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Fantasy Football: Week 7 Running Back Matchup Report

One of the headlines in Week 6 was the fallout resulting from the trade of Adrian Peterson from New Orleans to Arizona. Peterson hadn’t shown anything in his brief stint as a New Orleans Saint other than rust and age, rushing for just 81 yards through four games. Immediately following the trade, I texted my friend who is a die-hard Cardinals fan and congratulated him on Arizona furthering their quest to re-create the 2009 all-Pro team. Peterson proceeded to make me look like an idiot (save the jokes, please) and appeared to find the fountain of youth in his Cardinals’ debut. He ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns. It was his best effort since Week 12 of the 2015 season. Not to be outdone, Saints’ running back Mark Ingram accounted for 150 total yards and two touchdowns of his own. While I don’t expect the duo to combine for nearly 300 yards and four scores each week, it’s clear that they will both benefit from this deal.

Looking ahead to Week 7, Lamar Miller (overall RB11) and Ameer Abdullah (RB24) are the most prominent running backs who will sit out Week 7 during their teams’ bye weeks. In other news, overall RB2 Leonard Fournette did not practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 6. And the never-ending Ezekiel Elliott saga took another turn on Tuesday, allowing Elliott to play in Week 7 in an excellent matchup versus the San Francisco 49ers. For those fantasy owners who own Miller, Abdullah, or other suspect options at running back, let’s look into some of the matchups to try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Favorable Running Back Matchups

Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings vs. Baltimore RavensJerick McKinnon is projected to be a top-15 back this week, and I completely agree. What a world. Since replacing Dalvin Cook following the dynamic rookie’s season-ending ACL injury, McKinnon has vastly outplayed backfield counterpart Latavius Murray through two games. McKinnon has scored three touchdowns and accumulated 243 total yards, emerging as the overall RB3 over the last two weeks.

McKinnon now faces a Baltimore Ravens team which continues to be gashed by the run since the loss of defensive lineman Brandon Williams. Baltimore has allowed 169.5 rushing yards per game during Williams’ absence. Last week, Baltimore allowed Chicago Bears’ running back Jordan Howard to run for a career-high 167 yards, including a 53-yard run in overtime which directly led to the game-winning field goal. McKinnon should continue to see the majority of touches in a very favorable matchup. It’s worth noting that Williams did return to practice on Wednesday, but his status is still in question. Either way, I would not hesitate to fire up McKinnon as an RB1 in Week 7.

Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles – It’s humbling to realize how little we know sometimes. Going into the season, many people were projecting Terrelle Pryor to be a top-10 wide receiver this season. Even worse, some of us were projecting Jamison Crowder to be a top-25 wide receiver. The two Washington wide receivers have combined for less receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and 20-yard catches than late-round flier Chris Thompson thus far in 2017. Oh, by the way, Thompson is a running back also leads Washington in rushing yards. There will certainly be a bit of regression to the mean for Thompson going forward, and I don’t expect him to end the season as Washington’s leading rusher or receiver, but his Week 7 outlook is better than one might expect.

At first glance, Thompson’s Week 7 matchup with Philadelphia appears imposing. The Eagles have given up the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. But the Eagles have also allowed the ninth-most points to running backs in the passing game, where Thompson does most of his damage. The only game so far in 2017 in which Thompson failed to eclipse ten fantasy points was against the Kansas City Chiefs, who limit receiving production by running backs better than any team in the NFL. Thompson will continue to be a high-upside running back option in Week 7.

Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots – Atlanta’s normally prolific offense struggled in a Week 4 home loss to Buffalo. That game could have been dismissed as a byproduct of Buffalo’s improved defense, except that the Falcons then proceeded to endure a scoreless second half against the Miami Dolphins, ultimately losing 20-17. They now sit at 3-2 with a road date with New England ahead of them. The matchup is right for Atlanta to regain their offensive swagger, particularly through their backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Freeman is a must-start every week, but Coleman should find his way into Week 7 lineups as well. He has averaged 74 yards per game and currently ranks as an RB2 (RB23 overall) despite only getting 10.4 touches per contest. Coleman also has at least one 20-yard play in each game so far in 2017. New England allows the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, and no team has allowed more receiving yards or receiving touchdowns to running backs. Coleman should be good for a couple of big plays in this high-scoring affair. I expect Tevin Coleman to finish as a high-end RB2 in Week 7.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers – Since the promotion of Bill Lazor to the position of offensive coordinator after Week 2, Joe Mixon has dominated Cincinnati’s backfield in opportunities. Mixon has averaged 19 touches over his last three games. Backfield mates Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have averaged just 5.7 and 5.0 touches, respectively. To this point, Mixon’s increased opportunities have not resulted in fantasy success. Mixon is averaging just 2.84 yards per carry over that timeframe.

His Week 7 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers is a tough one to figure out. The Steelers have twice allowed a top-two running back this season, but they also held Kareem Hunt to 21 rushing yards last week. Despite the solid effort last week, Pittsburgh has still allowed the third-highest yards per carry (4.99) to opposing running backs. Cincinnati has a week off to prepare for this game, and I expect some added emphasis on finding ways to get Mixon out in open space. Given Mixon’s volume and Pittsburgh’s suspect run defense, I think he makes for an ideal RB2 in Week 7.

Unfavorable Running Back Matchups:

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo BillsDoug Martin has looked good since returning two weeks ago from an early-season suspension. Martin ranks as the overall RB5 over those two weeks by virtue of his 146 total yards and two touchdowns. He has been quite efficient as well, averaging 4.7 yards per carry so far in 2017. His upside has been derailed by negative game script. The Buccaneers have trailed by multiple scores in all of their second-half possessions since Martin’s return. Unfortunately for Martin, that trend may continue this week, particularly if quarterback Jameis Winston cannot play due to an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder. If Winston cannot go, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick would take control of Tampa Bay’s offense. This would negatively impact Martin as well as the rest of the Buccaneers’ skill position players.

Even if Winston plays, the matchup is not particularly good for Martin. Buffalo ranks in the top-10 in the NFL in fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs, and ranks fifth in fewest rushing yards allowed to opposing running backs. Martin should be a serviceable RB2/Flex option in Week 7, but I would not expect a third straight RB1 performance.

DeMarco Murray, Tennesee Titans at Cleveland Browns – Last season, DeMarco Murray finished as the overall RB5, and the Cleveland Browns allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs. Most people will automatically assume based on those numbers that Murray is a safe bet for Week 7, but the Browns’ defense is much improved, and Murray has not been able to replicate his elite 2016. After averaging 104 total yards per game and scoring twelve total touchdowns in last season, Murray has averaged just 66.5 total yards per game and has scored just two touchdowns in 2017. His decline isn’t necessarily due to a decrease in skill level. He just simply doesn’t receive as many opportunities in Tennessee’s offense, primarily because of the emergence of Derrick Henry. Murray averaged 21.6 touches per game last year, compared to Henry’s 8.2. However, Tennessee has employed a much greater balance between their two backs in 2017. Murray is still out-touching Henry, but by just a 13.7-10.7 margin.

Murray is simply not an every-week RB1 anymore, and his weekly forecasts should largely be matchup-based going forward. His Week 7 matchup is more difficult than most would believe. Cleveland is allowing just 3.05 yards per carry, second-best in the NFL behind Denver. I expect Tennessee to continue to try to keep Murray fresh by allowing Henry to earn a more prominent role. Given the difficult matchup and decreased usage, I can’t consider DeMarco Murray as anything more than a Week 7 Flex option.

Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants vs. Seattle SeahawksOrleans Darkwa seems to have emerged from the black hole that was the New York Giants’ backfield. Last week Darkwa built on his solid Week 4 by accounting for 117 rushing yards on 21 carries in New York’s upset victory in Denver. He has now had at least thirteen fantasy points in back-to-back games. The good news for Darkwa is that he should be the featured running back for the foreseeable future, as Paul Perkins and Wayne Gallman have failed to impress this season. However, Darkwa’s Week 7 matchup against Seattle is hardly an exploitable one. After some early struggles, Seattle seems to have righted the ship defensively in their last two games. They have allowed a total of 108 rushing yards, including a miniscule 3.00 yards per carry to opposing backs during that span.

Following a Week 6 bye, I think Seattle will look to further prove that their early defensive struggles are behind them. With Seattle’s still-elite secondary matching up against New York’s severely depleted receiving corps, I expect Seattle to stack the box and try to make Eli Manning beat them by throwing the football. I don’t consider Orleans Darkwa to be a viable starting option in Week 7.

Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons – I don’t take any joy in being correct about Mike Gillislee last week. I own him myself, and I also helped draft him onto my friend’s team. But the writing was on the wall last week, and things didn’t get any better for Mike Gillislee in New England’s Week 6 victory against the New York Jets. Gillislee lost an early fumble, then watched as Dion Lewis led the Patriots’ backfield in carries and rushing yards. Lewis also scored a goal-line touchdown, a role previously reserved for Gillislee. In Week 7, New England will host the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of February’s televised scrimmage.

Atlanta has been a bit up and down defensively as well, allowing 130 yards to Jay Ajayi last week, but they’ve also given up just two rushing touchdowns on the season. This game will likely be a shootout, and I expect Tom Brady to throw the ball constantly. Though heavily influenced by negative game script, New England attempted 63 passes in February’s game, compared to rushing the ball just 25 times. The run/pass ratio might not be as pronounced on Sunday night, but I think New England would prefer to let their fates rest on the right arm of Tom Brady than on their committee of running backs. There’s no way to believe with any conviction that Gillislee is a viable Week 7 start. I’d prefer to give him a seat on the bench in this matchup.


Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints – It’s hard to imagine that Ty Montgomery ranks as a sleeper considering that just a few short weeks ago, he was not only the featured back in one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses, but was seeing far and away the highest snap percentage among running backs in the NFL. He was hurt early in Week 4, and watched as rookie Aaron Jones burst onto the scene with a huge effort in Montgomery’s absence in Week 5. Both backs were active in Week 6 and essentially split the workload evenly. Neither was particularly impressive in a game in which Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. I think that both Green Bay running backs will be usable this week, but I project Montgomery to have the better fantasy day due to his pass-catching ability out of the backfield.

New Orleans has improved defensively this season, but still struggles to contain running backs who catch passes. The Saints have allowed an average of 69.8 receiving yards per game to enemy running backs, the third-highest mark in football. I expect to see a lot of check-downs from new Packers’ starting quarterback Brett Hundley in this game, especially given the presence of impressive rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore on the perimeter. I believe Montgomery should be in line for 10-15 carries and a handful of targets as well, making him an ideal RB2 in this matchup.

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