Fantasy Football: Backfields to target and avoid based on play callers

2T10PDR Washington Commanders' Brian Robinson Jr. in action during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

• Sean McVay’s several feature backs: Todd Gurley II, Cam Akers, Kyren Williams and several others have seen an every-down role in McVay’s Los Angeles Rams offense, and at some point this season, Blake Corum could be added to the list.

Brian Robinson Jr. or Austin Ekeler could be a steal: Kliff Kingsbury is another playcaller who’s used multiple different lead running backs in his coaching career. It’s not certain who will win that job with the Washington Commanders.

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Yesterday I dug into running backs roles and what that means for their fantasy production. Using that information, I put together three teams where it’s worth targeting their backup because the offensive playcaller has typically given them a feature role when the starter is injured. I also list three teams to avoid because their offensive playcaller has rarely given a running back a feature role.

Target: Washington Commanders

Kliff Kingsbury is the Commanders' new offensive coordinator. He was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2019-2022. Throughout his four years, he consistently had someone who was a feature back on everything but third downs, and that back often changed with injuries. In his first two years, he went from David Johnson to Kenyan Drake and then James Conner joined the team in 2021. In each of the first three years when there were injuries, Chase Edmonds would take over as the feature back rather than having a committee take over. In 2022, both Eno Benjamin and Corey Clement had games with big roles when Conner missed time due to an injury.

Brian Robinson Jr. and Austin Ekeler seem locked into the top two spots. It’s unclear how snaps will get distributed between the two, but chances are someone will win that starting job and have a large role. If one gets injured, the other should be a feature back.

Target: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have 31 games over the last three seasons with either a feature back or a back with everything except third downs, which ranks sixth among teams. The five teams ahead of the Rams are largely in the top five because they had one particular back who maintained the feature role for most of that stretch.

Over the last five years, Todd Gurley II, Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson Jr., Sony Michel, Kyren Williams and Royce Freeman have all had the feature role for at least one game depending on who was healthy and who Sean McVay liked best at the time.

Williams played very well last year, and we can all expect him to be the feature back to start the season, but the Rams spent the 83rd overall pick on Blake Corum. Chances are Corum won’t have any fantasy value unless Williams gets injured or plays poorly, in which case Corum would have one of the best roles among all running backs.

Zac Robinson is the new offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, and his experience with the Rams over those same five seasons give reason for optimism for Bijan Robinson’s increased role as well as Tyler Allgeier’s potential if Robinson gets injured.

Target: Philadelphia Eagles

Kellen Moore is the Eagles' new offensive coordinator. From 2019-2022, he was the Dallas Cowboys‘ offensive coordinator, where Ezekiel Elliott was his feature back, and last year with the Los Angeles Chargers, Austin Ekeler was his back.

It’s hard to know for sure how much of that was Moore’s philosophy versus having running backs with strong reputations, but Tony Pollard had games as a feature back in 2020 and 2022 with Dallas when Elliott was out, and Joshua Kelley for three games last year when Ekeler was out.

This is great for Saquon Barkley, who was going to be a valuable running back rankings regardless of the offensive coordinator. It’s unclear if Kenneth Gainwell or Will Shipley will win the backup job, but it will be worth seeing how those two are used in the preseason.

Avoid: Cleveland Browns

Kevin Stefanski was the the Minnesota Vikingsoffensive coordinator for one year where Dalvin Cook was the feature back, but since then, he’s had committees in Cleveland. Nick Chubb has been the Browns' lead back over that time, but Chubb has never been a feature back by this definition and has, at most, three games per season in the everything but third-down role, as he rarely is the primary two-minute drill back.

This year, Chubb should be back but very likely won’t be at 100%. Ford and Strong returned to the team while D’Onta Foreman and Nyheim Hines were added in the offseason. Chances are this backfield will remain a committee throughout the season.

Alex Van Pelt is the New England Patriots new offensive coordinator but spent the last four seasons as the Browns offensive coordinator. This is a similar reason for concern for Rhamondre Stevenson if Antonio Gibson is splitting time with him.

Avoid: Los Angeles Chargers

Greg Roman is the new offensive coordinator for the Chargers after spending 2019-2022 as the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator. Joining him in Los Angeles are former Ravens Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins as well as sixth-round pick Kimani Vidal.

Over that time, the Ravens averaged four games per season where someone had the feature or everything but the third-down role. Baltimore often utilized three-to-four running backs and no one played more than 530 snaps.

Even if there is an injury to a Chargers back, someone like Kenyan Drake, who has experience in Roman’s offense, could be signed to keep a three-man committee instead of one running back becoming a feature player.

Avoid: Chicago Bears

The Bears' new offensive coordinator is Shane Waldron, who is another coach averaging just four games a season with a running back in an ideal role.

Throughout Waldron’s time the Seahawks went from Chris Carson to Rashaad Penny to Kenneth Walker III, but regardless of who the starter was, we saw third down backs like Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Zach Charbonnet take significant snaps.

The Bears added D’Andre Swift to be their starter in free agency with Rochson Johnson and Khalil Herbert as the primary backups. This is mostly bad news for Swift as at least one of Herbert of Johnson or both should still see significant snaps.

Coincidently, Homer who played 181 snaps in 2021 and 165 in 2022 under Waldron in Seattle joined the Bears in 2023 a year before Waldron, and is still under contract. Despite the talent at the top three spots, it’s not out of the question Homer carves out a role like he did in Seattle. Even if someone gets injured, we could still see a three-back committee.


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