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NFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdowns (Updated)

By Jared Smola 11:08am EDT 8/27/18

Don't miss the AFC Backfield Breakdowns.

Note: This article was originally published on July 19 and updated on August 27. Updates are at the bottom of each writeup in bold.

Arizona Cardinals

Top fantasy target: David Johnson

Others in the mix: Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan, Elijhaa Penny

Johnson — the #1 overall pick in loads of fantasy drafts last year — made it just 46 snaps before suffering a season-ending dislocated wrist. He was back to 100% by January, and that injury shouldn’t be a factor in 2018. It’s worth noting, though, that Johnson sprained his MCL in the 2017 season finale and has a 55.3% chance of missing time with injury this year, according to Sports Injury Predictor.

When Johnson is on the field, he figures to be 1 of the busiest RBs in the league. He racked up 373 touches (293 carries, 80 catches) in 2016 and 17 in less than 3 quarters of action last season. This year’s Cardinals have even fewer proven offensive weapons, with a bunch of question marks behind Larry Fitzgerald at WR and Ricky Seals-Jones, owner of 12 career catches, slated to start at TE.

The concerns for Johnson: a new system under OC Mike McCoy, a shaky offensive line and a potentially bad Cardinals offense. Arizona ranked a mediocre 17th in Football Outsiders’ 2017 Adjusted Line Yards and checked in at 28th in our 2018 Offensive Line Rankings. On top of the concerns with the O-line and pass-catchers, the Cardinals also have questions at QB with the injury-prone Sam Bradford and rookie Josh Rosen.

When Johnson totaled 20 TDs and led all RBs in fantasy points back in 2016, Arizona finished 6th in points and 9th in yards. This year’s Cardinals offense won’t be nearly as good.

There won’t be any other fantasy value in this backfield as long as Johnson is healthy. But the battle for backup (and handcuff) duties will be worth monitoring this summer.

The job should be Edmonds’ to lose. The 4th-round rookie was a 4-year starter at Fordham, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and totaling 86 receptions. His competition for the #2 spot on the depth chart consists of D.J. Foster, T.J. Logan and Elijhaa Penny. It’ll be a disappointment if Edmonds can’t beat those guys out.

Update: We haven't seen much of Johnson this preseason. But what we have seen has looked like, well, David Johnson. He's tallied 50 yards on 8 carries -- good for 6.2 yards per -- with 3 runs of 10+ yards. DJ sits 3rd among RBs in our PPR rankings and 4th in non-PPR.

Edmonds has seemingly locked up the #2 spot on the depth chart with a strong August. The rookie has averaged 4.1 yards per carry this preseason and drew the start in the 3rd exhibition with Johnson resting. Edmonds would be a fantasy starter if Johnson misses time this season.

Atlanta Falcons

Top fantasy target: Devonta Freeman

Others in the mix: Tevin Coleman

The Falcons offense was generally disappointing last year, ranking just 15th in points and yards after finishing top 2 in both categories in 2016.

The ground game also suffered, sinking from 5th to 13th in yards. Atlanta’s RBs actually combined for 3 more carries in 2017 vs. 2016 (382 to 379), but their yards per carry dropped from to 4.64 to 4.25. That was particularly disappointing considering the Falcons’ offensive line remained strong, ranking 8th in Football Outsiders’ 2017 Adjusted Line Yards.

That said, Atlanta still landed 2 RBs inside the top 22 in both PPR and non-PPR points. Freeman finished 13th, despite missing 2 full games and all but 2 snaps of a 3rd. Coleman, meanwhile, ranked 22nd in 15 games.

Freeman remained the clear lead dog in this backfield. In their 12 healthy games together, Freeman out-carried Coleman by an average of 14.3 to 8.1. Freeman was also the man near the goal line, finishing with 21 carries inside the 10-yard line and 14 inside the 5 vs. Coleman’s 13 and 6.

In the passing game, the RBs’ share of targets was down under 1st-year OC Steve Sarkisian. The position combined for 19.5% of the targets in 2015 and 19.9% in 2016. That sunk to 16.8% this past year.

Freeman’s share of the RB targets was also down to 52.8% after sitting at 80.2% and 60.7% the previous 2 seasons. Coleman, meanwhile, saw a career high 43.8% of the Falcons’ RB targets.

With Freeman, Coleman and Sarkisian back for 2018, expect a similar division of labor. In those 12 healthy games together last year, Freeman averaged 14.3 PPR points and Coleman 9.8. Those marks would have left them 11th and 26th, respectively, among RBs. Freeman is currently being selected at RB12; Coleman at RB29.

Both look like fine values at ADP. Of course, if either guy misses time this season, the other becomes an easy RB1.

Update: Freeman has yet to appear this preseason, presumably because of the MCL and PCL sprains he suffered late last year. We haven't heard that he's been limited in training camp, though, so consider him safe to draft as a borderline RB1.

Coleman has looked explosive in exhibition action, ripping off 5.4 yards per carry. He remains a RB3/flex option who would become a RB1 if Freeman goes down.

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