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Running Back Roundup: Week 8 (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Andrew Seifter | @andrew_seifter | Featured Writer
Oct 27, 2021
Rashaad Penny

For some reason, the NFL chose to make us fantasy managers suffer in Week 7. Rather than evenly spreading the bye weeks throughout the season, the league decided to take six teams off the table last week.

That forced fantasy managers to make many difficult lineup decisions, particularly at running back, where players who get double-digit touches don’t exactly grow on trees. Across my leagues, I had to start guys like Devonta Freeman, Myles Gaskin, Damien Williams, and Ty Johnson and hope for the best. I’m reasonably happy with how things turned out, but I can’t say I was confident going in. I’m sure you have similar war stories.

This week will be a welcome reprieve, with only the Ravens and Raiders on bye. So take a deep breath. We got through it.

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
A matchup with Houston had all the makings of a “James Conner game,” but while the game was a blowout and Conner did find the end zone, Chase Edmonds (15) had more carries than Conner (10) for the first time all year. Edmonds also played a season-high 69 percent of the snaps, while Conner played a season-low 30 percent. Edmonds has played more snaps than Conner in the red zone over the last few weeks, although Conner remains the preferred option when the Cardinals run the ball near the goal line.

Edmonds’ edge over Conner in carries and snaps in Week 7 may have been an effort to keep the injury-prone Conner fresh and healthy since the offense didn’t need his services against the Texans. Regardless, both Conner and Edmonds are solid every-week RB3/flex options in the Cardinals’ potent offensive attack.

Atlanta Falcons
After a brief pause for the Falcons’ Week 6 bye, Cordarrelle Patterson SZN continued unabated in Week 7. Patterson’s snap count unsurprisingly spiked in Atlanta’s last game, when both Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage were absent. Still, it’s fantastic news for Patterson managers that his snaps continued to rise with the team’s top two wideouts back in the fold.

After doing a lot with a little in the season’s early weeks, Patterson’s workload has grown tremendously of late. He’s getting more running back work at Mike Davis‘ expense and running more and more routes at wide receiver. You can call Patterson an RB1 or a WR1, but whatever you call him, make sure he’s in your fantasy lineup.

Baltimore Ravens
If anything, the Ravens’ backfield quagmire got even more quagmire-y in Week 7. Latavius Murray missed the game with an ankle injury, leading to an evenly-divided three-person committee of Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell, and Ty’Son Williams. Freeman played the most snaps and reached the end zone, but Bell had the most carries (5), and Williams was the most productive on a per-touch basis (4 touches, 34 yards).

The Ravens are on bye in Week 8, which could give Murray enough time to return for their next game. If so, he’ll have the most RB3/flex appeal of the bunch. Freeman will be the best bet if Murray remains out, albeit a shaky one, while Williams remains little more than an upside stash. Bell looks like he is running in quicksand and is miles away from fantasy relevancy at this point.

Chicago Bears
Last week, Damien Williams returned from the Covid list, but that did nothing to slow Khalil Herbert‘s rookie breakout. The lone bright spot in a dismal day for the Bears and their fans, Herbert dominated the snaps and posted an impressive 18-100 rushing line against the Bucs’ vaunted run defense, adding five catches for 33 yards, too.

At this point, the question isn’t whether Herbert will hold off Williams for lead-back duties; it’s whether Herbert will remain a major factor once David Montgomery returns in a couple of weeks. Matt Nagy has made many head-scratching decisions, but if he’s still the team’s coach when Montgomery is back, it’s hard to believe he’ll phase Herbert out of the game plan.

Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon had a decent enough day (12-59-1) in the Bengals’ statement win over the Ravens, but he was far from a bell-cow back in this one. Samaje Perine returned from the Covid list to nearly match Mixon in snaps and carries, although some of that was undoubtedly due to the lopsided final scoreline. The bigger concern for Mixon is that he wasn’t targeted a single time in the passing game and now has one catch or fewer in five of his seven games this season. Mixon ran more pass routes (16) than Perine (13), but not much.

Mixon will still have plenty of fantasy value as the clear lead back in an explosive offense, but his current usage will cap his upside. Perine now has double-digit carries in his last two games and will belong on fantasy rosters if that usage continues. Still, we’ll have to see how he splits backup duties with rookie Chris Evans, who was limited to Special Teams duties in Week 7 due to a hamstring injury.

Cleveland Browns
With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both sidelined, it was the D’Ernest Johnson show on Thursday night, and he didn’t disappoint. The only actual running back left standing — Demetric Felton is more WR than RB — Johnson rumbled for 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and looked good doing it.

Chubb is expected back for Week 8, but with Hunt on injured reserve for at least two more weeks and likely more, Johnson is suddenly a very viable fantasy option. Both Chubb and Hunt were both producing RB1 value before going down, and while we shouldn’t expect that level of production from Johnson, it stands to reason that he will be on the RB2 radar if he gets Hunt’s usage.

Denver Broncos
While the snaps continue to be divided fairly evenly in the Denver backfield, Melvin Gordon has decidedly come out ahead of Javonte Williams in five of the seven weeks, including each of the last three. It’s hard to argue it’s the wrong move considering Gordon has just about matched Williams in yards per carry and been more productive than the rookie as a pass-catcher. Williams has hardly been disappointing when he’s been on the field, but at this point, it is hard to see how he develops into a 60-70 percent snap share player without Gordon getting hurt. As such, the true Javonte breakout may have to wait until 2022.

Detroit Lions
D’Andre Swift is still splitting carries with Jamaal Williams, but that hardly matters when Swift leads all running backs in targets, catches, and receiving yards by a substantial margin. While Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler are deriving a larger share of their fantasy value on the ground this season than in years past, Swift has emerged as the new version of the Kamara/Ekeler prototype. That’s allowed him to rank ninth in fantasy points per game among running backs in 0.5 PPR formats and fifth in full PPR. In other words, don’t sweat those Jamaal Williams carries!

Houston Texans
The Texans gave David Johnson a season-high 12 touches in his “revenge game” against the Cardinals, but unfortunately, it didn’t amount to much for Johnson or the team. Johnson’s rushing attempts came at the expense of Mark Ingram, who carried the ball just six times after garnering 34 carries over the previous two games. Ingram remains the better fantasy bet as we advance, but that isn’t saying a whole lot.

Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs reached pay dirt against the Eagles in Week 7, but it came at a high cost, as he injured his chest on the play and had to leave the game. Kenyan Drake stepped in for Jacobs in the second half and ended up having a pretty productive day, turning 17 touches into 79 yards and a score.

Thankfully, Jacobs has reportedly avoided a serious injury, and with the Raiders on bye this week, he may not have to miss any additional time. However, should the injury linger, it is hard to say whether Drake or Peyton Barber would serve as the team’s lead back. Barber, a healthy scratch last week, dominated the backfield the last time Jacobs was out, but that was under former head coach Jon Gruden’s watch. Barber will undoubtedly be active if Jacobs is out, but it’s possible interim head coach Rich Bisaccia prefers Drake over Barber in the lead role.

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins’ backfield has been a fantasy headache all year, but things may be clearing up a bit. Malcolm Brown, who has played a sizable role in the team’s three-person backfield committee, suffered a quad injury in Week 7 that will send him to injured reserve. That leaves only Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed to share touches unless Patrick Laird, Gerrid Doaks, or new signee Duke Johnson work their way into the rotation. Of course, that possibility shouldn’t be discounted entirely, considering how maddeningly unpredictable Miami’s backfield rotation has been all year. Still, for now, at least, Gaskin’s arrow is pointing up as a viable low-end RB2.

New England Patriots
The only thing we can count on from week to week in New England is that Damien Harris will handle the lion’s share of the early-down work. He’s produced low-end RB2 value in that role, and it should continue going forward.

Beyond Harris, the situation has been volatile, to put it mildly. The James White role in this offense has value, but it’s been tough to nail down who has it. After Week 6, it appeared to be rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, but Stevenson was surprisingly inactive for Week 7. Instead, Brandon Bolden, White’s initial replacement back in Week 4, stepped in for Stevenson and caught six balls for 79 yards and a score. With the Patriots blowing the Jets out of the water, fellow rookie J.J. Taylor also got in on the act with two rushing scores, but Taylor’s role may be limited in closer contests. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and running backs coach Ivan Fears both suggested that while Harris and Bolden are locked into game-day roles, it will be a weekly decision whether Taylor or Stevenson is the team’s third active back.

New Orleans Saints
With the possible exception of the Titans, no offense in the NFL is more dependent on a running back than the Saints are on Alvin Kamara. Kamara carried the ball 20 times on Monday for the fourth time in six games and is currently on pace to obliterate his career-high of 194 rushing attempts, set back in 2018. While Kamara is more-than-capable of running between the tackles, the place he excels is in the passing game, as demonstrated by his ten catches for 128 yards and a TD against Seattle.

Perhaps New Orleans will ease Kamara’s rushing workload a bit if Tony Jones can return from injured reserve in the next few weeks. That could help keep their star back healthy and effective all season. Devine Ozigbo is the only other early-down back on the active roster for the time being.

New York Giants
Devontae Booker has handled the ball at least 16 times in each of the three games since Saquon Barkley sprained his ankle, providing fair fantasy value based on volume alone. He’s scored three touchdowns over that time but averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Saquon Barkley is reportedly one more week away from returning to action, although there is an “outside chance” he can return this week. If he can participate in practice in some capacity on Wednesday, it will be a promising sign.

New York Jets
The Jets’ backfield is a lot simpler when Tevin Coleman is inactive, as was the case on Sunday due to a sore hamstring. Ty Johnson exited the contest with a possible concussion, paving the way for rookie Michael Carter to post season-highs in snaps, routes run, targets, and catches. Carter (8 catches, 67 yards) and Johnson (6 catches, 65 yards) were highly active as receivers out of the backfield in the blowout loss to the Patriots, particularly after Zach Wilson was injured and replaced by Mike White.

With White set to start for the next 2-4 weeks, Carter and Johnson could have elevated floors, particularly in PPR leagues. The real key, however, will be if Carter begins to run away with the lead-back role. That’s the only way he’ll become a genuinely desirable fantasy asset on a team like the Jets. New York is the lowest-scoring team in the league, and it’s not going to get better with White under center.

Philadelphia Eagles
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni pledged to lead into Week 7 that the team would get the ball to Miles Sanders more, and that is precisely what was happening until Sanders rolled his ankle on his seventh touch of the game. Now Sanders is “week to week,” and Sirianni has already all but ruled him out for Week 8.

Following Sanders’ departure, rookie Kenneth Gainwell led the backfield in snaps, with Boston Scott also mixing in. In the future, Eagles beat writers expect Jordan Howard to join the party on early downs while Sanders is sidelined. Gainwell is the most viable fantasy option since he should remain the primary pass-catcher while also taking on some more rushing responsibilities. Scott is worth a pickup to see what transpires, but if he and Howard split early-down work fairly evenly, neither is likely to be of much use in fantasy leagues. Remember, the Eagles rank dead last in rushing attempts by running backs this season.

San Francisco 49ers
It became abundantly clear in Week 5 that Elijah Mitchell was the main man in Kyle Shanahan’s backfield, and we got further confirmation of that on Sunday night. He’ll be an every-week RB2 on a team that churns out rushing production each year. The big shift that did occur on Sunday was that JaMycal Hasty returned from a four-game absence to take on the team’s passing-down role. Hasty is a decent stash since he’s probably next in line if Mitchell should suffer another injury. His snaps mostly came at the expense of H-back Kyle Juszczyk, while Trey Sermon did not play a single offensive snap.

Seattle Seahawks
Rashaad Penny returned from injured reserve on Monday night and surprisingly out-snapped Alex Collins in the contest’s first half. Neither back could get much going against the Saints’ stout defensive front, but Collins was marginally better and ended up playing two more snaps than Penny by the time the game was over. That kind of even split could kill both backs’ fantasy appeal since the Seahawks are not precisely a potent offense under Geno Smith.

However, Collins managers can take a little solace in the fact that he was the lead back in the second half — and looked to be the better back of the two. Chris Carson (neck) remains without a timetable, and Seattle is typically a team that can effectively run the ball, so it’s too soon to give up on Collins as a fantasy option.

Tennessee Titans
It doesn’t seem to much matter who is playing the odd passing down behind Derrick Henry, but if you’re in a deep enough league to care about such things, take note: Darrynton Evans returned from the injured list in Week 7 and ran three pass routes while Jeremy McNichols ran six. The main takeaway is that Henry is catching a couple passes just about every week, after rarely being utilized in the passing game in past years. Stud.

Washington Football Team
The saga of Antonio Gibson‘s sore shin rages on. Gibson acknowledged a couple of weeks ago that he had a stress fracture in the shin, but a report that surfaced before Sunday’s game seemed to indicate the fracture has since healed and that he’s now merely dealing with a bone bruise in the same area. Adding to the mystery, Gibson underwent an MRI, but the results were never publicly revealed.

Whatever the case may be, Gibson has now played fewer snaps than J.D. McKissic in back-to-back weeks. Perhaps that’s because both games were blowout losses, but that may be a common occurrence for a team with a leaky defense and turnover-prone quarterback. Coach Ron Rivera said that Gibson came out of the most recent game no worse for wear, but at the same time, the Football Team continues to work out more running backs that they could potentially bring into the fold.

Despite the injury, Gibson continues to handle most of the team’s rushing attempts, while McKissic serves as the passing down back. Gibson is a risky fantasy start based on his recent usage, but we’ll know more once we see how he’s deployed in a game where Washington plays with a lead. This week’s matchup with Denver could present such an opportunity.

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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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