News & Analysis

Committee Report: Relevant backup fantasy RBs heading into Week 16

Nov 5, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman (22) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams saftey John Johnson III (43) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Staying on top of fluid backfield situations from week to week for all 32 teams is quite the tedious task, even for fantasy diehards. Hopefully, you’ve found this space to be a helpful resource for tracking backfield trends throughout the league.

Being that this is the last installment of the backfield breakdown for the 2017 season, this this week we’ll take a more high-level look and sum up what we’ve learned about each backfield along the way, with a glance ahead toward what might lie in store for 2018.

Kenyan Drake 95.9 / 44.8 Ameer Abdullah 12.7 / 44.0
Kareem Hunt 65.2 / 68.7 Samaje Perine 62.7 / 46.0
C.J. Anderson 68.4 / 54.6 Jordan Howard 47.8 / 57.1
Jay Ajayi 50.7 / 53.8 Jamaal Williams 60.9 / 40.8
Wayne Gallman 41.4 / 32.8 Derrick Henry 23.8 / 36.3

Arizona Cardinals

Fantasy Starter Backup to Know
Adrian Peterson Kerwynn Williams

David Johnson really is that good. Unsurprisingly, neither Chris Johnson nor Andre Ellington panned out as the next man up. Adrian Peterson was second in the league in carries during his six games with the Cardinals, yet he averaged only 3.5 YPC and was 20th in PPR scoring in that span and 53rd in points per opportunity Kerwynn Williams has seen his production dip each week since he took over despite averaging 18 carries, as Arizona ranks outside the top-25 in both rushing grade and run-block grade.

Atlanta Falcons

Starter Backup to Own
Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman

In games where both backs were healthy this season, Devonta Freeman played 67 percent of Atlanta’s offensive snaps versus 37 percent for Tevin Coleman. Following his season-best 28-point outburst on Monday Freeman ranks 13th in PPR per-game scoring. While Coleman has had minimal standalone value with the Falcons, he did rank eighth in PPR scoring during the three-game stretch that Freeman missed with a concussion. Obviously, his best-case scenario would be to latch on with another team in need at running back.

Baltimore Ravens

Starter Backup to Own
Alex Collins Danny Woodhead (PPR)

Looking ahead to next year and beyond, Kenneth Dixon may have gotten himself Wally Pipped out of the Ravens’ backfield mix. Alex Collins, a second-year back out of Arkansas, has flat-out balled. Collins sits eighth (out of 51 qualifiers) in elusive rating, averaging 3.01 yards after contact with a missed tackle forced once every 4.68 touches. Since Week 11, Collins is fantasy’s RB7 (PPR) while ranking fifth in fantasy points per opportunity (0.68). He’s also averaged three catches per game in that span despite playing only about half of the Ravens’ backfield snaps.

Buffalo Bills

Starter Backup to Know
LeSean McCoy Travaris Cadet (PPR)

LeSean McCoy has come on strong of late, checking in at No. 9 among RBs in per-game scoring on the season while going over 1,000 yards rushing and 50 catches for the second straight season. While he took a step back in the touchdown department, the 29-year-old played 70 percent of the Bills’ snaps and handled virtually all of the touches. The Bills could use some insurance in 2018 and beyond, perhaps looking to the draft.

Carolina Panthers

Starter Backup to Own
Christian McCaffrey Jonathan Stewart (12+)

Rookie Christian McCaffrey has played 264 more snaps than veteran Jonathan Stewart, although Stewart has handled 23 more touches and entered Week 15 with five touchdowns over his past three games, plus a couple of recent 100-yard rushing efforts. Still, with 73 catches and seven TDs to his name (five as a receiver), McCaffrey sits 11th among running backs in PPR points per game. Somewhat curiously, he ranks only 35th in elusive rating and has not forced missed tackles quite as frequently as Stewart (once every six touches). A best-case scenario would be for the Panthers to move on from Stewart this offseason and scheme ways to get McCaffrey the ball in space more often.

Chicago Bears

Starter Backup to Own
Jordan Howard Tarik Cohen (PPR)

Tarik Cohen generated some buzz early on this season but has mostly been a non-factor in fantasy since, even getting out-touched by Benny Cunningham in recent weeks. Despite coming off the field in passing situations, Jordan Howard is 13th in RB snaps, having been on the field for 57.1 percent of the Bears’ offensive plays. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, while Howard is on pace for another fine season (1,222 rushing yards and eight TDs), he’s been a complete dud in three of the past four weeks and sent many of those owners home packing from the playoffs. Chicago desperately needs to get Mitchell Trubisky some receiving talent this offseason to help open up the offense and keep defenders from stacking the box. For those who own Howard in dynasty, check out this clip from two of our senior analysts discussing multi-dimensional backs, and plan to sell high this offseason. Howard has played less than 50 percent of the snaps in four of the past six games, a mark he had hit in seven of the first eight.

Cincinnati Bengals

Starter Backup to Know
Joe Mixon Giovani Bernard (PPR)

Joe Mixon has been sidelined with a concussion, and the timing is unfortunate as the rookie was coming off a season-best 165-yard effort in Week 12. Just as important for fantasy purposes, he had gotten 20-plus carries in two straight after not reaching that mark all season. This offseason, the Bengals could use some upgrades along an offensive line that is graded 28th in run-blocking and has given Mixon only 1.0 yards before contact, 47th-best among all running backs. Giovani Bernard acquitted himself well in Mixon’s absence, averaging 4.4 YPC and ranking 18th in PPR scoring over the past three weeks.

Cleveland Browns

Starter Backup to Own
Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson (PPR)

One of the most frustrating fantasy backfields virtually all season, coach Hue Jackson remains curiously committed to Isaiah Crowell despite Duke Johnson proving to be more impactful time and again. Crowell is 33rd in PPR points per game and 51st in elusive rating, yet he’s handled 73 more touches than Johnson, who ranks 17th in PPR scoring and 15th in elusive rating. The Browns coaches have talked about finding more opportunities for Johnson, but it simply has not come to fruition as he’s logged double-digit carries only once this season. Still, Johnson is a name to watch for 2018 in the event his role increases.

Dallas Cowboys

Starter Backup to Know
Ezekiel Elliott Alfred Morris

After all of the debate about this backfield throughout Ezekiel Elliott’s seemingly never-ending appeals process, at the end of the day there wasn’t much fantasy fruit to fall from the tree here. Sure, Alfred Morris rose to the top of the pecking order and was given feature-back volume down the stretch. But outside of his big Week 13, he never went over 100 yards or found the end zone in any other game despite averaging 5.4 YPC through Week 13. Oh well. Elliott is set to return this week, hopefully to deliver a fantasy title for those owners who kept him rostered and managed to survive this long.

Denver Broncos

Starter Backup to Know
C.J. Anderson Jamaal Charles

C.J. Anderson’s 30-carry, 158-yard rushing effort against the Colts this past week came out of nowhere. Given that he hadn’t hit the century mark since Week 2 and had been ceding snaps to Devontae Booker, Anderson’s Week 15 outburst was of little help to fantasy owners by that point. And despite playing his most snaps since Week 4, Booker is averaging just 3.4 YPC with one score all season, though it’s worth noting that only 52 of his 231 rushing yards have come before contact. Mike McCoy was fired as offensive coordinator last month, and coach Vance Joseph is far from a lock to stick around. The Broncos will need to take a long, hard look at their offense from top to bottom this offseason.

Detroit Lions

Starter Backup to Know
Tion Green Theo Riddick (PPR)

While Ameer Abdullah’s benching hardly comes as a shock, the fact is he’s been given less yardage before contact (0.73) than all but two other backs this season. Still, Abdullah simply doesn’t create much on his own; Theo Riddick has forced 10 more missed tackles on 54 fewer touches. Running back should be an offseason priority for a Lions team that hasn’t had an individual 100-yard rusher since Thanksgiving of 2013. And no, Tion Green will not be that guy.

Green Bay Packers

Starter Backup to Own
Jamaal Williams Aaron Jones

Going into the season, Ty Montgomery showed up regularly on my overrated lists while Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones were both mentioned as sleeper picks. Lo and behold, Montgomery’s durability concerns proved valid, whereas Jones has flashed his big-play ability and Williams has served his role as the grinder. If picking a horse in this race, Jones carries the most appeal. He ranks fourth in breakaway percentage, with eight of his 78 runs going for 15-plus yards, and was a top-10 PPR back between Weeks 4-7 when he took over as the lead back. Williams has had his moments, particularly in short yardage, but for one reason or another, he’s averaged a yard and a half less before contact than Jones.

Houston Texans

Starter Backup to Know
Lamar Miller Alfred Blue

The ultimate volume-dependent back, Lamar Miller trails only Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley in RB snaps but averages the fewest fantasy points per opportunity (0.33) of any of the top-20 PPR backs. Miller hasn’t hit the century mark on the ground in any game this season and has failed to average 4.0 YPC in each of his past five outings. There’s a good chance D’Onta Foreman was headed for a bigger piece of the pie before getting hurt in Week 11, when he had a season-best 65 yards on 10 carries. Dynasty owners who missed their chance to unload Miller before the trade deadline are stuck with a sinking stock heading into 2018.

Indianapolis Colts

Starter Backup to Know
Frank Gore Marlon Mack

Unsigned beyond this year, Frank Gore is up to another 220 carries in his age-34 season, which is all but assured to be his swan song in Indianapolis. Marlon Mack will be one of the more intriguing dynasty prospects this offseason, and while far from a finished product, he’s shown enough talent to be a force at the pro level. Full disclosure: Mack has been one of “my guys” throughout this past offseason. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, know that he ranks second among running backs in breakaway percentage and 19th in elusive rating. Here’s hoping the rookie took full advantage of being Gore’s understudy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Starter Backup to Know
Leonard Fournette T.J. Yeldon (12+)

Banged up for much of the season, Leonard Fournette finally took a week off to rest his quad injury, although he’s been a full practice participant this week. Even in PPR, Fournette is top-seven in fantasy points per game this season despite only 29 catches. Averaging 21 carries per game as a rookie, Fournette is every bit the workhorse the Jaguars selected with the fourth overall pick. However, like Jordan Howard, his one-dimensional skillset does keep his ceiling a notch below the best of the best.

Kansas City Chiefs

Starter Backup to Know
Kareem Hunt Charcandrick West (12+)

Ten weeks without a score sabotaged many fantasy owners who got off to a hot start thanks to Kareem Hunt. As I’ve mentioned here previously, during his six-game rut Hunt was seeing 1.5 fewer yards before contact compared to his first six games. Then, over the past two weeks, Hunt’s been back up to 2.29 yards before contact and has produced massive fantasy results. Even though he’s been our fifth-most-elusive back this season, good blocking sure does go a long way.

Los Angeles Chargers

Starter Backup to Own
Melvin Gordon Austin Ekeler (12+)

Melvin Gordon has played 70 percent of the Chargers’ backfield snaps this season. He’s coming off his highest share (82.8 percent) since Week 6 and even delivered a season-best 91 yards as a receiver against Kansas City this past week. The No. 8 PPR back in fantasy points per game, Gordon remains the workhorse for the Chargers, leaving few scraps for his backups.

Los Angeles Rams

Starter Backup to Know
Todd Gurley Malcolm Brown (12+)

Coming off a disastrous 2016, Todd Gurley has put himself firmly in the MVP conversation. He trails only Le’Veon Bell with 1,817 scrimmage yards and 726 RB snaps and leads the position with 17 touchdowns and 24 PPR points per game. Best of all for fantasy owners, he saved his best performance – 180 scrimmage yards and four TDs, good for 45 PPR points – for the fantasy semifinals.

Miami Dolphins

Starter Backup to Know
Kenyan Drake Damien Williams (PPR)

Kenyan Drake has navigated a few different gamescripts over the past three weeks yet continues to produce, averaging 104 YPG (4.9 YPC) and a touchdown on the ground in that span while getting most of that yardage after contact (4.1 YAC). He’s also hauled in 14-of-19 targets for another 135 yards, ranking fourth in PPR scoring among running backs since Week 13. The Dolphins’ once-surprising decision to trade Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia mid-season – despite being under rookie contract through 2018 – now looks like a shrewd move, with Drake trailing only Alvin Kamara in elusive rating this season.

Minnesota Vikings

Starter Backup to Own
Latavius Murray Jerick McKinnon

Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray both rank as top-20 PPR backs since taking over for Dalvin Cook in Week 5. McKinnon is 13th in elusive rating this season but hasn’t turned in any 100-yard rushing games, something Cook did in his very first pro game and then came three yards shy of in Week 3. All of which is to say, Cook will be an RB1 next year, assuming he comes back healthy.

New England Patriots

Starter Backup to Own
Dion Lewis Rex Burkhead (PPR)

Dion Lewis made our Sunday Standout team for Week 15, and he trails only Alvin Kamara and Kenyan Drake in elusive rating on the season. The main thing holding back his fantasy value is his usage as a receiver, which has picked up of late but is still far off his 2015 pace of five catches per game. Despite being only minimally involved in the Patriots’ offense until Week 8, Rex Burkhead currently ranks 16th among running backs in PPR points per game (12.9) thanks to his eight touchdowns and steady usage as a receiver. However, he is out with a sprained knee, which puts Lewis firmly into upside RB2 territory moving forward.

New Orleans Saints

Co-Starter Co-Starter
Mark Ingram Alvin Kamara (PPR)

Easily the most fascinating (and productive) fantasy backfield of 2017, the Saints went from being one of the annual league leaders in pass attempts, to supporting two top-five PPR backs in fantasy. A frontrunner for rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara continues to lead the league in elusive rating (128.9), averaging 4.1 yards after contact with a missed tackle forced once every 3.2 touches. The Saints have done well to get him the ball in space, as he also ranks among the league leaders with 2.53 yards before contact. It feels odd to gripe about any inconsistency from Mark Ingram over the past month, but he‘s coming off another 151 yards in Week 15 to raise his total to 1,045 yards and 11 TDs on the ground to go with a career-best 51 catches.

New York Giants

Starter Backup to Know
Orleans Darkwa Wayne Gallman

Paul Perkins began the year as the Giants’ starter but wound up a healthy scratch for most games down the stretch. Wayne Gallman has led the way in backfield touches in each of the last two weeks since Ben McAdoo’s dismissal, averaging 89 yards on 16 touches. At this point, the rookie certainly carries some appeal heading into 2018, but like Perkins before him, we just haven’t seen enough to pencil him in as a fantasy starter next year. It’s likely the Giants will look to add a running back either via free agency or the draft.

New York Jets

Starter Backup to Own
Matt Forte Bilal Powell

A three-way timeshare between Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, and Elijah McGuire has rendered the Jets backfield all but useless for fantasy. One week after Forte and Powell combined for nine fantasy points, McGuire was the team’s top fantasy back in Week 15 despite getting only four carries. McGuire has actually been the toughest to tackle, ranking 12th in elusive rating with a missed tackle forced once every 4.9 touches. However, Sunday marked only his second game this season with double-digit fantasy points.

Oakland Raiders

Starter Backup to Own
Marshawn Lynch Jalen Richard (12+)

The Raiders have some decisions to make about their backfield for next season, but Marshawn Lynch has acquitted himself well upon coming out of retirement. Lynch is only 25th in PPR points per game but has picked things up of late behind an O-line generating only 1.29 yards before contact (37th-best). Lynch may only have one 100-yard rushing game under his belt as a Raider, but he’s averaging 4.3 YPC with seven TDs, and he ranks seventh in elusive rating. He’s also been a top-10 PPR back since Week 9. Jalen Richard owns a 5.4 YPC career average, but the coaching staff prefers him as a change-of-pace back.

Philadelphia Eagles

Starter Backup to Own
LeGarrette Blount Jay Ajayi

The Eagles didn’t appear to have a major need when they traded for Jay Ajayi, what with LeGarrette Blount shedding tacklers at a league-best rate. However, Ajayi is averaging 6.4 YPC since joining the Eagles and ranks top-five in elusive rating in that span, with a missed tackle forced every four touches. He’s also seen his usage continue to increase, up to a season-best (with the Eagles) 50 percent of the snaps this past week. Better yet, there’s plenty of keeper/dynasty appeal behind Philadelphia’s elite O-line. With Blount unlikely to be re-signed, Ajayi will enter 2018 as the presumed workhorse and on the final year of his rookie contract.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Starter Backup to Own
Le’Veon Bell James Conner

Unsigned beyond this season, Le’Veon Bell yet again staked his case as the best in the game, leading the league in yards from scrimmage (132.1 YPG) and RB snaps (91 percent of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps) despite holding out for all of training camp. The Steelers saw only glimpses from rookie James Conner, who showed promise with 144 yards on 32 carries (4.5 YPC) but recently underwent knee surgery. With Bell’s contract up in the air for 2018, the Steelers’ backfield situation will be a fluid one to monitor this offseason.

San Francisco 49ers

Starter Backup to Own
Carlos Hyde Matt Breida

Carlos Hyde enjoyed a productive fantasy season under first-year coach Kyle Shanahan, as he sits 15th in elusive rating and 12th in PPR scoring. However, Hyde is also graded dead-last among running backs in PFF overall grade and is unsigned beyond this season. Joe Williams drew some offseason buzz for being “hand-picked” by the current 49ers’ regime, although it was fellow rookie Matt Breida who wound up playing his way into a meaningful role. Breida saw 12 carries in back-to-back games before touching the rock only five times this past Sunday. Given his lack of ability to create on his own – Breida ranks dead-last in elusive rating, with more than half of his rushing yardage coming before contact – a timeshare of sorts would likely be his 2018 ceiling.

Seattle Seahawks

Starter Backup to Know
Mike Davis J.D. McKissic (PPR)

Chris Carson. Eddie Lacy. Thomas Rawls. Mike Davis. C.J. Prosise. J.D. McKissic. Not a single 100-yard rushing performance this year. Moving on…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Starter Backup to Own
Doug Martin Peyton Barber

Doug Martin was a healthy scratch against Atlanta, just one week after he was the Bucs’ starter. Martin’s average of 0.85 yards before contact ranks among the league’s lowest, although he’s also forced only nine missed tackles on 138 touches and ranks 50th out of 51 RBs in elusive rating. Peyton Barber has averaged 4.4 yards on 16 carries over his last three games, but he’s not someone you’re putting in a Week 16 fantasy lineup, nor does he carry much keeper appeal. Look for the Bucs to address RB this offseason.

Tennessee Titans

Starter Backup to Own
DeMarco Murray Derrick Henry

Sitting with a mere 140 carries on the season, Derrick Henry would be the frontrunner if there was a “Criminally Underused” award. Of his 4.8 YPC average, 3.5 yards of that average has come after contact, as Henry sits sixth in elusive rating (compared to 38th for DeMarco Murray). Henry was given double-digit carries on only seven occasions this season, and in those games he produced 530 yards and three scores on 94 carries (5.6 YPC). Whatever his ADP next summer, it will be worth the price.

Washington Redskins

Starter Backup to Know
Samaje Perine Kapri Bibbs

Rookie Samaje Perine burst out of the gate with 100-plus rushing yards in each of his first two game upon taking over as the Redskins’ lead back, but he failed to hit 50 yards in each of his next three. The window may not have shut, per se, but Perine certainly didn’t do enough to make the Redskins take RB off the priority list this offseason.

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