News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Taking stock of every NFL backfield ahead of Week 1

NFL depth charts are always in a constant state of flux due to transactions, injuries, performance and at-times questionable coaching decisions. The RB 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.

What follows is a breakdown of each team's backfield ahead of Week 1 in order to better determine:

  • Offenses that are featuring a single workhorse
  • Fantasy-friendly committee backfields
  • Situations that fantasy football owners should avoid

This isn't a full depth chart listing; I'm not concerned about special teams RBs or guys that will be lucky to play more than an offensive snap or two come gametime. Rather, the goal here is to get an early idea of the league's various committee situations in an effort to see undervalued backfields. We’ll also take a quick look at Week 1 matchups with some DraftKings notes.

Each back’s projected Week 1 snap rate is listed next to his name in parenthesis. Note that the snap rates denote total snaps, so teams with a dual-threat RB/WR like Austin Ekeler or Tarik Cohen will have a total percentage higher than 100% since those backs typically spend a solid chunk of time lined up in the slot or out wide.

Arizona Cardinals

Notes: This was a one-RB backfield in 2019, regardless of who the starter happened to be:

  • Week 1: David Johnson (86% snaps)
  • Week 2: Johnson (60%)
  • Week 3: Johnson (87%)
  • Week 4: Johnson (86%)
  • Week 5: Johnson (69%)
  • Week 6: Johnson (75% – injured)
  • Week 7: Edmonds (94%)
  • Week 8: Edmonds (61% – injured)
  • Week 9: Drake (84%)
  • Week 10: Drake (64%)
  • Week 11: Drake (90%)
  • Week 12: Bye
  • Week 13: Drake (79%)
  • Week 14: Drake (66%)
  • Week 15: Drake (75%)
  • Week 16: Drake (81%)
  • Week 17: Drake (96%)

Overall, Drake worked as the PPR RB4 during Weeks 9-17. The man is a beast.

The verdict regarding Drake’s walking boot seems to be positive. Per coach Kliff Kingsbury, “It's just some normal nicks and bruises, normal camp stuff. It's just kind of precautionary with him, knowing what he'll be able to do.”

It remains to be seen if Drake will again have a near every-down role in 2020, but that’s his proven ceiling inside of this offense. Edmonds remains a fantastic fantasy value considering his status as one of around four backup RBs that would theoretically assume a true three-down role if their team’s starter misses time. And if this winds up being more of a split backfield? Even better for Edmonds’ investors.

The 49ers were better against the pass than the run in 2019, but they still finished the season as the third-most stingy defense in PPR per game allowed to opposing RBs. This is never a matchup to target, regardless of the position.

DFS notes: Drake is plenty affordable at $6,400. He’s a prime GPP target considering the likelihood that Miles Sanders ($6,300) receives the bulk of the public’s attention in his superior matchup.

Atlanta Falcons

Notes: This has been a backfield that has historically kept multiple RBs involved. Sure, both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were given featured roles when the other was injured, but Freeman played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in just 14 of 36 games (39%) with Coleman and/or Smith healthy compared to 13 of 15 games (87%) with the Falcons’ backup RB injured.

Early reports from training camp don’t paint the picture that Gurley is poised for a bounce-back campaign.

  • One source familiar with Gurley from his days with the Rams told ESPN, “He can’t put his foot in the dirt and go like the old Todd Gurley, but he could still be a productive back.”
  • During the early phases of the Falcons’ acclimation period, Gurley walked with a noticeable limp and wore a compression sock on his left leg.

It’s unclear who will break out from the pack of backups, but either way don’t expect Gurley to flirt with the same sort of 80%-plus snap role that he had with the Rams.

It’s probably wiser for opponents to attack the Seahawks’ front-seven than their secondary. Still, the combination of mystery surrounding Gurley’s 1) 2020 health/ability, and 2) Workload, makes this a spot I’m not actively looking to target.

DFS notes: Gurley is one of the cheaper starting RBs at $6,100. Still, literally every RB priced ahead of him has better projected volume and is likely a superior talent in the year 2020.

Baltimore Ravens

Notes: The Ravens kept all three of their RBs fairly involved last season:

  • Ingram: 15.4 combined carries and targets per game, 46% snap rate
  • Edwards: 8.8, 36%
  • Justice Hill: 4.1, 17%

Ultimately, the Ravens’ promising 2019 fourth-round pick doesn’t figure to get consistent touches after the team spent a second-round pick on their top-ranked RB Dobbins. The problem is that it’s unlikely Edwards is completely benched in a similar manner; his average of 5.3 yards per carry is the top mark among 40 RBs with at least 200 rush attempts since 2018.

Ingram should continue to lead the way in 2020, but Dobbins is going to eat into his pass-down work more than Edwards, and it’s unlikely the veteran RB converts 15 of 228 touches into scores again. It wouldn’t be shocking if Dobbins eventually supplants Ingram atop the depth chart; either way don’t expect this to ever be a situation in 2020 where the offense leans on just one back.

The Ravens’ juggernaut of a run game is pretty much matchup proof: Their average of 2.5 yards before contact per rush in 2019 was the third-highest mark among any offense over the past five seasons. Lamar Jackson and company are as matchup proof as any offense in the league. 

DFS notes: Both Mark Ingram ($5,500) and J.K. Dobbins ($5,000) are in play as cheaper options at the RB position that still boast plenty of scoring upside. The former player in particular could be a solid low-owned option considering the public’s tendency to overrate early-season impact from rookies.

Buffalo Bills

Notes: Singletary emerged as a reliable three-down back as a rookie and played at least 65% of the offense's snaps in every game that he wasn't either injured in, or was just returning from a layoff. He worked as the PPR RB18 during Weeks 7-16.

Still, Frank Gore’s departure was met by the selection of Moss, who has the potential to not only gain Gore’s early-down work but *also* steal some of Singletary’s target share.

Ultimately, it’s tough to expect much of a ceiling from either RB as long as their QB remains one of the most-productive vultures in the league. Only Todd Gurley (29), Derrick Henry (28), Aaron Jones (24), Christian McCaffrey (22), Alvin Kamara (19), Ezekiel Elliott (18) and Melvin Gordon (18) have more rushing scores than Josh Allen (17) over the past two seasons. Allen and Gore combined for 29 rush attempts inside the 10-yard line last season; Singletary had three.

An injury to either SIngletary or Moss would lead to T.J. Yeldon being active on game days. Until then, it seems likely that both backs flirt with around 10-15 opportunities per game that don’t figure to be of the fantasy-friendly variety. I’m refraining from putting much stock into this backfield at the moment until a true leader emerges.

The Jets boasted the league’s second-best defense in rush DVOA last season, but the absence of LB C.J. Mosley and S Jamal Adams could leave them among the NFL’s worst overall defenses. Still, the uncertainty surrounding touches, combined with week-low game total, makes me hesitant in treating either back as anything more than a RB3.

DFS notes: Training camp reports would imply that the disparity in price between Singletary ($5,400) and Moss ($4,400) is far too wide. The latter back is clearly the better value, although rostering RBs with around a 15-touch ceiling isn’t typically all that good for fantasy business.

Carolina Panthers

Notes: CMC posted an out-of-this-world 93% snap rate in 2019 on his way to putting together one of the greatest fantasy seasons we've ever seen. Overall, only 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson (481.1) racked up more PPR in a single season than McCaffrey (471.2). The man averaged a full six (!!!) PPR more than the next highest-scoring skill-position player in 2019.

The receiving floor here is what makes McCaffrey's production so absurd. He has two seasons with at least 100 receptions; every other RB in NFL history has combined for three-such seasons. CMC finished 2019 with more PPR from receiving production than all but 12 other players.

It remains to be seen what new head coach Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady will bring to the table. There's a chance that we see the offense's various talented WRs get more involved in a quick-hitting passing attack led by Teddy Bridgewater, but this expected scheme also sets up nicely for McCaffrey to once again see all the check-downs he can handle.

Good for Davis on beating out Reggie Bonnafon for the backup job, but expecting more than a touch or two per week is probably wishful thinking. This is particularly true in this week’s matchup against a Raiders team that the Panthers should be able to keep pace with. The league’s second-worst defense in overall DVOA from a season ago deserves to be targeted in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes. 

DFS notes: $10,000 is certainly a steep price to pay, but CMC was regularly priced above the 10k mark from Week 9 on in 2019. Incredibly, McCaffrey surpassed his salary-based expectation in six of nine games with a five-digit salary last season (per FantasyLabs).

Chicago Bears

Notes: The only real change the Bears made to their backfield was getting the NFL’s all-time leading rusher in yards per carry, Patterson, more involved in offseason RB meetings. It seems likely we get similar splits as last season, although it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears tap the breaks on their Cohen experiment. The 5-foot-6 and 179-pound RB set career-low marks in yards per carry (3.3) and yards per target (4.4) in 2019.

Another 250-plus touches seem more than reasonable for Montgomery in 2020 assuming his groin strain doesn’t result in missed time. This number, like most statistical thresholds, is fairly arbitrary, but there has been a strong history of success from players that manage to reach this “milestone.” Overall, only nine out of 153 RBs with at least 250 touches in a season failed to finish better than the PPR RB24. Yes, 2019 featured three of those players in Montgomery himself, Carlos Hyde and Sony Michel, but the potential for the Bears' featured back to continue to improve his efficiency and pass-game role adds a bit more of a ceiling for 2020.

However, the Week 1 potential for everyone involved is painstakingly low. Practice reports should give us a better idea of Montgomery’s availability, but their decision to not add any sort of real competition to the backfield adds credence to the idea that he’ll be active in some fashion come Sunday. I’m taking a hands-off approach to this backfield until we have some sort of idea on 1) Montgomery’s health, and 2) The backfield’s general pecking order.

DFS notes: Patterson ($3,400) is listed as a WR. Sad! He’s a cost-saving dart throw unlikely to reach 10 combined targets and carries. Cohen ($4,900) has a higher receiving floor than pretty much any back priced under $5,000 and could feasibly take on a bit more work in the run game if Montgomery is unable to suit up. I’m still generally refraining from having much exposure to anyone involved in this crowded and low-ceiling run game. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Notes: Mixon played more than 70% of the offense’s snaps in just three of 16 games in 2019, but the coaching staff did start to feed their workhorse back more and more touches as the season went on. The rising fourth-year back narrowly out-targeted Bernard 45 to 43 on the season. Mixon is plenty capable of handling a larger receiving load; it just remains to be seen if the Bengals will pump the brakes on using their longtime scat back. Either way, expect another 300-plus touches for Mixon with good health.

Mixon finished 2018 and 2019 as the PPR RB10 and RB13, respectively, despite splitting plenty of snaps with Gio and operating behind one of the league's worst offensive lines. The addition of Joe Burrow, combined with the return of 2019 first-round OT Jonah Williams, should help both Mixon's touchdown equity and efficiency.

It’s unclear how this backfield would unfold if Mixon were to miss time due to a holdout or injury. Gio was trusted as the three-down RB under previous coaching staffs, but the presence of Williams makes a 20-plus touch role unlikely if disaster strikes. He’s outside of my top-five handcuffs entering 2020.

The Chargers were a bottom-12 defense in fewest PPR per game allowed to opposing RBs in 2019; just realize the league’s “bad” run defenses aren’t always worth targeting. Attacking weak pass defenses has been much more predictable (for fantasy) than perceived bad run defenses based on the correlations between rank in fantasy points allowed to a position and that defense’s corresponding pass/run funnel rank:

  • QB: +0.76
  • RB: +0.13
  • WR: +0.65
  • TE: +0.35

DFS notes: Mixon ($6,700) is plenty affordable and warrants enhanced ownership as the engine of an improving offense. He was priced over the $7k mark the last time we saw him, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Week 1 is the last time Mixon’s price tag starts with a six for a while.

Cleveland Browns

Notes: Chubb's 298-1,494-8 performance on the ground in 2019 sealed the deal on the reality that he's one of the game's best rushers. Lamar Jackson (5.9 yards per carry) is the only player to average more yards per rush than Chubb (5.1) among 26 players with at least 300 combined carries over the past two seasons. Only Derrick Henry (4.3) has averaged more yards after contact per attempt than Chubb (4) over the past two seasons.

Unfortunately, the presence of Duke Johnson and Kareem Hunt have largely resulted in the Browns not tapping into Chubb’s receiving ability. The Browns’ decision to bring back Hunt isn’t ideal:

  • Chubb per game Weeks 1-9 without Hunt: 19.2 carries, 4 targets, overall PPR RB6
  • Chubb per game Weeks 10-17 with Hunt: 18 carries, 2.1 targets, overall PPR RB15

Of course, taking Hunt off the field doesn’t make a ton of sense either. He led the league in rushing and racked up 11 total scores as a rookie, posted 181-824-7 rushing and 26-378-7 receiving lines in just 11 games of action before being suspended in 2018, then produced more-than-stellar 43-179-2 rushing and 37-285-1 receiving lines during the second half of the 2019 season with the Browns. Nobody averaged more broken tackles per touch than Hunt (0.42) during the latter stretch. The PPR RB17 from Weeks 10-17, Hunt has the potential to return RB2 value with or without an injury to Chubb.

Only Tarik Cohen (39%) spent a higher percentage of his reps in the slot or out wide than Hunt (33%) among all backs with at least 250 snaps in 2019. There isn't a guarantee that Hunt will see the same role that he had in the second half of last season, but new head coach Kevin Stefanski does have a history of utilizing plenty of formations other than three-WR sets. It would make more sense if the Browns prioritize two-RB formations over two-TE sets, particularly after how good Hunt was during the second half of last season. Their decision to not invest anything more than a late-round pick to address their No. 3 WR spot adds further evidence to the idea that this could be a two-RB base offense.

Chubb had his way with the Ravens in Week 4 last season (20-165-3), although his encore effort in Week 16 (15-45-0) was a bit less inspiring. The Ravens added the likes of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe while also devoting a trio of top-three round picks to improve their front-seven. Chubb and Hunt are good enough to win any matchup, but this Baltimore defense should never be considered a cake matchup.

DFS notes: Chubb ($6,500) is being priced as the main slate’s RB8, while Hunt ($5,100) is far more affordable as the RB24. There’s some unknown here in terms of the splits, but the projected negative game script and pricing discount makes Hunt the preferred option on DraftKings.

Dallas Cowboys

Notes: Elliott functioned as the PPR RB2, RB11 (in 10 games), RB5 and RB3 from 2016-2019, respectively. The Cowboys’ workhorse is a virtual lock for 300 rush attempts and 50 receptions with good health. The 24-year-old RB has never missed a game due to injury and is the centerpiece of an offense that became just the 11th unit in the Super Bowl era to average at least 6.5 yards per play.

The potential for Zeke’s receiving production to get back to 2018 levels (77-567-3 without Jason Witten) could help him flirt with overall RB1 production for the first time. The only real change in the offense that could be perceived as negative is the retirement of stud C Travis Frederick, but 2018 starting C Joe Looney and the league's second-most expensive offensive line should be just fine.

And then we have Pollard. The electric rookie RB led the NFL in elusive rating, racking up an absurd 26 broken tackles on just 101 touches. It’s scary to think what he’d be capable of achieving with a true three-down role.

Pollard deserves to be mentioned alongside Latavius Murray and Alexander Mattison as the league’s top handcuff options; just don’t expect consistent touches or standalone value as long as the Cowboys continue to pay Elliott a small fortune. Zeke played at least 85% of the offense’s snaps in every game that wasn’t a double-digit win for the Cowboys last season.

*Both* Zeke (24-117-2) and Pollard (12-131-1) cleared the century mark on the ground when these two teams faced off in Week 15 last season. The Cowboys offense is largely matchup proof, particularly their workhorse RB.

DFS notes: Zeke is a tough fade on showdown slates with a 20-plus touch projection. Pollard is a fun contrarian option that has always made the most out of his limited opportunities.

Denver Broncos

Notes: New OC Pat Shurmur utilized committee backfields during his time in Minnesota before turning over the offense to Saquon Barkley while serving as head coach of the Giants. Expect something in the middle for Denver. Lindsay (4.9 career YPC) has been a more efficient rusher than Gordon (4.0), although MGIII has shined brighter in the passing game. Note that the Broncos have typically fielded the superior offensive line.

This ultimately *should* be Gordon’s backfield if the same man that led the NFL in broken tackles from 2016-2018 shows up. A rough start to the 2019 season overshadowed what was ultimately a mostly-solid effort, as Gordon cleared four yards per carry in six of his final eight games after failing to clear the mark even once during October.

Gordon has nine games with at least five receptions over the past two seasons; Lindsay has two. The former undrafted free agent is too good to be benched after racking up back-to-back seasons with 1,200 total yards to go along with 17 combined scores, but it’s quite possible if not likely that we’ve already seen the most-productive Denver years from Linsday and Freeman.

We’ll see whether or not training camp reports that Lindsay has looked every bit as good, if not better, than Gordon will impact these projected splits. The Week 1 home matchup against the Titans isn’t fade-worthy, although the newfound presence of Jadeveon Clowney won’t help the Broncos’ quest to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Titans were already superior at defending the run (11th in DVOA) compared to the pass (No. 22) in 2019.

DFS notes: Double-stacking Gordon and Lindsay in the MNF slate could provide some unique roster construction and two RBs projected for roughly 15 touches each.

Detroit Lions

Notes: The last two weeks of the 2019 season paint a somber picture on what we should potentially expect from this backfield moving forward:

  • Week 16: Kerryon (32% snaps), Bo Scarbrough (28% snaps), Ty (24%), J.D. McKissic (14%)
  • Week 17: Kerryon (45%), Scarbrough (28%), Ty (13%), McKissic (13%)

Peterson reportedly will factor into the team’s Week 1 plans. Swift should be considered the favorite to lead the way in most categories; just realize there’s a long path to gaining a three-down role under Matt Patricia. This backfield is one of the most muddled situations in the league and has a very real chance of featuring three-to-four backs on a weekly basis.

It remains to be seen if the 2020 Bears defense will more closely resemble the 2018 or 2019 version of the unit. I’d lean towards the 2018 version for at least however long DT Akiem Hicks can stay healthy: Chicago allowed at least 100 rushing yards in eight of 10 games after Hicks was placed on injured reserve last season after previously allowing their opponent to surpass the century mark in five of 22 contests from 2018 to Week 5 of 2019.

DFS notes: Both Swift ($4,900) and Johnson ($4,400) are priced as if Peterson was still in Washington, making this entire backfield a situation to avoid in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes.

Green Bay Packers

Notes: Jones was fantastic in 2019, posting 236-1,084-16 rushing and 49-474-3 receiving lines while working as one of the clear-cut focal points of the offense. And yet, there's a case to be made that the Packers' exceptionally-talented RB will continue to largely be relegated to a two- or even three-back committee. Williams didn't play fewer than 40% of the offense's snaps even once after Week 1 when healthy:

  • Week 1: Jones (61% snaps); Williams (39%)
  • Week 2: Jones (59%); Williams (45%)
  • Week 3: Jones (39%); Williams (61%)
  • Week 4: Williams hurt
  • Week 5: Williams hurt
  • Week 6: Jones (49%); Williams (53%)
  • Week 7: Jones (57%); Williams (40%)
  • Week 8: Jones (63%); Williams (48%)
  • Week 9: Jones (59%); Williams (44%)
  • Week 10: Jones (50%); Williams (50%)
  • Week 11: Bye
  • Week 12: Jones (52%); Williams (48%)
  • Week 13: Jones (58%); Williams (42%)
  • Week 14: Jones (58%); Williams (42%)
  • Week 15: Jones (59%); Williams (41%)
  • Week 16: Williams hurt
  • Week 17: Williams hurt

Further complicating Jones’ projection is that he averaged 3.5 targets per game with Davante Adams in 2019 and 6.8 targets per game without. He spent more than six snaps in the slot or out wide on just one occasion all season. It’d make sense if the Packers feature Jones more as a true receiver in 2020 after curiously declining to add hardly any noteworthy players to their WR and TE rooms considering the RB’s success when lined up out wide.

Still, Jones is going to need to continue to function as one of the league’s most efficient backs. RBs aren’t drafted in the second round to sit on the bench, and Dillon’s Derrick Henry-esque size should earn him double-digit carries per game sooner rather than later. The Packers had their way with the Vikings’ front-seven in both of their 2019 matchups; just don’t expect Jones to get enough volume to survive middling-efficiency performances.

DFS notes: Jones ($6,900) seems like an easy fade as the RB5 in non-tournament formats. Routes will be important to monitor in order to determine which Packers RB to target in projected negative game script situations. Jones is obviously the most qualified man for this job; just realize this Green Bay backfield is chalk full of uncertainty entering Week 1.

Houston Texans

Notes: David played between 60-87% of the Cardinals' offensive snaps in Weeks 1-6 last season, ultimately posting 76-298-2 rushing and 30-315-3 receiving lines. This was great! Only Christian McCaffreyDalvin CookAustin Ekeler and Nick Chubb had more PPR points after six weeks of action. 

His ability as a receiver was particularly impressive, as he demonstrated the ability to beat defenses from pretty much anywhere on the field.

The potential for a healthy version of David to spend 20% of his snaps as one of Deshaun Watson’s receivers can only mean good things for his fantasy projection. We already know he should see all the rush attempts he can handle considering coach Bill O’Brien’s history of feeding his starting RB plenty of carries:

  • 2014: Arian Foster 260 rushes, 59 targets
  • 2015: Alfred Blue 183 rushes, 16 targets (Foster missed 12 games)
  • 2016: Lamar Miller 268 rushes, 39 targets
  • 2017: Miller 238 rushes, 45 targets
  • 2018: Miller 210 rushes, 35 targets (missed 2 games)
  • 2019: Carlos Hyde 245 rushes, 16 targets

Of course, there’s a very real case to be made that Duke is the best RB in Houston:

  • David career stats: 4.0 yards per carry, 7.2 yards per target, 5.4 yards per touch, 28 years old, 36th-percentile BMI
  • Duke: 4.4 yards per carry, 7.1 yards per target, 6.5 yards per touch, 26 years old, 59th-percentile BMI

Unfortunately for Duke stans like myself: O'Brien didn't trade one of the most-loved fixtures of the franchise for him. That just so happens to be David. Regardless of whether or not you think the long-time Cardinals back still has much left in the tank, nobody has more unaccounted for carries from 2019 than the Texans. A three-down role is likely on the way.

Both Duke (22% snaps in the slot or out wide) and David (19%) were two of the league’s top seven backs in terms of reps spent as a true receiver. An offense led by Deshaun Watson will inevitably put up points, and David is the prime candidate to lead the squad in scores. Expect all the touches he can handle until the wheels fall off, regardless of game script and matchup.

DFS notes: Rostering both Texans RBs could be a way of creating a unique lineup in the Thursday showdown slate; I just have my doubts that Duke will receive more than a handful of opportunities per week.

Indianapolis Colts

Notes: Mack's starting job is on life support, but we shouldn't necessarily expect Taylor to fully take over this backfield immediately.

A good sample size to try and predict this backfield's splits might just be Weeks 14-17 from last season after Mack returned from injury:

  • Week 14: Hines 56% snaps, Mack 41%, Jordan Wilkins 14%
  • Week 15: Mack 45%, Wilkins 43%, Hines 16%
  • Week 16: Mack 48%, Wilkins 34%, Hines 17%
  • Week 17: Hines 55%, Mack 48%, Jonathan Williams 2%

Hines had earned some dark-horse appeal in this new-look offense that will feature Philip Rivers under center considering he possesses an Austin Ekeler-esque skill-set thanks to his demonstrated ability to thrive as a true WR in the slot or out wide.

But he almost assuredly won't see enough snaps to provide anything resembling consistent fantasy production despite Reich’s prediction of 10-plus reception games.

Ultimately, Week 1 presents the best possible situation to start Taylor and Mack thanks to the reality that the 2020 Jaguars defense looks worse than last season’s unit, which joined the Panthers as the league’s clear-cut bottom-two run defenses. It’d hardly be surprising to see the Colts run away with this game and enable both of their early-down grinders to solid performances.

DFS notes: Taylor ($5,700) might be as cheap as he’ll be all season; might as well jump in the deep end in the best-possible matchup. Mack ($5,300) is also plenty capable of meeting his salary-based expectation in this smash spot.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Notes: OC Jay Gruden made a habit of utilizing committees during his time in Washington. Thompson will be the primary pass-down back. The ex-Washington scatback has struggled to stay healthy over the years, but his potential impact can’t be understated. Only Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey had more targets than Thompson in Weeks 1-5 last season before Gruden was fired.

The decision to release Leonard Fournette doesn’t change Thompson’s projected role. Look for the early-down spot to be a committee of sorts between Ryquell Armstead (Covid, unlikely for Week 1), Ozigbo and Robinson for most of the season. None are recommended fantasy options; all of the same concerns that faced Fournette (limited pass-down work, 4.5 win total, meh offensive line) also apply to the team’s new options that won’t see anything resembling a large workload.

DFS notes: I could perhaps get behind targeting Thompson ($4,000) if the DraftKings’ price floor for the RB position was at its usual $3,000. In its current state, I’ll pass on all three backs.

Kansas City Chiefs

Notes: The Chiefs drafted Edwards-Helaire with the No. 32 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. The 5-foot-7 and 207-pound back burst onto the scene during his junior season at LSU, posting absurd 215-1,414-16 rushing and 55-453-1 receiving lines in 15 games of action.

He's not the biggest, strongest or fastest runner, but CEH has already demonstrated the ability to convert his rare explosiveness into productiveness on the football field. He graded out well in a variety of tackle-breaking metrics from PFF in 2019:

  • Yards after contact: 781 (24th among 226 qualified RBs)
  • Yards after contact per attempt: 3.65 (56th)
  • Forced missed tackles: 71 (14th)
  • Forced missed tackles per attempt: 0.33 (14th)

The main part of Edwards-Helaire's game that makes him so special is his ability as a receiver. Coach Andy Reid has already compared his new rookie RB to former Eagles' great Brian Westbrook, noting, “He can block for you. He can run routes. He’s got tremendous vision and lateral abilities with cuts and route running, all those things. He’s just a real good football player.” Furthermore, CEH was also apparently Patrick Mahomes‘ preferred pick. RB-guru and Fantasy Points analyst Graham Barfield called Edwards-Helaire the “best route runner to come into league since Christian McCaffrey.”

It’s tough to disagree.

NFL.com draft guru Lance Zierlein noted Edwards-Helaire “needs to crank up commitment level in pass sets” and “has the talent to become a good, three-down back in time, but needs to improve in pass protection.” This isn't great news, but it's also a skill that Kansas City hasn't made a habit of asking their starting RB to utilize. Williams had eight or fewer snaps as a pass blocker in literally every game he's played with the Chiefs. Kareem Hunt never even surpassed five snaps as a pass blocker during his time in Kansas City.

We've seen 21 different versions of Reid's offense since he took over as the Eagles' head coach in 1999. The players always change, and the scheme is updated, but one of the larger trends that has persisted over time is the presence of a high-end fantasy RB:

Year Name PPR per game tank
1999 Duce Staley RB11
2000 Duce Staley RB15
2001 Duce Staley RB11
2002 Duce Staley RB15
2003 Brian Westbrook RB19
2004 Brian Westbrook RB5
2005 Brian Westbrook RB7
2006 Brian Westbrook RB4
2007 Brian Westbrook RB1
2008 Brian Westbrook RB1
2009 Brian Westbrook RB36
2010 LeSean McCoy RB3
2011 LeSean McCoy RB3
2012 LeSean McCoy RB8
2013 Jamaal Charles RB1
2014 Jamaal Charles RB7
2015 Jamaal Charles RB2
2016 Spencer Ware RB17
2017 Kareem Hunt RB5
2018 Kareem Hunt RB8
2019 Damien Williams RB25

Perhaps Williams makes this more of a two-RB system to start the season, but it’s tough to see the Chiefs not immediately getting CEH double-digit carries and a handful of targets per game. That’s all he needs to be a matchup-proof RB1 inside of the league’s most-explosive offense.

DFS notes: Edwards-Helaire might be worth fading in tournaments for the Thursday night showdown slate, although he deserves to be inside anyone’s top-five projected backs ahead of Week 1. 

Las Vegas Raiders

Notes: Few players were better than Raiders RB Josh Jacobs in 2019 when it came to running the ball:

  • Elusive Rating: 103.6 (No. 2 among 61 qualified RBs)
  • Broken tackles: 78 (No. 2)
  • Yards after contact per attempt: 3.48 (No. 8)
  • 15-plus yard runs: 16 (No. 3)

The rookie racked up a dizzying array of highlights featuring dozens of defenders left grasping for air and/or planted into the turf.

There were times that Jacobs truly looked like a top-five RB in the entire league. And yet, he was regularly pulled off the field in favor of both Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington on pass downs. Overall, Jacobs (27 targets) finished well behind *both* Richard (43) and Washington (41) in Derek Carr's pecking order last season.

Raiders GM Mike Mayock said the following upon drafting Jacobs, “This is a three-down back. He's explosive. He's tough. We've watching him pass protect.” A broken shoulder would’ve explained Jacobs’ lackluster pass-down usage in 2020, but the Raiders went ahead and 1) Re-signed Richard to a two year, $7 million contract as well as 2) Added ex-Broncos scat back Booker to the equation.

Jacobs posted 242-1,150-7 rushing and 20-166-0 receiving lines in 13 games last season. He finished the year as the overall PPR RB21, but the RB15 in PPR per game. Another 250-plus touches seems more than reasonable, but the sort of pass-game role that is typically present for locked-in fantasy RB1s should unfortunately again be tough to come by.

And yet, Week 1’s spot against the Panthers is just about as ideal as possible for Jacobs. The Raiders’ featured RB is a near auto-start regardless of the situation, and this rings especially true this week.

DFS notes: Jacobs’ $6,800 price tag is the sixth-most expensive mark at the RB position, but it’s hard to fade the man against potentially the single-worst run defense in the league. He’s firmly in play for cash games, although targeting cheaper backs like Mixon or Carson that have a higher target floor might be a good idea in tournaments.

Los Angeles Chargers

Notes: Ekeler has played seven games without Melvin Gordon during his career, posting snap rates between 65-95% on every occasion. MGIII is gone, but the public still seems a bit afraid to trust Ekeler as a high-end fantasy RB in 2020 with Tyrod Taylor under center.

The artist formerly known as TyGod started 43 games for the Bills from 2015-2017. There were a number of key takeaways from the experience:

  • The Bills were a bottom-two offense in pass attempts during all three seasons that TyGod was their starter.
  • This didn't prevent them from functioning as an efficient unit for extended stretches, as they ranked No. 9, No. 14 and No. 27 in yards per play during the 2015-2017 seasons, respectively.
  • Life was particularly fruitful for the Bills' bell-cow RB LeSean McCoy. Overall, Shady ranked as the PPR RB19 (2015, 12 games), RB4 (2016, 15 games) and RB7 (2017, 16 games) with Taylor under center.
  • McCoy didn't see quite the same target volume as he did during his time with Andy Reid and the Eagles, although he averaged the same number of yards per target.
  • Shady's target share also wasn't particularly bad; it just wasn't elite. His average of 4.3 targets per game with the Bills from 2015-2017 would've ranked 16th among all RBs in 2019.
  • Taylor's dual-threat ability proved to be good for McCoy's rushing efficiency. Overall, McCoy averaged as many yards with Taylor under center (4.6) as he did with the Eagles and Chiefs alike.

The Chargers' decision to hand Ekeler a four-year, $24.5 million contract reinforces the reality that this is his backfield.

Fourth-round RB Kelley figures to compete with Jackson for snaps as opposed to Ekeler. Only Tarik Cohen (39%) and Kareem Hunt (33%) spent a higher percentage of their snaps in the slot or out wide among RBs with 250-plus total snaps in 2019 than Ekeler (26%), so it’s still possible for Jackson and Kelley to soak up 50% of the backfield’s snaps while Ekeler maintains a 70%-plus role.

Week 1 presents a dream spot against the Bengals’ putrid defense. They did allow the sixth-fewest targets to the RB position in 2019, although Ekeler is more of a RB/WR hybrid than a back that lives and dies by dump-offs. The matchup is the opposite of a concern.

DFS notes: Ekeler ($7,000) is the fourth-most expensive back on DraftKings. His fantasy-friendly role in this offense, combined with projected low-to-middling ownership, makes him viable in cash and GPP games alike.

Los Angeles Rams

Notes: Not having Todd Gurley around changes everything in an offense that remains in the control of one of the league's brightest offensive minds. Nobody scored more rushing touchdowns than Gurley over the past two seasons, and only the Texans (254) have more unaccounted for carries than the Rams (228).

Week 6 was the only game the Rams played in 2019 without Gurley:

  • Brown: 11-40-0 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving, 67% snaps
  • Henderson: 6-39-0, 1-9-0, 33%

Draft capital indicates Akers should be the favorite to lead the way in touches. He certainly looked like a stud three-down back at Florida State despite the offense’s porous offensive line.

Sean McVay has coached 52 games with the Rams (including playoffs). His RB1 played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in 48 of those games, and the non-qualified games still featured a snap rate of at least 50%. Even if he’s spoken about wanting to utilize multiple backs during the offseason, history tells us somebody should emerge sooner rather than later.

The bad version of a McVay-led offense still finished 11th in points last season. The reward for Akers seizing the starting role is absolutely massive; it’s just unclear if/when he’ll get there.

The Cowboys managed to replace Robert Quinn with Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith. A healthy Leighton Vander Esch is usually trouble for opposing run games, although this high-paced and projected high-scoring matchup isn’t something for potential fantasy investors to fret.

DFS notes: Akers will likely be far more popular than Brown and Henderson (if active) in the showdown slate, making the Rams’ incumbent backups solid tournament pivots in this unknown backfield.

Miami Dolphins

Notes: Breida (4.99) has averaged more yards per rush than everyone other than Nick Chubb (5.1) and Aaron Jones (5.02) among 42 backs with at least 300 carries since 2017. The ex-49ers RB has also demonstrated plenty of ability to thrive as a receiver.

The potential hurdles for a three-down role in Miami are 1) Howard AKA millennial Frank Gore and 2) 10 fumbles on 448 career touches. A two-RB committee seems likely inside of an offense that largely couldn’t do anything other than convert contested-catch opportunities. Even a marketable boost from the offensive line would leave them as an average unit at best. Ryan Fitzpatrick led this team in rushing in 2019. Breida is talented, but it’s troubling that someone as smart as Kyle Shanahan was so willing to part ways with him.

Howard appears poised to function as a Gore/Carlos Hyde early-down RB into perpetuity. He was well on his way to getting 225-plus touches from his *third* different coaching staff last season prior to injury.

The Patriots lost a ton of talent across their defense, but this is still a unit coached by Bill Belichick. The Dolphins’ aforementioned issues across the offensive line don't render them as a unit capable of exploiting their opponent; Breida and Howard’s respective paths to fantasy success will likely have to involve high-end receiving and rushing volume.

DFS notes: Howard ($5,100) and Breida ($5,000) are both plenty affordable and are close to the cheapest backs I’d be willing to confidently project for double-digit touches. 

Minnesota Vikings

Notes: Cook has a real case as the league's best-pure runner with the ball in his hands. The lead back of a Gary Kubiak-coached offense has averaged north of 290 touches per season, largely serving as a fantasy cheat code over the years. Overall, he's enabled eight different RBs to a combined 15 seasons as a top-12 PPR season from 1995-2019.

Cook played at least 60% of the offense's snaps with 16-plus touches in every game from Weeks 1-11 before getting injured in 2019. Assuming he’s planning on attending Sunday’s game as usual, it’s tough to project more than five backs ahead of him.

The Vikings' 2019 third-round pick should be considered a universal top-four handcuff option along with Tony Pollard, Latavius Murray and Chase Edmonds. Mattison reportedly displayed enough pass-block chops during training camp to warrant a true three-down role in the event that Cook misses time.

DFS notes: Cook is plenty capable of knifing through any front-seven in the league. His $7,900 price tag is the second most-expensive mark on the slate, although reduced ownership after an offseason filled with holdout concerns wouldn’t be shocking.

New England Patriots

Notes: Harris has reportedly been impressive throughout Patriots’ camp, while Michel didn’t manage to get off the PUP list until Aug. 26. It seemed likely Harris would get a chance to function as the offense’s early-down starter after Michel’s disappointing 2019, although he’ll miss at least the first three weeks of the season on injured reserve due to a pinky injury.

Some have projected White to see a similar receiving role as Christian McCaffrey after Cam Newton fed the Panthers’ RB1 all the targets he could handle in 2018. I don’t buy this notion, as we’ve actually seen a much lower receiving floor for White when Burkhead has been active over the past three seasons:

  • White per game with Burkhead (30 games): 5.4 targets, 3.9 receptions, 36.5 receiving yards, 0.4 receiving TDs, 12 PPR
  • Without (15 games): 8.6 targets, 6.5 receptions, 48.7 receiving yards, 0.3 receiving TDs, 16.6 PPR

The reality that Newton should see plenty of rush attempts near the goal line lowers the ceiling for the entire backfield.

And yet, Michel enters Week 1 with the potential to soak up 15-plus carries against the league’s reigning 32nd-ranked defense in overall DVOA. The Dolphins improved their secondary in a major way during the offseason, but this is hardly a defense for fantasy investors to shy away from targeting.

DFS notes: The difference in price between White ($6,000) and Burkhead ($4,000) is largely unwarranted, while Michel ($4,600) was priced under the assumption that Harris ($4,300) would be active. Michel’s price was only this cheap on one occasion during the 2019 regular season, and it’s reasonable to believe the Patriots’ improved offensive line, along with Newton’s dual-threat talents, could improve the much-maligned former first-round RB’s efficiency. Expect touches all around, but Michel carries multi-TD upside at an incredibly affordable cost.

New Orleans Saints

Notes: Kamara has worked as the offense’s true RB1 without Mark Ingram in the fold over the years. His ability to catch exactly 81 passes per season has made him a fantasy cheat code of sorts. Michael Thomas is the undisputed No. 1 pass-game option in New Orleans, but Kamara is cemented as the No. 2, and that’s more than just about any RB can say outside of CMC.

The swaggiest player in the NFL missed two games due to injury last season and admitted that he didn't feel like himself upon returning. And yet, he finished as the PPR RB9. Kamara’s broken tackle rate resumed 2017-2018 levels when healthy, and his ceiling remains as a top-five RB in 2020 considering positive scoring regression is also well within his potential range of outcomes.

We saw just how special Murray can be in this offense on two occasions with Kamara sidelined last season:

  • Week 7: 27-119-2 rushing, 6-31-0 receiving, 84% snaps, PPR RB2
  • Week 8: 21-102-1, 9-55-1, 82%, RB3

Murray otherwise had double-digit touches in just four of 15 games. He won’t carry much standalone value outside of absolutely pristine matchups, but continue to treat the Saints’ RB2 as a consensus top-three handcuff.

The Buccaneers haven’t come close to containing Kamara has a receiver:

  • 2017, Week 9: 6 receptions-84 receiving yards-1 TD (7 targets)
  • 2017, Week 17: 6-84-0 (7)
  • 2018, Week 1: 9-112-1 (9)
  • 2018, Week 14: 5-36-0 (6)
  • 2019, Week 5: 6-42-0 (7)
  • 2019, Week 11: 10-47-0 (10)

Unless newfound contract disputes continue to flare up ahead of Sunday, continue to lock in Kamara as a weekly top-five RB.

DFS notes: Kamara ($7,200) is rather inexplicably cheap considering his weekly potential for double-digit receptions in addition to multiple scores. The Buccaneers do boast an underrated defense, but this sort of volume in a high-scoring offense is a cheat-code for fantasy. Kamara will be one of my highest-owned players in Week 1.

New York Giants

Notes: Barkley has been one of the NFL's few true three-down workhorses since entering the league in 2018. Sure, he's entering a new offense, but new OC Jason Garrett is one of the only play-callers that we can feasibly expect to give the Giants' stud RB an even larger role. The 2018 PPR RB1 and league-leader in broken tackles, Barkley is arguably the single-best RB in the league from a pure talent perspective.

His pass-game floor makes him the consensus RB2 behind only Christian McCaffrey. Only CMC (8.3 targets per game), James White (8) and Alvin Kamara (7) have been more involved in their team's passing game than Barkley (6.7) over the past two seasons. This is perhaps a bit inflated by his ridiculous 121 targets from 2018, but even his 73 pass-game opportunities in 2019 ranked eighth among all RBs despite the 2018 No. 2 overall pick missing three games. The Giants haven't made a habit of deploying Barkley as a true receiver in the slot or out wide. Still, it'd be shocking if he doesn't continue to see more than a handful of targets per game in 2020.

Expect a multi-back committee of sorts if Barkley is ultimately forced to miss any game time, but it seems unlikely the Giants reserve more than a few touches for Lewis ahead of Week 1’s brutal matchup against 2019’s fifth-ranked defense in fewest PPR per game allowed to opposing RBs.

DFS notes: Fading Barkley on the Monday night slate isn’t recommended for the faint of heart. Still, his projected workload is similar to both Derrick Henry and James Conner, while the matchup against the Steelers defense is infinitely more concerning.

New York Jets

Notes: Bell's 59 broken tackles were good for the ninth-highest mark among all RBs in 2019. He continued to ball out when lined up as a true WR, as has been the case throughout his entire career.

A bounce-back campaign in 2020 would be easier to invest in if coach Adam Gase wasn’t continuing to give the opposite of endorsements about Bell's status as the offense's featured back. The team’s decision to sign The Inconvenient Truth to serve as an early-down complement further cements the idea that Bell likely won’t be clearing 300 touches again in 2020.

Bell’s pass-game usage was already shallow enough in 2019:

  • 2013: 5.1 targets per game
  • 2014: 6.6
  • 2015: 4.3
  • 2016: 7.8
  • 2017: 7.1
  • 2019: 5.2

Ultimately, the Jets are a slow-paced and low-scoring offense banking on their plethora of free agent offensive linemen to make an immediate difference. Bell wasn’t washed in 2019, but he’ll need to truly boom in efficiency to make up for a likely decrease in early-down volume.

Lamical Perine is dealing with a sprained ankle. The Jets’ plethora of injuries at the WR position *should* result in more pass-game work for Bell, but it’s still not enough to make him a sexy play in this brutal matchup against the Bills’ elite defense. 

DFS notes: Bell ($5,600) could easily see double the amount of touches as similarly priced backs like Raheem Mostert ($5,800) and Jonathan Taylor ($5,700). Still, his status as a road underdog in one of the week’s slowest-paced games doesn’t lend itself to much upside.

Philadelphia Eagles

Notes: Sanders more than met expectations as a rookie, racking up 1,327 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns despite splitting plenty of work with early-drown grinder Jordan Howard. Now the backfield is seemingly the Sanders show after 1) Howard took his talents to Miami, and 2) Philadelphia declined to draft a RB. Still, coach Doug Pederson has never made a habit of enabling a three-down back, and we have a limited sample size of Sanders in this true bell-cow role.

Of course, the other argument is that Pederson hasn’t had a RB at the level of Sanders. Overall, the 2019 second-round pick owns all four of Pederson’s highest single-game RB snap rates with the Eagles from 2016-2019. Sanders possesses a true three-down skill-set and is fully expected to function as a workhorse back as long as his lower-body injury is a non-problem as reported.

Sanders was the offense’s workhorse following Howard’s injury, posting snap rates north of 70% in six-of-seven non-injured games down the stretch. Overall, Sanders worked as the PPR RB8 from Weeks 11-17. He possesses big-play ability as both a rusher and receiver in addition to his proven savagery as a pass blocker.

Scott’s enhanced role as the season went on seemed more due to the offense’s lack of resources at WR than a true investment in getting him the ball. Clement’s renewed health could feasibly force a competition of sorts for the No. 2 job. Expect a more-strict committee of sorts if Sanders is forced to miss action.

Don't look now but the Washington defensive line is suddenly full of monsters:

The Eagles being without PFF All-Pro guard Brandon Brooks certainly won’t help matters, but Sanders remains firmly entrenched as a RB1 thanks to his fantasy-friendly workload inside of one of the league’s better offenses.

DFS notes: Sanders ($6,300) could prove chalky at his reduced price tag, something that potential investors should be wary of if he’s practicing in a limited fashion throughout the week. I’d probably rather roll with Kenyan Drake ($6,400) or Chris Carson ($6,200) all things considered.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: It’s rare to find 6-foot-1, 230-pound running backs who are able to move in space like Conner can. The only RBs who joined Conner in the 50 broken tackles club during Weeks 1-13 in 2018 were Saquon Barkley and Kareem Hunt, who just so happened to lead the NFL in broken tackles during the 2018 and 2017 seasons, respectively.

Only Todd GurleySaquon BarkleyChristian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara had more PPR points than Conner in 2018 Weeks 1-13. He finished as “just” the RB6 despite missing three games. posting 215-973-12 rushing and 55-497-1 receiving lines along the way.

Shoulder and quad injuries would limit Conner to just 10 games in 2019 with limited snaps in several others. Conner wasn't quite as efficient in both the run and pass game, but that was to be expected with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges under center. He still produced just fine and was the PPR RB9 in Weeks 1-8 before injury.

Training camp reports indicate that Conner should be the featured guy in 2020, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin strongly hinted back in March:

“I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality. … No question in today’s game, a featured runner needs to be supplemented and supplemented by guys who are capable of doing similar things in case he misses time…Usually when it’s going well, it’s because you have a lead dog out front, and that guy is the featured runner. James is a featured guy and proven runner when healthy. We’re excited about him getting back to health and displaying that in 2020.”

Every starting Pittsburgh RB was fed a featured workload before last season: 

This is a situation where coach speak meets historical tendencies; treat Conner as a true top-10 fantasy back regardless of the matchup until the wheels fall off the wagon.

DFS notes: Conner deserves to be the highest-owned back on the MNF showdown slate.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Notes: This backfield was an absolute mess to try to figure out in 2019:

There were brief moments of clarity between some injuries, but coach Kyle Shanahan has shown absolutely no fear in simply going with the hot hand. Mostert earned the starting role at the end of the regular season, worked behind Coleman in the Divisional Round, ripped off a 29-220-4 performance in the NFC Championship, and then posted a relatively mundane 62% snap rate with the season on the line in the Super Bowl.

The 49ers boasted the league's No. 2 scoring offense last season while running the ball more than anyone other than the Ravens. There will be rushing production in this offense, but it's going to be tough to predict on a week-to-week basis. Luckily Breida is out of the picture, but the potential return of McKinnon would further reduce the already low pass-game floor of everyone involved.

This run game should be able to win most of their matchups. The concern for the early-down grinders is just how much receiving work McKinnon will soak up from the group’s already-small target share. Mostert deserves to be in starting lineups of all shapes and sizes, but I’d caution in expecting too much from Coleman or McKinnon until we have a better idea of the split.

DFS notes: The disparity in price between Mostert ($5,800) with Coleman ($4,200) and McKinnon ($4,000) is probably too large considering the potential for all three backs to see similar touches. The $4k price floor for the position makes WR the better spot to seek cost-saving value, although the 49ers’ No. 2 and No. 3 RBs are potential GPP pivots off of Antonio Gibson ($4,000). 

Seattle Seahawks

Notes: Last season featured an alarming mix of good and bad moments for Carson:

  • Career-high marks in carries (278), rushing yards (1,230), receptions (37), receiving yards (266) and receiving scores (2).
  • Only Nick Chubb (79), Josh Jacobs (78) and Christian McCaffrey (75) broke more tackles than Carson (74).
  • Carson led all RBs with seven fumbles. Inconveniently for fantasy managers, he had two separate three-game streaks of fumbles that led to multiple in-game benchings.

Enter Hyde, who 1) might just have a decent Week 1 role considering Carson and Penny largely split snaps and touches when both were healthy during the second half of 2019, and 2) could be quickly thrust into a featured role if the incumbent starter’s past fumble issues persist into 2020. Hyde has played well enough in past seasons to keep the likes of Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson on the bench for extended periods of time; it wouldn’t exactly be shocking if OC Brian Schottenheimer decides to ride with whoever is most effective to start the season.

Obviously, Carson should be considered the heavy favorite to lead the way in touches, but Hyde carries a sneaky-wide range of potential outcomes in the Seahawks’ run-first/second/third offense. The potential for Dallas to soak up the position’s target share is troublesome against a Falcons defense that happily allows receptions to opposing RBs, but it’s still undoubtedly a good spot for the entire Seahawks offense.

DFS notes: The lack of a real discount on Hyde ($4,600) makes him a dart throw for only the most-risky GPP investors. Still, I’d be hesitant in leaning too heavily on Carson ($6,200) in cash. The spot is terrific; just don’t assume we have this backfield figured out in the slightest. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notes: RoJo has received coach Bruce Arians’ endorsement as the lead back ahead of 2020, but don’t be surprised if this backfield continues to utilize multiple backs on an every-week basis. Arians has already clarified Shady McCoy has a role, and Fournette wasn’t added for no reason.

Twelve to 15 touches per game inside of a TB12-led offense has historically been good for the fantasy business. That sort of role is possible for both Jones and Fournette, although this could (again) be an absolute mess if Arians insists on utilizing all three backs on a weekly basis. Overall, each of Jones (36.5% snaps in 2019), Dare Ogunbowale (31.8%) and Peyton Barber (29.8%) were heavily involved on a weekly basis last season.

We can live with two-RB committees, but this has the looks of a three-headed backfield with the potential to fluctuate on a weekly basis. A road matchup in a game that could feasibly force the Bucs into some negative game-script isn’t a good spot for either early-down RB. The Saints boasted the league’s No. 5-ranked defense in rush DVOA last season. Their front-seven is quietly loaded with talent, and the potential for their offense to put up plenty of points makes large workloads for opposing RBs unlikely to occur all that often in 2020.

DFS notes: RoJo ($5,200) is actually still affordable despite being priced before the Fournette signing. Still, the aforementioned tough matchup, combined with low touch ceiling, makes this a backfield to avoid for the moment.

Tennessee Titans

Notes: Henry was the NFL's triple-crown rushing winner in 2019, setting league-high marks in carries (303), rushing yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16). Since the 1970 NFL merger the only triple-crown rushing winners have been: O.J. Simpson (1973, 1975), Walter Payton (1977), Earl Campbell (1980), Charles White (1987), Emmitt Smith (1995), Shaun Alexander (2005), DeMarco Murray (2014) and Adrian Peterson (2015).

The incredible season was spearheaded by an absolutely bonkers finish that saw Henry gain over 150 total yards and find the end zone 12 times in his final nine games. The 6-foot-3 and 247-pound monster has demonstrated a penchant for getting stronger as the season goes on throughout his career:

  • September: 3.87 yards per carry
  • October: 3.87
  • November: 5.87
  • December: 5.38
  • January: 5.2

Henry is and always has been an incredible rusher. However, his ability in the pass game perhaps deserves a bit more credit. Henry won't be confused with Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara as a receiver anytime soon, although only Austin Ekeler (8.6), Kyle Juszczyk (8.2), Miles Sanders (8.1) and Kareem Hunt (7.9) have averaged more yards per target than Henry (7.5) among 69 RBs with at least 50 targets since 2017.

Even if Evans slides right in as 2020 Dion Lewis, the idea that Henry is a game-script dependent back is a bit exaggerated. He had at least 16 touches in every single contest last season despite at times losing snaps to Lewis in negative game script situations. Ultimately Henry played at least 60% of the offense's snaps in 13 of 18 games.

However, the Week 1 spot is tough. The Broncos defense gets Bradley Chubb and Bryce Callahan back in 2019. This was already a top-10 defense in terms of fewest fantasy points per game allowed to the RB position in 2019. The Mile High advantage could also continue to prove burdensome for opposing rushing attacks (per the FantasyLabs Trends tool):

  • RBs at home vs. Broncos since 2014: 10.1 DraftKings PPG, +0.5 Plus/Minus, 44% Consistency, 11% Upside
  • RBs away vs. Broncos: 8.7 DraftKings PPG, -1.2 Plus/Minus, 30% Consistency, 7% Upside

Don’t expect a negative game script to dissuade the Titans from getting Henry the ball; just realize the Big Dog’s familiar blowup performances might take a few weeks to get going.

DFS notes: I’d prioritize James Conner over Henry in MNF slates, while Evans is a contrarian option that might soak up some pass-down work.

Washington Football Team

Notes: Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson are both gone, meaning this already murky backfield is more unknown than ever entering Week 1.

Head coach Ron Rivera has likened Gibson to Christian McCaffrey, and Peterson himself noted that, “This system really fits (Gibson). I feel like I can do that pony style too, more as a receiving back. We were all working on it, but they really want one main guy to do it and they drafted Gibson for it.”

Gibson should at a minimum command some sort of role approaching double-digit touches per game. It's easy to love Gibson the player. He scored 14 touchdowns on just 77 touches in 2019, ripping off seven plays of 50-plus yards and breaking roughly a million tackles along the way. Gibson is viewed as a WR/RB hybrid, standing 6-foot and weighing 228 pounds with the ability to run the 40 in 4.39 seconds.

Yes, he only had 33 career carries, but if the Washington Football Team truly views him as a RB, the rest of us better start doing so as well. For now, expect Gibson to serve as the lead receiving back, Barber or Love to pick up a solid chunk of early-down work, and McKissic to function as more of a true scat back.

The Week 1 matchup against an Eagles defense that ranked third in DVOA against the run last season isn’t ideal, although Gibson’s path to success is likely going to be contingent on high target share anyway. Regardless, he’s the only Washington RB worthy of fantasy consideration at the moment.

DFS notes: Gibson is Week 1’s cash-game lock as a $4,000 RB that seemingly everyone will roster. The uncertain situation certainly calls for a GPP-fade, as it’d hardly be surprising if he finishes with fewer than double-digit touches. Still, Gibson checks all the boxes of a rare talent at the position, and Washington has more available volume than just about anyone.

Monkey Knife Fight. Official Fantasy Sponsor of PFF. Join to receive a free EDGE subscription.
Sponsor

Fantasy Featured Tools

  • Sort projected player stats and fantasy points by position, week, and category.

    Available with

    Edge
  • Research past fantasy performance with sortable player stats including PFF-exclusives like aDOT and fantasy points per opportunity.

    Available with

    Edge
  • Available with

    Edge
  • PFF’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule (SoS) metric provides a league-wide, season-long view of opponent matchups for each fantasy position.

    Available with

    Edge
  • Our DFS lineup generator with PFF projections built-in.

    Available with

    Elite
Pro Subscriptions

Unlock NFL Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft

$9.99 / mo
$39.99 / yr

Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS

$34.99 / mo
$199.99 / yr