Fantasy Football RB Report: Changing Of The Guard
James Grande tells you which starting running backs won't be starting midway through the season and which backup(s) you should be looking at in your drafts.
In this week’s running back positional piece, it’s all about the guys who likely start second and maybe even third on the depth chart that take over at some point during the year and become the go-to three-down back, if that really even exists anymore. At the end of each potential changing of the guard, we’ll put out a verdict whether or not we believe the backup(s) do in fact take over at some point this season.
It’s understood by now that they’re listed as co-starters, but who before the season suspected Ballage would be getting first-team reps as soon as camp began? Not many people. Ballage has impressed in camp and even saw a goal-line carry and scored in the teams first preseason game. Drake is a great pass catcher, so he’ll have a role with this offense, but the Dolphins new coaching staff -- and old one too -- sure believe that he’s not a three-down back and nobody can deny that.
Verdict: Drake has PPR value, but there is a reason why he hasn’t seen more than 133 carries in any of his first three seasons. Ballage doubles Drake’s rushing attempts this season and ends as the Dolphins RB1.
This Buffalo backfield could look completely different by the time camp ends. Will McCoy not only be the starter, but will he even be on the Bills? How long before Frank Gore is using a walker from the sidelines to the huddle? All signs point to their impressive rookie because what does Buffalo have to lose? Sure using Gore and McCoy at the early stages of the year to help Josh Allen grow and develop could be beneficial, but in the latter stages of the season when New England is six games up in the division, why not see what Singletary has to offer as a featured back?
Verdict: If McCoy opens the season the starter, he’s nothing more than an RB3/FLEX option, but the best value on this team will be Devin Singletary for the long term.
Out of left field, Andy Reid came out and said the Chiefs will operate in a running back by committee backfield. Damien Williams will likely get the first crack at things, but he’s definitely not the most skilled player of the three. Williams has been in the league for five years and hasn’t seen more than 50 carries in any regular season yet. Carlos Hyde , his backup, will be 29 in September and has completed only one 16-game season in the five years he’s been in the league. The darling of this backfield is the 5’8” rookie they drafted in the sixth-round, Darwin Thompson. We saw how electric he can be out of the backfield catching a 29-yard touchdown pass in the Chiefs first preseason game.
Verdict: Williams and Hyde dominate the carries early on, but Thompson takes over as the featured back after their Week 12 bye week. Maybe even a couple of weeks sooner.
This is obviously contingent on Melvin Gordon ’s status, but we’re kind of moving on from him playing in San Diego again ala Le’Veon Bell’s situation last season. With Gordon out the picture, Austin Ekeler is the expected starter and Ekeler has had two very strong seasons on his resume. That being said, his production had a lot to do with Melvin Gordon being in the lineup and without him last year, he was a mediocre runner. That’s partially the reason why being bullish on Jackson is seemingly a popular approach this offseason. He rushed for 5,440 yards in college and was quite electric year in and year out. Ironic he ended up on the Lightning Bolts.
Verdict: Gordon holds out for the entire season or he’s traded. Ekeler opens up as the starter but after the team realizes he’s not a primary back, Jackson takes over. It’ll happen sooner than we think. That’s how electric Jackson is and can be.
This seems to be a foregone conclusion that if Howard opens the season as the starter, it’s only a matter of time before Sanders takes over. People are deeming Sanders the second coming of Saquon Barkley all because they both went to Penn State. Howard has definitely been a workhorse since coming into the league notching three straight seasons of 250-plus carries but his career-worst 3.7 YPC came last season. In his first full season at Penn State, Sanders averaged 5.8 YPC and showed great hands out of the backfield catching 24 balls as well.
Verdict: This is Miles Sanders backfield that Jordan Howard is just place holding for now. Darren Sproles will also play in passing downs, but his impact will be minimal for fantasy purposes unless your league drafts only players under six feet.
This backfield is a whole mess right about now and there are a ton of different scenarios that could play out. Their current third-string back, Matt Breida , averaged 5.3 YPC and notched over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in only 14 games last season. That’s the third-stringer? Well, Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year deal that he was given $18M guaranteed, but he’s still not fully recovered from last year’s ACL tear. Tevin Coleman is so familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s system considering the two were paired up in Atlanta, making him the clubhouse leader right now.
Verdict: If McKinnon is not ready to go come Week 1, Coleman and Breida will likely split three downs, with Coleman taking on the bulk of it. With McKinnon being the back San Fran invested the most money into, he’ll be the guy fantasy owners want when he does in fact return to full health.