7.75
[Upgraded on news that Zeke is expected to rest for most of the game.]
- Latavius Murray at Denver – 7.75
When your team runs for 210 yards, and you only account for 40 of them despite leading the team in carries (15), that’s not a good sign. But that’s exactly what happened last week to Latavius Murray, who, to his credit, has fought off challengers to his No. 1 role all season long. But if he is in a slump, do not expect the Raiders to let him play through it. He’ll need a strong bounce back game if he wants to be “the man” heading into the playoffs. And while it will be tough with Derek Carr sidelined, Murray enjoyed his best game of the season against these same Broncos in Week 9, racking up 114 rushing yards and three scores.
- Todd Gurley vs. Arizona – 7.75
It has now been 17 weeks since Todd Gurley last rushed for 100 yards. It has been nine weeks since Gurley averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry. Fortunately for his owners, he has hit pay dirt two of his past three games, and the likelihood of him finding the end zone is the only thing that makes him playable this week. Though Arizona has been one of the best teams against the run lately and all season, it has yielded five rushing touchdowns over the past five weeks, so there’s a glimmer of hope for Gurley.
- Paul Perkins at Washington – 7.75
A pair of two-game streaks have me high on Paul Perkins this week. First, Perkins himself has a two-game streak of averaging 4.5 yards per carry or better. In that time, he has racked up a modest 139 yards, but I think he’s capable of more. And that’s because of Washington’s two-game streak of surrendering 100-yard games to backs. In fact, in Washington’s past five games, only four teams have surrendered more total yards to backs.
- Spencer Ware at San Diego – 7.75
[Downgraded on news that he’ll be a game time decision with his rib injury] While it wasn’t the year that it looked liked it could be after Week 1’s dominating performance against the Chargers (199 yards and a touchdown), Spencer Ware probably did enough to be counted among the second wave of running back options heading into next season. Ware is just 132 yards shy of 1,500 total yards and while has hasn’t recorded that 100 yards in a game in more than two months, the Chargers offer him a decent shot at attaining the feat. San Diego appears to have quit on the year after falling to the hapless and previously winless Browns last week. Playing for a chance at a first-round bye, expect the Chiefs to do all they can to win and for Ware to be heavily involved.
- Derrick Henry vs. Houston – 7.75
With their playoffs hopes dead, and Marcus Mariota sidelined, I think the Titans will make a concerted effort to get Derrick Henry the ball. In fact, I predict for the first time this season, Henry will out-touch DeMarco Murray. It’s nothing against Murray, who has been sensational, I just think it’s the right time for the Titans to see what Henry can do as the workhorse. I could be wrong — it’s been known to happen — but if I’m right, Henry could have a nice day against Houston, which will be sitting starters with nothing left to play for. Houston also allowed Murray, back in Week 4, to rush for 95 yards and two scores.
- Ty Montgomery at Detroit – 7.75
Count on Ty Montgomery at your own peril. The kid’s talent is doubtless, but his usage in Mike McCarthy’s offense remains a weekly question. As much as I love to spit fire at McCarthy, I find it hard to after his team put up 38 points against a good Vikings defense. So while Montgomery’s nine carries against Minnesota are frustrating, his lack of use was not detrimental. Will we see more of the same against Detroit? It’s possible. Though Eddie Lacy ran for 100 yards against Lions back in Week 3, Aaron Rodgers is playing at another level right now and McCarthy might elect to let him chuck it 40 times again.
- Alfred Blue at Tennessee – 7.75
- Rex Burkhead vs Baltimore – 7.75
[Upgraded on news that Jeremy Hill is not expected to play.]
- Dion Lewis at Miami – 7.75
- Ronnie Hillman vs. Kansas City – 7.75
- Ezekiel Elliott at Philadelphia – 8.75
[Downgraded on news that Zeke is expected to have a very light workload.] With the division title and No. 1 seed in hand, the Cowboys have nothing left to play for — yet Jerry Jones says his starters will take the field Sunday. I’m not sure in what universe, especially after watching Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr go down, Jones thinks this is an advisable decision, but he didn’t ask me. So feel free to roll out MVP/Rookie of the Year candidate Ezekiel Elliott this weekend against an Eagles defense that yielded 148 total yards to the phenom in their last meeting and has given up 5.0 yards per carry to backs in its past three games.
- Theo Riddick vs Green Bay – 7.75
- Shaun Draughn vs. Seattle – 7.5
With Carlos Hyde back on the shelf (shocking!), Shaun Draughn will again become the 49ers’ feature back. It’s not a role destined for greatness, but he could be a decent play against a Seattle defense that is only okay against the run and has surrendered 40-plus receiving yards to two backs in its past three games.
- Terrance West at Cincinnati – 7.5
- Zach Zenner vs. Green Bay – 7.5
- Fitzgerald Toussaint vs Cleveland – 7.5
- Kenneth Dixon at Cincinnati – 7.5
- Duke Johnson Jr. at Pittsburgh – 7.5
- Jalen Richard at Denver – 7.5
- Chris Thompson vs. New York Giants – 7.25
- Tim Hightower at Atlanta – 7.25
- DeAndre Washington at Denver – 7.25
- Rashad Jennings at Washington – 7.25
- Justin Forsett vs. Oakland – 7.25
- Matt Asiata vs. Chicago – 7.25
- Jerick McKinnon vs. Chicago – 7.0
- Le’Veon Bell vs. Cleveland – 7.0
- Jeremy Hill vs. Baltimore – 7.75
[Downgraded on news that Hill is not expected to play due to a knee injury.]
- James White at Miami – 6.75
- Charcandrick West at San Diego – 6.5
- Devontae Booker vs. Oakland – 6.5
- Lance Dunbar at Philadelphia – 6.5