Fantasy Football Week 14 Workload Watch: Can Austin Ekeler Get Back on Track?

Matt Camp@TheMattCampFantasy Football Lead WriterDecember 7, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 14 Workload Watch: Can Austin Ekeler Get Back on Track?

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    We could see more of Justin Jackson against the Bengals.
    We could see more of Justin Jackson against the Bengals.Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Acquiring handcuffs for insurance is always a wise move heading into the fantasy playoffs. Unfortunately, those handcuffs don't provide guaranteed replacement production and can even be huge letdowns.

    Austin Ekeler didn't come close to providing Melvin Gordon's production in Week 13, but rookie Justin Jackson did come through in a limited role. He outscored Ekeler by a significant margin and could be in line for a bigger role with a great matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have to dig a little deeper with James Conner out this week. You should expect to see a mix of Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley to make up for the loss of Conner, although neither player should be expected to handle all of Conner's workload. Samuels is the preferred option because of his abilities as a receiver.

    You also have to be aware of the teams out of contention, as they could choose to use this time to evaluate players who haven't gotten a lot of playing time. The Arizona Cardinals decided to use Chase Edmonds near the goal line on multiple occasions last week, which cost David Johnson a pair of touchdowns. 

    To learn more about what’s going on in the backfields of the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers, check out the Week 14 B.S. Meter. The Workload Watch covers eight other running back situations that have the most fantasy implications.

    Check out Matt Camp on his Fantasy Camp podcast available every Tuesday and Thursday. Click to subscribe or listen wherever you get your podcasts.


Arizona Cardinals

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    Chase Edmonds made two unwanted trips to the end zone in Week 13.
    Chase Edmonds made two unwanted trips to the end zone in Week 13.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    David Johnson: 83.9% snaps, 20 carries, 69 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 1 reception, 3 yards, 0 TD

    Chase Edmonds: 21% snaps, 5 carries, 53 yards, 2 TDs, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 13 yards, 0 TD

    The Arizona Cardinals shouldn't be included in any conversations about workload distribution, but here we are after a frustrating Week 13.

    The Cardinals have been using Edmonds around 20 percent of the time this season, so his snap share wasn't surprising. He also matched his season high with five carries, although before Week 13, he had just three other games with double-digit rushing yards. Edmonds had just two red-zone carries all season, but the Cardinals decided to give him three in Week 13, all of which came inside the 10-yard line. His first NFL touchdowns really hurt Johnson's fantasy production.

    Johnson notched his fourth 20-carry game of the season, but he failed to rush for 70 yards for the ninth time. His streak of no touchdowns extended to three games, thanks to Edmonds' involvement near the goal line. Just as frustrating has been Johnson's lack of role in the passing attack. In the last three games, he has just four receptions for 36 yards on eight targets.

    The move to Byron Leftwich was supposed to help solidify Johnson as a reliable RB1. However, it's not easy to overcome being part of such a bad team, especially when Johnson still doesn't get used correctly on a consistent basis. He remains a volatile fantasy option with RB1 potential.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Gus Edwards has been slowed by an ankle injury.
    Gus Edwards has been slowed by an ankle injury.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    Gus Edwards: 49.4% snaps, 21 carries, 82 yards, 0 TD, 0 targets

    Kenneth Dixon: 21% snaps, 8 carries, 37 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 1 reception, 6 yards, 0 TD

    Ty Montgomery: 33.3% snaps, 3 carries, 13 yards, 0 TD, 7 targets, 5 receptions, 42 yards, 0 TD

    Edwards came into Week 13 nursing an ankle injury, yet his workload remained large. But the volume didn't translate to much fantasy production, and he had no role in the passing game. 

    Baltimore is clearly a run-heavy team with Lamar Jackson at the helm, so Edwards will remain an active and important part of the offense. In three games since taking over as the lead back, Edwards has 61 carries for 315 yards and a touchdown, making him more productive and reliable than Alex Collins, who landed on the injured reserve last week. Edwards has just one target on the season, so that limits his ceiling.

    Dixon's return to action for the first time since Week 1 was solid, even if it didn't mean much for fantasy. The team felt good enough about Dixon to give him Collins' spot on the roster. With so much focus on the run, Dixon should stay in the mix over the final month of the season, but that doesn't mean he'll have any fantasy value as long as Edwards stays healthy and continues to take on the majority of the carries. 

    Montgomery is somewhat intriguing since he's the only one of the group with a role in the passing game. That might matter more with Jackson as quarterback since Montgomery can be a security blanket of sorts around the line of scrimmage. In the last two games, he has eight receptions for 55 yards on 10 targets. It will be tough for him to earn enough trust to use in lineups for the playoffs, but keep an eye on how he's used against the Kansas City Chiefs, as it should be a good time to ramp up his touches and snaps.

Detroit Lions

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    LeGarrette Blount is surviving on volume.
    LeGarrette Blount is surviving on volume.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    LeGarrette Blount: 41.7% snaps, 16 carries, 61 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 0 receptions

    Theo Riddick: 52.8% snaps, 8 carries, 32 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 3 receptions, 26 yards, 0 TD

    If the Detroit Lions had any chance of beating the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13, they would have had to keep the game close and try to slow it down with Blount. That's what happened, but in the end, the Rams were too much to handle.

    Blount tied his second-busiest game of the season with 16 carries, and his 61 yards were second only to the 88 yards he had on 19 carries in Week 12. Of course, Blount doesn't do much as a receiver, so he needs volume and has to score to have any kind of fantasy value. He got more volume than expected since the game was still close heading into the fourth quarter, but without a touchdown, 61 yards doesn't mean much in a fantasy lineup.

    Riddick had his best day on the ground, although that isn't saying much since he came into the game with just 11 carries for 42 yards on the season. His target share was disappointing, as it marked only the third time this season he failed to register at least five targets and only the fourth time he didn't have five receptions. Riddick will always have more importance if the Lions are playing from behind, so the game flow against the Rams didn't work in his favor until the fourth quarter. 

    With Kerryon Johnson still nursing a knee injury, both Blount and Riddick are shaky RB3/flex options until further notice.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Nyheim Hines played an active role in the passing game last week.
    Nyheim Hines played an active role in the passing game last week.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    Marlon Mack: 38.2% snaps, 8 carries, 27 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 1 reception, 6 yards, 0 TD

    Nyheim Hines: 59.2% snaps, 4 carries, 5 yards, 0 TD, 9 targets, 9 receptions, 50 yards, 0 TD

    Jordan Wilkins: 6.6% snaps, 0 carries, 1 target, 1 reception, 0 yards

    Mack didn't miss any time after suffering a concussion in Week 12, but with the loss of Jack Doyle at tight end, there was still room for Hines to contribute.

    The Colts couldn't get anything going on offense. Mack had his worst outing of the season and has seen quite a dip in his fantasy value. After feasting on the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders, he's struggled to get much going over the last month. In two matchups with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mack had 20 carries for 56 yards and no touchdowns. He's dipped into the low RB2 category. 

    Hines hasn't had fantasy value since the first five weeks of the season, so his return to fantasy relevance was welcomed, especially if you stuck with him despite Mack's clearance from a concussion. Hines is never expected to contribute much on the ground, but he's easily the team's best receiver in the backfield. His nine receptions matched a season high, and with 50 yards, he's now had at least 20 receiving yards in eight games this season. 

    This backfield isn't a great one for fantasy, yet Mack still has value, and Hines can be used as a last-minute replacement as an RB3/flex in PPR formats.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Austin Ekeler didn't come near Melvin Gordon's production.
    Austin Ekeler didn't come near Melvin Gordon's production.Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    Austin Ekeler: 77.8% snaps, 13 carries, 21 yards, 0 TD, 8 targets, 5 receptions, 22 yards, 0 TD

    Justin Jackson: 22.2% snaps, 8 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD, 1 target, 1 reception, 19 yards, 0 TD

    Replacing Melvin Gordon shouldn't be easy. It's nice to have a player to trust in Ekeler, but Gordon is one of the best fantasy backs in the league. Ekeler was expected to see the majority of the snaps, and he did, yet he wasn't able to translate that into strong fantasy production.

    If you banked on Ekeler to perform as a top-15 running back, he let you down. While the matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn't an easy one, it was a little surprising to see Ekeler struggle to get anything significant as a receiver. Trust goes a long way, and the Chargers believe they can lean on Ekeler, although we could see more of Jackson in Week 14.

    That's because Jackson took full advantage of the little we saw of him in the last two games. He played about 19 percent of the snaps in Week 12 and turned that into seven carries for 57 yards. Even with Gordon out, Jackson didn't see a big increase in snaps, but he was able to make the most of when he was on the field. 

    This week's game with the Cincinnati Bengals should allow Ekeler to get back on track since he's facing arguably the worst run defense in the league. However, the Chargers would be wise to increase Jackson's snaps and touches knowing how well he's played in a limited role. The ideal situation for Jackson would be to play a "closer" role with the Chargers looking to run the clock away with a nice lead in the second half.

    Ekeler remains in the RB2 tier, while Jackson is a strong RB3/flex play with the potential to sneak into the RB2 conversation if the Chargers turn to him with the game in hand.

New England Patriots

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    Rex Burkhead was a fantasy nuisance in his return to action.
    Rex Burkhead was a fantasy nuisance in his return to action.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    Sony Michel: 40.5% snaps, 17 carries, 63 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 1 reception, 7 yards, 0 TD

    James White: 44.6% snaps, 6 carries, 26 yards, 0 TD, 9 targets, 7 receptions, 92 yards, 0 TD

    Rex Burkhead: 23% snaps, 7 carries, 20 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 21 yards, 0 TD

    The return of Burkhead gave the New England Patriots the luxury of adding depth to a backfield that was already performing at a high level. Would Bill Belichick really mess with arguably the most reliable part of his offense? You probably already know that answer if you've ever had a part of a Patriots backfield in the past.

    Michel didn't see much of a change in his workload. He had at least 17 carries for the fifth time this year, although that was down from the 21 he had against the New York Jets in the prior week. When healthy, he's played between 39 and 47 percent of the snaps, so he was somewhat on the low end in Week 13. It wasn't a great performance by Michel, although he's far from ruined as a fantasy asset.

    White wasn't affected at all by Burkhead. He logged his sixth game of the season with at least seven receptions and the highest single-game receiving yardage total of the year. He continues to lead the Patriots in all receiving categories and remains a quality RB2 in PPR formats with RB1 upside.

    It's hard to fault the Patriots for working Burkhead back into the mix after an extended absence. However, his presence seems redundant in a backfield that's been so good almost the entire season. Hopefully Michel can get back on track this week against the Miami Dolphins, White continues his productive ways in the passing game and Burkhead moves into more of a backup role.

    Of course, it's the Patriots, so nothing can be assumed.

Oakland Raiders

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    Jalen Richard could be a good fantasy option if the Raiders committed to him.
    Jalen Richard could be a good fantasy option if the Raiders committed to him.Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    Doug Martin: 52.6% snaps, 18 carries, 61 yards, 1 TD, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 6 yards, 0 TD

    Jalen Richard: 42.1% snaps, 6 carries, 95 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 3 receptions, 31 yards, 0 TD

    DeAndre Washington: 7.9% snaps, 3 carries, 7 yards, 0 TD, 0 targets

    The Oakland Raiders have been out of contention for a while, yet Martin continues to play through injuries. Last week it was an ankle issue, and coming out of Week 13, Martin picked up a knee injury. To his credit, he is practicing this week ahead of Sunday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Martin's busiest game of the season came in Week 13, which was somewhat surprising since the Raiders were able to hang with the Kansas City Chiefs for all four quarters. He found the end zone for the second time in as many games and now has at least 50 yards in five of six games since taking over for Marshawn Lynch. He's averaging 10.8 fantasy points per game, which means he's been a decent RB3/flex option.

    Richard saw his second-busiest rushing workload of the season with six carries, and that led to the team's second-best rushing performance of the season. You'd have to go back to Week 4 for the only other time a Raider ran for at least 75 yards (Lynch carried 20 times for 130 yards). The matchup with the Chiefs looked like a prime opportunity for Richard to dominate the target share, but he had one of his quietest receiving games.

    Amazingly, Martin, Richard and Washington each lost a fumble in the loss to the Chiefs, and the team only lost by a touchdown. Richard still has the most upside of any member of this backfield, but neither him nor Martin is anything more than an RB3/flex.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    James Conner's absence puts Jaylen Samuels in the spotlight.
    James Conner's absence puts Jaylen Samuels in the spotlight.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Week 13 Workload Distribution

    James Conner: 72.1% snaps, 15 carries, 60 yards, 2 TDs, 4 targets, 3 receptions, 14 yards, 0 TD

    Jaylen Samuels: 25% snaps, 2 carries, 5 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 3 receptions, 20 yards, 1 TD

    Stevan Ridley: 17.2% snaps, 0 carries, 0 targets

    The Pittsburgh Steelers needed Conner to cover the absence of Le'Veon Bell all season, but with Conner out for Week 14 because of an ankle injury, the team will need Samuels and Ridley to cover Conner's absence. 

    The workloads in Week 13 won't reflect what we see in Week 14, although it should be noted that Ridley didn't register a touch. For the season, Ridley has logged 18 carries for 56 yards and three receptions for 18 yards on four targets. Ridley was active for the last three games but didn't have a touch.

    Samuels has been active all season, although that hasn’t meant much. He has 12 carries for 31 yards and seven receptions for 54 yards on nine targets. Before Week 13, his best game came in Week 10 when he converted four targets into three receptions for 22 yards and a touchdown. Obviously, neither Samuels nor Ridley has been needed this season with Conner dominating the snaps and touches. 

    According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Samuels said he would start the Week 14 game against the Oakland Raiders but that he would split time with Ridley. Samuels was a jack-of-all-trades during his time at North Carolina State, so he should be involved as both a runner and a receiver. The Steelers may not ask too much out of Samuels knowing they have a veteran in Ridley to handle the majority of the carries if needed.

    Recent history suggests the Steelers stick with one back regardless of who is leading the way. Most of the time, that's been Bell, but when Bell missed time, the team turned to DeAngelo Williams with success. This season was obviously all about Conner until his injury.

    While the plan may be to split time between Samuels and Ridley, Samuels should get the edge because he can contribute in more ways. He's a good RB2, while Ridley is more of a volume-based RB3/flex.