Best Running Backs for Week 8

Best Running Backs for Week 8

by Jon Helmkamp

Assuming you make it to your championship game (and every one of my readers should, I mean obviously), then we are halfway through this fantasy football season. Some very obvious studs are emerging, and there are some real “bust” concerns around several others. It’s time to take stock and pivot where necessary.

This week is full of outstanding running back matchups.  I won’t touch on all of them, but here’s a quick list:

Dalvin Cook vs Washington (tweeted about it Thursday morning, and yeah he dominated.)

James Conner vs Dolphins

Saquon Barkley vs Lions

Aaron Jones vs Chiefs

Leonard Fournette vs Jets

There are some very, very juicy matchups this weekend. Behind those six, here are some other matchups to target and some to fade.

Let’s get into some matchups for this week.

The Best Running Backs for Week 8:

Todd Gurley – RR: 49.45
vs CIN – vsRR: 27.51

The questions around the health of Todd Gurley’s legs have been well documented, and for good reason. Clearly his usage is nowhere close to what it was in his league-shattering 2018 season. In his first eight games last year he saw 17 or fewer carries only twice, and eclipsed 20 carries in five of eight games. He also averaged 5.25 targets per game over that stretch.

In the six games that he’s appeared in this season, he has seen 15 or less carries in four of those six games, and has yet to eclipse 18 carries. In three of those games, he’s also seen only one target. He is not the RB1 of last season, but coming off that 18 carry game from last week, he’s trending in the right direction.

Against the worst run defense in the league in the Bengals, I expect his best performance of the year so far. He’s a high-end RB1 with a strong chance at an RB1 finish.

Austin Ekeler – RR: 33.71
vs CHI – vsRR: 61.43

“Jon, you’re suggesting we play a RB against Chicago?! It’s Chicago! They have the best defense in the league!” True. Chicago has an elite defense, but paired with an offense that can’t get anything going, the Bears defense is on the field a LOT. A defense can only hold up for so long. The Bears defense is on the field, on average, for 67.3 plays per game (8th worst). Compare that to the Niners, who are the league best at 50.3 plays per game.

Last week, Latavius Murray (LATAVIUS MURRAY!) put up 119 rushing yards against the Bears, and that was coming off a bye week. Two weeks ago, Josh Jacobs got his first career 100+ yard game against them with 123 rushing yards. The Bears vsRR is being heavily buoyed right now by early-season performances. When you factor in Ekeler’s high usage in the passing game (7.57 tg/game), Ekeler has a very safe usage floor. He might not put up huge rushing totals for you, but his overall involvement against a tired defense bodes very well. Ekeler is an RB2.

The Worst Running Backs for Week 8:

Christian McCaffrey – RR: 51.14
vs SF – vsRR: 52.85

I know, I know, it’s Christian McCaffrey. I get it. If you own him, you play him, no matter the matchup, and especially in PPR formats. That said – against strong rushing defenses, his numbers have taken a dip this season. They’re still strong, but they’re not as strong. Tampa Bay held him to 37 and 31 rushing yards in the two games they played him this season. His passing game usage, like Ekeler, gives him a higher floor and a higher ceiling, but this Niners defense is unreal. They get off the field in a hurry, opposing offenses don’t get many opportunities to score against them, and they have elite playmakers at every level.

Like I said before, you always play CMC, no matter the matchup – but his floor is lower in this game than it is in most. With the other great matchups across the league this week, I think it’s possible we see CMC outside the top-12 at the position.

Chris Carson – RR: 53.57
vs ATL – vsRR: 62.95

I’m going against the grain on this one. Most experts have Carson ranked very highly this week, and for good reason. The offense as a whole has been putting up a lot of points, and the Falcons passing defense has been soft, which could set the tone for a lot of red zone opportunities this weekend. I get it. When you look at Atlanta’s vsRR score, which is 7th best in the league, it paints another story. They’ve been very efficient against the run this year, and if their pass rush can make life difficult for Russell Wilson against a banged up offensive line, they might find themselves getting off the field more than they have lately.

I think this game is going to be closer than most expect (with a huge caveat on Matt Ryan playing for Atlanta in this one). Carson still holds good upside, but expectations should be tempered to an RB2 level.

David Johnson – RR: 38.29

vs NOR – vsRR: 50.01

There was nothing more infuriating in all of fantasy football last week than the cloak and dagger that the Cardinals pulled on all of us with David Johnson. He was active, he was supposed to be ready to go, he saw the first carry of the game… and then never touched the ball again.

It was a great reminder that these teams are not out there for our fantasy football amusement, but rather to strategize and try to win real life football games. Some took offense to their move, but I laughed and applauded their sportsmanship. Declaring David Johnson out early would have given the Giants the opportunity to plan accordingly, but instead, they kept them on their toes and Chase Edmonds had a career day (27 carries, 126 rushing yards, 3 TD).

This week, the Cardinals signed not one, but two running backs to their roster – Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner. It bodes very poorly for David Johnson, both from a weekly perspective and also potentially in the long term as well. Johnson has been declared a game-time decision for this week. Even if he’s active, I can’t possibly trust that the Cardinals will use him and give him a viable workload for fantasy purposes. Much like last week, it’s very possible he sees only a handful of touches. I’m avoiding Johnson at all costs, especially against the Saints defense, which hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 33 straight games. Leave Johnson on your bench.

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