Nobody has a more stacked lineup of fantasy football analysts and NFL team reporters than ESPN. It’s the rare “backfield by committee” that is actually a good thing for fantasy managers.
Every Tuesday this preseason, Mike Triplett will ask our NFL Nation reporters a series of questions about the week’s biggest stories to help with your draft prep. This week’s entire roundup is focused on the league’s most convoluted backfield situations — with growing roles for Chase Edmonds and Travis Etienne Jr. and possibly shrinking roles for Josh Jacobs and Melvin Gordon III, among others.
John Harbaugh said “we’ll see” if J.K. Dobbins is ready in time for Week 1. How do you expect his role to evolve this year?
Dobbins has been pushing team officials to get back to the field, but the Ravens want to be cautious with their top back. Even if Dobbins suits up for the season opener, he won’t get a full workload. It’s too early to predict when Dobbins will get back to receiving double-digit touches in games. What has gone overlooked is the possibility that Gus Edwards, the team’s No. 2 running back, will miss a huge chunk of the season. All of this increases the role of veteran Mike Davis, who could get the most carries early in the season and remain part of Baltimore’s game plan throughout the season. — Jamison Hensley
Devin Singletary played heavily with the 1s Saturday, while he and James Cook averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. Then Zack Moss and Duke Johnson ran for two touchdowns apiece. What’s your best guess at how roles will be divided?
It certainly will be another fun season of breaking down the running backs’ fantasy impact. Like you noted, Singletary is in line to get the bulk of the carries as the season begins. But Moss and Cook are also carving out their own roles. Moss has been the most consistent goal-line and short-yardage situation back and had one of the most consistent camps, per coach Sean McDermott. The Bills will likely integrate Cook as well, including as a receiving option. There is no rush there with the rookie, however, and for now his role appears smaller behind Singletary and Moss while he develops. But these roles are likely to change as the season progresses, similar to last year. — Alaina Getzenberg
Melvin Gordon III made some fantasy waves last week by saying he thinks the Broncos want Javonte Williams to be “the guy.” How big do you think Williams’ role could grow as the season goes on?
The Broncos’ running back situation will be convoluted, at least in some way, for as long as both Williams and Gordon are healthy. Yes, Williams is expected to be the team’s primary runner, but whether that’s 20 more carries than Gordon this season or 100 more carries is unknown at the moment. And anyone who says it isn’t hasn’t been to practice. Williams is going to be busy, no question, and even Gordon knew that as soon as the new coaching staff was hired. It’s why Gordon looked around in free agency for several weeks before eventually returning to the Broncos. But coach Nathaniel Hackett and his staff also saw how Gordon showed up in shape and ready to go. Gordon will have some impact in the passing game — the Broncos will likely use both of them in the formation at the same time in some personnel groupings. And Gordon will get a boost in carries from time to time if all involved decide he’s the hot hand. — Jeff Legwold
You broke down the creative ways Jacksonville could use Travis Etienne Jr. this season. How big of a role do you expect from him, and where does James Robinson fit?
Etienne will be the Jaguars’ RB1 in terms of workload when the season starts, even if Robinson is cleared to play in the opener (which Doug Pederson said last week is the expectation). The Jaguars won’t give Robinson his normal workload when he first gets back. They’ll be careful with him the way they have been all camp. As the season moves into October, I’d expect Robinson to be back to his normal workload. Etienne has been effective running between the tackles in camp and the preseason, but he’ll be a big factor as a receiver coming out of the backfield, as well as lining up out wide and in the slot. The Jaguars want to get him the ball in space to try to pop big plays, something this offense has really struggled to do the past two seasons. — Michael DiRocco
This has become one of the hardest backfields to project with rookie Isiah Pacheco and veteran Jerick McKinnon both seemingly on the rise. Could Clyde Edwards-Helaire‘s status as a true RB1 be in jeopardy? And could Ronald Jones be in danger of missing the cut?
From everything I’ve seen so far, one thing is clear: Edwards-Helaire is atop the depth chart. Beyond that, this could go in many different ways. It certainly seems as if McKinnon and Pacheco can carve out significant roles, McKinnon as a third-down back and Pacheco more generally. But the Chiefs haven’t committed to anything in either regard. The roster signs are ominous for Jones, who didn’t play in the first half of the most recent preseason game and didn’t get the ball once he did get on the field. — Adam Teicher
You wrote last week that many RBs could share the Vegas backfield in various roles. Is Josh Jacobs’ role as a true RB1 in jeopardy?
In a word, yes. In two words, most definitely. If for no other reason than new Raiders coach Josh McDaniels seems to prefer a committee approach (even after Kenyan Drake’s pending release). Rookie Zamir White has shown in three preseason games how hard he hits the hole, former Patriots pass-catching RB Brandon Bolden has yet to appear in the preseason, and Ameer Abdullah is having an impressive camp. Jacobs, whose fifth-year option was not picked up by the Raiders’ new regime, wants a new contract and proved a point by having so many touches in the Hall of Fame Game — five carries for 30 yards and two catches for 14 yards. And while Jacobs may indeed end up being the Raiders’ starting RB in name, it’s hard to see him as reliable for fantasy purposes with Bolden and Abdullah possibly utilized more as pass-catchers and White near the goal line. Buyer beware, indeed. — Paul Gutierrez
With Cam Akers already resting an injury in camp (along with backup Darrell Henderson Jr.), should fantasy managers be worried about projecting Akers into a true RB1 role as this season unfolds?
I don’t think it’s a given that Akers will start the season as the Rams’ true RB1. Both coach Sean McVay and offensive coordinator Liam Coen have said the team plans to use both Akers and Henderson regularly, with McVay saying, “I look at it as we’ve got two starting backs.” Depending on performance and ability to stay healthy, Akers may end the season as the Rams’ lead back. But before both were dealing with soft tissue injuries, the Rams were rotating the backs during training camp practices. — Sarah Barshop
Chase Edmonds seems to be emerging as the top option in Miami’s crowded backfield. How big could his role be, and is there any clarity on the hierarchy behind him?
Edmonds has undoubtedly been the Dolphins’ best running back throughout training camp and should technically be considered the team’s lead back. He’ll have a role similar to the one he played with the Arizona Cardinals, where he’s employed as both a runner and a pass-catcher. Miami will get a lot of use out of him as a safety valve coming out of the backfield. Behind him, Raheem Mostert should be next in line, as long as he’s healthy. After that, it’s unclear if any of the trio of Sony Michel, Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin will have any sort of fantasy-relevant role. Most likely not, considering all the options within Miami’s offense. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
How do you expect touches to be split among Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Ty Montgomery this season? Is there a path for Stevenson to emerge as a top fantasy option as the year goes along?
Friday’s preseason game seemed like a tip-off for what to expect with Patriots’ running backs. It’s still a time-share between Harris and Stevenson, but unlike last season when they came off the field on third down, they are more likely to stay on this season. (Former Patriots “passing-down back” James White noted how each back did that in Friday’s game). Then when it’s a two-minute offense type of situation, that’s when Montgomery might see the majority of his playing time. So for fantasy managers, consider that if Harris or Stevenson sustains an injury, the healthy option could become as close to a three-down back as the Patriots have had under Bill Belichick. — Mike Reiss
How big will Miles Sanders’ role in the offense be if his current hamstring issue turns out to be a non-issue? And could Kenneth Gainwell’s emergence bite into that role as the season goes along?
Coach Nick Sirianni has been clear that he considers Sanders the lead back, with Gainwell and Boston Scott playing complementary roles. The same was true entering last season, but injuries cut into Sanders’ production and presented opportunities for Gainwell, who responded with a strong rookie year. It’s best to take a guarded approach when it comes to Sanders: maybe this will be the year he puts it all together, and the upside is considerable if he does. But consistency and good health have been hard to sustain to this point in his career, and that needs to be baked in when determining both his value and Gainwell’s. — Tim McManus
Should we even bother trying to decipher the 49ers’ backfield hierarchy behind Elijah Mitchell? More importantly, do you expect Mitchell to return to a true RB1 role if his hamstring injury doesn’t linger into the season?
Well, you can try, but it might not be worth the time. Let’s start with Mitchell. The short answer is yes, he will be the No. 1 running back when he’s healthy. But after Mitchell struggled with injuries last season and already again this training camp, it’s worth proceeding with caution. It also means the Niners are likely to try to protect him by working others into the mix. As it stands, Jeff Wilson Jr. seems like the best bet to get the first shot behind Mitchell. He’s the most experienced back on the roster and looks healthier than he did a season ago. Rookie Tyrion Davis-Price, JaMycal Hasty and Trey Sermon slot in after that duo. Davis-Price will stick and should be a factor in short-yardage situations, leaving Sermon and Hasty to battle for what is probably one roster spot. Hasty has had the better camp and was the team’s third-down back last season. Would the Niners move on this soon from Sermon, who was a third-round pick in 2021? Hard to say, but it can’t be ruled out. — Nick Wagoner
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