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
- Teams that are most open for a rookie back to thrive in 2021
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 both undervalued situations as well as teams that could theoretically enable a highly productive rookie running back.
Each back’s Week 4 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Conner continues to vulture away plenty of goal-line opportunities, but Edmonds’ robust usage in the passing game has been enough for him to work as the PPR RB13 through four weeks of action. Overall, only Najee Harris (34 targets) and D’Andre Swift (28) have more pass-game opportunities than Edmonds (22) among all running backs this season.
Nobody has more touches than Edmonds (63) without a score. Consider buying low on the Cardinals’ RB1, as the ceiling is the roof here if Conner ever misses time. Fire up Edmonds as a low-end RB2 against a 49ers defense that has allowed the fifth-highest rate of explosive runs this season. Conner remains a touchdown-dependent RB3.
It’s C-Patt’s world, and we’re all just living in it. The best kick returner ever (not counting punts, chill out Bears fans) has largely struggled to establish himself on offense over the years, but that’s changed through four weeks in Atlanta. Overall, only Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler have scored more PPR points than Patterson among all running backs while Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, Deebo Samuel and D.J. Moore are the only receivers with more fantasy points than the Falcons’ Swiss-army knife.
And yet, there probably won’t be a better time to sell high on Patterson than right now. Five touchdowns on 49 total touches is the definition of unsustainable. Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts should eventually emerge as this passing game’s one-two punch. It’d make sense if Patterson’s role continues to grow — the man is absolutely balling — but treating someone looking at 10-12 touches more weeks than not as anything more than a low-end RB2 is risky business.
Get Patterson in those starting lineups ahead of next Sunday’s date against the Jets. Davis isn’t a recommended start at this point with his job security looking awfully flimsy. Week 3 marked the first time all season Gallman was active, and he managed to rack up more than double Davis’ rushing yards (29 vs. 14) on less than half of the carries (6 vs. 13).
Ty’Son Williams was a healthy scratch in Week 4, paving the way for Murray to see his biggest role yet:
- Week 1: 31 % snaps, 10 carries, 0 targets
- Week 2: 36% snaps, 9 carries, 0 targets
- Week 3: 33% snaps, 7 carries, 0 targets
- Week 4: 63% snaps, 18 carries, 0 targets
Of course, Murray isn’t the world’s most fantasy-friendly back because he doesn't have a semblance of a pass-game floor, but he’s at least established as the lead running back in the NFL’s perennial most run-heavy offense.
Don’t be afraid to throw a large chunk of FAB on Murray during this week’s waiver wire cycle if he’s available, as it’s tough to find backs capable of racking up 15-plus rush attempts available on the open market. Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for more thoughts on the Week 5 waiver wire.
There’s always a chance Bell or Freeman get more involved as the season goes on, particularly if Murray’s 3.4 yards per carry does not improve at some point. Still, the veteran grinder has earned borderline RB2 treatment ahead of this week’s tough matchup against a Colts defense that is one of just nine units to allow fewer than 20 PPR points per game to opposing backfields.
Moss posted a solid 14-61-1 rushing line in Week 4 and was a better ball away from finding the end zone again as a receiver. As the PPR RB24 despite not playing in Week 1, Moss has made the most out of his opportunities on the ground and through the air all year, emerging as a more than viable flex regardless of the matchup as the primary red-zone back inside of the league’s second-ranked scoring offense. Overall, Moss has out-snapped Singletary 22 to seven inside the 10-yard line through four weeks.
Fire up the Bills’ second-year back as an upside RB3 at worst against the Chiefs’ 28th-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. Singletary is a fine enough flex option considering he’s had at least 12 touches in every game this season but just realize most of the fantasy-friendly receiving and goal-line work is going Moss’ way at the moment.
Not great, Bob. Hubbard performed admirably enough against the Cowboys, but this clearly isn’t the sort of usage that Mike Davis saw while backing up Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) throughout 2020. Fantasy managers can live with two-RB backfields, as there are only a handful of true every-down workhorses these days. When things expand to three and four backs, it gets a bit more complicated and tough to feel true RB1 confidence.
Good news for Hubbard this week: He’s the established lead early-down back as a home favorite against an Eagles defense that has had a tough time slowing down anyone on the ground in recent weeks.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 14 rush attempts-102 yards-0 TD
- Ezekiel Elliott: 17-95-2
- Tony Pollard: 11-60-0
- Cordarrelle Patterson: 7-54-0
- Darrel Williams: 10-42-1
Hubbard is still a solid every-week starter as a low-end RB2, but the RB1 pipe dream is over unless Smith disappears from the equation.
Montgomery’s 23-106-2 performance against the Lions came with a price, as the third-year talent is expected to miss four to five weeks with a sprained knee. It’s great news that the issue isn’t of the season-ending variety, but D-Mont will be on the sideline for the foreseeable future.
This opens the door for Williams to work as the Bears’ near every-down back. Herbert’s involvement at the end of Week 4 could have been skewed by Chicago holding a multi-score lead over the Lions. I’m tentatively expecting Williams to see the sort of near every-down workload that Montgomery had in Week 2 (80% snaps) and Week 4 (82%).
Blowing 100% of your FAB on someone who could very well be back to the bench this time next month isn’t advised, but obtaining Williams is akin to landing an upside RB2 at the moment. I’d comfortably spend up to 50% of the remaining budget to acquire his services. Herbert is a solid speculative addition in deeper leagues. Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for complete thoughts on Williams and the rest of the Week 5 waiver wire.
The Raiders have allowed the seventh-most PPR points per game to opposing running backs this season. Find a way to squeeze Williams in starting lineups of most shapes and sizes as a projected three-down back with plus ability in the passing game.
The injury bug has hit Mixon, as his low-grade sprained ankle leaves him either week to week (per Adam Schefter) or day to day (per coach Zac Taylor) depending on who you ask. I lean toward trusting Schefter, as Taylor is a bit infamous at this point for giving essentially zero injury updates on his players.
This leaves Perine and Evans to split most of the work, and the former back is the heavy favorite to soak up most of Mixon’s leftover early-down work. The passing game is where things get a bit trickier, although the reality that the Bengals haven’t asked Evans to work as a pass blocker on even one snap this season is telling. In fact, Evans has lined up in the slot or out wide on seven of his nine routes this season.
Don’t be surprised if Evans is featured in this latter role with more regularity during Mixon’s potential absence, as the rookie was praised throughout training camp and the preseason for his ability in the passing game.
Expecting Samaje Perine to get majority of work if Joe Mixon (ankle) is sidelined. Definitely lead early-down guy and has worked ahead of Chris Evans in pass-pro + RB routes.
With that said: Evans' upside pretty high if role expands. Receiving ability ????pic.twitter.com/yEBkYOBffE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 5, 2021
Perine shouldn’t be prioritized ahead of Damien Williams or Latavius Murray in this week’s waiver wire run but just realize you could do worse than land an expected lead back who is looking at 15-plus carries and targets per week. Fire up Perine as a low-end RB2 ahead of back-to-back great matchups against the Packers and Lions.
The Browns truly have an embarrassment of riches in their backfield:
- PFF rushing grade: Hunt (No. 7 among 46 qualified backs), Chubb (No. 11)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: Hunt (No. 2), Chubb (No. 6)
- Yards per carry: Hunt (No. 5), Chubb (No. 8)
- Yards after contact per carry: Hunt (No. 2), Chubb (No. 5)
Both backs stand out as outliers in terms of their ability to make the most out of their opportunities.
Running backs yards after contact + missed tackles forced per carry ranks (PFF)
-Up: Better at YAC/rush
-Right: Better at MTF/rush
-Up and right: Beast at both
-Down and left: Struggling at both
Note: this is from rush attempts only, no receiving work counts. pic.twitter.com/3sSS2kOh2p
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 5, 2021
Hunt (PPR RB8) and Chubb (RB11) have each returned RB1 production through four weeks, and both have the opportunity to keep it going against a Chargers defense that is typically content to let its opponents run the ball to their heart’s desire. Overall, only the Broncos have faced fewer rush attempts with at least eight defenders in the box than the Chargers this season.