In today’s NFL, it seems like there are fewer three-down feature backs than ever. More and more teams are employing a committee backfield and that makes things awfully difficult for fantasy football enthusiasts.
It also can lead to an opportunity to exploit value for those that can stay ahead of predicting how these committee backfields will play out.
Let’s look at some of the confusing backfields of 2021 and how fantasy football fans should approach them
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs backfield has plenty of names Fantasy owners have become familiar with over the years, however, it’s tough to figure out who has the most value. With Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, Giovani Bernard, and even Keshawn Vaughn in the mix, I fully expect this backfield to frustrate fantasy owners weekly this season.
The two big-name backs with the most upside to be a workhorse are Jones and Fournette. Jones appeared to have a stranglehold on the job last season before playoff Lenny showed up and dominated in the postseason. Now it’s anyone’s guess who will be the RB1 to start the season. Head coach Bruce Arians will bench either back on a whim after a missed block or fumble as well making this backfield all the more volatile.
The most defined role in this backfield, although limited, is Bernard. While his lack of early-down work will surely cap his upside, he’s locked in as the pass-catching back. He could carve out a nice little role in this offense and have flex potential in PPR leagues. Behind all of these backs is Keshawn Vaughn, who when he got an opportunity last season in limited touches averaged more than four yards per carry and looked just as good if not better than the other backs. Nonetheless, he would need an injury to have any real fantasy value.
Ronald Jones offers the most upside as an early-down back and should be the first Bucs’ back drafted. Fournette should be the second back off the board but is riskier than any back on this team. Gio is a nice late-round stash in PPR leagues. He has sneaky value and could emerge as a nice flex option in 12-team drafts. Look for him to be Tom Brady’s new James White in Tampa.
The Eagles’ backfield is much easier to decipher for me. This committee is more smoke than fire. Fantasy owners are projecting rookie Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott to have significant roles this season. I doubt their roles are as significant as people think.
Gainwell and Scott will have a role in this offense, but Miles Sanders will be the clear-cut RB1 and is a steal as he continues to fall in drafts. Lately, he’s being drafted as a low-end RB2 or in some cases even a flex option. He has league-winning upside going that late. While his floor does bring some risk it is currently baked into his ADP.
Scott and Gainwell don’t need to be rostered in non-dynasty leagues unless you have deep rosters and one needs to stash a player. Sanders is the man here as long as he’s healthy. If he were to go down I expect Gainwell to be the next man up to lead the backfield.
Houston’s backfield is looking like a three-headed nightmare comprised of David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, and Mark Ingram with Rex Burkhead lurking as a darkhorse to further muddy the waters. Lindsay and Ingram are listed as co-starter while Johnson appears to be locked in as the pass-catching back according to all the reports we’ve heard out Houston this summer.
This is an unpopular opinion, but Lindsay being drafted as the RB47 has huge upside. I expect him to lead this team in carries and he’s always been a productive fantasy producer when healthy. Mark Ingram is washed and a non-factor. Johnson will take the PPR value, nevertheless, this coaching staff wants to limit his carries. Lindsay is a low-risk option who could pleasantly surprise this season. He’s well worth the risk.
Unlike the other backfields in this article, the Broncos have a strong rushing attack and two good backs. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams will both see plenty of work. As much as many owners want to project Williams into a larger role, Gordon isn’t going away and will likely lead this team in carries and goal-line touches. Williams’ role should grow as the season goes on, but Gordon’s role is secure as long as he’s healthy.
If both backs were to stay healthy all season, Gordon would have a slight edge on Williams. As much as fantasy owners would like him to go away, he’s not and is the RB1 in this backfield until further notice. Where it gets interesting is if one of these two backs were to go down with an injury. If either Williams or Gordon was to get hurt, the back left standing has legitimate low-end RB1 upside. With Javonte Williams being drafted as the RB28 and Gordon as the RB30, they are potential game-changers this season. I like Gordons’ value this season more than Williams in redraft despite the excitement surrounding Williams. I’d be happy to have either player on my team as a high-upside flex option.
New York Jets
Back to the dumpster fire backfields. No matter how much fantasy owners want to will Michael Carter into being a lead back it’s not going to happen. He’s currently the third man in a three-back committee on a bad offense that will often be in a negative game script for running backs. Ty Johnson currently looks like the RB1 in New York with Tevin Coleman behind him.
Johnson isn’t the sexy pick, but all reports out of camp say after looking good in camp, he’s the top guy in this backfield. He should be the first running back drafted off this roster. Despite being the RB2 on this roster, Coleman is less appealing than Carter. I would still draft Carter above Coleman and hope he takes off at some point this season. Coleman has the least upside and most injury risk in this committee.
None of these backs are more than a bench stash, however, with Johnson being almost free in most drafts there is upside there. He’s the only back I have any interest in, in redrafts. Carter only has value as a dynasty target but is worth keeping an eye on as a potential waiver wire add later in the season. Coleman can be ignored, he’s nothing more than a low-upside nuisance with minimal value who only exists to cannibalize the younger backs in this backfield. He should not be on your roster in any 12-team formats.
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