• There are roughly 11 teams with a backup running back who would be expected to handle something close to a true every-down role should their offense’s starter miss time.
• Denver Broncos RBs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon stand out as having the week’s best matchup against the Bobby Wagner-less Seattle Seahawks front-seven, which is the league’s reigning 32nd-ranked defense in receptions and receiving yards allowed to opposing running backs.
• Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey takes the top spot in Ian’s Week 1 RB rankings due to his ability to generate rushing and receiving production in an intriguing matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
Estimated reading time: 22 minutes
Despite what the overlords at PFF might think: Running backs are people too, and we care about them very deeply in fantasy football land.
What follows are:
- A handcuff index to help get an idea of the pecking order inside all 32 backfields.
- 15 key takeaways and questions about the position based on Week 1 matchups.
- Full-PPR Week 1 rankings.
It’s truly a great day to be great, so let’s boogie.
The following teams would be expected to hand their backup running back something pretty close to a fantasy-friendly three-down role should their team’s starter be forced out of action:
- New York Jets: Michael Carter might actually be the Week 1 starter; regardless, he’d have a potential every-down role if Breece Hall ever misses time. He reached the 70% snap threshold on three different occasions as a rookie.
- New England Patriots: James White retired and Ty Montgomery‘s (ankle) status is uncertain. This suddenly leaves Rhamondre Stevenson as the weekly 1B option behind Damien Harris, and an injury to the latter back would seemingly leave the former all alone atop the depth chart.
- Cleveland Browns: Head coach Kevin Stefanski was willing to keep Nick Chubb off the field on passing downs in favor of D’Ernest Johnson even without Kareem Hunt in the picture last season. I have a hard time believing that Johnson would displace Hunt in his usual assignments should Chubb be forced out action.
- Indianapolis Colts: The decision to demote Phillip Lindsay to the practice squad, combined with Nyheim Hines’ dominant first-team snap share in the preseason, makes the Colts’ pass-catching savant a sneaky-solid bet to leap into an Austin Ekeler-esque starting role should Jonathan Taylor be forced to miss any action.
- Denver Broncos: Just as Javonte Williams would be expected to leap into every-week RB1 territory without Melvin Gordon, the opposite holds true as well.
- Dallas Cowboys: Tony Pollard may never displace Ezekiel Elliott atop the depth chart when both are healthy, but you wouldn’t need more than one hand to rank the number of running backs ahead of Pollard should Zeke miss any time.
- Green Bay Packers: A.J. Dillon is basically already considered a starter, so an injury to Aaron Jones would inevitably lead to a workhorse role.
- Minnesota Vikings: Alexander Mattison has handled 11, 24, 32, 32, 25 and 16 touches in six games with Dalvin Cook sidelined over the past two seasons. Despite trade rumors, he appears to still be locked into this every-down handcuff role based on first-team preseason usage.
- Chicago Bears: Khalil Herbert assumed a near-every-down role with David Montgomery sidelined in 2021 and appears poised to do so again should the situation call after he dominated first-team usage with the starters during the first two weeks of the preseason.
- Detroit Lions: Jamaal Williams handled 20, 18 and 19 touches in three games without D’Andre Swift last season, as his middling 63%, 47% and 42% snap rates could easily boom when he’s not playing through the pain himself.
- Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay has been more willing than just about anybody to give his starting running back a true workhorse role, so Darrell Henderson would be expected to seldom come off the field if Cam Akers misses any time.
Additionally, these teams would give their backup running backs nice boosts if their starter misses time, although a committee of sorts would still be expected:
- Buffalo Bills: Zack Moss would (unfortunately) probably lead the way on early downs over James Cook if Devin Singletary misses any action.
- Miami Dolphins: It’s hard to think head coach Mike McDaniel would risk fully turning the offense over to often-injured veteran Raheem Mostert, but at least some sort of boost in carries would be expected if Chase Edmonds is forced out of action.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Samaje Perine has consistently been treated as the clear-cut No. 2 running back over the past two seasons, although Chris Evans might just offer enough juice (especially as a receiver) to make this a somewhat evenly-split two-back committee in Joe Mixon‘s absence.
- Tennessee Titans: Dontrell Hilliard is the clear No. 2 back behind Derrick Henry, but just realize the Titans’ primary pass-down back would probably still cede a large portion of the early-down work to Hassan Haskins.
- Las Vegas Raiders: Essentially New England southwest, it’d be reasonable to expect Zamir White to leap into 15-to-20 touch territory should Josh Jacobs miss time, but passing-down specialist Ameer Abdullah would likely continue to frustrate fantasy managers.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Kenneth Gainwell truthers would likely have to watch Boston Scott and possibly current free agent Jordan Howard soak up most of the early-down work if Miles Sanders is forced out of action.
- New York Giants: While there isn’t much depth behind Matt Breida, I have a hard time believing head coach Brian Daboll would fully turn over the backfield to Brieda in the event of a Saquon Barkley injury after largely ignoring the journeyman during their time together in Buffalo.
- Washington Commanders: While Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson are each better off without one another in terms of their personal fantasy upside, J.D. McKissic’s value largely stays steady regardless of who else is active due to Washington treating him as a one-dimensional scat back.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rachaad White has the best theoretical three-down skill-set behind Leonard Fournette, but veterans Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn could make things annoying for truthers in a hurry should Fournette miss any time.
- New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram turns 33 years old in December, but he’d still be the favorite to lead the way in Alvin Kamara‘s absence, although some sort of committee would still be expected.
- Carolina Panthers: Chuba Hubbard worked slightly ahead of D’Onta Foreman with the first-team offense in the preseason, so an expected 50/50 committee would likely leave both outside the position’s top-24 without Christian McCaffrey on the field.
- San Francisco 49ers: Jeff Wilson is tentatively the expected No. 2 back behind Elijah Mitchell, but the 49ers are unique in that they can always turn to WR Deebo Samuel and/or FB Kyle Juszczyk when the going gets tough in their running back room.
- Seattle Seahawks: An injury to either Rashaad Penny or Kenneth Walker (hernia) would be a nice boost for the other early-down back, but they will still have to contend with Travis Homer and/or DeeJay Dallas stealing away fantasy-friendly pass-down work.
Finally, there are a handful of teams with a combination of unproven backups and a history of committees that make it awfully difficult to have any feel for who would benefit the most should the starter go down. There might even be future potential for a free agent addition:
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Maybe undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren really is the next-man-up behind Najee Harris, but expecting any of this team’s current backups to handle the same sort of every-down role seems like wishful thinking.
- Baltimore Ravens: Seemingly trying out or signing a new running back every week, game action needs to play out before feeling at all confident about anybody involved while J.K. Dobbins (knee) and Gus Edwards (knee, PUP) continue to recover.
- Houston Texans: Dameon Pierce is the back to care about. If the rookie misses time, the most likely answer to which committee back to target in fantasy land would be: No.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s still a bit unclear whether Travis Etienne or James Robinson is considered the starter. While Etienne would be expected to assume a workhorse role in Robinson's absence, the opposite scenario hinges on just how healthy the Jaguars’ rising third-year back is at the moment.
- Kansas City Chiefs: Things are awfully muddled behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire. My guess is Ronald Jones and Isiah Pacheco would split early downs while Jerick McKinnon gets the work in most pass-first situations.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Isaiah Spiller (ankle) hasn’t managed to lock up the backup spot, meaning Sony Michel and Joshua Kelley are the current frontrunners for RB2 treatment behind Austin Ekeler.
- Atlanta Falcons: It’s tough to even figure out the primary early-down back in Atlanta at the moment, let alone who would benefit the most from a Cordarrelle Patterson injury.
- Arizona Cardinals: The No. 2 running back behind James Conner remains unclear, so any of Eno Benjamin, Darrel Williams or Keaontay Ingram could feasibly leap into the top tier of handcuffs with confirmation of this role, but that remains to be seen.
Offenses expected to dominate the line of scrimmage