Week 16 Fantasy Rankings: Running Back Upgrades, Downgrades, Sleepers

Fantasy Football SpinCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2011

In this article we assume that you are starting your RB1s regardless of the matchup. Each week we will analyze the defenses and provide our take on which RBs you should start and which should be benched based on matchups with stout run defenses, stubbed toes, potential weather problems, conduct code violations, etc.

Many backfields have been decimated by injuries. DeMarco Murray’s Week 14 broken ankle opened the door for Fragile Felix to garner a Week 15 start but a hamstring injury sidelined him in the second half. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice and veteran Sammy Morris could be in line for a start in a crucial NFC East game against Philly. Chicago’s Matt Forte’s knee injury could keep him out for the rest of the season (especially with an unsettled contract) and Week 15 saw the emergence of  Kahlil Bell in a more prominent role as Marion Barber suffered a calf injury. CJ2K is battling an ankle injury but returned to a limited Thursday practice and is expected to suit up. Jamie Harper is worth stashing if you have the roster space. Rookie Roy Helu laid an egg last week and is battling toe and ankle injuries that make him a low-end RB2 at best for a home matchup with an above average Viking run defense.

If you are in search of an injury replacement or are looking to play the matchups, be sure to check out our Week 16 RB Waiver Wire Recommendations.

The most stout run defenses (allowing less than 16 fantasy PPG to opposing ground games) can be found in San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore, Houston and Dallas.

Conversely, the following defenses have been carved up by opposing RBs and rank at the bottom of the league (20-plus fantasy PPG): Tampa, Carolina, Indianapolis, Oakland, Buffalo, St Louis, Philadelphia, NY Giants and Kansas City.


Khalil Bell will toll for Bears in Lambeau
Khalil Bell will toll for Bears in Lambeau


Don’t miss the upgrades, downgrades as well as the sleepers at wide receiver and quarterback after you get smart on the running backs.

Looking for injury updates? Check out our Injury Status Chart with Fantasy Advice updated throughout the weekend and then every 10 minutes starting at 11:30 Saturday morning up until the 1:00 pm kickoffs.

Also be sure to check out the FFspin Saturday Morning Chat from 11 am to 12 pm, where we will tackle your last-minute fantasy football questions, including starts/sits, injury updates, keeper questions, etc. Set a reminder and reserve your spot at the link.

UPGRADE: Willis McGahee (@ Buffalo)

The Bills were the worst run defense in 2010 and have yet to remedy the problem as their 29th ranked run defense (139 YPG) allowed a 200-plus yard performance to Reggie Bush in Week 15. Despite Tim Almighty acting like a vulture in multiple red-zone TD opportunities, veteran Willis McGahee has turned in an impressive season for his fantasy owners. The 30-year-old back from the U of Miami is averaging 76 YPG (4.8 YPC) and has five TDs through 13 games. He is battling a hamstring injury but has turned in back to back full practices and appears all systems go for a very favorable Week 16 matchup in Buffalo. McGahee owners would be wise to handcuff Lance Ball if you have the roster space. Whatchu Talkin About Willis is a solid RB2 for fantasy Super Bowl week; just be sure to check out our injury report to make sure that he’s starting (don’t want to end up with Gary Coleman sized fantasy production).


Plus Matchups: 


Jonathan Stewart/ DeAngelo Williams (vs. Tampa)Bucs' 30th ranked run defense have allowed a league high 20 rushing TDs.

Rashard Mendenhall (vs. St Louis)Rams' league worst run defense allowing 157 YPG.

Reggie Bush (@ New England)—Patriots' 19th ranked run defense (117 YPG). Bush has topped 100 yards in three straight games (203 yards in Week 15).


DOWNGRADE: Marshawn Lynch (vs. San Francisco)

Difficult to bench arguably the hottest RB in the second half of the season unless you have a loaded roster.
The Beast has made himself truckloads of cash as the impending free agent has topped 100 yards in five of the past seven games. On the season Lynch is averaging 92 YPG from scrimmage and has reached the end zone 12 times. However this week Seattle has a nightmare matchup against a 49er defense allowing the fewest points in the league (14 PPG). The vaunted 49er run defense ranks No. 1 in yardage (72 YPG) and has yet to allow a rushing TD. In a Week 1 meeting against the 49ers, Lynch was held to 13 carries for 33 yards and is a borderline RB2 this week—consider your alternatives.

Marshawn not likely to beast against 49ers #1 ranked run defense.
Marshawn not likely to beast against 49ers #1 ranked run defense.

Stubbed Toe potential: 

Steven Jackson (@ Pittsburgh)—Steelers' sixth ranked run defense (97 YPG) has only allowed seven rushing TDs over 14 games. Kellen Clemons under center is not going to help.


Beanie Wells (@ Cincinnati)—Bengals' ninth ranked run defense allows 100 YPG (3.7 YPC). Wells continues to battle his ongoing knee problems.


SLEEPER: Kahlil Bell (@ Green Bay)

Bell had 20 touches for 108 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in a 38-14 loss to Seattle last weekend. Marion Barber and Matt Forte will be sidelined with injuries, so Bell will get the start this week against a Green Bay Packers team that has given up an average of 4.7 yards per carry.

Sleeper Potential:

Sammy Morris (vs. Philadelphia)Felix Jones has been limited by a a hamstring injury and Morris could start against the Eagles' 17th ranked run defense (114 YPG).

Chris Ivory (vs. Atlanta)Difficult matchup vs. Atlanta’s fourth ranked run defense but has led Saints in rushing in back to back weeks and should continue to dominate red-zone carries (Ingram expected to miss another game).