NFC Team-by-Team Backfield Breakdowns
Workhorses are almost extinct.
Only 4 RBs -- Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon and Antonio Gibson -- reached 300 touches last year. The same number hit that threshold in 2020.
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 the names you need to know as we enter fantasy draft season. The “top fantasy target” for each team below is the best value at ADP, not necessarily the highest-ranked player in that backfield.
Top fantasy target: James Conner
Others in the mix: Darrel Williams, Eno Benjamin, Keaontay Ingram, Ronnie Rivers
Conner, 27, re-signed in Arizona for 3-years, $21 million ($13.5 million guaranteed) following an RB5 finish. He’ll handle the vast majority of rushing work, but there is some uncertainty to his receiving role. While Conner excelled as a pass catcher down the stretch, it’s worth noting that he snagged only 5 passes over the first 8 games with a healthy Chase Edmonds.
Our lean is that Conner retains a sizable receiving role after averaging 10.1 yards per catch and totaling 32 grabs over his final 7 regular season games. DeAndre Hopkins’ 6-game suspension figures to help.
The mystery starts at the #2 spot, where Darrel Williams, Eno Benjamin and others will battle for leftovers. Upon observing training camp, Eric Williams of Fox Sports believes Darrel Williams will get the “first shot.” The former Chief posted games of 19 and 21 carries last year, and while his efficiency overall underwhelmed (3.9 YPC) he’s easily the most established option.
Benjamin enters year 3 with only 40 career touches (all in 2021). A 2020 Round 7 pick, he doesn’t have the pedigree of a likely breakout, but he’s only 23. HC Kliff Kingsbury also praised Benjamin in June, saying he “looks like he could be a starting running back.”
Ingram (6’0, 215) arrived in Round 6 this year; Rivers (5’7, 195) signed as an UDFA. Both are clear long-shots for redraft value, but the lack of depth chart clarity provides some hope. GM Steve Keim complimented Ingram’s special teams ability after the draft, so he might start out there.
Conner’s a fine target in Round 3, while Williams/Benjamin are low-risk fliers boosted by Conner's injury risk.
Top fantasy target: Cordarrelle Patterson
Others in the mix: Tyler Allgeier, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison
First thing’s first: Atlanta’s running game isn’t exactly one that excites us. Scoring upside doesn’t look favorable a year after ranking 26th in points with Matt Ryan. Plus, it’s possible we see Marcus Mariota factor into the rushing attack near the goal line.
As for the RBs — there’s just not a talent to truly back outside of Patterson. The veteran, of course, busted out with a PPR RB10 finish last season. Atlanta has talked about managing the 31-year-old’s workload this offseason. And they’ve at least added bodies to the position in Allgeier, a 5th-round pick, and Williams, a 7-year vet.
Allgeier, a former LB, arrives from BYU with a power back skill set. He posted a pair of huge rushing seasons in 2020 and 2021 but hasn’t proved to be a particularly effective receiver. He also has history working against him, as only 5 rookie RBs drafted in Round 5 or later (UDFAs included) have hit 200 carries over the past 20 seasons.
Williams took 2020 off due to COVID before returning to a nondescript season in Chicago. He got $500K guaranteed on a 1-year deal and shouldn’t be treated as a lock to make the final roster. He turned 30 in April.
Ollison had a chance to see touches last year in a thinned-out backfield. Instead, he handled only 21 carries and 6 targets. A supersized back with a 2-down skill set, Ollison isn’t a sleeper we’re betting on.
Top fantasy target: Christian McCaffrey
Others in the mix: D’Onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard
No mystery here, as CMC returns to a 3-down role.
You can worry about his injury history if you want, but there’s no lingering issue that the 26-year-old is carrying into September. And passing on CMC means you’re ignoring one of the highest ceiling fantasy producers league-wide. In 8 full games over the past 2 years, he’s ranked worse than RB6 only once.
Carolina signed D’Onta Foreman to a 1-year deal with ~$1 million guaranteed early in free agency. He flashed as a Derrick Henry replacement last year, reaching 100 yards in 3 of 9 appearances. Consider him the favorite for the scraps that McCaffrey leaves behind.
Hubbard followed up a disappointing final season at Oklahoma State with a lackluster rookie year. Despite appearing in all 17 games and seeing over 200 opportunities, Hubbard ranked 2nd to last in rush yards per attempt over expected. And among 50 RBs with 100+ carries, he ranked 33rd in Pro Football Focus rushing grade; 40th in PFF’s Elusive Rating.
Only 23, Hubbard isn’t someone to completely bury. But another McCaffrey injury would likely result in a backfield timeshare. Ultimately, we’re only interested in drafting CMC.
Top fantasy target: David Montgomery
Others in the mix: Khalil Herbert
The Bears will feature an outside zone run scheme under new OC Luke Getsy. Our expectation is that this offense strongly leans on the ground game — at least when game scripts allow.
Herbert’s fully behind the move, due in part to the rushing threat that Justin Fields provides.
"It helps us a lot," Herbert said. “Just the threat of him [Fields] pulling it, the D-end and the linebackers gotta account for him pulling that ball and running around them too, so just having them have to account for that, and pause for a split second here or there, that’s all we need. So just having that little pause helps us a lot, because they pause for a split second, we’re able to crease, and off and running. So it helps us a lot.”
The thought is that Herbert might be able to carve out a more consistent role. He earned the #1 PFF rushing grade among rookie RBs; #6 overall. Plus, the slate has been wiped clean with a new coaching staff.
But Montgomery, who enters a contract year, is the clear favorite to lead in touches. He’s earned 225+ carries in 3 straight seasons but is coming off a career-high 4 missed games.
“[He’s] really good at splitting two, getting his pads down — a good jump-cutter, good vision,” new HC Matt Eberflus said of Montgomery at camp. “He’s really good with one cut and cut back, and I think he does that with great power. So, I like him. He has shown that he has a good grasp of protections. He will square you up when you come inside. That was the book on him when we played against him, and that’s the same way I feel about him now.”
The Athletic’s Adam Jahns expects Montgomery to remain a “major part” of the offense. The big question is just how effective this offense will be with question marks at QB, OL and WR.
Top fantasy target: Tony Pollard
Others in the mix: Ezekiel Elliott
Frankly, Pollard vs. Zeke is extremely close. They’re separated by 21 PPR points in our rankings, but Pollard typically goes ~ 2 rounds later.
Both have their merits at cost.
As for Pollard, he said in training camp that he anticipates being in a bigger role. He’s also talked about playing more with Elliott, including in the slot.
He’s certainly earned it. Last year, Pollard ranked 5th among qualifying backs with 0.86 rush yards over expected per attempt. As a receiver, Pollard ranked 3rd among 35 RBs with 40+ targets in yards per route run. Clearly, he’s a smooth mover with the type of dynamic skill set that Dallas needs.
With Elliott, it’s fair to worry about a decline. He’s entering year 7 with over 2,000 career touches. Last year, though, we have to acknowledge the torn PCL that dogged him almost all season. That he played all 17 games — and has missed only 2 over the past 4 seasons — is a testament to his durability.
One area to monitor with Zeke vs. Pollard: The red zone. Last year, Elliott out-carried Pollard 17-3 in goal line carries. So even if the veteran’s efficiency declines, he’ll still profile as a strong TD producer.
Top fantasy target: D’Andre Swift
Others in the mix: Jamaal Williams, Justin Jackson
Swift enters year 3 fresh off an RB10 finish in PPG. He struggled as a pure runner, ranking last among 50 RBs with 100+ carries in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA). He sat 48th in PFF rushing grade.
But so what? Swift was a dynamic receiver with a pair of 40+ yard grabs. Only 23, he’s drawn Alvin Kamara comps from HC Dan Campbell.
“It goes without saying, Swift is one of our most explosive players on offense,” Campbell said in camp. “Like, literally, we feel like, ‘All right, man, if we set this up right and there’s any space, this guy can take it to the house.’ He’s got that ability, and so — my gosh, man — you want those guys out there every play.”
After missing 7 games over the past 2 seasons, Swift has been challenged by RB coach Duce Staley to play through the pain. Campbell has already admitted that the team won’t overwork its young playmaker in camp.
Williams brings little flash to the backfield, but he’s a fine veteran complement to Swift. While the 27-year-old matched a career-high with 153 carries in 2021, his underlying metics paint the picture of a league-average runner. The volume was pedestrian, too. In 11 games with a healthy Swift, Williams averaged 10.6 carries and 2.5 targets.
Jackson signed in early-August and figures to compete for the #3 role. He enjoyed his best year to date in 2021, but the fact that he lasted so long in free agency shows the league's valuation.
Overall, this offense should take a step forward in Ben Johnson’s first full season as OC. Plus, getting a healthy Jameson Williams and D.J. Chark would help lighten up boxes.
Green Bay Packers
Top fantasy target: Aaron Jones
Others in the mix: AJ Dillon
Similar to Elliott-Pollard, we’re not treating the Jones-Dillon dynamic as an either-or proposition.
Sure, Dillion lags behind Jones in our rankings by 66 PPR points. Yet there’s a sizable ADP gap here of ~4 rounds.
In a post- Davante Adams world for the Packers, it’s reasonable to expect slightly more rushing. The Packers ranked mid-pack with a 42.9% rush rate in 2021.
In 14 games together, Jones narrowly out-carried Dillon 11.7-10.1. Jones also edged him in carries inside the 5 yard-line (8-7) and targets (4.2-2.0).
Keep an eye on the O-line here, especially the health of LT David Bakhitari and RT Elgton Jenkins. They’re both working back from ACL injuries.
Los Angeles Rams
Top fantasy target: Cam Akers
Others in the mix: Darrell Henderson
Credit Akers for returning to play ~6 months removed from a torn Achilles. He didn’t look like his usual explosive self upon returning late in the year. But the hope is that’s what we’ll see come September.
Whether we’ll see him a consistent, Todd Gurley-like workhorse role …well, that seems unlikely.
“I look at it as we’ve got two starting backs,” HC Sean McVay said. “Those guys are great complements (to) one another, but I see them as both starting-caliber players. We need to get them involved. They need to be on the field. I think it’s healthy for them to be able to supplement one another.”
Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic observed a more “bulked up” Akers in training camp. She also noted how the 2 RBs are splitting 1st-team reps “pretty evenly.”
Henderson certainly appears best off in a timeshare. In 8 career games with 15+ carries, he’s averaged a subpar 4.0 YPA. Last year, he sat out 8 total games (5 in the regular season) with rib, thigh and knee injuries.
Look for both guys to see a boost in the receiving game, especially if Van Jefferson’s knee becomes a long-term issue.
Top fantasy target: Dalvin Cook
Others in the mix: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu
There’s chatter around the Vikings that Cook could see an increased role in the passing game under new HC Kevin O’Connell. Regardless, he’s set up for success in what should be a more diverse attack. Look for more spacing and motion from the Vikings.
The question with Cook is simply about health. He missed time last year with an ankle sprain, a dislocated shoulder and a torn labrum. He’s never played more than 14 games in a season.
Mattison, who enters the final year of his rookie deal, is the likely handcuff. But his fit in O’Connell’s system is considered questionable.
Said Vikings commentator Paul Allen: “Mattison would be prohibitively favored [to be the backup], but everything is new, so Alex doesn’t roll in and go like, ‘Oh I know that play. I know that. I know that. I love that.’ It’s all new and Kene’s fast. If Kene can catch passes, then he can usurp Alexander.”
Nwangwu arrived as a surprise Round 4 pick last year. He played sparingly behind David Montgomery and Breece Hall at Iowa State.
Still, he’s a bet on traits, as the 24-year-old boasts rare 4.30 speed. He showcased it last year with a pair of kick return TDs. If he develops in the new system, it’s possible we see a timeshare develop in the event of another Cook injury. Consider Nwangwu a deep sleeper.
New Orleans Saints
Top fantasy target: Alvin Kamara
Others in the mix: Mark Ingram, Abram Smith, Malcolm Brown
Kamara is coming off career-lows in yards per carry, catches per game and receiving yards per game. No surprise there, as swapping Drew Brees out for Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill never forecasted favorably.
With Winston back healthy and a deep WR corps, Kamara’s not a candidate to return to the 80-catch range. But he is returning to the same offense under OC Pete Carmichael. And, stepping back, it appears Kamara will dodge a lengthy suspension (or one at all) this season.
At 27, we’re not expecting a nosedive in production. He’s a viable PPR pick late in Round 2/Round 3.
Ingram handled 40 touches in 2 games without Kamara last season. He responded with a pair of top-13 finishes, but his efficiency metrics weren’t great. At 33, he’s not a particularly attractive target.
Smith is worth watching in deep leagues. The Saints showed they believe in his future by handing over a $222K signing bonus — a hefty sum for an undrafted player. He's a bigger back at 221 pounds but —due in part to a transition from LB — didn't break out until his senior year at Baylor (257-1,601-12).
For us, it’s Kamara and nobody else in the Saints backfield.
New York Giants
Top fantasy target: Saquon Barkley
Others in the mix: Matt Breida
You might have heard, but we love Saquon Barkley. That article lays out the case for him, from the projected workload to the new coaching staff and more.
If Barkley isn’t among the top-5 RBs in carry share, we’d be surprised. We know his ADP is rising, but we’re happy to get him anywhere in Round 2.
As for the depth chart — it’s uninspiring to say the least. Breida’s a true home run threat who followed new HC Brian Daboll from Buffalo. Yet he hasn’t been a productive back since 2019 in San Francisco. He’s on his 4th team in 4 years.
New York recently worked out Devontae Booker, who flashed some in 2021. Ultimately, though, we’re not investing in any Giants RB beyond Barkley.
Top fantasy target: Miles Sanders
Others in the mix: Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
The Twitter buzz cranked up following news that Miles Sanders took some reps with the 2nd-team.
HC Nick Sirianni downplayed any backfield shake-up, though.
"Miles is our guy," Sirianni said. "It just so happened to be the way the numbers worked, but Miles was in with the [No.] 1s as well. There's no secret. Miles is our guy, and we like to rotate our backs.”
Gainwell brings greater versatility and a more diverse route-running repertoire. He played 52 snaps either out wide or in the slot last year, and the expectation is that number grows in year 2.
Scott re-signed with the Eagles on a 1-year deal worth $1.75 million. He's stretched as anything more than a short-term starter, but he has enough juice to provide a short-term lift to fantasy owners if Sanders misses time.
San Francisco 49ers
Top fantasy target: Elijah Mitchell
Others in the mix: Tyrion Davis-Price, Jeff Wilson, Trey Sermon
History says Mitchell isn't the guy to support. HC Kyle Shanahan’s had a different leading rusher in each of his 5 seasons with the 49ers.
Mitchell’s clearly the favorite for lead back work, though. Multiple 49ers beat writers have pointed out a bulked up Mitchell following a rookie season with several injuries. He underwent offseason knee surgery but is back to 100%.
“He had some serious injuries,” Shanahan said this week. “He was as tough as can be. He was able to (play) on Sunday a lot, but we need Elijah to get back into practicing and being consistent with that. What he did his first year was great. But if you miss that much, it’s just not built to last.”
His quicks and long speed pair well with Shanahan’s zone system. We saw it last year, as Mitchell recorded 29 runs of 10+ yards — 4th most league-wide.
He ranked 13th in attempts.
Davis-Price arrives with Round 3 draft capital, but he’s considered a suspect fit for the 49ers’ system and had ball security issues at LSU. Clearly, though, Shanahan and GM John Lynch see him contributing early.
Of course, that was also the thought with 2021 Round 3 pick Trey Sermon. The Ohio State product struggled to stay healthy for part of his rookie season, but he was also a healthy scratch for multiple weeks. The key for Sermon will be whether or not he can develop into a more decisive one-cut runner. The arrival of Davis-Price — and the return of reliable veteran Jeff Wilson — says the team isn’t expecting a huge turnaround.
Mitchell currently goes in Round 5, right in the thick of the RB “Dead Zone.” He’s not someone we’re targeting in drafts.
Top fantasy target: Kenneth Walker
Others in the mix: Rashad Penny
Seattle made Walker the RB2 in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Now, will he be the RB1 or RB2 on his own team?
Truthfully, it might be fluid. Penny was incredible down the stretch last year, easily pacing the league with 671 rushing yards over the final 5 weeks. Before that, of course, the former 1st rounder struggled with durability, the worst of it a late 2019 ACL tear. He also missed time last year with calf and hamstring injuries.
Still, Seattle rewarded him with a 1-year, $5.75 million deal in mid-March. That’s not ride-the-bench money — despite the arrival of Walker.
The Wake Forest transfer broke out as a 2021 junior, ranking 2nd in the nation with 1,636 rushing yards. We loved his tape, but there’s some doubt about his ability to play in passing situations.
At bottom, neither RB projects as an impact pass catcher. No Seahawks RB has reached 40 catches since Pete Carroll took over in 2010. And considering questions at QB and O-line, we’re unlikely to see a major spike in TDs. In fact, trailing game scripts could get both guys removed from the field in obvious passing situations.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Top fantasy target: Leonard Fournette
Others in the mix: Rachaad White, Ke’Shawn Vaughn
So much for Fournette’s weight being an issue. He reported to camp in “great shape,” per HC Todd Bowles, and is poised to resume his role as Tampa Bay’s lead back. Durability is our only real concern for the 27-year-old.
White joins the squad as a Round 3 pick. While an older prospect, he thrived at Arizona St. last year with 95 rushing yards and 1.3 TDs per game. His pass-catching ability makes him an ideal handcuff/stash for owners unsure of Fournette’s staying power.
Vaughn enters year 3 with only 289 rushing yards and 9 catches. He’s not a trusted passing down option, making him low-upside insurance in the event of a Fournette injury.
Keep an eye on the O-line here. This offseason, the Bucs lost G Ali Marpet to retirement and, potentially, C Ryan Jensen to a season-ending knee injury. The good news? They were able to land stud G Shaq Mason in a trade with New England.
Top fantasy target: Brian Robinson
Others in the mix: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic
We’re not too thrilled about a Carson Wentz-led offense. But when a potential lead back — and #1 goal line option — is going near the end of drafts, you have to take notice. (Ben Standig of The Athletic mentioned Robinson, who’s 6’1, 225 pounds, as a candidate to see those high-value carries.)
His profile shows a guy with plus size and adequate speed. It took him until year 5 to break out at Alabama, but a stacked depth chart provides a reasonable explanation.
Gibson just turned 24 in June and exited Memphis as a rarely-used rusher. So it would be unwise to close the book on a potential career year.
He reportedly played last year at a bloated 235 pounds and gutted through a stress fracture in his shin from Week 4 on. It’s just tough to see the upside case for him in year 3 — not with Washington paying up to retain J.D. McKissic in free agency and using a 3rd-rounder on Robinson. Note that Gibson garnered only 2.7 targets per game on an 8.1% share in 11 games alongside McKissic.
As for McKissic — he provides a cheap source of catches. He’s totaled 123 grabs over the past 2 seasons, and Washington handing him ~$3.7 million guaranteed shows they value that role going forward.