Touches are the lifeblood of fantasy football scoring, especially for RBs.
So let’s take a look at how the touches figure to be divvied in all 16 AFC backfields. (Click here for the NFC.) Some of these situations will change, of course. Stay tuned to Shark Bites throughout training camp and the preseason for updates.
Top fantasy target: Kenneth Dixon
Other notables: Justin Forsett, Buck Allen
We start with perhaps the most muddled backfield in the entire league.
Dixon gets the early nod here because we love what we saw on his Louisiana Tech tape. He’s a slippery runner with good burst and surprising power. And he’s even better as a pass-catcher.
But Dixon dropped to the 4th round of this spring’s draft and will certainly need to earn his playing time. Forsett will open training camp atop the depth chart. That’s at least partly due to veteran deference, because he was mediocre at best last year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and 4.9 yards per catch.
Allen was significantly better in the passing game, averaging 7.8 yards on 45 grabs. He racked up 32 catches for 247 yards (7.7 YPC) and 2 scores with Forsett sidelined for the final 6 games with a broken hand. Allen struggled to just 3.8 yards per carry, though, including 3.6 over those final 6.
As tough as this backfield is to figure out right now, it’s worth keeping a close eye on. Forsett was sitting 15th among RBs through 10 healthy weeks last year. Allen ranked 3rd from Week 11 on. There are fantasy points to be mined here.
OC Marc Trestman loves getting his backs involved in the passing game. He’s had a RB catch at least 45 balls in all 11 of his seasons calling plays. His top RB has averaged 63.5 grabs. That’s especially good news for Dixon and Allen, both plus pass-catchers.
Top fantasy target: LeSean McCoy
Other notables: Karlos Williams, Jonathan Williams, Mike Gillislee
It’s been a good couple of months for McCoy. He’s watched Karlos Williams report to spring workouts overweight and then draw a 4-game suspension for substance abuse. Jonathan Williams, meanwhile, was arrested on DWI charges. ESPN’s Mike Rodak doesn’t expect Jonathan Williams to be suspended this year, but the issue still can’t help the rookie’s standing with the team.
So McCoy’s role as Buffalo’s workhorse seems as safe as ever. He struggled with knee and hamstring injuries last year. But in a healthy stretch from weeks 6-15, McCoy averaged 106 total yards and 0.44 TDs per game. Only 4 RBs scored more PPR points during that stretch. Having just turned 28 earlier this month, he’s a good bet for at least 1 more productive season.
Remember that McCoy is playing for a historically run-heavy coaching staff. HC Rex Ryan’s teams have finished among the top 6 in rushing attempts in 6 of 7 seasons. OC Greg Roman’s squads had ranked 9th or higher in all 5 of his seasons. The Bills finished 2nd in attempts, 1st in rushing yards and 1st in rushing TDs.
McCoy’s ADP is on the rise and currently sits in the middle of the 3rd round. But as a proven fantasy commodity in a RB-friendly offense, he presents nice value even at that price tag.
Gillislee is the favorite to open the season as Buffalo’s #2 RB, although Jonathan Williams has the talent to push him. Karlos Williams remains the most intriguing fantasy prospect outside of McCoy, but his conditioning and off-field issues make him tough to like as more than a late-round flier.
Top fantasy target: Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill
Other notables: None
Bernard is the constant — the steady presence — in Cincinnati. He’s been in the league for 3 years and turned in 3 top-17 PPR finishes.
His final ranking has dropped each season, from 13th to 16th to 17th. But 2015 was Bernard’s most efficient campaign. He set career highs with 4.7 yards per carry and 9.6 yards per catch. He got a bit unlucky to score just twice after popping in 8 and 7 TDs, respectively, in his first 2 seasons.
That Bernard was so efficient is noteworthy because Hill was anything but. He mustered just 3.6 yards per carry last year, 42nd among 44 RBs with 100+ totes. He fell short of 4.0 yards per carry in 11 of 16 games and short of 3.5 in 9 of those. He reached 4.5 yards per attempt just twice.
That followed a sparkling rookie season from Hill that saw him average 5.1 yards per rush. So he’s a bit of a mystery heading into Year 3. At minimum, he should continue to dominate goal-line work. Hill’s 20 rushing scores over the past 2 seasons lead the NFL. His 15 carries from inside the 5-yard line last year were 3rd most, and his 78.9% conversion rate on those also ranked 3rd.
It’s Hill’s performance outside of the red zone that will determine both his and Bernard’s 2016 fantasy production. If rookie-year Hill returns, we should see a similar carry split to last year (223 to 154). But if Hill continues to struggle, Bernard’s rushing role figures to grow.
Regardless, Bernard’s a no-brainer value at his current RB21 ADP. Hill is also a fine target at RB27. The TDs propped his 20th-place PPR finish last year. He ranked 10th back in 2014.