NFL depth charts are always in a constant state of flux due to transactions, injuries, performance and, at times, questionable coaching decisions. The running back position, in particular, can be tough to stay on top of, as an overwhelming majority of offenses have replaced a single three-down back with committees of various shapes and sizes.
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What follows is a breakdown of each team's backfield in order to better determine:
- Offenses featuring a single workhorse
- Fantasy-friendly committee backfields
- Situations fantasy football owners should avoid
This isn't a full depth-chart listing, as I'm not concerned about running backs who make their living on special teams or guys only expected to see a touch or two per game. Rather, the goal here is to get an early idea of the league's various committee situations in an effort to see undervalued situations and backs poised to ball the hell out.
Each back’s Week 9 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Edmonds suffered a high ankle sprain on his first and only Week 9 touch. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that he’s expected to miss multiple games.
Enter Conner, who scored on three separate occasions during the Cardinals’ Week 9 victory over the 49ers. The ex-Steelers veteran now has 11 touchdowns on the season and looks poised to potentially swing fantasy leagues if last week’s workload was any indication of what is to come. Few offenses hand their starting running back a true three-down role, but Kliff Kingsbury has done this with each of David Johnson, Kenyan Drake and Edmonds when the backfield has dealt with injuries in recent years.
It’s going to be hard to keep Conner outside of the position’s top-10 backs for however long Edmonds remains sidelined based on volume. He’s an auto-start in fantasy land — even in this week’s matchup against the Panthers’ fifth-ranked defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to the position. Note that much of the Panthers’ success against opposing running backs have been thanks to allowing bottom-four marks in receptions (33) and receiving yards (219). The Panthers find themselves as more of a middle-of-the-pack unit in more rushing-centric metrics such as yards per carry (15th), yards after contact per carry (27th) and yards before contact per carry (15th).
Credit to Benjamin for his electric touchdown jaunt last week, but he isn’t someone to go out of your way to get on the waiver wire due to Conner heavily out-working him in the first three quarters in snaps (43 vs. 10), carries (16 vs. 4) and targets (4 vs. 0) alike. Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for full thoughts on the Week 10 waiver wire.
Patterson has been as consistent as they come this season, ripping off PPR RB36, RB4, RB19, RB1, RB16, RB19, RB11 and RB7 weekly finishes. As the RB6 in PPR points per game, Patterson has overachieved a bit given his standing as the RB13 in expected PPR points, but this Falcons offense figures to continue to feed him all the receiving work he can handle as long as Calvin Ridley (personal, IR) remains sidelined.
This is particularly true as a receiver. Only Deebo Samuel (3.34) has averaged more yards per route run than Patterson (3.33) through nine weeks of action. Patterson’s usage has truly been special as far as running backs are concerned, as no player at the position has been used as frequently in the slot or out wide:
- Targets in the slot or out wide: 27 (next-closest running back: 15)
- Receiving yards: 330 (next-closest running back: 134)
- Receiving touchdowns: 3 (next-closest running back: 1)
Patterson is averaging 3.3 yards per route run in the slot or out wide — Tony Pollard (1.23) is the next-closest running back who has been targeted a minimum of five times. Madness.
Fire up Patterson as the RB1 he’s been all season against the Cowboys, as this is far too fantasy-friendly of a workload to fade regardless of the matchup at this point. Davis is more of a desperate low-end RB3 who could very well be game-scripted out of this matchup if the Cowboys offense more closely resembles the group we saw in Weeks 1-8 as opposed to Week 9.
Latavius Murray (ankle) didn’t suit up in Week 9 but was listed as doubtful despite not practicing all week. This could be seen as a sign that he’s getting closer to returning so be sure to monitor the Ravens’ practice report before trusting Freeman or Bell against the Dolphins this week.
The good news is that Freeman and Bell have separated from Williams, making this more of a two-back committee in Murray’s absence. The bad news is that Week 9’s gaudy touch counts were a result of the Ravens running an absurd 89 plays during their overtime win over the Vikings — their previous season-high mark was just 71.
The Dolphins are the league’s 10th-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs, and the Ravens are implied to score 27 points. Clearly, this is a winnable matchup, but it just comes down to whether or not these backs will see enough volume to post usable fantasy production if Murray returns. I’d try to avoid the whole situation if the ex-Raiders/Vikings/Saints veteran suits up Sunday while Freeman (borderline RB2) and to a lesser extent Bell (low-end RB3) are viable starting options if Murray remains sidelined.
Moss (concussion) should be considered questionable for the Bills’ brilliant Week 10 matchup against the Jets’ league-worst defense in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing backfields. He’d be a low-end RB2 if active while Singletary would be ranked in a similar spot if Moss is sidelined.
The Bills deployed the following backfield usage in Week 1 without Moss (hamstring):
- Singletary: 75% snaps, 11 carries, 5 targets
- Matt Breida: 12% snaps, 4 carries, 0 targets
There’s also a chance 2020 Week 17 superstar Antonio Williams could be active without Moss in the picture.
The problem with overly trusting Singletary is that we’ve seen the Bills switch up his usage on the fly in the past. He posted dominant 89% snap rates in each of his first two games without Moss in 2020 before playing just 63% of the offense’s reps and losing all the pass-down work to T.J. Yeldon the following week. The matchup is too good to consider benching Singletary in most fantasy leagues if Moss is inactive but just realize Breida, and potentially Williams, will make this a committee of some sort.
CMC was on a pitch count of sorts in his first game off injured reserve, although he still managed to rack up 106 total yards in the Panthers’ 24-6 loss to the Patriots. The PPR RB15 finish was truly an anomaly, as the last time McCaffrey posted this kind of finish in a game where he wasn’t pulled early with an injury was Week 2, 2019.
McCaffrey is simply unique, as he’s one of only four backs in NFL history to average more than 20 PPR points per game for his career:
Get back to treating CMC as fantasy’s top-overall player — even against the Cardinals’ seventh-ranked defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to the position. Note that Arizona ranks among the league’s bottom-10 defenses in receptions (57) and receiving yards (407) allowed to opposing backs. Matchups matter far less in fantasy land when we’re talking about a running back with CMC’s sort of absurd passing-game floor.
Hubbard remains the handcuff to own but just don’t expect any sort of standalone value, particularly with Abdullah continuing to siphon away a handful of pass-down snaps per game.
Coach Matt Nagy wasted no time handing Montgomery his full-time role back. Note that Damien Williams (knee) was ruled out on Saturday.
The Bears have a bye in Week 10 and after that, it’ll be tough to rank Montgomery outside of the position’s top-10 talents thanks to this dominant three-down role and cozy schedule to end the season:
- Week 11 vs. Ravens: 24th in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields
- Week 12 at Lions: No. 31
- Week 13 vs. Cardinals: No. 7
- Week 14 at Packers: No. 14
- Week 15 vs. Vikings: No. 22
- Week 16 at Seahawks: No. 30
- Week 17 vs. Giants: No. 27
Neither Herbert nor Williams need to be rostered through the bye in most standard fantasy formats. The former back remains the preferred handcuff, but even then, there’s some uncertainty as to just how large his role would be with a healthier version of Williams also active.
Mixon is the RB9 in PPR points per game after nine weeks of action. He continues to lose passing-down work to Perine but gets schemed up enough targets to largely get by anyway. Overall, Mixon’s 12 receptions as his quarterback’s first read are the 11th-most among any running back this season.
Credit to Mixon for functioning as PFF’s fifth-highest graded rusher (85.7) this season, as he’s been more than just a product of elite volume. Continue to fire him up as a weekly top-12 option at the position after the Bengals’ Week 10 bye.
Chubb (COVID, IR) and Demetric Felton (COVID, IR) should be considered questionable for Sunday. Both are vaccinated but need two negative tests 24 hours apart to play. Backup John Kelly (COVID, IR) also tested positive, meaning Johnson could be the lone running back available in Week 10. He’d be an auto-start RB1 if active thanks to the likelihood of seeing 20-plus carries and targets behind PFF’s third-ranked offensive line in team run-blocking grade.
Expect Chubb to work as the offense’s workhorse if healthy enough to suit up this week. The Browns put forward the following backfield usage during the first three quarters of their 41-16 blowout victory:
- Snaps: Chubb (20), Johnson (4)
- Carries: Chubb (9), Johnson (1)
- Targets: Chubb (2), Johnson (0)
Coach Kevin Stefanski said back in mid-October that Kareem Hunt (calf, IR) could miss up to six weeks. It seems somewhat likely he’s not back until Week 14 following the Browns’ Week 13 bye.
Chubb is averaging 4.6 yards after contact per carry this season — only 15 running backs have averaged that many yards per carry. Fire up arguably the best player in the league with the ball in his hands as an every-week upside RB1 as long as Hunt is sidelined ¯ even in a less than ideal matchup against Bill Belichick’s evil empire this week.
Johnson isn’t a realistic standalone option if Chubb is healthy, as he saw just five touches in a more neutral game script during the Browns’ Week 8 loss to the Steelers. Felton continues to steal away a couple snaps and a target or two per game, and for good reason, as the rookie is electric in space.
Demetric Felton has had some plays after the catch this year pic.twitter.com/gSQFT0W0yd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 9, 2021