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 8 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Related content for you: Fantasy Football Week 9: 5 to Waiver Wire Add, 5 to Drop, 5 to Buy Low, 5 to Sell High via Nathan Jahnke
Edmonds snapped his league-high scoreless streak (97 touches) with an 11-yard jaunt against the Packers last Thursday night. As the RB28 in PPR points per game, Edmonds has been vultured far too often to produce weekly top-24 goodness, but his passing-game volume remains solid enough relative to most players at the position to continue to warrant borderline RB2 treatment.
The problem with criticizing Conner for stealing touchdowns every chance he gets is the reality that the ex-Steelers grinder is awfully good at what he does. Overall, Conner has converted six of his seven carries inside the five-yard line into scores — good for league-high marks in touchdown conversion rate (85.7%) and PFF rushing grade (79.5%).
Kyler Murray seemed to be all kinds of banged up by the end of Week 8. He’ll have had 10 days to get right by the time Sunday rolls around, but perhaps Edmonds and Conner will be leaned on a bit more often against the 49ers’ 31st-ranked defense in explosive run play rate allowed. Fire up Edmonds as a borderline RB2 in full point-per-reception (PPR) formats while Conner is more of a touchdown-dependent RB3.
It looked like Davis could be on his way out of the rotation after getting just four touches on a 60% snap rate in Week 7, but things were back to normal in Week 8. Credit to Patterson for functioning as the more-productive talent this season, but that doesn’t mean getting the ball to Davis a handful of times per game is a bad idea.
Mike Davis did some fun things in Week 8 pic.twitter.com/UX5a2qpEx1
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 1, 2021
Still, Patterson remains the preferred fantasy start out of this backfield. He’s been consistent this season, ripping off PPR RB36, RB4, RB19, RB1, RB16, RB19 and RB11 weekly finishes. As the RB7 in PPR points per game, Patterson has overachieved a bit given his standing as the RB13 in expected PPR points, but this Falcons offense should continue to feed him all the receiving work he can handle as long as Calvin Ridley (personal) remains sidelined.
It’s hard for a running back to bust with Patterson’s sort of ability as a receiver, as he’s one of just seven backs with at least 70 PPR points from purely receiving production this season:
- D'Andre Swift (100.5)
- Patterson (95.3)
- Austin Ekeler (81.2)
- Aaron Jones (80.7)
- Alvin Kamara (77.6)
- Najee Harris (76.3)
- J.D. McKissic (72.2)
The Saints’ brick wall of a front-seven has allowed the third-fewest PPR points per game to opposing backfields, so this isn’t the sort of spot to start Davis with any sort of high-end expectation. However, Patterson’s immense passing-game usage has made him a weekly upside RB2 at this point. Find a way to squeeze the kick return GOAT (not punts, just kicks, chill out Bears fans) into fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes.
Baltimore Ravens (from Week 7)
Latavius Murray (ankle) was out in Week 7. He’ll likely return to the top of the depth chart if healthy enough to suit up in Week 9, but even then, it’ll be a weekly battle to reach even 10 touches. This might be enough to provide some RB3 goodness inside of the Ravens’ eighth-ranked scoring offense but just realize there isn’t enough volume here to foster anything resembling a consistent high-end fantasy producer. Life with a mobile quarterback under center is usually rough for running backs as it is, and the reality that the Ravens are throwing the ball far more often in 2021 compared to 2018-2020 has further limited this backfield's volume.
None of Freeman, Bell nor Williams need to be rostered in most leagues, as the ceiling attached to each simply isn’t that high. Freeman would continue to be a touchdown-dependent RB3 if Murray remains sidelined.
Perhaps this week’s matchup against the Vikings’ 31st-ranked defense in rush yards before contact allowed per attempt will yield a blowup spot of sorts for Murray but just realize it’s going to take multiple scores for any running back in this offense to truly boom as long as 15-plus weekly touches remains a pipe dream for everyone involved.
Moss is the RB24 in PPR points per game this season, but the RB16 in expected points per game. The discrepancy is primarily due to life in an offense with Josh Allen, who has largely done nothing other than rack up scores on the ground since entering the league in 2018:
- Derrick Henry (55 rushing touchdowns since 2018)
- Todd Gurley (38)
- Alvin Kamara (37)
- Aaron Jones (36)
- Dalvin Cook (33)
- Nick Chubb (32)
- James Conner (30)
- Melvin Gordon (30)
- Ezekiel Elliott (29)
- Christian McCaffrey (28)
- Allen (28)
Luckily, there might be enough points to go around for everyone involved this week against the Jaguars’ 28th-ranked scoring defense. Nobody is implied to score more points than the Bills (31.5) this week so now is as good a time as ever to fire up Moss as a borderline RB2.
Devin Singletary remains one of the league’s silkier running backs in space but doesn’t have enough red zone or passing-game work to warrant fantasy consideration in most normal-sized leagues. He’s finished outside fantasy’s top-30 backs in five consecutive games.
Abdullah's presence certainly doesn’t help Hubbard’s overall upside, although the rookie is still getting more than enough usage to warrant weekly RB2 treatment. Overall, Hubbard joins Derrick Henry and Najee Harris as the only three backs with triple-digit touches since Week 4. The Panthers lack of a bye week during this stretch certainly inflates things, but he still ranks as the RB14 in expected PPR points per game during this stretch.
Volume is a helluva drug in fantasy land, and Hubbard could get even more on the way with Sam Darnold (concussion) not guaranteed to suit up this week. The Patriots’ top-eight defense in both explosive run play rate and yards before contact allowed per carry isn’t exactly a smash spot, but continue to fire up Hubbard as a volume-induced RB2 until Christian McCaffrey (hamstring, IR) returns to action.
Neither Abdullah nor Freeman are realistic fantasy options as clear-cut backups. They’d likely form a fairly evenly split committee if Hubbard were to miss any time.
Herbert has shown borderline erotic usage since being thrust into a marquee role with David Montgomery (knee, IR) sidelined:
- Week 5: 53% snaps, 18 rushes, 0 targets
- Week 6: 89% snaps, 19 rushes, 3 targets
- Week 7: 77% snaps, 18 rushes, 5 targets
- Week 8: 84% snaps, 23 rushes, 2 targets
Life inside of the Bears’ 31st-ranked scoring offense hasn’t done him any favors, as Herbert has still only posted RB40, RB11, RB8 and RB33 finishes during this stretch despite the world-class usage. Still, this sort of high-end volume can’t be ignored in fantasy land — even in a tough matchup this week against the Steelers’ sixth-ranked defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields.
It is worth noting Williams actually started ahead of Herbert in Week 8 before departing and not returning with a knee injury. Williams was fully healthy in Week 7 but could have possibly been eased back into action after not getting activated from the COVID-IR until the Saturday before kickoff. Tentatively fire up Herbert as an upside RB2 even if Williams is healthy enough to suit up but just realize there will be far more confidence in firing up Herbert as a top-15 option if Williams is ultimately sidelined.
Mixon has ripped off three separate top-four finishes this season while working as one of the league’s better pure rushers:
- PFF rushing grade: 85.4 (No. 4 among 47 qualified backs)
- Missed tackles forced on carries: 24 (tied for No. 5)
- Missed tackles forced per carry: 0.18 (tied for No. 24)
- Yards per carry: 4.2 (No. 28)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.3 (No. 11)
The “problem” in recent weeks has been Perine’s involvement in pass-first situations. He played all but one of the Bengals’ 11 third-down snaps in Week 7 before again seeing a majority of work on the money down in Week 8 (eight-of-10 snaps).
Mixon still racked up 19 combined carries and targets on an elite snap rate even with Perine siphoning away some fantasy-friendly passing-down work, as he’s a weekly top-12 option at the position, regardless. Still, the top-five ceiling that is truly on hand with a full three-down role might not come to fruition, as Chris Evans (hamstring) could work his way into the committee once healthy enough to suit up.
Running backs can’t take every snap, but the reality that Mixon’s passing-down work seems to be dwindling away makes him a solid sell-high candidate. Please don’t give away Mixon for free; keep him without an offer that truly blows you away.
The Browns boast the league’s fifth-ranked defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to backs, but Mixon has enough volume at this point to warrant weekly RB1 treatment regardless of the matchup. He joins Najee Harris, Jonathan Taylor, Darrell Henderson and Dalvin Cook as the only backs that PFF projects to see more than 20 touches in Week 9.
Chubb didn’t dominate usage in his first game back from a calf injury. His lack of work in the passing game makes sense when the other option is Kareem Hunt (calf, IR), but ceding so much work to Johnson is a bit perplexing. Yes, Johnson played great in his spot-start back in Week 7. Also yes, the Browns just agreed to pay Chubb $36 million over the next three years and have only felt comfortable throwing him the ball on six occasions in 2021.
The Browns have thrown the ball to Chubb 33 times since Week 1, 2020. He’s caught 28 of those targets for 266 yards and a score, dropping just two passes along the way. Overall, his 9.5-yard per reception is tied with Saquon Barkley for the third-highest mark among 67 qualified backs. Even if Chubb isn’t on Austin Ekeler’s level as a pure receiver, taking easy opportunities to get the beast into the open field should be prioritized while Hunt is sidelined.
This Browns offense has scored 17 or fewer points in four of their last five games. Chubb is more of a borderline RB1 with this sort of usage inside of a struggling offense. Hopefully, the volume increases in his second game back from injury. He’ll need it against the Bengals’ top-10 defense in both rush yards before and after contact allowed per carry.
Johnson isn’t anything more than a desperation FLEX with this kind of usage, as his Week 8 performance was only usable thanks to a 10-yard rushing score. Demetric Felton also saw a carry and target during his nine snaps of action. He’d work as the change-of-pace option behind Johnson if Chubb were to miss more time.