Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Running back is getting weird again, guys. Outside of the sure things (Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson), it’s really anyone’s guess what to expect at this point. It’s the last week of the fantasy regular season, so it’s now or never.
Thomas Rawls and Doug Martin are both back from injuries but neither has looked sharp. The same goes for James Starks, who has looked sluggish in his few weeks atop Green Bay’s running back depth chart. Workload concerns are beginning to mount in Houston as Lamar Miller looked gassed against the Chargers last week. Even Jay Ajayi isn’t the no-brainer he was a few weeks ago.
So let’s gauge the temperature here. All the guys I just named are weekly fantasy starters and that’s not going to change. If they’ve carried you this far, you’re not turning back now. But can we feel good about any of them? Or are we just closing our eyes and hoping for the best?
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): Spencer Ware has also been awful whenever stud rookie Parker Ehinger isn’t blocking for him. I just don't see how you can believe in Thomas Rawls or the Seattle backfield at all outside of chasing last season's small sample size. Since Week 3 they’ve had one running back reach 70 rushing yards in a game and that came off one big play by C.J. Prosise. The Seahawks have a terrible offensive line and a miserable schedule for running backs the rest of the way.
I also don't think we've given enough credit to LeSean McCoy as an elite fantasy option because of his weekly injury concerns. When healthy, he's really cooked, scoring 16 or more PPR points in his last six full, healthy games. The Bills’ remaining schedule is glorious too with cake games against Oakland, Cleveland and Miami.
Bilal Powell is still playing just under half the snaps in New York, but Matt Forte is about to embark on a three-game stretch against Indy, San Francisco and Miami. So that’s something fantasy owners can look forward to.
I also think Jordan Howard will be a solid play down the stretch. He has 15 or more touches and at least 99 yards from scrimmage in four straight and three of his remaining games are against favorable opponents. The only concern with Howard is how many opportunities he’ll get in the second half of games.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): Kenneth Dixon out-snapped and out-touched Terrance West in a positive game script against Cincinnati with Baltimore leading the whole game. Dixon may not be a league-winner in a low-scoring offense with several tough games against good run defenses coming up, but he has a chance to be pretty useful, especially in PPR leagues. Week 13 will be a good litmus test for him against a sub-par Dolphins run defense in a home game where the Ravens should be in control. Baltimore's stout defense helps his outlook.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): Jeremy Hill could be a huge factor down the stretch. He predictably got swallowed up by the Ravens' elite run defense last weekend, but that wasn't the takeaway. It was his career-high six receptions on six targets, which was also a career-high. Hill used to be part of the RB2 brigade that would hurt you without a touchdown. Now, even with Rex Burkhead playing some snaps, his overall involvement will be more robust, and his usage greater and more predictable. This weekend he gets the Eagles' soft-ish run defense before a gift-from-God matchup against Cleveland in Week 14. I rarely say this these days, but I'm bullish on Jeremy Hill.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): I agree with Rich's comments about McCoy. While it seems like we have spent most Sundays nervously waiting for the inevitable "McCoy is heading into the locker room with trainers" tweet to surface, he has been great when healthy. Buffalo's run-heavy ways will obviously keep him busy as long as he is upright.
Kenneth Dixon is shaping up to be one of those late-season, breakout running backs that can carry you to a fantasy title. I don't think it's a stretch at all to think he will continue to leave Terrance West behind. I have the same hopes for Wendell Smallwood in Philly and would really like to see what he can do in a friendlier game script than what he saw against the Packers in Week 12.
Pantuosco: Okay, I’m going to be both good cop and bad cop for a second here. Now that Rob Gronkowski is out of the mix, I’m all in on LeGarrette Blount (or as Reebs likes to call him, The Garrette). The numbers don’t lie. In the three games the Patriots have played without Gronkowski this year, Blount has averaged 105.7 rushing yards on 23.3 carries per game. In the eight games they’ve overlapped, Blount has averaged 69 rushing yards on 17.8 carries. So obviously there’s a pretty stark contrast between how the Patriots approach their offense with and without Gronkowski. Without their top weapon, I expect New England to be far more balanced. That should open up a ton of work for Blount, who, last I checked, leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12.
That was my good cop routine. Here’s bad cop. Frank Gore is my boy, but he’s been struggling for a few weeks now and I’m starting to get concerned. An aging running back (he’s the second-oldest back in the league) hitting a wall in the second half—it makes too much sense doesn’t it? Prior to Week 9, Gore was averaging a respectable 4.22 yards per carry. Since then he’s limped to a dismal 2.65 yards per carry. His workload remains relatively strong (he’s logged 20-plus touches in two of his last three games) and I don’t see that changing given the Colts’ embarrassing lack of depth behind him. I just think we’re at the point where if Gore doesn’t score a touchdown, it’s basically a lost week for fantasy owners. Entering the last week of the fantasy regular season, I want a little more assurance than that.