We know Kareem Hunt has become a must-start player who, apparently, is going to break a long touchdown every week. We know Paul Perkins is completely untrustworthy, unless maybe you’re in a 32-team league, and even they we’re still not sure. But what about the fringe players?
Avoiding the obvious decisions, here’s an early look at the best Week 4 starts and sits to make at the running back position. You can also read here for wide receivers.
Jonathan Stewart, CAR (at NE): With Tom Brady doing Tom Brady things, Cam Newton struggling and the Patriots run defense allowing 5.1 yards per carry (second worst in the NFL), the Panthers’ game-plan in Week 4 should be simple: Lean on the running game in hopes of slowing things down, controlling time of possession and keeping Brady off the field as much as possible. Stewart has finished as the RB11, RB58 and RB41 in the first three weeks, and he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, so it’s difficult to trust him, but he should approach 20 touches in this one, making him a volume-based RB2. Just don’t treat him as someone with a high ceiling.
Chris Carson, SEA (vs. IND): A touchdown helped Carson secure a Top-20 finish at the position despite an underwhelming overall performance in Week 3 (11 carries for 34 yards, two receptions for 18 yards). He’s still a risky week-to-week option going forward, as he’s running behind a putrid offensive line is going to give up touches and snaps to CJ Prosise when the Seahawks are playing from behind, as they were in Week 3. Nevertheless, he has secured his role as the lead back (Thomas Rawls played one snap, and Eddie Lacy played zero), and he’s going to see a heavy workload and positive game script in Week 4, as the ‘Hawks–who are 11.5-point favorites at home–will likely be protecting a lead for most of the game.
Joe Mixon, CIN (at CLE): Under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the Bengals decided to finally feature their most talented running back in Week 3, giving Mixon 21 touches (18 carries, three receptions on three targets). The end result for Cincy was their first two touchdowns of the season and 24 points on the road. Imagine that. The efficiency wasn’t quite there for the rookie, who averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, but the volume is what’s important. While there’s still some risk and potential volatility with three RB’s in the mix, it’s clear this offense is more dynamic with Mixon as the lead back, and the evidence suggests Lazor agrees. Until we see otherwise, Mixon is an RB2 with an upside.
Mike Gillislee, NE (vs. CAR): Through three weeks, the Panthers defense has held Carlos Hyde, LeSean McCoy and Mark Ingram to 110 yards on 35 carries, just 3.14 yards per tote. Gillislee, meanwhile, is fresh off a 12-carry, 31-yard performance, finishing behind guys like Mike Tolbert, Jeremy Hill, Elijah McGuire and Charcandrick West in PPR leagues. There’s always touchdown potential, especially in a game the Pats are favored by 8.5 points, but with a tough defensive matchup and unpredictable RB rotation, Gillislee is nothing more than a dart throw.
Marshawn Lynch, OAK (at DEN): Lynch’s weekly RB finishes through three games: 26th, 23rd, 57th. His touches have decreased every week, he’s averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, he’s barely involved in the passing game (five targets in three games), and he has basically become a touchdown dependent option at RB. That can be OK for an RB2 in a pinch, but this isn’t the week to rely on that, as the Raiders are on the road against a Broncos team has held three RB1’s (Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy) to 83 rushing yards on 41 carries.
Wendell Smallwood, PHI (at SD): With Darren Sproles out for the year, Smallwood stepping in for 71 yards on 12 carries in his absence, and the Chargers giving up 146.7 rushing yards per game, there will be an urge to start him in Week 4. Still, while Smallwood makes for a good waiver-wire pickup, I would wait to see how the potential RB-by-committee situation in Philly shakes out before putting him in my starting lineup. LeGarrette Blount also got 12 carries and will receive the goal-line work, rookie Corey Clement turned six touches into 22 yards and a score, and there’s just no guarantee any of the Philly backs will get the volume necessary to be a strong play.