Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Taking stock of every NFL team's backfield situation ahead of Week 1

Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) celebrates after he ran for a first down in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-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 running back position, in particular, can be tough to stay on top of, as an overwhelming majority of offenses have replaced a single three-down back with committees of various shapes and sizes.

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

  • Offenses featuring a single workhorse
  • Fantasy-friendly committee backfields
  • Situations fantasy football owners should avoid
  • Teams that are most open for a rookie back to thrive in 2020

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This isn't a full depth-chart listing, as I'm not concerned about running backs who make their living on special teams or guys only expected to see a touch or two per game. Rather, the goal here is to get an early idea of the league's various committee situations in an effort to see both undervalued situations as well as teams that could theoretically enable a highly productive rookie running back.

Each back’s Week 1 projected snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. From Week 2 on, the numbers will be updated with 2021 statistics. Great day to be great.


ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN| CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WFT


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Chase Edmonds 60% 7.7 3.4
James Conner 40% 7.5 1.9

The Cardinals haven’t shied away from using Edmonds in a featured role in the past when David Johnson and Kenyan Drake missed time. The results have largely been fantastic, as Edmonds has ripped off weekly PPR RB1, RB5, RB14, RB19, RB21, RB30, RB40 and RB54 finishes in his eight career games with at least 50% of the offense’s snaps.

The problem is Conner, who reunites with former running backs coach James Saxton. Injuries aside, it’s unlikely Conner is ever blessed with the sort of every-down role he had in 2018 again. Still, he’s been an excellent goal-line back throughout his career:

  • PFF rushing grade inside the five-yard line: 77.3 (No. 1 among 38 running backs with at least 15 goal line carries since 2017)
  • TD conversion rate: 55% (No. 4)
  • First down or touchdown rate: 62% (No. 1)

Edmonds has just one career carry inside the five-yard line. Having a dual-threat quarterback like Kyler Murray can sometimes limit these sorts of opportunities, although that didn’t stop Drake from being one of just three players with at least 20 goal-line rush attempts last season.

There’s also a chance Edmonds’ cozy receiving role is reduced. Last season, only Alvin Kamara, J.D. McKissic and Nyheim Hines racked up more fantasy points than Edmonds from purely receiving production. It sure looks like Rondale Moore might be scooping up a decent chunk of Edmonds’ target share based on his preseason usage.

Edmonds out-snapped Conner 7-3 with the starters in Week 2 of the preseason, and I expect him to be the 1A in this two-back committee. This should be enough to yield borderline RB2 production in the right matchup, which is exactly what the Cardinals have in the form of the Tennessee Titans. Edmonds comes in as my RB25 on the week, ahead of rookies not named Najee Harris as well as everyone involved in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills muddled backfields.

Conner (RB37) isn’t a bad DFS tournament option in the hopes he falls into the end zone on multiple occasions, otherwise, I’d wait a week to ensure there’s a fantasy-relevant workload to be had.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Mike Davis 65% 13.3 3.0
Wayne Gallman 20% 7.0 1.1
Cordarrelle Patterson 15% 2.5 2.1

Davis’ lack of preseason snaps was good in terms of his potential to lead this backfield from Day 1. It’s also bad in terms of our ability to distinguish just how far ahead he is from the team’s other backs. This could be quite the fantasy-friendly role if the Falcons decide to utilize Davis like they did Todd Gurley during the first half of 2020. Overall, only Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott and Josh Jacobs had more touches than Gurley before the Falcons’ Week 10 bye. Yes, the Falcons have a new coaching staff in 2021, and that new coaching staff just so happened to enable King Henry to 2,000-yard heights last season.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Davis is featured above the 65% mark I’m projecting, but there’s just more uncertainty inside of this backfield than most. He’s set up well enough in Week 1 as a home favorite against the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s fair to be skeptical of Davis’ ability to maintain his stranglehold on RB1 duties for 17 straight weeks. Luckily, we’re only concerned with this Sunday. He’s my RB20 ahead of early-down grinders, such as Raheem Mostert and Damien Harris, who don't have the same sort of touch ceiling.

Gallman is the preferred handcuff, as C-Patt is more of a gadget player on offense who is not expected to see consistent true-RB usage. Still, a committee of sorts would be likely if Davis misses time, as neither player needs to be rostered in most fantasy formats. Gallman poses more of a threat to Davis than recently released Qadree Ollison in terms of proven on-field talent, but the reality is that the Falcons largely faded their plethora of chances to add significant competition to this backfield throughout the offseason, making his presence a rather moot point.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Gus Edwards 65% 12.0 1.9
Ty'Son Williams 35% 4.6 0.6

Both J.K. Dobbins (ACL, IR) and Justice Hill (Achilles, IR) are done for the season.

Yes, Edwards should see a solid boost in volume with Dobbins sidelined. Also yes, we have two years of evidence that the Ravens’ single goal in life isn’t to feature the artist known as “Bus.” The Ravens actually turned their backfield over to both Lamar Jackson and Edwards for the final seven games of 2018. Edwards worked as the PPR RB18 down the stretch and averaged 17.5 carries per game while clearing the 50% snap threshold on just two occasions. Unfortunately, this didn’t lead to him getting the full-time job, as Mark Ingram and Dobbins were added to the picture in 2019 and 2020.

This latter point is my biggest issue with confidently projecting Edwards for a season-long masterpiece: Baltimore has consistently spelled him with Hill when Ingram and Dobbins have been sidelined. The last time this happened was Week 12 in 2020, as Edwards handled nine touches on a 51% snap rate while Hill had 11 touches on a 49% snap rate.

The Ravens realize they need some added juice and have accordingly signed Le’Veon Bell. Let’s see what the stats say about the 29-year-old talent being washed:

  • PFF rushing grade: 75.3 (No. 26 among 67 backs with at least 50 carries in 2020)
  • Missed tackles forced per rush: 0.17 (tied for No. 11)
  • Yards per carry: 3.9 (tied for No. 41)
  • Yards after contact per rush: 3 (tied for No. 20)

Where Bell surprisingly didn’t shine was in the passing game, posting career-low marks in yards per route run (0.83) and PFF pass-blocking grade (47). Failure to improve in this facet of the game could be the difference between Bell carving out a real role for himself, or simply falling by the wayside.

Ultimately, the Ravens had to add a third running back. Still, it would’ve been a lot easier to feel better about this situation had Baltimore added a back who was going to be utilized on special teams, something the eight-year veteran has never done aside from a few snaps on kick return over the years. The Chiefs healthy scratching Bell during their final two playoff games doesn’t change the reality that he played between 18-52% of the offense’s snaps in his first nine games.

Bell isn’t an immediate threat to Edwards or Williams, but he does grow an expected two-back committee to three once active. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Bell is “soon likely to be added to the 53-man roster when ready.” It seems unlikely a major Week 1 role is on the horizon but if active, I’d anticipate something around a 60%, 25%, 15% split between the trio, with Bell holding the latter rate and seeing a handful of combined carries and targets.

Edwards comes in as my RB17 on the week, ahead of guys like D’Andre Swift and David Montgomery, although it’s still tough to elevate Edwards over backs, such as James Robinson and Chris Carson, who have larger pass-down roles.

Williams is the wild card of the equation. He’s earned praise from the Ravens throughout training camp and seemingly beat out Hill for No. 2 duties even before the injury. Double-digit touches in Week 1 are certainly on the table but just realize it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Jackson keep his Superman cape on more than usual as both a rusher and passer with his backfield so depleted. Williams is my RB38 on the week so wait a week to get a real feel of the workload on hand before starting him with any level of confidence in non-DFS settings, particularly if Bell winds up being active.

I’d add Tony Jones over Williams at the moment thanks to his potential to seize complete control of his backfield if a disaster were to strike.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Devin Singletary 45% 8.2 2.2
Zack Moss 45% 8.7 1.6
Matt Breida 10% 1.9 0.2

Moss seemed to be on the verge of taking control of this backfield, but a hamstring injury during camp derailed those plans. Now things seem to be trending toward another evenly split committee.

This isn’t great, as the Bills haven’t enabled anything resembling a high-end running back since Josh Allen took over under center in 2018.

  • 2018: LeSean McCoy PPR RB39 (14 games), Chris Ivory RB65 (13 games)
  • 2019: Singletary RB33 (12 games), Frank Gore RB50 (16 games)
  • 2020: Singletary RB32 (16 games), Moss RB48 (13 games)

Both Moss and Singletary seem to be talented enough to return RB2 value with a featured workload, but it just seems unlikely either see 15-plus touches with any level of consistency as long as Allen is throwing and running to his heart’s desire. The Bills certainly have 258 million reasons to potentially limit Allen’s robust goal-line usage, but even those extra opportunities could be undone by Breida if the offense decides to add another back to the committee.

Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens are presently implied to score more points than the Bills, as this offense is going to put up some serious numbers in 2021 and, perhaps, as early as Week 1 despite the tough draw against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Alas, Moss (RB33) and Singletary (RB34) both land in the lower-end of my RB3 range due to the likelihood that they continue to split their not-so fantasy-friendly touches.

Chase volume, not talent, in fantasy land. Unfortunately, neither Moss nor Singletary looks all that poised to see the former variable with much regularity in 2021.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Christian McCaffrey 90% 16.7 5.2
Chuba Hubbard 10% 3.8 0.8

The 2020 version of CMC actually averaged more PPR points per game (30.1) than the 2019 edition (29.5). All in all, McCaffrey is responsible for two of the top six highest-scoring campaigns on a per-game basis among all RBs in NFL history. The reality that the Panthers gave him an absurd 97% snap rate in Week 1 last year and allowed Mike Davis to walk in free agency paints the picture of McCaffrey continuing to get all the touches he can handle in 2021.

Running backs who catch passes are the closest thing fantasy football has to a cheat code, and CMC does this more frequently than any other back in NFL history. He’s a cinch for overall RB1 status until further notice regardless of the opponent.

Hubbard played 62 of 69 (90%) first-team snaps this preseason, and he’s a fantastic handcuff to stash in the event McCaffrey is ever forced to miss time. Perhaps Royce Freeman‘s presence could turn a post-CMC backfield into more of a committee than most expect. Either way, Hubbard would be the preferred add and a potential fantasy RB2 (at worst) from Day 1.

PFF's 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit includes links to every article, tool and chart to best prepare you for your fantasy football draft. This will be updated regularly between now and Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
David Montgomery 70% 12.5 3.4
Damien Williams 30% 6.4 2.2

The million-dollar question for Montgomery investors is whether or not he’ll see the same gaudy three-down role in 2021 that he saw down the stretch in 2020. It’s easy to be skeptical despite Tarik Cohen‘s (knee, PUP) absence: Last season, Montgomery’s primary competition was converted WR/GOAT kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, but he now shares the running back room with a man who racked up 133 total yards and a pair of scores in the Super Bowl the last time we saw him with a pair of shoulder pads on.

Ultimately, Montgomery is the favorite to lead the way in snaps, rushes and targets alike, but the problem is the latter variable likely won’t be as elite in 2021. The Bears’ third-year back racked up the fifth-most PPR points from purely receiving production of any running back last season but don’t be surprised if the floor is lower than usual, particularly as long as Andy Dalton is under center. No offense is implied to score fewer points than the Bears (18.25) at the time of this writing.

Aaron Donald and company allowed the fourth-fewest PPR points per game to opposing running backs last season, so this is a brutal matchup. Montgomery is my RB19 this week and isn’t necessarily a must-start for those loaded at wide receiver. I remain bullish on Williams (RB46), but he’s a wait-and-see option at the moment until there’s confirmation that a usable weekly role exists behind Montgomery.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Joe Mixon 80% 15.0 3.5
Samaje Perine 10% 3.5 1.2
Chris Evans 10% 1.8 1.0

Mixon struggled to meet gaudy preseason expectations during the first three years of his career due to Giovani Bernard‘s presence. Injuries were the issue in 2020, leading to Mixon playing fewer than 14 games for the first time in his career.

Fast forward to the present day and suddenly Mixon is positioned to work as the Bengals’ three-down workhorse. The chief concern among folks afraid to utilize a second-round pick on Mixon is simple: the team’s atrocious offensive line. It’d certainly be nice if the Bengals’ big uglies were better but in general, we should take offensive line projections with a grain of salt when looking at high-usage running backs. Last season, PFF’s bottom-five offensive lines in run-blocking grade produced the same number of top-24 PPR RBs (four) as the top-five units (four).

Credit to the Minnesota Vikings for raising the talent floor on defense, but this is still the league’s reigning 27th- and 29th-ranked unit in PPR points allowed to running backs and overall scoring. Fire up Mixon with confidence, as the only running backs I have ranked ahead of him are Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry and Aaron Jones.

It remains to be seen to what extent Perine and Evans will be involved behind Mixon. Neither are realistic starting options, although Evans could be worthy of a bench spot in deeper leagues thanks to his demonstrated ability in the passing game. A committee is likely if Mixon misses time and targeting the pass-catching back in these sorts of situations is usually the preferred move, although neither backup is anything close to a required add.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Nick Chubb 55% 13.8 2.0
Kareem Hunt 45% 7.2 2.6

Chubb played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in just two of his 14 games last season. Hunt played at least a third of the offense’s snaps in all 18 of their games (including playoffs). They posted the following splits during their 14 games together:

  • Snaps: Chubb (464); Hunt (416)
  • Rush attempts: Chubb (221); Hunt (147)
  • Targets: Chubb (27); Hunt (38)

There’s little doubt Chubb is the lead back, but the split is clear: Hunt is the lead passing down back. He out-snapped Chubb 57 to six in the two-minute drill and 140 to 23 on third down. Chubb is the featured early-down back, as he out-snapped Hunt 425 to 234 on first and second down and 445 to 334 when the clock wasn’t under two minutes.

Ultimately, the Browns fed Chubb at least 15 combined targets and carries in all but one of his fully healthy games last season. He’s the lead back here and fully expected to lead the way in total touches. Hunt was the one who had to get by on lesser volume, failing to reach the 15-opportunity threshold in all but five of his 14 games with Chubb also on the field.

No matchup has a higher game total than Browns-Chiefs (53). Chubb (RB10) and Hunt (RB29) could both provide high-end production in this potential shootout. The disparity in my rankings is more of a bet on Hunt’s scoring efficiency dwindling a bit in 2021 than any sort of slight at either back.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Ezekiel Elliott 80% 13.7 4.0
Tony Pollard 20% 6.6 1.9

In 2020, things got rough for Elliott — and it got bad in a hurry. Overall, Zeke scored just eight total TDs, coughed the ball up on six separate occasions and tied for the position lead in drops. Sheesh.

And yet: we still haven’t seen him ever function as anything worse than a high-end RB1 in fantasy land when available and with his quarterback healthy.

  • 2016: Overall PPR RB2
  • 2017: RB12 in 10 games, RB3 in PPR points per game
  • 2018: RB5
  • 2019: RB3
  • 2020: RB9, RB3 with Dak under center

Chase volume over talent in fantasy land and at Zeke’s best, he has an elite combination of both. Buy the brief dip in his value ahead of a season that projects the Cowboys to get back to functioning as one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses.

Yes, facing off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ reigning top-six defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs without all-world guard Zack Martin (COVID) isn’t ideal. Also yes, Zeke has the sort of high-end usage to still get by in the presence of reduced efficiency. He’s my RB8 on the week, and he's only behind backs who have the same sort of three-down role *and* a quality matchup.

Pollard is my RB54 and not a recommended starting option, as this is Zeke’s backfield even if the Cowboys’ rising third-year back has made the most out of his opportunities during his career. Continue to stash Pollard as arguably the single-most valuable handcuff in fantasy but just realize there won’t be many, if any, viable fantasy weeks as long as Elliott is on the field.

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Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Javonte Williams 50% 13.3 2.4
Melvin Gordon III 50% 9.4 1.6

What we know about Williams:

  • The Broncos traded up the 35th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to acquire his services.
  • He posted PFF’s second-highest career rushing grade while shattering the previous record for missed tackles forced rate.
  • He followed up a debut filled with broken tackles by demonstrating the sort of three-down readiness as a pass blocker that will take any true football guy from six to midnight in a hurry.

Coach Vic Fangio’s reasoning for not playing Williams in Week 3:

“No, he wasn’t dealing with anything. We wanted to feature Gordon early in the game and then give the other guys – the young guys – a chance. We felt good about what Javonte [has] done the first couple of weeks.”

Read between the lines people: Williams is going to be an important offensive piece from Day 1. It was mildly concerning that Royce Freeman was largely splitting first-team reps during the first two weeks, but he’s now a member of the Panthers. It’s possible, if not probable, that Williams is leading this backfield in snaps and touches alike from Day 1.

Perhaps I’m too high on Williams (RB26) compared to Gordon (RB41). If possible try and avoid this backfield for a week until we have a better grasp on the rotation at hand. The rookie remains the overwhelming favorite to lead the way over the course of the entire season but just realize incumbent veterans usually don’t fully hit the bench as quickly as fantasy investors would like.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
D'Andre Swift 55% 11.3 3.6
Jamaal Williams 45% 8.1 2.2

Swift (groin) is good to go for Week 1. New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn made some headlines in middle May with the following quote in regards to Williams:

“Jamaal is what I’d call a classic ‘A’ back. My ‘A’ backs are normally my bigger backs. I can leave those guys in there for all three downs. My ‘B’ back comes in, he’s a guy that sometimes I want to use in space more. He’s my speed-in-space guy.”

Williams is a lot of fun to watch, as he seemingly enjoys seeking out contact and is capable of working across all three downs. The only reason fantasy footballers have been down on him over the years is because we all wanted Aaron Jones to get absolutely force-fed touches, but Williams’ status as a good back in his own right has never been in question.

Lynn has directed five offenses since 2016, regularly proving capable of enabling at least one high-end fantasy RB:

Year RB1 PPR/Gm Rank RB2 PPR/Gm Rank
2016 LeSean McCoy RB4 Mike Gillislee RB55
2017 Melvin Gordon RB6 Austin Ekeler RB63
2018 Melvin Gordon RB5 Austin Ekeler RB27
2019 Austin Ekeler RB6 Melvin Gordon RB15
2020 Austin Ekeler RB12 Justin Jackson RB59

Unfortunately, Swift won’t get a McCaffrey-esque 400-touch workload, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t offer immense upside in full point-per-reception formats. Monitor Swift’s health throughout the week, but he can tentatively be fired up as a top-20 option at the position regardless of matchup so long as his fantasy-friendly pass-game usage persists in this new-look offense.

The same is true, but to a lesser extent, for Williams, as he’s my RB36 entering Week 1 thanks to the potential for split duties with Swift. Don’t count on this likely below-average Lions offense to enable multiple high-end backs in the same manner as the 2019 Chargers but just realize there aren’t many mouths to feed in Detroit, so both Swift and Williams should at least see double-digit combined carries and targets more weeks than not.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Aaron Jones 65% 11.7 4.2
A.J. Dillon 35% 7.8 1.7

As great as a rusher as Jones has been, he’s arguably even more dynamic in the passing game. PFF’s 15th-highest ranked running back in receiving grade since 2017, it’s a damn shame the Packers haven’t figured out a way to feed Jones even 50 receptions in a single season.

Some running backs pick up their receiving yards on designed passes that don’t require all that much skill in the route-running department, but this isn’t Jones. Overall, only Austin Ekeler and Nyheim Hines have averaged more yards per route run when lined up in the slot or out wide than Jones since 2017.

Dillon didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do in 2020, but that should change in 2021 after they allowed Williams to take his talents to Detroit this offseason. Jamaal Williams totaled 178, 148, 146 and 150 touches in his four seasons with the Packers, but the million-dollar question is whether or not Dillon will be ready to fully take over the receiving side of things. He only caught 21 passes in 35 games at Boston College, but that very well could’ve been more due to the system than an indictment on his hands. At the risk of putting too much stock into a single offseason play, it seems like the Packers are comfortable utilizing Dillon to some extent in the passing game.

A Week 1 matchup against the Saints isn’t the definition of a smash spot, but Jones might just have the sort of usage to warrant consistent top-five treatment even in tougher matchups. He’s accordingly my RB5 this week while Dillon (RB39) is someone who should be treated as more of a true handcuff until proven otherwise. 


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
David Johnson 35% 5.7 2.9
Phillip Lindsay 30% 6.6 1.6
Mark Ingram II 25% 6.3 1.6
Rex Burkhead 10% 0.7 0.3

Just don’t do it. Seriously. Find someone else to start. Fantasy football is supposed to be fun, but that goal is impossible to accomplish by starting a running back from this trainwreck of an organization. Good talk.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Jonathan Taylor 60% 14.7 2.6
Nyheim Hines 30% 4.6 3.2
Marlon Mack 10% 3.3 1.3

Taylor certainly looks the part of one of the league’s next-great backs, as he boasts power, speed and elusiveness. The man helped win many fantasy football championships thanks to his impressive second half of last season.

Here’s the problem: Indianapolis is again expected to utilize a three-back committee of sorts. This isn’t to suggest Taylor will be anything other than the lead back but last season, Hines, Jordan Wilkins and Mack combined to both out-snap (585 vs. 511) as well as rack up more carries and targets than Taylor (272 vs. 271). Taking Mack out of the picture doesn’t change the reality that this was a three-back committee for most of 2020. Taylor did start to take over during the final seven games of the year, but this did include Wilkins spending the final two games of the season on the COVID list.

Taylor is essentially in the same position as Nick Chubb: He's an incredibly talented real-life back who we wish had a stronger pass-game role for fantasy purposes. Credit to Taylor for catching 36 of his 39 targets last season, but Hines remains locked in as the pass-down back, and the Colts’ target share pie at the running back position is almost guaranteed to decrease with Philip Rivers retired.

Last season, the Seattle Seahawks finished with PFF’s second-best defense against the run and 17th-best in coverage. The potential for Carson Wentz (foot) to operate at less than 100% to start the season shouldn’t be brushed aside, as it’s curious that the Seahawks-Colts matchup is one of just six games in Week 1 with a game total of at least 50.

Taylor (RB12) should see enough early-down work to provide RB1 production more weeks than not but just realize the floor for everyone involved is lower without Rivers under center. Hines (RB42) is, perhaps, a sneaky-solid play considering the potential for the Seahawks to turn this game into a track meet. He’s still someone who should only be started in deeper leagues that utilize full PPR settings. Mack is more of a nuisance to Taylor and Hines than someone to seriously consider as a fantasy option.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
James Robinson 70% 10.5 2.6
Carlos Hyde 30% 7.3 2.3

Week 3 of the preseason was the Jaguars’ first experience without Travis Etienne‘s (Lisfranc, IR) services. The result was a fairly evenly split between Robinson (10 snaps) and Hyde (7), although this wasn’t unordinary. Overall, Robinson started the first two drives in every preseason game while Hyde took every single offensive snap on the Jaguars’ third drive. It’s likely Hyde would’ve stayed on the field had the starters stayed for a fourth drive like they did in Weeks 1-2.

On the one hand, Robinson remains the favorite to lead the way in both overall carries and (especially) targets. On the other, it seems like a pipe dream for him to flirt with the sort of role we saw in 2020, as literally only Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry had more touches than Robinson before he got hurt last season.

It’s possible Dare Ogunbowale or Duke Johnson find their way onto the field on a handful of passing downs but either way, Robinson projects to lead the group in snaps, carries and targets alike. Expect many to be cursing Hyde’s name throughout the Jaguars’ Week 1 smash spot against the Texans, but there should be more than enough volume for the second-year talent to thrive.

Robinson is my PPR RB15 on the week and Hyde is RB45. Find a way to force the former back into lineups of all shapes and sizes, as matchups against a team with the sole goal of losing as many games as possible don’t come around often.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 70% 11.0 3.6
Darrel Williams 20% 5.3 1.6
Jerick McKinnon 10% 2.0 1.3

Edwards-Helaire ranked fourth in touches among all running backs before the Chiefs signed  Le’Veon Bell, who just signed with the Ravens Tuesday, last season. Their lack of meaningful additions to the room other than McKinnon is more fuel to the fire that CEH will be the undisputed featured back in 2021.

We’ve seen example after example of coach Andy Reid enabling a high-end fantasy RB over the past 20-plus years.

Year Running back PPR/game rank
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
2020 Clyde Edwards-Helaire RB21

Better health in 2020 could’ve helped CEH push for 1,500 total yards and (with some luck) double-digit scores. This outcome, and honestly more, is again on the table in 2021. 

CEH enters Week 1 as my RB13, ahead of guys like Saquon Barkley and James Robinson. Don’t let a mildly disappointing rookie campaign distract from the fact that Edwards-Helaire remains the featured back inside of arguably the NFL’s single-best offense. Williams (RB47) probably won’t have a viable standalone role in 2021 if McKinnon wiggles his way into a handful of weekly snaps.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Josh Jacobs 60% 13.0 2.2
Kenyan Drake 40% 7.1 3.0

The good news is that Jacobs figures to again lead this backfield in touches. The bad news is that Drake is seemingly being set up to be the primary pass-down back, meaning Jacobs will have to mightily improve his efficiency in order to return anything resembling top-12 production. The potential for Drake to even supplant Jacobs is on the table, as only 13 running backs are being paid more than Drake ($5.5 million) on an annual basis ahead of 2021.

The difference between Jacobs posting RB1 vs. RB2 production has always been his lack of a true pass-game role. Even if Richard winds up being cut before the season, Drake’s insertion into the equation simply lowers the ceiling associated with everyone involved. Credit to the 2020 Raiders for finishing with the league’s 10th-highest-scoring offense,but they could struggle to achieve that again if PFF’s 26th-ranked offensive line isn’t significantly better live than on paper.

There will be weeks where Jacobs (RB28) and Drake (RB35) could both find their way inside of fantasy’s top-30 backs, but a Week 1 date against the Ravens isn’t that time. The only Raider who absolutely needs to be in starting lineups is TE Darren Waller.

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Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Austin Ekeler 70% 11.2 5.0
Justin Jackson 20% 7.5 1.7
Joshua Kelley 5% 2.0 1.0
Larry Rountree III 5% 1.8 0.7

All Ekeler has done when positioned as the Chargers starting running back without Melvin Gordon in the picture is impress (not including Ekeler’s three-snap Week 4 game in 2020 when he was injured):

  • Games as a fantasy football RB1: Seven
  • Games as a fantasy football RB2: 13
  • Absolute worst performance: RB31
  • With Justin Herbert: RB14, RB3, RB8, RB21, RB8, RB26, RB16, RB15

This sort of floor is nearly impossible to come by in fantasy land. It simply doesn’t really matter that Ekeler has never received 20 carries in a game as long as he continues to function as one of the position’s most productive pass-catchers.

The one kryptonite is his goal-line usage. In 2019, Ekeler (seven rush attempts inside the five-yard line) was severely out-rushed by Gordon (13) while each of Herbert (seven), Kalen Ballage (six) and Kelley (five) saw more goal-line usage than Ekeler (two) in 2020.

Ultimately, it’s not a given Ekeler will continue to be deprived inside the five-yard line, but this could be the difference between him posting top-five vs. top-10 production. It’s not like he’s incapable of being a physical runner, as only Chris Carson and Gus Edwards had a higher percentage of their carries gain at least two yards after contact in 2020. My PPR RB9, Ekeler is a proven stud who is going undervalued despite that he's on an improved offense with little competition for one of the most fantasy-friendly workloads in the league.

Jackson is tentatively expected to slot in as the offense’s No. 2 back despite missing chunks of training camp due to injury. He’s the best prospective add from this backfield, but it’s possible Kelley and Rountree turn this into a multi-back committee on early downs. The answer to which Chargers’ backup running back to roster could very well be: no.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Darrell Henderson 55% 11.8 2.1
Sony Michel 45% 10.3 2.0

It’s been a rollercoaster offseason for Henderson truthers. First expected to be the clear backup behind Cam Akers (Achilles), Henderson was then locked in as the projected lead back until he suffered a thumb injury, and the Rams felt the need to send a pair of conditional draft picks to the New England Patriots in order to acquire Michel.

I won’t disagree with anyone who believes Henderson is the better running back, but 2020 metrics paint the duo as similar producers:

  • PFF rushing grade: Henderson (78.8); Michel (76.5)
  • Missed tackles forced per rush: Henderson (0.16); Michel (0.15)
  • Yards per carry: Henderson (4.5); Michel (5.7)
  • Yards after contact per attempt: Henderson (2.7); Michel (3.4)

Michel graded out significantly better as a receiver (84.1 vs. 68.8), albeit it was only on eight targets.

Ultimately, which running back we think is better doesn’t really matter, as Sean McVay has shown his hand multiple times at this point that he doesn’t believe in Henderson as *the* featured back. ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggested that Michel will “probably be the lead back.”

My money remains on Henderson to lead this backfield, but it’s impossible to feel any sort of clarity in this situation. Hell, Jake Funk could see some usage as well. Ultimately, Henderson (RB23) deserves the benefit of the doubt as the starter, but his ranking could easily be reversed with Michel (RB30) by this time next week depending on how the snaps shake out.

Ideally, avoid this situation for a week until there’s more clarity surrounding the touches at hand.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Myles Gaskin 50% 9.6 3.7
Malcolm Brown 30% 7.0 1.6
Salvon Ahmed 20% 2.5 0.6

In Week 1 of the preseason, Brown out-snapped Gaskin 16-7, but the latter back led the way 19-5 in Week 2. Note that Ahmed played a rather robust 13 snaps in the latter performance as well.

It makes sense to project Gaskin as this backfield’s leader in snaps, targets and carries but just realize he’s dealing with competition from not one but two additional parties who most weren’t anticipating would be part of the equation this time last month. Credit to Gaskin for making the most out of his opportunities last week but continue to treat him as more of a borderline RB3 as opposed to RB2 in fantasy land due to the lack of projected season-long touches.

This is especially true in a tough Week 1 date against the New England Patriots. Only the Lions, Bears, New York Giants and New York Jets are presently implied to score fewer points than the Dolphins so try to avoid starting any of them for a week if you can help it.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Dalvin Cook 80% 17.8 3.7
Alexander Mattison 20% 5.6 0.9

Everyone agrees Cook is a great running back, as his volume is only second to Christian McCaffrey. Accordingly, Cook is the consensus No. 2 overall running back in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes.

And then we have Mattison, who remains a true top-three handcuff in fantasy land behind only Tony Pollard, which excludes “backup” running backs with regular high-end weekly roles (looking at you Kareem Hunt). The Vikings turned to Mattison twice in 2020: Week 6 against the Falcons and Week 17 against the Lions. The former performance was largely undone by the Vikings falling behind 23-0 by the early parts of the third quarter, finishing as RB47, while the latter week showed what Cook’s incumbent backup is capable of with a true every-down role, finishing as RB4.

Perhaps the Vikings blow out the Bengals enough for both Cook (RB2) and Mattison (RB55) to put up numbers, but this shouldn’t be counted on. Similar to Pollard, Mattison is an exceptional handcuff who is not expected to provide much weekly consistency so long as his offense’s starter remains healthy enough to suit up.

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Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Damien Harris 50% 11.3 0.8
James White 30% 4.6 4.0
Rhamondre Stevenson 10% 5.4 0.6
J.J. Taylor 10% 2.9 0.9

Harris took early-down work with the starters in Week 1 of the preseason, and White worked as the pass-down back. In Week 2, this persisted, but Sony Michel took the No. 3 ‘Rex Burkhead’ role. Entering the regular season, the Patriots are seemingly back to utilizing just two backs.

It wouldn’t be shocking if Taylor and/or Stevenson get involved at some point, but their first-team preseason usage suggests that could be a while. Either way, Harris is locked in as the early-down bell-cow in an offense that figures to find itself among the league’s top-10 units in overall rushing volume.

Cam Newton‘s departure is ideal for all parties involved, as Harris should be leaned on as a legit upside RB2 option in the right spot. That appears to be the case in Week 1, as the Patriots find themselves as three-point home favorites against a Dolphins defense that they racked up 334 combined rushing yards against in two 2020 matchups.

I’ll be more in on White (RB50) as the season progresses *if* we confirm Taylor and Stevenson aren’t consistent parts of this offense. For now, Harris (RB22) is the only recommended start out of this ever-muddled backfield.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Alvin Kamara 70% 10.6 6.2
Tony Jones Jr. 30% 9.2 2.7

It was easy to be concerned about Kamara’s 2021 usage before the Michael Thomas (ankle) injury. There have been nine instances where Kamara functioned without Drew Brees as his starting QB over the past two seasons, and there was still plenty of good, as Kamara returned RB3, RB6 and RB9 finishes in full PPR scoring. However, he posted RB16, RB17, RB23, RB26, RB36 and RB37 production in his other six contests.

Kamara has been more of a borderline RB1 to RB2 in fantasy when Brees hasn’t been under center. He still averaged 6.2 targets per game with Teddy Bridgewater at QB, but the larger issue was just two total scores inside of an offense that failed to surpass even 13 points in three of their five games together. The target total was far more concerning with Taysom Hill under center, as Kamara totaled just 16 pass-game opportunities in Weeks 11-14 last season. Things would’ve been even worse if he hadn’t found his way to the end zone on three of his 50 carries.

Luckily, Jameis Winston won the job, meaning Kamara shouldn’t have to suffer from some of the realities of sharing an offense with a mobile quarterback. One of the best pure talents at the position, Kamara slots in as my RB3 and offers his usual week-winning upside against the Packers’ reigning fifth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs.

Latavius Murray was presumed to be the first man up behind Kamara entering 2021, but now that honor goes to Jones Jr. The 2020 undrafted free agent totaled just three touches as a rookie but has cemented his spot as No. 2 on the depth chart after Murray was released on Tuesday. In 2019, Murray handled 84% and 82% snap rates while working as a top-three fantasy back in two games when Kamara was sidelined. The ceiling is the roof for Jones if Kamara misses any time. Perhaps Ty Montgomery or Dwayne Washington would see some additional work with Kamara out but either way, Jones is the definitive leader, making him a prime flex option and top-four handcuff league-wide.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Saquon Barkley 70% 14.2 3.4
Devontae Booker 30% 3.7 1.2

Barkley is tentatively expected to be ready to go by Sunday. Resident PFF medical expert Mario Pilato noted the following about his potential workload:

“Still, there are a couple of worrying factors regarding Barkley's workload early in the season. The Giants play their first three games in 14 days. Putting him under that level of fatigue with minimal rest seems like a recipe for disaster. The reinjury rate for an ACL tear is 18%, with the greatest risk being in the first two years. Barkley is also at increased risk for soft-tissue injuries early in his return. As such, it would be in his and the team's best interest to ramp his workload up as the beginning of the season progresses.”

The Giants have proven willing to hand Barkley a legit every-down role at full health, but the latter variable doesn’t seem to be in play for this tough Week 1 spot against the Denver Broncos. Would it also help to have a better offensive line and surrounding cast? Absolutely, but in fantasy land, volume trumps all. Look no further than last year’s season debut when Barkley totaled 15 carries, six rushing yards and zero touchdowns yet finished the week as the PPR RB23 thanks to a 6-60-0 receiving line.

Barkley is personally my single-highest owned player from a summer’s worth of Underdog Fantasy best-ball drafts, as I’m incredibly bullish on his season-long outcome. Still, a reduced workload is on the table, if not expected, for Week 1. He’s my RB17 in this tough spot and could need to win on efficiency more than usual. This is obviously possible, as Barkley remains my pick as the game’s single-best running back when healthy.

Booker (RB43) could very well see enhanced usage early in the season but just realize he’s still the clear-cut No. 2 back behind PFF’s single-worst offensive line.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Tevin Coleman 45% 9.6 1.2
Michael Carter 30% 6.7 2.3
Ty Johnson 25% 4.8 1.5

In Week 1, the Jets featured Johnson (13 snaps with the starters) ahead of Carter (9) with Coleman (personal) sidelined. Things got even worse for the first year back in Week 2, as Coleman (10) and Johnson (9) relegated Carter to No. 3 duties. Week 3 featured Coleman resting with the starters.

I won’t disagree with anyone who loves Carter’s skill-set but, ultimately, the Jets’ opinion of the rookie matters far more than ours. Opportunity outweighs talent in fantasy football land, and Carter doesn’t project to see all that much of it at the moment.

Coleman highlighted an offseason study that was meant to pinpoint running backs who projected for far more volume than their ADP indicated, and he remains free in plenty of fantasy formats. As much as many want to simply write off Coleman as dust, it’d be nice to see the man operate at something resembling full health. In 2019, he suffered a Grade 3 high-ankle sprain after just 18 snaps and in 2020, he suffered a knee patella sprain after 36 snaps.

This muddled backfield is best approached with a 10-foot pole in Week 1. Let’s find out if anyone even has enough volume to warrant fantasy consideration before even considering any of the members as a viable starter. Preseason usage leads me to give Coleman (RB44) the edge over Carter (RB56) and Johnson (RB57), but their respective low rankings reflect the reality that none should be leaned on despite a winnable matchup against the Panthers.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Miles Sanders 60% 10.7 2.8
Boston Scott 30% 4.6 2.0
Kenneth Gainwell 10% 2.5 0.7

The Eagles utilized Sanders (four snaps with starters) as their No. 1 back in Week 2 of the preseason, but Jordan Howard (two) and Gainwell (one) weren’t far behind. Scott worked alongside Howard with the starters in Week 1 with Sanders sidelined.

Most, including myself, assume Sanders will still lead the backfield in snaps, carries and targets alike, but the problem is that there appear to be three or four potential parties involved. Committee backfields are the norm in today’s NFL, as 19 running backs had at least 300 touches in 2000 compared to just four in 2020. Still, it’s tough to live with players forced to split opportunities with multiple teammates as opposed to those dealing with just one.

Week 1’s matchup against the Falcons is plenty winnable, but it’s just going to be tough for Sanders to function as more than a borderline RB2 if forced to work alongside two other backs who threaten to steal some pass-down work. The additional history of scrambling quarterbacks largely having a negative influence on their team’s running backs doesn’t help matters.

Sanders is my RB24, and Scott my RB53. It’d make sense if the former rockets up the ranks next week with confirmed bell-cow usage, but the potential for multiple backs to maintain consistent involvement in this offense has me largely fading the group for at least a week.

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Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Najee Harris 85% 13.8 3.4
Benny Snell Jr. 15% 4.6 1.3

The Steelers utilized their rookie as a complete workhorse in three preseason games:

  • Hall of Fame: 18/18 snaps with starters (100%)
  • Week 1: 12/17 snaps (71%)
  • Week 2: 15/16 snaps (94%)

The Steelers fed Le’Veon Bell an astronomical 244 carries and 66 targets in just 13 games as a rookie. Even a gross 3.5-yard per attempt average didn’t prevent Bell from returning PPR RB15 production.

Harris comes in as my overall RB7 in Week 1. Yes, this is steep. Also yes, you barely need to use two hands to count the number of backs assured to see more touches than the rookie. Throw in a matchup against the Bills, who had the fifth-worst PFF run-defense grade in 2020, and there’s a case to be made he should be even higher. Get used to treating Harris as an every-week RB1 in fantasy land, as he might just offer a combination of elite volume and high-end talent.

Presumed No. 2 back Anthony McFarland is on the injured reserve list, meaning Snell is the most likely candidate to see backup usage. Still, Kalen Ballage could also be involved. None of these backups are worth a roster spot due to the likelihood that a multi-back committee would emerge should Harris miss any action.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Raheem Mostert 55% 11.5 2.3
Trey Sermon 45% 8.8 1.6

Mostert joins Tyreek Hill as the only player to reach 23 miles per hour with the ball in their hands since 2016, per Next-Gen Stats. He may have turned 29 in April, but Mostert has averaged an absurd 5.6 yards per carry since joining the 49ers in 2016. 

And then there’s Sermon, who seemingly fits Kyle Shanahan’s rushing attack like a glove thanks to his demonstrated high-end vision and elusiveness. Sermon handled the second drive with the starting offense in Week 3 of the preseason after Mostert was done for the day. This could feasibly be a 50/50 split from Day 1 if Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty aren’t involved.

The 49ers enter 2021 with PFF’s ninth-ranked offensive line a year after finishing in the same spot in 2020. Their Week 1 matchup against one of three defenses to allow at least 30 PPR points per game to opposing backfields is borderline erotic. Both Mostert (RB21) and Sermon (RB27) should be started with confidence, even if their respective lack of a pass-down floor hurts their chances at providing true RB1 upside.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Chris Carson 70% 11.5 3.2
Rashaad Penny 20% 5.3 1.6
Alex Collins 10% 1.7 0.7

Overall, Carson worked as the fantasy RB12 in PPR points per game (min. 100 touches) in 2020 after finishing as a borderline RB1 in 2019 (RB12) and 2018 (RB16). He was as tough to get to the ground as ever, as he gained at least two yards after contact on a higher percentage of his carries (77%) than any other back.

It’d be easy to fade Carson in a new situation but back in Seattle, he sure looks like someone poised to function as a three-down back inside of one of the league’s better offenses.

The biggest concern is whether or not we see a true split backfield. Penny was largely an afterthought in 2018, but there was a two-week stretch in 2019 when both he and Carson were unleashed in tandem in wins over the Eagles and Vikings:

  1. Carson: 8-26-0 rushing, 4-31-0 receiving, 51% snaps.
    Penny: 14-129-1 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving, 49% snaps
  2. Carson: 23-102-1 rushing, 1-7-0 receiving, 52% snaps.
    Penny: 15-74-1 rushing, 4-33-1 receiving, 47% snaps

Ultimately, expect Carson to be the main man in this backfield until the wheels fall off. It’ll be hard to keep him outside of fantasy’s top-15 backs until that happens. Penny (RB52) joins most No. 2 backs as players I’m waiting to start due to the uncertainty surrounding the size of their role.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Ronald Jones 35% 11.3 1.5
Leonard Fournette 35% 9.0 2.3
Giovani Bernard 30% 1.7 1.5

Bruce Arians is on record saying that he expects everyone to get some work and doesn’t care about your fantasy team. Thanks, Bruce.

Credit to Fournette on his excellent playoff run, RoJo for functioning as one of the league’s better pure rushers in 2020, but neither back should be considered anything more than a touchdown-dependent RB3. The only reason why either remains in fantasy consideration is due to their presence inside of a projected top-five scoring offense. We could live with Fournette and RoJo splitting touches in 2020, but the likelihood that Bernard heavily eats into their 89 combined targets is problematic.

Perhaps Bernard (ankle) isn’t ready to go by Thursday night. In this case, Fournette would receive a nice boost as the likely primary pass-down back. Still, Ke’Shawn Vaughn could always muddle things up, and RoJo certainly won’t take a full back seat.

This backfield will produce some spike weeks, but it’s just tough to predict when. Fournette (RB31), RoJo (RB32) and Bernard (RB49) are each backs who I’d rather leave on the bench until there’s any sort of clarity as to which player will see the most fantasy-friendly usage.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Derrick Henry 75% 17.7 1.5
Jeremy McNichols 25% 5.4 1.7

The main knock on Henry throughout this offseason is the idea that all his usage will suddenly catch up to him and lead to injury. My biggest issue with penalizing Henry for his volume is the idea that other top backs haven’t seen the same level of work in their career.

Below are the top-10 fantasy football running backs in average draft position (ADP) courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator, with each player’s total collegiate and professional touches noted in parenthesis.

  1. Christian McCaffrey (1,733)
  2. Dalvin Cook (1,683)
  3. Henry (1,877)
  4. Alvin Kamara (1,282)
  5. Ezekiel Elliott (2,304)
  6. Saquon Barkley (1,419)
  7. Nick Chubb (1,541)
  8. Jonathan Taylor (1,236)
  9. Austin Ekeler (1,667)
  10. Aaron Jones (1,511)

Yes, Henry’s workload in high school was absolutely absurd, but the point stands that we can play this game with basically any running back. This isn’t to suggest you should completely ignore how many miles a running back might have on their odometer but just don’t hold this against Henry more than you would for another back.

Perhaps the Titans throw the ball more than usual against the Cardinals’ horrific secondary, but it’d still be surprising to see Henry finish too far below 20 combined rush attempts and targets. My overall RB4 on the week, Henry carries his typical slate-winning upside in a matchup where the public might be leaning too heavily on the passing game.

Darrynton Evans is worth a stash even though he's on injured reserve, although McNichols would likely remain annoyingly involved should Henry miss time. It’d make sense if Ryan Tannehill was leaned on far more heavily in an offense not featuring the NFL’s back-to-back rushing king.


Running back Snap % Rushes Targets
Antonio Gibson 70% 12.8 2.9
J.D. McKissic 20% 3.6 2.6
Jaret Patterson 10% 3.0 1.0

The difference between Gibson functioning as a borderline RB1 and league-winning talent comes down to the size of McKissic’s role. Simply assuming that the man who led the position in targets last season will disappear isn’t a good process, particularly after McKissic continued to keep Gibson off the field in obvious pass-down situations during the preseason.

Still, this is about as good of a floor/ceiling combo as a fantasy investor could ask for. We already know Gibson is a borderline great receiver, but now the opportunity just needs to present itself.

Gibson told The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast that the coaching staff didn’t want to put too much on his plate as a rookie, so it’d make sense if Ron Rivera and company embrace a similar Year 1 to 2 jump as Christian McCaffrey.

Ultimately, it’s tough to rank Gibson as a top-10 back in a tough spot against Joey Bosa and company as long as the pass-down usage concerns persist. Don’t get it twisted, though, Gibson (RB11) should be in starting lineups of all shapes and sizes.

Perhaps McKissic (RB51) will remain egregiously involved, but I’m fading this idea due to Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s presence instead of Alex Smith under center and the potential for McKissic’s position-high 51 targets out of the slot or out wide to mightily decrease with Curtis Samuel, Adam Humphries and Dyami Brown now available.

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