Fantasy Football Week 17 RB Report: Red light, green light!

Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Austin Ekeler is looking to finish 2023 on a high note, and has a great matchup in Denver that could be good for fantasy football managers in championship week. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Fantasy managers, this is what you’ve been playing for. The championship. The ‘chip. The trophy. Bragging rights. Everything you could have hoped for in that live draft — or in an online Yahoo draft room — back in August or early September is coming to fruition now. And hopefully, you didn’t get handed a bad beat like this one that sent you to the consolation round.

It’s Week 17, and all that time hitting the waiver wire and talking trades may just pay off with a title. But there are still decisions to make. In one of the toughest years for injuries to star players, the running back position has seen its fair share of attrition, with four running backs taken in the first two rounds in Yahoo ADP missing time this year. If your team has Christian McCaffrey or Kyren Williams, thank your lucky stars and get a spot on your shelf ready for some hardware.

But most teams start a pair of running backs, and have some hard decisions to make with that second spot. That’s where this article can help.

Like the past two weeks, we’re playing a little Red Light/Green Light, highlighting running backs who are in good spots and those staring down difficult matchups. Included in this article is the percentage of teams playing for the title on which these players are rostered.

Some of these players, you’re starting no matter what, though some players could have fantasy managers on the fence.

Always remember, while flags fly forever, bragging rights are to be enjoyed face-to-face, via group text or whatever trash-talking format you prefer.

Buena suerte. Let’s play some Red Light/Green Light.

Green Light

Jahmyr Gibbs at Dallas Cowboys

Rostered on 25.4% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

This could be a really fun game, as both teams excel indoors and the game total is set at the highest of the week at 52. This game is for playoff seeding, so there will be no resting players for the NFC North champion Lions. Both Detroit running backs are divvying the workload up pretty evenly the past three games — 52-50 in touches in favor of David Montgomery — with Gibbs dominating in explosive plays. He’s gained 109 yards on runs of 15 yards or more in the period.

After James Cook cooked the Dallas defense for 221 total yards and a pair of scores, Gibbs can take the baton of the speedy dual-threat runner who can burn past Dallas’ own ultra-fast defense. Gibbs has also scored in three straight games, and could even rise from his current RB7 standing.

Travis Etienne Jr. vs Carolina Panthers

Rostered on 26.9% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

Trevor Lawrence has sustained so many injuries of late, he’s bringing back memories of Baker Mayfield in 2021. Lawrence has been ruled out, which means C.J. Beathard will get the call. No matter who is under center, the matchup dictates that the Jaguars rely on Etienne. Last week, as the Buccaneers got up 20-0 by halftime, it was hardly the time to establish the run, so Etienne rushed just six times for 12 yards. In the previous five games, he posted between 14 and 24 touches in each game. He had a high of 56 rushing yards in those games, though the only subpar run defense he faced was Cincinnati’s.

That won’t be the case this week, as the Panthers have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards to running backs (1,617). Last week, Aaron Jones ran all over them for 127 yards, setting the blueprint for the Jaguars to put a saddle on Etienne. That will take the pressure off Beathard.

Austin Ekeler at Denver Broncos

Rostered on 14.7% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

In the most recent episode of Ekeler’s Edge, the Chargers running back openly pondered his future both in football and beyond the game. He was clear, though, that he planned to continue playing this season, and he received 18 touches and turned them into 86 yards in a 24-22 last-second defeat to the Bills. That left Ekeler with 965 scrimmage yards, and he has an incentive in his contract that kicks in at 1,125 total yards.

He could go a long way toward hitting that goal this week, as the Broncos are dead last in rushing yards and second to last in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Ekeler accumulated 100 total yards against this defense in Week 14, and a week later Montgomery and Gibbs combined for 185 rushing yards against this defense. Ekeler could put a good finishing touch on what has been a trying season.

Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren

Rostered on 13.1% and 17.5%, respectively, of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

Most teams are likely in the finals riding a star lead running back and top-flight wide receivers. They may have hit on Sam LaPorta or David Njoku late in the draft. But RB2 wasn’t a priority for many, and they may have been platooning that lineup slot much of the season. Either of the Pittsburgh running backs make for decent options in that spot this week, as in their previous game their collective production was overshadowed by George Pickens’ splash plays. Harris and Warren combined for 132 total yards and a score against the Bengals.

The Steelers travel to Seattle in Week 17, where waiting for them is a defense that has bled the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs. They’ve given up 15 running back touchdowns, second in the league. Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears combined for 166 total yards last week, and Philadelphia running backs combined for 95 rushing yards the previous game. Both Steelers backs could be either RB2s or flex plays.

Zamir White at Indianapolis Colts*

White was a waiver-wire dandy for Week 16, gashing the Chiefs for 145 yards on 22 carries on Christmas after Josh Jacobs was a late scratch. With just two games left on the schedule, Jacobs may just sit and leave the running back touches to White, who handled 22 of 25 Raiders opportunities in the last game.

The Colts have been stuck for 1,623 rushing yards by running backs, fourth-most in the league and tied Seattle with 15 running back scores. The Falcons’ running backs just rolled up 243 scrimmage yards on Indy. In Week 14, Joe Mixon and Chase Brown both went over the century mark in total yards against the Colts. Savvy fantasy managers have picked up White by now, but be sure Jacobs doesn’t make a surprise return.

Red Light

Bijan Robinson at Chicago Bears

Rostered on 13.5% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

Robinson was on the green light side of things last week, and he came through with 122 scrimmage yards and seven receptions. Unfortunately, the Falcons’ rushing touchdown went to Tyler Allgeier. At least we saw Robinson take 19 touches, though Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson split 16 carries. So, even with a decent workload for Robinson, fantasy managers have to be looking at those touches that went elsewhere and feel longing for more.

This week, Robinson has to travel to Chicago, where temperatures are near freezing with a chance of snow. Dome teams like the Falcons rarely fare well in these conditions, and that’s not taking into consideration the defense on the other side. The Bears at 982 yards are one of only three teams to allow less than 1,000 rushing yards to running backs on the season. However, they have given up by far the most receiving yards to running backs with 887, which could be the only area where Robinson sees any success. Still, in what could be sloppy conditions, sharing the workload and with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, it’s not looking good for Robinson this week.

Alvin Kamara at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rostered on 33.5% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

With 35 scrimmage yards against the Rams last week, Kamara was mostly taken out of the offensive flow due to game script. It was another tough day for Kamara, who in his last seven games has gone over 15 fantasy points just once.

Now he gets the Buccaneers, who are allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season. And in the last three games, no running back has rushed for more than 53 yards against them. Derek Carr should pass a fair amount against this defense that’s allowed the most passing yards to quarterbacks. Maybe Kamara gets some work in the passing game, but he won’t be a primary target like Chris Olave or even Rashid Shaheed.

Derrick Henry at Houston Texans

Rostered on 22.5% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

King Henry got people to the dance with 99 scrimmage yards and a touchdown last week. That makes it three of his last four games that Henry has scored at least once. The one game where he didn’t score? Week 15 against the Texans.

Before the season, fantasy managers looked at the pair of Houston matchups during this playoff period and just salivated, as in four of his last five games against the Texans Henry had surpassed 200 yards and scored at least twice. Head coach DeMeco Ryans has done amazing work on the run defense, as the Texans have allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards to running backs. In that meeting with the Texans two weeks ago, Henry reached just nine yards on 16 carries. Figure more of the same in the return engagement.

Tony Pollard vs Detroit Lions

Rostered on 16.1% of Yahoo Fantasy teams playing in championship games

The talk is already floating around about how Pollard has been one of the more disappointing players for fantasy football this year. That’s talk for another day (like next week). He’s had tough matchups at Buffalo (52 rushing yards) and Miami (38) recently, and was not much of a factor in the passing game. It’s not getting easier this week, even in a return to Big D.

The Lions are one of the best defenses against running backs, allowing the fewest rushing yards to the position (884). Week 10 was the last week a running back surpassed 51 rushing yards against them. With the Lions allowing the ninth-most passing yards at 254.7 per game and 24 passing touchdowns (tied for seventh), the Cowboys attack is going to likely feature a lot of Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb and other pass-catchers — not Pollard.

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