Koerner’s Undervalued Upside Ratings: Rankings Backup RBs By Their Sleeper Potential

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Getty Images. Pictured: Chase Edmonds, Tony Pollard, Latavius Murray

Editor’s note: The following analysis was written on Aug. 14 and does not reflect news that has since broken (such as Leonard Fournette’s release), but the chart featuring Sean Koerner’s grades for each backup running back will remain updated until the season kicks off. Skip to the chart now.


Drafting sleeper running backs isn’t as simple as targeting backups of the top fantasy RBs.

That’s why I’ve created the Undervalued Upside Ratings.

These ratings aim to identify RBs whose upside isn’t being fully factored into their average draft position (ADP). For example, Boston Scott is being drafted as the RB50, which is below my projected ranking for him in his current role as the Eagles’ third-down back (RB38) and far below my projected ranking for him as the starter in the event Miles Sanders were to miss time (RB17).

In short, the key to finding potential sleepers is to focus on RBs who already offer value but would see their ceiling rise significantly if another RB on the depth chart were to miss time.

[Create Custom Fantasy Cheat Sheets Using Koerner’s Rankings]

For these ratings, I assigned letter grades to the backup RBs with the highest ceiling on each team by comparing my projected ranking for them as a starter to their current ADP. Backups who earned an “A” have the highest upside relative to their ADP while those who earned a “F” have very little.

Of course the NFL news cycle moves fast — injuries and other developments will impact depth charts — so be sure to cross-reference the ratings in the first chart (as of Aug. 14) with my up-to-the-minute ratings here.

Note: ADP data is courtesy of 4for4’s composite of six major sites.

UNDERVALUED UPSIDE RATINGS

Skip ahead to analysis for a given player by clicking their name.

Upside
Ratings
Running Back Rank As
Backup
Rank As
Starter
A D’Andre Swift 28 16
A Jonathan Taylor 29 11
A Chase Edmonds 54 16
A Kareem Hunt 33 8
A Tony Pollard 48 12
A Latavius Murray 42 8
A Boston Scott 38 17
B Zack Moss 45 21
B Antonio Gibson 47 29
B Matt Breida 39 24
B Phillip Lindsay 41 23
B Tarik Cohen 34 24
B Reggie Bonnafon 84 22
B Alexander Mattison 46 24
C Damien Harris 69 29
C Ke’Shawn Vaughn 50 27
C Tevin Coleman 44 22
C Carlos Hyde 53 22
C J.K. Dobbins 40 24
C Darrell Henderson 38 30
C Duke Johnson Jr. 45 30
C AJ Dillon 56 25
C Ryquell Armstead 60 23
C Giovani Bernard 57 21
C Justin Jackson 52 23
C Darrynton Evans 59 21
C DeAndre Washington
Darwin Thompson
84 32
D Anthony McFarland Jr. 70 38
D Jalen Richard 49 32
D Dion Lewis 76 30
F Ito Smith 62 32
F La’Mical Perine 81 35

METHODOLOGY

As I mentioned earlier, these ratings are based on discrepancies I’ve identified between a backup’s ceiling and their current ADP, so here are the exact factors I weighed when projecting their ceilings:

  • The backup’s current role. (You can read my full definitions of each role here.)
  • The role of the projected Week 1 starter.
  • The health of the projected Week 1 starter.
  • My projected chance the projected Week 1 starter maintains his RB1 duties when healthy.
  • My projected chance the backup leapfrogs the Week 1 starter when both RBs are healthy.


Here’s an expanded version of the above table featuring each of those factors:

Now let’s start with the six RBs at the top!

GRADE A

D’Andre Swift, Lions

Current Role Even RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 75%
Current Rank As Backup 28
Proj. Rank As Starter 16
Current ADP 27

With Clyde Edwards-Helaire now slated to be the lead back in the NFL’s most explosive offense and Swift expected to open the season in an even timeshare with Kerryon Johnson, Swift is no longer my favorite to be the No. 1 fantasy rookie RB of 2020.

That said, Swift’s upside is still being undervalued.

His current ADP as the RB28 and Johnson’s as the RB31 closely aligns with my projections for when both backs are healthy, but considering either would see a massive bump if the other were to miss time, that baked-in upside isn’t being fully factored in.

Even in the likely scenario that Swift becomes the lead back at some point this season, I would still expect Johnson — the Lions’ 2018 second-round pick — to see 7-10 touches per game as the backup.

Swift has the most upside of the two, though. I’m projecting him as the RB16 if Johnson were to miss time while Johnson’s ceiling without Swift is only as the RB22. Plus Johnson has missed 14 of his 32 career games, so Swift’s path to hitting his ceiling is much clearer than most committee backs.

[Read Koerner’s Definition of Every Role Here]

Jonathan Taylor, Colts

Current Role Even RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 65%
Current Rank As Backup 29
Proj. Rank As Starter 11
Current ADP 24

Taylor is the best pure running of the 2020 class, and like Swift, I expect Taylor to become the lead back at some point this season — even as early as Week 1. But the presence of Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines will limit Taylor’s ceiling as long as they’re both healthy.

Mack will command 10-15 touches per game while Hines will see work on passing downs, though if Mack were to miss any time, I would rank Taylor as a low-end RB1 — that’s why I’m OK with “reaching” for Taylor if he ever falls outside of the top 20.

The Colts have the easiest schedule based on my power ratings, a great offensive line and, given Mack’s history of missing at least two games in each of his first three seasons, Taylor’s odds of hitting his ceiling are much higher than other backs in this range.

Chase Edmonds, Cardinals

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 5%
Current Rank As Backup 54
Proj. Rank As Starter 16
Current ADP 53

Edmonds as an elite strict backup — while it’s highly unlikely he leapfrogs Kenyan Drake or that he has a significant enough role to provide flex value, Edmonds would automatically become a mid-range RB2 if Drake misses time. (I would expect rookie Eno Benjamin to take over Edmond’s current role in that scenario, too.)

Last season, Edmonds put up RB6 numbers in his two starts (Weeks 7 and 8). He had the top overall RB score in Week 7 when he dropped a 27/126/3 and 2/24/0 game on the Giants.

Drake investors would be wise to handcuff Edmonds if they want to set up a safety net. Others may want to use a bench slot to stash the low-floor, high-ceiling backup. Either way, the investment would need some luck to pay off since it would require Drake to miss time.

Kareem Hunt, Browns

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 5%
Current Rank As Backup 33
Proj. Rank As Starter 8
Current ADP 28

New head coach Kevin Stefanski will likely implement a very run-heavy offense in Cleveland. And given that the Browns have the second-easiest schedule according to my power ratings, we can expect plenty of touches to go around — enough to make Chubb a solid RB1 and Hunt a RB2/Flex.

That’s what makes Hunt the type of RB I try to target in all of my drafts: He should have a role right out of the gate that will provide value that’s on par with his current ADP, while his upside if Chubb were to ever miss time is massive.

In that scenario, I would rank Hunt as a mid- to low-end RB1. That’s upside you’re essentially getting for free.


Given his ADP has crept up to RB28, Taylor and Swift (lol) offer a slightly better floor/ceiling combo than Hunt, who would need Chubb to miss time to unlock any upside while both rookies can raise their ceilings without any other back missing time.

Tony Pollard, Cowboys

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 48
Proj. Rank As Starter 12
Current ADP 48

Pollard offers the highest upside of all the strict backups — I would rank him as a RB1/2 if Ezekiel Elliott were ever to miss time.

It’s worth noting that Pollard’s Week 3 (RB7) and Week 15 (RB9) performances last season came in garbage time, though, so it’s too bullish to ever trust Pollard as a Flex play as long as Zeke is active.

Still, Pollard is worth targeting at his current ADP as the RB48.

Latavius Murray, Saints

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 42
Proj. Rank As Starter 8
Current ADP 46

Murray was the 2019 version of Hunt for me — he was my highest-owned RB because I figured he would have a big enough role even with Alvin Kamara healthy to offer RB3/Flex value, and RB1 value if Kamara were to ever miss time.

Unfortunately, Murray wasn’t able to carve out a big enough role to offer Flex value when Kamara was active, but Murray did manage to be the top-scoring RB over the two-game stretch he started for Kamara.

I would expect more of the same this season, so I like targeting him at his current ADP, though I won’t have nearly as many shares in him as I did in 2019 considering he needs Kamara to miss time to see any fantasy value and we can’t assume that’ll happen again. Still, Murray has proven he can be a mid-range RB1 in that scenario, giving him massive upside.

Boston Scott, Eagles

Current Role Third Down
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 38
Proj. Rank As Starter 17
Current ADP 50

Based on what we saw last season, Scott could occasionally push Flex value. He was able to carve out a role that gave him 10-15 touches per week in 2019, even when Miles Sanders was healthy over the final four games, when Scott put up the ninth-most points for RBs during that stretch.

Corey Clement’s return could muddy the waters in 2020, and while it’s difficult to see him handling a full workload at only 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds, he’s proven he can manage a 20-touch role when needed: He scored three touchdowns on 23 touches in Week 17 of last season.

If Sanders were to miss time, Scott would inherit that entire workload because of how thin the Eagles’ RB depth chart is, giving him mid-RB2 value in that scenario.


Scott offers one of the best floor/ceiling combos in the RB50 range.


GRADE B

Zack Moss, Bills

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 35%
Current Rank As Backup 45
Proj. Rank As Starter 21
Current ADP 47

I’m projecting Moss to be the tail-end of Buffalo’s RBBC to start the year and have him ranked as the RB45 for Week 1.

His ADP tells me his upside isn’t priced in right now, though. In the event Devin Singletary were to miss any time, I would have Moss ranked as a mid-range RB2. He would likely become a workhorse back, with T.J. Yeldon acting as a change of pace option.

It’s also not a guarantee that Singletary will be able to hold onto his starting role all season. The Bills spent a third-round pick to land Moss only a year after spending a third on Singletary. Neither back is particularly flashy — both ran a sluggish 4.65 40-yard time at the combine — but Moss is two inches and 20 pounds bigger than Singletary, so there’s a chance he can hit his ceiling without requiring Singletary to even miss time.

The Bills, after all, could be the team to beat in the post-Tom Brady AFC East. It would make sense for them to use Moss as a workhorse back as a way to keep Josh Allen in structure and set up play action.

You can get Moss at a price that I would consider much closer to his floor.

Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 30%
Current Rank As Backup 47
Proj. Rank As Starter 29
Current ADP 56

The release of Derrius Guice opens up Washington’s backfield. Adrian Peterson should be the Week 1 starter, but the team could use 2020 to evaluate some of its younger players.

There’s some uncertainty around Bryce Love’s health, but if he is back to 100% before the start of the season, he could be worth monitoring. As of right now, though, the backup to target is Gibson.

Given the limited offseason, it’ll be more difficult for Gibson to hit his upside as a rookie, but the RB/WR hybrid has multiple ways to crack the starting lineup. The Football Team will want to find ways to get its third-round pick involved in the run/pass game. There’s even a chance Gibson emerges as the lead back at some point this season.

Kelvin Harmon suffering a torn ACL that will sideline him for the season also opens opportunity, but overall, we’ll need to monitor the situation closely.

Matt Breida, Dolphins

Current Role Third Down
% of Leapfrogging Starter 25%
Current Rank As Backup 39
Proj. Rank As Starter 24
Current ADP 43

The Dolphins brought in veteran backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida to kick start their historically-bad ground game from a year ago.

Howard will open the season as the lead back while Breida will serve as the primary pass-catching back, though the latter seems to be the more valuable fantasy role: The Dolphins should find themselves trailing quite a bit this year, creating the need for game scripts more friendly for Breida. Albert Wilson opting out of the season could also give Breida a slight boost in targets.

Breida should provide Flex value some weeks even with Howard healthy, and if Howard were to miss time, Breida would offer RB2/Flex value. He has an excellent floor/ceiling combo at his ADP of RB43.

Phillip Lindsay, Broncos

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 25%
Current Rank As Backup 41
Proj. Rank As Starter 23
Current ADP 40

The Broncos’ decision to bring in Melvin Gordon was a bit of a head-scratcher, especially given that Lindsay and Royce Freeman were a pretty competent RB duo in 2019.

Lindsay should be able to carve out a big enough role as Gordon’s backup to provide Flex value in certain weeks. I’m even giving him a 25% chance of leapfrogging a healthy MG3 as the starter at some point, a role in which Lindsay has proven to be a low-end RB2 in.

While he certainly has a clearer path to hitting his ceiling than most backups, his ceiling isn’t quite as high as some backs who are bring drafted well later, which why I’m not ending up with Lindsay in many of my drafts.

Tarik Cohen, Bears

Current Role Third Down
% of Leapfrogging Starter 15%
Current Rank As Backup 34
Proj. Rank As Starter 24
Current ADP 37

I wouldn’t necessarily describe Cohen a high-upside backup — he’ll have a prominent pass-catching role right from the start, making him a weekly high-floor, low-ceiling option. Nothing illustrates that better than the fact he recorded between 6-9 half-PPR points in half of his games last season.

His pass-catching role provides you with steady production and very few duds or spikes.

The Bears lack depth behind David Montgomery, so if he were ever to miss time, Cohen’s role would increase but would be capped as a low-end RB2 as I would expect Ryan Nall and Cordarrelle Patterson to step up and make this a three-back committee in that scenario.

Cohen is a reliable option at a relatively low price, but his upside is limited since it’s unlikely he’ll ever become a true workhorse back.

Reggie Bonnafon, Panthers

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 84
Proj. Rank As Starter 22
Current ADP 83

Bonnafon appears to be undervalued by the fantasy football community.

Yes, he is part of the “strict backup” group with a 0% chance of leapfrogging a healthy starter. Yes, he happens to back up the No. 1 RB in all of football in Christian McCaffrey. But that doesn’t mean CMC is less immune to missing time than any other lead back.

Bonnafon would become a mid- to low-end RB2 if he were to inherit CMC’s workload at any point. And while McCaffrey’s production can’t be replicated, Bonnafon flashed his ability as a rusher and a receiver when called on last year.


Once you reach the RB70 range in your draft, you’re left with RBs who need quite a bit of luck ever to become fantasy relevant. In Bonnafon’s case, all he needs is CMC to miss time to pay massive dividends.

Alexander Mattison, Vikings

Current Role Strict Backup RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 46
Proj. Rank As Starter 24
Current ADP 44

The Vikings are such a run-heavy team that Mattison can offer RB3/Flex value even when Cook is healthy.

Unfortunately, when Cook missed the final two games last season Mattison was also dealing with an injury that kept him out of the lineup, so we didn’t get a look at his potential with Cook out. But if Cook were to miss time, I’d expect Mattison to inherit much of Cook’s workload, becoming a low-end RB2 — his upside is somewhat limited as I would expect Michael Boone to mix in and Ameer Abdullah to inherit most of the passing down work.

Even if you think Cook only has a 5-10% chance of holding out, it’s enough to target Mattison at his current ADP. Cook has also been relatively injury-prone over his first three seasons, so Mattison has more paths to hitting his upside than other backs in the RB44 range.


GRADE C

Damien Harris, Patriots

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 20%
Current Rank As Backup 69
Proj. Rank As Starter 29
Current ADP 58

Investing in the Patriots backfield is always a bit tricky.

Sony Michel is recovering from foot surgery that he underwent in May, so there’s a chance he won’t be ready for the start of the season. It’s also not a given that he would be able to hang onto the starting job even when healthy.

James White, meanwhile, has the third-down role locked down. He’s a low-risk, low-reward pick at his current ADP as of the RB35 in PPR formats.

But it’s Harris who is the backup to target because he has the most upside at his current ADP. The chances of him hitting his ceiling are higher than most RBs in the RB58 range, though it may be limited considering White, Rex Burkhead or the recently-signed Lamar Miller would have significant roles if Michel were ever to miss time.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Buccaneers

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 25%
Current Rank As Backup 50
Proj. Rank As Starter 27
Current ADP 45

Ronald Jones is set to open the season as the lead back, but we can’t be too confident about his job security.

The Buccaneers brought in veteran LeSean McCoy, who could carve out a decent-sized role. Dare Ogunbowale is also a threat to steal a lot of passing down work.

Then there’s third-round rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who is capable of outright leapfrogging Jones, making him the backup to target with his ADP slipping to the RB45 range in the wake of the market reacting to McCoy’s signing.

Usually, I would say it’s better to ignore the RB situation in Tampa Bay, but this offense will be much friendlier to backs with Tom Brady under center. Targeting Jones at his ADP as the RB30 or Vaughn at RB45 seem like reasonable investments, but with all of the uncertainty and other options, their upside may be a bit limited.

Tevin Coleman, 49ers

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 25%
Current Rank As Backup 44
Proj. Rank As Starter 22
Current ADP 42

Investing in 49ers RBs is investing in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme.

Raheem Mostert ran away with the lead role last season and performed exceptionally well in it. Yet while I have no reason to believe he’ll lose his job when healthy this season, Shanahan is known to play the hot hand. The next man up would be Coleman, who is more than capable of handling a lead role, which is why I’m giving him a 25% chance of leapfrogging Mostert.

When Coleman was the lead back from Weeks 5-8 last season, he put up RB7 numbers over that four-game stretch.


His ADP as the RB42 seems like a big of a gamble, though, given that any back can step up at any time in this backfield — Jerick McKinnon, Jeffrey Wilson, JaMycal Hasty or Salvon Ahmed could emerge as this year’s Mostert.

Carlos Hyde, Seahawks

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 15%
Current Rank As Backup 53
Proj. Rank As Starter 22
Current ADP 61

The Seahawks run the ball enough to support two fantasy-viable backs. And with Rashaad Penny expected to miss several games to open the season, Hyde looks like the backup to target.

Chris Carson is expected to be ready to go for Week 1 after undergoing hip surgery, though there’s a chance that injury flares up. There’s also a chance that his fumbling issues continue, forcing Pete Carroll to turn to Hyde as the lead back. Hyde would be able to provide low-end RB2 value as the starter in either case, though his ceiling would be limited in full PPR format as Travis Homer would likely handle most of the receiving work in that scenario.

Fourth-round rookie Deejay Dallas could also make some noise and earn RB3/Flex status in any situation in which Carson is out of the lineup.

J.K. Dobbins, Ravens

Current Role Trail RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 25%
Current Rank As Backup 40
Proj. Rank As Starter 24
Current ADP 32

Dobbins may not have a prominent enough role to return Flex value as long as Mark Ingram is healthy. We also have to keep in mind that Lamar Jackson takes up a considerable portion of the available rushing pie in Baltimore.

Ingram has good chemistry with Jackson, which is essential because the Ravens run a lot of RPOs. Dobbins may need more practice time to establish that chemistry with Jackson given the abbreviated offseason, however Dobbins is no stranger to RPOs as he led all draft-eligible backs with 171 carries from RPOs at Ohio State last season.

It’s very unlikely that Dobbins could unseat a healthy Ingram this year — Ingram ranked first out of the 50 RBs who saw at least 75 carries with 49% of his rushes resulting in a positive play — so Dobbins’ only path to RB2 value is likely through an Ingram injury. Even in that event, you have to figure Justice Hill and Gus Edwards (and even Devin Duvernay) could mix in.


Considering where Dobbins is being drafting, other RBs in that range should have a more prominent early-season role and better chances of hitting their upside than Dobbins.

Darrell Henderson, Rams

Current Role Third Down
% of Leapfrogging Starter 20%
Current Rank As Backup 38
Proj. Rank As Starter 30
Current ADP 45

I’m projecting Cam Akers as the clear-cut lead back in Los Angeles with Henderson chipping in the passing game and Malcolm Brown in short-yardage, goal-line situations.

The chances of Henderson becoming the lead back are too low to target him at his current ADP of RB45, though. In fact, despite already being the favorite to be the Week 1 starter, Akers actually has the most hidden upside of this group given his ADP of RB29. I have him ranked as the RB24 when all three backs are healthy, but he would see a boost if Henderson or Brown miss time as a high-end RB2 in either scenario.

Akers could quickly earn a more significant share of goal-line work than I’m projecting — the Rams have generated the second-most rush attempts inside the 5-yard line over the past two seasons — which is why I’ve assigned him an A+ upside grade at his current ADP as the RB29.

Duke Johnson Jr., Texans

Current Role Third Down
% of Leapfrogging Starter 15%
Current Rank As Backup 45
Proj. Rank As Starter 30
Current ADP 49

While I believe that Duke Johnson would be capable of handling a workhorse type role, the Texans do not. After Lamar Miller went down in 2019, they brought in Carlos Hyde to be the lead back. Now they’re turning to David Johnson in 2020.

The Texans view Duke Johnson as a third-down back. And even if David Johnson were to miss time, I would worry that they’d bring in another back to fill the starting role instead of promoting Duke to starter.

Duke is a high-floor option in PPR leagues who could provide Flex value in a pinch, but lacks the upside to target at his ADP.

AJ Dillon, Packers

Current Role Strict Backup RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 5%
Current Rank As Backup 56
Proj. Rank As Starter 25
Current ADP 54

The Packers’ second-round pick is more of a threat to Jamaal Williams than Aaron Jones this season as the plan is likely to have Dillon become the lead back in 2021 when Jones potentially becomes a free agent. That’s why I see Dillon as nothing more than a strict backup who will need Jones to miss time  to ever become fantasy relevant in 2020.

In that scenario, I would rank Dillon as a low-end RB2 with 14-18 carries along with goal-line work while Williams would dominate the passing down work with 10-15 touches.

Overall, I would much rather take a chance on Edmonds or Pollard — who are also being drafted in this range — to push RB1 value if their starters miss time.

Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 5%
Current Rank As Backup 60
Proj. Rank As Starter 23
Current ADP 57

Armstead is a strict backup who will need Fournette to miss time to offer any fantasy value.

He would become the Jaguars lead back if Fournette were sidelined, though the Jaguars offense only provides so much upside for RBs, so he would grade out as only a low-end RB2 in that scenario — on par with his RB15 finish in his one start last season (Week 17).

The Jags are unlikely to produce many goal-line opportunities for easy rushing touchdowns or play with the lead often enough to create run-heavy game scripts, capping his ceiling. Chris Thompson would also likely limit Armstead’s passing down work.


Still, Armstead provides enough hidden upside at his ADP of RB57 to target as a handcuff/lottery stash.

Giovani Bernard, Bengals

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 57
Proj. Rank As Starter 21
Current ADP 66

Gio would need Joe Mixon to miss time to ever provide your lineup with a useful score. That’s why I have him listed as a “strict backup” despite having a relatively prominent pass-catching role.

That said, Bernard has shown that he’s more than capable of stepping into a workhorse role when given a chance. Here’s how he faired in separate two-game stretches in which he started in place of an injured Mixon:

  • 2017, Weeks 14-15: RB16
  • 2018, Weeks 3-4: RB6


Given that he benefitted from touchdown-luck and a thin depth chart over those four games, I would rank Gio as only a low-end RB2 if he were to get the call to start this year, especially with second-year backs Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson ready to chip in.

Justin Jackson, Chargers

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 52
Proj. Rank As Starter 23
Current ADP 55

Melvin Gordon has found a new home in Denver, meaning Austin Ekeler is set to become the lead back. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to handle a full workload for 16 games, though, so there’s a chance Jackson will be able to carve out a role that provides some fantasy value whenever Ekeler misses time

That said, what we saw from Jackson in Weeks 1-3 of last season during Gordon’s hold out is a fair expectation, and he really only managed to provide RB45 value over that stretch and couldn’t be trusted as a Flex play. All that to say, Jackson would likely need Ekeler to miss time to become a viable fantasy play. I would assume Jackson would inherit much of Ekeler’s role in that scenario, with rookie Joshua Kelly taking over as the backup, giving Jackson low-end RB2 value.

Considering there are strict backups who would become low-end RB2 at a much lower price, Jackson feels a bit pricy at his ADP of RB55.

Darrynton Evans, Titans

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 59
Proj. Rank As Starter 21
Current ADP 63

Evans is unlikely to see enough work behind Derrick Henry to offer any fantasy value.

Evans would have very little competition for touches if Henry were to ever miss time, though the Titans would likely have to change their entire offensive approach and become more pass-heavy. Evans would probably see 10-15 carries and 2-4 catches per game in that scenario.

I would have him ranked as a low-end RB2.

DeAndre Washington & Darwin Thompson, Chiefs

Current Role Strict Backup RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 84
Proj. Rank As Starter 32
Current ADP 57

The dreaded “strict backup RBBC” role is the worst possible situation to invest in — a RB whose only shot at fantasy value is if the starter misses time, and it’s unclear which back would even emerge as the starter in such scenario. But considering we’re talking about the Chiefs, this is the rare case we need to consider investing in.

It’s unclear whether Washington or Darwin Thompson would pick up most of Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s work if he misses time. My initial hunch is that Thompson would become the “nominal” starter and assumes much of CEH’s role. However, Washington would handle much of the passing down work — the most valuable role in the Chiefs offense — while Darrell Williams would handle the goal-line work.

In that event, all three backs would radically lower each other’s ceiling.

The upside in taking either Washington or Thompson is that one will be able to inherit at least 80% of CEH’s role. IT’s why the reward will typically outweigh the risk if either back falls outside the top 60 RBs in your draft.


GRADE D

Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers

Current Role Strict Backup RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 15%
Current Rank As Backup 70
Proj. Rank As Starter 38
Current ADP 57

James Conner is likely to dominate touches, and it’s hard to project any one of the Steelers backups as fantasy viable when he’s active.

If Conner were to miss time, though, McFarland would have the most upside. But it could very well become a three-way committee in that scenario with Benny Snell handling short-yardage work and Jaylen Samuels handling passing-downs.

There’s some buzz that Jaylen Samuels may not make the 53-man roster. If that ends up being the case, McFarland’s ceiling would be much higher. It’s a situation worth monitoring, but I’m not targeting any of these backups yet.

Jalen Richard, Raiders

Current Role Third Down
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 49
Proj. Rank As Starter 32
Current ADP 76

Jalen Richard is the Raider’s primary pass-catching back, limiting Josh Jacob’s ceiling.

If Jacobs were to go down, though, I wouldn’t expect Richard to become anything more than a RB3/Flex. Rookie Lynn Bowden would undoubtedly be in the mix and could form a two-way committee with Richard in that scenario.

Richard offers stable value at RB76 if you’re in a deeper league, though, as he could be used as an emergency Flex play in PPR formats even when Jacobs is healthy. Given how he doesn’t provide much upside otherwise, I don’t think Richard is worth the bench stash.

Dion Lewis, Giants

Current Role Strict Backup
% of Leapfrogging Starter 0%
Current Rank As Backup 76
Proj. Rank As Starter 30
Current ADP 89

It’s highly unlikely that Lewis will provide any fantasy value as long as Saquon Barkley is healthy, though Lewis would move into the RB30 range whenever Barkley is inactive. Wayne Gallman and Jon Hilliman could turn that situation into a three-way committee and limit Lewis’s upside a bit, though.


Lewis has the lowest ADP of backups to target at the RB89. He is certainly worth that price tag, but his limited upside means I won’t be targeting him heavily.


GRADE F

Ito Smith, Falcons

Current Role Strict Backup RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 5%
Current Rank As Backup 62
Proj. Rank As Starter 32
Current ADP 73

Todd Gurley will be the workhorse back in Atlanta as long as he’s healthy.

There are still concerns about his chronic knee injury and his ability to handle a full workload for all 16 games, but the Falcons lack a clear backup who would benefit if Gurley were ever to miss time. Ito Smith does seem like the most likely candidate to replace Gurley, however Brian Hill would likely split work with Smith while Qadree Ollison would handle goal-line duties in that scenario.

I’ll probably avoid any investment in these backups as the best-case scenario is a two- to three-way committee.

La’Mical Perine, Jets

Current Role Strict Backup RBBC
% of Leapfrogging Starter 5%
Current Rank As Backup 81
Proj. Rank As Starter 35
Current ADP 78

The Jets backup situation offers the least amount of upside.

Perine and Frank Gore would likely split work if Le’Veon Bell were ever to miss time. It would make sense for the Jets to use Perine as the feature back in that scenario as a way to see what the fourth-rounder can offer them in 2021 and beyond, but stashing either back is not worth it.

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