Fantasy football start/sit advice, Week 16: Running back

Bob Levey

There are no teams that have clinched their spot in the playoffs yet, so running backs should be set up for their usual roles. Which ones should be decent plays on Sunday?

There wasn't too much change in the fantasy football world of running backs, so the rankings held up for the most part. If you're going to consider the following advice, you can check on these rankings from earlier this week. I'd say they're more or less the same from when they were put together on Thursday. Click here for the link.


Giovani Bernard - The Bengals get a terrific matchup this week against the Minnesota Vikings. They are in the bottom of almost every defensive stat category and are 31st in passing touchdowns. Minnesota's ineptitude against the passing game should make the Bengals more inclined to throw the ball, and that means more action for Giovani Bernard.

On the downside, he's coming in a little cold. The rookie put up 33 rushing yards and one score to go with two receptions for 13 yards. The combined 46 yards was Gio's lowest total since Oct. 27. On the other hand, the Bengals continue to use him more, and he's touched the ball at least 14 times in each of his last five games.

The Vikings are among the three most generous teams when it comes to allowing fantasy points to running backs, and there should be some good things on the way for Gio. If you're in a PPR league, he has to be in your lineup. Standard-league owners can view him as a low-end RB2.

Dennis Johnson - This is a risky one here. The Texans have quickly become one of the least effective offenses in the league and they're only getting worse. Last week, they were only able to muster up three points against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Texans lost running back Ben Tate for the season and they announced rookie Dennis Johnson will take over as the starting running back. Plus, the Texans don't have much competition behind him with just Deji Karim as the primary competition. They will host the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Yes, Peyton Manning in a dome.

If one thing is clear, it's that the Texans are going to be down on the scoreboard for probably the whole game. OK, not the whole game. Trindon Holiday can't run the opening kickoff back in zero seconds, right? But I digress.

Johnson has shown he's somewhat capable in catching passes this season. Even as a backup, he has a catch in each of his last four games. That's going to be big with the Texans possibly becoming one-dimensional once they are down 21 points or more.

Johnson is a high-upside RB2, but fantasy owners should not be benching a stud-type player in a bad matchup for him.

Shane Vereen - There might not have been a bigger disappointment than Vereen last week. Against the Miami Dolphins, he carried the ball just twice for 13 rushing yards last week to go with three receptions for eight yards.

This letdown had a lot to do with his 153-yard game against the Cleveland Browns back in Week 14. For whatever reason, the New England Patriots used their slot guys Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman a ton with their 23 receptions combined.

This week the Patriots will take on the Ravens. Baltimore is one of the best teams in the NFL in stopping running backs, but Vereen's value isn't in line with conventional backs. If he has a big day, it will be due to his pass-catching abilities and maybe a big play. Considering how often the Ravens blitz against anyone and how they've been known to do just that against the Patriots in previous meetings, Vereen has a good chance to be Tom Brady's hot read on slip screens.

PPR owners should have him in as a top-10 play and he can be viewed as a RB2 in standard leagues.


Andre Ellington - This one is pure matchup. The Cardinals won't be able to get much going as they travel to face the Seattle Seahawks and the 12th Man.

Seattle at home is easily among the most dominant teams in the league. They have allowed the fewest yards to opponents at home and are just second in points allowed (Carolina). Even though Andre Ellington has been playing well, there just is really no upside. The Cardinals really struggle within the division and this game has blowout written all over it. He's not a top-30 play in most formats.

Lamar Miller - It's been a timeshare all season with the Miami Dolphins running backs. Last week, Miller carried the ball a team-high 15 times for 61 yards and may have the upper hand after Daniel Thomas put up a 105-yard game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14.

Even with the decent numbers, the unpredictability of this situation is one fantasy owners should avoid. The Dolphins have a bottom-five rushing attack when quarterback Ryan Tannehill's rushing numbers are taken out of the equation.

Miller could put up numbers against the Buffalo Bills, but he's a very risky guy. Unless you really think you're a dead duck, it's probably a better idea to play it safer with someone else.

Steven Jackson - Another matchup-based decision. The Falcons will take on the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. The 49ers are shutting down a lot of backs lately and are coming in somewhat hot. In the last four games, they've allowed an average of just 72.3 yards per game to backs and only allowed one TD over that stretch. Interestingly, three of those four came against solid rushing teams with the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins mixed in there.

Steven Jackson is coming off a two-TD game, but his numbers really don't suggest he can overcome this matchup. He only had a 2.5 yards-per-carry average against the woeful Redskins last week, so this matchup spells trouble. He's more of a flex and it's not too crazy to play someone like Dennis Johnson over him.

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