If the first three weeks are going to be an indicator for the fantasy football season, then those owners who gambled on Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley may be able to claim two of the biggest steals, especially at the running back position.
Gurley was a consensus first-round pick last year, and for some was the No. 1 running back on the board. However he ended up being one of the biggest busts, regardless of position, of 2016. Hunt was still playing at Toledo last season and may not have gotten the chance to be Kansas City’s workhorse this early if not for a preseason injury suffered by Spencer Ware.
Neither was a surefire first-round draft pick before this season started, but here they are leading their position in fantasy scoring. They're obvious starts for Week 4, but what about some of their peers? And how did I do in the advice department for Week 3?
Start Christian McCaffrey (20.7 fantasy points) – McCaffrey was targeted 11 times and caught nine of those for 101 yards in his best game so far as a pro.
I warned you against starting C.J. Anderson (6.3 FP) in Buffalo because the Bills’ defense isn’t as bad as you might think.
Sit Jordan Howard (31.4 FP) – Howard mysteriously came off of the injury report and ended up having a big game against the Steelers.
Start Derrick Henry (7.4 FP) – This was based on DeMarco Murray not playing, which he did, and dominated snaps.
START THESE RBs...
Chris Carson, SEA (vs. IND)
A touchdown helped Carson secure a top-20 finish at the position last week (11 carries for 34 yards, two receptions for 18 yards). He’s still a risky week-to-week option going forward, as he’s running behind a putrid offensive line. Nevertheless, he has secured his role as the lead back (Thomas Rawls played one snap, and Eddie Lacy played zero), and he’s going to see a heavy workload and positive game script in Week 4 against the Colts, as the Seahawks (who are 11.5-point favorites at home) will likely be protecting a lead for most of the game.
Joe Mixon, CIN (at CLE)
Under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the Bengals decided to finally feature their most talented running back in Week 3, giving Mixon 21 touches (18 carries, three receptions on three targets). The end result was the team’s first two touchdowns of the season and 24 points on the road. Mixon wasn’t great, he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, but the volume is what’s important. While there’s still some risk and potential volatility with three RBs in the mix, it’s clear this offense is more dynamic with Mixon as the lead back, and the evidence suggests Lazor agrees. Until we see otherwise, Mixon is an RB2 with huge upside.
Christian McCaffrey, CAR (at NE)
Many fantasy owners had been patiently waiting for McCaffrey to finally have a big fantasy day, and that came last week when he caught nine passes for 101 yards (good for 20.2 PPR points). McCaffrey might be the only good thing going for the Panthers’ offense and this week they are really going to need him against the Patriots. The Patriots have surrendered an average of 5.7 catches, the second-most receiving yards (84.3 ypg) and the second-most PPR points (32.6 ppg) to opposing running backs after three weeks.
MIGHT BE WORTH THE RISK...
Jonathan Stewart, CAR (at NE)
With Tom Brady doing Tom Brady things, Cam Newton struggling and the Patriots’ run defense allowing 5.1 yards per carry (second worst in the NFL), the Panthers’ game-plan in Week 4 should be simple – lean on the running game in hopes of slowing things down, controlling time of possession and keeping Brady off the field as much as possible. Stewart has finished as the RB11, RB58 and RB41 in the first three weeks, and he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, so it’s difficult to trust him, but he should approach 20 touches in this one, making him a volume-based RB2. Just don’t treat him as someone with a high ceiling.
SIT THESE RBs...
Marshawn Lynch, OAK (at DEN)
Lynch’s weekly RB finishes through three games: 26th, 23rd, 57th. His touches have decreased every week, he’s averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, he’s barely involved in the passing game (five targets in three games), and he has basically become a touchdown-dependent RB. That can be OK for an RB2 in a pinch, but this isn’t the week to rely on that, as the Raiders are on the road against a Broncos team has held three RB1s (Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy) to 83 rushing yards on 41 carries.
Mike Gillislee, NE (vs. CAR)
Through three weeks, the Panthers’ defense has held Carlos Hyde, LeSean McCoy and Mark Ingram to 110 yards on 35 carries, just 3.14 yards per tote. Gillislee, meanwhile, is fresh off a 12-carry, 31-yard performance, finishing behind guys like Mike Tolbert, Jeremy Hill, Elijah McGuire and Charcandrick West in PPR leagues. There’s always touchdown potential, especially in a game the Pats are favored by 8.5 points, but with a tough defensive matchup and unpredictable RB rotation, Gillislee is nothing more than a dart throw.
Ameer Abdullah, DET (at MIN)
Abdullah was a popular breakout candidate heading into drafts as he was the lead back in Detroit and finally healthy. Well, so far, Abdullah has struggled. He ranks 29th in PPR points among running backs while averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt. He'll remain a risk as a fantasy starter against the Vikings, who have surrendered just 4.7 receptions and the fewest PPR points (13.27 ppg) to opposing running backs this season.
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED...
Lamar Miller, HOU (vs. TEN)
Miller had post-hype sleeper written all over him heading into 2017. So far, that label is dead wrong and maybe we are seeing what Miller really is – just an average fantasy RB at best. It looks like head coach Bill O’Brien is starting to see it as well as with each passing week rookie running back D’Onta Foreman is seeing more and more work. Last week Foreman saw 10 touches, and Miller only saw 15. It looks like this week they might split carries against the Titans, so this is a backfield to avoid for the moment.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.