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NFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdowns (Updated)

By Kevin English and Matt Schauf 1:08am EDT 8/28/17



Note: This article was originally published on July 12 and updated on August 28. Updates are in bold.


Jared set the tone for this series with a look at AFC backfields — and the importance of volume.

Today, we’re examining NFC backfields and peeling back the layers of some of the league’s messiest situations.

Let’s jump right into all 16 teams …

Note: ADPs are from MFL Public League Drafts after June 15.


Arizona Cardinals

Top fantasy target: David Johnson

Others in the mix: Kerwynn Williams, Andre Ellington

Johnson is a workhorse — no questions asked.

Last year, he saw a high of 41 touches in a single week. In total, Johnson handled 373 touches (293 carries, 80 catches), a figure only 12 RBs have surpassed over the last decade. And just 6 have exceeded more than DJ’s 2,118 yards from scrimmage.

At 25 years old — and absent a major injury behind him — Johnson is locked in as our RB1 (and the RB1 in ADP).

Behind him rests an uninspiring crew. Williams, a former 7th-round pick, goes 5’8, 198 pounds and has only 98 career carries. Ellington, a former starter, transitioned to WR in the spring before moving back to RB in June.

Now healthy, HC Bruce Arians is looking for the shifty Ellington to recapture some of his early-career mojo.

"Run harder, run tougher like he did as a rookie," Arians said of what Ellington needs to do. "Once he tore the foot up and the knee up, he kind of looked for places to fall down too much.”

We’ll track his progress in training camp, but Ellington’s highly unlikely to become a fantasy factor barring an injury to Johnson.

Logan arrived in Round 5 of the draft this spring. He turned heads with a 4.37-second 40 time at the Combine but never topped 120 rushes or 29 catches in a college season. Outside of dynasty leagues, there’s no fantasy value to mine with the former Tar Heel.

Update: The team re-signed Chris Johnson just before training camp, but he's no lock to make the team. Logan landed on IR with a wrist injury.

Williams looks like the best bet to back up David Johnson, as his kick- and punt-return roles appear to secure his roster spot. Do not consider this a "must" handcuff situation if you draft Johnson.


Atlanta Falcons

Top fantasy target: Devonta Freeman

Others in the mix: Tevin Coleman

The Falcons fielded an all-time great offense in 2016. Piloted by an ultra-efficient Matt Ryan, Atlanta scored 40+ points 5 times — the 2nd highest total in NFL history.

That provided the backdrop for Freeman and Coleman’s production. Combined, they scored 24 TDs and gained 2,482 yards.

Efficiency-wise, fantasy owners should expect some regression. Coleman, in particular, is a lock to drop off from his 13.6 yards per catch on 31 grabs. The duo also benefited from having all 5 O-line starters play each game. No other team had that luxury.

But impending regression doesn’t mean these guys are unappealing. Staying healthy, Freeman boosted his YPC from 4.0 (2015) to 4.8 (2016). Just 25, he's now entering a contract year.

Freeman cements his value as the preferred red zone back. Last year, he drew 50 red-zone rushes — 3rd most behind LeGarrette Blount and David Johnson. Coleman checked in with 21, albeit in 3 fewer games.

We’ll see how much different the offense looks under new OC Steve Sarkisian, who’s never assumed the position in the pros.

The early chatter, wisely, has centered on continuity.

"We love the way that we attack, and it took a lot of work to put that system in place," HC Dan Quinn said after Sarkisian was hired. "Along with [GM Thomas Dimitroff], we have a real emphasis now on how we can fit guys into that system. It's very important that we stay consistent with that.”

Consider Freeman a fine pick at his RB6 ADP. Coleman’s inconsistent volume makes him an easy avoid with an RB20 ADP (Round 6), 13 spots behind his spot in the Draft Sharks rankings.

Update: Freeman got a big 5-year extension -- then sustained a concussion less than a week later. He's reportedly in the final stages of the protocol and should be ready for Week 1.

Coleman has had a quiet preseason, with just 18 yards on 6 carries. He remains a high-ceiling, low-floor fantasy play as the 1B behind Freeman.


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