Are these running backs trustworthy during Championship week?

As NFL teams arrive at their final starting rosters in late August or early September, fantasy players are using this information as a template for their draft strategy. These early formations are almost too easily etched in our memories and can cause a lot of dissonance as the season progresses and the real teams are forced to abandon their best-laid plans. The chaos created disrupts the fantasy season, leaving only those best equipped mentally to shift gears and find new flexible solutions still standing in December.

The quarterback has been particularly plagued by injuries (and a bit of incompetence) this season, with some teams, like the 49ers, Panthers, Jets and Colts, opting for their third option to close out the season. Baltimore, Philadelphia, the LA Rams, New Orleans, Tennessee and possibly Washington will start a QB in Fantasy Finals week who they didn’t start the season with.

In a single QB league, these changes are fairly easy to navigate and, with the exception of Jalen Hurts, have largely left top fantasy artists unscathed. In Week 16, however, we saw an interesting trend among the running backs of teams that had QB replacements in place.

We’ll dive into some specifics below, but on a macro level, team running backs with backup QBs have been exceptional in Week 16. Still looking for patterns in what could be random events , could we come to the conclusion that the two facts are interdependent? For some players, at least? Here are a few running backs who are thriving despite — or because of — a change at QB.

Akers was the top rusher in Week 16, with 118 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. The Rams nearly doubled their season point total in that game against the Broncos (some hyperbole). The solid running game allowed Baker Mayfield to attempt just 28 passes, completing more than 85% of them for 230 yards and two additional touchdowns. Perhaps nothing has been more shocking to our fantasy systems than the complete decline followed by the Rams’ sudden resurgence this season (Deshaun Watson’s return completely destroying Nick Chubb and the Browns’ playoff hopes are a close second for me).

The story continues

Akers has been a rollercoaster this season, going from heavily drafted to droppable in Week 5, and was unlikely to make a difference in the fantasy semis. With the Chargers and their fantastic last-five run defense in Week 17, Akers are off to a tempting start. Part of what brought you to this decision point was flexibility and the ability to live in the moment, not the past. Not that you’ll get three scores again, but Akers should be better than a lot of options, including the aforementioned Chubb, who faces a tough challenge in Commanders with his dysfunctional new offense.

It doesn’t matter who you have at QB when Henry is your running back and you face the Texans. It was 100% a smashing place for Henry and one of the few best-laid fantasy blueprint projects in August that made sense then and now. Even though Malik Willis stole a rushing touchdown (and a slightly higher YPC average than Henry), Henry’s 126 rushing yards and scoring kept them in the game.

In the end, the rookie QB threw two interceptions and Henry lost a fumble with errors outweighing his strong individual performance and inflicting another loss on the Titans. Tennessee takes on Dallas on Thursday Night Football for Week 17, which is the third-worst game for Fantasy RBs. Don’t expect Henry’s highest ceiling game, but don’t think too much about it or place it either (most wouldn’t even think of doing such a thing, but it should still be said being given that we are in the championship round).

It’s not a good time to come from the South if you’re a football fan. Not a single team in either conference’s Southern Division has a winning record. The Panthers have won two of their three games since the Week 13 bye, all during Sam Darnold’s tenure. During this period, Darnold gradually improved, although the team relied heavily on its two-headed RB committee of Hubbard and Foreman. Darnold has been error-free, increasing his completion rate and yardage with each successive game. This low-level skill may be forcing defensive attention from Foreman, who rushed 21 times for 165 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. Undeterred, Hubbard rushed 12 times for 125 yards. The Lions are known as a pass-friendly defense but this was by far the best performance against them to date.

D’Onta Foreman delivered a fantastic monster performance in Week 16. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

It’s worth noting that not only do the Panthers’ back benefit from high volume, but Foreman and Hubbard also get the most out of it with great efficiency (7.9 and 10.4 YPC in week 16, respectively) . Next came the Buccaneers, a tough game on paper but saw our next guy succeed, offering some hope for those counting on Foreman in the fantasy final.

All eyes were on Conner at my family’s Christmas dinner. Since we’re all into fantasy, several storylines played out in our various leagues and Conner was a central factor in at least two of them. His good performance helped my brother qualify for a final but knocked me out of the hunt for the trophy in a league (although I really blame Davante Adams’ performance for the L). With the Cardinals’ defense being one of their downfalls and the Bucs’ run defense being so strong, Conner was in a tough spot with Trace McSorley starting at QB.

Still, his seven catches on eight targets (!) to go along with 79 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown kept the Cardinals alive in overtime, when they finally capitulated. Maybe if they had run the ball more it would have made a difference; McSorely’s 45 attempts yielded just 217 yards and one pick.

I think anyone who made it to the Finals with Conner starts him off, and he should help you again against a very average Falcons defense next week.

James Cook and Devin Singletary led the Bills to a decisive victory in the Chicago freeze on Saturday afternoon. They had nearly identical stat lines; Singletary rushed 12 times for 106 yards and a TD, while Cook rushed 11 times for 99 yards and a TD. Despite Cook’s apparent rise, it’s Singletary when the Bills are in a close game, which should be next Monday night against the Bengals. If you have to rely on a Bill’s back for your finals, I’d go with Singletary.

BONUS: Tyler Allgeier also had another decent game, rushing for 74 yards and catching four of five targets for an additional 43 yards. Atlanta doesn’t look good with Desmond Ridder at the helm, but they’re out of playoff contention and will surely continue to feed Allgeier against Cordarrelle Patterson down the stretch. That should create favorable fantasy play in Week 17 as the Falcons take on the Cardinals, who allow the third-most fantasy points and just dropped a monster game to Leonard Fournette. Fournette found much of his success in the air, catching 9 of 10 targets in the overtime victory. Hopefully Ridder will continue to look to Allgeier like he did in Week 16, leading the rookie to a fantastic solid finish for us.

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