Week 15 fantasy tips: RBs

Posted Dec. 15, 2011 @ 5:44 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

Can Donald Brown be a viable fantasy back as the Colts continue to spiral downward? What about Ben Tate posting better numbers than Arian Foster, and do we trust Ahmad Bradshaw or Peyton Hillis? Maybe, maybe not, but we do know Reggie Bush is red-hot. Let's get to our editors' tips this week because we can use any help we can get as we continue pushing towards making it to championship week.

If you're looking for production out of Bills RB C.J. Spiller in Week 15, you better hope it comes in terms of receiving. The Dolphins have been extremely stout against the run lately, having not allowed 100 rushing yards in five games. In those five games, opponents have averaged 56.8 yards on the ground. The Bills have wanted to get Spiller the ball in space, and they may try to throw more screen passes on Sunday, and that is your best hope for fantasy points for Spiller, who struggles in between the tackles as is. Over the past four weeks, the Dolphins have allowed 56.3 receiving yards to opposing backs allowing Spiller an opportunity this weekend, making him a low-end No. 2 fantasy back or flex-play.

It is not known who will start at quarterback for Miami — J.P. Losman or Matt Moore. If it's Losman, that's even more reason to expect big numbers from Dolphins RB Reggie Bush, especially against a weak Bills run defense. Bush only went 15-32-1 rushing and 4-32 receiving against Buffalo in Week 11, but Miami often worked with a short field. Keep an eye on the quarterback situation throughout the week when adjusting your lineups, but Bush does make a No. 2 fantasy RB this week.

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur had a positive review on the health of RBs Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis on Wednesday. "It's probably safe to say we're getting as healthy as we've been," Shurmur said, according to the club. Said Shurmur: "I'm looking forward to seeing Peyton playing quite a bit." That's notable, as Hillis (10-25-0) and Hardesty (11-24-0) split carries last week at Pittsburgh. However, it appears that the Browns could be prepared to give Hillis more work this week. Hillis makes an injury fill-in this week with Hardesty on the fantasy bench.

There have been few bright spots for the Colts — both on the field and in terms of fantasy relevance — and Week 14 was no exception. Baltimore's vaunted "D" made life miserable for Dan Orlovsky and Co., holding Indianapolis' anemic offense to 167 total yards. In Week 15, Indianapolis hosts the Titans, a far less formidable stop-unit than the Ravens. Tennessee was burned on a pair of second-half Drew Brees TDs last week, but mostly has held up well in pass defense. Stopping the run has been a different story, however. Over the past four weeks against the position the Titans are allowing 159 yards from scrimmage and 0.5 TDs per game. RB Donald Brown continues to be the man in the backfield, and he could bounce back from a wretched performance last week (9-28-0), against the Titans' 22nd-ranked run defense. Brown makes a flex-play or injury fill-in fantasy back this week.

That Texans second-year back Ben Tate was in the game instead of starter Arian Foster with Houston trying to punch it in at the goal line late in the first quarter of Week 14 was a bit of a head-scratcher, we hear. Tate proceeded to fumble after being met in the backfield by Bengals MLB Ray Maualuga, and Cincinnati drove 97 yards downfield to take 10-point lead following the miscue. On the day, Tate (8-67-0) outperformed Foster (15-41-0), but a chunk of his yards came on a 44-yard jaunt in the first quarter, in which the Texans' O-line opened up a huge hole on the right side. Foster is not only the better receiver and blocker, but he is definitely better near the goal line, hence there should be no concern about his quiet afternoon in Week 14. Foster's a given must-start, but Tate makes a flex-play fantasy RB this week against the Panthers' run defense.

The Redskins have been respectable against the run for most of the season after a short run around midseason in which they broke down more often. But recently, things have improved: In the past five games, they have not allowed a team to run for more than 124 yards and twice have held opponents under 100 yards. Projecting a huge game from Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw is a risk, especially after his 8-12-0 rushing performance at Dallas. But Bradshaw is the lead back, the one who makes things go for them. Expect more carries and yards as his body feels healthier, but the Redskins won't let him run wild. He makes a flex-play fantasy back this week, but in larger leagues is a low-end No. 2.

Kevin Smith (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. The Lions' talented but injury-prone back suffered a high ankle sprain on Thanksgiving, but was able to play 10 days later at New Orleans on Dec. 4. However, he was unable to play vs. Minnesota on Sunday, after not playing for most of the second half of the Saints game because of the injury. If Morris can play, he's definitely worth considering against a horrible Oakland run defense. If he's out, Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams will be the top options, but neither is an especially wonderful option. Neither back has had more than 13 carries in a game this season, nor has either back reached even 60 yards rushing in a game. Right now, Smith makes a No. low-end No. 2 in larger leagues or a flex fantasy back. If he can't go, Morris makes an injury fill-in as does Williams. 

Matt Forté (knee) is expected to sit out again Sunday vs. the Seahawks. The Bears will use Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell to handle the rushing duties for the second-straight game. Barber had his first 100-yard game in two years last week against the Broncos, but he also made crucial errors late that proved very costly. It would be no surprise if Bell gets more involved this week, and Seattle's run defense has been stingier than Denver's this season. Barber could take a step back in Week 15 and fits best as a low-end No. 2 fantasy back.

Considering how well Ryan Grant (10-85-2 rushing and 1-13-0 receiving) played in the Packers' rout over the Raiders, our Green Bay sources' best guess is that he will be counted on to pretty much carry the load along with FB John Kuhn for the team's ground game the rest of the regular season. Once the second season starts, though, look for the main man to once again be James Starks, who is expected to be fully recovered from the ankle injury that has kept him out recently. Undrafted rookie Brandon Saine has yet to practice this week after being knocked out of the last game with a concussion. But word is there is still a good chance the very promising Saine could return to action before the regular season is over. For fantasy purposes, though, Grant looks likes the best Packer RB option, although Kuhn — who for the last two years now has put up surprisingly good fantasy numbers, relative to his value — could be just as big a scoring threat as Grant, both rushing and receiving as a TD vulture. This week Grant makes a low-end No. 2 or fantasy flex-play back. Kuhn is always a bench-play back outside of larger leagues who are desperate for a cheap TD as an injury fill-in. He has six TDs so far but his last was in Week 12.

Mark Ingram did not practice Wednesday and continues to be bothered by the turf toe that kept him out in Week 14. The Saints rookie's chances of playing Sunday vs. the Vikings don't appear very high at this point, but monitor his status over the weekend. Ingram's absence most significantly affects RB Chris Ivory's role on offense. Ivory could be inactive if Ingram plays, but he'll be in line for 10-15 carries if Ingram can't go and will be worth considering as a low-end No. 3 back.

Eyebrows were raised when Niners RB Frank Gore got only 10 carries vs. Arizona last week. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh indicated after the game that Gore is battling both knee and ankle injuries and his fantasy owners should be legitimately concerned about his effectiveness. We hear it's not a given, though, that the Niners will use him less in an effort preserve him because Gore wants to stay on the field so badly. In addition, his 37-yard TD scamper — which came on a funky "fly sweep" trick play — showed that Gore could still provide a big-play fantasy punch even at less than 100 percent. While he may be listed as a No. 2 fantasy back, this week he has minimal upside if any, so he could produce as little as an injury fill-in with the Steelers coming to town.