By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
It was a wild and woolly Week 1 in the National Football League, and fantasy gamers experienced the agonies and ecstasies right along with all 32 teams.
(Well, for New England, as usual, it was mostly ecstasy.)
Now, equipped with four quarters of real game-film and hard data on those teams, it should be a little easier to predict the performance of running backs, right? That’s the hope, but it’s still one-sixteenth of an inherently small sample size.
Part of football’s charm is its unpredictability, so embracing this truth (but using the info), here are my views on five RBs who may help or hinder your cause in Week 2!
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers ($31 in Yahoo DFS)
The Patriots took it to the Steelers in every way, so maybe Pittsburgh deserves a mulligan on the surprisingly dreadful 2.67 Adjusted Line Yards managed by their offensive line, the NFL’s fourth-worst number in Week 1. That metric (Football Outsiders’ measure of run-blocking effectiveness) is generally telling but the Steelers had just 13 rushing attempts, so we shouldn’t overreact. What we know for sure is that in an extremely pass-happy, negative game-script, James Conner didn’t get a fair shake. At $31 in the daily game, he’s still priced to perform like a top-four back in Week 2. I don’t see that investment paying off.
Pittsburgh hosts Seattle on Sunday. The Seahawks stifled Cincinnati’s running game entirely, holding Joe Mixon (who exited after 29 snaps) and Gio Bernard to 31 yards. We expect brilliance from Bobby Wagner but Seattle’s front seven flashed in a big way, and that was with run-stuffer supreme Jadeveon Clowney having just a few practices under his belt. If Ziggy Ansah (returning?) and Jarran Reed (six-game suspension) ever get on the field with them, look out.
It’s a foreboding matchup for Conner but, that subpar Week 1 notwithstanding, the Steelers’ powerful o-line is a far cry from Cincinnati’s patchwork unit. On the other hand, Seattle’s secondary couldn’t hold a candle to New England’s. Neither could Pittsburgh’s, for that matter. I don’t expect the offenses to be shut down here, so Conner’s chances at a touchdown are as good as anyone’s, but this contest could easily become more of an air show than a slugfest.
Now consider the value proposition. Why play Conner at $31 when you can pay up a little for Ezekiel Elliott ($33) or Alvin Kamara ($35)? There are also plenty of better bargains down the board. Even Dalvin Cook at $30 is a more attractive option. Cook’s OL/DL matchup might be concerning, but we know Minnesota will show more commitment to the run than Pittsburgh.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts ($26 in Yahoo DFS)
Last week I doubted whether even the Colts’ near-elite offense line could offset the loss of Andrew Luck in a tough matchup with the Chargers. Not only did they manhandle the Bolts’ front seven, but Marlon Mack also led the league in rushing attempts. He actually made the line look good, demonstrating balance, burst, and power in the week’s most impressive running back performance. I’d be crazy to bet against him again, right?
Right! While part of Mack’s blow-up Week 1 was the dismal showing of the Chargers’ run defense and the Colts’ ability to control the second half, their Week 2 tilt with the Titans could go similarly. Even an offensive line in tatters was opening creases in Tennessee’s defense last week, as Nick Chubb rolled up 75 yards before the trailing Browns abandoned the running game. Indy should get plenty of push once again, so with Mack playing at such a high level, our main worry would be Jacoby Brissett chasing points. Mack wasn’t targeted in the passing game and while Nyheim Hines got just 17 snaps last week, he’d be the guy if the Colts go pass-happy.
If you think Marcus Mariota will struggle under consistent pressure, as I do, then you aren’t all that worried about Tennessee’s offense running away with this game. Among the second tier of RBs, Mack’s $26 price tag feels like a pretty safe investment, with plenty of upside. (Don’t make me wrong about you two weeks in a row, Marlon!)
James White, New England Patriots ($22 in Yahoo DFS)
After dismantling Pittsburgh the Patriots travel to Miami in Week 2. The way these teams looked last week, New England winning 50-0 seems more probable than Miami pulling an upset. In this league things rarely go exactly as expected, and the Fish always give Brady and Co. trouble at home, but betting on James White seems like a bet on everyone in a New England uniform getting theirs. Sure, it’s easy to imagine White taking a pass into the end zone, but it’s not the likeliest scenario — especially not after the first quarter. Once the Patriots seize command of the game they’re more likely to feed their traditional backs than their pass-catcher. There’s also that Antonio Brown guy to consider when penciling in touchdowns.
The story of this one feels more like “Sony Michel’s bounce-back game,” especially if it’s the laugher most expect. The Patriots’ ground game struggled in the season opener and Bill Belichick probably wants defensive coordinators to respect that aspect of the offense moving forward. While New England’s offensive line is awfully banged up at the moment, Miami’s D doesn’t have the horses to take advantage. DT Davon Godchaux is often an immovable object, but most Dolphin defenders are far less daunting. Last week Baltimore rolled up the week’s highest rushing total with 265 yards gained at a 5.8 yard-per-carry clip. It was the tailbacks doing the damage too, as Lamar Jackson had just six of those yards.
What’s more, Rex Burkhead is back in the mix and when healthy has perhaps the most complete skillset in this backfield. If the Pats are splitting touches between three or more backs it becomes more of a headache and a dart throw than the happier times when two RBs were producing in defined roles almost every week.
LeSean McCoy, Kansas City Chiefs ($14 in Yahoo DFS)
From a grading perspective, Kansas City’s run blocking was merely average against the formidable Jaguars’ front, though RT Mitchell Schwartz was characteristically effective and tight end Blake “Belldozer” Bell made an impact on 20 run-blocking snaps. That’s the same number of snaps that LeSean McCoy received, having joined the team just days earlier. And yet McCoy rolled up 81 rushing yards on 10 totes compared to Damien Williams’ 13-for-26 performance. Williams ($24 in Yahoo DFS) should still be the snap leader and contribute in the passing game, especially with Tyreek Hill out, but McCoy is a better value for 10 bucks less.
In Week 2, the Chiefs take on a Raiders run defense that did an admirable job against Denver’s ground game, but the Broncos were in catch-up mode wire-to-wire and the Raiders lost first-round pick Jonathan Abram, a hard-hitting safety, to IR. While Vontaze Burfict did yeoman’s work at middle linebacker last week, the rest of this squad isn’t imposing. It’s a favorable matchup for opposing ball-carriers.
There is still room for Shady’s role to grow as he learns the playbook and knocks off the rust (Buffalo, his former team, barely used him in the preseason). I expect McCoy to do some damage this week and he’s a fine bet for a touchdown, making him a nice value play.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills ($14 in Yahoo DFS)
From a former Bills back to the new one we go, and in Devin Singletary we have another bargain-bin special. The rookie’s measurables may be execrable, but he gets it done. In Week 1 against the Jets, Singletary took four carries for 70 yards and added five receptions for 28 more. Frank Gore may be the nominal “starter” for another week or two but not only did Singletary outplay the grizzled vet, he actually out-snapped Gore 45 to 19. Buffalo’s run blocking graded well in the win, with center Mitch Morse and RG Jon Feliciano looking like great additions.
This week Singletary squares off against a Giants defense that kept Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard under wraps. The DL looked good and the new safeties were a factor – Jabrill Peppers provided the sure tackling the G-Men often lacked last season and venerable Antoine Bethea is still a force. However, the linebacking corps looks like a weak spot to exploit.
With so many of New York’s weapons ailing, I don’t see them getting out to a big lead, but even if they do that won’t doom the former Florida Atlantic back. In Week 2 he did not cede passing downs to T.J. Yeldon, as many expected. Yeldon had two snaps. Singletary has a good shot at producing solid stats for fantasy gamers.