Fantasy Football Week 15 Workload Watch

Matt Camp@TheMattCampFantasy Football Lead WriterDecember 13, 2018

Fantasy Football Week 15 Workload Watch

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    Damien Williams could play a huge role in Week 15.
    Damien Williams could play a huge role in Week 15.Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Picking up handcuffs before the fantasy playoffs is always a wise strategy, but what do you do when the handcuffs get hurt? Can you trust third-string running backs when your season is on the line? More than one backfield will provide an answer to that question in Week 15. 

    Spencer Ware took over the Kansas City Chiefs backfield in Week 13, but Damien Williams has played a prominent role, especially last week. Ware comes into Week 15 battling multiple injuries and is listed as doubtful, which means Williams should be the top back for the Chiefs in a massive game with the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Speaking of the Chargers, they may have no other choice but to start rookie running back Justin Jackson in Kansas City on Thursday night. Melvin Gordon is questionable with a knee injury, and Austin Ekeler has been ruled out because of a concussion and a stinger. If Jackson leads the way, he'll be in lots of fantasy lineups. 

    Of course, you don't have to reach that deep on every team. Zach Zenner had the best performance of any Detroit Lions running back in Week 14. However, that's far from an ideal situation, and he should be part of an ugly committee. 

    To learn more about what's going on in the backfields of the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans, check out the Week 15 B.S. Meter. The Workload Watch covers eight other running back situations that have the most fantasy implications.

                 

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Chicago Bears

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    Jordan Howard had his first 100-yard game in Week 14.
    Jordan Howard had his first 100-yard game in Week 14.Elsa/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Tarik Cohen: 42.3% snaps, 9 carries, 69 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 4 receptions, 20 yards, 0 TD

    Jordan Howard: 54.9% snaps, 19 carries, 101 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 1 reception, 2 yards, 0 TD

    If a once-great fantasy running back has a 100-yard game and no one starts him, did it actually happen? 

    Howard has been a frustrating fantasy option for most of the season, and with the fantasy playoffs underway, there's a good chance he was on a lot of benches for Week 14. Howard's effort against the Los Angeles Rams was his first 100-yard performance of the season. Before that game, he had just three games with at least 75 yards. He now has just five games with more than 15 carries. 

    Cohen had his best rushing effort of the season and second-most carries. However, he was unable to come anywhere close to the 14 targets, 12 receptions and 156 receiving yards he posted in Week 13. He now leads the Chicago Bears in receptions (63) and receiving yards (679). 

    For the season, Cohen sits right on the RB1/RB2 borderline with 15.8 fantasy points per game. He should be considered a reliable RB2 with RB1 upside if he has a busy role in the passing game, including this week against the Green Bay Packers. Howard is averaging 9.7 FPG, which makes him a shaky fantasy option who relies on both volume and touchdowns to have value.

Detroit Lions

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    It's hard to trust Zach Zenner.
    It's hard to trust Zach Zenner.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    LeGarrette Blount: 31.7% snaps, 12 carries, 33 yards, 0 TD, 3 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0 TD

    Theo Riddick: 41.7% snaps, 6 carries, 28 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 4 receptions, 30 yards, 0 TD

    Zach Zenner: 26.7% snaps, 12 carries, 54 yards, 1 TD, 0 targets

    Kerryon Johnson: inactive

    The ongoing absence of Kerryon Johnson has made the Detroit Lions backfield a rough one to navigate with unpredictable fantasy production. It didn't get any easier in Week 14.

    Zenner came into the week with just four carries for 28 yards in four games this season. He had a single-digit snap share in each of those games, so it was fair to say he wasn't anywhere near the fantasy radar. The Detroit Lions decided to give him an extended look in the third quarter of their win against the Arizona Cardinals, as he handled every carry of the final two drives, including a one-yard touchdown.

    Blount opened as the starter but lost a fumble on his third touch of the game. The Lions went back to him soon after, although it was apparent he wasn't doing much to help the team. His final carry came on the second play of the fourth quarter, with Zenner taking over for the rest of the game. After rushing for 88 yards and two scores on 19 carries on Thanksgiving, Blount has 28 carries for 94 yards and no touchdowns in the last two games.

    The Lions don't ask much of Riddick on the ground, so the majority of his fantasy value comes as a receiver. In the last two weeks, he has seven receptions for 56 yards on eight targets, which hasn't been enough for him to earn a role in fantasy playoff starting lineups.

    The addition of Zenner to an already annoying backfield makes all three players hard to trust. If we knew Zenner was taking on a bigger role with Blount shifting into more of a backup role, he might have some decent fantasy value, but that would be nothing more than a guess. With your season on the line, it would be wise to steer clear of this backfield against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Marlon Mack's struggles are killing his fantasy value.
    Marlon Mack's struggles are killing his fantasy value.Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Marlon Mack: 59.7% snaps, 14 carries, 33 yards, 1 TD, 1 target, 0 receptions

    Nyheim Hines: 41.8% snaps, 3 carries, 1 yard, 0 TD, 5 targets, 3 receptions, 16 yards, 0 TD

    Jordan Wilkins: 0 offensive snaps, 0 carries, 0 targets

    When Mack returned to action in Week 6, he looked like a league winner. Now, he seems like a player who will cost you a championship if you continue to believe in him. 

    Even though he found the end zone last week, he couldn't get much else going on the ground and did nothing through the air. In the last two weeks, he has just 60 yards on 22 carries with a score and one reception for six yards on two targets. From Week 6 through Week 8, Mack was RB4 with 23.7 fantasy points per game. Since Week 9, he is averaging just 9.4 FPG and isn't among the top 35 fantasy running backs. 

    Hines appeared to get back on the fantasy radar in Week 13 with nine receptions for 50 yards on nine targets. He fell right back off the radar in Week 14 with just 4.7 FPG. He is third on the team in both targets (65) and receptions (52), but that hasn't translated to any kind of consistent fantasy value. 

    A rough matchup with the Dallas Cowboys awaits the Colts backfield in Week 15. There's no reason to be excited about either Mack or Hines, as neither player has anything more than RB3/flex value. Hines shouldn't be used in any format.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Spencer Ware's injury status is a big concern heading into Thursday night.
    Spencer Ware's injury status is a big concern heading into Thursday night.Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Spencer Ware: 47.7% snaps, 15 carries, 75 yards, 0 TD, 5 targets, 5 receptions, 54 yards, 0 TD

    Damien Williams: 50% snaps, 8 carries, 14 yards, 1 TD, 5 targets, 4 receptions, 16 yards, 1 TD

    The Kansas City Chiefs will be digging a little deeper on the running back depth chart in Week 15 for arguably the most important game of the season. 

    Ware has been listed as doubtful for the Thursday night matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. He has both shoulder and hamstring injuries and didn't practice this week. If the Chiefs defeat the Chargers, they will earn the AFC West crown and a first-round bye. By the end of Week 15, they could be locked into the top seed in the AFC. If that's the case, Ware could be rested to get healthy before the playoffs.

    With Ware down, Williams should lead the way against the Chargers. He has just 16 carries on the season, and his last game with double-digit carries came in Week 11 of the 2017 season. In fact, his only other game with double-digit carries came back as a rookie in Week 9 of 2014, when he carried 11 times for 28 yards. The Chiefs could call on Williams for double-digit carries this week out of necessity, although we should expect to see Charcandrick West and Darrel Williams involved, too.

    From a volume standpoint, Williams will be a solid RB2 on Thursday night, although he'll likely do more damage as a receiver. The future fantasy production in this backfield will depend on Kansas City's playoff status and the health of Ware.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    The Chargers may need rookie Justin Jackson to handle the lead role in Week 15.
    The Chargers may need rookie Justin Jackson to handle the lead role in Week 15.Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Austin Ekeler: 68.4% snaps, 15 carries, 66 yards, 1 TD, 5 targets, 2 receptions, 28 yards, 0 TD

    Justin Jackson: 36.8% snaps, 7 carries, 12 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 23 yards, 0 TD

    Melvin Gordon: inactive

    The timing of the Chargers' Week 15 game against the Chiefs isn't ideal for either team. While health is always a concern at this time of year, a Thursday night doesn't allow for additional rest that is needed for both Ekeler and Gordon.

    Gordon has been out for the last two weeks with a knee injury. He returned to limited practice Tuesday and Wednesday, so he'll be questionable to play. Ekeler is out after suffering a stinger and a concussion in Week 14. He is third on the team in targets (52) and receptions (39), so his absence is significant, especially if Gordon remains sidelined. 

    If Gordon can't play, the Chargers will turn to Jackson to start. In Weeks 12 and 13, he carried 15 times for 120 yards and a touchdown and caught his only target for 19 yards. Based on his Week 13 performance, it looked like he would be in line for a bigger role in a great matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. However, they kept the game close throughout, and the Chargers deferred to Ekeler.

    Jackson would be a strong RB2 candidate if he gets the call to lead the way against the Chiefs. A loss would knock the Chargers out of the running for the division and a first-round bye, which would make playing time a potential issue for Week 16, especially with the injuries to Gordon and Ekeler. Rookie Detrez Newsome is the only other running back on the roster.

New England Patriots

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    James White's snaps continue to dwindle.
    James White's snaps continue to dwindle.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Sony Michel: 40.7% snaps, 20 carries, 57 yards, 0 TD, 0 targets

    James White: 40.7% snaps, 4 carries, 13 yards, 0 TD, 4 targets, 2 receptions, 15 yards, 0 TD

    Rex Burkhead: 21% snaps, 4 carries, 2 yards, 0 TD, 2 targets, 1 reception, 3 yards, 0 TD

    Burkhead's second game back from injured reserve was more of what owners of Michel and White were hoping for, with Burkhead in nothing more than a backup role as no real threat. However, neither Michel nor White was able to provide solid fantasy production against the Miami Dolphins. 

    Michel's snaps dipped slightly, which wasn't a problem since he had such a heavy workload. It marked the fourth time this season he hit the 20-carry mark and sixth time he had at least 17 carries. However, he's failed to rush for more than 63 yards in four of his last five games, and during that span, he has just one score. Michel is getting more than enough volume, but he isn't producing. 

    Perhaps the bigger surprise is White's targets and snap share. A week after he set a season high with 92 receiving yards on seven receptions and nine targets, he had his second-lowest target share of the year and second-worst receiving game of the season. He played a season-high 80 percent of the snaps in Week 8, but his snaps have dropped in every game since, which is alarming. 

    White was firmly in the RB1 tier with 21.2 fantasy points per game from Week 1 through Week 8, but he's dropped to 13.7 fantasy points per game from Week 9 through Week 14. He's still a decent RB2, although his snaps and targets should be monitored. Michel is averaging just 9.8 FPG in four games since Week 9, so he's a bigger concern as a shaky RB2.

Oakland Raiders

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    Doug Martin remains the leader in Oakland's backfield.
    Doug Martin remains the leader in Oakland's backfield.Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Doug Martin: 49.3% snaps, 16 carries, 32 yards, 1 TD, 0 targets

    Jalen Richard: 49.3% snaps, 8 carries, 24 yards, 0 TD, 1 target, 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TD

    DeAndre Washington: 1.5% snaps, 0 carries, 0 targets

    The Oakland Raiders are playing for nothing more than pride over the final three weeks of the season, yet the effort remains strong, as we saw in last week's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Surprisingly, the Raiders didn't get much out of this backfield in the victory. Other than Martin's touchdown, it was a disappointing performance, although he now has a touchdown in each of his last three games. Martin also logged the two busiest games of the season in the last two weeks, including a season-high 18 carries for 61 yards in the Week 13 loss to the Chiefs.

    Because the Raiders stayed close with the Steelers, the game script didn't call for Richard to play as the hurry-up back. Splitting snaps with Martin resulted in Richard's biggest snap share since Week 1. However, he was quiet as a receiver, as Week 14 was only the second time this season he failed to register at least four targets and only the third time he didn't have at least three receptions. 

    The Raiders head to Cincinnati in Week 15 with a great matchup against one of the worst run defenses in the league. It's hard to ever call Martin or Richard more than RB3/flex options, although this could be a week where volume pushes one or both into the RB2 conversation.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Jaylen Samuels didn't get much done on the ground in Week 14.
    Jaylen Samuels didn't get much done on the ground in Week 14.D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    Week 14 Workload Distribution

    Jaylen Samuels: 80% snaps, 11 carries, 28 yards, 0 TD, 7 targets, 7 receptions, 64 yards, 0 TD

    Stevan Ridley: 13.3% snaps, 5 carries, 4 yards, 1 TD, 0 targets

    James Conner: inactive

    Recent history prevailed in Week 14, as the Steelers made Samuels the featured back in a big way. Of course, it's never easy to replicate top production as you move down the depth chart. Samuels was solid as a receiver but failed to get anything going on the ground.

    To be fair, this was a huge jump for Samuels since he came into the game with 12 carries for 31 yards on the season. The matchup against the Raiders was favorable, yet he only produced through the air. Ridley stole the lone touchdown between the two and was otherwise disappointing in his small role.

    The snap share is the key to Samuels' fantasy value in Week 15. Pittsburgh faces a tougher opponent in the Patriots, although New England's defense is nothing to be concerned about. The only issue with Samuels is the potential return of James Conner. Head coach Mike Tomlin wouldn't rule him out early in the week, although he's far from a lock to return from his ankle injury.

    The Steelers continue to fight for a playoff spot, so playing-time issues likely won't be a problem regardless of what happens this weekend. Conner's health is the biggest factor in determining the fantasy production in this backfield. Samuels is a solid RB2 as long as Conner is sidelined.