News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Taking stock of every NFL backfield ahead of NFL Week 10

Nov 8, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) hands the ball off to Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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What follows is a breakdown of each team's backfield ahead of Week 10 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 10 matchups with some DraftKings notes.

Each back’s Week 9 snap rate, carries and targets are 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: Edmonds’ role was everything that we hoped for and more. The 95% snap rate was the highest single-game mark from a Cardinals RB in 2020. The Cardinals handed Edmonds the early-down, pass-down and goal-line role, unfortunately all it amounted to was 88 scoreless yards on 28 touches.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said Kenyan Drake (ankle) remains day-to-day. He might not get back his full role upon returning, but we’ll need to see more out of Edmonds before assuming that he’ll keep anything resembling this sort of workhorse role with Drake back in the picture.

Ultimately, this backfield is losing a ton of rushing scores to their electric QB. Kyler Murray is on pace to rack up 152 rush attempts, 1,086 yards and 16 (!!!) scores on the ground. Somehow only Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and Todd Gurley have more fantasy points from purely rushing production than Murray this season.

Up next is a Bills defense that ranks 24th and 25th in rush yards per attempt and explosive run rate allowed, respectively. Edmonds will again be a volume-induced RB1 if Drake remains sidelined, while both backs would be top-30 options in a likely more-split-than-usual committee.

Atlanta Falcons

Notes: Gurley has averaged fewer than three yards per carry in four consecutive games. There were stretches early in the season where he actually looked solid and flashed some tackle-breaking ability; those days have been over for a while.

And yet, Gurley enters the Falcons’ Week 10 as the overall RB6. I don’t get it, you don’t get it, it happened. The veteran RB made bone-headed late-game blunders in Week 7 and 8 alike and still received his usual bell-cow role.

Hill has been far superior in the passing game to Gurley all season while also posting a better PFF rushing grade, averaging more yards per carry and going for the same amount of yards after contact per attempt. Perhaps the Falcons decide to shuffle the rotation out of their bye, but it’s probably not going to happen. Gurley (probably?) won’t hold his 16-TD pace, however he’ll continue to warrant upside RB2 treatment thanks to this voluminous role.

Baltimore Ravens

Notes: Dobbins continues to walk, talk and look like the best RB on the Ravens roster.

It really hasn’t been that close. Pick a metric, any metric:

  • Dobbins: 74.3 PFF rushing grade, 0.27 forced missed tackles per rush, 5.7 yards per carry, 3.6 yards after contact per attempt
  • Edwards: 67.6 PFF rushing grade, 0.11 forced missed tackles per rush, 4.4 yards per carry, 3 yards after contact per attempt
  • Mark Ingram: 58.1 PFF rushing grade, 0.06 forced missed tackles per rush, 4.5 yards per carry, 2.4 yards after contact per attempt

Even fumbling at the goal line didn’t dissuade the Ravens from giving the rock right back to Edwards on the next drive last week.

The Colts matchup was tough; both Dobbins and Edwards are plenty capable of making more out of their opportunities down the road as long as they continue to see a 12-15 touch floor. Still, Ingram (ankle) isn’t expected to miss the rest of the season, meaning this will in all likelihood resume being a three-RB committee sooner rather than later.

Both Dobbins and Edwards can be fired up as low-end RB2s if Ingram remains sidelined. None would be recommended fantasy starts if he’s able to return. The Patriots defense is a mix of banged up and not good at the moment, but touches are simply too scarce when everyone in this backfield is healthy.

Buffalo Bills

Notes: Theoretically this backfield should be of the fantasy-friendly variety. We have two backs that have each flashed some solid talent with fairly defined roles inside of one of the league’s better offenses. Moss is the primary early-down grinder and preferred option in short-yardage situations, while Singletary is the lead pass-down slasher.

The “problem” is that Josh Allen is a saint and doesn’t waste his time 1) checking the ball down, or 2) giving the ball to someone else so they can score near the goal line. Overall, the Bills’ QB1 has only checked the ball down on eight of 355 dropbacks (2.2%), and only Cam Newton (6) has scored more rushing TDs inside the 5-yard line than Allen (6).

Moss is a TD-dependent RB3, and Singletary a low-ceiling RB3, in Week 10 against the Cardinals. Neither are recommended starts, although Moss deserves to have the higher median projection at this point. Allen threw a season-low 18 passes in a weather-induced game plan against the Patriots in Week 8 that led to Moss (14 touches) and Singletary (15) both being heavily involved; neither has otherwise reached 15 combined carries and receptions in a game this season when both have been active.

Carolina Panthers

Notes: So much for that reported two-back split. To be fair the 68% snap rate was lower than we’re used to seeing out of CMC, but that didn’t impact his touch workload, and it was also influenced by a shoulder injury.

The latter point is the problem moving forward. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports McCaffrey is “very much in doubt” for Week 10. This sort of injury could certainly influence CMC’s workload if active. Having to run into the teeth of the defense while playing through the pain is a tall enough task, let alone against the Buccaneers’ league-best unit in fewest yards before contact allowed per rush.

Of course, so much of McCaffrey’s value comes from the Panthers’ decision to force feed him targets. The Panthers largely revolved the passing game around Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore during CMC’s absence, but Teddy Bridgewater posted a season-low 4.4 yard average target depth with their $64 million RB back in the lineup last week.

McCaffrey needs to be in lineups if active; just realize reduced touches are a legit possibility. Davis would be a RB3 if CMC is active and a volume-based RB1 otherwise. Yes, Davis didn’t finish his stretch as a starter as hot as he started it, but this is still an every-down back we’re talking about here. The reality that Davis caught eight passes against this defense in just 24 snaps in Week 2 demonstrates the sort of game-script-friendly role that the RB has in this offense.

Chicago Bears

Notes: Montgomery is in the concussion protocol. This leaves the Bears with seemingly three options to lean on at the RB position:

  • Patterson. As President of the Cordarrelle Patterson Fan Club, I’d love to tell you that the NFL’s all-time leader in yards per carry (pre-2020) will finally receive something resembling an every-down role, but the Bears have continued to treat the best kick (not punt) returner ever as little more than a gadget. Perhaps his usual role of three-to-five touches per game doubles, but either way the reality that his role hasn’t changed with Tarik Cohen (ACL) out of the picture tells you all you need to know.
  • Nall. The 6-foot-2 and 232-pound bruiser caught all four of his targets for 35 yards and a score in garbage time last week after Montgomery went down. He’s been used as a fullback far more than as a rushing threat throughout his two seasons with the Bears. Nall might get a handful of carries and be used in pass protection, but three-down duties seem unlikely.
  • Lamar Miller. The favorite to lead the way in touches has been chilling on the Bears practice squad for weeks and hasn’t yet been active for a game. However, as we saw with the Giants post-Saquon, a team’s true handcuff RB won’t always be the weekly No. 2 RB. We don’t know if Miller is anything close to full form, but his experience and skill-set is more than either Patterson or Nall have to offer.

Here’s the problem: The Bears join the Jets as the league’s only two offenses that have averaged less than one yard before contact per rush this season. Montgomery is tied with Dalvin Cook for the most total forced missed tackles. Obviously the second-year back isn’t in the same stratosphere as Cook when it comes to burst and creating big plays, but either way the league’s 29th-ranked scoring offense isn’t exactly what the kids would call a fantasy-friendly environment.

The answer to who to play from the Bears backfield if Montgomery is sidelined is probably simple: no. Gun to my head, give me Miller, just don’t count on anything resembling a featured three-down role.

Cincinnati Bengals (from Week 8)

Notes: The Bengals utilized more of a two-RB committee in Week 8 than they did in Week 7, but Gio remains locked in as the starting back and will continue to see the lion's share of the pass-game work. Still, this sort of usage is more of the RB2 than RB1 variety. It’s all dependent on whether or not Joe Mixon (foot) will be ready to go in Week 10 against the Steelers following the team’s Week 9 bye.

Fantasy Twitter loves to complain about Mixon’s lack of a consistent pass-game role, but the man did lead the league in touches during Weeks 1-6. Treat him as a top-15 option at the position despite the porous matchup against the Steelers as long as we don’t receive word that a limited role is on the horizon. Nobody has allowed fewer PPR points per game to opposing RBs than Pittsburgh, but in fantasy football land it’s better to chase volume instead of worrying too much about perceived bad matchups.

Cleveland Browns (from Week 8)

Notes: Hunt has played a near every-down role when not impacted by fourth-quarter cramps or extremely negative game-script with Nick Chubb (knee) sidelined. However, Chubb is set to return following the Browns’ Week 9 bye.

There’s been an idea floated around that Hunt will be fine with Chubb back because he produced well enough during the early part of the season. Yes, Hunt is plenty capable of also supplying top-20 value in games like Week 2-3 when the Browns can build multi-score leads. Also yes, Chubb led the way in carries (51 vs. 39) by a fairly large margin in Weeks 1-3, and we probably can’t expect the same sort of scoring upside in the future from Hunt (8-42-2) as a receiver.

Here’s the thing: Cleveland might just be able to play with similarly positive game script moving forward. Their second-half schedule is borderline erotic in terms of the run defenses they’ll be up against:

  • Week 10: Texans (No. 30 in PPR points per game allowed to opposing RBs)
  • Week 11: Eagles (No. 6)
  • Week 12: Jaguars (No. 27)
  • Week 13: Titans (No. 21)
  • Week 14: Ravens (No. 5)
  • Week 15: Giants (No. 22)
  • Week 16: Jets (No. 26)

Both Chubb and Hunt are excellent real-life football players, but they’re much closer to the RB1 borderline/RB2 range when each are healthy. Chubb is the superior option thanks to his larger workload, while Hunt has more value in full point-per-reception leagues. Still, arguably every remaining game other than their Week 14 matchup against the Ravens could feasibly yield the sort of positive game script that we’re looking for to make the most out of this situation. Both backs can be started with confidence for at least the next month and likely beyond.

Dallas Cowboys

Notes: Zeke and the Cowboys have a Week 10 bye to get healthy. There are $90 million reasons for Dallas to continue to hand Elliott a workhorse role, but it’s tough to dispute that Pollard has been the vastly superior back on a per-rush basis over the past two seasons:

  • Elliott: 79 PFF rushing grade, 0.16 forced missed tackles per rush, 4.3 yards per carry, 3.0 yards after contact per rush
  • Pollard: 86.1 PFF rushing grade, 0.25 forced missed tackles per rush, 5.0 yards per carry, 4.1 yards after contact per rush

Note that Pollard ranks toward the top of the league in all of these categories; it’s less of an indictment on Zeke than a reflection on the reality that the second-year talent has looked like one of the league’s better backs with his limited opportunities.

Elliott will be a volume-based RB2 with potentially somewhat better days ahead considering this offense at least somewhat resembles an NFL-caliber unit when either Andy Dalton or Garrett Gilbert are under center. Pollard remains a more than solid handcuff, but standalone value remains little more than a pipe dream.

Denver Broncos

Notes: Lindsay has 14 carries and six targets over the past two weeks; Gordon has 14 rush attempts and seven pass-game opportunities during the same span. The Broncos are one of the more injury-ravaged units in the league and thus a bad football team. They’ve been forced to play catchup for the better part of the last three weeks, and we accordingly haven’t seen an emphasis on keeping either RB consistently involved.

If either Gordon or Lindsay misses time the other will be a volume-induced RB2. If not, each are low-ceiling RB3s inside of the league’s 27th-ranked scoring offense. Lindsay has been the superior player all season, although a full takeover seems unlikely considering the Broncos reluctance to fully trust him in the pass game over the years. The Raiders are one of just four defenses to allow at least 30 PPR points per game to opposing backfields; the problem is neither RB has enough volume to make the most out of life in this volatile offense.

Detroit Lions

Notes: Swift continues to function as the Lions’ best back on a weekly basis.

Most of Johnson’s work came in garbage time, and we can still treat Swift as a weekly borderline RB2 considering he gets the fantasy-friendly pass-down work and has averaged 13.8 touches per game since the Lions’ Week 5 bye. It’s just unfortunate that the offense remains so set on feeding Peterson and Johnson these touches. The former back hasn’t averaged even 4.0 yards per carry in a game since Week 2, the latter literally admitted in the offseason that Swift is in another stratosphere than him athletically.

Not having Matthew Stafford (concussion) would further lower the floor and ceiling alike for all three backs. Swift remains the only recommended start, although the matchup isn’t ideal against the Football Team's monstrous defensive line. Additionally, offenses have fed their RB the league’s second-fewest targets when facing Washington this season. It’s not an un-winnable matchup, but when volume is a weekly hurdle, none of this helps matters.

Green Bay Packers

Notes: A-aron was expected to be active pretty much only in case of emergency last week, but he wound up leading the way and looked fine enough doing so. Still, it’s clear the Packers are content with never giving Jones a true three-down role, regardless of whether or not Jamaal Williams (covid) and/or A.J. Dillon (covid) are in the picture.

Ultimately, the Packers are good about getting Jones high-end touches, even if the snaps aren’t as consistent as fantasy managers would prefer. Fire him up as a top-eight option at the position against the Jaguars’ 27th-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. The Packers are presently implied to score a week-high 33 points (FantasyLabs).

Neither Ervin nor Williams (if active) are realistic fantasy options as long as both Jones and Davante Adams are healthy.

Houston Texans

Notes: David (concussion) should be considered questionable to suit up this week.

I reject the idea that the Texans’ backup RB isn’t a three-down back because Duke:

  1. Is The U’s all-time leading rusher ahead of notable stars like Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore and Ottis Anderson among others.
  2. Has a higher BMI than David.
  3. Has been an above-average back among 68 qualified RBs in yards per carry (No. 24), yards after contact per rush (No. 19), forced missed tackles per rush (No. 7) and PFF rushing grade (No. 33) since entering the league in 2015.
  4. Has had Hue Jackson and Bill O’Brien as head coaches for the better part of the last half decade.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Duke will receive the same sort of high-end role we saw last week if David is ultimately sidelined. RB coach Danny Barrett previously said that undrafted rookie Scottie Phillips would be elevated from the practice squad and get carries. This isn’t the end of the world in fantasy land; just expect Duke’s workload to more closely resemble Boston Scott than Chase Edmonds.

David will continue to be a volume-based RB2 if active, as will Duke if the Texans’ starter is sidelined. We have a #RevengeGame narrative brewing against a Browns defense that ranks 24th yards before carry allowed per rush. #FreeDuke season might finally be coming to fruition. Here. We. Go.

Check out the Tuesday episode of the PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for my extended thoughts on Duke and rest of the week’s top potential waiver wire additions.

Indianapolis Colts

Notes: The Colts made an early effort to feed Taylor in Week 9, but he played behind both Wilkins and Hines after fumbling in the second quarter. The play was especially notable thanks to Philip Rivers’ all-time laughable tackle attempt.

Coach Frank Reich said the following about Taylor only getting one rush attempt after the fumble: “Yesterday, we had 15 carries in the first half and six in the second. Our plan was to roll the guys by committee, and then we only had four plays in the third quarter, and the first time we touched it in the fourth quarter, we were down by 11, so it was a little more pass-oriented. I can tell you this, there was never any discussion over the headset about, ‘Hey, let’s get the other guys in there.’ That was not talked about. It was, ‘He has to get over it and get ready to go.’ We have confidence in him, all the confidence in the world.”

The advanced metrics all lean on Wilkins favor in terms of forcing missed tackles and picking up yards after contact, but ultimately Taylor has averaged more yards per carry (3.9 vs. 3.7) and yards per target (8.5 vs. 7.5) than Wilkins. This was the rookie’s first career fumble. Obviously the Taylor takeover that fantasy managers were hoping for won’t be coming to fruition, but don’t confuse this reality with the idea that Wilkins has much of a chance of seizing anything resembling a true three-down role.

This annoying three-down committee isn’t going anywhere. Taylor remains the best bet to lead the way in touches with a neutral game-script, but oddly enough we really haven’t seen that play out since Week 1. None of these backs deserve RB2 treatment in Week 10 against the Titans considering the painfully low touch floor involved. The Titans also deserve credit for holding their opponent under 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games after being shredded during the first month of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Notes: James RB1son continues to see one of the league’s single-largest workloads. Just nine backs have racked up at least 150 combined carries and receptions through nine weeks:

Jake Luton vastly exceeded expectations in his first start. Obviously we’ll see a typical rookie floor at some point, but this offense at least doesn’t appear to be trending towards unplayable. Next up for Robinson is the league’s second-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position. We’ve already seen seven separate backs rack up at least 15 PPR points against this defense:

Robinson remains a rock-solid fantasy RB1.

Kansas City Chiefs

Notes: The Chiefs have played three games with Bell. Their RBs have posted the following usage:

  • Edwards-Helaire: 85 snaps, 19 carries, 12 targets
  • Bell: 52 snaps, 16 carries, 4 targets
  • Williams: 24 snaps, 3 carries, 2 targets
  • Darwin Thompson: 7 snaps, 4 carries, 1 target

The allure for Bell was the potential for a souped-up pass-game role; that hasn’t been the case. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t feel like you have to hold Bell through the bye week.

Hopefully things clear up a bit after the bye, but for meow Edwards-Helaire should be considered more of a middling RB2 than borderline RB1 moving forward. The Chiefs seem content to let the best QB alive air the ball out to his heart’s desire, but don’t rage-trade CEH just because his production hasn’t been as great as we would’ve liked. The man is still the lead RB for the league’s most-explosive offense after all.

Las Vegas Raiders

Notes: Jacobs is third in the NFL in touches; it’s just annoying that his receiving ability has largely been ignored through 1.5 seasons of action. Things seemed to be changing at first with Jacobs seeing at least three targets per game in Weeks 1-7, but he’s had just two combined pass-game opportunities over the past two weeks. Part of this has been due to 1) horrific weather in Week 8, and 2) Derek Carr not having to throw more than 23 times in Week 9. Still, the lack of any sort of consistent role in the aerial attack is puzzling for a player that was lauded for his receiving ability at Alabama.

Again: Jacobs is still being absolutely fed touches. He’s the overall PPR RB10 and ranks 13th in PPR points per game at the position. Jacobs is a weekly RB1 pretty much independent of the matchup considering the Raiders have either won, dominated or lost by fewer than two scores in all but two games this season.

The Broncos are hardly a cake walk, but continue to treat Jacobs as a weekly top-12 option at the position. Booker would be the preferred addition if an injury were to occur, although Richard would likely see enhanced opportunity as well.

Los Angeles Chargers

Notes: Jackson injured his knee on the first play of the game. Troymaine Pope (concussion) remains sidelined. Sheesh.

Freed at last from Adam Gase, Ballage played solid in Week 9 and converted his 17 touches into 84 total yards and a score. Kelley wasn’t awful, but this was the second consecutive week that he wound up working behind the team’s third RB in terms of total touches.

My quick-hitting thoughts on the situation: Stay the hell away people, particularly against a Dolphins defense that neutered Chase Edmonds and the Cardinals so effectively in Week 9. Yes, the Dolphins haven’t been a “good” run defense this season as a whole. Also yes, it makes far more sense to value pass defense over trying to stop the run in 2020. Show the league’s fourth-ranked scoring defense some respect; Jackson is the only back from this group that would flirt with borderline RB2 status if we get good news about his health.

Los Angeles Rams (from Week 8)

Notes: Henderson (thigh) left early in Week 8 after continuing to look good with the ball in his hands, leading to Brown and Akers splitting reps the rest of the way.

Akers has truly flashed at points this season and deserves more touches moving forward.

Note that the next play following Akers’ tackle-breaking display was a handoff up the middle to Brown.

Don’t expect this committee to fully center around a single back without multiple injuries occurring. McVay has held true to his offseason assertion that they’re pleased with all three of their backs, and it seems unlikely we see any of these backs fully take over.

Assuming good health, Henderson remains the most viable fantasy option thanks to the continued potential for 15-plus combined carries and targets per game. He’s more of a low-end RB2 in a spot that figures to feature more Jared Goff than usual, as the Rams would be best off 1) attacking the Seahawks’ abysmal pass defense, and 2) keeping their foot on the gas to keep up with Russ and company. Akers is a speculative add with the hope of a post-bye rookie bump at best, while Brown is basically Latavius Murray but in a worse offense and without the high-end handcuff appeal.

Miami Dolphins

Notes: Matt Breida (hamstring) has a chance to return this week, and DeAndre Washington will also enter the equation. The answer here is no. Don’t do it. I’m out. Done. We can’t trust anything here, just move along. Moving on.

Minnesota Vikings

Notes: The only reason Abdullah is listed is because he happened to take his long target to the house. Kudos.

Anyway, it continues to be Cook’s world. The Vikings’ stud RB has been nothing short of remarkable during his last four non-injury-shortened games:

  • Week 3: 22 rushes-181 yards-1 TD, 2 receptions-18 yards-0 TD, PPR RB5
  • Week 4: 27-130-2, 2-16-0, PPR RB2
  • Week 8: 30-163-3, 2-63-1, PPR RB1
  • Week 9: 22-206-2, 2-46-0, PPR RB1

I’m still forced to rank Kamara one spot higher this week due to his absurd pass-game floor, but after a few drinks over the weekend that could very well change. Don’t underestimate the potential for Cook to ball the hell out against a Bears defense that ranks 21st and 30th in yards before contact per rush and explosive run-play rate allowed, respectively.

New England Patriots

Notes: Harris (chest) was injured late in the fourth quarter and doesn’t have a locked in role moving forward with Sony Michel (quad) seemingly poised to return sooner rather than later.

The Patriots’ second-year back has been solid this season, but don’t count on him relegating a healthy Michel to the bench. Both early-down backs have made the most out of their opportunities through nine weeks:

  • Harris: 81.7 PFF rushing grade, 0.13 forced missed tackles per rush, 5.6 yards per carry, 3.0 yards after contact per attempt
  • Michel: 72 PFF rushing grade, 0.12 forced missed tackles per rush, 6.7 yards per carry, 4.1 yards after contact per attempt

It’s possible the Patriots utilize a dreaded four-RB committee moving forward. Everyone involved carries minimal upside with Cam Newton leading the league in rushing scores inside the 5-yard line. Burkhead or White would carry some weekly value if the other misses time, but together they more or less cap each other's upside.

Against the Ravens, and in this economy, I’m out on the Patriots RBs this week.

New Orleans Saints

Notes: Kamara’s six targets are a bit concerning in Michael Thomas’ first game since Week 1, although the Saints massacring the Buccaneers and building a 31-0 halftime lead probably had more to do with the reduced pass-game value. Even Kamara’s bad games are still relatively fine; his 9-40-1 rushing and 5-9-0 receiving lines produced the sixth-most points at the position last week.

Again: Full point-per-reception scoring is borderline stupid and places too much value on simply catching the ball. This is particularly true for the sort of dump-offs and low-aDOT targets that RBs receive. However, it’s the game we play, and we’re thus forced to take advantage of these faulty rules.

Kamara remains my overall RB1 ahead of a date with the banged-up 49ers, who have allowed a combined 71 points over the past two weeks to the Seahawks and Packers. Expect a similar performance from this surging Saints offense that ranks fourth in points per game this season. Murray remains nothing more than a low-ceiling standalone option, but there isn’t a more valuable handcuff in fantasy football.

New York Giants

Notes: Devonta Freeman (ankle) returning to action would further muddle up this three-back committee. The Giants offense has scored 34, 20, 21, 23 and 23 points over the past five weeks, but the lack of a true featured player in either the run or pass game has prohibited any sort of consistent production from pretty much everyone involved.

The Eagles have allowed the sixth-fewest PPR points per game to opposing RBs; please try to find a better option this week. Gallman is the recommended play, but he’s a TD-dependent RB3 running behind PFF’s 29th-graded offensive line in run blocking. 

New York Jets

Notes: Watching announcers attempt to juice up the Jets backfield these days is pretty, pretty, pretty brutal.

Joe Flacco and company actually moved the ball well through the air against the Patriots last Monday night, but we continued to see Gore work ahead of the offense’s more-explosive rookie. Perine will play more snaps in games that the Jets fall behind; the problem is that 1) goal-line opportunities are hard to come by in the league’s 32nd-ranked scoring offense, and 2) this offense ranks 26th in total targets to the RB position.

Neither back needs to be held through the Jets’ Week 10 bye.

Philadelphia Eagles (from Week 8)

Notes: Sanders (knee) is tentatively expected to be ready to go following the Eagles’ Week 9 bye. He played at least 75% of the offense’s snaps in all four of his non-injury shortened games and will be a top-10 option at the position if active in Week 10 against the Giants. Scott, arguably the league’s most-notable Giant-slayer at this point, would be a top-15 option at the position if Sanders remains sidelined.

The Giants are a better defense than their record indicates, but this hasn’t exactly helped in terms of limiting the fantasy production of opposing RBs. The following backs all went for at least 15 PPR points against the Giants:

The Eagles are getting healthier at the right time; don’t be surprised if Sanders puts together a more than solid stretch during the second half. Scott doesn’t need to be held on rosters once we get confirmation that Sanders is good to go.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: Week 9 featured the Cowboys building a 13-0 lead on the Steelers. It was weird, and we accordingly saw some straight up funky snap distribution between the offense’s WRs and RBs:

Conner’s snaps and targets were taking a turn for the better after the Steelers’ Week 4 bye, but his latest usage has been brutal. He’s not a back that can function independent of negative game script if Big Ben’s new fad is to throw out of empty as much as possible:

  • Week 1: 6 pass attempts out of empty
  • Week 2: 8
  • Week 3: 3
  • Week 5: 8
  • Week 6: 1
  • Week 7: 6
  • Week 8: 20
  • Week 9: 23

Conner should still see 15-20 carries in games with better overall game script, but these last two weeks have been a soft reminder that we aren’t looking at the same sort of 2014-2018 workhorse role that the Steelers starting RB is usually afforded. Pittsburgh is favored by 10 points against the Bengals; this is a prime bounce-back spot for Conner. Still, we’re better off treating him as more of a borderline RB1 moving forward than locked-in top-five option at the position due to the low-floor involved during games that feature the Steelers trailing for an extended time.

None of the other Steelers RBs are realistic fantasy options this week. We’d likely see a fairly low-volume three-back committee if Conner is forced to miss any time.

San Francisco 49ers

Notes: Clearly Kyle Shanahan doesn’t trust Hasty to be on the field for any length of time. The tired legs narrative surrounding McKinnon didn’t stick, as he led the way in all three usage metrics during the 49ers’ Week 9 loss to the Packers.

We’ve seen McKinnon work as the starting RB on three separate occasions this year:

  • Week 3: 14 carries-38 yards-1 TD, 3 receptions-39 yards-0 TD, PPR RB14
  • Week 4: 14-54-1, 7-43-0, PPR RB6
  • Week 9: 12-52-1, 3-16-0, PPR RB8

This is clearly a fluid situation capable of turning itself on its head at any moment. Still, we can tentatively slot in McKinnon as a top-24 option at the position as the expected lead back for another week. Of course, it wouldn’t be shocking if Hasty randomly gets an increased run, but we certainly can’t anticipate that.

The matchup against the Saints’ third-ranked defense in yards before contact allowed is brutal, and this version of the 49ers’ banged-up offense is struggling to create explosive plays. McKinnon deserves RB2 treatment as a starting back coached by a Shanahan; just realize there’s a lower floor in this run game than we’re used to.

Seattle Seahawks

Notes: Last week I wrote the following about this backfield:

“It’s great that Dallas proved he’s capable of handling a three-down workload. Still, we should keep in mind that 1) each of Chris Carson (foot), Carlos Hyde (hamstring) and Homer (knee) were game-time decisions last week, and 2) Dallas failed to pick up even 10 yards on a single touch in 23 opportunities. This isn’t to say the rookie is awful; just don’t expect the Seahawks’ incumbent backups to stay on the bench once healthy.”

As expected, Homer wound up working as the lead back. Dallas managed to find the end zone, but continued to underwhelm with his touches.

Carson is a RB1 once healthy, and Hyde a RB2. Everything else is up in the air. Hell, even Rashaad Penny (knee, PUP) seems to be at least somewhat on the verge of a return.

Anybody in line for double-digit touches inside of the league’s No. 1 ranked scoring offense is worthy of fantasy consideration. Still, it’s pretty tough to project any of these backups for that sort of role unless Carson or Hyde return. Stay away from the other options against Aaron Donald and company.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notes: Jones has essentially been benched twice this season: 1) Week 2 against the Panthers after a botched handoff, and 2) Week 8 against the Giants after dropping/fumbling a deflected target. The third-year back has looked like the best back on the Buccaneers as a pure rusher throughout 2020, but clearly coach Bruce Arians isn’t remains skeptical.

RoJo was treated as the starter for the brief time that the Buccaneers’ Week 9 matchup against the Saints was close, but it was the Fournette “show” the rest of the way. Fournette earned the offense’s “nickel” job in Week 7 and has continued to function as the lead pass-down back ever since. This sort of role is going to lead to top-15 treatment in the right matchup, something that is right around the corner against a Panthers defense that surrendered 12-103-2 rushing and 4-13-0 receiving lines to Fournette back in Week 2.

Perhaps we see this backfield get back to more of a 50/50 split with more neutral game script, but for meow Fournette is the far superior fantasy option. He’s a RB2 in this plus spot, Jones is a low-floor and low-end RB3.

Tennessee Titans

Notes: Yes, it’s annoying the Titans don’t play Henry on a higher percentage of their snaps. Also yes, it sucks that he has just a single target over the past two weeks. That’s OK; winter is coming, people:

  • September: 3.88 career yards per carry
  • October: 4.33
  • November: 5.6
  • December: 5.38
  • January: 5.2

The Colts defense is legit and has allowed the third-fewest PPR points per game to opposing RBs this season. That won’t be enough to keep Henry out of this week’s top-five RBs; continue to treat The Big Dog as a weekly upside RB1 regardless of the matchup.

None of the Titans backup RBs are worthy of a bench stash.

Washington Football Team

Notes: Oh boy. Where to begin.

Let’s start with Alex Smith. Smith is a fantastic comeback story and deserves comeback player of the year, but his performance this season has been mediocre to be nice and pathetic to be mean. Only Josh Allen (57%) and Cam Newton (56%) have thrown to their first read less often than Smith (59%). I won't pretend to know exactly what goes into a professional QB's decision to throw to their first read or not, but it seems pretty clear that the former two options are probably exercising their dual-threat ability more than the latter QB, who has seemed happy to simply get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible more times than not in 2020.

Smith has checked the ball down on nine of 50 throws, good for an 18% rate that is literally double any QB with at least 100 pass attempts this season. His only TD pass this season was a borderline hospital ball that probably should've been intercepted.

Clearly Smith is prioritizing getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. The Football Team’s solution to this problem is seemingly to get McKissic as involved as possible. Only Alvin Kamara (41) has more targets at the position than McKissic (38) since Week 4. Note that both teams have had a bye week; they’re that far ahead of the rest of the pack. Washington has consistently gone out of their way to feature the journeyman scat back as a receiver, feeding McKissic 24 targets when lined up in the slot or out wide. No other RB has more than 16 such targets.

Many have pointed out that McKissic is in the game to “protect” Smith. The 5-foot-10 and 195-pound back hasn’t been asked to pass block on more than five snaps in a game this season. If the Football Team is punishing Gibson for his inability to pass protect, they’re doing so by having McKissic run routes.

The rookie fumbled last week after an impressive 21-yard catch and run. Gibson isn’t perfect, but he’s already unequivocally earned the team’s early-down work, and the collegiate WR certainly seems worthy of enhanced usage in the pass game. It remains unclear why exactly all these designed looks are going to McKissic instead of Gibson:

  • McKissic: 70.5 PFF receiving grade, 7.3 yards per reception, 7 yards after the catch per reception, 1.4 yards per route run, 1 drop
  • Gibson: 62.9 PFF receiving grade, 8.3 yards per reception, 10.1 yards after the catch per reception, 1.67 yards per route run, 1 drop

Madness. Smith threw three interceptions in 30 minutes in Week 9; Dwayne Haskins had that many picks in Weeks 1-4 combined. I understand Haskins has reportedly pushed the wrong buttons in the locker room; credit to the Football Team for leaking reports that have further tarnished the trade value of their 2019 first-round pick.

I’ve heard people say that Smith played well in Week 9 minus the three interceptions. Don’t be that person. Great story, but having Smith under center is objectively bad for everybody in this offense other than McKinnon. A matchup in Detroit would seemingly be a great time for Gibson to be unleashed to the full extent of his talents. Alas, with Smith under center, I’m forced to do the unthinkable and rank McKissic ahead of the talented rookie due to their massive difference in pass-game opportunity. Sad!

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