Fantasy Football Week 15 Workload Watch

Matt Camp@TheMattCampFantasy Football Lead WriterDecember 14, 2017

Fantasy Football Week 15 Workload Watch

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    Rod Smith lit up the Giants in Week 14.
    Rod Smith lit up the Giants in Week 14.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Over the last two weeks, Kenyan Drake has proved a late-season pickup can be a major asset. Jamaal Williams is another player carrying fantasy teams to the playoffs after taking over as the lead back for the Green Bay Packers.

    While you shouldn't bank on finding these players this late in the season, it's still worth working the waiver wire, even if it's just to plug-and-play someone for a week.

    Rod Smith could be one of those players for Week 15 following a big performance against the New York Giants and consistent fantasy production in his last three games. His versatility has been on full display, so with the Dallas Cowboys clinging to life in the NFC, it would be wise for them to stick with who's been part of their success. 

    Unfortunately, not every team subscribes to such a simple philosophy. If you expected Peyton Barber to stay in the lead role after his big game in Week 13, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ruined those plans by foolishly going back to Doug Martin. It's another example of why you should avoid bad teams when possible this late in the year.

    To learn more about what’s going on in the backfields for the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons check out the Week 15 B.S. Meter. This Workload Watch covers eight other RB situations that have the most fantasy implications.

Carolina Panthers

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    Jonathan Stewart's biggest game of the season came in Week 15.
    Jonathan Stewart's biggest game of the season came in Week 15.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Jonathan Stewart: 40.6% snaps, 16 carries, 103 yards, 3 TD, 1 target, 0 receptions
    • Christian McCaffrey: 67.2% snaps, 8 carries, 35 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 3 receptions, 18 yards, 0 TD

    Surviving on TDs can be dangerous, which is why it's been tough to call Jonathan Stewart anything more than a RB3/flex. If you had to play him in Week 14, you probably didn't have high expectations against a strong Minnesota Vikings run defense. 

    Stewart blew up all logic by posting his best performance of the season. For only the second time this season, he ran for at least 100 yards, thanks in large part to a 60-yard TD run. The Carolina Panthers offensive line opened up a hole at the line of scrimmage, and as soon as Stewart got through it, there was no one on the second level to stop him. Two more scores gave him a total of five TDs in the last three weeks. His 100-yard effort marked only the second time this season he racked up over 70 rushing yards in a game. 

    McCaffrey didn't have the same luck. He ran well but didn't have a lot of chances to produce, which is why he finished with just 35 yards. Unfortunately, he had his worst performance as a receiver at a key time for fantasy players. McCaffrey had season lows in targets (four) and receiving yards (18) along with just three receptions. It was only the third time this season he failed to record at least four receptions, although those instances were all in the last four weeks. 

    Stewart's best outing and McCaffrey's worst coming at the same time isn't totally coincidental, but some of the blame has to fall on the tough matchup and the lack of volume from Cam Newton. In the last three weeks, he hasn't attempted more than 28 passes or thrown for more than 183 yards.

    Because of their respective roles, Newton's numbers are way more detrimental to McCaffrey than Stewart. One game should not wildly change how you value them, though. McCaffrey remains a solid RB2, while Stewart is an RB3/flex who needs to score to be useful.

Chicago Bears

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    It's all about Jordan Howard for the Bears.
    It's all about Jordan Howard for the Bears.Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Jordan Howard: 57.9% snaps, 23 carries, 147 yards, 2 TDs, 2 targets, 1 reception, 8 yards, 0 TD
    • Tarik Cohen: 48.7% snaps, 12 carries, 80 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 5 yards, 0 TD

    In last week's Workload Watch, we discussed gameflow's impact on Howard's carry total and fantasy production. A favorable schedule down the stretch was expected to help Howard, and in Week 14, that's exactly what happened.

    After four straight games without 20 carries, Howard had his first 20-plus-carry performance since October. His 23 carries tied the second-highest total of the season, and 147 rushing yards was his second-highest total of the season. Gameflow certainly worked in Howard's favor, as the Bears had a rare blowout, 33-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

    With the Bears holding a lead for most of the game, even Cohen was able to stay busy on the ground. He hit double-digit carries for only the third time this season and the first time since Week 6. His 80 rushing yards marked a season high and just the third time he rushed for at least 50 yards in 2017. That made up for another quiet game as a receiver. For the fifth time in the last six games, Cohen failed to produce at least 20 receiving yards.

    Howard remains a must-start option with a slightly higher ceiling for this week's game against the Detroit Lions. Back in Week 11, he rushed for 125 yards and a TD in a loss to the Lions in Chicago.

Cleveland Browns

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    Isaiah Crowell has done his job well when given the chance to carry a heavy workload.
    Isaiah Crowell has done his job well when given the chance to carry a heavy workload.Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Isaiah Crowell: 62.1% snaps, 19 carries, 121 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 3 receptions, 10 yards, 0 TD
    • Duke Johnson Jr.: 43.1% snaps, 6 carries, 8 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD

    Talent is not a problem in the Cleveland Browns backfield. Like most bad teams, good players can only go so far if the opportunities aren't there. 

    That wasn't an issue in Week 14, especially for Crowell, as the Browns led the Green Bay Packers for the majority of regulation before losing in overtime. Crowell had his best game of the season, topping previous season highs of 17 carries (Weeks 1 and 7) and 95 rushing yards (Week 12). The Packers provided Crowell with a beatable matchup, and he came through with his third rushing performance of at least 90 yards in the last five weeks. The other two games during that span saw him rush just 21 times for 59 yards.

    Johnson had another quiet day on the ground, but he made up for it with his second TD in four weeks. He has at least four receptions in six of his last seven games and at least 30 receiving yards in five of those games. Johnson leads the team in targets (73), receptions (56) and receiving yards (497) in addition to having three receiving TDs and two rushing TDs.         

    Crowell and Johnson get their second shot at the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15. When the teams first met in Week 2, Crowell and Johnson combined for 58 yards on 14 carries. Crowell didn't have a reception in that game, but Johnson boosted his fantasy production with three receptions for 59 yards on six targets. Johnson is the better bet to be more productive once again with a bigger role in the passing game.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Rod Smith was a huge part of a bounce-back effort for the Cowboys.
    Rod Smith was a huge part of a bounce-back effort for the Cowboys.Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Alfred Morris: 52.4% snaps, 19 carries, 62 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 3 receptions, 23 yards, 0 TD
    • Rod Smith: 46% snaps, 6 carries, 47 yards, 1 TD, 5 targets, 5 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD

    Replacing Ezekiel Elliott has not been easy for the Dallas Cowboys.

    In five games without him, Morris and Smith combined for at least 100 rushing yards just three times. In eight games before his suspension, Elliott ran for at least 100 yards four times and at least 80 yards in all but one, with seven TDs too. He also racked up 210 receiving yards, 19 receptions and two more TDs through the air on 26 targets.

    Scoring hasn't been as hard to replace. In Week 13, Morris ran for 127 yards and his first TD of the season on a season-high 27 carries in a win over the Washington Redskins. Smith has a rushing TD in each of his last three games and added an 81-yard receiving TD in last week's win over the New York Giants. The Cowboys offense was in a funk without Elliott until last week, but Smith's big game pulled them out of it, which makes him an intriguing option heading into Week 15. 

    Elliott is set to return from his six-game suspension in Week 16 against the Seattle Seahawks, so this is likely the last week to consider using Morris or Smith with confidence. They have an average matchup with the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, so you should expect a busy day for Morris on the ground. Predicting another long TD for Smith would be dumb, but you'd think the team would be smart enough to recognize his versatility can help out Dak Prescott. Morris remains a low-end RB2, while Smith is an intriguing RB3/flex.

Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers made the wise decision to stick with Jamaal Williams.
    The Packers made the wise decision to stick with Jamaal Williams.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Jamaal Williams: 65.8% snaps, 15 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD, 7 targets, 7 receptions, 69 yards, 1 TD
    • Aaron Jones: 10.5% snaps, 4 carries, -2 yards, 0 TD, 0 targets

    It's nice see a coaching staff recognizing what and who is working and sticking with it. The Green Bay Packers did that in Week 14 with Williams. 

    There was some concern Jones would significantly eat into Williams' snaps and touches after his walk-off TD in overtime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 13. Instead, the Packers stuck with Williams after he thrashed the Buccaneers for 113 yards and a TD on 21 carries and a pair of receptions for 10 yards on three targets. His snap percentage dropped by about 20 percent, but it was still significantly higher than Jones'.

    Williams wasn't able to follow up his best rushing performance of the season with another 100-yard effort, but he saw at least 15 carries for the fifth straight game and had a rushing TD for the third straight outing and the fourth time in six games. He also had season-highs in receptions and targets while tying his season-high in receiving yards.

    With Aaron Rodgers returning to action in Week 15, Williams might get a slight boost in his fantasy value because the offense should be better, which means even more chances to score. If Williams can stay in the 15-carry range and remain active as a receiver, he'll be a key to fantasy championships.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Latavius Murray didn't see his usual touches in Week 14.
    Latavius Murray didn't see his usual touches in Week 14.Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Latavius Murray: 43.2% snaps, 9 carries, 14 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 6 yards, 0 TD
    • Jerick McKinnon: 56.8% snaps, 7 carries, 46 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 2 receptions, 9 yards, 0 TD

    The Minnesota Vikings backfield has been a reliable source of fantasy production for two months, but when it faltered in Week 14, fantasy seasons may have come to an end as a result. 

    In last week's loss to the Carolina Panthers, neither Murray nor McKinnon scored 10 fantasy points. The last time at least one Vikings RB failed to score at least 10 fantasy points was Week 2. Murray was on a four-game streak of double-digit fantasy performances, but he wound up with his lowest carry total since Week 4 and lowest rushing output since Week 3. 

    Even though the Vikings only lost the game 31-24, they got away from running the football, which didn't make a lot of sense since Carolina's biggest lead was 24-13 with 6:51 to go in the third quarter. Murray and McKinnon combined for 16 carries. In eight previous games, Murray averaged 16.5 carries on his own.

    If you survived the rare off week from this backfield, don't think twice about firing either player back up again for Week 15. The Vikings host the Cincinnati Bengals and should be able to control the game. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen ran over the Bengals last week, so it's fair to expect similar production out of Murray and McKinnon this week.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Could the Eagles lean on Jay Ajayi in the absence of Carson Wentz?
    Could the Eagles lean on Jay Ajayi in the absence of Carson Wentz?Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • LeGarrette Blount: 16.5% snaps, 7 carries, 12 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards, 0 TD
    • Jay Ajayi: 47.3% snaps, 15 carries, 78 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 1 reception, 2 yards, 0 TD
    • Corey Clement: 29.7% snaps, 6 carries, 24 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 1 reception, 28 yards, 0 TD

    Committing to the run has never been a problem for the Philadelphia Eagles. After 14 weeks, they rank second in the NFL in rushing attempts (407) and rushing yards (1,859).

    However, their leading rusher is Blount at 696 yards, which ranks 17th among all RBs. He's tied with Atlanta's Devonta Freeman with 152 rush attempts. Blount is 10th among qualifying RBs with 4.6 yards per carry. That shows Blount has been mostly efficient, but not a very busy RB on one of the best rushing teams in the league.

    The name to focus on down the stretch is Ajayi. For the second straight week, he led the Eagles in carries, rushing yards and snap percentage. However, he didn't score double-digit fantasy points in either game. For the third straight game, none of the Eagles RBs found the end zone on the ground or through the air. The lack of scoring, mixed with a splintered workload, makes it hard to buy into using Ajayi or Blount with much confidence despite the production from the backfield as a whole. 

    With Ajayi leading the backfield the last two weeks, there's hope he keeps that role heading down the stretch. The Eagles could also lean on Ajayi and the backfield a bit more following the loss of Carson Wentz. The second-year QB had 440 pass attempts in 13 games, so the team was pretty balanced in terms of its run/pass ratio.

    If Nick Foles isn't trusted, that balance could shift towards the run, especially with the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders on the schedule over the next two weeks. Ajayi can be bumped into the low RB2 category for this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Last week saw Doug Martin step back into his starting role.
    Last week saw Doug Martin step back into his starting role.Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    • Doug Martin: 26.8% snaps, 10 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD, 3 targets, 2 receptions, 24 yards, 0 TD
    • Peyton Barber: 43.7% snaps 12 carries, 58 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 1 receptions, 5 yards, 0 TD
    • Charles Sims: 28.2% snaps, 3 carries, 16 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 2 receptions, 11 yards, 0 TD

    Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had little hope of making the playoffs heading into Week 14, they decided against sticking with Barber as their lead back to open last week's matchup with the Detroit Lions. 

    Martin was cleared from his concussion during the week, so he had ample time to prepare for his return to action. Even though he scored an early TD, Martin was nowhere near as productive as Barber was in Week 13, when he had the first 100-yard game by a Buccaneers RB and four receptions for 41 yards. In the second quarter, Martin lost a fumble on his 10th carry (12th touch) of the game at the Lions 25-yard line. He didn't have a touch for the rest of the game.

    Barber, who didn't have a touch until the second quarter and finished the first half with just three touches (all carries), took over as the lead back in the second half. Even though he didn't get the same volume he had in Week 13, he looked just as good. That has to be frustrating to fantasy owners who snatched him up expecting the Buccaneers to stick with him after his performance in Week 13.

    The Buccaneers were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Lions, but Barber should be the lead back from the start in Week 15 regardless. Of course, we can't assume that since this coaching staff has done a poor job for most of the season, but Barber would be the only one to consider for your starting lineup in the fantasy playoffs as a RB3/flex. Martin has no fantasy value.