As I stated last week, one
of the biggest truths in football is that players are going to get
injured. Wide receivers pull hamstrings, quarterbacks hurt shoulders
and ankles when giant guys fall on them and running backs, who are
targeted for a hit on almost every play, probably take the most
punishment of any skill position.
It is therefore extremely important to have backups at running
back. But a backup who can’t produce is useless. A roster
spot wasted. A backup who ends up sharing the starter’s
roll in an RBBC with the third-string running back on the depth
chart is also useless. Only the ones can who can fill in for the
starter and produce enough so that the injury doesn’t cause
your team’s downfall have value.
Which ones are these? Let’s take a look at the AFC since
we analyzed the NFC last week.
Buffalo – The Bills don’t run the ball much,
other than quarterback Josh
Allen, but it’s been a successful formula as they scored 483
points last season despite a 57/43 pass-to-run ratio. Devin
Singletary led the RB group with 188 rushing attempts (11.1
per game) and 50 targets (2.9 per game). GM Brandon Beane said
rookie James Cook
(Dalvin’s little brother) had a similar skill set to the Commanders’
which would indicate he’ll fill the receiving/third-and-long role.
They still have Zack
Moss, who would likely fill in early downs if Singletary is
injured, making Cook only a weak flex option in PPR leagues at
Miami – The Dolphins needed to bring in more
folding chairs to accommodate everyone in the running back room
this spring. It will be a bit confusing for a while as Chase
Mostert and Sony
Michel all have start-worthy talent and the team still has
last year’s primary back in Myles
Gaskin (177-612-3 rushing and 49-234-4 receiving). Edmonds
was signed to a $6 million deal and should begin the season as
the starter, because he’s the best combination of run and catch
in the room. Mostert played under head coach Mike McDaniel in
San Francisco (former run game coordinator and then OC in 2021)
and might end up being the starter, but that’s the only way he
has fantasy value even at RB52 (ADP 141.7) because he isn’t a
pass receiver and neither is Michel. If Edmonds is sidelined it’s
an RBBC of Mostert/Gaskin or Michel/Gaskin.
New England – Fantasy football and Bill Belichick’s
running backs are like oil and water… they don’t mix well. But
the 2022 backfield seems pretty clear with Damien
Harris and second-year tailback Rhamondre
Stevenson. Harris finished 14th at the position with 214.1
fantasy points (14.3 FPts/G), but 15 rushing touchdowns make him
overly touchdown-dependent. Stevenson finished ranked 47th, but
when given a full workload was extremely productive (in three
games of 19 or more rushing attempts he averaged 19.3 FPts/G).
The Patriots didn’t throw to their backs last season – just 62
targets all season. Stevenson is a must handcuff if you draft
New York Jets – Rookie Michael
Carter held down the primary running back role in 2021 (147-639-4
rushing and 36-325-0 receiving) finishing 36th at the position
with 11.2 FPts/G, but the drafting of Breece
Hall at No.36 is a strong indication that the team wasn’t
happy enough with his production as a starter. Hall was a do-everything
back at Iowa State which wouldn’t leave much work for Carter unless
the rookie can’t block or gets injured.
Baltimore – The latest news out of Baltimore
is J.K. Dobbins
(ACL) getting off the PUP list and likely ready to go Week 1.
His backup Gus
Edwards, however, doesn’t appear ready leaving Mike
Davis as the only option and that’s not much of a choice given
how poorly he ran last season. If Dobbins and Edwards are sidelined
just avoid this backfield because quarterback Lamar
Jackson will end up handling everything.
Cincinnati – Mixon had the best season of his
career with personal bests in rushing yards (1205), rushing touchdowns
(13), receptions (42), receiving yards (314) and fantasy points
per game (18.1). Neither Chris
Evans or Samaje
Perine have proven they could replace Mixon if needed and
neither gets enough work to be a viable flex option when Mixon
Chubb (228-1259-8) is a beast of a runner, but his receiving
skills have never really progressed. That’s what makes Kareem
Hunt so valuable for fantasy owners. He’s not only a good
runner, but he’s a great receiving back and has produced 13.4
fantasy points a game over 32 games for the Browns. But there
is a giant question mark this season because Hunt has requested
a trade. He’s still a standalone option in Cleveland, but depending
on where he landed in a trade might increase his value significantly.
Additionally, if Hunt were to leave (which I don’t think will
happen during the season), D’Ernest
Johnson would be a viable handcuff though not worthy of standalone
status. In games Johnson saw at least 19 carries last season he
averaged 22.6 FPts/G.
Pittsburgh – Rookie Najee
Harris saw the most touches of any running back in the league
last season (381), which will take a long-term toll on his career
for dynasty players, but he’s likely to continue his workload
in 2022 because there are so question marks at the Steelers’ quarterback
position. Harris’ workhorse status left backup Benny
Snell with hardly anything to do (38 touches over 17 games)
and he’s never proven he could produce if Harris goes down.
Houston – At one point, Marlon
Mack looked like the “man” for the Indianapolis Colts, but
injuries over the past two season derailed a promising career.
Just 26, Mack finds himself with a new team and an old moniker
– starter. Whether he can stay healthy is a big question. Early
in the season his backup is likely journeyman Rex
Burkhead, but if the Texans are out of the playoff picture
they could turn to rookie fourth-round pick Dameon
Pierce, out of Florida, to see if he has a future. A very
late round flyer on Pierce shouldn’t be overlooked.
Taylor had everything working for him last season and led
all running backs with 377.1 fantasy points. But he was ridden
pretty hard and the Colts might effort to give backup Nyheim
Hines a similar workload to what he had in 2020 when he produced
12 FPts/G. However, if something were to happen to Taylor, Hines
would likely share the early down work with newcomer Phillip
Lindsay. Lindsay was barely used in Miami last season but
had a couple of solid years in Denver before the arrival of Melvin
Gordon. If the Colts lighten the load on Taylor, Hines can
have some standalone value, but I’m not excited about those prospects
at this point.
Jacksonville – All the off-season talk was about
the return of former first-rounder Travis
Etienne, but James
Robinson (Achilles) took a big step toward being ready early
in the season by taking some reps on Tuesday and that should concern
all those picking Etienne early in their draft. Robinson has never
gotten the respect he deserves for his production in his first
two seasons (17.9 FPts/G in 2020) and he played solidly when fired
coach Urban Meyer finally gave him a chance. It’s currently a
confusing picture, so a handcuff is a must, but Etienne should
get the first shot at starting because he’s simply healthier.
Tennessee – If Derrick
Henry stays healthy, he’s an elite running back, but two-and-a-half
hard years of work (955 touches) finally caught up to him and
Henry missed the last eight games of the season. Last year’s backup
is gone to Carolina leaving a huge hole if Henry misses time.
Hilliard (56-350-2) and rookie Haasan Haskins are untested
at this point. If I drafted Henry, I’d add Hilliard later on in
the draft, but I’d be praying I never used him.
Williams’ loyalists were excited this off-season at the prospect
of being alone in the backfield without free agent Gordon, but
the veteran returned to the Broncos on a one-year deal. They both
carried the ball 203 times last season, but Williams should be
closer to a 60/40 split in his second season. Gordon averaged
slightly more fantasy points last season (12.6 vs. 12.2), but
should lose a little value this season. He’s still flex-worthy
as the backup and a good option if Williams isn’t in uniform.
Kansas City – The Chiefs keep waiting for 2020
first-round pick Clyde
Edwards-Helaire to arrive, but I’m not sure that’s ever going
to happen. Andy Reid can use veterans like Jerick
McKinnon and Ronald
Jones or experiment with rookie Isiah Pacheco, but the head
coach really just wants to throw the ball. If CEH is injured or
can’t get it done, I’d expect Jones to cover the early downs and
McKinnon as the receiving back. Those hearing Pacheco talk this
summer should know it’s just that … training camp talk. He’s unlikely
to be fantasy-worthy this season.
Las Vegas – The Raiders backfield appears in
flux. Head coach Josh McDaniels was forced to say the team in
not trying to trade starter Josh
Jacobs, but the rumors continue. The new regime isn’t tied
to Jacobs and, in fact, drafted a running back in the fourth round
The Raiders also paid Kenyan
Drake handsomely a year ago ($11 million guaranteed over two
years), and added Brandon
Bolden and Ameer
Abdullah this off-season. Someone has to go. McDaniels, being
a Bill Belichick disciple, will likely use the “running-back-by-committee”
strategy of his mentor. Best advice is stay away.
Los Angeles Chargers –Austin
Ekeler is the man in the Chargers backfield, but even he said
his workload should be reduced. Management agreed and drafted
to take the pressure off the starter. First, he has to beat out
but that should happen soon enough. Spiller is a handcuff, but
not a standalone option.