We’ve logged seven fantasy football weeks into the books, and all sorts of messiness and surprises at the running back position. Time for a State of the Backfield address for all 32 teams.
Last year James Connor dined on touchdown deodorant; this year it’s been worse efficiency and less touchdowns. Eno Benjamin works best as a committee back, but he’s probably the best back on this team. Kyler Murray has run more proactively over the last month.
The Falcons run to set up the run, and before you lambaste Arthur Smith for that, every primary ball carrier here is getting 4.1 YPC or better. Cordarrelle Patterson might be one of the top dozen backs in the second half if he can come back 100 percent healthy.
Gus Edwards was merely the head of a three-man committee in his return, but he received goal-line work and converted, which always means circle-of-trust privileges. The Ravens rarely throw to their backs, and Edwards has a low ceiling as a pass-catcher; not a bad time to explore an outgoing trade.
Quietly, Lamar Jackson has just three touchdowns in the last four weeks — three passing, zero rushing. He’s more likely to score on a breakaway run than he is from something at the goal line.
There’s a consistent trend with Devin Singletary; the Bills rely on him heavily in close games, and tend to limit him in the blowouts. If you can accurately project Buffalo’s game flow, you have the Singletary key. James Cook makes more sense than Zack Moss if you’re looking for a stash here.
Carolina looked like a professional offense in the shocking win over the Buccaneers; that’s progress. Chuba Hubbard was on pace to be the committee head before a minor second-half injury; if Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman are both healthy, I slightly prefer Hubbard. We’ll still talking about a bottom-five offense, however.
They’re as run-heavy as anyone, in part to protect Justin Fields, and in part to deal with Fields’s frustrating sack problem. Chicago has yet to throw for 210 yards in any game, and the team is quasi-competitive at 3-4, so things will not change. Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery are doing their own version of the Pollard and Zeke show — Herbert is making more splash plays, but Montgomery has safer volume. Because of the team’s offensive shape, you can consider starting both of them through the bye weeks.
Although the line has started to play better, Joe Mixon’s fantasy value is mostly propped up by a very narrow usage tree. He’s also on pace for a career best in receptions, despite an ordinary 5.1 yards per target. Mixon will be a player I avoid for 2023 entering his seventh year, but projectable volume should save him for the rest of this season.
Nick Chubb is still the most automatic five yards in the league, but Kareem Hunt been a disappointment and D’Ernest Johnson can’t get on the field. The Browns should take this opportunity to trade one of their non-starter backs.
Whatever summer ticket you used on Chubb, you’ve returned a profit and should continue to do so.
Although Tony Pollard’s efficiency continues to leap off the screen and off the spreadsheet, maybe the Cowboys are doing a reasonable thing, letting Ezekiel Elliott handle the heavy innings, then allowing Pollard to enter with his hair on fire. That script could change in Week 8, with Elliott's status uncertain due to knee and thigh injuries. Still, when healthy, Elliott isn't going anywhere, and despite the loss of LT Tyron Smith and a chunk of games without Dak Prescott, the offensive line has been steady.
I wish this team would cancel its season or move to the CFL. Denver gets a fifth Island Game in Week 8, to the delight of no one. Javonte Williams was probably headed for a semi-breakout season, but that’s long gone now. Latavius Murray is around to muck things up, while Melvin Gordon is struggling to find daylight. I can’t proactively recommend any runners here.
The offensive line is one of the better units in football, but injuries to D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown have hurt Detroit’s octane. Jamaal Williams is a handy No. 2 back, but not ideally suited to a starting gig. Every running back comes with injury concerns, but Swift feels more fragile than others.
Some weeks they feature Aaron Jones and some weeks they don’t. The secondary metrics suggest this is just an ordinary offense, but not a bad one. AJ Dillon was a standalone consideration in the summer, but his role has been much smaller than expected.
Dameon Pierce had to wait a week, but he’s been the steady bell cow in this backfield, shoving Rex Burkhead out of the way. And Houston really isn’t a punching bag, so Pierce gets projectable weekly volume. Maybe he’s not carrying league-winning upside, but Pierce is one of the few right answers at the messiest position.
The running game has fallen apart, between Jonathan Taylor’s injury and Matt Ryan’s collapse. New QB Sam Ehlinger was exciting in the summer — moving past Nick Foles on the depth chart — but he’s also operating without a floor. Maybe the Colts are closer to a full rebuild than they are to the playoffs. Taylor likely stands as a forced fantasy hold right now.
Travis Etienne was fairly obvious as a wait-for-it hold, though he isn’t built to be a traditional bell cow. Look for the Jaguars to look for secondary touches elsewhere, be it from JaMycal Hasty or Snoop Conner. Don’t misunderstand, Etienne managers should be excited. But he might merely be a high-end or middle RB2, not someone who constantly threatens the top 10.
This offense throws more than most and uses a three-back committee, which is why Isiah Pacheco was mostly a tease in Week 7. And remember Pacheco hardly catches the ball — just two grabs on the year. Have fun playing whack-a-mole with these backs; sometimes there are no right answers, even when the offense is fun otherwise.
Josh Jacobs picked a perfect time for a career year, right after the Raiders said no to his fifth-yer option. He’s also on pace for his best receiving season, protecting him against all game scripts. No one else on the roster is a threat to his playing time. Wheels up.
Austin Ekeler enjoys the bell cow life, leading all running backs in targets, catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. Furthering his role in the offense, the wide receivers have been riddled with injuries, and the Chargers haven’t landed on a reliable backup for Ekeler. He’s perhaps the biggest hit in Round 1 to this point.
The Rams sit last in rushing attempts and second-to-last in yards per carry, as both Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson have struggled to find lanes. Akers is in the permanent doghouse and could be cut or traded in the next week. Los Angeles received a bye at a perfect time, but San Francisco has controlled this series in recent weeks, so Week 8 is unlikely to be a Henderson spike game. He’s a low-end RB2 or a high-end RB3 at the moment, nothing greater.
I followed the money and took some affordable Chase Edmonds in drafts, but he was dispatched by Raheem Mostert rather quickly. Edmonds only holds insurance value for the moment, nothing greater. Mostert has been around 70 percent snaps over the past four games; so long as he’s healthy, there’s a floor here.
Alexander Mattison has been overrated for a while, and his brief playing time hasn’t amounted to much (3.2 YPC). I get why most Dalvin Cook managers view Mattison as mandatory insurance, but just understand these players have significantly different floors. Cook was a proactive part of the passing game early in his career, but that’s all but vanished now.
The Patriots hardly used Damien Harris in his first game back; I’d like to think that means Rhamondre Stevenson runs this backfield now, but New England will never tell us anything. Stevenson is the far better receiver, though, insulating him against any potential game-script issues. It’s not that Harris is a bad player, just that Stevenson is a younger and more talented one.
Alvin Kamara somehow has zero touchdowns on 101 touches, which is a pretty nifty trick. But given that Taysom Hill is the team’s best short-yardage pounder, Kamara’s touchdown equity rests in a modest area. Kamara’s game is better suited for Andy Dalton, as depressing as that might sound.
Saquon Barkley is healthy and the line has gotten better, not that it could be as bad as it was last year. Daniel Jones is also playing well, but his receiver room is a joke. Brian Daboll knows what he’s doing. Only an injury can hold Barkley back from league-winner status.
Michael Carter is good enough to be a slight committee lead, but the Jets were reasonable to add James Robinson as a running mate. The receivers are all being sunk by Zach Wilson, but the underrated Jets defense will keep Carter and Robinson relevant most weeks.
Miles Sanders is paying off on touchdown regression, even if Jalen Hurts remains the most automatic short-yardage runner here. The Eagles offensive line is an unstoppable monster. The backups after Sanders have scarcely seen the field.
Volume propped up Najee Harris for most of 2021, but it’s not the same thing year — and the offensive infrastructure might be worse. If Harris ever miraculously posts a game around 100 yards with a touchdown, try to trade him immediately. I know it won’t be easy, but try.
San Francisco 49ers
Christian McCaffrey managed to keep his top-five standing in the sinking Carolina ship, so the move to San Francisco can’t be a major boost — though it might be a minor one. Everyone else in this backfield shifts to the insurance bucket, with zero weekly value.
Ken Walker looks like a future rushing champion, and although he’s not special as a receiver, he’s not a zero in that area, either. There’s no one pushing him on the roster, and Geno Smith’s kept the Seahawks on schedule.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tom Brady narrative screens that Leonard Fournette is stumbling around at just 3.5 YPC, though he’s also fourth in touches. Tampa Bay’s run blocking has been weaker than expected, and this offense doesn’t provide much buoyancy at the moment. The good news for Fournette: Rachaad White has been less efficient as both a runner and receiver. The Bucs as a team average 3.0 per carry, easily the worst in the league.
I was worried about Derrick Henry entering the year, but he’s validated his summer ADP, in part because the Titans are sprinkling in some receiving work. Unfortunately for Henry, there isn’t much else on this offense, but his floor for touches is so ungodly high, you have to slot him top-five so long as he’s healthy.
The Brian Robinson Jr. comeback is a heartwarming story, even if his play has been ordinary. Antonio Gibson has maintained a secondary role throughout the Robinson return, which means J.D. McKissic no longer holds fantasy interest.