The fantasy football championship is here. Prepare accordingly.
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 16 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
James Conner‘s (heel) absence led to Edmonds working as the team's No. 1 running back, as no other running back surpassed the 90% snap threshold on the week. Overall, Edmonds worked as the week’s PPR RB6 behind stellar 16 carries-56 rush yards-1 TD rushing and 8 receptions-71 receiving yards-0 TD receiving lines.
Both Edmonds and Conner are good enough to be locked in as top-12 options at the position when one is sidelined, but things get a bit trickier when both are involved. The good news is that there might be enough scoring to go around this week, as Cardinals-Cowboys (51.5) is the highest game total of Week 17. It won’t be easy racking up yardage against Micah Parsons and the Cowboys’ third-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs, but something in the range of 15 combined carries and targets remains tough to fade for anybody inside of the league’s 10th-ranked scoring offense.
I lean Edmonds over Conner this week due to the former’s superior health and passing-down role in a contest that could produce some rare negative game script with the Cardinals sitting as five-point underdogs at the time of this writing. Still, both backs are best approached as low-end RB2s if each is active. It’s tough to expect the moon inside of a multi-back committee when the quarterback at hand is also expected to eat into the rushing share.
It should be illegal to only feed Patterson eight touches in the year 2021. Alas, the Falcons have been willing to keep Davis plenty involved in recent weeks. The following total denotes Patterson and Davis’ usage across five games since the former back returned from injury in Week 12:
- Snaps: Patterson (156); Davis (152)
- Carries: Patterson (62); Davis (33)
- Targets: Patterson (15); Davis (16)
During this stretch, Patterson has worked as the PPR RB11, and Davis as the RB32, so it’s not like the timeshare has rendered Patterson as a non-viable fantasy option, but the ceiling is certainly lower than what we saw earlier in the season.
Up next is a Bills defense that has struggled against handful of running backs on the ground this season:
- Jonathan Taylor (32-185-4)
- Derrick Henry (20-143-3)
- Leonard Fournette (19-113-1)
- Damien Harris (10-111-1, 18-103-3)
Fire up Patterson as more of a mid-tier RB2 who doesn’t need to be forced into fantasy lineups now that 20-plus touches are more of a pipe dream than a certainty these days. Davis remains nothing more than a ‘hate yourself’ FLEX inside of the Falcons’ 25th-ranked scoring offense.
This backfield continues to be much more split than it was during November and the early parts of December. Credit to Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson for keeping the ship afloat in recent weeks with Lamar Jackson (ankle) sidelined, but this is still an offense that hasn’t touched 400 total yards in a game since Week 9. The floor and ceiling alike for both Freeman and Murray remain low, particularly with all three Ravens signal-callers qualifying as dual-threat quarterbacks to varying extents.
Over the past three weeks, neither Freeman (PPR RB22, RB60, RB27) nor Murray (RB36, RB45, RB56) has done enough to warrant anything more than touchdown-dependent RB3 usage. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I’ll be answering the majority of start/sit questions involving a Ravens running back with the other guy. There’s just too much uncertainty with both the offense’s overall firepower and each back’s touch ceiling to fire up either with any level of confidence against Aaron Donald and company.
Matt Breida was inactive for this one, but that didn’t stop Singletary from continuing to dominate Buffalo's backfield usage. He’s posted the following usage in five games since the Bills were drubbed by the Colts:
- Week 12: 68% snaps, 15-44-0 rushing, 1-4-0 receiving
- Week 13: 48% snaps, 10-36-0 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving
- Week 14: 82% snaps, 4-52-0 rushing, 6-37-0 receiving
- Week 15: 93% snaps, 22-86-1 rushing, 1-10-0 receiving
- Week 16: 68% snaps, 12-39-1 rushing, 5-39-0 receiving
The first two performances demonstrate that Singletary is hardly guaranteed to put up monster numbers even with a lead-back role in an offense that regularly features Josh Allen as a rusher near the goal line, but the latter three games produced PPR RB14, RB7 and most recently RB10 finishes in fantasy land.
Allen is too involved as a rusher and anti-checkdown to fire up Singletary as a legit RB1, but he’s still a recommended start against the Falcons’ bottom-10 defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. The Bills could certainly see plenty of positive game script considering their status as 14.5-point home favorites, as nobody is implied to score more points (29.5) on the week. Singletary is a comfortable RB2 play who should be in fantasy lineups of most shapes and sizes ahead of this borderline dream spot.
Abdullah could have had a pair of receiving touchdowns last week with better balls from Sam Darnold and Cam Newton. Alas, neither target was catchable, and Bonnafon's presence further reduced Hubbard and Abdullah's touch count.
Hubbard has posted PPR RB29, RB51 and RB80 finishes since the Panthers lost Christian McCaffrey (ankle, IR). Abdullah snuck in an RB11 finish in Week 15, but that was sandwiched between RB40 and RB49 duds. They’re both nothing more than low-end RB3 options in a backfield that also figures to include plenty of Newton near the goal line. The matchup is also hardly ideal against a Saints defense that ranks as a top-three unit in both rushing yards and scores allowed to opposing running backs. Ultimately, only the Falcons (15 points) and Jaguars (13.25) are implied to score fewer points than the Panthers (15.5) this week. Nobody from this offense should be prioritized in fantasy land.
Montgomery returned from injury in Week 9. Since then, he ranks seventh in total carries (114) and fifth in targets (36) among all running backs, as the Bears have continued to treat ‘Frankenstein’ as a true three-down back largely regardless of the game script.
And why not? It’s pretty clear that Montgomery is the least of this offense’s problems.
David Montgomery looking like a combination of Saquon Barkley, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and Sony Michel. pic.twitter.com/Z3kbBOXerH
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 27, 2021
Montgomery has ripped off PPR RB2, RB16, RB17 and RB7 performances over the past four weeks and is locked in as a volume-based and game-script-proof RB1. The Bears’ atrocious offense hasn’t done much right this season, but it has proven capable of enabling Montgomery to great heights even when severely falling behind on the scoreboard, something that might not be an issue for once against the Giants at Soldier Field. It’s not every week that you get a chance to fire up Montgomery as a six-point home favorite, so he needs to be in fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes.
Mixon found the end zone twice in the Bengals’ Week 16 demolition over the Ravens, demonstrating some tantalizing receiving ability along the way.
Joe Burrow doing Jedi shit pic.twitter.com/JvEjS70YyB
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 27, 2021
There have never been any doubts about Mixon’s ability to work as a three-down running back, but the problem over the years has been Giovani Bernard and Perine's (in recent weeks) consistent presence in obvious passing situations.
The performance leaves Mixon as the overall PPR RB3 on the season. He’s the RB4 on a per-game basis, so your team must be beyond loaded to even consider benching the Bengals’ featured back in Week 17 against the Chiefs. Yes, Kansas City does boast the league’s fifth-ranked scoring defense. Also yes, it has generally struggled to control the line of scrimmage all year long. Overall, only the Vikings, Giants, Cowboys and Steelers have allowed more yards before contact per carry than the Chiefs.
Kareem Hunt (ankle) has been activated from the COVID list, but coach Kevin Stefanski said the lingering ankle injury would have held Hunt out of Week 16 anyway. There’s far too much uncertainty surrounding Hunt’s health to treat him as anything more than a low-floor RB3 if active. Chubb figures to lead the way regardless, and there’s no way of knowing how far below 100 percent the ex-Chiefs’ talent could be by Monday night.
The good news is that Chubb has the potential to go off against the Steelers’ league-worst defense in yards before contact allowed per carry. It’s annoying that the Browns haven’t taken the Colts approach with their best offensive threat, but he’s still racked up at least 20 touches in four of his five games since returning from injury.
Don’t expect too many scoring opportunities inside of an offense that has surpassed 24 points on exactly one occasion since Week 5, but Chubb should still be fired up as a low-end RB1 at worst regardless of whether or not Hunt winds up suiting up. Johnson isn’t a realistic fantasy option due to his sub-five touch floor.