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 play at a high level.
Each back’s Week 10 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Conner has worked as a top-24 fantasy back in six of his last eight games. Chase Edmonds‘ (ankle) absence only solidifies what was already a great floor. Benjamin’s lack of a real role in the passing game is even more good news for Conner, who should function as a weekly RB1 based on volume alone for however long Edmonds is sidelined.
This is largely due to nobody allowing more receiving yards to the position, as Kyler Murray‘s (ankle) continued absence could actually be a positive for Conner considering that Colt McCoy has been the far more conservative passer this season. Overall, Murray (8.4-yard average target depth) ranks 18th among 43 qualified quarterbacks in pushing the ball downfield — McCoy (5.9) is second to last.
Up next is a Seahawks defense that has allowed the second-most PPR points per game in the NFL. Continue to lock Conner in as an RB1 in fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes. Benjamin would need Conner to miss time in order to have any sort of standalone value.
Patterson's (ankle) expected absence leaves this Falcons offense in dire need of more playmakers. Gallman will seemingly get a chance to step up and be that guy. The Falcons were blown out by the Cowboys in Week 10, but their running back usage in the first 45 minutes of the game indicated that Davis’ role has shrunk.
- Davis: 20 snaps in the first three quarters, 4 carries, 1 target
- Patterson: 15 snaps, 4 carries, 2 targets
- Gallman: 11 snaps, 8 carries, 1 target
Don’t expect Gallman to completely take over as the lead back, as it’s telling that Davis didn’t play a single fourth-quarter snap with the backups after Matt Ryan left the game. Still, the leftover touches from Patterson should be enough for both backs to see double-digit combined carries and targets.
The Patriots are a bottom-five defense in receptions and yards allowed to the position, and this offense remains in dire need of competent pass-catchers. Tentatively treat both Davis and Gallman as RB3-types based on the potential for each to see 15 or so opportunities with the ball in their hands. I’ll still be answering most start/sit questions with the other option if it’s close, as this Falcons offense is implied to score a rather pedestrian 20.5 points.
It remains to be seen when Latavius Murray (ankle) will return. The Ravens released Bell on Tuesday.
Perhaps Freeman will retain his role as the starting back even once Murray is back. The ex-Falcons talent has been the group’s best option all season and still has some gas in the tank:
- PFF rushing grade: 80.7 (No. 10 among 74 backs with at least 25 carries)
- Yards per carry: 5.2 (No. 10)
- Yards after contact per carry: 2.4 (No. 58)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.23 (tied for No. 8)
- First down/touchdown rate: 30.2% (No. 8)
Up next is a Bears front-seven that is nearing full health with coach Matt Nagy “hoping” Khalil Mack (foot) will be able to return to the lineup Sunday. Ultimately, Freeman has earned borderline RB2 treatment thanks to a more cemented role out of the Ravens’ Week 8 bye, which has consisted of 30 combined carries and targets on season-high snap rates in back-to-back weeks. I’d try to refrain from starting either Freeman or Murray if the latter back is healthy enough to return this week. Ty’Son Williams would likely only have a few touches if Murray remains sidelined.
Breida was active for the first time since Week 2 and managed to find the end zone twice with his six touches on eight snaps.
It’s unclear if this will be a trend moving forward. Here are three possible scenarios:
- Perhaps the Bills wanted more versatility with Cole Beasley (ribs) limited to just nine total snaps.
- It was a chess move based on a matchup against the Jets’ rather atrocious run defense.
- The Bills wanted to somewhat ease Moss back into action after suffering a concussion in Week 9. This theory makes the least amount of sense to me, as nobody should be on the football field, even in a limited capacity, if their brain still needs time to recover. It’s not an ankle.
We can live with two-RB backfields in fantasy football land, as there are only so many workhorses still around in today’s NFL. Things get tricky when the group grows to three or four, particularly when the coaching staff seems content to use each fairly evenly all over the field. Breida led the way in targets despite Moss and Singletary running more routes while both of the latter backs scored touchdowns on goal-line carries. Throw in Josh Allen’s robust rushing role and tendency to not check the ball down, and you get a muddled fantasy backfield with three players nobody should be starting with any level of confidence.
The Colts join the Panthers, Saints and Bills as the only four defenses allowing fewer than 20 PPR points per game to opposing backfields. Try to avoid starting any party involved if Breida is again active while Moss would resume his status as a borderline RB2 if the backfield shrinks back down to two backs.
McCaffrey has ripped off PPR RB1, RB3 and RB4 finishes in his only three fully healthy games of 2021. Last year, he went for RB2, RB5 and RB2 performances. In 2019, CMC finished as a top-eight option at the position in all but two games.
When healthy, McCaffrey is arguably the best fantasy football player the game has ever seen. Only four running backs in the history of football have averaged at least 20 PPR points per game over the course of their career:
- McCaffrey (22.8 PPR points per game)
- Alvin Kamara (21.5)
- Jim Brown (20.8)
- LaDainian Tomlinson (20.3)
The reality that McCaffrey has scored just one touchdown all season shows just how fantasy-friendly his receiving role can be. There isn’t a more matchup-proof player in the game so fire up CMC as the top overall player in fantasy football against a Football Team defense that could begin to move from bad to horrendous without Chase Young‘s (ACL, IR) services.
Chicago Bears (from Week 9)
Coach Matt Nagy wasted no time handing Montgomery his full-time role back. Note that Damien Williams (knee) was ruled out before the game.
It’s 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: No. 21 in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields
- Week 12 at Lions: No. 30
- Week 13 vs. Cardinals: No. 13
- Week 14 at Packers: No. 9
- Week 15 vs. Vikings: No. 22
- Week 16 at Seahawks: No. 31
- Week 17 vs. Giants: No. 26
Neither Herbert nor Williams need to be rostered 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.
Cincinnati Bengals (from Week 9)
Mixon is the RB8 in PPR points per game after 10 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 (pre Week 10).
Credit to Mixon for functioning as PFF’s fourth-highest graded rusher (86.1) 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. Only the Chargers, Vikings and Jets have allowed more yards before contact per rush than the Raiders this season.
Johnson has ripped off PPR RB4 and RB6 finishes in his only two spot-starts this season. The Browns’ willingness to completely hand him the backfield in the absence of their other key backs makes him a solid bench stash while Kareem Hunt (calf, IR) remains out of the picture.
Still, it’s hard to expect much standalone value from Johnson with Chubb expected to be back in Week 11. They had the following usage in the first three quarters of their 41-16 pounding over the Bengals back in Week 9:
- Snaps: Chubb (20), Johnson (4)
- Carries: Chubb (9), Johnson (1)
- Targets: Chubb (2), Johnson (0)
Nobody has allowed more yards after contact per carry than the Lions (3.2), so it’s scary to think about what Chubb could be capable of putting up in this spot with enough opportunities. Lock him in as a top-12 option at the position while Johnson falls more into low-end RB3 territory with fellow-ace handcuffs Tony Pollard and Chuba Hubbard, who generally struggle to see enough usage to put up standalone value when their offense’s starter is fully healthy.