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Running Back Roundup: Week 6 (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Andrew Seifter | @andrew_seifter | Featured Writer
Oct 13, 2021

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It was an injury-plagued week at the running back position. This time, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Saquon Barkley (again) went down. The consensus top-two backs heading into the season, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook, sat out once more, as did Chris Carson. Meanwhile, Joe Mixon, Darrell Henderson, and Antonio Gibson each played at less than 100 percent health — and gave their fantasy managers some indigestion in the process.

In other words, it was just another week for running backs! We’ll cover all those injuries, plus the latest depth chart shifts, trade rumors, coachspeak, and general run-of-the-mill chaos.

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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Atlanta Falcons
With Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage out of action, Cordarrelle Patterson finally surpassed 50 percent of the snaps in London. His 14 carries were twice as many as he had in any previous game, and he was once again productive as a receiver, hauling in seven balls for 60 yards. Mike Davis (13-53-1) was OK, too, but perhaps Patterson’s increased rushing involvement will ensure his snap count stays up when Ridley and Gage return. Patterson’s play could force the Falcons to expand whatever role they envisioned for him heading into the season.

Baltimore Ravens
After Le’Veon Bell got his first action of the season in Week 4, the Ravens opted to leave him on the practice squad in Week 5 so Ty’Son Williams could return to the active roster. It didn’t matter much, as neither back earned many snaps or touches behind lead back Latavius Murray. Even Murray had a forgettable performance on Monday night, as Baltimore continued to evolve into a pass-happy offense with Lamar Jackson’s confidence as a passer growing. Murray is the only Ravens RB worth considering right now, and even he is more of a touchdown-dependent RB3 than an RB2. In terms of Williams and Bell, their best bet at fantasy relevancy may be a trade, as unlikely as that may seem.

Buffalo Bills
Devin Singletary began the season as a near-every-down back while Zack Moss was inactive, but the Bills’ backfield has shifted in Moss’s direction more each week. In Week 5, Moss out-snapped Singletary 3-to-1. Singletary’s fumbling issues may be partly to blame, but it’s also fair to say Moss is simply the superior player and more deserving of lead-back duties. Moss is always Buffalo’s preferred option in the red zone, as he now has 11 of the team’s last 15 red-zone handoffs. His growing pass-catching role — he has 30+ receiving yards in two of the last three games — could vault Moss into high-end RB2 territory in one of the league’s best offenses.

Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey practiced last week but didn’t play, opening the door for rookie Chuba Hubbard (29 touches, 134 scrimmage yards) to get the bell-cow usage fantasy managers hoped for when burning their FAAB on him. McCaffrey seems more likely than not to return in Week 6, but given his injury history, Hubbard is worth holding onto whether you roster McCaffrey or not.

Chicago Bears
With David Montgomery sidelined for four-five weeks, Damien Williams was a waiver wire darling. He didn’t exactly disappoint in the Bears’ first game without Montgomery, turning 18 touches into 84 yards and a touchdown. But Williams was hardly a bell cow. Instead, rookie Khalil Herbert played three more snaps than Williams and turned his 18 touches into 75 yards. The two backs also split red-zone opportunities down the middle. Williams remains the slightly better fantasy option thanks to his role in the passing game (three targets compared to none for Herbert), but it is much closer than Williams’s managers wanted to see. For now, consider Williams a low-end RB2 and Herbert a high-to-mid-range RB3.

Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon played through an ankle injury in Week 5, but he was clearly limited and only on the field for 28 percent of the snaps. Thankfully, he found the end zone to satisfy his fantasy managers anyway. It would make sense for the Bengals to keep leaning on Samaje Perine while Mixon heals, but Perine struggled badly in pass protection and now finds himself on the Covid list. The Bengals have yet to show much trust in rookie Chris Evans, so Mixon may need to go back to shouldering heavy workloads before he’s fully healthy.

Jacksonville Jaguars
James Robinson had yet another huge game on Sunday, rushing 18 times for 149 yards and a touchdown. But after nearly playing every snap with Carlos Hyde sidelined in Week 4, Robinson’s snap count dropped to 68 percent with Hyde back in the fold. Most egregiously, the Jags opted to give the ball to Hyde rather than Robinson in a crucial fourth-and-goal situation. He was predictably stuffed, killing any chance Jacksonville had to win. Perhaps that will be the wake-up call Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell need to finally lean more on Robinson, but I wouldn’t count on it. It’s likely the difference between Robinson being an RB2 and an RB1.

Kansas City Chiefs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire suffered a sprained MCL against the Bills on Sunday night and will miss at least three weeks after landing on short-term injured reserve. Considering how bad the injury looked at the time, this actually constitutes good news. Darrel Williams steps into lead-back duties in his place, with Jerick McKinnon also likely to see an uptick in playing time. With an enticing stretch of soft run defenses ahead (@WAS, @TEN, NYG, GB, @LV), Williams looks the part of a plug-and-play RB2. Aside from McKinnon, the only variable standing in his way is a potential trade for the Colts’ Marlon Mack, who is a worthwhile stash while we wait to see how things play out in Kansas City.

Los Angeles Chargers
The Austin Ekeler RB1 show continues unabated in LA, but there was a change in his understudy last week. While Justin Jackson and Larry Rountree each had a turn as the second back behind Ekeler, neither played a single snap in Week 5. Instead, forgotten man Joshua Kelley logged 35 percent of the snaps. The Chargers’ backfield is too muddled to make any of Ekeler’s backups a priority stash, but Kelley suddenly looks positioned to be the biggest beneficiary if Ekeler misses time.

Los Angeles Rams
Whenever healthy, Darrell Henderson has dominated snaps in the Rams’ backfield and been highly productive in the process. That was true once again in Week 5, until he departed the game with a shoulder injury. As was the case when Henderson sat out Week 3, Sony Michel got a ton of run with Henderson sidelined. Henderson handled most of the work once he returned to the game, but according to The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, Rams coach Sean McVay “indicated that Thursday’s performance between the two backs – Henderson the gorgeous-cut, elusive/explosive player, and Michel the powerful, steady complement – was reflective of a longer-term plan for the two (depending, of course, on the matchup and situation).” We’ll soon find out if this is more of a committee than it was before Henderson got hurt.

Miami Dolphins
Myles Gaskin lives! After playing a season-low 23 percent of the snaps in Week 4, Gaskin played a healthy 69 percent of the snaps in Week 5 and responded with 15 touches (five carries, 10 catches) for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Hopefully you took my advice and scooped him up off waivers if he was dropped in your league. It’s obviously not sustainable for a running back to catch 10 passes every week, but Gaskin’s passing-game role was a big part of his fantasy appeal last year, too. The plain truth remains that he is easily the Dolphins’ most talented running back. While his weekly performances may fluctuate more than running backs who regularly get 15-20 carries, the upside in his “boom” weeks should be enough to produce RB2 value.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings wisely gave Dalvin Cook a week off to rest his ailing ankle. Alexander Mattison stepped in and predictably delivered a huge stat line against Detroit, handling the ball 32 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. It’s clear at this point that Mattison is one, of if not the best handcuff in all of fantasy football. The Vikings have a bye coming up in Week 7, so it’s possible we see yet another RB1 week out of Mattison before Cook returns to action.

New England Patriots
After fumbling in Week 4, J.J. Taylor replaced Rhamondre Stevenson in Bill Belichick’s doghouse, opening the door for Stevenson to be back on the gameday roster for the first time since Week 1.  That proved significant when lead back Damien Harris suffered chest and rib injuries in the Patriots’ Week 5 contest with Houston. Harris reportedly avoided any serious injuries and is considered day-to-day. Still, Stevenson has become an interesting player to stash, considering he has the size and strength to eat into Harris’s early-down role and the pass-catching chops to challenge Brandon Bolden for the so-called James White role.

New York Giants
Rostering Saquon Barkley in fantasy leagues is a roller coaster ride. He has all the talent in the world, but he always seems held back by something, whether it’s team context or injury. The injury bug struck him again in Week 5.  Considering how bad the injury looked at first glance, reports that he is “week-to-week” are somewhat reassuring. For however long Barkley is sidelined, the Giants will turn to Devontae Booker, who posted 58 yards and two scores in relief of Barkley last week. With only Gary Brightwell and Eli Penny as competition for touches, Booker should have some short-term RB2 appeal. However, his next two matchups (LAR, CAR) aren’t great.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris delivered his best performance of the season on Sunday (142 yards, one TD), before exiting the game with cramps. The cramps are “no big deal,” according to coach Mike Tomlin, but they gave us a glimpse into what might happen if Harris suffered a more significant malady. Benny Snell handled 13 snaps in the contest, while Kalen Ballage was in for 10 snaps. The two would likely form some kind of committee if Harris were out, at least if it happened before Anthony McFarland returns.

San Francisco 49ers
Elijah Mitchell returned from a two-game absence on Sunday. While his stats were unremarkable, he put the notion of a committee to rest by out-snapping Trey Sermon 44-to-2. That’s not to say the 49ers utilized Mitchell as a true every-down back — Kyle Juszczyk was the only player in the backfield for some passing plays — but Mitchell saw more than enough action to merit RB2 consideration moving forward. He possesses some of the same traits as Raheem Mostert, particularly the speed element, and should eventually provide the numbers that fantasy managers hoped to receive from Mostert.

Seattle Seahawks
Chris Carson missed last Thursday’s game with what the team termed a “long-term” neck injury that has bothered him since Week 1, if not earlier. Pete Carroll noted that Carson took a “big turn” in his recovery over the weekend, but the notoriously optimistic coach was not ready to commit to Carson returning in Week 6. It’s also possible Carson returns to a diminished workload.

Should Carson miss more time, Alex Collins will continue to be a plug-and-play option. Collins played 71 percent of the snaps in Week 5, including in many obvious passing situations. Russell Wilson’s injury saps some upside of whoever starts for Seattle, but it’s still worth investing in this situation.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
Giovani Bernard returned to action in Week 5, but it didn’t put much of a dent in Leonard Fournette’s fantasy value. Fournette posted 110 scrimmage yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins and is locked in as an every-week RB2 until Bruce Arians decides to hurt us again. Bernard also found the end zone, but he isn’t getting consistent enough touches to merit fantasy consideration, even in PPR formats. Meanwhile, Ronald Jones is deeply buried on the bench and may need a Fournette injury to escape Arians’ doghouse.

Washington Football Team
Antonio Gibson revealed before Sunday’s game that he is playing through a stress fracture in his shin, leading fantasy managers like yours truly to rush out and add Jaret Patterson. Perhaps it sounded worse than it actually is, though, because Gibson proceeded to go out and handle the ball 22 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Clearly, the team is not babying him! Gibson’s injury may not improve all season, so Patterson and J.D. McKissic are still reasonable players to stash. But for now, it sure seems like Gibson will be OK playing through his shin injury.

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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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