Taking Stock Of All 32 NFL Backfields

Ian Hartitz
Rotoworld

NFL depth charts are always in a constant state of flux due to injuries, performance and at-times questionable coaching decisions. The RB 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.

The good news is we now have two weeks of regular season data to help clear up the ever-murky RB position. What follows is a breakdown of each team's backfield in order to better determine:

  • Offenses that are featuring a single workhorse

  • Fantasy-friendly committee backfields

  • Situations that fantasy football owners should avoid

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All snap count and touch data was compiled from Pro Football Reference. Opportunities refer to a player's combined carries and targets.

 

Arizona Cardinals

Notes: Most of Edmonds' snaps came when Johnson was briefly sidelined with a wrist injury in Week 2. DJ's 86% snap rate in Week 1 is a better indicator for his weekly usage. The Cardinals' pass-first offense hasn't made a point of feeding Johnson carries, but coach Kliff Kingsbury is at least doing a good job of better utilizing DJ's unique receiving talents. Overall, Johnson has spent 18% of his snaps in the slot or out wide compared to just 6.5% in 2018. Edmonds is a viable handcuff and has demonstrated the ability to work on all three downs. He's plenty worthy of a bench spot in deeper leagues.

Atlanta Falcons

Notes: The departure of Tevin Coleman hasn't changed the Falcons' commitment to a multi-back offense. More worrisome than usage is Freeman's average of just 1.42 yards after contact per attempt, which ranks 54th among 55 qualified RBs this season (PFF). Third-string RB Brian Hill would likely step into the backfield's 1.B role Freeman or Smith were to miss any game time.

Baltimore Ravens

Notes: Ingram is cemented as the lead back in the Ravens' run-first offense. His 15 combined carries and targets in Week 2 demonstrated a solid floor in a game where Lamar Jackson racked up 16 rush attempts. The coaching staff seems to be higher on Hill (15 snaps in Week 2) than Edwards (10) for good reason: The Ravens' fourth-round RB is a baller that offers a true change-of-pace option in this suddenly-explosive offense.

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Buffalo Bills

Notes: Singletary is dealing with a hamstring injury and should be considered questionable for the Bills' Week 3 matchup against the Bengals. Be sure to monitor the Rotoworld Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player. Gore is locked in as the offense's early-down RB, but Yeldon offers value as the pass-down back if Singletary ultimately misses time. Yeldon caught 55-of-78 targets for 487 yards and four touchdowns with the Jaguars in 2018.

Carolina Panthers

Notes: CMC fantasy owners should say a prayer for his continued good health before going to bed every night. McCaffrey's unique skill set makes it unlikely that a single Panthers' backup RB would inherit his workload if he were to miss any game time.

Chicago Bears

Notes: Cohen worked as a full-time slot WR in Week 1, but spent just six total snaps in the slot or out wide in Week 2. It was encouraging to see Montgomery (44% snaps in Week 2) work ahead of both Cohen (38%) and Davis (25%) just one week after receiving a pedestrian seven touches, but it's going to be tough to expect consistent fantasy value from anyone involved in a three-back committee. The good news is that Montgomery has easily looked like the best back of the group to this point and figures to get more work as the season progresses.

Cincinnati Bengals

Notes: Mixon would likely have a snap rate in the 60-70% range if he hadn't missed time with an ankle injury. Still, the Bengals' injury-riddled offensive line has struggled to open up anything resembling consistent rushing lanes to this point. Week 3 against the Bills isn't anyone's idea of a prime bounce-back spot, but both RBs offer enhanced season-long value thanks to their expected three-down role if the other were to miss any game time.

Cleveland Browns

Notes: The Browns have annoyingly taken Chubb off the field in pass-down situations this season despite his underrated receiving skills. Still, he's locked in as a weekly low-end RB1 thanks to his status as one of just 11 RBs to average at least 20 combined rushes and targets per game. Johnson will continue to work as this year's version of Duke Johnson as long as Hilliard (concussion) remains sidelined and Kareem Hunt remains suspended.

Dallas Cowboys

Notes: The Cowboys limited Zeke's reps and touches in Week 1, but he posted a stellar 76% snap rate and racked up 25 combines carries and targets in Week 2. Expect more of the same moving forward for the featured back in one of the league's best offenses. Pollard remains one of the league's highest-upside handcuffs.

Denver Broncos

Notes: Yes, Lindsay has split reps with Freeman to this point. Also yes, Booker (the Broncos' 2018 leader in RB targets with 51) has played just one total snap this season. Lindsay offers more value than Freeman as Joe Flacco's preferred receiving back, but both are weekly options as part of a talented two-back committee. Just don't expect a high weekly ceiling in the Broncos' 28th-ranked scoring offense.

Detroit Lions

Notes: The Lions weren't kidding this offseason when they preached their commitment to utilizing multiple backs. However, the team did surprisingly release CJA Tuesday in favor of former-Giants RB Paul Perkins. This should theoretically result in more early-down work for Kerryon, but Ty Johnson did play well in Week 2 and is a threat to see more snaps moving forward. Both Ty and J.D. McKissic will limit Kerryon's receiving workload as long as they remain on the roster. #FreeKerryon.

Green Bay Packers

Notes: The only RBs with more combined carries and targets than Jones this season are Le'Veon Bell, Christian McCaffrey, Marlon Mack and Dalvin Cook. Coach Matt LaFleur has utilized a 44% run-play rate through two weeks, which ranks 12th in the league and is far removed from the offense's pedestrian 32% rate from last season. Jones probably won't ever completely take over this backfield as long as Williams remains healthy, but life should continue to be productive for Aaron Rodgers' No. 1 RB as long as the offense remains committed to team #EstablishTheRun.

Houston Texans

Notes: Sigh. Johnson's long-awaited featured role lasted exactly one week. Overall, Hyde racked up 20 touches and 40 snaps in Week 2 compared to just six touches and 26 snaps for Johnson. Hyde deserves credit for running effectively between the tackles and has averaged a robust 5.8 YPC, but it's tough to imagine this success continuing for the entire season behind the Texans' patch-work offensive line. Johnson offers little weekly value as long as Hyde continues to eat up early-down work, and Deshaun Watson keeps refraining from checking the ball down.

Indianapolis Colts

Notes: The biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck's retirement has been Mack, who has racked up a league-high 45 carries in the Colts' run-first offense. Hines remains a threat on pass downs, and Wilkins (career 6.4 YPC) could see more work as long as he keeps balling. Still, Mack is locked in as a low-end RB1 as long as he keeps receiving this type of high-level usage.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Notes: Only Christian McCaffrey and Le'Veon Bell have been on the field more often than Fournette this season. The Jaguars' featured back continues to leave much to be desired when it comes to rushing efficiency, but Fournette has racked up six targets in each of the first two games and appears to finally have a consistent pass-game role. It's only a matter of time until at least some touchdowns (and fantasy points) come.

Kansas City Chiefs

Notes: Both Williams (knee) and Shady (ankle) are banged up at the moment, but neither appears to be dealing with a serious injury that is expected to result in an extended absence. McCoy (5 YPC) has demonstrated solid burst and been much more efficient than Williams (1.5 YPC) on the ground, but Dame continues to be the group's lead receiving back and has caught 9-of-11 targets for 87 yards through two weeks. Both backs offer standalone value in the Chiefs' league-best offense, and Thompson remains just one play away from inheriting a decent-sized role himself.

Los Angeles Chargers

Notes: The Chargers have featured Ekeler as a true three-down back to this point. His goal-line fumble in Week 2 was far from ideal, but his robust pass-game role (12-163-2) will give him a fantasy-friendly floor as long as Melvin Gordon remains M.I.A. Jackson deserves credit for averaging a league-high 8.9 YPC (even with a 60-yard TD run in Week 2 nullified by penalty!), although he's tough to trust as a standalone option as long as Ekeler continues to post this kind of usage. There's little doubt who the more-polished receiving RB is.

Los Angeles Rams

Notes: The idea that Brown was the Rams' goal-line RB and a vulture was never rooted in reality; his goal-line carries in Week 1 came on *his* drives, as the Rams have never gone out of their way to yank Gurley off the field in short-yardage situations. While Gurley doesn't have the same ridiculous usage as we saw in 2017 and 2018, he's still plenty capable of returning weekly RB2 value as the lead back in the Rams' high-scoring offense. The biggest takeaway from the first two weeks: Brown is cemented as Gurley's handcuff over Henderson.

Miami Dolphins

Notes: It's a good idea to avoid the league's worst offense in general moving forward. This is particularly true for Ballage, who boasts the league's single-worst average of yards after contact per attempt to complement his stone hands.

Minnesota Vikings

Notes: Cook has demonstrated a borderline-erotic blend of speed and power as the undisputed lead RB in the Vikings' Gary Kubiak-inspired offense. He's locked in as a high-end RB1 until further notice. Fantasy owners should strongly consider adding Mattison to handcuff Cook, as the Vikings' third-round pick has put to rest concerns over his burst and played well through two weeks.

New Orleans Saints

Notes: Most of us knew that Kamara wouldn't inherit a full-fledged workhorse role in 2019 with Mark Ingram out of the picture. This has been the case through two weeks, as Murray has been plenty involved with 11-50-1 rushing and 3-20-0 receiving lines. Kamara is way too good to be considered anything other than an RB1 even with Drew Brees (thumb) sidelined for an estimated six weeks, but his three targets with Teddy Bridgewater under center in Week 2 were a bit worrisome. Murray remains one of fantasy's top-handcuff options in the Saints' perennial high-scoring offense even if he might not carry too much weekly standalone value.

New England Patriots

Notes: Michel has racked up 36 rush attempts through two weeks ... and broken zero tackles (PFF). Obviously fantasy football owners care about yards and touchdowns as opposed to highlight-worthy runs, but the real issue has been Burkhead's heightened involvement. This backfield appears destined to feature three backs for the duration of the season, as third-round pick Damien Harris is also available if any of the current trio is forced to miss game time. Each holds solid weekly value as contributors in one of the league's best offenses, but this backfield will (per usual) be fairly difficult to predict on a week-to-week basis.

New York Giants

Notes: I'm of the opinion that Barkley is the league's single-best player with the ball in his hands. He's accordingly worked as the Giants' undisputed lead back through two weeks, with Gallman only really being involved late in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. Daniel Jones' underrated mobility and willingness to throw the deep ball can only be good news for Barkley's already sky-high fantasy stock. It's unlikely that Gallman would fully inherit Barkley's monstrous workload if that dire situation were to arise.

New York Jets

Notes: Nobody has racked up more combined carries and targets than Bell this season. His 21-68-0 rushing and 10-61-0 receiving lines in Week 2 demonstrated the type of fantasy-friendly floor a talented and high-usage back like himself can have -- even in one of the league's worst offenses. Bell's efficiency should improve once Sam Darnold (mono) returns to action. Montgomery's proven three-down ability makes him one of fantasy's top handcuffs in an offense that is seemingly set on featuring a single RB.

Oakland Raiders

Notes: Jacobs is dealing with a groin injury and should be considered questionable for the Raiders' Week 3 matchup against the Vikings. The bigger issue is that it appears he'll be a bit more game-script dependent than fantasy owners would prefer, as the combination of Richard (3 targets, 21 routes) and Washington (2 targets, 11 routes) has been more involved than Jacobs (1 target, 22 routes) in the passing game to this point. The good news is that Jacobs has firmly established himself as a #good RB that is plenty capable of still producing on limited touches.

Philadelphia Eagles

Notes: The Eagles haven't quite handed the backfield to Sanders, who has totaled just 64 total yards on 25 touches this season. Yes, Sanders had a riveting 21-yard score in Week 1 nullified by an iffy holding penalty, but he's clearly still going to be sharing the backfield with Sproles and Howard for the time being. Fantasy owners should be patient, as the lead back in what's expected to eventually be a high-flying Eagles offense should find his way to some solid production sooner rather than later.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: Conner is dealing with a knee injury, but said Monday that he's "confident" he'll suit up in Week 3 against the 49ers. Still, Conner's upside as the Steelers' featured RB isn't as high without Ben Roethlisberger (elbow, IR) under center. He's best approached as a mid-range RB2 moving forward, particularly in the near future with Jaylen Samuels a threat to see enhanced snaps as long as Conner remains banged up.

Seattle Seahawks

Notes: Carson has posted productive 30-106-1 rushing and 9-61-1 receiving lines to this point, but he's also been responsible for two (arguably three) fumbles through two weeks. Expect Carson to continue to start, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the backfield shift towards more of a 1.A/1.B system as long as Penny continues to impress.

San Francisco 49ers

Notes: Tevin Coleman (high-ankle sprain) doesn't have an exact timetable for a return at this point. The 49ers' full-game Week 2 rates in their blowout victory over the Bengals were a bit deceiving due to the unique game script. Per Adam Levitan, Breida (13 touches) and Mostert (11) worked well ahead of Wilson (2) during the first 2.5 quarters of action before the game got out of hand. Both Breida and Mostert offer standalone value as capable receiving RBs in coach Kyle Shanahan's fantasy-friendly scheme.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notes: Barber (65% snaps in Week 2) seemed to separate himself from both Jones (12%) and Ogunbowale (25%) in Week 2. He has a chance to run away with the job in the next four weeks in fairly-cozy matchups against the Giants, Rams, Saints and Panthers. Ogunbowale has demonstrated some solid receiving ability, but doesn't have a single carry after two weeks of action. Don't listen to national reporters with the same first name as myself when they predict Jones will have a larger role moving forward.

Tennessee Titans

Notes: The Titans have remained committed to featuring Henry as their offense's No. 1 playmaker. His snap rate and lack of a consistent pass-game role aren't ideal, but Tractorcito posted similarly-mundane snap rates of 41%, 40%, 70%, 63% and 53% during his breathtaking final five games of 2018. Henry will always be a bit game-script dependent, although he's missed just one game since entering the league in 2016 and always offers week-winning value thanks to his consistent workload and rare big-play ability.

Washington Redskins

Notes: There currently isn't a timetable for Derrius Guice's (knee, IR) return. Thompson (45% snaps in Week 2) worked ahead of both Peterson (29%) and Smallwood (26%) in Week 2 and is the most fantasy-friendly RB of the group thanks to his receiving ability. Still, the ceiling is low for each RB in an offense that doesn't figure to overload any single back.

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