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 receive 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 14 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Chase Edmonds (ankle, IR) appears to be getting awfully close to being activated. His continued absence will be the difference in Conner continuing to function as a (wait for it) league-winning asset or just another upside RB2.
Conner has truly been nothing short of remarkable in five games as the Cardinals’ undisputed RB1:
- Week 9: PPR RB1
- Week 10: RB16
- Week 11: RB7
- Week 13: RB12
- Week 14: RB2
It’s possible Conner has simply played well enough to keep the job, especially considering the receiving production he’s managed to put on display recently. Still, monitoring whether or not Edmonds is activated by Sunday is important for the especially stacked rosters of the fantasy world.
Ultimately, the Cardinals are playing the Lions — only the Jets, Seahawks and Raiders have allowed more PPR points per game to opposing running backs. Even if Edmonds is active, Conner should find the end zone on at least one occasion, as nobody is implied to score more points than the Cardinals (30.5) this week. Try your hardest to squeeze him into starting lineups of all shapes and sizes while Edmonds is more of a low-floor FLEX due to potential volume concerns in a game that probably won’t require the Cardinals to keep their foot on the gas for 60 full minutes.
Patterson has found the end zone on 10 separate occasions this season and enters the fantasy playoffs as the RB10 in PPR points per game. However, the manner in which he’s put up numbers has changed in recent weeks.
- Patterson had double-digit carries on just two occasions prior to injuring his ankle in Week 10, and he’s ripped off rush attempt marks of 16, 13 and 16 over the past three weeks.
- Defenses were having all sorts of problems containing Patterson as a receiver early on, as he posted 5-58-1, 6-82-0, 5-82-3, 7-60-0, 5-37-1 and 6-126-0 receiving lines around three duds during the first 10 weeks of the year. Since returning from injury, he's recorded 2-27-0, 3-18-0 and 2-1-0 on a combined 13 targets. Not great.
- Davis' routes run over the last three weeks: 14, 29 and 16. Patterson: 14, 19 and 13.
The man has still produced PPR RB4, RB21 and RB17 finishes despite the change in workload but just realize he’s not exactly the same sort of PPR darling we saw during the first two months of the season.
This 49ers defense has been awfully good against the run this season, only allowing Jonathan Taylor (18-107-1), James Conner (21-96-2) and Aaron Jones (19-82-1) to surpass even 75 rushing yards on non-special teams aided production. I’m treating Patterson as more of a low-end RB2 this week due to his more traditional running back role of late while Davis is a sneaky-solid FLEX option for desperate rosters given that he’s handled at least eight touches in three consecutive games.
Freeman has managed to return RB2 value in six of his last eight games. Credit to the Packers for allowing the eighth-fewest PPR points per game to opposing running backs this season, but their underlying metrics against the run aren’t quite as good:
- Rush yards allowed per attempt: 4.5 (No. 23)
- Explosive run play rate allowed: 12.4% (No. 19)
- Rush yards before contact allowed per carry: 1.4 (No. 19)
The larger problem for Freeman and company might be Lamar Jackson‘s (ankle) absence, although Tyler Huntley also presents plenty of dual-threat ability to assist in the read-option game, and the potential for fewer designed quarterback runs would theoretically lead to more volume for Freeman. Note that Freeman turned in 16-49-1 rushing and 6-31-0 receiving lines during Huntley’s spot start in Week 11 against the Bears.
Freeman is one of just 11 running backs with triple-digit touches since the Ravens returned from their Week 8 bye so fire him up as a volume-based RB2 inside of this run-heavy attack. Murray (1-1-1 rushing last week) is nothing more than an annoying vulture at this point.
Josh Allen was the Bills’ RB1 last week, converting a season-high 12 carries into 109 yards and a score. The problem is that this led to Allen suffering a foot sprain — something that could feasibly lead to reduced volume in the near future.
This could lead to some sneaky fantasy-viable production from Singletary, who has dominated touches in this backfield in two of the last three weeks with the exception being the Bills’ fluky snow/wind game loss to the Patriots. I only say fluky because that game marked the only time in the last three weeks that Zack Moss was active.
The latter point is the difference between firing up Singletary as a borderline RB2 due to being the undisputed lead back of an offense implied to score 27 points or a low-ceiling RB3 due to a potentially muddled three-player committee. Neither Breida nor Moss has a high enough touch ceiling to warrant fantasy consideration — particularly in a less-than-great spot against the Panthers’ third-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position.
Hubbard managed to find the end zone last week, but his usage was not what fantasy managers wanted to see. This is especially true considering that matchup with the Falcons sure looked like the last chance we had to really feel confident about the Panthers experiencing anything resembling a positive game script:
- Week 15 at Bills (No. 11 in PPR points per game allowed to running backs)
- Week 16 vs. Buccaneers (No. 14)
- Week 17 at Saints (No. 1)
Ultimately, the Panthers offense has looked broke more times than not over the past three weeks, so Abdullah and Hubbard's ceiling is further reduced by the reality that Cam Newton (even when splitting reps) remains a nuisance whenever the offense gets close to the goal line.
Neither Abdullah nor Hubbard is more than a low-end RB3 option this week, so I’ll be answering the heavy majority of close start/sit questions with the other option. Nobody is implied to score fewer points than the Panthers (16.5).
Montgomery managed to put up a garbage-time aided RB16 encore to his blistering RB2 finish in Week 13. Obviously, fantasy points count the same in the first quarter as they do in the fourth but just realize he caught five passes in two drives where Chicago was trailing by multiple touchdowns with under five minutes left in the game.
Of course, this sort of “luck” is what can happen when someone is a clear-cut three-down workhorse. This has undoubtedly been Montgomery of late, as he’s posted 85%, 95%, 84%, 70% and most-recently 83% snap rates since returning from injury.
Up next is a Vikings defense that Montgomery personally teed off on to the tune of a 32-146-2 rushing line in Week 15 last season. Fire up one of fantasy’s few true featured backs as an upside RB1 in this borderline smash spot, as only the Jets and Steelers have allowed more yards before contact per carry than the Vikings.
Mixon’s touchdown streak finally came to an end in Week 14. Oh well, he is still the RB9 in PPR points per game and has only been out-scored by Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Leonard Fournette and Najee Harris on the season.
Yes, racking up the third-most touches in the league has certainly helped Mixon accumulate this gaudy production. Also yes, he is firmly inside of PFF’s top-five highest-graded rushers this season among 43 backs with at least 100 carries:
- Jonathan Taylor (89.8 PFF rushing grade)
- A.J. Dillon (89.2)
- Tony Pollard (88.6)
- Mixon (83.8)
- Damien Harris (82.7)
The Broncos have allowed the league’s seventh-fewest PPR points per game to opposing running backs, as playing in Mile High is rarely considered a good matchup for any opponent involved. Mixon has the sort of volume to continue to warrant matchup-proof auto-start treatment but just realize Perine’s involvement in the passing game lowers Mixon's floor here in expected tougher matchups on the ground. PFF projections currently pit him as the RB16.
Perine remains a sneaky-solid bench stash for rosters with room, as he’s an injury to Mixon away from being firmly inside fantasy’s top-20 options at the position himself. This is especially true for however long Chris Evans (ankle) remains sidelined.
Hunt is likely out for the Browns’ Saturday matchup against the Raiders due to an ankle injury. This means Johnson will see more work than usual but just realize this backfield was largely the Chubb show in two games without Hunt this season:
- Week 8: 16-61-0 rushing, 1-8-0 receiving
- Week 9: 14-137-2 rushing, 2-26-0 receiving
Don’t expect Chubb to flirt with a true every-down 80% snap rate, as he didn’t even clear 60% in his two full games with Hunt sidelined. Still, it might not take all that many touches for him to rack up some serious production against the Raiders’ 30th-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs.
Chubb is an auto-start RB1 for however long Hunt is sidelined while Johnson is nothing more than a borderline RB3 who had meager touch counts of five, eight and five in three extended appearances without Hunt. These rankings are purely driven by volume. Credit to Kevin Stefanski, this offensive line, and whatever the heck they’re putting in the water in this running back room because all three of these running backs have truly balled out all season.
A Javonte Williams tweet disguised as a Browns backfield tweet disguised as a Tony Pollard tweet disguised as a Rhamondre Stevenson tweet disguised as a Devin Singletary tweet disguised as an Elijah Mitchell tweet disguised as a Jonathan Taylor tweet. pic.twitter.com/e5rnfiX9E1
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 14, 2021