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NFC Backfield Breakdowns

By Matt Schauf 8:07am EDT 7/26/19


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 NFC 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.

(Check out the AFC edition here.)


Detroit Lions

Top fantasy target: Kerryon Johnson
Others in the mix: C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner

We dug into the RB-friendly history of new OC Darrell Bevell on the recent NFC North projections podcast. His 12 previous offenses (5 in Minnesota, then 7 in Seattle) averaged 47.2% rushing among all offensive plays. That 12-year average would have ranked 4th most run-heavy in the league last year; 6th most run-heavy the year before. Detroit already increased its run share each of the past 3 seasons, and the Bevell hire points to ramping up further.

The lead RB in Bevell offenses has averaged 17.9 carries per game across those 12 seasons. That tailed off over his final 4 years with the Seahawks, as injuries knocked down Marshawn Lynch, Thomas Rawls and others. Still only the final 2 teams failed to have a RB average at least 15.9 rushes per game.

If Johnson can get to 15.9 per contest, he’d be on pace for 254 over the full season. Just 6 RBs reached 250 carries in 2018; 8 of them the year before.

Johnson’s competition figures to come mainly from Anderson, the consolation prize after the Rams matched their offer for RB Malcolm Brown. Brown was created by cloning Anderson’s DNA in 2015, so Detroit was clearly looking for that style back: big and slow. Will that mean Anderson siphons goal-line work from Johnson? That’s a question we’ll hope to start answering over the next month.

The Lions also re-signed Zenner in the offseason. But they still added Anderson about a month later. Zenner has totaled 211 touches across 4 seasons in Detroit and reached 10 carries in just 7 of a possible 64 games. Don’t expect him to be a factor, even he even makes the regular-season roster.

The team has already decided to release RB Theo Riddick is an interesting case, which adds further intrigue to Johnson. Riddick averaged 6.4 targets per game over the 8 he shared with Johnson last season. That’s 102 targets over a full schedule. It was also the 3rd time in the past 4 years that he averaged at least 4.4 receptions per game -- Riddick's overall average for the 4-year span. That’s a full-season pace of 70 catches.

His departure clearly raises the target ceiling for Johnson, who caught 55 balls at an 8.7-yard average over 3 college seasons.

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