In today’s NFL, it seems like there are fewer three-down feature backs than ever. With more teams employing rotations, breaking down committee backfields is an important part of fantasy draft preparation.
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, which opens up a variety of different draft strategies.
Let’s look at some of the confusing backfields of 2021 and how fantasy football fans should approach them
There are plenty of teams in today’s NFL that have at least a split-back system. However, in this article, I will try to focus on the teams that are expected to split touches at least three ways. That being said, the Dolphins may have the busiest running back room in the entire league as touches may be split between four backs weekly.
New head coach Mike McDaniel had a history of using multiple runners during his stint as offensive coordinator in San Francisco. However, they also often struggled with injuries which leaves the question, was the multi-back system more based on design or necessity? Regardless, I do believe we will see a lot of rotation in this backfield. The four backs I’m projecting to be in that rotation are Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, and Myles Gaskin.
I anticipate Edmonds leading this backfield in touches. He’s probably the most versatile of the backs being that he can run inside, outside, and catch passes. Mostert is in that conversation as well, but Edmonds is much more durable. At his current ADP Edmonds is being selected as the RB35. He’s an absolute steal there in McDaniel’s zone-blocking, run-heavy system.
Mostert is the wild card as he’s not only the most dynamic and dangerous back on the Dolphins, but he’s one of the most explosive players in the entire league. He’s a big play waiting to happen. The concern is that he isn’t durable enough to give a ton of touches too. He is more of a best ball option for me. As dynamic as he may be his upside is capped by the fact that he maxes out at about 6-8 touches per game.
Michel projects to be the short-yardage and goal-line guy. However, I believe he’s the least talented back in this backfield. While in theory, he should have touchdown upside I believe he eventually loses his role and becomes an afterthought by Halloween.
Gaskin is an interesting case. Many predict he could be cut, but he’s never anything short of spectacular in camp every summer. I do believe he will earn a roster spot and with Mostert’s fragility could end up with a significant role in the likely scenario that Mostert misses time. We have seen him put up monster games on bad offenses. He should be monitored on the waiver wire in 2022 despite starting the season as the Dolphins’ fantasy RB3 due to Mostert’s big-play upside.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are a habitually confusing backfield year after year. This year it’s more important than ever to decipher because the backs they have are extremely talented. The only saving grace may be that James White is a candidate to start the season on the PUP list forcing him to miss the first six games of the season, which would vastly improve Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson’s PPR potential. The team also added Pierre Strong Jr. who is a talented rookie but I don’t expect him to be a factor this season.
We know when healthy James White is a premier pass-catching back with limited work on the ground. He is a major part of the offense, nevertheless, the real question here is do you want to roster Harris or Stevenson?
Last year in his rookie campaign we saw Stevenson take 133 carries for 606 yards with five TDs. He averages 4.6 yards per attempt and saw his touches increase as the season went on. He also caught 14 passes for 123 yards. Harris also averaged 4.6 yards per attempt rushing 202 times for 929 yards and 15 TDs. He snagged 18 passes for 132 yards.
The thing that jumps out about those numbers is obviously the TD disparity. Harris has a nose for the end zone, and I don’t expect that to change. However, Stevenson looks more explosive with the ability to break more big plays. Assuming White does miss time to start the season I expect the backs to split time fairly evenly. The difference will be I believe Stevenson will see a significantly higher volume of targets in the passing game and Harris will get the majority of the goal-line work.
With that said, I give Harris a slight edge here. Stevenson could very well be the more productive fantasy back in the first half of the season. My concern is that when White does return we will see Stevenson’s PPR value plummet and Harris will still be finding himself with the ball near the end zone. This is very close and I like both backs, all three if you include White, but the edge goes to Harris in New England.
The Bills were already a confusing backfield and this offseason they added rookie James Cook and pass-catcher Duke Johnson. It appears Devin Singletary had overtaken Zack Moss as the lead back in Buffalo although it has at times over the past two years seemed exactly the opposite. Still, I expect Singletary to be comfortably ahead of Moss so I will focus more on how Cook and Johnson will factor into the workload.
Devin Singletary does start the season as the RB1, nonetheless, the real RB1 in Buffalo may actually be QB Josh Allen. There is a real chance Cook is more talented than Singletary. He certainly appears to be more explosive. However, he had the biggest workload of his career last season at Georgia with 68 carries and only ran the ball 113 times. Granted he averaged 6.4 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns adding 27 receptions and four TDs through the air. Nevertheless, we have no idea if he can withstand any kind of significant workload on the next level and how much the talent around him contributed to his production.
I’d like to say James Cook should be the change-pace-back and have a decent role as a pass-catcher, but quite frankly I think Johnson is a better runner and pass catcher and I also believe he’s a better player than Singletary. He’s not viewed as an RB1 though and I expect Singletary to lead the team in carries. You can see why this backfield is such a diluted mess, especially if Moss also has a role.
In redraft, I’m looking to avoid this backfield altogether. If I was going to take a chance on someone I’d probably grab Johnson at the tail end of my draft and stash him on my bench for a week or two and see what kind of role he has. I just don’t want to spend any kind of significant draft capital on this backfield.
The Eagles are another backfield that is a perennial thorn in the side of fantasy owners. They will once again be splitting touches between Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and the always maddening Boston Scott. The good news is Jordan Howard is gone, however, there has been chatter around Philly that he may be re-signed at some point this summer.
While I don’t love the idea of having to rely on anyone in this backfield, I do believe Miles Sanders is the best back and I do think he is a value pick. His current FFWC high-stakes ADP has him being taken as the RB25 off the board. He could and probably will surpass that. The big concern with him is he scored zero TDs last season and in his three-year career has rushed for a total of nine touchdowns adding three through the air.
While he should improve on his zero TDs, I don’t see him scoring more than three of four. They just don’t give him opportunities near the goal line. He has also seen his pass-catching numbers significantly drop each season. He’s had fewer targets, receptions, touchdowns, and lower yards per catch each year. I don’t expect that to change either because he hasn’t been very good at it. Despite all of that I do believe he is the team’s best runner averaging over five yards per carry for his career and setting a career-high last year with 5.5. If his ADP doesn’t climb this summer he’s the back I’d be most likely to roll the dice on in this backfield and hope he can find the end zone in 2022.
I expect Kenneth Gainwell to lead the Eagles’ backfield in receptions and touchdowns this season. The issue is I don’t see him getting much work between the 20s. Last season even when the running back room was decimated by injury they didn’t want to hand him the ball and shockingly made Howard their bell-cow. I don’t hate his value as the RB45 which is his current ADP. Nevertheless, leading the backfield in TDs and receptions sounds great, unfortunately, they have a quarterback who isn’t a very good thrower and steals plenty of TDs from the backs. The best thing that could happen for Gainwell is if Jalen Hurts gets benched for Gardner Minshew which isn’t all that far-fetched.
Then we have Boston Scott who is simply there to make your life more difficult. He’ll steal work and TDs but never be consistent enough to be startable. He is the one who makes this backfield such a disaster.
The three-headed monster in Houston consists of Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, and rookie Damien Pierce. Mack currently sits atop the unofficial depth chart and the word out of Houston is that he is viewed as the starter. Burkhead will play a role and see a decent amount of valuable touches, but I don’t expect him to be a contender for the RB1 role. This makes this backfield an easy decision for me.
I’m taking Dameon Pierce. Currently being drafted as the RB49, I’m quite high on him all things considered. I will be leaving plenty of drafts with him and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t outperform Mack this season. Mack was never great and after blowing out his Achilles he is no longer an asset I want any parts of. Granted, he’s being drafted as the RB60, so grabbing a potential RB1 for free is never a bad idea, but I’d much rather own Pierce.
If the offensive line can be serviceable I also think this offense can be better than people expect. I’m higher on Davis Mills than most and like their pass-catchers. Brandin Cooks is a no-doubt WR1 and I love Brevin Jordan at tight end. If Nico Collins or John Metchie can break out they may have something there. If the offense is decent and can stay on the field stealing their RB1 this late in drafts can be a league-winning type of pick with limited risk.
Kansas City Chiefs
This backfield may be the most polarizing in the league. The fantasy community cannot agree on anything when it comes to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ronald Jones, or Jerick McKinnon. Derrick Gore is also in this backfield and viewing him as a non-factor could be a mistake.
I’m on the side of the argument that none of these backs are very good, but this offense gives massive opportunity as we saw with Damien Williams winning many fantasy championships a few years back. Surprisingly enough, while he may have the least upside, Gore may be the best all-around back in this group. However, contracts and draft capital may not allow him to get a real opportunity.
This backfield is going to be a mess. With the team recently re-signing McKinnon, it gets even worse. He will be stealing fantasy points from the other backs. In the last eight games he played last season he saw at least three targets in every one of them. This includes 17 targets and 34 carries in three playoff games. That is a significant role and could prove detrimental to the fantasy value of CEH and Jones.
When it comes to Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jones, touches can go either way. They may even play the hot hand. I don’t particularly want to draft either guy. I’ve never liked Jones. While he’s explosive I just don’t believe he’s very good at football. CEH will likely have the better statistical season, however, he’s currently being drafted as the RB26, which is far too high for me. I’d rather grab Ronald Jones as the RB42 and hope he earns more opportunities. Monitor camp reports though. Gore is currently being drafted as the RB100 and his winning that job isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.
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