Workhorses are almost extinct.
Only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook reached 300 carries last year. Only Josh Jacobs joined them north of 250. And just 10 backs league wide reached 200 rushing attempts.
Of those 10 guys, only 5 also caught 40+ passes, with David Montgomery and Ezekiel Elliott the only 2 at 50+.
Almost every backfield is split to some degree. That makes it especially important to sort through the situations and determine what we can reasonably expect.
So let’s dig into each of 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.
Coming tomorrow: AFC Backfield Breakdowns
Top fantasy target: Jamaal Williams
Others in the mix: D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson, Dedrick Mills
We could quibble over which RB is the “top fantasy target” here. Swift is clearly the back with the higher upside.
HC Dan Campbell said before training camp: “His twitch and his quickness definitely shows up. We’re excited to be able to work with him. We think he’s got a lot of talent, and he’s got so much room to grow. I think [RBs coach] Duce [Staley] is going to pull the best out of this kid.”
The problem for Swift’s fantasy upside is that the coaching staff has also been talking up Williams’ skills and role since signing him in free agency. It began with OC Anthony Lynn calling Williams his “A” back to Swift’s “B” in an interview with The Athletic. That spoke more to their specific strengths within his scheme than it did placing Williams ahead of Swift (as the letters might indicate).
Since then, though, have come multiple instances of Lions coaches pointing to a split backfield. Lynn has talked about favoring the “hot hand.” Campbell has said his “vision” is deploying the duo as the Saints did Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, then Kamara and Latavius Murray.
That comparison alone presents a wide range of potential outcomes. Ingram averaged 14.4 and 11.5 carries per game in the 2 seasons he shared with Kamara. He led New Orleans in carries in 2017, nearly doubling rookie Kamara 230-120. Then Ingram slipped behind Kamara in attempts per game the next year. And then Murray averaged just 9.1 and 9.7 rushes per contest over the past 2 years, despite micing in a few starts to increase the volume.
So which version of that split can we expect? We probably won’t know until the season starts. Kamara, of course, dominated the receiving work in each of the 4 years. He has topped 80 receptions each year, averaging 5.4 catches per game for his career so far.
That same area provides the clearest upside path for Swift as well, especially on a Lions team with Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman as its most accomplished wideouts. But Jamaal Williams comes off collecting 122 receptions over 4 years in Green Bay, despite sharing that backfield with Aaron Jones. So we can’t just assuming receiving dominance for Swift in this Detroit backfield.
When you consider that Swift is going 17th among RBs (Round 3) vs. RB43 for Williams (Round 10-11 range), Williams clearly stands as the bet with much lower risk. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid Swift. Just know what you’re buying.
There’s not much to get interested in beyond the top 2 here. Jefferson tested terribly at his pro day after a nice career at Oregon State. Dedrick Mills also tested slow and unathletic after a shakier college run.
Michael Warren and Godwin Igwebuike also sit on the roster, as of this writing. We’ll see whether Detroit adds anyone else. The Lions have checked in on Todd Gurley, among others.