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 who are 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 12 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Arizona Cardinals (from Week 11)
Conner has posted PPR RB1, RB16 and RB7 finishes on 26, 14 and 27 opportunities in three games with Chase Edmonds (ankle, IR) sidelined. There’s simply too much scoring upside here to truly fade Conner even once Edmonds returns. Overall, he’s scored on eight of his 11 carries inside the five-yard line and figures to continue to function as the primary touchdown scorer inside of the league’s fifth-ranked offense for the remainder of the season.
The Bears have been an average-to-good run defense for most of the season but just realize this is a different front-seven without Khalil Mack‘s (foot, IR) services. Start Conner in fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes with Edmonds inactive for at least another week. Both backs will settle in as quality lower-end RB2 plays once each is healthy enough to suit up.
Patterson was the single-most efficient rusher in Week 12 in terms of rushing yards over expectation. And yet, it’s been his receiving ability has truly separated him from the rest of the league’s running backs. C-Patt owns PFF’s highest receiving grade (93.8) through 12 weeks, and nobody has averaged more yards per route run (3.13).
His fantasy production from purely receiving is among the elite at the position:
- Austin Ekeler (140.3 PPR points from purely receiving production)
- Patterson (121)
- D’Andre Swift (110.9)
- Najee Harris (99.1)
- J.D. McKissic (94.7)
Patterson is sixth in PPR points per game among running backs and seventh among wide receivers. Whatever your fantasy league designates the 30-year-old talent’s position as, continue to start him with confidence — even against the Buccaneers’ league-best defense in yards before contact allowed per carry.
Davis’ enhanced usage was a result of Qadree Ollison (illness) being inactive. Stay away from the rest of this group, as none have a high enough ceiling as the emergency lead back to warrant a bench spot.
Freeman continues to work well ahead of Murray as the Ravens’ lead back. He’s turned in PPR RB23, RB21, RB11, RB30, RB9 and most recently RB37 finishes in this role. The Ravens have been content enough with Freeman to feed the veteran at least 14 combined carries and targets in four consecutive games. He’s carved out a borderline RB2 standing in fantasy land the rest of the way.
Of course, it’s Lamar Jackson’s world and we’re all just living in it. Having to share a backfield with the most run-heavy quarterback in NFL history will always present some volume problems for the involved running backs. The position’s single-season record holders in terms of raw rush attempts:
- 2021 Jackson (on pace for 197 rush attempts)
- 2019 Jackson (176)
- 2021 Jalen Hurts (on pace for 174 rush attempts)
- 2020 Jackson (159)
- 2018 Jackson (147)
Up next is a Steelers defense that has been thrashed in three consecutive weeks by D’Andre Swift (PPR RB15), Austin Ekeler (RB2) and Joe Mixon (RB2). Fire up Freeman with confidence while Murray is nothing more than a bench stash/desperation FLEX.
Zack Moss was a healthy scratch for the Bills’ Thanksgiving night win over the Saints. This resulted in Singletary handling a season-high 16 touches but just realize this went hand in hand with the Bills winning by 25 points and getting to play with an extremely positive game script for most of the evening.
Ultimately, Singletary has finished inside fantasy’s top-20 backs in just one week this season. Credit to Breida for accomplishing that task in two of the last three weeks, but that’s going to be awfully difficult to keep up with this sort of minuscule usage.
Life continues to not be of the fantasy-friendly variety for everyone involved with Josh Allen under center. Overall, the Bills' running backs rank 31st in carries and 26th in rush attempts inside the five-yard line. They’re just 19th in targets on the year, as Allen is usually more content to take off on his own or launch the ball downfield as opposed to checking it down.
Monday night’s matchup against the Patriots figures to produce a less positive game script compared to what we saw last week. Tentatively treat both Singletary and Breida as middling RB3 types as long as Moss remains a healthy scratch but just realize the only consistency in this backfield through 12 weeks has been a general presence of inconsistency, which has stymied the fantasy value of all three running backs involved.
McCaffrey (ankle, IR) is done for the season. Pain.
On the one hand, Hubbard is the preferred fantasy option moving forward. He handled 16, 15, 30, 19, 17 and 26 combined carries and targets in Weeks 3-8, returning three top-24 PPR finishes along the way.
On the other, Hubbard accomplished this without Abdullah in the equation for all but two weeks. Alexander Mattison handcuff connoisseurs are already familiar with how annoying Abdullah can be as a passing-down specialist capable of seizing control of the backfield when the game script goes south.
This latter scenario could be awfully persistent down the stretch for the Panthers, as their end-of-season schedule is truly brutal.
- Week 13: Bye
- Week 14: Falcons
- Week 15: Bills
- Week 16: Buccaneers
- Week 17: Saints
- Week 18: Buccaneers
Walk, don’t run, to the waiver wire to scoop up Hubbard. He profiles as more of a low-end RB2 as opposed to a league-winning RB1 (like Mattison) down the stretch. Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for more thoughts on Hubbard and the rest of the week’s top potential waiver wire additions.
Montgomery has played over 80% of the offense’s snaps with 15-plus touches in each of his three games since returning from injury. The problem is that the third-year back hasn’t found the end zone since Week 4, as there aren’t exactly copious scoring opportunities available inside of the league’s 29th-ranked scoring offense.
It's not going to get any easier in Week 13 but just realize Montgomery is impossible to fade with this sort of workload. At a minimum, he’ll provide some fantasy goodness during the playoffs:
- Week 13: Cardinals (No. 13 in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs)
- Week 14: Packers (No. 9)
- Week 15: Vikings (No. 23)
- Week 16: Seahawks (No. 31)
- Week 17: Giants (No. 28)
Montgomery is a volume-based RB2 this week with potential RB1 finishes waiting for him down the stretch. Herbert remains the preferred handcuff, but he doesn’t carry any level of standalone value and doesn’t need to be rostered in most standard-sized redraft leagues.
Mixon has scored multiple touchdowns in three straight games and sits as the RB5 in PPR points per game after 12 weeks of action. Obviously, volume has helped matters, as only Najee Harris (248 touches), Jonathan Taylor (245) and Derrick Henry (237) have more combined carries and receptions than Mixon (234) this season. Still, he’s been anyone’s idea of a great on a per-carry basis this season.
- PFF rushing grade: 86.4 (No. 4 among 57 qualified backs)
- Yards per carry: 4.4 (No. 23)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.3 (No. 10)
The Bengals seem to be getting hot at the right time, and this week’s matchup against the Chargers shouldn’t do much to cool down their stud starting running back. Only the Jets, Seahawks, Lions, Raiders and Giants have allowed more PPR points per game to opposing backfields than the Chargers, so Mixon deserves to be treated as the top-five fantasy option he’s largely been all season long in this smash spot.
An injury to Mixon would elevate Perine to lead-back status, but he’d be more of a low-end RB2 due to Evans’ emergence as a receiver. Neither possesses any sort of standalone value, making them non-essential bench stashes.
The Browns truly have three of the game’s best running backs in terms of the ability to break tackles and pick up yards after contact.
RB ranks in missed tackled forced + yards after contact per carry (PFF, min. 50 carries, RUSH ONLY)
Further left: Not gaining many yards after contact
Further right: Dragging dudes all day every day
Further down: Not making dudes miss all that often
Further up: Getting schwifty pic.twitter.com/yz2qvRRUrY
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 30, 2021
Hopefully, Baker Mayfield will be somewhat decent down the stretch in an effort to elevate this offense to greater heights following the Browns’ Week 13 bye. Overall, the Browns have scored 14 or fewer points in six games since September ended — no other NFL team has more than five.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the team expects Elliott (knee) to have a “serious load” against the Saints.
Elliott remains an every-week starter in fantasy land even if nothing changes. Yes, it’d be nice if he once again returned consistent RB1 production on the back of consistent 20-plus touch workloads. Also yes, Elliott has still managed to rip off PPR RB10, RB17 and RB15 performances over the last three weeks on the back of three scores. There will continue to be plenty of fantasy-friendly red zone opportunities inside of the league’s second-ranked scoring offense even if Pollard stays involved.
The Saints are hardly the sort of get-right spot Elliott could use, as they’ve allowed a league-low 19 PPR points per game to opposing backfields. Still, he’s an upside RB2 at worst thanks to the potential that he falls into the end zone from the goal line at least once. Pollard is more of an RB3/FLEX type who doesn’t need to be forced into starting lineups by any stretch in this tough matchup. However, he’ll instantly vault into the position’s top-five options if Elliott is ever forced to miss any action.