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AFC East Running Backs (RBs): A Fantasy Football Breakdown

By Kevin English 3:45pm EDT 8/2/23

AFC East Running Backs: Who Should You Target?

AFC East RBs aren’t short on intrigue.

In Buffalo: Should you buy the hype on James Cook or target Damien Harris, the discounted veteran?

Is any RB worth prioritizing in Miami's committee?

Will New England keep Rhamondre Stevenson in a workhorse role?

And how should you approach Breece Hall’s recovery from a torn ACL?

With our fantasy football RB rankings as a guide, let’s examine which AFC East RBs are positioned to boost your fantasy teams.

AFC East Running Back Values WILL Change

Buffalo Bills Running Backs

Top Fantasy RB target: James Cook
Others in the Mix: Damien Harris, Latavius Murray

Backfield Shakeup

When Devin Singletary signed with Houston, he vacated 215 touches and a nearly 10% target share.

Nyheim Hines’ season-ending injury removed competition for RB targets.

Now Buffalo’s ready to let Cook loose.

Year 2 Expectations

Here’s a taste of the team’s offseason expectations:

  • GM Brandon Beane talked up an expanded workload at the Combine.
  • RBs coach Kelly Skipper noted Cook's improved understanding of the playbook in OTAs.
  • OC Ken Dorsey called him a “three-down back” in training camp.

At camp, Cook has consistently seen the lion’s share of first-team reps. 

He pairs exciting athleticism (8.73 Relative Athletic Score, out of 10) with versatility (67 career catches at Georgia). We saw the explosiveness in limited spurts last year, with Cook finishing at 5.7 yards per carry; 8.6 per catch.

But how much work can he earn at sub-200 pounds?

TIP

Our numbers have Cook for about 12 touches per game. He sits 12th among RBs in targets.

Bills add Harris, Murray

Buffalo signed Harris to a one-year deal in free agency. He’ll earn a relatively light $1 million guaranteed following a down 2022 with five absences (hamstring/leg).

Harris was trending up as recently as 2020-21. And at 26, it’s not like he’s old -- even for a RB. 

Still, Harris’ path to fantasy success relies more on TDs and efficiency. The former Patriot enters the regular season with 40 catches in 38 career games. He’s at least cheap in summer drafts, with an Underdog Fantasy ADP of RB40 (118th overall).

At 33, Murray’s managed to hang around the league much longer than expected. He just profiles as more of a replacement-level runner. Last year, among 37 RBs with 125+ carries, Murray ranked 34th in yards after contact per attempt and 31st in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating.

Miami Dolphins Running Backs

Top Fantasy RB Target: Jeff Wilson Jr.
Others in the Mix: Devon Achane, Raheem Mostert

Backfield ambiguity might seem like a negative ...

Until it presents you the opportunity to draft Wilson at RB56 (175th overall, via Underdog Fantasy).

Follow the Value

Wilson’s the cheapest of the top-3 Miami backs, even though:

  • GM Chris Grier dealt a Round 5 pick to acquire Wilson in November.
  • Wilson and Raheem Mostert played five healthy games together. Wilson out-carried Mostert 66-45, despite Mostert having months of lead time.
  • Both guys handled 19 targets.
  • Wilson’s new contract contains slightly more guaranteed money than Mostert’s.
  • Mostert (age 31) is 3.7 years older

On the last point, consider this: Over the past 10 seasons, only eight RBs age 31 or older have hit 10 PPR points per game. 

The last ones to hit 15 PPG? Thomas Jones and Ricky Williams in 2009.

We’re not saying Wilson is a locked-in fantasy stud. But considering cost, any risk/reward equation leans heavily in his favor.

Achane Buzz

Achane should be in for some spike weeks. HC Mike McDaniel’s offense affords catch-and-run opportunities, and there’s no doubting Achane’s speed and elusiveness in space.

But how much work will Miami feed the 190-pounder in Year 1? Can he be effective on inside runs, as he was in college? Or does McDaniel primarily scheme up touches for him on the perimeter?

Mix in Achane’s questionable scoring upside, and his RB38 price tag makes him just OK.

New England Patriots Running Backs 

Top Fantasy RB Target: Rhamondre Stevenson
Others in the Mix: Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong, Ty Montgomery, veteran free agent?

Stevenson ran for 1,040 yards last year, the most by a Patriots RB since 2016 (LeGarrette Blount).

That number should have been higher. 

Rhamondre Stevenson: Certified Fantasy Stud

New England’s O-line ranked last in ESPN’s run block win rate (68%). A massive 77% of Stevenson’s yards came after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 3.81 YAC per attempt topped all RBs with 100+ carries.

This O-line looks improved heading into the preseason. And at 25, Stevenson’s smack-dab in his prime. 

Despite some early-camp load management, he brings no injury concerns into August.

TIP

See the data-backed info on O-line play and RB production.

Who’s the RB2?

HC Bill Belichick credited Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong with taking a "big jump" in their development.

Pats beat writer Zack Cox believes there’s “potential” in the duo, ”but not enough to bank on.”

It’s hard to disagree.

Strong saw just 17 touches as a rookie, even with six missed games from Harris and a season-long injury to Ty Montgomery. He flashed, however, with 10 carries for 100 yards. One particular run (of 44 yards) showed off his 4.37 speed.

As for Kevin Harris: At 5’10, 221 pounds, he looks the part of a Patriots RB. Harris broke out as a 2019 sophomore with 185-1,138-15 at South Carolina. Yet as a rookie, he handled only 18 carries (zero targets).

Strong’s the superior pass catcher, so you’d think he’s the name to target late in drafts. But early in camp, Harris has earned the most work with the first team behind Stevenson.

Montgomery’s missed a chunk of camp with another injury.

Elephant in the (RB) Room

As of this writing, the Patriots have hosted veteran RBs Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, and Darrell Henderson.

Matt Groh, director of player personnel, expressed interest in Dalvin Cook.

Henderson makes sense as insurance. The others? They’d pose a threat to Stevenson’s workhorse status.

One final note: New England’s desire to add more backfield firepower isn’t new. Per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, the Pats “quietly” showed interest in adding “another blue-chip” RB in the draft. 

TIP

Our projections have Stevenson for 18 touches per game. We'll promptly adjust projections -- as we do for all players -- if news breaks.

New York Jets Running Backs 

Top Fantasy RB Target: Breece Hall
Others in the Mix: Michael Carter, Izzy Abanikanda, Zonovan Knight, veteran free agent?

Hall landed on the PUP list following a Week 7 ACL tear last season. HC Robert Saleh said the second-year back should return to practice by late August.

Hall’s limited 2022 sample says he’s worth waiting on.

Rookie-Year Recap

Michael Carter began last season as New York’s lead back, although Hall took only a few weeks to emerge. Among 54 RBs with 80+ carries, he ranked first in yards per carry, yards after contact per attempt, and PFF’s Elusive Rating.

Sure, Hall’s an uncomfortable pick. But at 22, he’s aided by youth and a clean injury history before 2022.

One thing to watch: How this coaching staff distributes touches early on.

Injury Expert Weighs In

ESPN’s Stephania Bell says the “sweet spot” for ACL rehab is 9-12 months. 

Hall will be 10.5 months removed from the injury come Week 1, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods.

“My fear is the Jets overuse him before he’s ready,” Bell said recently. “He could be phenomenal in the back half of the season if he just doesn’t do too much too soon.”

Keep that in mind for your best ball strategy, given the importance of late-season fantasy scoring.

Dalvin Cook Signing Imminent?

Cook visited Jets HQ over the weekend. Besides a bizarre, now-deleted tweet from Cook’s trainer, the visit reportedly went well.

Cook even said the odds of him signing were “pretty good.”

That was back on July 28.

The Jets’ interest in Cook says they’re either prepared to heed Bell’s warning and/or prepared to make a splash signing to bolster a Super Bowl run. 

Regardless, Cook would severely cap the upside on Hall’s second season.

Battle for RB2

"Love the running back room. We do have four really good ones," HC Robert Saleh said this week. "There is some competition already between Izzy, Michael and Bam to try to get the 2 and 3 spots, if you will."

Carter’s the favorite for Week 1 work based on early training-camp returns. Abanikanda’s an intriguing dynasty prospect because of his age (20) and big-play ability. But we’re tempering expectations for Year 1.

Knight, a 2022 undrafted free agent, saw some run late last year. He fared well in the limited sample, but the Jets’ offseason approach at RB says they expect minimal contributions.

Ultimately, there are several AFC East running backs to keep an eye on for fantasy, with Breece Hall, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James Cook atop the list.

Get a Clear Picture of When to Draft ALL RBs

Getting custom RB values for your fantasy football league takes just a minute. How? This short video explains our dynamic Draft War Room:

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