Top 10 High-Upside Backup Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

by Bobby Sylvester | @bobbyfantasypro | Featured Writer
Aug 2, 2017

If Freeman were to get hurt, would Coleman be an RB1?

Every year we see it time and again, 12 to 15 starting running backs are injured, and 3 to 6 seemingly random ones emerge as strong fantasy assets. Often times, these players aren’t as random as they may seem, however. Many fantasy experts are loading their benches with the type of backup running back who could perform like an RB1 down the stretch if their starter was to go down. Today, I’ll breakdown of my 10 favorite backup running backs based on their upside and give you a list of the others who have the potential to perform like a top 24 running back should they fall into a starting role.

ADP = Average Draft Position
ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking
(+61) = experts have him ranked 61 spots higher than the general public

#10 Charles Sims (TB): ADP #244, ECR #183, (+61)

Everyone is talking Jacquizz Rodgers starting the first three weeks with Doug Martin out, but Sims is the greater talent of the two. Granted, Rodgers was the best of the three Bucs RBs last season in his short time with the job, but Sims and Martin were playing hurt. If Sims is healthy, he just might take this job over and keep it. He is a great post-hype sleeper this season after going from over 1,000 yards on 158 touches in 2015 to an injured draft disappointment last year.

#9 Samaje Perine (WAS): ADP #94, ECR #101, (-7)

Robert Kelley had one big game and was otherwise sub par last season. The Redskins have been raving about Perine which means he is likely in line for his crack at the starting role within the first few weeks or perhaps even take the job in preseason. If he can be a true three-down back as they are claiming, he might just end up the top value of fantasy drafts this season. With that being said, Kelley will still linger and pick up enough touches to prevent Perine from having true RB1 upside.

#8 Kareem Hunt (KC): ADP # 97, ECR #112, (-15)

Some are drooling all over Hunt this pre-season and for good reason. Andy Reid always puts out a quality running game, and while Spencer Ware is the current favorite to see the majority of the carries, it is worth noting that he was less than mediocre after his concussions last season and could be on a short leash. Should he continue to perform under expectations, Hunt would step into a terrific scheme that would make him startable every single week. Still, Ware or even Charcandrick West would command enough carries to prevent Hunt from being a surefire RB1.

#7 DeAndre Washington (OAK): ADP #215, ECR #175, (+40)

Last season, Washington was excellent behind that stellar offensive line. If Lynch were to go down with an injury, or re-retire randomly, Washington has a tremendous ceiling. There is, however, the caveat that even in that scenario, he might end up just splitting carries with Jalen Richard so the odds of a major breakout are on the smaller side, but you can bet on him being a steady fantasy starter should he be given the keys at some point.

#6 Jamaal Williams (GB): ADP #144, ECR #142, (+2)

The Packers have produced excellent fantasy running back performances for 3 of the past 4 seasons with last year being the lone exception. Montgomery was their most effective runner, but they only trusted him with double-digit carries just once. It is quite possible that Williams claims this job for himself in the pre-season and never looks back on his way to a top 15 RB finish. With that being said, Aaron Jones will also compete for the carries if it turns out Montgomery isn’t quite fit for the starting job.

#5 Darren McFadden (DAL): ADP #211, ECR #205, (+6)

With it sounding more and more like Zeke will miss multiple games due to suspension, it is time that we take full advantage of Run DMC’s low ADP. With two or three starts behind that offensive line, he is worth considering once you get into the double-digit rounds. Should Elliott end up injured, we are talking about a near-certain RB1 and his price should reflect that. McFadden was superb two years ago with over 1,000 yards in 10 starts, and while he may be older now, the upside is still significant.

#4 Jonathan Williams (BUF): ADP #156, ECR #187, (-31)

Last season, the Bills offensive-line was by far the most efficient in the NFL and wouldn’t you know it, they led the NFL with 28 rushing touchdowns. Now that Gillislee is gone, it should be Williams’ turn to step into double-digit goal-line opportunities and plenty of carries in the run-heavy scheme. Should McCoy go down, he would have immense value as a likely workhorse behind one of the best offensive lines in football. With that being said, he doesn’t appear to be on the same level as Gillislee or Karlos Williams before him.

#3 Tevin Coleman (ATL): ADP #62, ECR #64, (-2)

Coleman was dynamic last year even with Freeman starting ahead of him. Much of that, however, was due to a load of touchdowns. Now that Kyle Shanahan is gone and the TDs are likely to regress, he should not be drafted as though he will perform like an every week flex like fantasy owners were spoiled with last season. Now, if Freeman was to go out, he would be an RB1 almost certainly, but not an absolute work horse like the next two.

#2 James Conner (PIT): ADP #196, ECR #217, (-21)

Yes, I like his upside even more than Coleman’s. Should Le’Veon Bell sustain yet another injury or hold out, the Steelers have not been shy about running their backup into the ground. Conner would be in an ideal role to see RB1 opportunities in those games, and seeing how often Bell has missed time, Conner may be worth a late-round gamble. DeAngelo Williams was one of the best running backs in football when Bell was hurt/suspended the past two seasons, and while Conner doesn’t have the same profile, he is a bruiser of a runner with fresher legs than Williams.

#1 Derrick Henry (TEN): ADP #85, ECR #99, (-14)

Murray took a big step back in the second half last season after another huge workload. He has spent some time banged up throughout his career and should that happen again, Henry will be waiting to potentially become an immediate top 6 running back. The Titans’ run blocking is so good that we could be talking about him as a first round pick this time next season should they move on from Murray.

Others who could perform like top 24 RBs in a starting role

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t already, please check out the FantasyPros Football Podcast (below) that I co-host with Mike Tagliere. Good luck this season.

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Bobby Sylvester is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bobby, check out his archive and follow him @BobbyFantasyPro.

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