News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Taking stock of every team's backfield situation

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

This isn't a full depth-chart listing; I'm not concerned about special teams RBs or guys who might not even make the roster come September. 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 RB.

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

Arizona Cardinals

  1. Kenyan Drake (75%)
  2. Chase Edmonds (20%)
  3. Eno Benjamin (5%)

This was a one-RB backfield in 2019:

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

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

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

Atlanta Falcons

  1. Todd Gurley (60%)
  2. Ito Smith (20%) and/or Brian Hill (10%) and/or Qadree Ollison (10%)

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

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

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

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

Baltimore Ravens

  1. Mark Ingram (50%)
  2. J.K. Dobbins (35%) and/or Gus Edwards (15%)

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

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

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

Expect more goodness from Ingram inside of the league’s most-lethal rushing attack, although it might take until 2021 for Dobbins to truly break out.

Buffalo Bills

  1. Devin Singletary (60%)
  2. Zack Moss (40%)

Singletary emerged as a reliable three-down back as a rookie and played at least 65% of the offense's snaps in every game in which he wasn't either injured or just returning from a layoff. He worked as the PPR RB18 during Weeks 7-16. Still, Frank Gore’s departure was met by the selection of Moss, who has the potential to not only gain Gore’s early-down work but *also* steal some of Singletary’s target share.

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

An injury to either Singletary or Moss would lead to Yeldon being active on game days. Until then, it seems likely that both backs flirt with around 10-15 opportunities per game that don’t figure to be of the fantasy-friendly variety.

Carolina Panthers

  1. Christian McCaffrey (95%)
  2. Reggie Bonnafon (5%) and/or Mike Davis (5%)

CMC posted an out of this world 93% snap rate in 2019 on his way to putting together one of the greatest fantasy seasons we've ever seen. His unparalleled receiving ability and high-dollar contract extension makes a lighter workload unlikely in 2020.

A reality where McCaffrey gets hurt and Bonnafon or Davis inherits a three-down role seems spotty at best. Curtis Samuel was getting true RB snaps down the stretch of last season and is capable of siphoning off (at least) a handful of carries per game. Don’t expect a workhorse role for any of these complementary backs if disaster strikes.

Chicago Bears

  1. David Montgomery (65%)
  2. Tarik Cohen (45%)
  3. Cordarrelle Patterson (5%)

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals

  1. Joe Mixon (70%)
  2. Giovani Bernard (25%)
  3. Trayveon Williams (5%)

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

Historically, the Bengals have leaned on Gio as a featured back when Mixon and/or Jeremy Hill missed time, although that was under a different regime. I’d expect Bernard and Williams to form a one-two punch if Mixon is forced to miss any action in 2020.

Cleveland Browns

  1. Nick Chubb (70%)
  2. Kareem Hunt (50%)

Chubb is quite possibly the single-best RB in the league when the ball is in his hands.

Personally I’d take Saquon Barkley if Earth had to defend itself against aliens in a game of football, but Chubb would certainly be in the conversation.

Unfortunately, the presence of Duke Johnson and Kareem Hunt kept the Browns from tapping into Chubb’s receiving ability. The Browns’ decision to bring back Hunt isn’t ideal.

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

Of course, taking Hunt off the field doesn’t make a ton of sense, either. Nobody averaged more broken tackles per touch than Hunt (0.42) during the latter stretch. The PPR RB17 from Weeks 10-17, Hunt has the potential to return RB2 value with or without an injury to Chubb.

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

Dallas Cowboys

  1. Ezekiel Elliott (85%)
  2. Tony Pollard (15%)

Zeke played at least 85% of the offense’s snaps in every game that wasn’t a double-digit win for the Cowboys last season. Pollard is objectively a stud; just don’t expect anything resembling consistent standalone value as long as Elliott manages to stay on the field. Of course, the Cowboys’ talented backup RB would be a consensus top-five fantasy back if Elliott ever misses any game action. Latavius Murray and Alexander Mattison are the only strict handcuffs I’d prioritize ahead of Pollard.

Denver Broncos

  1. Melvin Gordon (55%) and/or Phillip Lindsay (40%)
  2. Royce Freeman (5%)

Broncos coach Vic Fangio said he expects both Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay “playing enough where we really don’t have to designate a starter.” A 60/40-esque split would certainly make sense considering Lindsay played between 39-65% of the offense’s snaps in every game last season and is a bit too good to fully be relegated to the bench.

Still, Gordon is the superior receiver, and $16 million contracts aren’t typically reserved for backups. Expect a primary two-back committee with Gordon getting the bulk of the fantasy-friendly targets. An injury to either back would likely elevate Freeman to 1.B. duties.

Detroit Lions

  1. D’Andre Swift (45%) and/or Kerryon Johnson (35%)
  2. Ty Johnson (10%) and/or Bo Scarbrough (10%)

A two-back committee featuring just Swift and Kerryon could produce solid fantasy production, but it remains to be seen if that’ll be the case. The last two weeks of the 2019 season paint a somber picture of what we should potentially expect from this backfield moving forward:

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

Swift should be considered the favorite to lead the way in most categories; just realize there’s a long path to gaining a three-down role under Matt Patricia. His lower-body injury in training camp certainly doesn’t help matters. This backfield is one of the most muddled situations in the league and has a very real chance of featuring three to four backs on a weekly basis.

Green Bay Packers

  1. Aaron Jones (50%)
  2. A.J. Dillon (35%) and/or Jamaal Williams (15%)

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

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

Further complicating Jones’ projection is that he averaged 3.5 targets per game with Davante Adams in 2019 and 6.8 targets per game without. He spent more than six snaps in the slot or out wide on just one occasion all season. It would make sense if the Packers feature Jones more as a true receiver in 2020 after curiously declining to add hardly any noteworthy players to their WR and TE rooms, considering the RB’s success when lined up out wide. Still, Jones is going to need to continue to function as one of the league’s most-efficient backs. RBs aren’t drafted in the second round to sit on the bench, and Dillon’s Derrick Henry-esque size should earn him double-digit carries per game sooner rather than later.

Houston Texans

  1. David Johnson (70%)
  2. Duke Johnson (40%)

David Johnson is the Texans’ starting back. I believe with all my heart that Duke is an objectively better option:

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

Of course, Duke wasn’t acquired in a deal featuring one of the biggest stars in franchise history. There are actually some people in this world who believe the all-time leading rusher from the University of Miami isn’t capable of handling a three-down role because of decisions made by Hue Jackson and Bill O’Brien.

I’ve seen the video of David running like there’s a piano on his back before failing to get to the corner, but have you seen the highlights from the first month and a half of the season when the Cardinals’ RB1 was making all sorts of plays as a receiver?

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

Indianapolis Colts

  1. Jonathan Taylor (50%) and/or Marlon Mack (30%)
  2. Nyheim Hines (20%)

Mack's starting job is on life support, but we shouldn't necessarily expect Taylor to fully take over this backfield immediately. A good sample size to try and predict this backfield's splits might just be Weeks 14-17 from last season after Mack returned from injury.

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

Hines had earned some dark-horse appeal in this new-look offense that will feature Philip Rivers under center, considering he possesses an Austin Ekeler-esque skill set thanks to his demonstrated ability to thrive as a true WR in the slot or out wide. Still, it’s unlikely he sees enough snaps to provide anything resembling consistent fantasy production despite Reich’s prediction of 10-plus reception games.

Both Mack and Taylor would offer immense upside behind the league’s best offensive line if an injury occurs, although neither will seemingly carry much of a pass-game floor as long as Hines continues to stay plenty involved. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

  1. Leonard Fournette (60%)
  2. Chris Thompson (30%)
  3. Ryquell Armstead (10%)

Fournette finished with more touches (341) than everybody except Christian McCaffrey (403) and Ezekiel Elliott (355) in 2019. Only CMC (142), Austin Ekeler (108) and Tarik Cohen had more targets than Fournette (100). The Jaguars' workhorse back somehow only found the end zone on three occasions last season and was easily one of the most unlucky players in the league.

The question is whether this sort of elite usage will persist under OC Jay Gruden, who made a habit of utilizing committees during his time in Washington. Fournette ranked 37th among 38 players with triple-digit targets in yards per target; Thompson is going to heavily eat into this part of Fournette’s workload. Somehow, only Ekeler and McCaffrey had more targets than Thompson in Weeks 1-5 last season before Gruden was fired.

The likelihood of fewer touches, combined with the former No. 4-overall pick’s tendency to ruffle feathers in Jacksonville, makes him a risky high-round pick despite the potential for another monstrous role inside a bad offense. Fournette will be running behind PFF’s No. 26-ranked offensive line in an organization seemingly hoping to lose as many games as possible in 2020. Reminder: Jacksonville didn’t pick up Fournette’s fifth-year option and attempted to trade him as recently as last spring.

Chase volume, not talent, but there’s a line. I have Fournette slightly ahead of Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell but behind the likes of James Conner, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Chris Carson and David Montgomery. Going WR-heavy early in drafts can make these sluggish workhorse RBs more appealing in the middle rounds; just don’t reach on Fournette over absurdly talented WRs and/or similarly-projected RBs in significantly better offenses.

Kansas City Chiefs

  1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (80%)
  2. DeAndre Washington (20%) or Darrel Williams (20%)

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

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

Year Name PPR per game 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

Seemingly every report from Chiefs camp has painted the picture of CEH getting a near every-down role from Day 1. He deserves to be drafted inside of fantasy’s top six RBs in drafts of all shapes and sizes.

Las Vegas Raiders

  1. Josh Jacobs (60%)
  2. Jalen Richard (20%) and/or Lynn Bowden (25%) and/or Theo Riddick (5%) and/or Devontae Booker (5%)

Jacobs (27 targets) finished well behind *both* Richard (43) and Washington (41) in Derek Carr‘s pecking order last season. The team’s decisions to 1) Re-sign Richard, 2) Use a third-round pick on Bowden, 3) Sign Riddick, and 4) Sign Booker, doesn’t exactly signal that a boost in pass-game opportunities is on the horizon for Jacobs.

That’s OK; another 250-plus touches seems more than reasonable for last season’s RB15 in PPR per game. Still, limiting the amount of opportunities for Jacobs to get the rock in the open field simply doesn’t seem all that smart.

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

Jacobs played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in just four of 13 games last season, but better health and a natural Year-2 bump in usage should get one of the league’s more-talented ball carriers a slightly heavier workload in 2020.

Los Angeles Chargers

  1. Austin Ekeler (70%)
  2. Justin Jackson (25%) and/or Joshua Kelley (25%)

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

Luckily, Ekeler’s status as a true RB1/WR3 hybrid should yield him plenty of designed touches per game. Few RBs were used more as a pure receiver in 2019:

Fourth-round RB Kelley is competing with Jackson for snaps. The winner should see something around 8-10 carries per game, but the lack of available pass-game opportunity gives both of the Chargers’ early-down grinders a relatively low ceiling.

Los Angeles Rams

  1. Cam Akers (60%) and/or Malcolm Brown (20%) and/or Darrell Henderson (20%)

Sean McVay has coached 52 games with the Rams (including playoffs). His RB1 played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in 48 of those games, and the non-qualified games still featured a snap rate of at least 50%.

Henderson’s hamstring injury could force McVay’s hand sooner rather than later, and Akers has reportedly already been seeing plenty of run with the first team.

Reminder: Akers is a baller who made the most out of his opportunities at Florida State despite playing behind one of college football’s worst offensive lines.

Perhaps Brown gets the veteran nod and starts the season as the RB1, but Akers possesses the best all-around skill set of the group. It’s a shame that the Rams largely declined to upgrade PFF’s No. 25-ranked offensive line, although Akers *should* see enough volume to provide RB2 production or better sooner rather than later.

Miami Dolphins

  1. Jordan Howard (60%) and/or Matt Breida (40%)

Howard was good enough in 2019 to keep Miles Sanders largely relegated to a bench role for the first half of the season. Now healthy, he’s expected to function as the Dolphins’ early-down back with Breida taking most of the passing game work.

Breida has special explosiveness and is capable of impacting the game as a true receiver. Still, don’t underestimate the chances for another coaching staff to fall in love with Howard. So far he’s gotten three different staffs to give him 225-plus touches over the past four seasons if you extrapolate his pre-injury touches from 2019 over 16 games.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Dolphins’ leading rusher in 2019; don’t expect this rushing “attack” to produce bunches of efficient carries. Still, it seems likely Howard flirts with 250 touches, and Breida could feasibly work as the passing game’s No. 4 option. Both are values at their sub-30 ADP.

Minnesota Vikings

  1. Dalvin Cook (75%)
  2. Alexander Mattison (25%)

Cook played at least 60% of the offense's snaps with 16-plus touches in every game from Weeks 1-11 before getting injured in 2019. A potential holdout is troublesome, but there's little doubt that Cook will continue to cook (sorry) as the focal point of this offense if on the field in 2020. I’m still treating Cook as a clear first-round pick in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes, although I’ve moved Clyde Edwards-Helaire past him and up to the RB6 spot.

The Vikings' 2019 third-round pick should be considered a universal top-three handcuff option along with Tony Pollard and Latavius Murray. The only potential concern is if Mattison doesn’t do a better job picking up positive yardage more frequently; he ranked dead last among 45 qualified backs in success rate as a rookie. Keep an eye on final roster cuts to see if Ameer Abdullah makes the squad, as the veteran scat back could feasibly siphon away some pass-down work if Cook misses time. Still, don’t expect Mattison to see anything less than 15-20 touches per game in the event that Cook is sidelined.

New England Patriots

  1. Damien Harris (40%) or Sony Michel (40%)
  2. James White (35%)
  3. Rex Burkhead (25%)

Harris has reportedly been impressive throughout Patriots’ camp, while Michel didn’t manage to get off the PUP list until Aug. 26. It seems likely Harris gets a chance to function as the offense’s early-down starter after Michel’s disappointing 2019, although this backfield largely remains a mystery ahead of Week 1.

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

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

The reality that Newton should see plenty of rush attempts near the goal line lowers the ceiling for the entire backfield. Harris is the only back I’ve found myself taking a stab at throughout the offseason.

New Orleans Saints

  1. Alvin Kamara (70%)
  2. Latavius Murray (30%)

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

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

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

Murray otherwise had double-digit touches in just four of 15 games. He won’t carry much standalone value outside of absolutely pristine matchups, but continue to treat the Saints’ RB2 as a consensus top-three handcuff. I’d prioritize him ahead of each of Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison and Chase Edmonds.

New York Giants

  1. Saquon Barkley (90%)
  2. Dion Lewis (10%)

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

Don’t expect Lewis or Wayne Gallman to do much more than spell Barkley when he gets tired after breaking off a long run. Barkley deserves to be fantasy’s consensus RB2.

New York Jets

  1. Le’Veon Bell (60%)
  2. Frank Gore (40%)

It would’ve been tough to expect much of anything from anybody running behind the Jets’ atrocious offensive line last season. They joined the Dolphins as the only offenses to average fewer than one yards before contact per rush.

Now Gore will almost certainly siphon away a decent chunk of Bell’s early-down work. This obviously isn’t ideal for Bell’s fantasy stock, but the larger issue is the shallow pass-game usage:

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

Coach Adam Gase has consistently led a slow-paced, low-scoring offense with anyone other than Peyton Manning under center. With elite volume likely out of the question for Bell, it’s tough to expect a comeback campaign for the former fantasy darling in 2020.

Philadelphia Eagles

  1. Miles Sanders (70%)
  2. Boston Scott (30%)

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

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

Scott turned in some solid performances at the end of 2019, although it’s fair to wonder if the Eagles would trust him with a true three-down role if Sanders was forced to miss an extended stretch. The reality that the Eagles were dealing with injuries all over the offense during Scott’s “rise” leads me to believe that he won’t be prioritized as a top-five option on a weekly basis in 2020.

Pittsburgh Steelers

  1. James Conner (80%)
  2. Jaylen Samuels (10%) and/or Benny Snell (5%) and/or Anthony McFarland (5%)

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

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

There's some competition on the roster between Samuels, Snell and fourth-round RB McFarland. Still, it seems likely that this will be Conner's backfield during his contract year as long as he can stay on the field and provide at least decent efficiency.

San Francisco 49ers

  1. Raheem Mostert (45%)
  2. Tevin Coleman (35%)
  3. Jerick McKinnon (20%)

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

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

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

Seattle Seahawks

  1. Chris Carson (60%)
  2. Rashaad Penny (30%) or Carlos Hyde (30%)
  3. DeeJay Dallas (10%)

The Seahawks’ decision to not add any serious resources to their backfield is good news for Carson’s chances at keeping his starting job. Still, more funny business and inability to hang on to the ball could force coach Pete Carroll's hand sooner rather than later. In the meantime, expect to see defenders falling to the ground more times than not when attempting to bring down the Seahawks' boom-or-bust RB.

The question is just how large of a role Carson will have. Fifteen-plus carries per game seems like a guarantee, although Dallas provides some pass-game juice, and Hyde could feasibly split work with Carson in a similar manner to what we saw from Penny last season before he was injured.

It’s likely Carson has a somewhat shorter leash in 2020, but his status as the lead back in the Seahawks’ high-scoring and run-heavy offense makes him plenty worthy of targeting at his middling ADP.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  1. Ronald Jones (50%)
  2. LeSean McCoy (20%) and/or Dare Ogunbowale (20%) and/or Ke’Shawn Vaughn (10%)

RoJo has received coach Bruce Arians’ endorsement as the lead back ahead of 2020; just don’t be surprised if this backfield continues to utilize multiple backs on an every-week basis. Arians has already clarified Shady McCoy has a role, and Dare hasn’t exactly done anything to lose his status as the team’s pass-down back.

Jones quietly made plenty of solid runs in 2019 on his way to racking up 1,033 total yards.

Twelve to 15 touches per game inside of a TB12-led offense has historically been good for the fantasy business. Expect Jones to lead the way in 2020, although his ability to reach the higher range of his projected outcomes will come down to whether or not the rising third-year back can beat out McCoy, Ogunbowale and Vaughn for pass-down work.

Tennessee Titans

  1. Derrick Henry (75%)
  2. Darrynton Evans (25%)

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

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

Washington Football Team

  1. Adrian Peterson (40%)
  2. Antonio Gibson (35%)
  3. Bryce Love (30%)
  4. J.D. McKissic (5%) and/or Peyton Barber (5%)

Peterson was actually #good in 2019 and wouldn’t be back in Washington without some sort of guarantee for playing time, but don’t expect this new staff to feed him in the same manner as interim coach Bill Callahan did down the stretch in 2019.

This backfield largely remains a mess even without Derrius Guice in the fold. Gibson and Love have each reportedly been getting snaps with the first-team offense, although McKissic and Barber could be in the plans as well.

Gibson is the only player I’m somewhat targeting due to his potential to assume a RB2/WR2-esque role. Still, it’s rare to see offenses properly utilize hybrid players in this manner, and his enhanced ADP in recent weeks is a bit too steep for my liking.

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