By John Evans
Special to Yahoo Sports
As we reach the quarter pole of the NFL’s 16-game regular season, I hope your fantasy teams have been as effortlessly unstoppable as a Patrick Mahomes pass. By now we’ve got a feel for which offensive lines can reliably get the better of weaker defensive fronts, and this can give us an advantage when predicting which running backs will succeed in a given week. At the same time, some o-lines are clearly struggling and will do their ball-carriers no favors in a tough matchup.
I like, primarily, to focus on the positive, so here are four RBs I feel good about this week and one I’d think twice about starting.
Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens ($24 in Yahoo DFS)
If you’ve employed Mark Ingram in your fantasy endeavors this season, you’ve been very pleased with the results. He’s the RB4 after three weeks and has five touchdowns to go with two 100-yard rushing days. The bruising back is sixth in broken tackles per touch, according to Football Outsiders, and only Alvin Kamara has been more elusive. And yet Ingram is a reasonable $24 in the daily game this week, less than guys like Josh Jacobs and Damien Williams (the latter of whom seems unlikely to play).
The reason for that price may be the surprisingly stingy run defense of the Ravens’ Week 4 opponent. After Derrick Henry went to town on them in Week 1, Cleveland’s front seven has limited Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley to barely three yards per carry. Sheldon Richardson and Joe Schobert have been a dynamic duo on the first two levels of the defense. While injury fill-in Mack Wilson looked up to the task of replacing WLB Christian Kirksey last week, he will be tested here.
Baltimore is currently fifth in Adjusted Line Yards, Football Outsiders’ run-blocking metric, and leads the league in rushing yards. Thus far the middle of this line has been blowing defenders backward with regularity, albeit against the undermanned Miami, Arizona and Kansas City fronts. Tackle Ronnie Stanley has graded well in the ground game, too. Defenses must contend with Lamar Jackson’s legs, which keeps them off balance and exposes undisciplined and/or inexperienced players. While the Browns are clearly the best defense Baltimore has faced yet, I give the home team the edge in the trenches here.
Ingram won’t score multiple touchdowns every week, but the fact remains that he’s a bad man with the ball in his hands. Roll him out there with confidence.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts ($24 in Yahoo DFS)
While Marlon Mack has not been as consistently productive as Ingram, he too is a great value at $24 this week. Mack is the AFC’s leading rusher and has one of the heaviest workloads in the league, with his backfield mates combining for just 16 carries in three games. Only five teams have run the ball more than the Colts, and unless they fall well behind, Frank Reich wants Mack in the game. Well, this week Indy hosts the Oakland Raiders, a team that is 26th in total yards and 29th in points scored. Watching my favorite team try to move the ball is like watching a kid build a Lego house one block at a time. It’s a slow process and seldom a thing of beauty. Long story short, I don’t expect passing-down back Nyheim Hines to usurp Mack in this contest.
The Raiders may have found a run-stuffer in DT Jonathan Hankins, but heralded rookie Clelin Ferrell has been a liability so far. Oakland’s linebacking corps is banged up and their best run defender, Nicholas Morrow, is iffy for Sunday. His absence wouldn’t help a run defense that has earned poor marks already. Even if he plays, Vontaze Burfict has been missing tackles left and right. No one expected this defense to be world-beaters, and they aren’t.
The Oakland front must contend with an offensive line that has graded better than their Adjusted Line Yards ranking (20th) would indicate, though the Colts are 4th in Football Outsiders’ Power Success (short yardage) metric. That’s good news for the guy getting goal-line carries. Indy’s line is healthy, cohesive and dripping with talent. This could be the week’s biggest mismatch in the trenches.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots ($19 in Yahoo DFS)
We may have reached the limit of the miracle-working that Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is capable of, at least on a short-term basis. New England’s front five has been ravaged by injury, forcing them to insert career journeyman Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. Alex Karras has been a solid fill-in for David Andrews in the pivot, but the continual flux has hurt the line’s chemistry and their run-blocking has suffered for it. This group is not getting the push they have in the past and it’s a poor fit with where Sony Michel’s game is at right now.
It might be his persistent knee issue, but Michel has looked like he’s running in cement this season. His running style is neither elusive nor punishing and, outside of 85 yards against Miami, he has relied on two end-zone trips for his only fantasy production. Michel hasn’t caught a pass and in Weeks 1 and 3 he managed 25 combined rushing yards on 24 attempts. With James White out of the lineup last week Michel was overshadowed (again) by Rex Burkhead, who is himself no paragon of durability but has definitely outplayed the former Georgia star.
The Patriots’ Week 4 opponent isn’t known for their run defense — it’s the 3-0 Buffalo Bills’ secondary that gives offenses fits — but Burkhead, White or even Damien Harris could steal opportunities from Michel in what figures to be New England’s closest game yet. While I still hold out a scintilla of hope that the college star can regain his old form, I would not pony up $19 for him on the road this week in DFS.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions ($19 in Yahoo DFS)
Last week I didn’t like Kerryon Johnson’s chances against the forbidding Eagles front, and he mustered just 36 yards on a career-high 20 carries but saved his day with a score. However, his snaps soared along with the carry count and in Week 4 he’s a safe bet for the lion’s share of the work (please excuse the pun; I’m ashamed of myself). Ty Johnson’s role did not grow in the wake of C.J. Anderson’s release.
This week Ty could conceivably play more if Kansas City boat-races Detroit, but Kerryon should feast on the league’s worst run defense like an apex predator bringing down an antelope (at least that lion reference was subtler). Despite outscoring their opponents 101-to-64, the Chiefs are allowing an astonishingly generous 6.2 yards per carry (worst by almost a full yard!) and have given up the sixth-most rushing yards. It could be that when K.C. is ahead they invite teams to run — the slower and more inefficient way to move the ball — but it really is your best bet. The Chiefs’ pass defense has been respectable and actually ranks ninth in Football Outsiders’ metric.
Detroit’s offensive line won’t be mistaken for the Cowboys’ any time soon, but it’s graded well in the ground game, with Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow distinguishing themselves inside. On the other side of the ball, K.C.’s Chris Jones is a great pass rusher but hasn’t been a force against the run, and his tackling has been poor in two out of three games. Detroit dominating the interior matchups should give Kerryon plenty of room to roam, like the king of the savanna … Okay, I’ll stop.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants ($10 in Yahoo DFS)
At $10 Wayne Gallman is going to be as chalky as a bad protein shake, but you gotta get him in your lineup. While the former Clemson Tiger is more of a try-hard guy than an athletic specimen, he catches the ball well and doesn’t dance around in the hole. There should be openings to charge through in Gallman’s first outing as Saquon Barkley’s injury replacement (how I hated typing those words).
The Giants’ offensive line is one of the season’s success stories so far. They rank eighth in Adjusted Line Yards and fourth in percentage of runs stuffed by the defense. No individual lineman has a gaudy run-blocking grade, but there are no weak links in the chain, either. Not bad for a unit I saw as bottom-10 entering the year! This line has stayed healthy and gelled well under the tutelage of veteran OL coach, Hal Hunter.
Part of the appeal here is the fact that Gallman is going up against a Washington team that has the league’s fourth-most permissive run defense through three games and is bottom-10 in yards-per-carry allowed. While interior defender Daron Payne has been a roadblock for running backs, his line-mate Jonathan Allen has not played up to his pedigree in this regard and the linebackers have been a disaster. It’s generally not a good thing when a safety (Landon Collins) is your leading tackler.
Gallman would probably be the first one to tell you that he’s not the second coming of Saquon Barkley, but he’s set up for a solid day at home against Washington. So far it looks like practice squad call-up Jon Hilliman, a UDFA from Rutgers, is his only competition for snaps in this cushy matchup.