Another exciting weekend of NFL action has left some fantasy owners with some unanswered questions. Is the Los Angeles Chargers backfield going timeshare? Is it the end of the fantasy road for two likely Hall of Famers? Hint: One is a running back and the other is a quarterback. Do we finally have some clarity in the Chicago Bears receiver corps? FantasySharks.com senior writer Matt Wilson answers those questions as he sifts through the Week 10 aftermath in his newest edition of “Traps & Trends.”
1. Is there now more than one man standing in the Los Angeles Chargers’ backfield?
The Damage: There wasn’t a huge disparity in their overall workloads during the Los Angeles Chargers’ overtime loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is troubling, but there was a huge disparity in their production, which is even more troubling. Melvin Gordon compiled a meager 16-27-0 rushing line and a 5-15-0 receiving line on a team-high eight targets (Jacksonville was clearly keying on him) while rookie Ekeler amassed a 10-42-0 rushing line and a 5-77-2 receiving line on five targets. Since Gordon struggled big time and Ekeler received a career-high number of touches, is the Chargers backfield going timeshare?
The Diagnosis: TREND
We’ve reached that point already, but Gordon should continue to start and command a majority share of the touches. Listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he’s built to handle a workhorse roll, but Gordon, a good talent but not an elite one, lacks top-end speed. Ekeler, an undrafted free agent, brings 4.4 wheels to the table, which gives him an advantage over Gordon in matchups against good defenses like the Jaguars. We also saw this happen in Week 4 versus the Philadelphia Eagles and in Week 7 against the Denver Broncos. Ekeler scored in both contests.
However, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Ekeler isn’t big enough to handle routinely heavy usage – he also lost a critical fumble late in the Jaguars contest – so Gordon’s gig is safe. The best times to give Ekeler flex consideration are, as noted, in tough rushing matchups and in very soft ones, such as Los Angeles’ Week 12 opponent, the Buffalo Bills, who were gashed by the New Orleans Saints tailbacks for 294 rushing yards and five rushing scores this past Sunday.
2. Is the Ezekiel Elliott-less Dallas Cowboys’ backfield truly settled?
The Damage: With Elliott sidelined (league suspension), Morris, as expected, got the start – his first since 2015 – against the Atlanta Falcons this past Sunday, but the unfairly hyped sixth-year pro was disappointing. Facing a double whammy of a surprisingly good effort from a mediocre-rated Falcons run defense and negative game script – the cowboys trailed most of the afternoon – Morris toted the rock just 11 times for 53 yards (45 yards came on Dallas’ first drive of the second half) and wasn’t targeted in the passing game. Rod Smith, operating as Morris’ backup, rotated with him in the early going, but Smith didn’t make much noise until junk time.
Playing over Darren McFadden, Smith finished with a 3-14-0 rushing line and, as the preferred passing-down option, amassed a 4-15-0 receiving line on six targets. McFadden, active for the first time this season, carried just once for minus-two yards and wasn’t targeted in the passing game. As long as Elliott is suspended, is this the pecking order in the Cowboys backfield?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
I’m a Morris skeptic. Guilty as charged. I don’t think Morris has as firm a grip on the starting gig as some folks think. Since he’s not much of a receiver, Morris will have to produce consistently as an early-down runner, but his next two matchups – the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Chargers – don’t look favorable on paper. The Eagles have allowed the fewest rushing yards to tailbacks, and the Chargers limited Leonard Fournette to 33 yards on 17 carries. Smith apparently is a favorite of the Dallas coaching staff, but the third-year pro has amassed 23 touches on his NFL career stat sheet. McFadden averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2017 preseason action, which is why I think we’ll see more of the 30-year-old runner as he shakes the rust off his game.
3. Will “Shady” step back into the fantasy spotlight sometime soon?
The Dude: LeSean McCoy
The Damage: The top-notch three-down runner is coming off his second straight brutal outing. Back in Week 9, McCoy amassed just 12-25-0 rushing and failed to reel in his only target against a very forgiving New York Jets defense. This past Sunday, facing an admittedly upstart New Orleans Saints stop unit, McCoy compiled an 8-49-0 rushing line and a 3-11-0 receiving line. With the Buffalo Bills struggling and looking like a team in free fall – Tyrod Taylor was benched during Buffalo’s blowout loss to the Saints – should we continue to expect more soft fantasy outings from McCoy?
The Diagnosis: TOSSUP
I wouldn’t give up on McCoy just yet. The Jets suddenly started playing better defensively two weeks ago, and the Saints have been gradually improving during the course of the season. Buffalo’s offensive line hasn’t been opening holes consistently for McCoy. The Bills defense hasn’t been absolutely gashed by the run since the trade of run-stuffer Marcell Dareus two weeks ago, which has led to negative game script for McCoy. The unfavorable game script usually hasn’t been a problem for him in past seasons because of his passing-game usage, but McCoy’s role as a receiver (just three catches in his last two games) has inexplicably disappeared. I’m hopeful that Buffalo will start throwing to McCoy again, which is why I called “tossup” on this one, but I honestly have my doubts that McCoy can resume compiling good numbers again.
4. Is this the fantasy end of the road for a future Hall-of-Fame runner?
The Dude: Adrian Peterson
The Damage: He made fantasy owners smile in Week 6 (26-134-2 rushing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in Week 9 (37-159-0 rushing versus the San Francisco 49ers), but AP also made fantasy owners cry in Week 7 (11-21-0 rushing against the Los Angeles Rams) and especially in Week 10 (21-29-0 rushing against the Seahawks). On top of that, Peterson has caught just four passes for 33 yards during his short Arizona Cardinals career.
The 32-year-old ball carrier’s dismal outing against the Seahawks was historically bad. Peterson became just the 18th player in NFL history to notch notch fewer than 20 rushing yards on 30 carries. Yikes! Are this poor outing and the expected injury absence of Drew Stanton (knee) good enough reasons to park Peterson on fantasy benches for the remainder of the season?
The Diagnosis: TRAP
I wouldn’t give up on Peterson, but the touchdown- and volume-dependent runner isn’t an automatic start, either. Downgrade Peterson to a matchup play fantasy RB2/RB3 if you haven’t done so already. Peterson’s Week 11 road matchup versus the Houston Texans isn’t a great one, but he draws a Week 12 home matchup against a Los Angeles Rams defense that’s still a bit soft against the run. Blaine Gabbert is expected to start in place of the injured Stanton, and that’s not a totally bad thing. While Gabbert isn’t much better than Stanton as a passer, Gabbert is a capable runner (40-173-2 rushing in five 2016 starts with the San Francisco 49ers), which actually could help open things up for Peterson.