Top Running Backs for NFL Wild Card Games January 9, 2016

Playing a Saturday Only GPP will leave your running back situation in disarray. Even if Deangelo Williams is good-to-go after dealing with a foot injury (not ankle as previously reported), you can’t expect much from a hobbled Williams. This leaves you with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman for Pittsburgh, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware for Kansas City, Alfred Blue and 3 other running backs (Polk, Grimes, and Hunt) for Houston, and Bernard and Hill for Cincinnati.

It’s safe to say, none of these players are considered bell cows for their team, and typically split the running back duties. In order to get the most points out of your lineup, you have to look at the matchups and even go to each team’s website for this weekend’s game plan.

#1 Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Originally we were told DeAngelo Williams was dealing with a high ankle sprain, but new reports suggest it’s a foot injury.  According to head coach Mike Tomlin, it is hard to tell whether or not Williams will play be able to play. The team is currently preparing for Saturday’s matchup with the Bengals with running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. It’s looking like Toussaint (5’11,” 210 lbs.) will handle the bulk of the running attack, while Todman will be more for pass-catching, and fullback Wil Johnson will be worth of goal-line opportunities.

I like Toussaint as a sleeper pick, because Williams was able to reach 23.1 fantasy points in his last outing against the Bengals (17th vs. RBs and 7th in total Rushing Yards). If Toussaint is able to take on the majority of the touches, he could wind up with 15-25 fantasy points thanks to the additional receptions. It’s somewhat of a ‘flier’ option, especially if Big Ben is asked to throw 50+ times, but Tomlin seems excited to utilize Toussaint, which makes me excited.

Prediction: 17 rushes, 91 yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions, 52 yards, 24-27 fantasy points

#2 Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have spent most of the year splitting touches between Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Even though Hill carries the majority of the running workload, he hasn’t produced like he did in 2014. Bernard has been hit or miss, because he needs the screen plays to potentially break off a long play, and there is no guarantee (w/A.J. McCarron) that those plays will be successful. Hill only had 9 total touches in their last meeting, which resulted in a whopping 4.4 fantasy points. Bernard also had 9 touches and 9.7 fantasy points. Neither one of them are exciting options on the surface, but the playoffs bring on a whole new meaning.

If it turns out that the game is played during continuous rain, both backs could receive a boost in touches. However, Hill only had 16 total yards against the Steelers in the last outing. Listen, we all know the Steelers like to blitz, especially in the playoffs. The Bengals are fully aware of how their rivals play, so if you want a Bengal’s running back, I recommend Bernard. He will most likely get 4-7 screen receptions alone, which could result in long yards and potentially a touchdown.

Prediction: Hill – 15 rushes, 66 yards, 0 TD, 6-9 fantasy points
Bernard – 6 rushes, 30 yards, 5 receptions, 57 yards, 1 TD, 15-19 fantasy points

#3 Kansas City Chiefs

I believe the Kansas City Chiefs have been able to platoon their running back situation better than any other team in the league this year. Even though they would love to have Jamaal Charles leading the charge, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have been more than “serviceable” over the last 12 games. The problem is you never know who is going to get more touches. In week 17, we were told West would lead the backfield charge, yet Ware ended up with 16 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown, while West had 13 carries for 34 yards. Between the two, only West had a reception target the entire game.

This news means you are taking a huge risk picking one of the running backs. This is on top of the fact that Houston’s defense ranks 6th against running backs. The goal here is to increase your odds as much as possible, and even though both backs will get 13-16 touches, they probably won’t amass any huge fantasy numbers.

Prediction: West – 15 rushes, 86 yards, 0 TDs, 1 reception, 12 yards, 10-15 fantasy points
Ware – 15 rushes, 55 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 20 yards, 10-16 fantasy points

#4 Houston Texans

Dealing with the running backs in Houston is nothing short of frustrating. If Arian Foster was still around I’d say he’d be a lock this weekend since 75%-80% of the offense ran through him. Instead you’re left with Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, Akeem Hunt, and Jonathan Grimes. While Blue has topped 100 yards, two out of the last three weeks, he could be replaced if he isn’t doing anything.

The other three running backs already account for around 10 touches a game, which means anymore could make Blue a bad choice. In addition, the Chiefs rank 4th against running backs and 8th in total rushing yards (98.2 per game). It’s definitely not the ideal choice on paper, but if the Chiefs focus more on the passing game, it could open the door to a bigger day for Blue.

Prediction: 15 rushes, 68 yards, 1 TD, 0 receptions, 0 yards, 1 lost fumble, 10-12 fantasy points

If you do wind up playing a Saturday only GPP, it might be wise to choose a couple pass-catcher options like Bernard and Ware with one entry, and a Toussaint/Blue combo for more of a power setup.