Superstar first-round running backs just haven’t been getting it done in fantasy this season. Sure, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson have lived up to expectations, while Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell has rounded in to form after serving his two-game suspension.
But fantasy owners have watched the likes of Chicago’s Matt Forte, Philadelphia’s DeMarco Murray, Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy, Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, and Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill chug along with average to poor production over the first three weeks of the season.
Much of the problem stems from early injuries. Lacy missed most of Week 2 after suffering a high ankle sprain, McCoy’s hamstring has bothered him since training camp, Murray went down with a hamstring injury before Week 3 but he wasn’t getting enough touches to begin with, and injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Alshon Jeffery have defenses focusing solely on Forte, while Hill is losing carries to Giovani Bernard and says he doesn’t care as long as the Bengals keep winning.
Instead, owners have seen most of their top backs flounder and others who went late in drafts or undrafted surge ahead. Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, New England’s Dion Lewis, Oakland’s Latavius Murray, and Dallas’ Joseph Randle have put up good to incredible numbers basically every week, despite most being viewed as RB2s or FLEX2s before drafts took place this season.
But what this really means is that running back production isn’t nearly as exclusive a club as most experts believed. Even if you failed to secure one of the NFL’s premier backs, there’s a good chance you have an excellent rusher on your bench, already in your lineup, or even on your league’s waiver wire, who can contribute equal or better production.
With that in mind, here are four running backs to start and four to maybe sit in Week 4.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are rolling even with Stewart averaging a mere 3.5 yards per carry and only 170 yards through three games. No Panther has scored a rushing touchdown other than quarterback Cam Newton, but they meet a Tampa Bay D that’s allowed 414 rushing yards, No. 28 in the NFL, and four touchdowns. Historically, Stewart’s burned the Bucs for 745 yards and six touchdowns, both his best numbers against any team.
Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
Gordon’s workload has been light, but it won’t be against Cleveland’s porous rushing defense. The Browns are allowing 158.3 rushing yards per game (worst in the NFL) and 4.9 yards per carry (second-worst). The rookie’s proved when given attempts he can explode, just like in Week 2 when he totaled 88 yards on 16 carries. The Chargers will find ways to get Gordon into the end zone for the first time in his career.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Ivory makes his return as the Jets fly to London to face a very disappointing Dolphins D. Miami’s No. 30 against the run giving up 145 yards per game. New York might give some carries to Bilal Powell if they go up big, but Ivory should bet back into the end zone for the first time since Week 1.
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos
The Broncos running game has been non-existent, ranking No. 31 in the league with 57 yards per game. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have dealt with defenses daring Peyton Manning to throw. This hasn’t caught up with undefeated Denver yet because their defense has played so well. But the Broncos will need to work out their issues in the rushing attack, and there’s no better squad to regroup against than Detroit. The Lions have allowed five rushing scores this season, tied for second-worst in the league.
Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
It’s tempting to doubt the Jets punishing D as they make the trek to London, but Miller’s rushing woes should continue against New York’s stacked defensive line. He’s only managed 105 yards off 30 carries through three games, and until quarterback Ryan Tannehill gets going Miller should stay on fantasy benches for the time being.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Gore finally exploded for two touchdowns in Week 3, but next up is a Jacksonville D ranked No. 10 against the run with only 3.3 yards allowed per carry. Quarterback Andrew Luck potentially missing the first game of his career also throws Gore owners into further turmoil. The Colts might have to start veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who hasn’t started since Nov. 2012.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Defenses have keyed on Morris which has caused him to lose more and more snaps to rookie Matt Jones. In the last two games, Morris has 24 attempts to Jones’ 30. Things could get worse for Morris owners with the Eagles No. 7 rushing D coming to town.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals seem intent on feeding the hot hand, and right now that’s Bernard not Hill. Both have garnered 41 carries, but Bernard’s been far more effective with 5.7 yards per attempt compared to Hill’s 3.0. But this week, neither might be worth a start with the Chiefs yet to allow a single rushing touchdown and only 94.0 yards per game. Plus, much like we saw the Packers do in Week 3, the Bengals might take to the air far more often against a K.C.’s No. 27 ranked secondary. The Chiefs are getting cornerback Sean Smith back, but he could be rusty against receiver A.J. Green. Not to mention Bernard’s also been a machine as a receiver, catching 12 of his 13 targets for 75 yards. Hill has just one catch for two yards off one target.