Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 4 running backs

Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley are the only two running backs with top-ten NFL fantasy point totals three weeks running. Will they do it again?

Week 3 saw some new names and some blasts from the past on NFL fantasy leaderboards, but running backs offered more predictable performances and familiar leaders. Will they continue their steadiness or will upstarts and faded stars reign in Week 4?

See if you can tell what I think from my list of Week 4 start ‘ems and sit ‘ems.

Start this guy: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas (vs LA Rams)

Ezekiel Elliott would normally be one of the “too obvious” running backs for me to mention in my weekly ‘Start ‘ems’, but after three relatively rough weeks, let me announce here that things get decidedly easier for the Cowboys star in Week 4. After facing the Giants, Broncos, and Cardinals to start the season, the LA Rams come to Jerry’s House. The Rams have already given up more NFL fantasy points to running backs than any other team except the Patriots. By Week 5, we won’t have to mention the Patriots.

Elliott rolls through Week 4 with a performance that reminds us why we debated whether he or Dak Prescott should have been the Rookie of the Year. Put him in for 150 yards rushing, 40 receiving, and two touchdowns against the upstart Rams.

Sit this guy: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco (at Arizona)

Everybody loves Carlos Hyde, the sixth-highest scoring NFL fantasy running back. But this week he runs up against a stout Arizona Cardinals defense who held Ezekiel Elliott in check this week. Hyde does not have a quarterback like Elliott has to successfully keep the Cardinals guessing who had the ball on Monday night.

Arizona will dare Brian Hoyer to repeat his passing heroics from last week and shut down the 49ers running game. With the Cardinals’ defensive backs, it could mean a long night for Hyde and the Niners’ offense.

Start this guy: Jay Ajayi, Miami (vs New Orleans)

We can’t blame Jay Ajayi for looking past the Jets last week, even if he is paid millions to not do it. This week is huge for the London-born running back as Miami will host the Saints at Wembley Stadium. As if the adrenaline of a rare chance to play in front of family and friends isn’t enough, the Saints come into the game as the third-most-generous team in NFL fantasy points against to running backs.

Don’t expect that dubious mark to improve as Miami will ride their workhorse back all day. If Ajayi will have another 200-yard game this season, this is as good a chance as any.

Sit this guy: Chris Carson, Seattle (vs Indianapolis)

It won’t take long for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to realize what the Colts’ first three opponents figured out: how much easier it is to throw against Indianapolis than it is to run. The Colts have allowed only 12.5 NFL fantasy points per game to all running backs, good for sixth-best in the league.

Carson might see some volume, but between the weak secondary of the Colts and the possibility that Jacoby Brissett keeps the Indianapolis offense moving like he did last week, Russell Wilson should take over before the end of the game.

Start this guy: Duke Johnson, Cleveland (vs Cincinnati)

The Cleveland Browns are a weird football team. Their coach does not trust their premier running back, so Duke Johnson will see more involvement in the running game. The quarterback does not trust most of his uninjured wide receivers. So, Duke Johnson will be involved in the passing game. If the kicker misses a field goal, I almost expect to see Duke Johnson out there knocking in the next one.

Johnson already leads the Browns in pass targets. The addition of rushing opportunities has him creeping up the NFL fantasy leaderboard. Currently, he is the RB-18, ahead of people like Lamar Miller and way ahead of Isaiah Crowell. His 16 fantasy points last week was not a fluke. Start him and expect that he will be a top-ten back more weeks than not.

Sit this guy: Marshawn Lynch, Oakland (vs Denver)

Marshawn Lynch and the Oakland Raiders had a bad taste in their mouths after being totally dominated by an angry Washington defense in Week 3. They would like nothing better than to re-establish themselves as a powerful offense this week. Unfortunately, they face an equally disconcerted Broncos team in the mile-high atmosphere of Denver.

The Marshawn Lynch of a few years ago would still be a must-start. Elite runners will always wear down a defense and eventually make something happen. But this version of Lynch is not that elite runner. Put him on the bench until a better matchup comes along.

Week 4 flash-in-the-pan prediction

The New York Giants hold Jacquizz Rodgers in check, but lose sight of Charles Sims who scores on a screen pass and a goal-line rush to keep the Giants winless after Week 4.

Full disclosure of Week 3

It was a mixed bag of results last week as three picks were correct and three were not. Leonard Fournette scored a touchdown which made me look silly for sitting him and Jonathan Stewart failed to score a touchdown in what was otherwise a good call on his game.

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