AFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdowns (Updated)
Deciphering all 32 backfields is as important now as it’s ever been. Committee attacks have made those true 3-down workhorses more rare (and valuable). But they’ve also deepened the pool of viable fantasy RBs.
So let’s dive into the AFC backfields and determine how the touches and fantasy points will be divvied. The “top fantasy target” for each team below is the best value at ADP, not necessarily the highest-ranked player in that backfield.
Note: This article was originally published on August 12 and updated on September 1. Updates are in bold.
Don't forget the check out the NFC Backfield Breakdowns.
Top fantasy target: J.K. Dobbins
Other notables: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
We start with the team that just set the record for rushing yards in a season (3,296). Baltimore’s 596 rushing attempts were 98 more than any other team last year. They also led the league with a 56% run rate.
Of course, QB Lamar Jackson accounted for a big chunk of that rushing production. But Ravens RBs still combined for 393 carries, 1,954 yards and 14 TDs. That’s a lot of fantasy goodness.
Ingram was the lead dog last year, turning 202 carries into 1,018 yards and 10 TDs. He chipped in a 26-247-5 receiving line to finish 11th among RBs in PPR points and 8th in non-PPR. He was obviously in a fertile spot for production — but Ingram was solid in his own right, ranking 17th in Elusive Rating among 45 RBs with 100+ carries.
There are reasons to be wary of him in 2020 drafts, though. For starters, he’s a near lock for negative TD regression after scoring 15 times on 228 touches last year. He’s also 30 now, an age at which we see very few big fantasy seasons from RBs. Over the past 10 years, there have been only 7 RBs to reach 1,000 rushing yards at 30+ years old. (And 3 of those came from the evidently ageless Frank Gore.)
But the biggest concern for Ingram is the arrival of 2nd-round rookie J.K. Dobbins. He set the Ohio State freshman record with 1,403 rushing yards back in 2017, followed that up with a 230-1,053-10 rushing line in 2018 and then exploded for 2,003 yards and 21 scores this past season. Dobbins ranked top 12 among draft-eligible backs in both yards after contact and missed tackles forced in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. And 57% of his runs last year came on run-pass option plays. Baltimore easily led the league in RPO rush attempts last year.
So Dobbins looks like a perfect fit in this offense. At minimum, we’re expecting him to absorb the 7.5 carries per game Gus Edwards averaged in Ingram’s 15 games last year. But if Ingram shows any signs of decline, Dobbins will be there to snatch up a bigger role. And the rookie might just prove too talented to keep under wraps even if Ingram doesn’t take a step back.
We’d rather take a shot on Dobbins’ ceiling in fantasy drafts — especially since he’s going over 2 rounds later than Ingram (7.01 vs. 4.11).
Ravens OC Greg Roman has talked up using all 4 of his RBs this year, but Edwards and Hill will very likely need Ingram or Dobbins to get hurt or falter to have a shot at real fantasy value.
Dobbins has been 1 of the stars of Ravens training camp, impressing as both a runner and receiver. Expect him to have a role right out of the gate. Exactly how big a role is uncertain, but he remains a recommended target in the 7th round of fantasy drafts.
Ingram is still going in the 4th or 5th round of most drafts. He's a stay-away at that price.
Top fantasy target: Zack Moss
Other notables: Devin Singletary
Under OC Brian Daboll the past 2 seasons, Buffalo has ranked 4th and 7th in run rate and 6th and 6th in rush attempts. This figures to remain 1 of the run-heavier offenses in the NFL in 2020.
Singletary is coming off a nice rookie season. He popped off 5.1 yards per carry and ranked 9th in Elusive Rating among 45 RBs with 100+ attempts. We saw his upside when he took over as the Bills’ clear lead back over the final 9 games (including playoffs). Singletary averaged 16 carries, 4 targets and 82 total yards per game during that stretch.
But we have concerns. First, Singletary was inefficient in the passing game last year, ranking 40th in yards per target and 41st in yards per route run among 43 RBs with 30+ targets. Second, Singletary was rarely used near the goal line. He carried just twice inside the 5-yard line all last season. RB Frank Gore and QB Josh Allen combined for 16 totes inside the 5.
Then there’s Moss, who was the 86th overall pick of this spring’s draft — just 12 picks later than Singletary went back in 2019. The 223-pound Moss has 20 pounds on Singletary, so we’re betting on the rookie taking over Gore’s goal-line role. And don’t be surprised if Moss turns this into a pure committee backfield. He turned in 3 straight seasons of 1,000+ rushing yards and double-digit TDs at Utah, while also totaling 65 receptions. Moss ranked 2nd last year among all draft-eligible RBs with 89 missed tackles forced and 8th with 1,042 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus.
We’d much rather take a shot on Moss in the 9th or 10th round of a fantasy draft than spend a 4th- or 5th-rounder on Singletary.
Moss seems to have made up ground on Singletary over the past few weeks. The rookie has reportedly received lots of 1st-team reps and showed well as a runner, receiver and pass blocker. Singletary, meanwhile, has had some ball-security issues, losing at least 2 fumbles.
Most Bills beat writers expect this to be a committee backfield, with Moss even leading the way in some matchups. Moss' ADP has climbed into the 8th round in sharper drafts. He's fairly priced there. Singletary still tends to go in the 5th, which is too pricey.
Top fantasy target: Joe Mixon
Other notables: Gio Bernard, Trayveon Williams
We saw Mixon in a workhorse ball-carrying role over the 2nd half of last season. He averaged a whopping 22.1 carries for 102.1 yards and .6 TDs across his final 8 games. No one tallied more carries over that span; only Derrick Henry racked up more rushing yards.
That was way up from the 12.6 carries and 40 rushing yards per game Mixon averaged over the 1st half of the season. And it sounds like the Bengals want to continue feeding him in 2020.
“The more Joe touches the ball the better it is for our offense, without a doubt,” OC Brian Callahan said in early August. “All the ways we can find to get him the ball, the better it's going to be.”
We currently have Mixon projected for 257 carries — 7th most at the position. If he wants to join the elites, though, he’ll need to see more action in the passing game. Mixon tied for just 27th among RBs with 45 targets last year. And his volume sunk from 3.1 targets per game over the 1st half of the season to 2.5 over the 2nd.
Bernard remained a pest in that department, siphoning 43 targets in 2019. He matched Mixon with 3.1 targets per game over the first 8 last year but saw just 2.3 over the final 8. Mixon beat Bernard in catch rate, yards per catch, yards per target and yards per route run — so it’d certainly make sense for Cincinnati to phase Bernard out for Mixon.
Bernard does remain the most likely handcuff in this backfield. Williams, a 2019 6th-rounder, played just 7 snaps as a rookie. Anderson, also a 6th-rounder last year, didn’t get on the field at all after tearing an ACL last August for the 2nd time in a 12-month span.
Mixon has missed the Bengals' last few practices. There are whispers that he's sitting out as he looks for a new contract, but the team says he's dealing with migraines. Mixon carries a bit more risk in fantasy drafts until we see him back on the field.
Cincinnati waived Rodney Anderson, leaving Bernard and Williams behind Mixon on the depth chart. Despite Mixon's situation, we're not super interested in Bernard or Williams as a handcuff.
Top fantasy target: Kareem Hunt
Other notables: Nick Chubb
This is 1 of the most important backfields to figure out — because there figures to be tons of fantasy production to be had.
HC Kevin Stefanski arrives from Minnesota, where his Vikings just finished 3rd in run rate, 4th in rush attempts, 6th in rush yards and 6th in rush TDs. Dalvin Cook, of course, broke out for a 2nd-place finish in PPR points per game under Stefanski.
So expect a run-leaning offense in Cleveland this year — especially considering the talent in this backfield. Over the past 2 seasons, Chubb has ranked 2nd and 8th in Elusive Rating. Hunt has finished 6th and 3rd.
The question, of course, is how touches will be divvied between these 2 guys. After Hunt returned from suspension for the final 8 games of last season, he trailed Chubb 18 to 5.4 in carries per game. But Hunt dominated passing-game work, averaging 5.5 targets per game to Chubb’s 2.1. Chubb out-scored Hunt by just 2.4 PPR points across those 8 games. The gap was 28.4 in non-PPR.
That was under a completely different coaching staff, though. So we’re all just guessing at how the work will be split under Stefanski. That makes Chubb a risky investment in the 1st round of drafts. We’d rather spend a 5th or 6th-rounder on Hunt, who should have standalone value and would be a top 8 fantasy back if Chubb misses time.
We haven't learned anything about Cleveland's backfield plans over the last few weeks. Chubb missed 4 days in mid-August with a concussion but returned and has been setback free.
We've seen Chubb drop into the back half of Round 2 in some recent fantasy drafts. He's worth considering there. Hunt's price tag has climbed a bit into the mid-5th round. That's a tad rich for our taste -- although he still carries league-winning upside if Chubb goes down.
Top fantasy target: Melvin Gordon
Other notables: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman
The Broncos handed Gordon a 2-year, $16 million deal in free agency back in March. That $8 million average annual salary makes Gordon the league’s 7th highest-paid RB.
Money talks, so our bet is on Gordon operating as the clear lead back in Denver this season. New OC Pat Shurmur has a history of deploying a workhorse. His lead back has tallied 19.5+ opportunities (carries + targets) per game in 8 of his 11 seasons as a HC or OC.
Gordon is coming off a down year, holding out for the first 4 weeks and averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. But back in 2018, he ripped off 5.1 yards per carry and led 47 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades. He also ranks 4th league-wide with 36 rushing scores over the past 4 seasons.
Lindsay has been great on the ground through 2 pro campaigns. His 4.9 yards per carry ranks 5th among 40 RBs with 200+ carries since 2018. Lindsay finished 4th in PFF rushing grades as a rookie and 8th last year.
He hasn’t been nearly as good in the passing game. Lindsay has mustered just 6.2 yards per catch over the past 2 seasons. Last year, he ranked 34th in yards per route run and 37th in PFF receiving grades among 43 RBs with 30+ targets. And he was dead last in that group in PFF pass-blocking grades.
So expect Gordon to handle the majority of the passing-game work. He’s topped 40 catches in 4 straight years and sports a career 8.4 yards-per-catch average. Gordon beat Lindsay is both yards per route run and PFF pass-blocking grade last year.
Lindsay looks more like a handcuff than a standalone fantasy option. So he feels a bit overpriced at his 8th-round ADP.
Gordon missed a few days in mid-August with a rib injury, but it shouldn't be an issue going forward.
HC Vic Fangio made fantasy waves when he said he anticipates Gordon and Lindsay "playing enough where we really don’t have to designate a starter." But we've projected Lindsay to see plenty of rushing work all along. We still expect Gordon to get the important touches in the passing game and near the goal line.
Gordon has actually become a better value, as his ADP has sunk into the middle of Round 4. Lindsay remains a bit overpriced in the 8th.
Top fantasy target: Duke Johnson
Other notables: David Johnson
There aren’t many David Johnson fans left. We get it. The final two-thirds of last season were ugly. He averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and lost his starting job to Kenyan Drake.
Maybe he’s out of gas. But Johnson is still only 28. And it’s certainly worth noting that he dealt with back and ankle injuries over those final two-thirds of last season. Through 5 healthy games, though, Johnson averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch. He ranked 17th among 31 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades over that span. And he sat 9th among RBs in half-PPR points.
So maybe Johnson isn’t dead. The Texans obviously don’t think so. They sent DeAndre Hopkins and a 4th-round pick to Arizona in exchange for Johnson, a 2020 2nd-rounder and a 2021 4th-rounder. Houston will also be paying Johnson $10.2 million this year.
So he’ll at least get a shot to play a big role in this offense. Note that Carlos Hyde — no world beater — tallied 245 carries and 1,070 rushing yards as the Texans’ lead back last year. Both marks ranked top 12 league-wide. Hyde finished PPR RB28 and non-PPR RB28, despite totaling just 10 catches.
Johnson’s upside is approximating Hyde’s rushing production while also playing a much bigger role in the passing game. Johnson has been an elite receiving back throughout his career, averaging 10.7 yards on 208 grabs.
Duke remained as efficient as ever last year, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 9.3 yards per catch. Among 68 RBs with 50+ carries, he ranked 3rd in Elusive Rating and 12th in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades. He also finished 13th in receiving grade among 43 RBs with 30+ targets.
Duke remained underutilized, though, tallying just 83 carries and 44 catches on 62 targets. He finished 30th among RBs in PPR points; 35th in non-PPR.
He probably won’t top that volume in 2020 if David Johnson bounces back. But if it turns out that David is washed up, Houston will have no choice but to expand Duke’s role.
Comparing ADP to our rankings, Duke checks in as the better value here. But we like the idea of grabbing both of these guys and just locking up all the Texans RB touches. David is going in the middle of the 3rd round and Duke in the 11th.
It's been quiet on the David Johnson front, which is better than hearing about nagging injuries or sluggish play. He's an OK shot to take in the 4th round, although we still prefer Melvin Gordon, Chris Carson and a whole bunch of WRs in that range.
Duke remains the better value with an ADP sitting in the 11th or 12th round.
Top fantasy target: Jonathan Taylor
Other notables: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
The big question here: How long can Mack hold off Taylor?
Mack is a nice player. He’s averaging 4.4 yards per carry across his first 3 NFL seasons and is coming off a 1,091-yard campaign. But he’s also been running behind strong offensive lines. Mack hasn’t added a lot beyond what’s been blocked, ranking 44th among 47 qualifiers in Elusive Rating in 2018 and 37th out of 45 last year.
Taylor is a freak. The 5’10, 226-pounder blazed a 4.39-second 40 time at the Combine. That followed a ridiculous college career: 6,174 yards and 50 TDs on 6.7 yards per carry over 3 seasons. Taylor holds the NCAA record with an average of 2,058 rushing yards per season and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top RB in both of the last 2 years. Plus … have you seen the guy?!?
“When you project this guy behind our line, in our scheme, holy sh*t,” a Colts scout said shortly after his team drafted Taylor with the 41st overall pick of this spring's draft.
We’re expecting Taylor to take over as Indianapolis’ clear lead ball-carrier sooner than later — potentially even by Week 1. And that’s a great spot to be. This should remain a run-leaning offense behind 1 of the league’s best offensive lines.
But how much action will Taylor get in the passing game? He caught just 42 balls across his 3 college seasons — although 26 of those came last year.
The Colts coaching staff has continued to talk up Hines’ role in the passing game. He’s caught 107 balls over his first 2 NFL seasons but hasn’t been particularly efficient. Among 20 RBs with 100+ targets since 2018, Hines ranks dead last in yards per catch and yards per target. His target share dropped from 12.6% as a rookie to 11.3% last year. Don’t be surprised if it takes another hit in 2020.
Not surprisingly, Taylor has been lighting it up in training camp. HC Frank Reich said in mid-August that he's willing to "ride the hot hand" in the backfield, so the door is open for the rookie to take over if he starts strong. The problem is that you'll need to pay up for him, as Taylor's ADP has shot into the middle of Round 3. That's pricey for a guy with an uncertain role -- although Taylor is capable of returning a profit if he gets the rock.
Mack remains a guy to avoid unless he drops into the double-digit rounds of your draft.
Hines, on the other hand, has climbed our rankings a bit this summer with a busy camp. He's regularly available in Round 13+ of PPR drafts and presents some value there.
Top fantasy target: Chris Thompson
Other notables: Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo
Fournette got elite volume last year. His 265 carries ranked 7th league-wide. His 100 targets were good for 4th among RBs. Only Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott totaled more opportunities (carries + targets) than Fournette.
His efficiency was something less than elite. He averaged a decent 4.3 yards per carry -- but that was fueled by a few long runs. Fournette ranked 39th among 45 qualifiers in Football Outsiders’ Success Rate metric. He finished 34th in DVOA. Pro Football Focus graded Fournette 41st in rushing among 45 qualifiers.
He was just as bad in the passing game. Fournette averaged just 6.9 yards per catch and ranked 29th in yards per target among 35 RBs with 40+ targets. He finished 27th in yards per route run and 20th in PFF’s receiving grades.
The question now is whether Fournette will get similar volume in 2020. His rushing role seems relatively safe after Jacksonville didn’t add any significant competition this offseason. Armstead is the biggest threat but was just a 2019 5th-round pick who mustered 3.1 yards per carry as a rookie.
It’s a different story in the passing game after Jacksonville signed RB Chris Thompson. Yes, Thompson has had trouble staying healthy throughout his NFL career, missing 20 games over the past 5 seasons. But he’s also averaged 3.4 catches per game and 8.5 yards per catch over that span. And that all came under Jay Gruden, who’s now the OC in Jacksonville.
Gruden, by the way, has a long history of utilizing a pass-catching back. Only once in 9 seasons as a HC or OC has he had the same RB lead in both carries and targets.
So we’re expecting Thompson to play a big role in the passing game for as long as he’s healthy. And that’s a big deal considering this figures to be a bad Jaguars team that’s playing from behind often.
It’s enough to have us shying away from Fournette at his RB19 ADP. Thompson, meanwhile, is basically free in drafts and makes sense as a late-round PPR target.
Hopefully you've been staying away from Leonard Fournette, who we've had ranked below ADP all offseason. We'll see where he lands, but for now, he shouldn't be drafted before the double-digit rounds. His new team won't give him the type of volume drafters were expecting in Jacksonville.
Fournette's release leaves the Jaguars' backfield wide open. Armstead is the most likely candidate to open the season as the committee leader. The 2019 5th-rounder wasn't an impressive prospect, though, and didn't show much as a rookie. He mustered just 3.1 yards per carry on 35 attempts, ranking 72nd in Pro Football Focus' Elusive Rating among 81 RBs with 30+ carries. Armstead will likely be overvalued in fantasy drafts now.
Ozigbo should be considerably cheaper and is worth a shot in the late rounds. He carried just 9 times last year but was an intriguing prospect coming out of Nebraska, where he ran for 1,082 yards and 12 TDs on 7.0 yards per carry in his final season. He's reportedly flashed with a few big runs in camp.
Thompson remains the top target here, though. No one wants to draft this guy because of his injury history, but he's now an even better bet to play a sizable role in Jacksonville's passing game. We've also heard that he's been a big part of the red-zone offense throughout camp. We'll see where Thompson's ADP settles, but he'll likely be a value in PPR drafts.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top fantasy target: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Other notables: Darrel Williams, DeAndre Washington, Darwin Thompson, Elijah McGuire
The biggest news of the summer so far has been Damien Williams’ decision to opt out. That turned this backfield from a potential committee into a likely one-man band.
Edwards-Helaire became the 1st RB ever selected in Round 1 by an Andy Reid team. QB Patrick Mahomes reportedly vouched for CEH. And Reid compared the rookie to Brian Westbrook, who spent 8 seasons playing for Reid in Philadelphia, topping 1,200 total yards 5 times.
Reid has pretty consistently produced strong fantasy RBs. He’s had a RB finish top 16 in PPR points in 16 of his 21 seasons as a HC, including 10 top-10 finishers. Most of those, of course, came without Mahomes under center.
So Edwards-Helaire enters an ideal situation and looks tailor-made for this offense. He’s coming off an awesome 2019 campaign at LSU: 1,414 rushing yards and 16 TDs on 6.6 yards per carry, plus 55 catches for 453 yards and another score. He earned Pro Football Focus’ 2nd-best rushing grade in the nation last year and is widely regarded as 1 of the best pass-catching RBs in this rookie class.
Edwards-Helaire needs to prove himself capable of riding shotgun with Mahomes over the next month, which will be worth monitoring closely. ESPN’s Louis Riddick reported earlier this week that CEH is "progressing very well given what they have been able to do up to this point.”
Washington looks like the favorite for #2 duties after signing a 1-year, $1 million deal with Kansas City in free agency. He’s never topped 108 carries in a season but has caught 88 balls over the past 4 years. Washington also played with Mahomes at Texas Tech, which can’t hurt.
The Athletic’s Nate Taylor wrote recently that Washington “could split snaps with Edwards-Helaire during the first month of the season.” We’re not expecting that, but it’s at least a situation to keep an eye on.
Thompson, Williams and McGuire figure to be battling for 1, maybe 2, roster spots. Thompson remains the most intriguing of the bunch but is a former 6th-rounder coming off a disappointing rookie season.
We've heard nothing but good news on Edwards-Helaire's progress. Sports Illustrated's Peter King came away from Chiefs camp impressed by CEH. And GM Brett Veach said Edwards-Helaire is "on pace to have a big year, to be our primary ballcarrier." He's a legitimate 1st-round fantasy pick with upside into the top 5 at his position.
Darrel Williams has reportedly been running 2nd on the depth chart in training camp. We'd still expect a committee with Williams, DeAndre Washington and potentially Darwin Thompson if CEH goes down, though. So consider Williams and Washington just late-round fliers.
Las Vegas Raiders
Top fantasy target: Josh Jacobs
Other notables: Jalen Richard, Lynn Bowden, Theo Riddick
Jacobs was awesome as a runner last year. He ranked 13th league-wide in carries and 7th in rushing yards, despite missing 3 games. He averaged a strong 4.8 yards per carry. And among 45 RBs with 100+ carries, he ranked 6th in yards after contact per attempt, 1st in Elusive Rating and 2nd in Pro Football Focus rushing grades.
It was a different story in the passing game. Jacobs’ volume was disappointing: He finished 47th among RBs in targets, 48th in catches and 50th in receiving yards. His efficiency was only a little better. Jacobs ranked 25th in yards per target, 39th in yards per route run and 48th in Pro Football Focus receiving grades among 61 RBs with 20+ targets.
Jacobs finished 21st at his position in PPR points and 14th in non-PPR; 16th and 12th in points per game.
He’s locked in as Vegas’ workhorse on the ground heading into 2020. The question is whether his passing-game role will grow. He was considered a plus pass-catcher coming out of Alabama, where he averaged 11.9 yards on 48 grabs over 3 seasons. But the Raiders were hesitant to use him in that department last year and might be heading in the same direction in 2020 after re-signing Jalen Richard and drafting Lynn Bowden.
Richard has tallied 160 catches over 4 NFL seasons — including 68 and 36 the past 2 years. His new 2-year, $7 million deal suggests he’ll remain plenty involved in the passing game.
Bowden is an interesting prospect. He spent his first 2.5 years at Kentucky at WR, before being asked to move to QB for the final 8 games of 2019. The Raiders announced him as a RB when they drafted him, but most of his action figures to come in the passing game.
The good news with Jacobs is that he’s usually available in the 2nd round of drafts. That price basically assumes that his receiving production won’t grow this year. So he’s a fine pick at cost. And he’ll end up returning a profit if Vegas does expand his passing-game role.
Mixed messages from the Raiders regarding Jacobs' pass-catching role. HC Jon Gruden said on August 22 that he wants to "get more out of [Jacobs] in the passing game, more on the field on third down." Later that day, the team added pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick.
Our best guess is that Jacobs' volume grows a bit from last year's 2.1 targets per game -- but not enough for him to join the elite fantasy RBs. Jacobs is a fine pick in the 2nd round of drafts.
We're not drafting Richard, Bowden or Riddick outside of deep best balls.
Los Angeles Chargers
Top fantasy target: Austin Ekeler
Other notables: Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson
The big question here is just how much of the rushing volume Ekeler will claim. We saw him in the lead role over the first 4 weeks of last year, when Melvin Gordon was holding out. Ekeler averaged 14 carries per game — but his efficiency seemed to suffer. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, compared to 4.4 over the final 12 games and 5.2 in 2018.
HC Anthony Lynn suggested back in February that the team wants to limit Ekeler’s rushing volume so that he can remain a focal point in the passing game. We currently project him for 12 carries per game but could envision that moving by 2 in either direction.
What we do know is that Ekeler will continue to play a big pass-catching role. He’s been 1 of the best receiving backs in the game over the past 3 seasons, compiling 158 catches and averaging 10.6 yards per. His 8.55 yards per target leads all 34 RBs with 100+ targets over last 3 seasons. His ranks in yards per route run: 4th, 3rd and 1st.
Ekeler is fairly priced at his RB13 ADP.
The battle between Kelley and Jackson will be fantasy relevant if Ekeler doesn’t see a much bigger rushing role this year. Gordon leaves behind an average of 14 carries per game over the past 2 seasons.
Jackson has flashed on limited opportunities over the past 2 seasons, averaging 5.1 yards per carry but also struggling with injuries. Kelley is the new guy: a 4th-round rookie who posted 225-1,243-12 and 229-1,060-12 rushing lines over last 2 seasons at UCLA. He’s not an exciting prospect (one scout compared him to Jamaal Williams) but has more draft capital and 13 pounds on Jackson.
The only significant news here is Jackson's August 30 foot injury. He was reportedly still ahead of Kelley on the depth chart, although the rookie was making up ground. We'll see if Jackson is available for Week 1. We're not drafting either of these guys outside of drafts of 20+ rounds, but keep them on your waiver-wire watch list.
Ekeler remains a fine value in the middle of Round 2.
Top fantasy target: Matt Breida
Other notables: Jordan Howard
Ryan Fitzpatrick led this team in rushing last year.
I repeat: Ryan Fitzpatrick led this team in rushing last year.
Now, there were some extenuating circumstances. Kenyan Drake was traded to Arizona midway through the season. Four other RBs — Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, Mark Walton and Myles Gaskin — finished with between 36 and 74 carries.
But this was a bad running game. Miami ranked 32nd in rushing yards, 24th in TDs, 31st in yards per attempt and 32nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
The Fins at least made moves to try to be better in 2020. There might be as many as 4 new starters on the offensive line. And they added Howard and Breida.
Howard arrived on a 2-year, $9.75 million deal in free agency. He’s not a flashy player but always seems to carve out a significant ball-carrying role. He toted it 250+ times in all 3 seasons in Chicago and averaged 13.2 carries across 9 games with the Eagles last year. The Miami media expects Howard to lead the 2020 Dolphins in carries, with ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe recently projecting him to claim 50% of the carries. The 224-pound Howard also figures to handle goal-line work.
That’d leave Breida in a change-of-pace, pass-catching role. The Fins acquired him from San Francisco for a 5th-round pick during this spring’s draft. Breida sports a career 5.0 yards-per-carry average. And while he's benefitted from playing in strong 49ers rushing attacks, he’s also ranked 16th, 33rd and 21st among RBs in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades over the past 3 years.
Breida has also been more productive and efficient in the passing game than Howard. Breida has totaled 67 catches on a 75.3% catch rate and 8.4 yards per catch for his career. Howard has caught 67.2% of his career targets and averaged 7.8 yards per catch.
So look for Breida to handle the majority of the pass-catching work. And that’s important on a Dolphins team that figures to be trailing plenty again in 2020. That has Breida checking in a couple of spots ahead of Howard in our PPR rankings. Howard gets the nod in non-PPR.
It's been hush-hush on Miami's backfield plans. We still believe that Howard will lead the backfield in carries, with Breida seeing the majority of the targets. Both guys tend to go in the Round 8-10 range of fantasy drafts. Neither is likely to be a league-winner, but they're fine picks in that territory.
New England Patriots
Top fantasy target: James White
Other notables: Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Lamar Miller
As usual, this is a tough backfield to project. It got even tougher after the Patriots signed Lamar Miller to a 1-year deal on August 10.
Miller tore his left ACL last August but has said he's back to full health. He averaged 239 carries and 978 rushing yards across 3 seasons in Houston, while tacking on 31 catches and 226 receiving yards. If healthy, Miller will be New England’s best 3-down option.
Michel has been a 2-down grinder over his 2 seasons with the Pats, totaling just 19 catches on 31 targets. After averaging a strong 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie, Michel sunk to 3.7 last year. Among 45 RBs with 100+ attempts, he ranked 39th in Elusive Rating, 39th in yards after contact per attempt and 33rd in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades. Michel has spent the past 3 months recovering from foot surgery. His availability for the start of the season is uncertain.
Michel’s absence has opened the door for Harris. He was a good-looking prospect coming out of Alabama, where he led the Tide in rushing yards in each of his final 3 seasons. Harris averaged 6.4 yards per carry for his college career and also totaled 52 catches. The Pats spent a 3rd-rounder on him last spring — but then played him for just 5 offensive snaps all season. That makes Harris a total wild card heading into year 2.
The only certainty in this backfield is White playing a big role in the passing game. He ranks 2nd among RBs behind only Christian McCaffrey in targets, catches and yards over the past 4 seasons. And he leads the position with 20 receiving scores during that stretch.
White’s PPR finishes those years: 26th, 38th, 7th and 19th. The QB change from Tom Brady to Cam Newton adds some uncertainty to White’s outlook. But we still like his chances at another top 36 PPR finish.
Harris was 1 of the biggest August risers in our rankings. There was buzz on him seemingly every day in camp. Harris has impressed not only as a runner, but also a pass-catcher and blocker.
The situation got more complicated, though, with both Michel and Miller returning to practice over the past week. Harris and Michel were reportedly splitting 1st-team work before Miller debuted on August 31. It's worth noting that insider Greg Bedard still believes Harris has earned the lead job, but we probably won't know exactly how carries will be divvied until Week 1. We still like taking a shot on Harris any time after Round 8.
White's role in the passing game is the only sure thing in this backfield. He remains a solid-if-unexciting pick at his 7th-round ADP.
New York Jets
Top fantasy target: None
Other notables: Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore, La’Mical Perine
How bad was Bell last year? Traditional numbers say “very bad.” His 3.2 yards per carry ranked 43rd among 44 RBs with 100+ attempts. Exactly 0 of his 245 carries went for 20+ yards.
Bell didn’t get much help, though. The Jets ranked 31st in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards and 30th in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grades. Bell finished 45th in yards before contact per attempt among 46 qualifiers.
He fared a bit better in blocking-independent metrics. Among those 45 RBs with 100+ carries, Bell ranked 35th in yards after contact per attempt, 26th in Elusive Rating and 24th in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grades. So let’s not put him out to pasture just yet.
The Jets at least attempted to improve their offensive line this offseason. The big move was signing former Broncos C Conner McGovern, who finished 10th among 31 qualifying centers in PFF’s 2019 grades. The Jets also added G Greg Van Roten and OT George Fant, who figure to start. Then the draft brought 1st-round LT Mekhi Becton. Don’t expect this to be a dominant offensive line — but it should definitely be better than last year.
Gore adds a bit of a wrinkle to Bell’s outlook, though. The 37-year-old averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per carry in Buffalo last year and ranked dead last in Elusive Rating among 45 RBs with 100+ attempts. But he always seems to play a bigger role than expected. And Gore did play for Jets HC Adam Gase in Miami back in 2018.
Gore is unlikely to be a standalone fantasy option — but he could put a dent in Bell’s volume. Of course, Bell ranked 7th league-wide in total opportunities (carries + targets) last year, so he can afford to take a slight hit.
It doesn’t feel good to draft Bell, but he starts to make sense when he drops into the 4th round of drafts.
The big story in this backfield came from The Athletic's Connor Hughes, who wrote that Gore has out-played Bell in training camp. Gore has reportedly received a bunch of 1st-team work and might play a bigger role than many are expecting.
It's also worth noting that the Jets tried to trade for RB Kalen Ballage. The deal fell through when he failed his physical, but the takeaway is that HC Adam Gase seems intent on scaling back Bell's touches this year. And volume was the biggest argument in favor of Bell. He's moved down the RB rankings over the past couple of weeks.
Top fantasy target: James Conner
Other notables: Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels
Conner remains the Steelers’ feature back. HC Mike Tomlin said so himself back in May.
“I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality,” he said. “I think that when you have a featured runner, it gives him the opportunity to drop a stake in the ground and allows others to rally around him, and it gives him a set of core base run plays that he specializes in, and you find a rhythm that way.”
In that same conference call, Tomlin called Conner a “featured guy” and “proven runner when healthy.”
Tomlin’s history backs that up. He’s had a RB top 240 carries in 7 of his 13 seasons with the Steelers. He’s produced a top-22 PPR RB in 10 of 13 seasons, including 6 top 12s — Rashard Mendenhall, De’Angelo Williams, Le’Veon Bell 3 times and Conner in 2018.
Conner ranked 6th among RBs in both PPR and non-PPR points back in 2018, despite playing just 13 games. He averaged a strong 4.5 yards per carry and ranked 9th in Elusive Rating out of 47 RBs with 100+ attempts. He was also busy and effective in the passing game, turning 71 targets into 55 catches, 497 yards and a score.
Even last year, Conner was producing as a RB1 before the injuries started piling up. Through Week 8, he ranked 8th in PPR points and 11th in non-PPR. He compiled 380 yards and 4 TDs on 97 carries and was again awesome in the passing game, posting a 29-236-2 line on 32 targets.
The bugaboo, of course, is durability. Conner missed 6 games last year with shoulder and thigh injuries and another 3 in 2018 with an ankle injury.
But if healthy, we’re fully expecting Conner to dominate touches in this backfield. The competition isn’t very threatening. Samuels has mustered just 3.5 yards per carry through 2 seasons. Snell averaged only 3.9 as a rookie last year. They ranked 66th and 51st, respectively, among 68 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ 2019 rushing grades.
McFarland is the most intriguing guy on the depth chart behind Conner. He left Maryland with a 6.7 yards-per-carry average and clocked a 4.44-second 40 time at 5’9, 198 pounds at the Combine. But McFarland is a 4th-round rookie who carried just 245 times in college. He’s a long shot to seriously threaten Conner’s volume, especially in this COVID-impacted offseason.
Conner is our favorite RB target in the 3rd and 4th rounds of drafts.
The most important August happening in this backfield: Conner has stayed healthy. He remains a good bet to get a feature-back workload and produce as a RB1 whenever he's on the field. Conner's ADP has spiked, though, and is now sitting at the 2nd/3rd-round turn. He's still a recommended target there but is no longer a screaming value.
Snell has reportedly slimmed down a bit and is set to enter the season as Pittsburgh's #2 RB. He's the Conner handcuff.
McFarland and Samuels aren't worth drafting.
Top fantasy target: Derrick Henry
Other notables: Darrynton Evans
Henry was unleashed in a big way last year. He led the league with 303 carries and won the rushing title with 1,540 yards. Henry also popped in a league-high 16 rushing TDs.
He got especially hot late in the season, topping 100 rushing yards in 7 of his final 9 outings (including playoffs). Henry scored a whopping 12 times over that span.
He should be in for similar rushing volume in 2020 after inking a fresh 4-year, $50 million deal in July. Henry’s $25.5 million in guaranteed money is the 6th most on any current RB contract, and his $12.5 million average annual salary ranks 5th. That money says Henry will remain the focal point of this offense.
Rushing production alone should be enough for another RB1 season from Henry in 2020. But if he wants to join the elites — both in terms of season-long production and weekly consistency — he’ll need more volume in the passing game.
Henry has totaled just 74 targets and 57 catches across 4 NFL seasons. He set career highs with 24 targets and 18 catches last year — but those marks still ranked just 50th and 51st among RBs.
Now, Henry has been efficient when he’s been targeted, averaging 10.1 yards per catch for his career. He ranked 3rd in yards per target among 61 RBs with 20+ targets last year.
Dion Lewis, who led Titans RBs with 32 targets in 2019, departed in free agency. Tennessee did add Darrynton Evans in the 3rd round of this spring’s draft, but it’s unclear how big a role he’ll be ready for this season coming from Appalachian State. There’s certainly a chance Henry tallies 35+ targets this year.
One more mark in Henry’s favor: the Titans have the league’s 2nd-easiest schedule based on 2020 Vegas win totals. That should mean lots of positive game script.
Henry is a fine pick in the back half of Round 1. He obviously holds more value in non-PPR leagues than PPR.
We’re not expecting Evans to have any standalone fantasy value. But he’s the Henry handcuff.
Evans has had a quiet camp. In fact, the only thing we've heard on the rookie is that he fumbled twice in a mid-August practice. It doesn't look like Evans will play much at least early on this season. That could mean more passing-game work for Henry, who's the #6 RB in the PPR rankings and #5 in non-PPR.