NFL Fantasy: Week 15 start ‘em, sit ‘em running backs

Roles are finally becoming clearer and matchups can be trusted in Week 15, but what else puts these running backs on the start ‘em or sit ‘em side of the lineup?

Week 15 looks quite different from how most of us envisioned things on draft day. Running back tandems and committees rule the day. Suspensions, injuries, and even trades pushed new names into starting roles. 15 teams are starting different running backs this weekend than we saw on opening day. 

Despite all the upheaval and time-shares, running backs again rule the NFL fantasy leaderboard when it comes to non-quarterback scoring. 11 of the top 15 scorers through Week 14 line up behind the quarterback. 

Even though a few teams are still fiddling with their lineups for various reasons, most roles have shaken out. We also see the defensive trends and know which matchups should make us think twice about starting our running backs and which teams we can’t wait to run our best starter against. 

But it’s not always clear-cut. Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, and recent fantasy breakout Giovani Bernard face three of the five stingiest NFL fantasy defenses against running backs. You would never sit Gurley and the recent injuries to Seattle’s defense make that decision easier. Fournette’s volume makes him a must-start each week despite a lowering yards-per-carry. Bernard… well, you’ll see where he falls on this week’s start ‘em and sit ‘em. 

Playoff aspirations and lost seasons also come into play. Which running backs are feeling the playoff fever and will light a booster rocket to get there? Who is playing out the string and more likely to step out of bounds than fight for more yards? Who is playing for a roster spot or a free agent contract next year? 

All those considerations are why you should keep reading to see who is in our start ‘em and sit ‘em lists for Week 15. 

Start this guy: Jay Ajayi, PHI at NYG

Not to read too much into things, but after Carson Wentz went down last week, Jay Ajayi joined Nick Foles on the field for almost 100% of the offensive plays. It is possible that the Eagles have a simplified gameplan they use when a new player enters a game and that recent arrival Ajayi was more familiar with it than LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement. But it bodes well for Ajayi to get the bulk of the work against a Giants defense that lost any remaining heart they had during Dallas’ 20-point outburst at the end of last week’s contest. 

Philadelphia fans could very well outnumber Giants fans on New York’s home turf. That won’t help rekindle any Giants pride. LeGarrette Blount is a good start, too and Clement could see enough action to make him a decent flex. 

Sit this guy: Giovani Bernard, CIN at MIN

Minnesota is a lock to make the playoffs, but after last week’s 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers, their defense suddenly feels a need to re-establish themselves. That makes it a tough week to be wearing Bengals orange. Bernard’s expected volume provides a decent floor, but he won’t get much more than that against a riled-up Vikings defense. 

Start this guy: Mike Davis, SEA vs LA

Seattle is in the rare position of needing to rely on their offense to help their defense out this week. Continued injuries continue to diminish the Seahawks’ normally stout defensive edge. Replacements have stepped up and played well, but Pete Carroll can no longer expect them to hold up if the time of possession tilts away from them. We know Russell Wilson and the receiving corps can score a lot of points in a heartbeat, but that is Plan B. Plan A will be to establish a clock-chewing running attack with Mike Davis. JD McKissic is not an awful thought at the flex position, either. 

Sit this guy: Lamar Miller, HOU at JAX

Don’t look now, but the Jacksonville’s defense is no longer a one-trick pony. Their prowess against the pass is well-known, but earlier in the season, you could start your running backs with confidence. Those days are over. Jacksonville has quietly crawled into position as the 8th-best unit against fantasy running backs. The intangible of an electric home crowd tasting the playoffs for the first time in many years will be too much to expect any kind of letdown by the Jaguars this Sunday. 

Start this guy: Kenyan Drake, MIA at BUF

Kenyan Drake put together his second huge game in a row in Miami’s shocking upset of the Patriots in balmy Florida. This week, his toughest competition will be the frigid wind and frozen ground of Orchard Park, NY. At least this week, Buffalo is not expecting another game-long snowstorm, but passing will still be difficult, even for someone who experienced Chicago’s windy conditions for years. It probably won’t be another 20-point performance, but volume and the player’s desire to be the Dolphins’ workload back next season make Drake a must-start, even in a short week. 

Sit this guy: Jamaal Williams, GB at CAR

Crazy, right? But there are a few things to consider here. First, Carolina has a top-five defense against the run. Williams has really picked it up recently, but against whom? Cleveland and Tampa Bay? Before those games, he relied on volume to offset his moderate yards-per-carry. 

Second, Aaron Jones will start getting more carries. Williams will remain the starter for now, but if Jones keeps rattling off flashier runs, that work-share will become more even. 

Third, we have the legend that is Aaron Rodgers. The Packers should protect Rodgers from taking too many hits by trying to run the ball more. But don’t bet on Rodgers agreeing with that plan. Especially if the Packers find themselves losing to the Panthers, would anyone be surprised by a 300-yard passing performance? 

Desperate times: CJ Anderson, DEN, Peyton Barber, TB and Duke Johnson, CLE

If you’re in a larger league this late, it’s hard to find someone to replace an injured or diminishing player. A few desperation options who might be available or on your bench include CJ Anderson, Peyton Barber, and Duke Johnson. Anderson has regained the starting role in Denver with 183 total yards over the last two games. A touchdown either week would have made him a top-15 rusher. He goes against the porous defense of Indianapolis Sunday. 

As expected, Doug Martin stepped right back into the starting role in Tampa and will start again this week. But after his fumble last week and some reported griping among players, Barber will likely see more of a role. In Cleveland, Isaiah Crowell is running well as the Browns’ passing game became a threat, but the additions of Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman also makes life easier for Duke Johnson in the passing game. He is slightly ahead of Crowell in NFL fantasy points over the last four weeks. 

There you go. All the info you need to tune up your playoff roster or maybe put together a killer daily fantasy team. But things change constantly, so check back with us at RealSport every day for the latest news and updates on all things NFL Fantasy. 

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