Week 5 Fantasy: Risky Running Backs

With every passing week, fantasy owners are forced to evaluate which players will put up the most points, and ultimately, give them their best shot at winning their match-up.

Despite point projections given to each player, it’s important to look at their match-ups and gauge whether or not a bench player with a good match-up is worth starting over a high-valued starter with a bad match-up.

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Here are a few locked-in starters on your roster that you may want to consider replacing this week.

Credit: https://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/

Miles Sanders

Sitting at the RB29 on the season, we have yet to see a return on investment for Miles Sanders this season, considering he was a late-first or early-second round pick. All the signs are there for him to become the workhorse running back he was drafted to be. He’s been backed by Duce Staley and Doug Pederson in terms of handling the workload. He’s ran the sixth-most routes of any running back, despite missing Week 1. He’s still playing in an offense riddled with injuries, and remains one of — if not THE — focal point of the offense. That said, his match-up against the Steelers is God-awful.

For starters, the Steelers defense is allowing a mere 2.7 yards per carry, and just 54 yards per game. Needless to say, even if the Eagles were to feed Sanders 25+ rushing attempts, he would still end up with single-digit fantasy production. Remember Week 1 when Saquon Barkley rushed for just six yards on 15 attempts? Yeah, I’m trying to forget that, too. 

As mentioned before, Sanders does play a valuable role in their passing offense. The question still remains whether he can turn his opportunities into production. Despite being tied for ninth in targets among running backs, and his aforementioned passing routes ran, there isn’t much to show for his usage. He has yet to surpass 36 yards receiving in any of the three games he’s played, and he hasn’t scored a single receiving touchdown. He shouldn’t shoulder any of the blame, considering how poorly the Eagles offensive line has played, which has led to unexpected regression from Carson Wentz. Just last week, he missed Sanders out of the backfield on two wide-open looks that would have at least led to first downs.

Considering the Eagles will now have to face one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the Steelers, who sit third in the NFL with 15 sacks in just three games, it isn’t far-fetched to predict Wentz continuing to struggle, ultimately leading to more mediocrity from Sanders in a fantasy perspective.

Credit: https://www.denverbroncos.com/

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon is coming off his best fantasy performance of the season, when he put up 24.8 points (HPPR) on the lowly New York Jets. This week, he faces a much tougher task in the New England Patriots defense. Although the Patriots are 17th in the league against the run, Bill Belichick always game plans to take away the other team’s best weapon. Considering the Broncos are without Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton, that leaves Melvin Gordon as the biggest threat on the Broncos offense for Belichick to shut down. 

Considering the uncertainty at quarterback due to Drew Lock’s health, whoever lines up under center can massively affect Melvin Gordon’s fantasy output. With Brett Rypien at the helm, Gordon was fed a season-high 23 rushing attempts to try and make their backup quarterback’s job a little easier with manageable yardage situations. The thing is, he wasn’t very good (or efficient) on 22 of those 23 attempts. Up until his 43-yard touchdown run, he ran for just 64 yards on 22 attempts, for an average of 2.9 yards per carry. That’s not RB1 or RB2 type production, and it came against the Jets 24th-ranked run defense at the time.

Another factor that might diminish Gordon’s fantasy output is game script. The Broncos are 23rd in the league in offensive plays per game averaging 63.2. On the other hand, the Patriots are second in the league in opponent’s plays per game (57.2) and sixth (68.8) in offensive plays per game. In other words, the Patriots dominate time of possession with their power-run scheme and dictate the pace of the game. This could force the Broncos to abandon the run and become one dimensional if they’re down, resulting in a negative game script for Melvin Gordon. 

If you look at Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s performance against the Cam Newton-less Patriots, he finished as the RB21 with 64 yards on 16 rushing attempts. That’s in the high-powered, fully healthy Chiefs offense. The Broncos are nowhere near that level, and that’s why I see Melvin Gordon III as a flex play, at best.

credit: https://www.bengals.com/

Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon put together one of the best fantasy performances of his career last week, with a jaw-dropping 181 total yards and three touchdowns for 39.1 fantasy points (HPPR). That performance helped him finish as the No. 1 fantasy player on the week, and brings his season total to the RB8. 

With such a transcendent performance, many fantasy players are looking for him to build off of it and continue to trend upwards as the RB1 he was drafted to be.

I’m here to tell you that last week as an outlier, and as high as you are on him going into his match-up, you can be just as low on him afterwards.

Do you remember that he was the RB38 before last week? Or that his highest fantasy output was a cool 86 total yards for 10.6 fantasy points against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2? Or that he didn’t score a single touchdown on the season until last week? Probably, because you were left regretting taking him as high as you did. 

Although Mixon is a good running back, he simply isn’t put into situations that let his fantasy production live up to his talent. First and foremost, the Bengals offensive line is the 19th-ranked run-blocking unit, whereas the Ravens boast the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense. Combine that with the fact that the Ravens haven’t allowed a single rusher to go over 72 yards on the ground this season, it’s already not looking too good for Mixon.

Secondly, as I mentioned in relation to Melvin Gordon, game script is a huge factor in whether a fantasy running back can produce at an elite level. As things stand, the Ravens are 12.5 point favorites over the Bengals. Meaning, it’s very likely that the Bengals are playing from behind, and can’t afford to burn the clock trying to run the ball. Mixon is a good pass-catcher, and is by no means, a liability on third down, but for some reason, Zac Taylor seems to prefer Giovani Bernard to carry the load as a receiver out of the backfield. After Mixon’s big week, Bernard is still tied with Mixon with 15 targets; however, he has 98 receiving yards in comparison to Mixon’s 88, and that’s coming on 39 fewer routes ran.

I would love for the Bengals to keep giving their stud running back the ball, but until they do it on a consistent basis, I expect Mixon to produce closer to his fantasy floor, rather than his ceiling.

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