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Running Back Roundup: Week 11 (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Andrew Seifter | @andrew_seifter | Featured Writer
Nov 17, 2021
RB Roundup James Conner

James Conner handled a featured role in Arizona’s backfield without Chase Edmonds.

Week 10 was another big one for backup running backs. AJ Dillon, Rhamondre Stevenson, Darrel Williams, D’Ernest Johnson, Mark Ingram, and Matt Breida — yes, Matt Breida — were all among the position’s top-11 fantasy scorers. None (especially Breida) were drafted as fantasy starters.

Let it serve as a reminder that there is no better use for a fantasy bench spot than stashing a high-upside backup running back who is one injury away from immense fantasy value. In my oldest home league, I currently have Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, Jeff Wilson, and Eno Benjamin on my bench along with Elijah Mitchell, Darrel Williams, and Alex Collins, each of whom I stashed before they became starters. I probably won’t drop Williams or Collins if they revert to backup status, either.

This strategy becomes particularly appealing once you’ve made it through the bye weeks, but it is never too early to pick up a potential league winner. With fantasy managers smarter and more informed across the board, it’s harder to find these high-upside lottery tickets floating around the waiver wire. That makes it more of a priority to add them early in the season, as soon as their path to opportunity becomes apparent, and patiently hold onto them while they barely set foot on the field. I’m looking at you, Ronald Jones.

In the end, you may only need one or two to come through to win a championship. It’s much better odds than the actual lottery!

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 predictably dominated the snaps 3-to-1 over Eno Benjamin in the Cardinals’ first full game without Chase Edmonds. The more surprising aspect was that Benjamin, often comped to Duke Johnson, mostly spelled Conner on early rushing downs rather than passing downs. Conner ran 20 pass routes compared to just seven for Benjamin.

Conner has been Arizona’s primary goal-line back all season long, so adding pass-catching work to his portfolio bodes well for RB1 potential going forward. He presents major injury risk, however, so Benjamin should be rostered as insurance in most fantasy leagues.

Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had a game to forget against Dallas, and to make matters worse, Cordarrelle Patterson was limited to just 15 snaps after injuring his ankle. Wayne Gallman surprisingly played more snaps than Mike Davis in Patterson’s absence, possibly due to the lopsided scoreline. Whatever the case may be, neither Gallman nor Davis would be a confident fantasy start if Patterson misses time. Patterson reportedly practiced on Tuesday, so perhaps his injury is not as significant as initially anticipated.

Baltimore Ravens
Devonta Freeman continued to serve as the Ravens’ lead back on Thursday night in Miami, but it didn’t amount to much in a dreadful all-around performance by Baltimore. On Tuesday, the Ravens showed Le’Veon Bell his walking papers, suggesting that Latavius Murray is ready to return. Murray was Baltimore primary back from Weeks 4-6, but he is no lock to regain top duties from Freeman. Expect the two to form a relatively even committee, rendering neither a great fantasy option for a tough matchup this week with Chicago.

Buffalo Bills
The Bills’ backfield has been underwhelming for fantasy managers (what else is new), but the Jets were an obvious get-right matchup. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary each scraped together a decent fantasy performance by finding the end zone.

That’s where the good news ends, though. Neither Moss nor Singletary reached 50 yards from scrimmage, but Matt Breida did — while also scoring two touchdowns. Breida only played eight snaps, but he got the ball on six of them, and they weren’t all after the game turned into a blowout either. If this backfield truly devolves into a three-way timeshare, it will extinguish any remaining hope of reliably using Moss or Singletary in fantasy leagues.

Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey’s snap share slowly ticked upward in Week 10, and his fantasy production grew with it. McCaffrey missed out on three short-yardage scores — two by Cam Newton and one by Chuba Hubbard — but still ended up with 23 touches (including 10 catches) for 161 scrimmage yards.

Newton will surely vulture more scores going forward, but it shouldn’t bother McCaffrey’s fantasy managers too much. No other back can consistently put up the kind of gaudy fantasy numbers McCaffrey can without reaching the end zone.

Cleveland Browns
New England thoroughly dominated Cleveland on Sunday, but one bright spot was D’Ernest Johnson, who posted 157 yards from scrimmage on 27 touches. With Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, and John Kelly all sidelined, Johnson was the only traditional running back who saw the field for Cleveland. He once again proved himself more than capable of carrying the load. Johnson trails only Jonathan Taylor in rushing yards over expected (RYOE) among all NFL RBs. Not bad company.

Chubb (COVID) and Hunt (calf) should both return to the lineup relatively soon, if not this week, so we’ll have to see if Johnson did enough to earn a role going forward. Even if both of Cleveland’s top backs return to action, Johnson will be a high-upside handcuff worth rostering in most fantasy leagues.

Denver Broncos
Javonte Williams played more snaps than Melvin Gordon for just the second time this season, and he also ran more pass routes. That’s not to say there’s been a passing of the torch, though. Williams and Gordon continue to alternate drives, and the committee is divided evenly enough that the edge in snaps can come down to which back is on the field for the team’s lengthier possessions.

Heading into the Broncos’ bye, this backfield is in the same place it’s always been. A Williams takeover does not appear imminent, no matter how hard his fantasy managers may wish for it, and it will likely take an injury for either back to become more than a borderline RB2/3.

Detroit Lions
The thigh injury that sidelined Jamaal Williams for Week 8 was evidently pretty significant because he couldn’t practice coming out of Detroit’s bye week and ultimately missed a second straight game. That allowed rookie Jermar Jefferson to complement lead back D’Andre Swift in Sunday’s contest against Pittsburgh. Jefferson showed a good burst on a 28-yard touchdown scamper early in the second quarter.

However, Jefferson also injured his ankle on the carry, setting the stage for Swift to operate as a true every-down back for the rest of the game. While Swift was uncharacteristically quiet in the passing game — Jared Goff threw for just 114 yards in a tie — he carried the ball a whopping 33 times for 133 yards. With Jefferson looking at a one or two-week absence and Williams’ status still up in the air, perhaps we get to see one more week of Swift carrying the mail before this backfield reverts to the previous arrangement. He certainly proved he’s capable of it.

Green Bay Packers
Slowly but surely, Aaron Jones has ceded more snaps to AJ Dillon. It came to a head on Sunday afternoon when Dillon matched a career-high 21 carries and Jones hobbled off the field with an injured knee. While the initial concern was that Jones’s injury could be severe, it turns out it is only a “mild” MCL sprain expected to cost him one or two weeks.

Dillon oozes RB1 potential for however many games Jones ultimately misses, starting this Sunday in Minnesota. Jones should get the “starting” job back once he returns, but it could be a near-even committee like in Denver. If that’s the case, it will be important to track which RB runs more pass routes. Both will have lots of touchdown upside, but the one catching passes is likely to be the more consistent fantasy performer.

Jacksonville Jaguars
After missing a game with a bruised heel, the Jaguars eased James Robinson back into action in Week 10. He played a season-low 59 percent of the snaps but was still productive, piling up 84 yards and a touchdown on 16 touches against a Colts defense that has been hard on opposing RBs. Look for Robinson’s snap share to jump back into the 80-percent range soon, which would put him squarely back on the RB1 radar.

Kansas City Chiefs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was designated to return from Injured Reserve last week, opening a 21-day window for the Chiefs to activate him. Kansas City ultimately opted to give CEH another week to heal and gave Darrel Williams another opportunity to start. Williams responded with a season-high 144 total yards, 101 of which came as a receiver out of the backfield. His vital role as Patrick Mahomes’s primary check-down option allowed the Chiefs to maintain drives until Mahomes could find passing lanes further downfield for Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Edwards-Helaire has a “pretty good chance” to return to action this week, but his role remains in question. It is no sure thing he plays ahead of Williams. Even if he does, it’s likely to be a more even committee than it was earlier in the season.

Miami Dolphins
There’s no sugar-coating it: watching Myles Gaskin go nowhere the last few weeks has been painful. Over the last three games, Gaskin has 46 carries for just 101 yards. It’s certainly fair to wonder how long the Dolphins’ coaching staff will continue with this failing approach, but if Gaskin ever gets back on track, this would be the week. The Dolphins face the Jets, who give up far and away the most adjusted fantasy points to opposing running backs.

Salvon Ahmed has seen his snap share decrease for four consecutive weeks, and coach Brian Flores said that Malcolm Brown (quad) is not ready to return from IR this week. So maybe this will be Gaskin’s get-right week. His fantasy managers can only hope so.

New England Patriots
Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson both suffered concussions in Week 9. While Stevenson got cleared in time for the Patriots’ Week 10 battle with the Browns, Harris did not. Thrust into lead-back duties, Stevenson responded in a big way, handling the ball 24 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second straight game in which the rookie topped the century mark in yards from scrimmage. While he’s stepped seamlessly into Harris’s between-the-tackles role, Stevenson has also played a more active role in the passing game than Harris had.

Harris returned to practice on Tuesday, indicating a good chance of returning for Thursday night’s game against the Falcons. However, given the short turnaround, don’t assume he will clear the concussion protocol in time. If Harris remains out, Stevenson has legitimate RB1 upside against Atlanta’s leaky defense. Should Harris return, we’ll need to wait and see how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels decide to divvy up backfield duties.

New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara sat out the Saints’ game against Tennessee with a knee injury, which led to Mark Ingram serving as an every-down back in just his third game back with the team. Ingram was in on 85 percent of the snaps, handling the ball 18 times for 108 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. There’s no indication that Kamara’s injury is a long-term concern, but should he miss another game, Ingram will once again be a strong fantasy option against an Eagles defense that has given up the ninth-most adjusted fantasy points to running backs.

New York Giants
The Giants’ Week 10 bye appears to have given Saquon Barkley enough time to finally get fully healthy. Barkley is reportedly “trending well toward” returning for this week’s matchup against the Buccaneers’ stout defensive front. Devontae Booker played very well in Barkley’s absence, so it will be worth watching whether the Giants ease Barkley back into action. While Barkley has typically played 80-90 percent of the snaps, perhaps a slight reduction would help keep him healthy for the stretch run.

New York Jets
Tevin Coleman returned to action last Sunday against the Bills. While he was a distant third in snaps, his presence puts a bit of a dent in the fantasy appeal of Michael Carter and Ty Johnson. The Jets are simply not a potent enough offense to provide a viable fantasy back when divvying up snaps three ways. Carter is the only back who matters outside of deeper PPR leagues, but it would sure be nice to see his 52 percent snap share from last week jump back into the 70-percent range we saw in Weeks 7 and 8.

Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles continued their run-heavy ways against the Broncos in Week 10, and they did so with great success. Both Jordan Howard and Boston Scott rushed for over 80 yards against Denver while averaging at least 6.9 yards per carry. Suddenly, Philadelphia looks like one of the best rushing offenses in the entire NFL.

With Miles Sanders nearing a return, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni recognizes that he will have to make “some tough decisions” about how to handle his backfield. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell seems almost certain to see his playing time vanish, but what kind of rotation will form between Sanders, Howard, and Scott is an open question. We may see a two-man committee featuring Sanders and one of Howard or Scott, but it’s equally possible that Howard and Scott continue to share between-the-tackles duties while Sanders inherits Gainwell’s passing-down snaps.

San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers impressively steamrolled the Rams on Monday night by running the ball down their throats with Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, and even Deebo Samuel. Mitchell remained the main man, carrying the ball 27 times, but Wilson mixed in on 32 percent of the snaps.

News surfaced on Tuesday that Mitchell broke a finger that will be surgically repaired. The 49ers are reportedly optimistic that Mitchell can play through the injury, but consider this one more reason to make sure Wilson is rostered in your fantasy league. Wilson had a couple of massive fantasy performances last season and would have all kinds of upside if Mitchell misses time.

Seattle Seahawks
With Chris Carson still sidelined, Travis Homer played one more snap than Alex Collins in the Seahawks’ dispiriting loss to the Packers. That was primarily a function of game flow, though. Homer played 14 of the team’s 18 offensive snaps in the fourth quarter when they were in their hurry-up offense and attempting to come back from a multi-score deficit. Collins is still the clear lead back in a neutral game script.

Pete Carroll did not strike an optimistic tone while discussing Carson’s status on Monday, but he promised a Wednesday update that should give us a better feel for if and when we might see Carson back this season. The running back’s neck condition is tough to assess; the timelines that apply to more typical injuries do not apply to this one. However, if Carson cannot return this week, he may not return at all this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s been abundantly clear since Week 4 that Leonard Fournette is the featured runner in Tampa Bay, but Ronald Jones was only on the field for a single play in Week 10. Coach Bruce Arians noted that Jones’s lack of playing time was because the Bucs had fewer offensive plays than usual in their surprising loss to Washington, and not by design. In any event, Jones is merely Fournette insurance, but he is valuable insurance nonetheless. He should be rostered in fantasy leagues as one of the highest-upside lottery tickets out there.

Tennessee Titans
I hope you didn’t spend all of your FAAB dollars on Adrian Peterson. While the Titans talked up featuring AP as a workhorse, they gave slightly more snaps and significantly more touches to D’Onta Foreman in their closely-contested victory over the Saints. Neither back ran the ball effectively against New Orleans’ league-leading run defense, but Foreman at least made a couple of big plays as a receiver.

With Jeremy McNichols also mixing in, this has the looks of a messy three-way committee. Foreman is the best bet of the bunch at the moment, but he’s only an RB3/flex option in favorable matchups. This week’s matchup with Houston would qualify.

Washington Football Team
Players are usually optimistic about their injuries, so when Antonio Gibson acknowledged that his shin injury was still limiting him following Washington’s Week 9 bye, it seemed like a reason for concern. Well, so much for that!

Gibson may still be limited physically, but he wasn’t limited at all in terms of his usage last week. He played his highest snap share since Week 1 and handled the ball a season-high 26 times in Washington’s upset victory over Tampa Bay. He only averaged a meager 2.7 yards per carry, which isn’t really surprising against the Bucs, but he scored two touchdowns to ensure a big fantasy day. Better rushing numbers will come against softer defenses, but the heavy usage is incredibly encouraging for Gibson’s RB2 prospects going forward.

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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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