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Running Back Roundup: Week 5 (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Andrew Seifter | @andrew_seifter | Featured Writer
Oct 6, 2021
RB Roundup Myles Gaskin

Is it time for Myles Gaskin’s managers to panic?

Running backs have been dropping like flies since the preseason, and two more big ones (David Montgomery and Joe Mixon) went down in Week 4. Meanwhile, two backs in the famed “RB Dead Zone” — Myles Gaskin and Mike Davis — have seen their grasp on lead-back duties quickly evaporate.

These injuries and benchings are further evidence of the position’s volatility in today’s NFL. That volatility is a good argument for prioritizing other positions in fantasy drafts, if for no other reason than to preserve the value of draft capital. Simply put, you are taking a risk every time you spend an early pick on a running back. Many of them have shaky job security, and all of them have elevated injury risk. Drafters must balance that risk with the position’s scarcity, but valuable backups emerge from the carnage every year.

If you’re willing to aggressively mine for running backs on the waiver wire all season — reading this column each week should help — you might be better off spending those early draft picks on high-end wide receivers next year.

As always, this week’s Roundup will break down all of the fantasy-relevant happenings in backfields across the NFL. If you don’t see a backfield listed here, it just means that the backfield hasn’t significantly shifted since I wrote about it in a previous Roundup. I’m always happy to talk about any backfield situation or anything else fantasy-related on Twitter @andrew_seifter. You can also get my thoughts on waiver wire pickups, weekly rankings, and rest-of-season player values by going to ROSrankings.com and subscribing to the Rest of Season Rankings podcast.

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Arizona Cardinals
James Conner continued to make his case for fantasy viability in Week 4, cashing in two one-yard touchdowns to earn his second straight multi-touchdown game. He’s now handled 14 red zone carries compared to only six for Chase Edmonds. Edmonds was quite good, too, turning 16 touches into 139 scrimmage yards against a tough Rams defense. Those who roster Edmonds will no doubt be frustrated that Conner vultured the TDs, but this is more or less what we expected coming into the season. Conner is a touchdown-dependent RB3/flex who gets a boost when Arizona is projected to play with a lead. Edmonds is a high-floor RB2 in PPR formats, but more of a high-end RB3 in non-PPR.

Atlanta Falcons
Following a three-touchdown explosion against the Washington Football Team, Cordarrelle Patterson enters Week 5 trailing only Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler in fantasy points in PPR and non-PPR formats alike. Patterson now has 82 receiving yards in back-to-back games, at least catches in three straight games, and five total touchdowns over the last three weeks.

That touchdown pace is not sustainable, especially when you consider that he is still playing less than half of the Falcons’ offensive snaps. Still, this team will create favorable game scripts for Patterson more often than not, and Atlanta will need his playmaking ability while chasing points. It’s also possible his snap share grows as he continues to impress. The safe move is to cash in now if you can get RB2 value in return, but I also can’t fault you if you want to keep riding the hot hand.

Patterson’s emergence has come at the expense of Mike Davis, even though they are completely different players. After Davis managed just 14 yards on 13 carries in Week 4, he could also lose touches to Wayne Gallman, who made his Falcons debut in the contest. That would be a final nail in the coffin on Davis’ fantasy value.

Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens extended their streak of 100-yard rushing games in Week 4 — much to Vic Fangio’s chagrin — with a revamped backfield. Undrafted free agent Ty’Son Williams, who led Baltimore RBs in rushing in Weeks 1 and 2, was a healthy scratch. Latavius Murray, tipped before kickoff to operate as the team’s “lead back,” did just that, rushing 18 times for 59 yards and a touchdown against a tough Broncos defense. Le’Veon Bell also made his much-anticipated Ravens debut, handling the ball four times for 11 yards.

This certainly looks to be Murray’s backfield, at least in the short term. He’s not the player he once was, but he gets to play in a nearly ideal situation for a player with his skill set. With Greg Roman calling plays and Lamar Jackson under center, Murray will see plenty of running lanes and opportunities to get into the end zone, even if he rarely sees targets in the passing game. That should be enough to make Murray a weekly RB2 as long as he dominates the backfield touches like he did last week. However, it’s worth watching to see if Bell’s role expands in the coming weeks.

Carolina Panthers
Chuba Hubbard wasn’t bad in his first game as the Panthers’ lead back, but his usage wasn’t quite what fantasy managers had hoped. Hubbard out-carried Royce Freeman 13-to-3 and averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per rush, but Rodney Smith was the primary passing-down back in a contest where Carolina chased points. There was concern Hubbard wouldn’t operate as a true bell cow like Christian McCaffrey (or Mike Davis), but it was surprising that Smith — and not Freeman — stole his thunder. It may all be a moot point soon, as McCaffrey is trending toward a quick return, perhaps as soon as Week 5.

Chicago Bears
David Montgomery had largely picked up where he left off last season despite the Bears’ overall struggles, ranking 10th among running backs in fantasy points after a two-touchdown performance in Week 4. Unfortunately, Montgomery suffered a knee sprain in that contest that will cost him an estimated four-five weeks. The Bears’ bye is in Week 10, so a Week 11 return is most likely.

Chicago will turn to Damien Williams in Montgomery’s place, assuming he is healthy. Williams suffered a quad injury in the same game, but there is reportedly a “decent chance” he suits up in Week 5. If active, Williams can play on all three downs and chip in as both a rusher and receiver, giving him plug-and-play RB2 potential. If Williams misses this week’s game against the Raiders, sixth-round rookie Khalil Herbert would suddenly find himself atop the depth chart.

Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon was another Week 4 casualty, spraining his ankle after rushing 16 times for 67 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville on Thursday night. Mixon was initially deemed “week to week,” per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, but Bengals coach Zac Taylor struck a more optimistic tone, labeling Mixon “day-to-day.” This is the same Zac Taylor, mind you, who called Mixon “day-to-day” last October when he suffered a foot injury that ended up causing him to miss the rest of the season. The difference, of course, is that the Bengals had nothing to play for in 2020. This year, they are positioned to compete for a playoff spot.

Should Mixon miss time, which appears more likely than not, Samaje Perine is the best bet to take on lead-back duties. Perine played over 20 percent of the snaps in three of the first four weeks and saw an uptick in playing time once Mixon got hurt. However, Perine is far from a dynamic talent, so expect the Bengals to mix in rookie sixth-round pick Chris Evans, especially on passing downs. Evans has little college production on his resume (I’m a Michigan alum, so I know firsthand), but he’s a bit of a SPARQ superstar.

Detroit Lions
Well, that was quite the tease. After Lions coach Dan Campbell sent fantasy managers into a tizzy by saying we could expect to “see a lot more” D’Andre Swift going forward, Swift was out-touched 14-to-12 by Jamaal Williams in the Lions’ Week 4 loss in Chicago. Swift played significantly more snaps than Williams, so perhaps that is what Campbell meant. ESPN’s Eric Woodyard expects Williams to keep out-touching Swift from time to time, depending on the game situation and player performance. Still, game script should work in Swift’s favor more often than not. Considering the Lions view Swift as their version of Alvin Kamara, fantasy managers should not get discouraged.

Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones tallied 18 touches for 99 yards against a formidable Steelers defense in Week 4, so it’s not like he disappointed. But backup AJ Dillon logged a season-high 40 percent of the backfield snaps while handling 16 touches for 97 yards of his own. Whether that’s a one-game anomaly remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Green Bay utilize the big-bodied Dillon to grind out the clock with a fourth-quarter lead. That shouldn’t prevent Jones from being a high-end RB1, though. Jones’ upside is enhanced by the Packers making a concerted effort to feature him as a pass-catcher, as demonstrated by the frequency with which he’s lined up in the slot or out wide.

Indianapolis Colts
One week after coming up in trade rumors, Marlon Mack saw his first extended action of 2021, playing nearly a third of the snaps on Sunday. Mack had little to show for it (11 touches, 23 yards), but perhaps it was enough of a showcase to demonstrate his health and build up some trade value. On Monday, Colts coach Frank Reich gave a fairly direct assessment of how he wants to approach his backfield.

“In my mind, the starting point is Jonathan [Taylor] with 20 carries, Nyheim [Hines] with five, and Marlon with five, Reich said. “But there’s give-and-take depending on how the game goes.”

That should be music to the ears of those rostering Taylor, who ran for 103 yards and a score against Miami, even though it also signifies that Hines will play a sizable role when Indy is in comeback mode.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Carlos Hyde was a surprise inactive on Thursday night because his shoulder wasn’t feeling right. That allowed James Robinson to finally re-up his every-down bell cow role from 2020, and he didn’t disappoint. Robinson played 95 percent of the snaps, rushing 18 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns. His RB2 arrow is decidedly pointing up, as long as Urban Meyer doesn’t interfere with what’s working. That’s no guarantee given Meyer’s track record, but he may have other things to worry about right now…

Kansas City Chiefs
For the fourth consecutive week, Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s snap share went down and Darrel Williams’s went up. Perhaps the reduced playing time has actually benefitted CEH, who now has back-t0-back 100-yard rushing performances while averaging a healthy 6.5 yards per carry over the last two weeks. Still, his managers won’t want this backfield to trend any closer to an even committee. Either way, Williams is looking more and more like a running back to stash in most fantasy leagues. Anybody earning significant snaps in this offense brings some fantasy intrigue to the table.

Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden made clear in Week 3 that the team signed Kenyan Drake to a lucrative contract to serve as a glorified third-down back, and that Peyton Barber would be the lead back whenever Josh Jacobs is unavailable. Barber responded with a 111-yard rushing performance, prompting Gruden to say he would not “hesitate one bit to put him in a primary role” again if needed. That wasn’t needed when Jacobs returned on Monday night. With Barber missing time during that contest with a foot injury, Jacobs played 64% of the snaps in his return. It’s uncertain whether Gruden will carve out a role for Barber going forward or revert to a roughly 2-to-1 snap share between Jacobs and Drake.

Los Angeles Rams
Darrell Henderson returned from a rib injury on Sunday and immediately played 90% of the snaps. Sony Michel carried the ball 20 times in the one game Henderson missed, but this does not appear to be a committee. Although Henderson has legitimate RB1 upside as a bell-cow back in an explosive offense, it may just be a matter of time until the next injury for a frequently dinged-up player. That makes Michel one of the best handcuffs out there.

Miami Dolphins
If Myles Gaskin’s managers thought it was bad when he ceded 40-50 percent of the team’s backfield snaps to Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed, they are in full-on panic mode after Brown out-snapped Gaskin 35-to-12 on Sunday. The explanation, as far as I can tell, is that Miami’s co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville wanted to “create a role” for Brown, whom Studesville and fellow OC George Godsey trust more than Gaskin in pass protection.

On the other hand, Brown produced just 27 scoreless yards on his nine touches in a blowout loss against the Colts. It is foolish to assume logical coaching, but if the Dolphins want to win games, they should probably turn back to Gaskin, clearly the more dynamic playmaker. He may end up on a fair amount of waiver wires this week. If so, I would scoop him up while we see what happens in the next couple of weeks.

Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook returned from an ankle injury in Week 4, but he didn’t appear to be fully healthy. Alexander Mattison ended up handling one more rushing attempt than Cook, though neither back had much success on the ground against a stout Browns front seven. After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer claimed that Cook’s ankle wasn’t an issue and added on Monday that Cook “feels good today.” There is little reason to expect Cook to miss more time unless he aggravates the injury further, but Mattison may see more work than usual until Cook gets back to 100 percent health. Regardless, Mattison’s demonstrated upside makes him worth stashing in just about all leagues and formats.

New England Patriots
The Patriots’ first game without James White provided a little bit of clarity for fantasy managers. Damien Harris, who struggled with pass protection in the past, nonetheless ran a career-high 17 pass routes against the Buccaneers’ pass-funnel defense. Harris also played 61 percent of the snaps, easily a season-high. If that kind of usage continues for Harris against lesser opponents, he will be a locked-and-loaded RB2.

Interestingly, rookie Rhamondre Stevenson was a gameday inactive even without White. Second-year back J.J. Taylor, who profiled as the most logical fill-in for White, fumbled in the game and wasn’t heard from again. That allowed dependable veteran Brandon Bolden to play most of the snaps White left behind. It will be interesting to see if Stevenson, who fumbled himself in Week 1, gets another chance after Taylor’s miscue. For now, Bolden is the best bet for receiving production in this backfield.

New Orleans Saints
In recent years, Latavius Murray produced weekly RB3/flex value as Alvin Kamara’s backup. With Murray gone, Tony Jones inherited the job following an impressive preseason. But after rushing for 50 yards in Week 1, Jones managed just 27 more before leaving Week 4 with an ankle injury that will cost him three-four weeks. Dwayne Washington will likely step into Jones’ spot on the depth chart, but the role was already proving less attractive than in the past. He’s not a priority add, nor is recent signee Devine Ozigbo. Expect Kamara to see all the work he can handle with Jones out of the lineup.

New York Giants
After playing a part-time role in Week 1, Saquon Barkley has played 80+ percent of the snaps in three straight games. His production has gradually increased each week, too, culminating in a huge 126-yard, two-touchdown stat line in Week 4. He’s back. So is Devontae Booker, to a much, much lesser extent. Inactive in Week 3, Booker returned to play Barkley’s caddy last week.

New York Jets
After passing Tevin Coleman on the depth chart in Week 2, rookie Michael Carter finally passed Ty Johnson in snaps last week. It’s yet to translate into a big statistical performance for Carter, but he reached the end zone from two yards out. While the Jets have had one of the least effective running games up to this point, Carter possesses substantial upside. Perhaps the running game will improve as fellow rookie Zach Wilson does the same. In any event, any lead back deserves to be rostered across fantasy leagues.

Philadelphia Eagles
For the second straight week, Eagles lead back Miles Sanders failed to reach double-digit carries. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Philadelphia abandoned the run against Kansas City’s juggernaut offense, but it certainly looks like Sanders’ fantasy value will be game-script dependent. Rookie fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell had the better day, piling up 89 scrimmage yards — including six catches for 58 yards — and a rushing touchdown. If the Eagles’ defense continues to bleed points, it could work to Gainwell’s advantage over Sanders.

Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers’ running game has been predictably anemic behind an overmatched offensive line, ranking last with just 221 rushing yards through four games. And yet rookie Najee Harris has had no problem producing RB1 numbers, currently ranking as the RB7. The reason is volume, particularly in the passing game. Harris’s 34 targets are five more than D’Andre Swift and 12 more than any other running back. With Ben Roethlisberger well past his prime, and little going right offensively other than the short-passing game, expect Harris to keep getting peppered with targets moving forward.

San Francisco 49ers
With Elijah Mitchell (shoulder) sidelined for a second consecutive week, the 49ers again deployed a heavy dose of rookie Trey Sermon and H-Back Kyle Juszczyk. Sermon was fairly productive with his 19 carries, tallying 89 yards, but he was completely uninvolved in the passing game. It was likely enough to ensure Sermon maintains a role once Mitchell returns, which could happen this week. Mitchell is still the favorite to lead the backfield in touches, but we won’t know for sure until we see both backs active in the same game. Another wild card is who will be under center between Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance. Lance could theoretically open up bigger running lanes for the running game, but it’s also possible he holds the offense back if he isn’t quite ready for primetime.

Seattle Seahawks
Chris Carson played less than half of the offensive snaps for a second straight game in Week 4, producing a disappointing 31 scrimmage yards on 14 touches. It’s tough to decipher if Carson has played less due to an injury or simply to rest. He did miss practice on Tuesday with a neck injury, though that could also be a maintenance day since the Seahawks play Thursday night. Regardless, Alex Collins has quickly become an interesting name to consider rostering in fantasy leagues. Collins is unlikely to carve out a large role on a weekly basis, but he’s a capable backup who can produce when Carson is hurt, tired, or simply ineffective.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Giovani Bernard’s absence in Week 4 did not lead to a Ronald Jones resurgence. Instead, it led to a near every-down role for Leonard Fournette, who punished the Patriots to the tune of 138 scrimmage yards. At this point, it sure seems like Bruce Arians trusts Fournette a heck of a lot more than Jones. Perhaps that will change at some point. Until it does, Fournette is a solid RB2, especially while Bernard is out.

Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry already had a pretty good case as the top fantasy running back in fantasy when considering McCaffrey’s injury woes. But Henry has completely lapped the field this season thanks to truly awe-inspiring usage and production. Henry’s 113 rushing attempts are 30 more than any other running back. Furthermore, his value has reached another level due to an increased role in the passing game, as he’s put up at least 19 receiving yards in all four games. At this point, Henry is the top fantasy back even after McCaffrey returns.

Washington Football Team
Little has changed in terms of usage between Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic, but Gibson has had a couple of bumps and bruises that merit watching. He played through a questionable tag due to a shin injury in Week 4 and then took a blow to the ribs during the game. There’s no reason at this point to believe Gibson will miss any time. McKissic might take on a little more work if he sits at any point, but undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson — a bowling ball of a back — would be the bigger benefactor and favorite for early-down work.

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Andrew Seifter is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrew_seifter.

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