Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): It’s nice when the Roundtable writes itself. The injury bug claimed several high-profile victims in Week 14 including Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, Jonathan Stewart, T.J. Yeldon, LeGarrette Blount and Thomas Rawls.
Most fantasy owners took to the waiver wire to remedy the situation. Denard Robinson, Tim Hightower, Bryce Brown and Brandon Bolden were the obvious adds and for good reason. But let’s not forget what week it is. This is Week 15, which coincides with the semifinals in most fantasy leagues. It makes sense to own these players but can we trust any of them in our starting lineups?
For instance, Bryce Brown has a gorgeous matchup against Cleveland’s porous run defense. But I’m not sure how I feel sliding Brown into my lineup for the most important game of the season. He hasn’t played a snap yet this year and he hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2013.
How would you rank these guys? For me, the one I trust most is Robinson. Shoelace was actually a serviceable flex option last year and I could definitely see him getting 15-to-20 touches against Atlanta. With Yeldon and Toby Gerhart out, he should be close to an every-down player.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I'd definitely go Robinson first. Atlanta has allowed the most receptions and rushing touchdowns to running backs this year and Robinson has looked really good in the limited sample we've had. His cleanup duty last week was good enough to be T.J. Yeldon's fourth best PPR game of the season and in a starting role last season (in a much worse offense) he had four top-20 scoring weeks.
Hightower wasn't overly impressive and was largely inefficient last week as he was extremely aided by game script as the Saints led wire to wire for the first time since Week 7. But he's in a spot where all of the ancillary components kind of force you to plug your nose at that. He's going to play a ton and get usage. The Saints have a 27-point team total and the past three games in New Orleans have been track meets as teams have combined to score 101, 62 and 79 points. The Saints have also averaged four offensive touchdowns per game at home this season. Hightower is basically Shaun Draughn in an elevated situation and in the RB2 mix this week.
I am intrigued by Bolden this week because Tom Brady has historically performed under seasonal averages when the Pats are favored by 14 or more points (eight times since 2009) as New England is willing to grind away games on the ground when the other team isn't a threat to score. We've seen similar spots this season against Washington and Jacksonville where Blount was elevated. That would lead me to buy into Bolden a little as he has already been playing way more than White in positive game script situations. But White is the hot ticket since he has some scores and red zone touches out of the no huddle. He'd be a longer flex play for me, but color me at least a little interested in Bolden.
As for Carolina? Shoulder shrug. Cameron Artis-Payne hasn't played since Week 7, Fozzy Whittaker is a change of pace option and Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton have higher odds of rushing for a touchdown than either of them.
Seattle? Another shoulder shrug. The way Russell Wilson is playing they can do whatever they want at running back. There are some wise men and women in the world and no one has any clairvoyance on how many touches will be dispensed there this week.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): I guess it depends on what we mean by trust. Denard Robinson is the only one I trust to be a starting option for most teams, but I trust Tim Hightower and Brandon Bolden will get enough carries to be solid options, even though I am less confident in their ability to put up big numbers.
Hightower’s matchup against Detroit is not as great as Todd Gurley’s second half last week might make it look. Even with Gurley’s outburst, the Lions have given up the seventh-fewest points per game to running backs over the last five weeks and have allowed just 3.5 yards per carry over that span. Hightower did not have a carry in the NFL from Week 7 of 2011 until Week 10 of this season. In a game that should be more pass-heavy than last week, I do not have much hope of Hightower grinding out any more than 60 yards on the ground. At that point you are hoping for a touchdown. It could happen, but we are talking about trust.
As for Bolden, playing a New England back in a must-win situation is the definition of crazy. Bolden’s usage after Blount left last week is very promising, and I am projecting him to see around 15 carries in what should be a run-heavy game script. The problem is Bill Belichick does not care about our projections. James White has not had more than three carries in any game this season and has not had more than six in a game in his career, but he could see 20 this week just for the troll of it. White has also been getting the red-zone work, seeing eight touches to just three for Blount over the last four games including six inside the 10. It would not be surprising if Bolden does the work but White – or more likely Brady – ends up with the touchdowns.
With those considerations, I view Hightower and Bolden as reliable low-upside RB3/FLEX options. The problem is teams who are still playing at this point in the season likely have better options available.
Jeff Brubach (@Jeff_Brubach): Robinson is definitely the most trustworthy option of the available choices this week, and like Ray mentioned, this comes down to trust. In order to slot one of these guys into a flex spot this week, owners will likely have to stare at a far more proven name and click that player over to the bench. That is a tough call in most cases, especially when opting for a running back who bashed his way to just 85 yards on 28 carries last week in Hightower, or a member of the New England backfield in Bolden.
I would feel comfortable starting Robinson this week however, as Atlanta has been slaughtered on the ground recently and he should be in line for enough touches to give fantasy owners a nice return. I would then side with Hightower slightly over Bolden in only desperate situations and completely avoid the Seattle web of running backs this week.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): Yes, I think the only one deserving of anything that could be considered "trust" is Shoelace. They were trying him at the goal line even before Yeldon's injury, and he looked as good as I've ever seen him in the NFL against the Colts last week. Pretty strong bet for 15-20 touches.
Bolden ... I don't mind him as a desperation option if you've gotten this far riding "stars and scrubs" and have to plug someone into your FLEX spot. He had as many carries last week as James White has had all season. As we've alluded to, the Pats are big-time favorites against the Titans, and don't have to get cute with the game plan, i.e. targeting their passing-down back 8-10 times.
Evan Silva (@evansilva): I think Brandon Bolden has a really solid week, perhaps with overlooked upside. A 2-TD game is within his potential range of outcomes while the projected game flow sets up nicely for Bolden to handle 18+ touches with the Pats favored by two touchdowns at home. I think we'll see this be a Bolden Week, and next week against the Jets will be a James White Week.