Running Back Roundup: Week 13 (2021 Fantasy Football)
Each week, there are usually a handful of teams that I don’t include in the Running Back Roundup because there isn’t much new to report or analyze about them. Of course, I’ll inevitably get a question of Twitter saying I forgot to mention such-and-such team, but I don’t mind! It’s often an opportunity to interact with a new follower.
This week, though, I am giving you the whole enchilada. All 32 teams. Why? Well, one reason is that I didn’t write the column last week for the Thanksgiving holiday, so I am making up for the lost time. Another reason: this last week was a monumental one at the running back position. Between injuries, returns from injury, breakouts, hot streaks, cold streaks, and depth chart shakeups, something is interesting to say for (just about) every team.
Even so, I am going to keep my usual note in italics in here for posterity. You know, the one where I mention — in bold — that not every backfield will get mentioned every week 🙂
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.
James Conner continued to get an RB1 workload and provide RB1 production before the Cardinals’ Week 12 bye and should remain a borderline top-12 option from now on — at least until Chase Edmonds returns. Edmonds (ankle) must stay on Injured Reserve for at least one more week. Eno Benjamin will remain Conner’s handcuff in the meantime, but he is not a must-roster player given the likelihood that Edmonds returns in a week or two.
Cordarrelle Patterson only ended up missing one game with the ankle sprain he suffered in Week 10. He returned in Week 12 against Jacksonville, and while his snap share was down, his production wasn’t. Patterson posted season-highs in carries (16), rushing yards (108), and rushing touchdowns (2). So it’s safe to say he’s right back in RB1 territory.
Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison, and Wayne Gallman have all seen snaps behind Patterson at various points, but none is worth rostering in fantasy leagues. They would likely form an extremely uninspiring committee if Patterson were to suffer another injury.
It’s been two games since Latavius Murray returned to action, and Devonta Freeman has remained the Ravens’ lead back for both of them. Pre-season injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards sapped all the fantasy juice from this backfield, but Freeman is at least a steady RB3 in the future. Murray is his primary handcuff, but a long list of backup running backs would rate as better stashes.
The Bills decided around Week 11 that they were tired of Zack Moss and began giving his snaps to Matt Breida. By Week 12, Moss was a healthy scratch, making him an apparent drop in fantasy leagues of all shapes and sizes. Breida was the subject of some media hype before last Sunday’s contest, but he ended up playing well behind Devin Singletary in a game the Bills won comfortably. So much for the notion that the Bills primarily view Singletary as a “passing down back.” It’s OK to stash Breida as we see how this backfield continues to evolve, but if I am forced to play one Bills running back in fantasy, the best option at the moment has to be Singletary.
It’s the same old story with Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers, and it’s not one any of his fantasy managers want to hear. CMC rolled his ankle in just his fourth game back from an extended absence, and while the team indicated that he could return to the game — he did, for one snap — he was ultimately shut down. Initial reports after the game also turned out to be overly optimistic, as unfortunate MRI results on Monday led to McCaffrey returning to Injured Reserve, ending his season.
McCaffrey’s latest injury should re-open the door for rookie Chuba Hubbard to serve as Carolina’s primary tailback. Still, he is unlikely to see quite the bell cow workloads he did when McCaffrey was out earlier in the season. That’s because the Panthers acquired Ameer Abdullah at mid-season and have steadily been incorporating him into the offense ever since. Hubbard is still the best bet to lead the team in carries, but it could be Abdullah who puts up the bigger fantasy numbers in games where the Panthers are forced to play from behind and go hurry-up. As such, Hubbard has appealing RB2 potential for the Panthers’ matchup with Atlanta after their bye, but Abdullah could end up being the better option against Buffalo and Tampa the following two weeks.
David Montgomery has dominated the snaps in all three games since he returned from injury, with Khalil Herbert playing only a small backup role. It hasn’t translated to big fantasy production from Montgomery yet, and he may not against tough Arizona and Green Bay defenses the next two weeks. It could be a different story for the fantasy playoffs, though. The Bears face the Vikings, Seahawks, and Giants in Weeks 15-17, all plus matchups for running backs. There’s still time for Montgomery to be a league-winner like he was last year, and that favorable schedule is a good reason to stash Herbert, too.
Joe Mixon is on an insane tear right now. He’s scored multiple touchdowns in four straight games and rushed for at least 123 yards in back-to-back contests. He now trails only Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler in fantasy points in 0.5 PPR formats. If you want to pick nits, it’s that he hasn’t done anything in the passing game the last couple of weeks, but that’s just because he is carrying the ball 28-30 times as the Bengals have gone decidedly run-heavy. He had several nice receiving games earlier in the year, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Evans continue to be sprinkled in here and there, Mixon looks the part of a true workhorse down the stretch.
The Browns finally had their 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt back together for the first time since Week 5, but the results against Baltimore were disappointing. The two backs combined for just 15 carries, as Kevin Stefanski opted to have a banged-up Baker Mayfield instead take to the air 37 times. Shockingly, it didn’t work.
The Ravens are one of the league’s best run defenses, and they regularly stacked the box against a Browns offense that sorely lacks big playmakers in the passing game. That could continue to be an issue for Cleveland as we advance, but this team still needs to get back to its running ways — starting with a rematch with Baltimore following a Week 13 bye. It’s too soon to panic if you have Chubb or Hunt on your roster.
Reports on the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott have been all over the place during the last week. Before last week’s game, Zeke acknowledged that he’s been playing through a sore knee, which could help explain why he’s failed to top 51 rushing yards in any game since the Cowboys’ Week 7 bye. Following his latest unimpressive showing on Thanksgiving, reports surfaced that the team could “alter” Elliott’s touch totals or even sit him for a few games, so he has “time to heal.” However, Elliott practiced fully on Monday, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the team expects him to handle a “serious load” on Thursday night against the Saints.
For now, it appears we can expect Zeke to continue to play roughly two-thirds of the snaps while handling 10-15 carries and remaining active in the passing game. That’s been enough to produce mid-range RB2 value even with the diminished rushing production. Meanwhile, Tony Pollard remains one of the premier handcuffs in fantasy football and a reasonable RB3/flex option, especially in favorable matchups. If Zeke’s injury eventually catches up with him, Pollard could quickly vault into RB1 territory.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that the snap share in Denver is ever-so-slightly shifting towards rookie Javonte Williams. Melvin Gordon, who is almost certainly in his final year with the Broncos, is still playing plenty of snaps, but this now looks like a roughly 58-42 split in Williams’s favor after the reverse was true earlier in the season.
The touch split hasn’t broken towards Williams quite as decisively, but perhaps it will by season’s end. He is still unlikely to get enough volume to be more than a mid-to-low end RB2, barring a Gordon injury, but that’ll work decently enough for fantasy purposes. Williams has proven he can do a lot with a little, and his keeper/dynasty arrow is pointing up.
D’Andre Swift‘s quest for an RB1 season was temporarily derailed on Thanksgiving when he suffered a shoulder sprain that forced him out of the game after collecting just nine yards from scrimmage. Speaking Monday, Dan Campbell did not sound like a coach who expected to have his star back in time for this week’s game. That would leave lead back duties to Jamaal Williams, who dominated the backfield snaps after Swift departed. It takes a special talent like Swift to produce RB1 value in this offense. Still, Williams should at least be a volume-based RB2 for however long Swift is sidelined, with Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike picking up any snaps Williams doesn’t take.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones missed only one game with the “mild” MCL sprain he suffered in Week 10, and it can be considered a good sign for his health that the Packers were willing to bring him back with their Week 13 bye just around the corner. He should be at or near 100 percent following the bye, but that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily re-inherit the sizable workloads he had before the injury.
AJ Dillon‘s role was beginning to grow even before Jones went down, and while Dillon didn’t exactly light the world on fire while Jones was out, his skill set provides a logical complement to what Jones can do. While this backfield was roughly a 70-30 split in Jones’s favor to begin the year, we should expect it to be close to a 50-50 split to end it, barring any more injuries. The more valuable fantasy back will likely be the one who gets more passing down and goal line work. That’s been Jones most of the year, but that was before Dillon scored two rushing TDs in Week 10 and then caught 11 passes between Weeks 11 and 12.
The Texans’ backfield will never be a fantasy goldmine, but at least it’s become less cluttered. After shipping off Mark Ingram at the trade deadline, Houston also parted ways with Phillip Lindsay last week. So what remains is a two-man backfield of David Johnson and Rex Burkhead. DJ appeared to get banged up during last week’s game, which could open up even more work for Burkhead, who’s already carried the ball 30 times over the previous two weeks (for only 67 yards). It’s hard to recommend starting a Houston RB against the fairly stout Colts D this week, but Burkhead would at least merit some low-end RB2 consideration if Johnson were to miss the game.
Jonathan Taylor faced off with the Bucs’ stout defensive front last week, and even though he got less rushing work than usual, he still managed to finish as a top-12 RB for the week. That is his floor right now. This week against Houston, perhaps we see another ceiling game.
The Jaguars’ offense is disgusting right now, but James Robinson keeps chugging along and providing mid-to-high-end RB2 value. On a better team, he’d be an RB1, but Urban Meyer insists on getting Carlos Hyde on the field for 30+ percent of the snaps each week.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs immediately went back to Clyde Edwards-Helaire as their primary rusher in his first game back from IR, and that should continue coming out of the team’s Week 12 bye. However, Darrel Williams played more snaps than CEH, and Williams is likely to remain Kansas City’s preferred option in obvious passing situations. As long as both are healthy, Edwards-Helaire likely tops out as a mid-range RB2, while Williams is a solid handcuff with a bit of RB3/flex appeal.
Las Vegas Raiders
It looked for a while like the Raiders were trending more towards an even committee between Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake, but in recent weeks the backfield has solidly shifted back towards Jacobs. Jacobs is playing roughly two-thirds of the snaps, as he was before Jon Gruden was dismissed, and he’s playing an increasingly significant role in the passing game, adding 20-30 receiving yards to his fantasy line each week. As the Raiders’ clear lead back, top receiving back, and main goal line back, Jacobs’s RB2 credentials are rock solid at this point. Any RB3/flex appeal that Drake may have had has dried up, but he is still worth rostering as a lottery ticket stash.
Los Angeles Chargers
Second to only Cordarrelle Patterson in receiving yardage among running backs and first among RBs in receiving TDs, Austin Ekeler is a fantasy cheat code. He trails only Jonathan Taylor in fantasy points among RBs in 0.5 PPR formats, demonstrating both an exceptionally high floor and ceiling.
If you’re looking to handcuff Ekeler for the fantasy playoffs, don’t bother. Larry Rountree, Joshua Kelley, and Justin Jackson have played the role of Ekeler’s caddy at times this season, and in Week 12, Darius Bradwell got an audition, too. None of these guys are going to play 70+ percent of the snaps if Ekeler goes down, let alone provide anything close to Ekeler’s level of production.
Los Angeles Rams
Darrell Henderson‘s fantasy production has tailed off a little bit over the last month, but he’s still returning solid RB2 value. Of greater concern is the quad strain he picked up in last week’s game. The injury doesn’t sound overly serious, but Henderson is a player who is frequently dealing with bumps and bruises. The Rams will be monitoring Henderson throughout the week, and fantasy managers should be, too.
Should Henderson miss any time, Sony Michel would step right into his nearly-every down role. Rams coach Sean McVay heavily relies on his starters, and that is as true at running back as it is at receiver and tight end. Los Angeles has remarkably devoted a total of only 14 offensive snaps to running backs other than Henderson and Michel — and none since way back in Week 3.
Myles Gaskin‘s streak of alternating good and bad fantasy performances finally ended in Week 12, as he posted his second very good fantasy line in a row, thanks to two rushing scores. However, his rushing efficiency remained poor (3.1 yards per carry), and he played just 50 percent of the snaps — his lowest share since Week 6.
It appears that Gaskin will now have to fend off newcomer Phillip Lindsay, in addition to holdovers Salvon Ahmed and third-down back Patrick Laird. That’s a troubling development for Gaskin managers just one week after Ahmed was inactive and Lindsay was a Texan. The Dolphins are ahead of only the aforementioned Texans in rushing this season, so it’ll be tough to squeeze fantasy value out of Gaskin if the backfield snaps continue to be split three or even four ways. That’s particularly true if Miami is not going to play to Gaskin’s strength as a pass-catcher, which they haven’t done much at all outside of his 10-catch explosion in Week 5 against Tampa.
Dalvin Cook tore his labrum and dislocated his shoulder in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, injuries that will cost him at least two games — if not more. Alexander Mattison was already worth rostering before Cook went down and now becomes an absolute must-add, the kind of player you spend all of your remaining FAAB or your number one waiver priority on. He posted two 100-yard rushing games when Cook missed time earlier in the season and will likely be a top-5 fantasy RB for a delicious matchup with Detroit this week.
New England Patriots
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been wary about whether the Patriots would pick a lead back and stick with him. While Damien Harris looked like the guy for a while, this situation has reverted to its natural state: an unpredictable mess.
With rookie Rhamondre Stevenson emerging during Harris’s one-game absence, and veteran Brandon Bolden providing a steady hand in pass protection, we now have a full-blown, three-way committee on our hands. All three backs played between 32 and 37 percent of the snaps in Week 12, and that may be the status quo from now on. The Patriots have a strong running game this year, meaning either Harris or Stevenson would be a powerful fantasy option if the other were absent. For now, though, they are both tough to trust as anything more than borderline RB2/3s.
New Orleans Saints
With their season quickly slipping away from them, the Saints are a team in flux. They never stood a chance against the Bills on Thanksgiving with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram out, but both backs are trending towards a return for this Thursday’s matchup with Dallas. Ingram is fully expected to return, while Kamara’s status is a little less certain. He may play limited snaps if active, which would significantly boost Ingram’s flex appeal.
The Saints also appear to be set to turn to Taysom Hill at quarterback finally. Hill’s rushing prowess should help open up rushing lanes for the team’s running backs, but it could also hurt Kamara’s pass-catching production to some extent. If Hill can get the offense going, it should still be a net positive for Kamara.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley only put up 53 scrimmage yards in Week 12, but he was back to the bell cow usage he had to begin the year, topping 80 percent of the snaps for the first time since Week 4. Whether he can deliver big fantasy stats is another question. An injury-prone back averaging just 3.6 yards per carry in a dismal offense, Barkley is still generally overrated in fantasy circles. He’s best viewed as a high-end RB2 rather than an RB1. His backup, Devontae Booker, played surprisingly well in Barkley’s absence and should remain rostered given Barkley’s injury history.
New York Jets
With the rookie lead back Michael Carter landing on injured reserve due to a high-ankle sprain, fantasy managers’ question was whether the Jets three-man committee would become a two-man committee of Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson, or whether La’Mical Perine would enter the mix. It turns out the actual answer was neither. Instead, it was little-known second-year back Austin Walter who worked his way into the committee and picked up a rushing touchdown in the process. Surprise!
It’s not worth going after Walter in fantasy leagues, but his emergence does throw cold water on the idea that Coleman or Johnson could be a reliable RB2 while Carter is out. Coleman did get 18 touches against the Texans last week, but he only played 45 percent of the snaps. He’s the best bet of the bunch at the moment but is still hard to trust with the erratic Zach Wilson back under center.
The Eagles continued their running ways last week, even in a losing effort against the upset-minded Giants. Miles Sanders and Boston Scott formed a two-headed committee in the first half, but Scott served as the primary back after Sanders tweaked his ankle early in the third quarter. Both backs ran effectively, but Scott was able to cash in a short rushing TD.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni expressed optimism on Monday that B.T. Sanders and Jordan Howard could return to action this week, raising the question of which back will be the odd man out. Philadelphia is running the ball well enough right now to support two viable fantasy backs, but not three. We’ve yet to see a game where Sanders, Howard, and Scott were all active and able to make it through the entire game unscathed, so unless we get some intel from Sirianni during the week, this backfield pecking order is going to be a bit of a guessing game heading into Week 14.
Up to this point, Najee Harris‘s rookie season has pretty much gone as expected. He’s struggled to find running lanes behind Pittsburgh’s subpar offensive line and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, but been an RB1 anyway, thanks to a ton of volume, particularly in the passing game. His production has taken a real downturn over the last couple of weeks, however, raising concerns he could be hitting the so-called “rookie wall.”
One obvious problem is that the injury-riddled Steelers defense has been getting torched, creating negative game scripts that have dramatically reduced Harris’s rushing workload. The other concern, of course, is Ben Roethlisberger‘s declining performance, which has lowered the scoring upside of the entire offense. Ultimately, there is little reason to believe that Harris’s situation has significantly worsened since the beginning of the year, so I would expect him to get back on track shortly.
San Francisco 49ers
Elijah Mitchell ended up missing the 49ers’ Week 11 contest with a broken finger, but Jeff Wilson did not do a whole lot in his place. In Week 12, Mitchell emphatically regained the starting job, handling the ball 32 times for 168 scrimmage yards and a touchdown.
Mitchell’s backfield partner in that contest was less Wilson than wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who made huge plays in the running game in each of the last three games but is now expected to miss a week or two with a groin strain. That should ensure that San Francisco continues to lean very heavily on Mitchell, who is trending towards RB1 status down the stretch.
The Seahawks’ entire offense is a mess right now, and their running game has been a mess for even longer. The team got some decent production out of Chris Carson over the first month, but it’s been an extremely rough go ever since Carson has been out.
Alex Collins, who has served as Carson’s de facto replacement, has only broken 50 yards rushing once all year and hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 6. Since Russell Wilson returned in Week 10, passing down backs, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have each had a game where they out-snapped Collins, but neither of them has done anything for fantasy purposes, either. This entire backfield is beginning to look like a lost cause, at least until Wilson can get the offense turned around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On Sunday, Leonard put the “Four” in Fournette, galloping across the goal line three times by land and once by air. He even left a touchdown for Ronald Jones. All in all, it was an awe-inspiring performance against a sturdy Colts defensive front.
After this week’s juicy matchup with Atlanta, Fournette has some more tough matchups on the horizon: Buffalo, New Orleans, and Carolina, all of which rank top-12 against the run. It may not matter, though, because this Bucs offense is a juggernaut, and teams cannot afford to sell out to stop the run when they have to worry about Tom Brady and Co. Fournette is currently tied for 10th among running backs in fantasy points per game, and he’s done more than enough to be considered matchup-proof. Jones should be stashed as a high-upside handcuff, but his role is too inconsistent to count on as an RB3/flex option.
The Titans managed to have two 100-yard rushers on Sunday — the first team to do so since 2008 — and they still lost to the Patriots by 23 points. The two backs, D’Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard split the snaps right down the middle with Jeremy McNichols out due to a concussion. Neither back did much in the receiving game against New England, but Hilliard did catch eight balls for 47 yards the previous week.
Tennessee is on bye this week, and then McNichols should be back. It’s anyone’s guess how Mike Vrabel will divvy up the touches at that point, but I expect that McNichols will have to earn his way back up the pecking order after what Foreman and Hilliard did last week. Consider Foreman the slightly better bet for carries, including goal line work, while Hilliard should have more pass-catching potential. Both will likely fall in the high-end RB3 mix if they continue to split touches evenly.
Washington Football Team
With a 19-95 line against Carolina in Week 10 and a 29-111 line against the Seahawks on Monday night, Antonio Gibson is coming off his two best rushing performances of the season. That, along with his vast workloads over the last three games, are encouraging signs that he is finally past the shin injury that has plagued him for most of the year.
J.D. McKissic has maintained a role in the offense — he’s been playing roughly 40 percent of the snaps and sniped two touchdowns on Monday — but it is clear that Gibson is trending up, and we reach fantasy crunch time. Of course, Gibson’s role could grow even further if McKissic were to miss time after taking a big hit against Seattle. Still, the initial indications from his agent are that he avoided serious injury.
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