The New England Patriots offense has been one of the season’s surprises, and they owe much of their success to the effectiveness of their backfield. However, that depth will be tested on Saturday night as they head into Indianapolis down their top running back. As fantasy football managers attempt to navigate the mess that is Week 15, can Rhamondre Stevenson or even Brandon Bolden be relied on to help get you into the next round of your fantasy playoffs in place of Damien Harris?
Is Damien Harris playing in Week 15?
Harris injured his hamstring in the Week 13 win over the Buffalo Bills and has been a limited participant in practice this week as he pushes for a return. He still rushed 10 times for 111 yards against the Bills, although much of that production came on a 64-yard touchdown run. Stevenson handled most of the work in the snow, rushing 24 times for 78 yards as the Patriots rode the ground game to victory.
Unfortunately for the Patriots and fantasy managers alike, Harris has been ruled out for Week 15. He did not show enough progress with his injured hamstring to suit up on their short week. This is a significant loss for fantasy managers needing to win and advance. Harris has scored double-digit fantasy points in six of his last seven active games. He’s also crossed the 100-yard threshold four times this season, living up to the high praise he received during camp.
Who is the starting RB for the Patriots?
With Harris out, the Patriots will turn to the rookie Stevenson. In fairness to Stevenson, he has blown away nearly everyone’s expectations this season, including mine. I’ll own that as I did not see this coming. I thought he could be a decent third-and-short back but lacked the giddy-up to make anything significant happen. Welp, I am happy to be proven wrong.
Stevenson has turned this backfield into a lethal 1-2 punch of downhill power football. He’s rushed 100 times for 429 yards and 3 touchdowns this season while adding 12 receptions for 117 yards on 15 targets.
The last time Stevenson was in this role as the lead back was in Week 10 against a stout Cleveland Browns defense. Stevenson carried the ball 20 times as the Patriots established the run, rushing for 100 yards with 2 touchdowns. He even added in some receiving utilization, catching 4 of 5 targets for 14 yards.
Over his last five games, Stevenson is the RB19 in PPR scoring, averaging 12.2 fantasy points per game, and is set for another top-12 finish in Week 15. While he is the Patriots RB to start in fantasy, he’s not the only one to consider.
Brandon Bolden brings some PPR value due to his receiving skills
New England, for as long as we can remember, always seems to have dedicated RBs for specific roles. Bolden is now the receiving back, filling the job that Rex Burkhead and James White held for several years. The downside for Bolden has been volume.
On the season, he is averaging just 2.8 targets, 2.6 receptions, and 25.2 yards per game. That hardly moves the needle. The revamped pass-catching room has taken away some of the opportunities for RBs in this offense, and Bolden is not seeing the same volume other backs were able to receive in years past.
Bolden has finished as a top-24 RB (RB2 or better) just one time this season (Week 7) with six finishes outside the top 36. He has seen 5 or more targets only twice this season and lacks the consistency we would want from an RB with our fantasy lives on the line.
In deeper leagues with full-point PPR scoring, I can see a potential case for Bolden as a flex play if you believe the loss of Harris for the week opens up more touches. However, in standard formats, I don’t believe Bolden is someone to plug into your lineup (especially against a formidable defense).
The Patriots face a tough Colts defense
The Colts defense has performed well against running backs. They allow the eighth-fewest points per game to the position in standard scoring and the fifth-fewest on average in PPR.
Indianapolis fields a ball-control offense and is third in the NFL in average time of possession. Only the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers spend more time on offense. Opponents are also scoring just 21.8 points per game against the Colts.
Stevenson has shown the ability to succeed in problematic matchups. In a game where he could see 20+ touches — even if his efficiency drops a touch — the volume should balance things out. I would have no hesitation starting Stevenson for tonight’s game. He should give some stability in a week that has been anything but stable.
Bolden, on the other hand, could have a difficult time. The Colts allow just 33.3 receiving yards per game to RBs.