NFL depth charts are always in a constant state of flux due to transactions, injuries, performance and, at times, questionable coaching decisions. The running back position, in particular, can be tough to stay on top of, as an overwhelming majority of offenses have replaced a single three-down back with committees of various shapes and sizes.
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What follows is a breakdown of each team's backfield in order to better determine:
- Offenses featuring a single workhorse
- Fantasy-friendly committee backfields
- Situations fantasy football owners should avoid
This isn't a full depth-chart listing, as I'm not concerned about running backs who make their living on special teams or guys who are only expected to see a touch or two per game. Rather, the goal here is to get an early idea of the league's various committee situations in an effort to see undervalued situations and backs poised to play at a high level.
Each back’s Week 13 snap rate, carries and targets are listed in the below tables. Great day to be great.
Chase Edmonds (ankle, IR) is eligible to return this week, but it remains to be seen if he’s healthy enough to suit up.
Either way, it’s going to be tough to keep Conner near the fantasy bench as we head into the most important weeks of the year. He’s largely done nothing except produce top-20 fantasy production over the past month and a half:
- Week 7: PPR RB22
- Week 8: RB20
- Week 9: RB1
- Week 10: RB16
- Week 11: RB7
- Week 13: RB12
Note that the first two performances came with Edmonds in the lineup. The presence of the Cardinals’ technical starter would bump Conner out of the position’s top-12 ranked backs, but he’d still be a recommended start as a touchdown-dependent RB2 who sure does frequent the end zone often inside of the league’s third-ranked scoring offense. Fantasy managers should wait a week if possible before firing up Edmonds with any sort of confidence, as it’s possible he’s eased back into action and/or Conner simply functions as the lead back moving forward.
Next Monday night’s matchup against Aaron Donald and company isn’t ideal, but that didn’t stop Edmonds (12 carries-120 yards-0 TD) or Conner (18-50-2) from putting together big performances when these teams last met in Week 4. The Cardinals are one of just five teams implied to score at least 27 points this week. A decent rule of thumb tiebreaker for close start/sit questions is to take the player in the better offense.
Patterson leads the NFL with a 92.9 PFF receiving grade. Only Deebo Samuel, Cooper Kupp and Christian McCaffrey have averaged more yards per route run. Patterson has also posted a more than solid 105-481-4 rushing line — good for a rather robust 4.6 yards per carry with 3.4 yards of that coming after contact (No. 7 among 49 qualified players).
Even some of the league’s finest rushing defenses have struggled to contain Patterson as a true running back this season.
Mama, there goes that man pic.twitter.com/grVbJt3m2v
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 6, 2021
Life might not be too fun for Matt Ryan this week behind PFF’s 25th-ranked offensive line in pass-blocking grade against Brian Burns and company. Hopefully, he can at least continue to feed Patterson copious opportunities in both the run and pass game. Continue to jam the RB9 in PPR points per game into starting lineups of all shapes and sizes.
Davis found the end zone in Week 13 and posted an RB2 finish for the first time since Week 2. And yet, he’s still the clear No. 2 back behind Patterson in terms of touches, and Ollison poses a weekly threat to take over in a similar manner as he did back in Week 11. Neither has to be stashed on the bench in most standard-sized leagues.
Freeman continues to work well ahead of Murray as the Ravens’ lead back. He’s turned in PPR RB23, RB21, RB11, RB30, RB9, RB37 and most-recently RB10 finishes in this role. The Ravens have been content enough with Freeman to feed the veteran at least 14 combined carries and targets in five consecutive games, as he’s carved out solid enough low-end RB2 standing in fantasy land the rest of the way.
Of course, it’s Lamar Jackson’s world and we’re all just living in it. Having to share a backfield with the most run-heavy quarterback in NFL history will always present some volume problems for the involved running backs. The position’s single-season record holders in terms of raw rush attempts:
- 2021 Jackson (on pace for 190 rush attempts)
- 2019 Jackson (176)
- 2021 Jalen Hurts (on pace for 163 rush attempts)
- 2020 Jackson (159)
- 2018 Jackson (147)
The Browns “held” this rushing attack to 148 rushing yards back in Week 12, facing Myles Garrett for 60 minutes isn’t anyone’s idea of a good matchup. Still, they only rank 12th in fewest PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields. These sort of matchups can be easily overcome with a helpful little thing called volume, and luckily, things in Baltimore have been condensed enough lately for us to believe that both Jackson and Freeman will be just fine in that department.
Singletary continues to work as the group’s underwhelming lead back. Moss was active seemingly due to the idea that he could help grind away the Patriots in the Bills’ windy and snowy loss on Monday night. Breida’s time was cut short after an early fumble.
Do whatever you can to stay away from this backfield. Singletary is the only member who can be started with any level of confidence, but even then, he’s a low-ceiling RB3 due to the weekly likelihood that either Moss or Breida steals away something close to half of the backfield's work. Normally, we can live with two-RB backfields in fantasy land, but it becomes tougher to swallow in a Bills offense that usually lets Josh Allen cook.
- Rush attempts by Bills running backs: 213 (tied for 30th in the NFL)
- Inside the five-yard line: 7 (tied for 27th)
- Targets: 68 (tied for 21st)
Throw in this week’s matchup against the Buccaneers’ top-six defense in yards before contact allowed per carry, and it’s fair to expect very little from this entire backfield ahead of Week 14.
Carolina Panthers (from Week 12)
McCaffrey (ankle, IR) is done for the season. Pain.
On the one hand, Hubbard is the preferred fantasy start moving forward. He handled 16, 15, 30, 19, 17 and 26 combined carries and targets in Weeks 3-8, returning three top-24 PPR finishes along the way.
On the other, Hubbard accomplished this without Abdullah in the equation for all but two weeks. Alexander Mattison handcuff connoisseurs are already familiar with how annoying Abdullah can be as a pass-down specialist who is capable of seizing control of the backfield when the game script goes south.
This latter scenario could be awfully persistent down the stretch for the Panthers, as their end-of-season schedule is truly brutal.
- Week 14: Falcons
- Week 15: Bills
- Week 16: Buccaneers
- Week 17: Saints
- Week 18: Buccaneers
Walk, don’t run, to the waiver wire to scoop up Hubbard. He profiles as more of a low-end RB2 as opposed to a league-winning RB1 (like Mattison) down the stretch. Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for thoughts on the week’s top potential waiver wire additions.