If you look at my recent Vantage Points article in which I did a full roundup of training camp news, you’ll notice a lot about the running back position. Well, that’s good, because it’s the most important position for fantasy football!
I’m going to condense what we’ve learned this off-season and in camp so far — including a lot of what I wrote into Vantage Points — into this new piece I call Running Back Rundown, to try to paint a picture of what’s going on in each of these backfields. With the information presented, I’m also going to lay out my fantasy plan of attack for each backfield.
Any reference to ADP in this article comes from all 12-team NFFC drafts from the month of August.
General wisdom is that Kenyan Drake is the starter here, with Chase Edmonds a premium handcuff and rookie Eno Benjamin an intriguing #3. The Cardinals’ official website did a nice breakdown here.
I don’t see why we should pivot away from that understanding — the Cardinals locked in Drake at the $8.5 million transition tag, which makes him the sixth-highest paid RB in football this year. Drake, for what it’s worth, seems to understand his massive fantasy potential in this offense for 2020 after he exploded down the stretch last year. If you want to know how he exploded, check out Greg Cosell’s Fantasy Film piece on Drake.
But the Cards remain high on Edmonds, whom coach Kliff Kingsbury called “a starting running back in this league.” Edmonds is indeed one of the best handcuffs in fantasy football, and will be a popular mid-round pick for Zero RB enthusiasts.
As for Benjamin, our Greg Cosell likes his fit in this offense, but his initial role on this team is likely to be on special teams.
If we get more information on Drake having a worrisome injury — he was spotted in a walking boot on August 24 — this entire picture will be adjusted. For now, it doesn’t appear the Cardinals are worried, with Kingsbury calling it “precautionary” and insinuating he’ll be back in full soon.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I like taking Drake if I’m situated around the first/second-round turn, especially as part of an RB/RB start. Fortunately, that’s where his ADP lies. Edmonds is completely fine at a 12th-round ADP — I typically don’t go out of my way to handcuff, but his price isn’t restrictive if you want to do that. I’ve taken him more as an RB4/5 type on teams where I don’t have Drake. Benjamin is a deep dynasty stash.
I’m on the record as saying I will not have any shares of Todd Gurley — ESPN’s Vaughn McClure said Gurley showed a “noticeable limp” and was wearing a compression sock on his degenerative left knee early in training camp. If it burns me, so be it. But even in a year in which Gurley had 14 TD and 1064 yards from scrimmage with the Rams last season, I did not regret a full fade. Gurley’s getting plenty of good reports from people watching him in camp, so maybe the McClure observation reads like confirmation bias on my part, but I’m not just relying on McClure — it was easy to just use my eyes and see Gurley looked fried in 2019. And the Rams ate eight figures of salary to dump him.
One of the reasons many in fantasy are still “on” Gurley is because of the perceived lack of depth in the backfield. And it’s true that there are no in the Brian Hill, Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison group. And OC Dirk Koetter fueled those flames in late August, calling for at least 15 touches per game for Gurley (I’ll believe it when I see it).
But longtime Falcons beat man D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution expects Smith to get snaps alongside Gurley to keep Gurley fresh, he told our John Hansen on SiriusXM Fantasy Football. The Falcons’ official website has been talking up both Smith (calling him “dynamic”) and Ollison (he may “carve out a bigger role”).
Meanwhile, HC Dan Quinn has been very impressed with Hill, and McClure thinks Hill is probably the best pure “backup” they have here.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: This situation is a mess. I’m fully fading Gurley this year, as I did last year. If you are a Gurley truther, it appears unlikely that there’s a “true” handcuff here. If I’m in a super deep league (like a 35-round best ball on the NFFC platform), I’ll throw darts at all of the backups. But In a standard 15-round league, you probably don’t have enough bench spots to confidently take one of these guys. This will be a primo Waiver Wire situation if Gurley goes down.
Fantasy players are obviously deeply interested in this backfield, because the Ravens had arguably the best rushing offense we’ve ever seen last year. Veteran RB Mark Ingram — and his 15 TDs — was part of that. But I’m a little concerned about Ingram this year because he’s another year older, and 5 of his TDs came on receptions, of which he had only 26 (19.2%).
That’s not the reason to be concerned on Ingram, though. Baltimore spent a second-round pick on gifted rookie JK Dobbins from Ohio State. All indications are Dobbins is the real deal so far, with ESPN’s Jamison Hensley making a Ray Rice comparison (in large part because Dobbins rocks Rice’s old #27 jersey). In early September, head coach John Harbaugh has been impressed enough with Dobbins to call for “a significant role” while also calling Ingram that starter.
But don’t forget about Gus Edwards, who has a powerful downhill skillset, has had a lot of success in a rotational role, and has certain runs he really excels at.
Second-year scatback Justice Hill is still here as well, but has missed some camp time with injuries.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I think Ingram’s fifth-round ADP is fair, but I haven’t been taking him a lot because I like the WRs in that range a lot more. I do have quite a bit of Dobbins this year, but mostly in best ball, where I can benefit from a slow first half of the season if he gets an increased role later (a la Miles Sanders in 2019). At a sixth-round ADP, he’s pretty pricey for standard redraft league, but he has nuclear league-winning potential if Ingram goes down, so I will sign off on that pick. Just be prepared to be patient with Dobbins. Edwards is typically undrafted in most leagues, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he has some Waiver Wire value given he should still have a role here.
While TJ Yeldon is likely on this roster because of his contract, the entire fantasy community is treating it like the two-man show it is — Devin Singletary and Zack Moss.
The Bills are extremely pleased with what they’ve seen from Moss thus far, we’re told. For what it’s worth, QB Josh Allen hit Moss on this sweet completion on what looked like a wheel route. I think that’s an area of Moss’ game where he’s better than Singletary, perhaps significantly so.
He’s been getting a lot of work with the first team, as well. Meanwhile, Singletary hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire and has had some fumbling problems. On top of that, Moss is 3rd among all RBs our Graham Barfield has charted for Yards Created in yards per route run in college (2.4). Dead last? Singletary (0.3).
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’ve scoffed at Singletary’s fourth/fifth-round ADP all off-season, taking WRs in that range instead. I absolutely loaded up on Moss when he was a double-digit round pick, though recent positive reports are pushing him into the eighth-round range. I’m still buying Moss at the relative discount to Singletary. I’m massively underweight on Singletary by design — I’ll eat that L if served to me. Everything I’ve read indicates this backfield is going to be more of an even split than an entire off-season’s worth of ADP suggests.
So yeah, Christian McCaffrey. He’s good!
Even if new coach Matt Rhule cuts McCaffrey’s snaps, it’s extremely unlikely that they will be cut significantly enough for it to matter for fantasy. Behind him, the Panthers have Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis, and Trenton Cannon.
We’re told that the Panthers don’t really view Bonnafon as a true #2 guy, but they don’t really need one anyway. If McCaffrey were to get hurt, any of these guys coming in the same galaxy of CMC in terms of fantasy production would be a shock. That said, Davis could be in the lead.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’m taking CMC at 1.1 overall and, in all but the deepest of leagues, leaving the rest of these backs on the Waiver Wire.
The big news for the Bears’ backfield — prior to him going down in camp on Wednesday — is the slimmed-down David Montgomery. Montgomery changed his diet and said he felt slow last year, something that bore out on tape. But Montgomery making the effort to change his body — while the Bears are restructuring their offense — absolutely matters.
Of course, this entire thing could blow up if Montgomery’s injury, which Matt Nagy calls a groin strain, is serious.
Montgomery, if healthy, should get the early-down work, though he’s a better receiver than you might think. Tarik Cohen — who also made an effort to improve his body this off-season — will rotate in on passing downs and could obviously share the field with Montgomery at times. Cohen’s 266 targets (88.7 per season) are fourth among RBs since he entered the NFL in 2017.
Of interest, NBC Sports Chicago’s Bryan Perez confirmed that Cordarrelle Patterson is working as a running back, and also made a pretty aggressive fantasy projection for Montgomery. The Patterson news is fascinating because the Bears don’t really have a #3 RB, and he’s a big guy.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: All of this obviously changes if Montgomery is seriously hurt, but let’s hope the optimism around the injury wins out. I’m on the record of being fine with both Montgomery (fifth round) and Cohen (seventh round) at current ADPs (PPR, of course). There are reasons to be optimistic on Montgomery as a solid RB2 this season, and Cohen is a useful, if not league-winning, floor FLEX option in a PPR league. Those ADPs could be changing rapidly, though, and I’d be skeptical of Cohen at a much higher ADP given his skill set.
Bengal OC Brian Callahan wants the ball in Joe Mixon’s hands a ton, and the Bengals’ recent extension for Mixon — four years, nearly $50 million — seems to suggest the team might follow through.
"The more Joe touches the ball the better it is for our offense, without a doubt. All the ways we can find to get him the ball, the better it's going to be,” Callahan said. Please, Brian. More receptions for Mixon!
If Mixon goes down, Giovani Bernard is one of the best handcuffs in all of fantasy football. Across Bernard's last four games without Mixon on the field, he averages 80% of the team's snaps, 13.0 carries, 5.3 targets, and 19.4 fantasy points per game. Those are hammer RB1 numbers.
The Bengals have second-year man Trayveon Williams as well, but this is a two-man show.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Mixon is one of the RBs I’m comfortable taking in the back half of the first round, after his league-winning run at the end of 2019. Somehow, Bernard isn’t being drafted like an elite handcuff — he’s going in the 17th round of NFFC drafts in the months of August. If you’re into handcuffing, Mixon is super appealing because Gio is way cheaper than guys like Chase Edmonds, Tony Pollard, and Alexander Mattison.
This is a two-man show, and it’s arguably the best backfield in the NFL.
Nick Chubb is the early-down stud, while Kareem Hunt should get a ton of work as well. We are hearing that coach Kevin Stefanski absolutely loves Hunt, and it’s simply an inevitability that Hunt is going to eat into Chubb’s touches. Just how much is the question.
Chubb was PFF’s highest-graded RB in each of the last two seasons, but last year, it was a tale of two halves. Chubb averaged 18.9 fantasy points per game through the first nine weeks of the season. Then Hunt returned from suspension. And, from that point on (Week 10-17), Chubb averaged just 13.0 fantasy points per game. (And Hunt out-scored Chubb in six of those eight games, in large part thanks to his receiving work.)
The Browns also have Dontrell Hilliard and D’Ernest Johnson on this roster.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’ve drafted both Chubb at his second-round ADP and Hunt at his fifth-round ADP, but never on the same team (two top-60 picks on the same backfield is just too expensive for me). Hunt is overly expensive for a rotational back, but his upside is the overall #1 RB if Chubb — who already was dealing with a concussion in camp — goes down. By the same token, if Hunt gets in trouble again, Chubb has the overall #1 RB upside. I’m more likely to draft Hunt if I’m leaning into a Zero-RB type of build.
Ezekiel Elliott is a true hammer workhorse who has led the NFL in carries in two of his four NFL seasons and his 1169 carries since he entered the NFL are 133 more than the second-most in the league over that span (Todd Gurley).
Second-year pro Tony Pollard has all the makings of a premium handcuff with his balanced skillset. Last season (per PFF), Pollard led all of 68 qualifying running backs in Elusive Rating (116.1). Elliott ranked 29th (52.8). Pollard also had two games of 100-plus rushing yards in a closer’s role. If Elliott were to go down, he’d be a top-six option at the position.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Elliott is the #3 player on my board. Pollard is an expensive handcuff with a 10th-round ADP, but a potentially league-winning one for cautious Elliott drafters or bold Zero-RB strategists. I’m more likely to draft Pollard on a team that doesn’t have Elliott, but that’s simply personal preference.
Denver has one of the most discussed and polarizing backfields in fantasy football this year. Despite Phillip Lindsay running for over 1000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, the Broncos went out and made Melvin Gordon the seventh-highest paid back in the league.
I think Gordon’s advantage over Lindsay in the passing game and in pass protection is being understated by too many in the fantasy community. That will get him snaps in critical situations, and we know coach Vic Fangio wants to run the ball. That said, he tweaked his ribs during practice last week, and Fangio remains steadfast that there’s no starting RB here. Gordon is polarizing in the fantasy community. I still believe he will get those “calorie-rich” touches (targets and goal-line carries), but Fangio’s comments are going to cause a stir. Mostly, Gordon needs to get on the field and healthy.
The intriguing bit of irony here is that the undrafted Lindsay already beat out a more heralded player from his same “draft” class in third-round pick Royce Freeman, who is still in town and the likely #3. And while with the Chargers, Gordon was productive but ultimately was cast aside for an undrafted player in Austin Ekeler. Could history repeat itself?
It’s hard for me to shake the fact, though, that two Broncos coaching staffers have determined that Lindsay is best suited to split snaps with an inferior back in Freeman, and then Denver went out and signed a superior back to Freeman in Gordon.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I have been drafting Gordon a metric ton in the third and fourth rounds of drafts because I think he’ll get a ton of work. But his recent rib injury, Fangio’s comments, and Lindsay’s refusal to go away are having me pivot more in the later weeks to someone like James Conner. As for Lindsay, I haven’t drafted him at all at his ninth-round ADP. He’s been a terribly inefficient receiver in his NFL career, and I’m just not comfortable taking a guy at that stage who might be a change-of-pace runner who gets a handful of carries and doesn’t contribute much as a receiver.
The backfield will be the primary focus in Detroit for fantasy purposes, and that makes a ton of sense. Kerryon Johnson has had season-ending knee injuries in two straight seasons, and is wearing a brace on his right leg. We’re told the Lions like Johnson in the passing game more than you might think, but there’s a problem for him…
Rookie RB D’Andre Swift has been as good as advertised in that department, constantly cooking linebackers in drills. Now, that’s not exactly a murderer’s row of linebackers pointed out there, but if you want to get really excited, check out what former Lion QB and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com — the name Alvin Kamara was brought up. Swift returned to practice on August 31 after missing a week with a minor leg injury.
By the way, the Lions also could deploy Bo Scarbrough as an early-down back, so Johnson could be on a short leash here (the Lions signed vet Jonathan Williams for depth). Scarbrough has missed some practice time with an undisclosed injury.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Kerryon drives me nuts — he looked way better as a rookie in 2018 than I thought he would, so he convinced me to invest early in him in 2019. Then, he looked in 2019 how I thought he’d look in 2018. It’s obviously not good news for him that the Lions then went out and spent a second-round pick on Swift. I want absolutely nothing to do with Kerryon, and though I’m very underweight on Swift to this point, I can be talked into taking him at his current fifth-round ADP. Tim Twentyman, who has covered the Lions for the team’s official site for a long time, calls this a committee situation. Swift, the more talented player without the recent track record of serious injuries, is the guy I want if I’m investing in the Lions’ backfield. Swift has league-winning potential.
Green Bay Packers
Most of the fantasy community was bothered when the Packers spent a second-round pick on a bruising running back when star Aaron Jones was fresh off leading the NFL with 19 TD. I bet no one was more annoyed than QB Aaron Rodgers, though, as the Packers passed up drafting any wide receivers in a very deep class at the position.
Packers fans might have gotten over it when they got their first look at that rookie RB, AJ Dillon. You’ve probably seen the viral picture too. But I’ll share it again anyway. Absolute unit.
By the way, our Adam Caplan says the Packers very much have interest in re-signing Jones, so my read on the situation is that Jamaal Williams is gone after this season while Jones and Dillon share the workload. Dillon is going to have to improve in pass protection to get on the field early, at least in obvious passing situations. I seriously doubt he’s ahead of either Jones or Williams for third-down snaps, even if his receiving ability has been a surprise so far.
The Packers are going to run the ball a ton. There’s room for two backs to be productive here. Which two is the question.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’ve mostly avoided Jones unless he slips into the back half of Round 2, where I can pair him with an elite RB1. Dillon is a completely acceptable pick at his 13th-round ADP, but if Jones goes down, I think Williams will be a decent Waiver Wire add because they’ll trust him more in passing situations.
The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss is a trusted voice on the Texans, and he wrote a particularly eye-opening piece about the Texans’ backfield — could “21” personnel be a huge part of what they do this year, with both David Johnson and Duke Johnson playing at the same time?
The Texans have a lot riding on the Johnson boys, and especially David to bounce back. If David doesn’t come through, they’re going to have to find an early-down RB option from Buddy Howell, Karan Higdon, and UDFA Scottie Phillips. It’s either that, or turn Duke into something he’s never been before.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’ve been fading David at his fourth-round ADP because he ran like a beached whale last season, but I have to admit the Texans’ roster construction suggests they have a lot of faith in him (whether or not you trust that Bill O’Brien is the right guy to make that call is up to you). I’ve drafted a ton of Duke at his 11th-round ADP, but it still frustrates me that he’s averaged 10 touches per game just once in his career — his rookie season in 2015. That’s more a bet against David at this stage.
There’s no deeper backfield in the NFL than Indy’s, and reports from camp have been pretty damn frustrating because apparently all their backs look like world-beaters. That can be expected behind perhaps the league’s best offensive line.
I love rookie Jonathan Taylor and expect he will start eventually (as does The Athletic’s Zak Keefer). ESPN’s Mike Wells, who covers the Colts on a daily basis, pleaded to fantasy players to draft the rookie.
However, beat writer Stephen Holder of ESPN noticed that Marlon Mack is catching a lot of passes from noted checkdown artist Philip Rivers. Mack’s been surprisingly underutilized as a receiver in the NFL, despite often lining up out wide in college at South Florida.
On top of everything else, Keefer also noted that OC Nick Sirianni has raised the possibility that scatback Nyheim Hines could catch 80 passes given Rivers’ tendencies.
Obviously, something has to give here.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I wrote in April, following the NFL Draft, that I was going to apply Occam’s razor and not overthink this. Taylor is a stud talent for whom the Colts traded up behind the league’s top offensive line (arguably, of course). Mack is in a contract year and has never been the receiver he profiled as in college. Hines is a scatback. I’ve drafted quite a bit of Taylor in that third/fourth-round range where his ADP sits, have totally avoided Mack, and have dabbled in Hines in the double-digit rounds. If anyone here is a league-winner, it’s Taylor.
Leonard Fournette is finally gone, as we’ve warned our subscribers all off-season. And it was obvious something was amiss — they tried to trade Fournette all off-season after not picking up his fifth-year option. The Colts traded in front of them so the Jags couldn’t snag Jonathan Taylor.
For the remaining backs, we have to keep an eye on OC Jay Gruden’s attack — Gruden almost always employs a receiving specialist.
The Jags brought in Gruden’s boy Chris Thompson from his days with Washington to potentially handle that role, though Thompson’s injury-riddled history has many rightfully skeptical. But the Jags also have second-year man Ryquell Armstead (activated off the COVID list) and former UDFA Devine Ozigbo, who has been impressing in camp. Ozigbo’s name has to be watched if Armstead doesn’t get up to speed soon, and frankly, he should be watched anyway. Out guy Greg Cosell said that at times on film he noticed a pre-arthritis Todd Gurley style burst from Ozigbo. That’s not faint praise.
The Jags have also been impressed with UDFA James Robinson.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I fullt faded Fournette at his third-round ADP prior to his release and I was willing to die on that hill — the logic was airtight, as we learned. I am massively overweight on Armstead because I faded Fournette, but I think I’m going to be out if he, as I expect, moves into the eighth or ninth round. Thompson is the best bet for the receiving work here, and at this stage, I’m now most likely to draft him and Ozigbo given they’re the cheapest backs on a really bad team, and I already have plenty of exposure to Armstead.
Kansas City Chiefs
It should come as no surprise that first-round rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire opened up camp as the Chiefs’ #1 back. CEH is firmly a first-round fantasy pick, as well, and it’s hard to argue against that following the opt-out of Damien Williams.
Behind CEH is where it gets interesting. While Chiefs GM Brett Veach alluded to our Adam Caplan on the Inside the Birds podcast that DeAndre Washington is a strong bet to be the #2, I have to point out that Darrel Williams worked as the lead back on a day in which Edwards-Helaire sat out with dehydration (he’s fine). Washington apparently hasn’t impressed in camp or lived up to Veach’s expectations, so much so that ESPN’s Adam Teicher thinks he might not make the team.
Veach also told Caplan that CEH is way ahead of where they expected him to be in terms of picking up the offense, so we’re full-steam ahead on the Edwards-Helaire hype train. The Athletic’s Nate Taylor agrees, getting some quotes from Edwards-Helaire’s teammates on the impressive rookie.
“Clyde has done a great job in the reps that he has gotten,” QB Patrick Mahomes told The Athletic. “He’s playing fast, and he has incredible vision. That’s what’s been the biggest thing so far.”
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Edwards-Helaire was my most drafted second-round RB through early summer. Obviously, I did not anticipate Williams opting out, and I ain’t gonna be taking any victory laps given that. But following Williams’ opt out, I’m completely fine taking CEH at his #8 overall ADP. I don’t care that he’s a rookie — in 2017, Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in Kansas City. I am now out on Washington as the handcuff after reading more reports — pick Darrel Williams if you want to dabble there in the late rounds.
Las Vegas Raiders
Perhaps the most concerning thing from Raiders’ camp so far is that RB Josh Jacobs is getting some days off as he recovers from the shoulder injury that ended his 2019 campaign, but there doesn’t appear to be any significant worries and the limitations appear to be precautionary at this stage.
Rookie RB/WR/gadget player Lynn Bowden has the skills to eventually be the #2 behind Jacobs, but we’re told that he has a long way to go in pass protection, which is understandable given how he moved all around the field in college. Coach Jon Gruden has recently suggested that Bowden might be slow in coming, so he might be more of a dynasty option than anything else.
The Raiders also have a quartet of pass-catching specialists — Jalen Richard is a lock to make the team, while Devontae Booker, Rod Smith, and Theo Riddick could be battling for one spot. Richard’s presence is why some are down on Jacobs, and that’s understandable.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: When I was writing our RB Player Profiles, Jacobs was one of the guys who made me say “wow” the most. I think he’s a high-level back with a three-down skill set. I’d be a little more enthusiastic about his fantasy prospects if the Raiders clearly didn’t limit Jacobs’ reps in the passing game because of the shoulder — he needs to catch in the 40 or so range of passes to pay off at his second-round ADP. The Athletic’s Vic Tafur is optimistic Jacobs will get there. I’m underweight on Jacobs, but I am comfortable taking him at the one/two turn. He’s just too special a back and this offensive line is too good for me to freak out too much. Richard is a late-round RB6 type of guy.
Los Angeles Chargers
Obviously, the #1 guy here is Austin Ekeler, who is in fantastic shape and ready to shoulder a bigger workload on his new contract with Melvin Gordon out of the picture. But it’s fair to be concerned about his fantasy prospects when he’s never had more than 132 carries in a season and his 92 receptions last year were the major reason for his explosion — it’s simply a fact that the Chargers won’t be checking the ball down as much without Philip Rivers under center.
The Chargers have options in the backfield for a rotation. From my personal perspective, I think rookie Joshua Kelley’s nasty style provides a more natural contrast to that of Ekeler than that of the slasher Justin Jackson’s. The Athletic’s Daniel Popper has suggested it might not be long before Kelley is the #2 here. It’s something to monitor.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’ve struggled all off-season on Ekeler. I love the player, but I’m a little concerned the Chargers are going to play a really conservative style of football that limits his impact in the passing game. In the second round, I’ve typically opted for what I view as “safer” options like Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, and Nick Chubb, but I’ve pounced on Ekeler when he’s slipped. I know Graham Barfield loves Ekeler this year, so that’s not unanimous. Jackson (13th round) and Kelley (14th round) have nearly identical ADPs. I’ve preferred Kelley, but I’m fine drafting both at cost.
Los Angeles Rams
Take this for whatever you’d like, but we’re hearing from people close to the Rams that they’re very confident the offense is going to be significantly better in 2020 than it was in 2019. The addition of OC Kevin O’Connell to the staff could be really big.
That would be very good news for rookie RB Cam Akers, who seems to be mired in a crowded committee with Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson for now. But Akers has otherworldly upside, and beat writers are starting to notice it.
So is coach Sean McVay, who told ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry that Akers “"can really run any scheme, he can take a handoff from the off-set gun or if he's in the dot … that's what you just liked about him, was the body of work and the versatility. The ability to create plays on his own."
As for Henderson, he was a massive disappointment last year, and missing time with a hamstring injury isn’t going to help matters. He still has talent, but he is officially on notice.
Brown is “just a guy,” but he’s adequate in every area, including at the goal line. That could get him quite a few snaps in a committee.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’m taking a bookend approach in the Rams’ backfield. I’m on Akers at his fifth-round ADP, and I am OK with taking a shot on the boring but reliable Brown late, though you don’t need to as he’ll go undrafted in most leagues. I’m still concerned about Henderson’s bizarre rookie season and his inability to gain trust with the coaching staff. The injury doesn’t help me want to buy in at an 11th-round cost, but he’s not particularly expensive for Zero RB drafters. I just don’t personally have any shares.
It’s going to be impossible for Miami to have a worse backfield than in 2019, when Ryan Fitzpatrick became only the eighth different QB in post-merger NFL history to lead his team in rushing yards — and he did it with 243 yards.
You can say what you want about Jordan Howard, but the veteran grinder will give a level of competence to this backfield that the Dolphins simply didn’t have in 2019. He’ll split work with Matt Breida, who will provide the receiving complement to Howard’s power. ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe, a fantasy enthusiast himself, thinks it will be a 50%/35% split in favor of Howard.
That could leave work for Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, or even Kalen Ballage. Laird is likely to make the team because he’s great on special teams. I’d view the awful Ballage as the odd man out here — the Dolphins tried to trade him to the Jets but he failed a physical.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Meh. I’m not excited about this backfield, but neither is the fantasy community, with both Howard and Breida sporting eighth-round ADPs. Given that, I’m totally fine selecting them as a depth option. You’ll never be excited to start them, but sometimes you need the 8-10 points they’re likely to give you most weeks.
The biggest news of Vikings camp so far is that contract talks between the team and RB Dalvin Cook have — perhaps temporarily — broken off, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Cook was a threat to hold out but hasn’t actually followed through on that, given the new CBA gives him such little leverage.
By the way, when Cook hasn’t been on the field during camp, it’s been clear that Alexander Mattison is getting first-team reps ahead of Week 17 superstar (after he killed everyone in Week 16) Mike Boone, according to Arif Hasan of The Athletic.
The Vikings are going to run the ball a lot. That’s the foundation of what OC Gary Kubiak has always done, and we know damn well head coach Mike Zimmer is a neanderthal who hates the passing game.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I have Cook as one of my top six players and am willing to take him in the first half of the first round. Handcuffers aren’t as thirsty for Mattison as it appeared they would be when Cook was threatening to hold out, but “The Federalist” has settled in as a ninth-round pick. He’s still the most expensive non-Kareem Hunt handcuff on the board. I’m probably not drafting both Cook and Mattison, but that’s just a personal preference.
New England Patriots
The Belitricks are en vogue yet again! Patriot RBs have been a headache for 20 years, and this one is no different.
Sony Michel (foot) was just activated off the PUP list after off-season surgery, and Lamar Miller (knee) hasn’t only recently be cleared to practice. Miller is no guarantee to make this roster.
James White will be James White. Rex Burkhead will continue to have a role.
But the standout player of Patriot training camp so far, according to just about everyone at practice, has been second-year RB Damien Harris. Early on, CLNS’ Evan Lazar suggested Harris “might be New England’s best skill player through two days” of camp. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe agreed, including Harris’ work in the pass game. When Michel returned last week, he split first-team reps with Harris… who then missed a handful of practices himself this week with a reported hand injury. Harris could miss a game at the start of the season.
Our guy Greg Cosell said just this off-season that he thinks Harris is a better natural runner than Michel. Remember, Harris was Alabama’s top back ahead of Josh Jacobs in college together. There’s still the bizarre fact that Harris couldn’t get on the field as a rookie, but everything is shaping up for him to have a potential breakout campaign in 2020 in an offense that will run it a ton with Cam Newton at QB.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’m out on Michel and Miller, though I will reconsider on Michel if reports are positive about him in camp the next week plus. I’m totally cool taking White at his seventh-round ADP in PPR. Harris was one of my favorite picks for months, but his ADP is going to rise out of the double-digit rounds soon. I’m still in on him, and hopefully Michel’s return and Harris’ injury stops the Harris ADP rise. Harris’ injury might keep Miller on this roster, though, and the Pats were rumored to be in on Leonard Fournette, so hopefully they don’t add anyone here and mess up my Harris shares.
New Orleans Saints
The most notable fantasy news out of the New Orleans backfield thus far has been the Tuesday panic about RB Alvin Kamara, who in the span of about 45 minutes went from being potentially traded, to being close to an extension, to not close to an extension, to receiving an epidural in his back (maybe the most concerning news), to hashing things out with Sean Payton and returning to practice on Wednesday. It was hard to form an immediate take with all the news firing off, but once things settled down, my opinion hasn’t changed — I think Kamara will get an extension, and he’s still a top-five player for me. That epidural is concerning, of course.
Prior to the contract dispute and negotiating through the public, Kamara admitted he was playing with a torn knee ligament from Week 6 through the end of the 2019 season. Kamara said he’s now healthy, something RB coach Joel Thomas has noticed, calling Kamara “clearly” 100%. Who knows if the epidural is related to that knee, or if it was more of a bargaining ploy.
If you draft Kamara early, you might be looking to handcuff with Latavius Murray, who handled 91% of the team’s touches out of the backfield when Kamara missed two games last year, averaging 24.0 carries, 9.0 targets, 153.5 yards, 2.0 touchdowns, and 34.4 fantasy points per game. However, he averaged under 7.0 touches per game when Kamara was active, even when he wasn’t 100% healthy.
However, one guy who has perhaps been the star of Saints camp is veteran RB/WR Ty Montgomery, about whom it feels like I’ve read a different glowing report every day. Coach Sean Payton has acknowledged Montgomery’s versatility, and it’s why I’m not 100% convinced that Murray is the “hammer” handcuff for Kamara this season, as he was last year. Montgomery just feels like the kind of player Payton loves to use and toy with us fantasy players by taking touches away from his stars. Keep monitoring this.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’m taking Kamara as early as #4 and sleeping like a baby, because I think his deal gets done. I love him to have a massive bounceback year. I know Scott Barrett will disagree with me on this, but I’m in a full fade of Murray at his 9th/10th-round ADP. He was useless when Kamara was active last year, even when Kamara was playing hurt. And the reports about Montgomery — whom I’m comfortable targeting in the final round of your draft — are scaring me away from Murray. Murray’s ADP will probably rise into the 7th/8th-round range with the Kamara holdout scare, too.
New York Giants
Camp is quiet when it comes to Saquon Barkley. When you have a player of that caliber having a quiet camp, it’s a good thing. Full steam ahead.
One thing we have learned through people in the league is that Dion Lewis is definitely the #2 back here behind Saquon. My thoughts? Well, let’s hope Saquon doesn’t get hurt, because Lewis looked beyond cooked in Tennessee last year. Wayne Gallman is here too, but he fell out of favor with the Giants’ coaching staff last year. It’s a new staff in 2020. I always kind of liked Gallman for what he is — a grinder who can block and occasionally catch passes.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’ll take Saquon at #2 overall. I’m not going to handcuff unless I’m in a league of 20-plus rounds, because I don’t think there’s a good one here.
New York Jets
Head coach Adam Gase — who famously has been reported to be against the Jets’ signing of him last year -- continues to sing the praises of Le’Veon Bell, who’s coming off a very disappointing season. “He’s probably in the best shape of anyone on our team,” Gase told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.
That said, veteran beat reporter Rich Cimini of ESPN suggests Frank Gore isn’t just around for moral support — he can “lessen the load” for Bell. And then this week, Bell was popping off on Twitter.
The Jets also have interesting fourth-round rookie Lamical Perine here. Our Greg Cosell viewed him as a solid sustainer with an underrated receiving profile, so he could play on all three downs effectively — if not explosively — if pressed into action. Gase has been impressed with Perine’s body of work thus far, and fortunately for Perine, an ankle injury he suffered in camp this week turned out to be a standard low-ankle sprain. He should be back early in the regular campaign.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I don’t have a whole lot of Bell shares given his third-round ADP, because I’m typically focusing on the higher-upside WRs there. That said, if I’m desperate for a back at the 3/4 turn, I would rather have Bell than someone like Todd Gurley. I’d just like to pass on all three if given the chance. Bell’s shaky relationship with his own team is even more reason to give pause. You don’t have to bother handcuffing Bell — neither Gore nor Perine have ADPs that are going to register in most leagues.
Head coach Doug Pederson’s reputation for RB committees is scaring everyone. No Eagle RB has seen 200 carries in a single season with him at the helm. In his four seasons as Philly’s head coach, the Eagles have had four different leading rushers — with three of those players not even returning to the team in the following season (Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Adams).
That all is changing this year, of course, with Miles Sanders. Our Adam Caplan has been adamant all off-season that Sanders is going to be a bell cow, and Pederson has backed it up with his comments to reporters.
Of course, the entire Fantasy Twitter community was thrown into an utter panic for about 10 minutes last Wednesday morning when Sanders was listed as “week-to-week” with a “lower body” injury, hockey style. But it appears there’s nothing to worry about and the Eagles are being overly cautious with their star — multiple reporters, including ESPN’s Tim McManus, suggest Sanders will be ready to go in Week 1.
Behind Sanders, Boston Scott is also dinged up, but the Eagles have been very happy with the progress of third RB Corey Clement, who is coming off two injury-plagued seasons. Clement looks like the top early-down backup to Sanders if the Eagles don’t add anyone, and he might have put some weight on to ease that transition. Clement has been impressing reporters.
The Eagles cut all of their other backs this week, which suggests they believe Sanders to be healthy.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I’m in on Sanders as my main target in the back half of the first round. I think he’s a future fantasy star. I’m also cool taking Scott at his 11th-round ADP, but I think he’s more a rotational player than a true handcuff. If Sanders were to go down, I’d expect Clement — whom the team loved before two injury-plagued seasons — to have a significant role, perhaps even as the “primary” back. Clement isn’t even getting drafted.
James Conner is a fantasy stud. But that comes with a massive caveat of “when he’s on the field.” Before missing time with a shoulder injury in Week 9 (an injury that plagued him for the remainder of the season), Conner ranked 10th in fantasy points per game, averaging 17.8. And before that, in 2018, he finished seventh, averaging 21.5. The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly believes the Steelers want to give Conner a chance to be the bell cow, but obviously, the injury history speaks for itself.
Behind Conner, the plodding Benny Snell is trying to get a little quicker — he is down to just 212 pounds from his listed 224. We’re told Snell is the #2 RB, but Pittsburgh could also work in rookie Anthony McFarland and speedy Kerrith Whyte if Conner can’t play (the Steelers are likely to keep Whyte because they like his special teams contributions). Veteran beat writer Ed Bouchette has suggested that Jaylen Samuels might not make the roster at various points this off-season.
Snell has reportedly been one of the best players in Steelers’ camp, so he’s totally locked in as the #2.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: There are players I have “blind spots” for every year — a player I probably should be considering but I just tend to pass over for one reason or another. Conner has been that guy this year, and I’m already lamenting not trading just a few of my Melvin Gordon best ball shares for Conner shares. The injuries do worry me, but his upside is ridiculous. Of the backs behind him, I was typically most interested in McFarland, a Graham Barfield favorite who is available in the 14th round, but Snell has appeared to blow past him the last few weeks.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners might have the league’s best run game this side of Baltimore, but a potential nasty committee in the backfield has fantasy players struggling.
The first 49er RB in ADP is Raheem Mostert, who looks like “the best runner on the team.” Mostert and Kyle Shanahan favorite Tevin Coleman have been splitting first-team reps in camp, though neither is being drafted as a bell cow, so that shouldn’t scare anyone away.
The most interesting part of camp as it relates to the backfield here? The return of Jerick McKinnon, who signed a big deal with the Niners two years ago but has missed each of the last two seasons with injuries. McKinnon has stood out to beat writers in camp so far, and he gives them a little bit more in the receiving game than Mostert and Coleman. Coleman hasn’t made much noise.
The Niners also have Jeff Wilson and an intriguing UDFA in JaMycal Hasty, and anyone who gets snaps in this backfield is worth keeping an eye on given Shanahan’s elite run scheme.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Before Mostert’s pseudo-holdout, I was loading up on Coleman as a 10th-round type of pick. Coleman’s ADP has risen into the ninth round, whereas Mostert is sitting in the fifth right now. I have no shares of Mostert in the fifth or higher, but I have dabbled when he’s slipped into the sixth, which is happening more than you might think. Still, I’m way more in on Coleman at price. McKinnon is a super-cheap bench option I can endorse at a miniscule ADP (16th round). I have way too much Coleman at this point — given his quiet camp, I’m done drafting him.
Chris Carson (off-season hip surgery) is the presumed starter. He’s missed some practice time this month with a personal matter, but it has nothing to do with his hip recovery and he’s expected to return soon. His injury history is concerning, but he’s fought off multiple challengers over the years to be the bell cow in this run-heavy attack, and declared himself 100%.
2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny was coming on last year before a significant knee injury that was more than just ACL damage. He’s on the PUP list and is expected to miss at least six games. With Penny recovering, the Seahawks brought in veteran Carlos Hyde to provide depth and insurance for Carson. Hyde is coming off a career year in Houston, running for over 1000 yards but contributing nothing as a receiver and struggling with fumbles.
Behind Carson and Hyde, second-year man Travis Homer will compete for snaps with rookie DeeJay Dallas who Carroll said has “made a really good first impression.” Carroll specifically called out the versatility of Dallas, and The Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar noticed how active Dallas has been as a receiver so far in camp. We backed off of Dallas significantly when the Seahawks signed Hyde, but he could be intriguing as a rotational player if he takes advantage of his opportunity.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Remember those players I mentioned I have a blind spot for? Well, Carson has consistently been one of those guys and typically makes me look foolish. The injury gives me pause, but he’s also affordable, regularly slipping into the fourth round of drafts. I can absolutely sign off on picking him there, though that’s typically when I focus on WRs. I think Hyde is a really nice Zero RB kind of pick in the 14th round, while I’m very much intrigued by Dallas for dynasty purposes. Monitor Dallas in case he carves out a role as a rookie here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Third-year back Ronald Jones, who went from a historically awful rookie season to a decent second year, was the presumed starter here all off-season. Bucs reporters have maintained that Jones has had a strong camp, but he’s had some struggles with drops, and he’s inconsistent at best as a pass protector.
Behind Jones, coach Bruce Arians was pretty muted on rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, suggesting that Vaughn has to catch up to the other backs on the roster. Scott Reynolds of PewterReport says that Vaughn has looked “very average” so far in camp and that he isn’t threatening Jones' starting job. Arians also said Jones has made strides as a receiver and protector that could keep him in a three-down role.
I remain skeptical on that, for good reason — Leonard Fournette is now here, and would the Buccaneers have gone out of their way to add a reported malcontent to the roster if they truly felt good about Jones? Following the Fournette addition, Arians still called Jones his starter, but he’s a bad player whom the Bucs have tried all off-season to take out of his role.
It’s worth noting that veteran LeSean McCoy, signed shortly before camp, was involved in red-zone drills, catching a TD pass from Brady. Beat man Greg Auman reports that McCoy has looked sharp in picking things up and should be part of the pass-catching rotation. McCoy beat out Dare Ogunbowale, a special teams captain, for a role in this backfield. Ogunbowale was cut.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: I have no shares of Jones, and the only way that changes is if he falls into the 10th or 11th rounds of drafts, which is possible. I also have no shares of Fournette (as I wrote about in the Jaguars blurb), and while I doubt I’ll be spending a top-50 pick on him (if his ADP rises there), I am actually more intrigued by him in Tampa than on a bad Jacksonville team that clearly didn’t want him. McCoy is a last-round PPR flier, while Vaughn is obviously buried here and shouldn’t be drafted.
One thing that could be great news for fantasy — our Greg Cosell has been told by people close to the Titans that the recently extended Derrick Henry is expected to be used more in the screen game this year. Henry is the foundation of the Titans’ offense even if he doesn’t get 40 or so targets, though.
Behind Henry, it appears we’re still going to need time to figure out the role for rookie RB Darrynton Evans. Evans has had some fumbling problems early in camp, and coach Mike Vrabel has said that Evans needs to prove he can handle a role — he won’t be handed one. That all said, the fact that the Titans cut RB Dalyn Dawkins this week says to me they expect Evans to be the primary backup. Cosell wrote before the NFL Draft that Evans was one of the best outside zone runners in the class, and the foundation of the Titans’ run game is the outside zone.
The Titans signed Jeremy McNichols for some depth because no one else was standing out.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Tennessee has one of the two or three most clear-cut RB situations in the league. Henry is a target in the back half of the first round. Evans is a high-end handcuff and is a cheap one, as a 14th-round pick.
Washington Football Team
Following the release of Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson, Washington’s once deep backfield has thinned out.
The guy most fantasy players will be hyping up — for good reason — is Antonio Gibson. A versatile player in college at Memphis, we’re told the “Football Team” eventually has plans for Gibson to be more than a running back, but right now he’s focusing pretty much exclusively at RB because they don’t want to overwhelm him early. The plan is for him to eventually learn the slot WR position as well. But if you really want to get excited, Peter Hailey of NBC Sports Washington says that the “Football Team”’s QBs have Gibson “on speed dial” with how much he’s been targeted.
Gibson’s progress must be evident given the release of Peterson, and his versatility makes him a good fit in a Scott Turner offense.
Peterson’s release was also good news for the young man we’re looking at as the #2 RB here in second-year pro Bryce Love, who essentially took a redshirt year in 2019. It appears a rotation here is all but certain, but it’s good to see some of the young guys get legit hype.
JD McKissic is also here to handle passing-down work, while Peyton Barber can be a grinder. Don’t be shocked to see these two guys get early-season work, even if they won’t have fantasy value.
Dolan’s Plan of Attack: Check your eligibility — Gibson is listed as a wide receiver at the NFFC, and that’s suppressed his ADP a bit there, but he’ll be a 5th or 6th-round pick where he has RB eligibility. I’m OK taking him there, though a lot of the downside is now not reflected in the ADP. I was buying Peterson at his dirt-cheap ADP, but those shares now need him to land somewhere else. Late-round drafters might take a shot on Love, a once-great prospect who made a terrible decision to return to college in 2018, when he had a bad year and tore his ACL in his final game. The Peterson release suggests he’s impressed in camp.