Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): Alright guys, let’s talk running backs. A host of starters are dealing with injuries including Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Devonta Freeman, Charcandrick West and Frank Gore. That means we’ll see some new faces in Week 12. Because running back is such a volume-based position, even players who are relatively unproven can be worthwhile waiver pickups. If you’re at 5-6 or 6-5 in any of your season-long leagues, Week 12 could be the difference between making the playoffs or watching them from home. So which fill-ins are you guys considering for this week?
Thomas Rawls is clearly the best of that bunch after blowing up for 255 yards last week, but I’m curious to see what Spencer Ware can do with a full workload. He had a mammoth second half against San Diego and it doesn’t look like Charcandrick will be ready after leaving last week’s game with a strained hamstring. I’m not as bullish on Tevin Coleman or Buck Allen, but maybe you guys can talk me into them.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I'm good with Rawls because Seattle is so committed to the run, but the matchup is rough and he could have a line similar to the one he had against Detroit in Week 4. Pittsburgh allows just .434 points per rushing attempt, the second fewest in the league. As for Ware and Coleman, we don't even know for sure if either incumbent will be inactive. Both of their matchups are rough as well, although the lead RB spot in Kansas City has proven bankable even with backups from Davis in '14 to West and now Ware this year.
So I guess that puts me in the position to side with the safest touches in the best matchup with Buck Allen. Allen will be taking over in what will presumably be a dumpster fire of an offense, but Cleveland has been extremely giving all season to backs. The Browns have allowed six different backs to rush for 90 yards or more, nine to have double digit PPR points and another six to have 15 or more points. Allen himself even had 58 rushing yards on eight carries in ancillary duty when these teams first met.
Allen isn't as good of an interior runner as Forsett is, but he's a way better receiver. While everyone was pimping Forsett and the Marc Trestman effect this summer, we should've really gone back and looked at how awful of an asset Forsett has been in his career out of the backfield. A career mark of 6.7 yards per reception and just 4.8 yards per target is pedestrian for a back of his archetype. Hell, Allen already had 48 receiving yards last week which is just a yard less than Forsett's best game out of the backfield. The Ravens can do some things with Allen in the passing game and Matt Schaub has peppered backs with targets before.
The real concern though is that Baltimore is likely going to be booger popsicle on offense. I don't doubt that happening, but at least the Ravens organization has had that team prepared to compete weekly. I can't see them getting destroyed by a Cleveland team that seems to be in a tailspin off the field.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): I agree Allen looks good on paper, but he has been mediocre at best this season and was not very impressive in college. People will give him a pass for last week because it was St. Louis, but the Rams have not been the Rams recently and are dealing with a lot of injuries in the front seven. I may have a bias against Allen because of what I saw studying him pre-draft and what I have seen this season, but I am not particularly excited about him in an offense which looks poised to nosedive. Rich makes a good point about his receiving ability, which was a positive in college and should give him a nice floor with Matt Schaub running the show, but I struggle to see big upside despite what should be a solid workload. Also, Terrance West …
Evan Silva (@evansilva): They are all really good prospects for the stretch run. This week, Thomas Rawls, T.J. Yeldon, Buck Allen, and Spencer Ware are all in the same price range on DFS sites. You can pick two of them and play two of Julio Jones-Odell Beckham-DeAndre Hopkins and have a great-looking lineup. Rawls was the most popular play by a good margin in Thursday night DFS contests and I'd fully expect that to remain the case on Sunday through recency bias alone. I do wonder if game flow could be a threat to Rawls this week because I really think the Steelers go to the Clink and have passing success there. Antonio Brown is a bad matchup for Richard Sherman, and the Seahawks can't cover anywhere else. I think there's a chance Ben Roethlisberger lights up Seattle, which would be a bit tilting for those so heavily invested in Rawls because Fred Jackson could end up playing quite a bit.
Like Ray, I wasn't a big fan of Allen's running ability coming out of USC. But his versatility always made him a good fit for Marc Trestman's offense, and he'll benefit from running behind an above-average offensive line. The Ravens should be in evaluation mode down the stretch of a lost season and I don't think they'll be hesitant to feed Allen quite a bit.
Yeldon is third in the NFL in snaps played among running backs and gets the best-possible matchup this week against a league-worst Chargers run defense that is traveling across the country for a 1 PM ET game. Love Yeldon this week.
Ware is a north-south power back with violent tackle-breaking ability. If Charcandrick West can't play this week, I'm really excited to see what Ware can do in an offense that's been very plug-and-play for running backs. Andy Reid backs produce. If Ware does get the start, he'll face an underachieving Bills run defense in a home game with Buffalo playing on a short week and Kansas City favored by nearly a touchdown. Giddy Up.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): The concerns about Allen are valid, but it’s hard not to love a back coming off a 27-touch game against the league's worst run defense. The Browns have allowed at least 150 rushing yards in 7-of-10 games, including 181 against the Ravens in Week 5. For Allen, it would be very difficult to screw up that kind of workload in this kind of matchup. I'm all aboard.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): With the current state of the running back position, I really like all three of these backs moving forward based on workload alone. Rawls, who I like most this week, led the NFL in carries in Week 11 with Buck Allen tied for fifth and these players should continue to see the field plenty in coming weeks. When looking at this position as a whole, you get down to the part-time and plodder backs in a hurry and I think any running back with an expected workload like these guys is worth starting in most scenarios while we chase the ghost of 2009 Jerome Harrison.
Pantuosco: I’m probably getting ahead of myself here but you can already see the tectonic plates shifting at running back. If Rawls excels down the stretch, I think there’s a good chance the Seahawks will move on from Marshawn Lynch this offseason. They’d save a lot of money by doing so and if this year was any indication, Lynch doesn’t have a whole lot left in the tank.
Allen will also be auditioning for the starting job next year. If the Ravens like what they see, I wouldn’t be surprised if Forsett gets demoted to second string. He was always more suited for change-of-pace work and at age 30, Forsett is getting closer to that point of no return that all running backs will eventually reach.
Free agency could dramatically alter the landscape at running back. Matt Forte, Lamar Miller, Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount and Alfred Morris are all at the end of their deals and could be headed to different teams. I’m not sure about the others but I think it’s pretty safe to say Forte won’t be back in Chicago next season. Assuming that’s the case, Jeremy Langford could be an early-round pick in fantasy next year.