Formerly the week of fantasy championships, Week 16 is now where you earn the right to compete for a championship. If your team has made it this far, you probably have a complete roster that can compete with any team. Even if this is the case, evaluating your team to ensure you’re putting out the optimal lineup doesn’t hurt.
Evaluating your running back room each week is arguably more important than any position, given the volatility at the position. Changes in usage, health, and matchups must be considered when deciding who will fill out your RB slots. Let’s take a look at some players who may lift your team to a championship berth, as well as a few RBs who may hold your team back.
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AARON JONES AT CAROLINA PANTHERS
After battling injuries throughout the season, Aaron Jones finally returned in Week 15 against Tampa Bay. Although Jones made his return, he did not see a full workload. Jones played 48 percent of snaps while handling early-down rushing work and goal line snaps.
Considering Jones has missed several games this season, it’s not shocking that he did not see a full workload. This was confirmed by Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur, “Going in, we were a little bit cautious, and we used him quite a bit on that first drive, so, we were mindful of that for the rest of the game.”
As his health continues to improve, I expect Jones to see more work. With Jones off the injury report and AJ Dillon’s questionable designation, there could be a lot of touches in store for Jones. It is worth noting that LaFleur has stated that he “feels good” about Dillon’s broken thumb and there is a chance he plays this week. But if Dillon is unable to go, the Green Bay will lean heavily on Aaron Jones.
Week 16 brings on the ideal matchup to unleash Aaron Jones. Jones is still a must-start given this matchup even if he is relegated to primarily early downs.
The Panthers have not been able to contain running backs this season, allowing the 4th most fantasy points per game to RBs. They also rank 4th worst in rushing yards allowed to running backs, allowing 105 yards per game.
Opposing running backs also benefit from an abysmal Carolina offense. A struggling offense won’t directly lead to success for Jones, but an offense that can’t score often leads to game scripts that favor opposing ball carriers.
The Packers are currently favored by five points against the Panthers on Sunday, indicating the game script should favor the Packers’ rushing attack. Jones should see plenty of work on Sunday and can be trusted as an RB2 against one of the league’s worst rushing attacks.
DERRICK HENRY VS SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Let’s check in to see how Derrick Henry and the Titans have fared recently…
There’s a mix of things that contribute to Henry’s struggles, but poor offensive line play seems to be the biggest culprit in my opinion. Henry averages just 1.08 yards before contact per attempt, 9th lowest among RBs with 100+ carries.
Henry has been able to overcome his offensive line’s struggles throughout the season, rushing for 75+ yards in six games this season. I believe Week 16 will be another week where his talent will allow him to overcome these obstacles.
King Henry will square off with the Seahawks this week, a defense that has allowed consistent production from ball carriers recently. In their last eight games, nine different running backs have scored 12.9+ points on the Seattle defense. These performances have led to the Seahawks surrendering the 7th most points to RBs this season. Even with recent struggles, King Henry has to find his way into lineups with a premium matchup. Given this matchup, Henry should be viewed as a low-end RB1 or quality RB2 in Week 16.
AUSTIN EKELER VS BUFFALO BILLS
Things were already trending in the wrong direction for Austin Ekeler, but Week 15 showed us just how scary things can be without Justin Herbert in Los Angeles. Ekeler managed just 7.8 points in an ugly 63-21 loss to the Raiders. Week 15 was just another game in a string of uncharacteristic performances from Ekeler.
Unfortunately, Week 16 doesn’t look like the bounce-back week for Ekeler. First, we have the offensive environment for the Chargers. An offense without Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen (probably), and Mike Williams makes it very difficult for Ekeler to produce. The Chargers now take on the Bills who have hit their stride in recent weeks. The Bills have also been solid at containing running backs, ranking just below league average in terms of fantasy points allowed to RBs.
To put it nicely, the situation for Ekeler isn’t ideal. Changes to the coaching staff and front office may also lead to changes in Ekeler’s usage. We have seen Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller get work in recent weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised if this continues this week, especially considering the Chargers are essentially playing for nothing.
The pieces are not in place for Austin Ekeler to succeed in Week 16. It may be difficult to bench your first-round pick in a critical semi-final matchup, but this is likely the safest choice.
ANTONIO GIBSON AT NEW YORK JETS
Commanders starting running back Brian Robinson Jr. Has been dealing with a hamstring injury that held him out of Week 15. With Robinson out, many (myself included) assumed that Antonio Gibson would be a good player to start in fantasy. Gibson instead found himself in a pretty ugly committee.
Brian Robinson missed yet another practice on Wednesday, putting his status in doubt for Week 16. If he is unable to go, many people will look to Gibson as a fantasy starter. Even if Robinson can’t play, I believe it’s best to keep Gibson on your bench.
First, we have already got a look at how this backfield operates in Robinson’s absence. Gibson has some opportunities to produce but does not have a clear edge over the other members of the Washington running back room. I would not bank on things changing, and we can expect Gibson to have about ten touches. Unless he becomes hyper-efficient or breaks off a big play, ten touches will not be enough to produce in fantasy.
Gibson is primarily a pass-catching back, so he has the chance to produce based on receiving work. However, I believe there are better options at the running back position. If Robinson is unavailable this week, Gibson should be viewed as a low-end flex option.