Taking advantage of uncertain Running Back rooms in Best Ball – AFC

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Buffalo Bills Number 2 RB: Ray Davis (ADP- 157.7) vs Ty Johnson (ADP- 216)

The Bills drafted Ray Davis in the 4th round and he’s seen his ADP settle in this 12th-13th round range, with the assumption that he’s the clear back-up and potentially goalline guy to James Cook. The problem with that is it’s all based on assumptions, yes he was a late 4th round pick, but that doesn’t automatically mean that will lead to a clear role or value (see Isaiah Spiller).

On top of that, the Bills “goal line back” likely remains Josh Allen, and any TDs he cedes, probably go to Cook. Cook should remain the pass-catching back, so even if Davis is the clear number 2 back, how valuable is this role outside of when Cook is injured?

The second major assumption is that Davis is clearly the number 2 back without competition, and that doesn’t seem likely. Ty Johnson took on a more significant role when Joe Brady took over the offensive coordinator duties last season. Up until that point Johnson had only one single carry (and wasn’t even active the first 6 games), but after Brady took over he averaged 6.75 carries+ targets in his 8 active games (regular season and playoffs) and had at least 12% of the offensive snaps (with 5 of the games over 20%). Johnson has a receiving profile in his background as he was the Jets’ 3rd down back in 2021, so if Cook misses time, he could fit the profile of the role better than Davis.

It’s definitely possible that Davis outplays Johnson in camp/preseason and wins this role. But at the ADP he’s going, people are treating it like a near certainty, and also believing that there is probably more stand-alone value here than there appears to be on paper.  If you are just looking for James Cook‘s handcuff, Johnson is the better bet as an 18th-round player.

Advice: I’m mainly fading Davis at this price, the role is not defined and there is a real risk here of a guy who never cracks your fantasy line-up. I won’t take much Ty Johnson, but I will do a little bit just since the cost is so low, and the upside for any missed time from Cook would be pretty high.

 

Cleveland Browns Backfield: Nick Chubb (ADP 129.2), Jerome Ford (ADP- 132.7), D’Onta Foreman (ADP 199.0)

Since entering the league in 2018 Nick Chubb has been a top 3 running back in football. He’s averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in his career, and before last season has at least 8 rushing TDs every season of his career.

The idea that he is going in the 10th-12th round is almost unfathomable. Of course, he’s coming off a major knee injury and he even admits, his timetable to return is unclear. We don’t know when Chubb will be back on the field, and we don’t know how good he will be when he gets there, but it’s worth considering the upside at this price point. You have to build the team right obviously, but if Chubb is 80% of his former self for 10 games next year, this is a steal.

Complicating matters though is the Browns do have some clear other options here. Ford filled in admirably last season with 813 yards on 204 carries and an additional 319 receiving yards on 44 catches, combined he also had 9 TDs. Not bad considering he only had 4 games where he had 60% or more of the offensive snaps.

Joining Ford in the backfield this year is Foreman, who has become the ultimate journeyman RB. In the last three seasons, he’s filled in decently for an injured Derrick Henry, a traded Christian McCaffrey, and multiple injuries to the Bears backfield last year. So even when Chubb is ready to come back, there is a concern that they could just have a committee approach. Ford though likely will still have a viable fantasy role given his receiving ability, regardless of the split.

Advice: Chubb has been falling so take that value, as the upside is too great to ignore completely. Make sure you are deep enough in case things go south or he doesn’t come back until late in the season (i.e. don’t overstack early week byes). Ford has seen his ADP rise slightly, but not enough to jump off of him, he should have value regardless. While Foreman continues to produce when given the opportunity, it’s tough to see it happening this year, I wouldn’t take him unless you are really desperate.

 

Cincinnati Bengals Backfield: Zack Moss (ADP- 91.8) vs Chase Brown (ADP-120.1)

The Bengals traded away Joe Mixon this offseason and replaced him with Zack Moss in free agency. Moss who was never able to establish a major role his first three seasons in the NFL, got a chance last year with Jonathan Taylor‘s absence. He had a very strong season with the Colts with almost 800 yards in 14 games, despite only starting 8 of them.

He is expected to be the lead back in Cincinnati this season, but he will face competition from 2nd year-back Chase Brown. Brown’s 44 carries for 179 yards and 14 catches for an additional 156 receiving aren’t eye-popping, but they do deserve some context.

Brown didn’t play even 15 % of the snaps until week 13, and he never topped 30% of the offensive snaps. Despite that, he was able to show a little big play ability, and if he wasn’t behind Joe Mixon he probably would have earned more work.

While we should fully expect Moss to start the season as the lead back in this offense, we don’t know what this split will be, and it’s not a given that Moss will keep this job throughout the season. Keep in mind last year, Dameon Pierce got unseated by Desmond Singletary, and Miles Sanders was unseated by Chubba Hubbard.

If Moss struggles to start the year, and Brown flashes, he could take over lead duties. Even if Moss does maintain the job, this could end up being a pretty even split, and you are getting Brown almost 30 spots later. Now Moss can still be a good value and even a great value at this spot if he can approach Mixon’s role over the past few seasons (particularly his TD production).

Advice: You definitely want to be grabbing both backs as this can be a top 5 offense in the league. I have been favoring Moss, but I do want to take advantage of some of the discount for Brown given some of the uncertainty. Keep firing at both now though, as Moss could see his ADP skyrocket this camp/preseason if it becomes clear he’s the lead back. Even if Brown falls some, I think he’s still a value at this point, so you aren’t hurting yourself by getting exposure now.

 

Indianapolis Colts Number 2 back: Trey Sermon (ADP- 215.6) vs Evan Hull (215.7)

I’ve talked about this before, but it’s just so odd that one of the top backs in the league is seeing his handcuff/back-up go either undrafted or in the 18th round of drafts. If Taylor misses any time this would be a top DFS flier option, or redraft pick-up.

Yet this role is getting more-or-less ignored in best ball. Sure the names of Trey Sermon and Evan Hull are uninspiring, and maybe the Colts look to add someone else, but it’s worth taking some shots on vs some of the other guys who are just as risky that are being drafted.

The general thought is currently Sermon is the more direct backup, while Hull could have more of a passing role. Both though would clearly see their role elevated in a situation where Taylor misses time. Hull’s potential to have a bit of a 3rd down role I do think gives him a slight edge here. Though it might be rare, he could offer some floor play standalone value, even if Taylor doesn’t miss any time this season.

Advice: As long as they remain 18th-round options, they are absolutely worth taking some fliers on as your 6th back or 5th with 4 strong options in front of them (especially if you are choosing Hull). Don’t go overweight, but I wouldn’t ignore the situation either.

 

Tennesse Titans Backfield: Tony Pollard (ADP- 99.1) vs Tyjae Spears (ADP- 113.4)

Is there a true leadback in this Titans backfield? And if so, who will it be? The expectation is obviously that Tony Pollard will be the lead back, but that could be a 55/45 split between him and Spears, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the split could go the other way. These backs feel very interchangeable as their skill sets overlap quite a bit.

That can be a problem as it’s tougher to predict who ends up with more of the goal-line role, and who ends up with more targets and carries overall. It also means that they could both end up being perfect Best Ball type of running backs, where they both have their share of “hot hand” spike weeks.

Pollard has the greater history, and has shown that he can be more of a feature back. Even coming off a serious leg injury in the 2022 Playoffs, he had 1,005 yards last season. Though it was disappointing for his 2nd round draft capital, he’s now going in the 8th or 9th round.

If he repeated what he did a year ago, you would still be okay with that investment. With being another year removed from the injury perhaps he is more back to his 2022 fantasy season, when he was a major playmaker.

Spears does have talent in his own right, but he’s not necessarily shown he can handle a large workload. You do get a round of savings on drafting him, but it would be nicer if there was a bit more of a gap. Even in a 35-40% role, Spears could pay off in this range as a solid RB 3 or 4, but its tough to count on him for much more.

Advice: I’m drafting both, but I do favor Pollard and want a greater share of him over Spears. I think he ends up with more carries, and could see more red zone work.

 

Denver Broncos Backfield: Javonte Williams (ADP- 106.0), Jaleel McLaughlin (ADP 165.6), Audric Estime (ADP- 214.3), Samaje Perine (ADP- 215.7)

The Broncos backfield is probably the biggest mess in the league. Depending on what reports you see, you would think that Williams or McLaughlin are locked as the starter, and will be a screaming value. In some cases there is even a worry that the other one won’t even be on the team come the start of the season.

Williams has a 2nd round pedigree, but that is from a former staff and before a major knee injury. Last season, he was not the same back he was prior to the injury.

McLaughlin showed some burst last year, but overall it didn’t amount to much fantasy-wise, and it’s unclear if he’s able to be anything more than a satellite back. He might have more value on a full PPR site, but his TD projection in that scenario would be pretty low.

Estime is a 5th round rookie with a skill set that could make him at least a TD vulture, but it’s unclear if he can do everything else. While Perine is the veteran who can fill in a little in every area, but isn’t starting material. Of all the backs Perine is the one most likely to be off the roster come opening day.

If Williams is the clear-cut starter, and you believe he’s more fully recovered from his knee injury, he would represent some significant value at this spot. The issue is that really just speculation at this point, and he could be a major disappointment.

If this ends up being a split backfield or committee, McLaughlin and Estime may offer similar point production outlooks with far less investment, and both would have some upside for more if they take on a greater role. Estime in particular is intriguing if he can get the goalline role. He could easily find his way to 4-6 10.0-15.0 .5 PPR games, when he finds the end zone. All while being a 17th or 18th-round pick.

Advice: Right now fade Williams and Perine, sprinkle in some McLaughlin and Estime. Make sure they in more 6 RB builds or when you have 4 other strong RBs, in case you end up being wrong on this backfield.

 

LA Chargers Backfield: Gus Edwards (ADP- 116.6), Kimani Vidal (ADP-161.4), J.K. Dobbins (ADP-182.6)

This is one of the more intriguing backfields to want to get right, because historically OC Greg Roman and HC Jim Harbaugh have had very successful rushing attacks. Overall some of that success has been due to some running QBs, but even isolating the running backs the production has been very good, regardless of who is carrying the ball.

Both Edwards and Dobbins were with Roman in Baltimore from 2019-2022, so there is clear familiarity on both sides. Edwards though comes in as the healthier of the two options, which is why his ADP is so much higher. Vidal is an intriguing 6th-round rookie from Troy, who was highly productive these past two years. He might have a role as a change of pace back/receiver, but that could end up being Dobbins’ role if healthy.

Though he’s never topped 198 carries in a season, Edwards is still capable of being the lead back and goalline option on this team. He probably won’t be heavily involved in the passing game, which limits his ceiling a bit, but he can still easily outperform this ADP.

Even in a situation where this is a split backfield or true committee approach, you probably want to get exposure to all three backs at this price point. Edwards though has the safest floor, and his ceiling is pretty strong if he does take lead back/goalline duties. Dobbins carries greater injury risk, but the upside is there as well as a change of pace back, spike week guy. He’s also more likely than Vidal to take over the lead back role, if he remains healthy.

Advice: Spread exposure, but prioritize Edwards as an RB 3 or 4, and Vidal/Dobbins as RB 5 or 6, in builds where you have more certainty at the top of your RB depth chart.


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