Fantasy Football Rushing Report: Touches, schemes, matchups, more ahead of Week 17

2RHACRW Chicago Bears' Khalil Herbert heads to the end zone for a touchdown in an NFL preseason football game against the Tennessee Titans Saturday, August 12, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

• The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to lean on Najee Harris: Despite the success UDFA Jaylen Warren has found in the run game this season, Harris has held onto a steady workload as the team's lead back.

Khalil Herbert has a big day leading the Chicago Bears backfield: Herbert had his best game of the season in Week 16, carrying the ball 20 times for 112 yards and a score.

Atlanta Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson was heavily involved as a receiver in Week 16: In Taylor Heinicke’s third start with the Falcons, Robinson led the team with 10 total targets to top off an efficient day on the ground.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

With just two weeks left in the 2023 regular season, there are still plenty of backfields whose usage trends continue to mystify fantasy managers. We’re here to help decode the latest answers that Week 16 provided. Here are five insights from Week 16 on the running back position that could bear a significant impact on your lineup decisions through the fantasy football championship.

WR:CB Matchup Chart

Najee Harris takes back over the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield

The Pittsburgh Steelers have found a gem in UDFA running back Jaylen Warren, but after a mid-season surge in his workload, it seems that teammate Najee Harris is officially settled back into his role as their top runner. In Week 16’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Harris totaled 19 touches, tied for his season-high single-game touch total in 2023. Among the Steelers running backs in Week 16, Harris saw 70.4% of the total rush attempts, 100% of the red zone carries, and the only carry inside the five. 

The Steelers have another favorable matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 that could put him in a prime spot for another big day. Since Week 9, the Seahawks have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, allowing the second-highest yards per rush attempt average (5.26) while ranking second in rushing touchdowns. Harris has yet to notch a single top-five finish in 2023, but his volume has been steady as of late even alongside Warren, which keeps him in the RB2 conversation any given week.

Chicago Bears RB Khalil Herbert handles 69% of RB rush attempts after three straight games of six or fewer carries

The Chicago Bears backfield has been challenging to evaluate as it struggles to juggle three capable running backs, veterans Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman in addition to fourth-round rookie Roschon Johnson. Unfortunately, due to a rotation of injuries among the three, including a Week 16 absence from Foreman due to personal reasons, it’s been challenging to predict which of these running backs will be “the guy” in any given week. Thanks to a strong Week 16, however, Herbert may have just swayed things in his favor to close out the regular season.

Herbert notched season-high marks in total carries (20), rushing yards (112) and explosive runs (four) in Week 16, resulting in a 79.3 PFF rushing grade that ranked seventh among all running backs on the week. Herbert’s 80.4 PFF rushing grade on the season leads the Bears backfield as a whole, leading the team with a 26% missed forced tackle rate and 3.1 yards after contact per attempt. He also has the lowest stuff rate of the cohort at 12.8%. Herbert appears to have earned the role as the Bears' primary runner, and hopefully, his performance in Week 16 was enough to point those signs out to his coaching staff, as well.

The Atlanta Falcons lean on Bijan Robinson as a receiver in Week 18

After playing a season-low 58% of his team's offensive snaps in Week 15 (outside of the mysterious “headache” game that was Week 7), Atlanta Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson bounced back with 19 total touches – seven of which came as receptions, totaling 50 receiving yards on the day. With Taylor Heinicke under center, Robinson notched a season-high 10 targets, making the most of his heavy involvement as a route runner, tied for the second most routes run (31) on the day — only behind WR Drake London. All of that was just the cherry on top of his rushing efficiency in Week 16, as he tied to lead all running backs with an 86.8 PFF rushing grade thanks to his 67% missed forced tackle rate, 6.0 yards per attempt and 7.3 yards after contact per attempt. You read that right — Robinson actually averaged more yards after contact per attempt than yards per attempt. He’s good at creating yards – even when facing contact behind the line of scrimmage.

Though second-year RB Tyler Allgeier has continued to be involved well beyond what fantasy managers would have hoped before the start of the season, Robinson’s usage as a receiver should continue to buoy his weekly floor for the next two weeks. In Week 17 specifically, the Falcons will face the Chicago Bears rushing defense, whose unit has surged this year, allowing opposing running backs just 3.57 yards per carry (fourth-lowest) in addition to forcing 38 negative rush attempts (sixth-most). Its one weakness has been handling running backs in the receiving game – a perfect spot for Robinson to keep the ball rolling in a must-win week for fantasy managers.

Philadelphia Eagles RB D’Andre Swift totals 20 touches for the second consecutive week

Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift went through a shortlived midseason dry spell that had fantasy managers in a panic heading into the fantasy football playoffs, as he totaled just 17 carries for 52 rushing yards between Weeks 13 and 14. If the past two weeks are any indication, however, it’s very reasonable to assume those lapses were outliers rather than actual areas for concern. Since Week 2, Gainwell has had 15 or more touches in all but two outings, which were two blowout losses against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers

The Eagles will close out their 2023 regular season with games against the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, which should bode well for Swift’s touch total to close out the fantasy football season as long as this Philly offense can avoid a surprising late-season implosion that derails their chances to deploy a run-heavy scheme with Swift.

The Baltimore Ravens favor RB Justice Hill in their first game without rookie Keaton Mitchell

The Baltimore Ravens lost breakout rookie running back Keaton Mitchell to a season-ending knee injury in Week 15, leaving plenty of question marks regarding how they would deploy the tandem of Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, and potentially Melvin Gordon, who they’d elevated from the practice squad ahead of Week 16. Despite having primarily worked behind Edwards, who leads the team with 172 rush attempts in 2023, Hill led the running backs room in both snaps (62%) and touches (13) in Week 16. Despite being active in the game, Gordon didn’t take a single snap. 

Despite Hill’s heavy involvement in the offense in their first game since Mitchell’s injury, fantasy managers shouldn’t get too comfortable with Hill, as usage between these various backs has been highly volatile throughout much of the 2023 season. Here’s a look at the total touches for these Ravens running backs week over week.

As you can see, there’s not much consistency here week over week. Generally, however, it has been Edwards who’s out-touched Hill in all but three games this season. Edwards also leads the team with 20 carries inside the five-yard line to Hill’s four, including all three of those opportunities in Week 16. All in all, Edwards is the safest option for fantasy managers moving forward, barring an unexpected adjustment from this coaching staff moving forward.


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