by Ray Kuhn
Here we are for another week of disappointments and tough, and potentially wrong, choices. Muddling through your options at running back isn’t exactly easy, but at least we have clarity, at least for the next few weeks, in Pittsburgh (Le’Veon Bell isn’t returning until Week 8) and Jacksonville (Leonard Fournette should be out a few weeks now paving the way for T.J. Yeldon) with Mark Ingram, Devonta Freeman and potentially Joe Mixon returning.
Unfortunately there are many more questions than answers, but what’s new? Let’s take a look at how this week’s options rank:
- Todd Gurley – LA Rams – at Seattle
- Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints – vs. Washington
- Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers – vs. NY Giants
- Melvin Gordon – LA Chargers – vs. Oakland
- Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys – at Houston
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals – at San Francisco
- James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers – vs. Atlanta
- Saquon Barkley – NY Giants – at Carolina
- Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs – vs. Jacksonville
- T.J. Yeldon – Jacksonville Jaguars – at Kansas City
- Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders – at LA Chargers
- Lamar Miller – Houston Texans – vs. Dallas
- Chris Thompson – Washington Redskins – at New Orleans
- Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns – vs. Baltimore
- Sony Michel – New England Patriots – vs. Indianapolis
- Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions – vs. Green Bay
- Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints – vs. Washington
- James White – New England Patriots – vs. Indianapolis
- Giovani Bernard – Cincinnati Bengals – vs. Miami
- Matt Brieda – San Francisco 49ers – vs. Arizona
- Alex Collins – Baltimore Ravens – at Cleveland
- Dion Lewis – Tennessee Titans – at Buffalo
- Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles – vs. Minnesota
- Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons – at Pittsburgh
- Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers – at Detroit
- Phillip Lindsay – Denver Broncos – at NY Jets
- Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings – at Philadelphia
- LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills – vs. Tennessee
- Adrian Peterson – Washington Redskins – at New Orleans
- Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons – at Pittsburgh
- Nyheim Hines – Indianapolis Colts – at New England
- Bilal Powell – NY Jets – vs. Denver
- Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos – at NY Jets
- Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titants – at Buffalo
- Austin Ekeler – LA Chargers – vs. Oakland
- Javorius Allen – Baltimore Ravens – at Cleveland
- Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns – vs. Baltimore
- Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins – at Cincinnati
- Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks – vs. LA Rams
- Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals – vs. Miami
- James Conner couldn’t have had a better start to the 2018 season, but it has gone downhill since. It hasn’t been the smoothest of seasons for Pittsburgh in general, and that was fully on display this past week as they lost to Baltimore. As we head into Week 5 there is some more clarity regarding Le’Veon Bell’s status, as he appears to be returning for Week 8 following Pittsburgh’s bye. However the Steelers are still potentially attempting to trade Bell, so it is possible that Conner does retain the job for longer than two more weeks. Regardless, we need to adjust our expectations for Conner as he gained just 44 combined yards last week; 19 on the ground while catching three of his seven targets for 25 yards. Game flow was an issue and we shouldn’t forget about him. Overall, Conner has 232 rushing yards through his first four games with 135 coming in Week 1 and 97 coming in the other three games. Prior to last week he was catching five passes per game, so despite his recent struggles it is a good sign that he has a regular role in the passing game. With a match-up against Atlanta on tap for this week, I would expect to see a rebound performance.
- Dalvin Cook really just can’t catch a break this season. Not only is the second year running back dealing with a hamstring injury, as of Monday he was still not 100%, he follows up one tough match-up with another one. Last week he had to deal with the Rams’ defense and next up is the Eagles, so things won’t get much easier. It will likely be another few weeks until Cook is fully healthy, but having a few extra days (Minnesota played on Thursday) should benefit him. Cook carried the ball just 10 times against Los Angeles last week, all in the first half, for 20 yards and in three games he has yet to reach 100 yards (97 in total). The next time Cook reaches the end zone will be the first for 2018, and at this point I would look for another option this week.
- There is another running back who was dealing with injury issues and was drafted to be a starting running back, who might warrant a seat on your bench again for this week. If you drafted LeSean McCoy you were counting on him to be a plug and play option, but he has yet to be up to the task. Despite talk about a focus of the game plan being to get him touches, he really wasn’t a factor against Green Bay (game flow didn’t work in his favor). Buffalo never really had a chance, and to say that Josh Allen looked over matched would be an understatement. Marcus Murphy wasn’t even active last week to take away targets from the veteran, as McCoy managed just five carries for 24 yards and three receptions for another 13 yards. All together McCoy has 29 touches in three games, so the only place to go for the veteran is up. However with the Titans having a strong defense, I might want to wait another week before putting McCoy back into my lineup and letting him prove himself. At some point Buffalo will have to lean on him.
- Entering this season there is no way I would have expected to rank Marshawn Lynch as an RB1, but here we are. Lynch is one of the bell-cow running backs who has proven that he can be counted on each week and the workload has been there. In each of the past three weeks he has surpassed 20 touches and he’s coming off his highest yardage total (130) since 2014. Included in Lynch’s carries was a 59 yard romp in which he showed impressive speed by getting downfield. Last week he failed to get in the end zone as he was stuffed on his goal line carries, but he has 3 TD on the season while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. At this point you can’t argue with the production or the workload; 68 carries in four weeks along with 10 receptions for 60 yards. This week he shouldn’t have too many difficulties navigating the Chargers defense, and it is a hot hand to be ridden.
- At this point we are going to assume that Devonta Freeman will return for Week 5, but as of Tuesday evening it has not been confirmed. After carrying the ball six times for 36 yards and catching three passes for another 14 yards before exiting with a knee injury, Freeman hasn’t played since. However he did return to practice on a limited basis last Thursday, so that is why we expect to see him in what will be a high scoring affair against Pittsburgh. In Freeman’s absence Tevin Coleman failed to truly get going as he has just a combined 294 yards; 54 carries for 210 yards and 10 receptions for another 80 yards. Ito Smith did factor into the equation, taking some work away from Coleman, but with Freeman back Smith will likely recede as the backfield returns to it’s natural order. It is a situation to monitor throughout the week, but based on what we have seen so far Freeman has the slight edge.
- Sorry, not sorry Matt Patricia, but I don’t agree. Kerryon Johnson’s current workload simply is not enough. Coming off a game that saw him carry the ball 16 times for 101 yards two weeks ago against the Patriots, the rookie was on the field for just 20 snaps last week against Dallas. It’s not like Johnson wasn’t successful in that time either; nine carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. So far this season he has carried the ball 38 times, and he is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. If that doesn’t beckon for more work I’m quite honestly not sure what does.
Make sure to check out all of our Week 5 rankings: