Fantasy Football: Top running backs to stash for the playoffs

We talk about it all the time — running back is a position of attrition. Last season, just five of the top 12 running backs in PPR formats played 16 games. In each of the past four seasons, just one back has hit the 300-carry threshold, a mark seven backs — Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Chris Carson, Ezekiel Elliott, Marlon Mack, Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette — are currently pacing to eclipse. Six of those backs are currently top 10 Fantasy performers in PPR.

I'm not trying to spook you and tell you to go trade your stud running backs, but I do think we have to think long and hard about the position as the Fantasy playoffs approach. 

Saquon Barkley immediately comes to mind. Already having missed time with a high-ankle sprain, Barkley reportedly got an x-ray on his shoulder this week and may have also re-injured his ankle. That led to speculation the two-win Giants might shut down their franchise running back, an idea Barkley himself took issue with

It seems likely Barkley will still be suiting up through November, but the speculation will only get louder should he continue to struggle or reinjure himself. And even if he doesn't, why would the Giants continue to put their franchise back out there through Week 16, the end of the Fantasy season, in a lost year? 

That's a question a lot of bad teams will need to consider, while a lot of top teams will be asking themselves a different question. As they start to wrap up playoff spots and dream of long postseason runs, will it be worth it for them to rest their lead backs in December to keep them fresh for heavy January workloads?

Around this time each season, as key players on my rosters clear the byes, I like to load up my benches with backup running backs. That backup quarterback has limited value, as do those depth receivers who will never start unless an injury hits. But you what position might have value when it matters most? Running back.

Across Weeks 14-16 last season, Damien Williams averaged more than 25 PPR points per game, Jaylen Samuels put up at least 15 PPR points in each game and Justin Jackson gave us 17.5 PPR points in his lone Week 15 start. None of those backs had even 15 touches on the season by the end of Week 10, where we currently sit here in 2019. 

So is Wayne Gallman worth a stash? Absolutely. But he's probably not the best stash, because a common thread among those 2018 breakout backs is the offenses they played in generated a ton of high-value touches — receptions and touches inside-the-10 — for the backfield. The Giants are only in the middle of the pack this year in terms of high-value touches for their backs, and a huge majority of them are Barkley's receptions — they generated far fewer than their average in the games Barkley missed earlier this year. 

I've talked a lot about high-value touches and what they tell us this year, and there are two glaring success stories from earlier this year. The Chargers and Saints generate tons of HVT year in and year out, and are second and third in the league again this year. It's no surprise that Austin Ekeler and Latavius Murray showed huge upside when forced into lead roles in those offenses. 

The Patriots rank first in HVT this season, which has me targeting guys like Rex Burkhead and even Damien Harris in deeper leagues. The Patriots have a great playoff schedule for running backs, as well, and we know things can change in an instant in New England in terms of who gets the running back touches. Harris is a perfect example of a guy who has just four touches all season who could be this year's Williams, Jackson or Samuels. 

Jackson himself is another great stash, as he once again finds himself third on the depth chart but with the type of upside we should be targeting. Yes, it seems like a longshot he'd find himself in the same role he did last December — even for a single start — but the key to these stashes is not identifying the odds to hit but rather the size of the potential payoff. 

The Vikings, Bears, Packers, Steelers, Broncos and Browns round out the top 10 in high-value touches to this point, while teams like the Chiefs (12th) still have plenty of potential to generate more in the future. To that point, the Broncos are a team that is trending down in HVT potential, as Joe Flacco's penchant for checking down to his backs at a high rate can no longer be relied on. 

Many of those teams have backups who are rostered in most Fantasy leagues like Alexander Mattison, Kareem Hunt, Jaylen Samuels and Jamaal Williams, but if you can get your hands on any of them, they are all strong stashes. But there are always options, and Williams, Jackson and Samuels from 2018 are evidence of that. 

I noted the Chiefs because Darrel Williams and even Darwin Thompson may still prove to have some value. A little further down the team list in 14th we find the Jaguars, and Ryquell Armstead has been one of my favorite waiver wire grabs over the past couple weeks given Alfred Blue is now on IR and Armstead seems to have a clear hold of the No. 2 role, plus he's shown us some pass-catching ability in recent weeks. Additionally, the Raiders come in 15th, and I'm a big fan of Jalen Richard's pass-catching ability, though DeAndre Washington has stayed involved there.

The best way to hit on one of those guys is to give yourself multiple chances, and don't be afraid to shuffle as the weeks go on and trends change. It might seem crazy to drop players with some present value for some of these longshots, but I assure you: It's crazy like a fox. 

Let's get to the news and notes for Week 11. 

  • James Conner is practicing in full and is fully expected to return for the Steelers Thursday night. Connor's a worthwhile option in Week 11, but gets an especially appealing schedule in the weeks to come, so he's a viable trade target as well. 
  • Alshon Jeffery is day to day with an ankle injury, even after the Eagles' Week 10 bye. The Eagles placed DeSean Jackson on IR and would be even more reliant on their two-TE sets if Jeffery were to miss time. Along with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, Nelson Agholor would also get a boost in expected targets, while rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside would be a name to watch. 
  • Devonta Freeman is expected to miss about two weeks. With Ito Smith on IR, Brian Hill should get plenty of run as the lead back for the Falcons, with Kenjon Barner mixing in on passing downs. 
  • The Panthers claimed Mike Davis off of waivers from the Bears. Should Davis work his way into the clear No. 2 role — something that's hard to parse in Carolina because Christian McCaffrey plays nearly every snap — he could become someone worth stashing in a couple of weeks. 
  • George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders are both day to day, but the 49ers' top two receiving options both appear to at least have a shot to play in Week 11. We'll need to monitor their practice reports this week. Matt Breida, however, is expected to miss some time, leaving Raheem Mostert as the likely No. 2 running back in San Francisco. 
  • The Rams lost center Brian Allen for the season and right tackle Rob Havenstein also left their Week 10 loss to the Steelers. Havenstein is unlikely to be ready for Week 11, and the Rams also lost their left guard for the season a few weeks ago. Brandin Cooks has also already been ruled out for Week 11, meaning Josh Reynolds will play another full snap share for the Rams. But a ragtag line is not the best sign for the rebound potential of a struggling offense.   
  • Pete Carroll is optimistic Tyler Lockett won't miss any games after suffering a shin bruise on Monday Night Football. Lockett's injury was apparently bad enough that he stayed in a San Francisco hospital overnight. Even if Lockett suits up after the Seahawks' bye, expect to see Josh Gordon's role grow a bit in his second game with the team after Gordon ran routes on 50% of dropbacks — much of which came after Lockett exited — in Week 10. 
  • Ed Dickson will suit up for the Seahawks in Week 12. Jacob Hollister has really come on the past two weeks, catching three touchdowns on 16 targets. Luke Willson suffered a hamstring injury in Week 10, unrelated to the rib injury that forced him out of Week 9. Willson is expected to miss some time, but what's not clear is whether his injuries forced Jacob Hollister into a featured role or Hollister had simply earned more playing time. It's at least worth considering whether Dickson could limit Hollister's upside to run routes on over 70% of dropbacks like he has in each of the past two games if you're considering Hollister as a Week 12 streamer.  
  • Austin Hooper is expected to miss about a month with a sprained MCL. The Falcons are suddenly very thin after previously trading Mohamed Sanu, which should mean plenty of targets for Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley the rest of the way. Jaeden Graham is the likely backup, while Russell Gage is another pass-catching option who has been playing big snaps in place of Sanu. 
  • The NFL is holding a workout for Colin Kaepernick this Saturday. Not much is known about the situation or whether it is a legitimate step toward the 32-year-old returning to the NFL, but it's certainly different than anything we've seen regarding Kaepernick for over two years. Should he wind up playing again — and it's not clear if teams are interesting in the immediate term or for 2020, which seems more practical but wouldn't answer the question of why now? — he'd be an intriguing Fantasy option because of his running ability, though it's unknown whether time has sapped some of his explosiveness. 
  • John Ross has been cleared to practice, though he's not eligible to play until Week 14. Monitor Ryan Finley's development over the next few weeks, because Ross could make for a solid upside Fantasy playoff option if Finley does beat the odds in a tough offensive environment to find some success. 
  • Chris Herndon has hit IR, ending an injury-marred season that included a single reception. I probably wrote about Herndon's upside 15 times this year, so for that I apologize. Ryan Griffin will be the lead tight end going forward and has flashed some deeper league potential at times. 
  • Drew Lock practiced Tuesday, and could be under center for the Broncos before the end of the season. Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant are both intriguing young players who could use some decent quarterback play, though Lock is a rookie who has not practiced for months. Still, it gives them a second option and hopefully one of Brandon Allen or Lock can support some receiving upside. 

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