The Baltimore Ravens running game hasn’t been what the team expected this season. Season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards left general manager Eric DeCosta scouring free agency for veterans. When the dust settled, the team had Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray, offering fantasy football managers opportunities to add RB depth to their rosters. Is either player worth starting in Week 18, though?
Devonta Freeman has been a better fantasy RB than Latavius Murray
Freeman has been the leading man in Baltimore’s backfield this season. He has rushed 128 times for 555 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s also reeled in 32 of his 40 targets for 184 receiving yards and a score. He’s enjoying a career renaissance after an unproductive 2020 season with the New York Giants.
Murray has also been an important part of the backfield. He’s rushed 103 times for 351 yards and has matched Freeman’s 5 touchdowns. He hasn’t been an efficient runner, but he continues to get the opportunities crucial to fantasy football productivity. Unfortunately for Murray’s fantasy managers, he hasn’t been used much in the passing game. He has been targeted just 13 times, catching 10 of them for 75 yards.
Freeman has been a better fantasy RB than Murray. That’s largely because he is relied upon more heavily than Murray near the goal line. He has 6 carries from inside the 5-yard line and has scored 4 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Murray has scored 1 touchdown on 3 carries from within 5 yards.
Neither player relies on long runs at this stage of their careers, although Freeman does have a 32-yard run this season. Converting in short-yardage situations, especially near the goal line, could be the difference between a successful fantasy performance and an unsuccessful day at the office.
Tyler Huntley brings competition for carries
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has had success with mobile quarterbacks throughout his career. In addition, the Ravens place less of an emphasis on their running backs than other teams.
Lamar Jackson is the primary rushing threat, but he’s been ruled out of Week 18 with an ankle injury that has sidelined him for the past three games. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley has stepped in and deputized capably. He carries a similar rushing threat to Jackson and will have the opportunity to carry the ball on designed runs. This will likely decrease the rushing volume that Freeman and Murray can expect and make the Ravens a three-man rushing attack.
Freeman and Murray face the Steelers’ soft run defense
The Ravens have a divisional matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18. The Steelers have struggled against running backs this season. They’re allowing the seventh-most points to RBs in both standard-scoring and points per reception (PPR) leagues. Pittsburgh has given up 1,879 rushing yards in 16 games, second to only the Houston Texans.
The favorable matchup helps out both running backs, but Freeman will likely see the fantasy benefit of having more touches than Murray. His performances this season also make him a stronger start in Week 18. Last week against the Rams, Freeman had 14 carries for 76 yards, while Murray had 11 carries for 31 yards.
If one player sees an uptick in volume, it will likely be Freeman. He may not have the upside that some players do this week, but he should get enough opportunities to offer a solid fantasy floor.
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