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Better Than Usual
David Johnson, ARI (vs. DEN)
Typically, if a running back is in this category, he’s getting a strong endorsement to come through as a reliable part of your starting lineup. Johnson is in this category strictly because the matchup dictates he should be, not because there’s a lot of confidence in him, or should I say in his team.
Other than saving some fantasy value, the one-yard touchdown Johnson scored with 6:57 to go in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings didn’t have any effect on the result of the game. He carried 18 times for 55 yards and added just two receptions for 15 yards on five targets. Through six games, Johnson has 92 carries for 297 yards (3.2 yards per carry) and five rushing touchdowns. He hasn’t run for more than 71 yards in a game, which came on a 22-carry effort in Week 4.
You can put a good chunk of the blame on the offensive line for Johnson’s rushing woes, but that doesn’t explain his lack of production as a receiver. Somehow, Johnson has just 17 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown on 27 targets. He hasn’t had a game with more than 41 receiving yards. He has just one game with five receptions and just two games with at least five targets. Amazingly, Johnson is fourth on the team with 27 targets. In 2016, he averaged 7.5 targets, 5.0 receptions and 54.9 receiving yards per game.
With all this information laid out, you can see why Johnson has been disappointing. However, this week’s matchup gives Johnson a golden opportunity to have his best rushing performance of the season. In six weeks, no team has allowed more rushing production to running backs than the Denver Broncos. They’ve given up 909 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Over 60 percent (550) of those yards and three of those touchdowns came in the last two weeks against Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell and Todd Gurley.
If the Cardinals can’t find a way to get one of the best running backs in the league going on the ground in this matchup, then there’s no hope for him this season to be anything more than a touchdown-reliant fantasy option on a bad team. He’s looking better than usual because the usual hasn’t been anywhere near his potential.
Philip Lindsay, DEN (at ARI)
For the first time since he was ejected in Week 3, Lindsay had fewer carries than Royce Freeman in a Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Of course, neither player did anything of note, with Lindsay carrying four times for 18 yards and Freeman carrying nine times for 22 yards. Lindsay salvaged some value with six receptions for 48 yards on seven targets, while Freeman didn’t get a target. That gives Lindsay a 13-touch advantage over Freeman for the season.
That keeps the two close, although it’s hard not to favor Lindsay as the top fantasy option in this backfield until Freeman starts consistently and decisively out-touching and out-snapping him. With Lindsay still favored, he has to get a boost from this week’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. After the Broncos, no team has allowed more rushing yards (832) to running backs this season than the Cardinals, and they’ve allowed a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns and the most fantasy points per game. It’s a good week to have Lindsay in your lineup.
Dalvin Cook, MIN (at NYJ)
All signs were pointing to Cook’s return to action in Week 6 after he missed Weeks 3 and 5 and had a limited role in Week 4 due to a hamstring injury. While Cook was not considered 100 percent, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on October 13 that he was expected to play as much as half the offensive snaps against the Arizona Cardinals. The next day, Schefter reported that Cook’s pregame workout “did not go well” and that his “hamstring acted up,” which made him inactive.
Trusting Cook to be out there in Week 7 will be hard to do following the change in his status that came down just hours before he was expected to play. Plus, it’s fair to wonder if the team will push him that hard after Latavius Murray rushed for 155 yards and a score on 24 carries in the Week 6 win over the Arizona Cardinals. This is a situation to watch closely throughout the week.
Ito Smith, ATL (vs. NYG)
It wasn’t much, but with 11 carries for 22 yards and a touchdown in addition to two receptions for negative-one yard, Smith posted 10.1 fantasy points in Week 6, which made him the No. 25 running back for the week. That means if you played as an RB3/flex, he came through with a good performance. The score was Smith’s third in the last three games. His 14 red-zone carries lead the Atlanta Falcons and double Tevin Coleman’s total in that part of the field.
Smith’s value rose when Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported the Falcons were sending Devonta Freeman (groin, foot) to the injured reserve. Freeman will be eligible to return after eight weeks, so for the next two months Tevin Coleman and Smith will have to pick up the slack, although they’ve been doing that for most of this season with Freeman inactive in four of the team’s six games.
Smith had more carries than Coleman in Week 6 (11-10), although Coleman had more rushing yards (35-22). Smith did have his highest snap share of the season with 46.3 percent while Coleman checked in at 56.7 percent. The snaps and touches are close enough to put Smith on the fantasy radar once again this weekend against the New York Giants. They are a bottom-12 defense against fantasy running backs this season, so the matchup is nothing to worry about, and Smith has been involved the most where it counts. Don’t be afraid to flex him in Week 7.