Each week in this space, I break down running back snap count and usage information via FantasyData.com to identify trends across some of the more fluid committee backfields. The goal is to help Fantasy owners determine changing roles and set optimal lineups. Let's find out what we learned last week that we can apply to lineup decisions in Week 1e.
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James Conner out, Jaylen Samuels the upside play
On Tuesday, the Steelers announced that workhorse James Conner had been ruled out for the team's Week 14 matchup in Oakland. It's an unfortunate turn for Conner's Fantasy owners who had been riding a fun wave of production from the value pick all season. Looking ahead, both rookie Jaylen Samuels and veteran Stevan Ridley are primed to split the workload, and though we may not be tipped one way or another as to which back will actually "start", it may not matter. For what it's worth, Samuels handled five touches last Sunday and did find the end zone on one of his receptions. He's the upside play with added PPR value while Ridley could work in as a change-of-pace option.
Spencer Ware is the guy, but faces a tough matchup
In Kansas City's first game without Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware shouldered the load as expected. Ware played a total of 49 offensive snaps, or 69 percent, and handled 15 total touches. In a dream matchup against a weak Oakland defense, Ware only managed 3.4 yards per carry and totaled just 52 yards from scrimmage, though he managed to salvage the outing with a trip across the goal-line. There's no doubt going forward that Ware is the primary back in an offense that leads the NFL in points per game (37) and ranks third in yards per game (437.2). But Ware draws a tough matchup against the Ravens in Week 14, a unit that ranks No. 1 in terms of limiting opposing Fantasy RBs on the season (12.72 standard). Baltimore has allowed just five rushing scores all year and is allowing just 60 rush yards per game. Expect Ware to get RB2 type volume, but temper expectations due to the matchup.
You can count on Phillip Lindsay
Over the course of his last three games, Phillip Lindsay has racked up 346 rush yards on 44 carries...that's a ridiculous 7.9 yards per carry sustained over that three-week span. Oh, by the way, he's racked up five touchdowns in that time for good measure. And sure, Royce Freeman is hanging around, but it hasn't mattered for Lindsay's Fantasy value in the slightest. In Week 13, Lindsay played 25 snaps and rushed 19 times. He ran the ball on 76 percent of his snaps; I did the math. Outrageous. He'll face a San Francisco defense in Week 14 that's allowing about 108 rush yards per game and has given up nine rushing touchdowns on the season. It's somewhat of a neutral matchup, but the way he's been shredding opposing defenses recently, the matchup isn't a concern. Plus, with wideout Emmanuel Sanders done for the season, the Broncos will have to rely on Lindsay's electric playmaking to move the offense. Watch out for another smash spot for the rookie.
Justin Jackson is one to watch in a dream matchup
With Melvin Gordon sidelined, Austin Ekeler stepped in as the lead back for the Chargers, which was easy to predict. Ekeler played 49 snaps (77.8%) and logged 18 touches but came away with just 43 scrimmage yards against Pittsburgh. But it was seventh-round pick Justin Jackson who stood out in the Los Angeles backfield, perhaps earning himself more opportunity going forward. Jackson managed 63 rush yards on just eight attempts, logged one catch for 19 yards, and scored a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
This week, the Chargers draw a home matchup against a sorry Cincinnati squad that's allowing more Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs than any team in the NFL. The Bengals run defense is quite simply awful and has already surrendered over 1,500 rush yards, 600 receiving yards, and 19 total touchdowns to RBs. It's safe to fire up Jackson as a flex option with upside to produce much, much more.