It is almost as if we dance the same dance every year, somehow hoping
this one will be better than the last one. It starts around the
NFL Draft in late April. Optimism is high. Opinions and hot taeks
come with more ferocity than Darius
Leonard. By the midpoint of every NFL season, however, most
fantasy managers feel almost as beat up as the workhorse running
backs they dreamed of drafting a few months earlier.
Speaking of running backs, the position has long been the most
prone to injury of all the fantasy positions. This year seems
to be dishing out more injuries than usual. And, in Week 8, the
position lost its king. Derrick Henry suffered a foot injury early
in the overtime win over the Colts. He is expected to miss at
least six weeks, but the reality is he could be out for the rest
of the regular season.
By my count, 12 teams have already lost one or more starters
or key contributors at running back for at least one game (Ravens,
Panthers, Bears, Browns, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Giants, Eagles,
49ers, Seahawks and Titans). The Titans are the only one of those
11 teams that have yet to show how they would handle a multiple-game
absence from their starting running back. With all the injuries
at running back this season, perhaps it would be helpful to speculate
on the backfields of the Titans as well as the other 21 "unaffected"
teams should they lose their lead back(s) or featured runner.
What if Edmonds misses time? It is reasonable
to assume that Conner would operate as the bell-cow, especially
now since Ward is working through a neck injury and possible concussion
in Week 8. As we know from his days in Pittsburgh, it may not
be the best thing for Conner if he is forced to handle much more
work. In this particular case, I would expect Rondale Moore to
become much more involved. While he would not be a direct replacement
for Edmonds by any stretch, he could see 3-4 carries and 5-6 targets
Likely result: Conner would be a likely low-end RB2.
What if Conner misses time? Conner is the one
power back Arizona has on the roster, so the most likely outcome
is that Edmonds would go from the 9.5 carry-per-game back he is
now to 11-12. He might see slightly more usage in the red zone,
but the odds are that Kyler Murray would have his number called
more often near the goal line.
Likely result: Edmonds would be a likely high-end RB2.
What if Davis misses time? While Patterson would
likely see a bit of a bump in his rushing attempts, Gallman would
be expected to handle the bulk of Davis' work and split carries
almost down the middle with Patterson.
Likely result: Patterson's value would increase slightly,
but he is already performing like an RB1. Gallman would likely
be a middling RB3/flex option.
What if Patterson misses time? Gallman should be expected
to serve as a breather back or change-of-pace, but Davis would
likely be cast in the same kind of role he had last year in Carolina.
Likely result: Davis would likely be a high-end RB2.
What if Moss misses time? I think we saw an
example of this in Week 1 when Moss was held out for unknown reasons.
Singletary handled 14 touches, while Breida ended up with four.
Singletary has not reached double figures in carries in three
straight weeks and Moss has failed to do so in two, so it would
not be much of a stretch for Singletary to absorb Moss' role.
Josh Allen would likely take the bulk of work at the goal line.
Likely result: Singletary would likely be a low-end RB2.
What if Singletary misses time? This backfield
is the rare situation in which the two backs are very different,
but their roles without the other would be somewhat similar if
the other missed time. The one difference with a Singletary injury
is that Moss would have enough work in between the 20s without
Singletary around to go along with this goal-line work to be a
clear every-week starter in fantasy.
Likely result: Moss would likely be a high-end RB2.
What if Mixon misses time? Evans appeared to
be angling for a regular pass-catching role before suffering a
hamstring injury and missing the last two games. Perine has more
cache built up with this coaching staff and would seem to be the
choice on early downs and at the goal line for the time being,
but Evans is the more talented player. It is reasonable to believe
both players would end up splitting work almost down the middle,
although Perine would be the favorite at the goal line and Evans
would be the favorite on passing downs.
Likely result: Perine would likely be a low-end RB2 in games
the Bengals should enjoy positive game script and a middling RB3/flex
option in games they experience positive game script. Evans would
be just the opposite.
What if Elliott misses time? Pollard is considered
the most valuable handcuff in fantasy football for a reason, and
it has a lot to do with his Week 15 showing last year in which
he filled in for an injured Elliott. In that game, he lit up a
beat-up 49ers defense for 132 total yards and two scores on 18
touches. Clement would mix in to give him a rest and is the capable
third running back Dallas lacked last year, but this would still
be Pollard's show.
Likely result: Pollard would likely be a solid top 10 option
What if Gordon/Williams misses time? There is
no reason to complicate things here. If one of the two backs goes
down for any length of time, it is fair to assume the other will
be the workhorse. Considering this backfield is averaging 22.9
fantasy points, the healthy one of the bunch could easily be a
league-winning kind of player. Boone is no slouch and would see
occasional work - most likely on passing downs - but not enough
to change the fortunes of the healthy back too much.
Likely result: Gordon/Williams would likely be a solid top
10 option most weeks.
What if Swift misses time? Swift's work in the
passing game - he is just shy of a 100-catch pace - should remain
a constant, but it does not appear as if OC Anthony Lynn wants
to feature anyone in this backfield right now. (Then again, Detroit
hasnít had many chances to ground-and-pound.) Williams would probably
take one or two of Swift's 12 carries per game, but the coaching
staff likes Jefferson enough that he would probably handle the
rest. I imagine the case would be the same for Swift's six targets
Likely result: Williams would likely be a low-end RB2. Jefferson
would likely be a middling RB3/flex option.
What if Williams misses (more) time? It seems
as though Lynn has settled into a 20-opportunity groove with Swift,
as the second-year back's ceiling is usually around 12 carries
and eight targets. Even with Williams out last week in a blowout
loss to the Eagles, that did not change. It is dangerous to make
many assumptions based on one blowout, but Jefferson is more of
a one-for-one replacement for Williams than he is Swift. Given
half of a season's worth of data on Swift, his workload or usage
would likely not change all that much.
Likely result: Swift would remain a top-10 option at running
back. Jefferson would likely be a middling RB3/flex option.
What if Jones misses time? Tony Pollard and
Alexander Mattison may be two of the most sought-after handcuffs
in fantasy football, but Dillon isn't far behind. Regardless of
how much attention Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams attract, the
Packers are very committed to the running game. Much like Pollard
and Mattison, Dillon possesses league-winning upside if he is
the only show in town. With only Armstead and Taylor behind him,
the Packers would have little choice but to make him a workhorse.
Likely result: Dillon would likely be a top-10 option at
What if Johnson misses time? I don't think it
matters with this team. It certainly doesn't for as long as Davis
Mills is running the offense. Even if Tyrod Taylor returns this
week, I'm still not sure it matters all that much.
What if Taylor misses time? Over the last month
or so, Taylor has started to take on the bulk of the receiving
work from Hines and added that to his heavy rushing share (121
of the backfield's 184 carries). It is fair to assume a Taylor
absence would result in a bit of a repeat of last season during
the time Taylor was struggling to find his way. Hines would probably
command at least 75 percent of the work in the passing game, while
Mack would probably handle about 50 percent of the team's rushing
attempts. Hines would probably get a third of the rushing share.
Likely result: Hines would likely be a middling RB3/flex
option with RB2 upside in potential negative game-script games.
Mack would likely be a middling RB3/flex option regardless.
What if Robinson misses time? We saw this play
out for three quarters last week after Robinson did not return
from a first-quarter heel injury. Hyde operated mostly as the
clear lead back, logging 50 snaps for the game versus Ogunbowale's
15. Robinson reportedly avoided a serious injury and could play
in Week 9, but the big takeaway from the Week 8 usage - besides
the overall snap count - was that Hyde was on the field for 36
pass snaps versus 12 for Ogunbowale. This kind of usage is not
a guarantee that Hyde would be productive with his touches, but
it does suggest he would be utilized much like Robinson has been
Likely result: Hyde would likely be a middling RB3/flex option
with low-end RB2 upside.
What if Ekeler misses time? The Chargers' coaching
staff doesn't know the answer to this question either, so don't
sweat it. From a skill-set perspective, the easy answer is Jackson.
His problem is that he has not been able to hold up for any length
of time in the NFL after handling 1,142 carries in four years
at Northwestern. Rountree was active last week and saw work for
the first time since Week 4. Kelley was inactive last week despite
Ekeler being questionable, so one has to wonder if either would
have much of a role even if Ekeler were sidelined. The more likely
outcome is that the Chargers would just throw more often. The
shorter answer to the question is that Jackson would inherit Ekeler's
passing-game work and probably split the rushing work in a 40/30/30
manner with Rountree and Kelley.
Likely result: Jackson would likely be a middling RB3/flex
option with occasional RB2 upside.
What if Henderson misses time? We got a peek
at this backfield without Henderson when he did not play in Week
3. Michel assumed a heavy workload in that game (23 touches versus
the Bucs). He would be expected to do the same if Henderson is
unable to go in any game moving forward.
Likely result: Michel would likely be a high-end RB2.
What if Gaskin misses time? We might finally
have some clarity in this backfield for the first time this season
if this happened, especially now with Malcolm
Brown already on IR. Ahmed filled in well for an injured Gaskin
last year and would be expected to do the same if the same scenario
played out again. Laird would probably be the primary option on
passing downs and have a slighter higher upside on one of the
most pass-heavy teams in the league.
Likely result: Ahmed would likely be a middling RB3/flex
option. Laird would likely be a middling RB3/flex option as well
with a decent ceiling and very low floor.
What if Harris misses time? In my opinion, this
is the one backfield that has a potential league-winning option
- a high-end RB2 option at worst - who is not rostered in nearly
enough leagues if the starter goes down. While Stevenson remains
a weekly question mark due to the Patriots' supposed desire to
"play the matchups" based on their opponent, the third-round rookie
is the one player on this roster - outside of Harris - that can
handle a heavy workload. At the very least, he would be a near
one-for-one replacement for Harris. Bolden would likely see a
few more snaps than he usually does (25-30 percent) and Taylor
would almost certainly spell Stevenson every third series.
Likely result: Stevenson would likely be a high-end RB2.
Bolden would likely be a low-end RB3/flex option with some upside
in potential negative game-script games. Taylor would likely be
a middling RB3/flex option.
What if Kamara misses time? It would not be
what anyone wants, but Ingram would take over as the featured
back if the injury happened in the next week or so. Jones (ankle)
is already past the 3-4 week timetable he was given early last
month, but he is going to need some time to get back in football
shape. Once Jones is up to speed physically, Ingram would likely
handle the bulk of the early-down work. Jones would likely be
a lite version of Kamara, handling more of the work in the passing
game and roughly 10 carries per week.
Likely result: Ingram would likely be a high-end RB3/flex
option with occasional RB2 upside. Jones would likely be a high-end
What if Carter misses time? Carter is just now
starting to take over the backfield, logging at least 70 percent
of the snaps in each of the last two games. Johnson has been on
the field for just about every snap Carter hasn't lately, making
this a two-man backfield with a clear lead back. It seems reasonable
that if Carter were to go down, Johnson would assume the role
the rookie has established in the passing game while sharing carries
with Coleman (assuming Coleman can return from the hamstring injury
that has cost him the last three games shortly) or Perine.
Likely result: Johnson would likely be a middling RB3/flex
option with occasional RB2 upside. Coleman (or Perine) would be
a TD-dependent flex at best.
What if Harris misses time? Harris' workload
has been Christian McCaffrey-like this season, so projecting how
things would go down if the unthinkable happened is challenging.
Ballage has been sprinkled into the game a bit more as the season
has progressed, and it seems reasonable to assume he would be
the clear lead back since Snell has had several opportunities
to earn the backup job over the years and has yet to do so. We
shouldn't expect Ballage to be a true workhorse, but 60 percent
of the rush attempts and 60 percent of the routes are possible
(Harris is at 76 and 74 percent, respectively) given HC Mike Tomlin's
desire to ride one back.
Likely result: Ballage would likely be a middling RB3/flex
option. McFarland might see enough work in the passing game to
be a low-end RB3/flex option.
What if Mitchell misses time? We have seen this
play out already this season, but the circumstances were a bit
different in Weeks 3-4. Hasty got hurt in the same game Mitchell
did (Week 2) and Wilson was not anywhere close to practicing at
that point. Entering Week 9, Hasty is healthy and serving as the
primary back on passing downs. Wilson is expected to return to
practice this week. If Mitchell were to miss a significant part
of the season starting this week, Hasty would likely lead the
backfield with Sermon mixing in over the next 2-3 weeks. Assuming
Wilson is ready to go around Thanksgiving (and assuming Mitchell
was still out), he would likely step into the same role Mitchell
has right now and possibly split work on passing downs with Hasty.
Likely result: Wilson would likely be a high-end RB2 as soon
as he is ready. Hasty would be a serviceable flex option if Wilson
is not ready and a desperation flex play if he is.
What if Fournette misses time? Jones would still
find a way to earn a spot in HC Bruce Arians' doghouse yet again.
In all seriousness, Jones would likely work more in tandem with
Bernard than Fournette has recently in such a scenario, likely
handling 45-50 percent of the rushing attempts and 35-40 percent
of the routes (Fournette is at 59 and 52 right now, respectively).
Vaughn would likely grab the 10-15 percent of rushing attempts
and routes that Jones and Bernard do not take for themselves.
Likely result: Jones would likely be a high-end RB3/flex
option with occasional RB2 upside. Bernard would likely be a high-end
What happens now with Henry injured? This is
the $100,000 question now, isn't it? Peterson was the only player
the Titans worked out after Henry's injury. It seems clear the
Titans view him as the most natural replacement for Henry, even
if there is no one in the league - much less free agency - who
is a realistic replacement. Peterson will not come close to matching
Henry's snap share (71 percent) or carry share (85) for the season,
although I would suspect both will settle in around 55 percent
beginning in Week 10. McNichols' snap share (25 percent) and carry
share (three) can each be expected to increase about 30 percent.
Foreman and Hilliard could swap out being weekly inactives.
Likely result: Peterson will likely be a volume-based, low-end
RB2 as early as Week 10. By the time December rolls around, he
could be a top-20 option in an offense that wants to run the ball
and rely on play-action to throw it. McNichols figures to be a
middling RB3/flex option with occasional RB2 upside in potential
negative game-script situations.
What if Gibson misses time? We have effectively
seen this play out over the last month or so. It all came to a
head in Week 8 when Gibson handled a season-low 11 touches. Patterson
mixed in early and played in tandem with Gibson for most of the
game. Did the coaching staff decide to take it easy on Gibson
heading into a bye week? Or was this the first of several games
in which Gibson and Patterson share early-down work? At 2-6 and
with the defense underperforming to the degree it is, will Washington
decide to shut Gibson down at some point? At any rate, Washington
seems to like McKissic in long down-and-distance/two-minute situations,
leaving the lead back to do the rest. Patterson is not only capable
of handling the "Gibson role," but he is the only other
back on the roster or practice squad worthy of doing it.
Likely result: Patterson may not perform like a fully healthy
Gibson, but the latter hasn't been healthy for at least a month.
As such, Patterson could easily be the same low-end RB2 option
Gibson has been lately. Given how bad the defense has been, McKissic
will likely continue to be the same inconsistent RB3/flex option
with RB2 upside he has been most of the season.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured
in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010.
He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football
internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst
on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s
“Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy
Sports Writers Association.