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Running back committees and usage security

We take a look at each NFL team’s backfield and discuss usage going into the 2021 fantasy football season.

Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers looks on during Panthers Training Camp at Wofford College on July 30, 2021 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The NFL season is closing in and that means we get the important, but tough job of reading the tea leaves of running back depth charts and usage. We’ll go through each team and look at their backfield depth chart and see which running backs are best set to hold onto big usage throughout the season and which will be working to find opportunities in a committee.

Bell Cow Backs

Carolina Panthers

RB1: Christian McCaffrey
RB2: Reggie Bonnafon
RB3: Chuba Hubbard

McCaffrey has only had a few games under Matt Rhule’s regime, but if those games are any indication, he should remain an extremely high usage back. He averaged 25.3 touches per game last season and missed half of one of the games he played. The Panthers haven’t invested in a backup that would take over after letting Mike Davis go this offseason. Hubbard and Bonnafon would likely split work if McCaffrey missed time.

Minnesota Vikings

RB1: Dalvin Cook
RB2: Alexander Mattison
RB3: Ameer Abdullah

Cook led all running backs with 25.4 touches per game in 2020 and that shouldn’t change this season. Mattison is a capable backup and would be a likely fantasy RB2 if Cook went down, but he’s not going to cut into Cook’s workload enough to hurt his fantasy upside.

Tennessee Titans

RB1: Derrick Henry
RB2: Darrynton Evans
RB3: Brian Hill

Henry is an absolute workhorse, as he averaged 24.8 touches per game last season and that came with limited work in the passing game. It’s inevitable that he will miss time at some point with his big workloads piling up, but he’s managed to avoid longterm injuries so far while other stud backs haven’t. He doesn’t have much competition behind him and we’d likely see a Hill/Evans committee if he misses time.

New York Giants

RB1: Saquon Barkley
RB2: Devontae Booker
RB3: Corey Clement

Barkley missed most of last season, but is a high volume back when healthy. He averaged over 20 touches per game in 2019 and his backups don’t strike fear in anybody’s heart. He could be eased back in this season, but as he gets ramped up, expect his 20+ touches per game to return. If he does get injured again, expect a committee between Booker and Clement.

Cincinnati Bengals

RB1: Joe Mixon
RB2: Samaje Perine
RB3: Trayveon Williams

Mixon was injured most of last season, but should be ready to go to start 2020 and be in line for a big workload. The Bengals let longtime backup and third-down back Gio Bernard go this offseason and the Bengals staff appear ready to let Mixon go all in as a bell cow back. We saw a big increase in receiving work when he was healthy last season and this team will likely throw the ball a lot this year. Perine is the likely lead back if Mixon were to miss time, but expectations should be capped.

Pittsburgh Steelers

RB1: Najee Harris
RB2: Anthony McFarland
RB3: Kalen Ballage
RB4: Benny Snell

Harris is going to see a lot of work his rookie season, as he’s slated to be the every down back. And with a middling group of backs after him, he doesn’t have much competition. Right now there is a real competition for the backup back and the depth chart is very much in flux. There isn’t a clear backup and none of these players needs to be drafted in fantasy leagues other than Harris.

Dallas Cowboys

RB1: Ezekiel Elliott
RB2: Tony Pollard
RB3: Rico Dowdle

Elliott isn’t likely to have the workload of earlier in his career in 2021, but he’s still a player who gets a lot of touches. Last season he averaged 19.7 touches per game on an offense without Dak Prescott. With a better offense with more sustained drives, he should get back over 20 touches per game. Tony Pollard will factor in and is a good fantasy play if Elliott misses time, but this is still Elliott’s gig.

Chicago Bears

RB1: David Montgomery
RB2: Damien Williams
RB3: Tarik Cohen

David Montgomery took on a big workload last season and thrived after Tarik Cohen went down with an injury. He averaged 20.1 touches per game and added a receiving component to his game. The question for 2021 is how much will Cohen, who has yet to return from his injury, or Damien Williams, take away from Montgomery in the passing game. It’s of course hard to predict, but Montgomery proved himself and the team would probably like to keep him out there on passing downs if possible.

Atlanta Falcons

RB1: Mike Davis
RB2: Qadree Ollison
RB3: Cordarrelle Patterson

Davis isn’t an elite back, but he showed he can fill in as an every down back last season in Carolina. And it looks like he’ll need to do the same in Atlanta, as there really isn’t much competition behind him. He’s not good enough to demand huge usage, but he is good enough to get the bulk of the touches in Atlanta right now. He makes for a good value back in fantasy.

Los Angeles Rams

RB1: Darrell Henderson
RB2: Xavier Jones
RB3: Jake Funk

It’s weird to think of Henderson as a bell cow back, as the team has never seemed to want to give him a huge workload, but until another back makes his presence known, there just isn’t anybody worthy of taking snaps from Henderson at the moment.

Strong lead back with committee tendencies

New Orleans Saints

RB1: Alvin Kamara
RB2: Latavius Murray
RB3: Devonta Freeman

Kamara was the No. 1 fantasy running back in PPR leagues last season despite averaging just 16.9 touches per game in 2020. It helped that he got into the end zone an amazing 21 times as well and that he rushed for six touchdowns in Week 16 against the Vikings. Those kind of touchdown numbers will be hard to repeat, but his workload can only go up with the team losing Drew Brees to retirement and Michael Thomas to surgery to start the season.

Latavius Murray averaged over ten touches per game and could see his numbers rise as well, but the offense could lose some efficiency without Brees and Thomas.

Green Bay Packers

RB1: Aaron Jones
RB2: AJ Dillon
RB3: Kylin Hill

Jones average 17.7 touches per game last season and is right on the edge of bell cow back and strong lead of a committee. His backup, A.J. Dillon, put some good tape together late in the year, but isn’t as accomplished as a receiver as Jamaal Williams was. Williams is now in Detroit, but the Packers did add rookie Kylin Hill, who is versatile and has looked good in camp. But anyway you look at it, Jones is the lead and should again hit that 17 touch mark and put up good numbers in a great offense.

If Jones were to get injured, Dillon would become a strong fantasy play, but Hill would likely see time as the third-down back.

Indianapolis Colts

RB1: Jonathon Taylor
RB2: Marlon Mack
RB3: Nyheim Hines

Taylor went off in the second half of last season and is the clear No. 1 back, but Frank Reich will give work to his backups quite often. Injuries helped Taylor somewhat, but he proved big usage for him equals huge numbers. But I still don’t see him averaging over 20 touches a game after hitting that number just five times last season. That doesn’t mean he can’t get around 18 and be a Top 10 or even Top 5 back in fantasy though.

If Taylor were to miss any time, Marlon Mack would be the player to invest your waiver claims into, but we’d probably see an uptick in work for Nyheim Hines as well.

Cleveland Browns

RB1: Nick Chubb
RB2: Kareem Hunt
RB3: D’Ernest Johnson

Nick Chubb averaged 17.2 touches per game to Kareem Hunt’s 14.8 last season. Chubb did miss some time, so those numbers are a little skewed, but Hunt did only have one game under 10 touches. Chubb is on an offense that keeps improving and he’s efficient enough to put up big numbers without extreme bell cow usage.

Hunt is a good fantasy football player as Chubb’s backup, but will always have his upside capped as long as Chubb is healthy.

Los Angeles Chargers

RB1: Austin Ekeler
RB2: Justin Jackson
RB3: Joshua Kelley
RB4: Larry Rountree

Ekeler was injured much of last season, but did see over 17 touches per game when healthy. It’s tough to know how the new regime in Los Angeles is going to break up the workload of the backs, but it sounds like it could be spread out a bit more. The good news is that Ekeler is great and gets a bunch of work through the air to help him in PPR leagues and to get him in space for extra yardage.

After Ekeler, the group isn’t bad, but would likely move into a three-way committee of some sort.

Seattle Seahawks

RB1: Chris Carson
RB2: Rashaad Penny
RB3: Travis Homer

The Seahawks’ backs had a lot of trouble staying healthy last season and we’ve learned that Carson and Penny are really the only two that can be worthy of fantasy football play. Carson is the lead without a doubt, but a healthy Penny can cut into his work. A healthy Penny doesn’t happen all that often though, which makes Carson more of a bell cow type when healthy. But Penny has looked good in camp and maybe he can stay healthy, which would hurt Carson’s workload.

Kansas City Chiefs

RB1: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
RB2: Darrel Williams
RB3: Jerick McKinnon

I doubt we see Clyde Edwards-Helaire become a 20 touch per game back, but if he can prove his worthiness, he could easily win a big chunk of work. Right now it looks like Darrel Williams will be a big part of that backfield though. And Williams could be in line for goal line work. But, the Chiefs will continue to be pass first and if they can truly get Edwards-Helaire going in the passing game like they want, he could have big PPR numbers.

Philadelphia Eagles

RB1: Miles Sanders
RB2: Boston Scott
RB3: Kerryon Johnson
RB4: Kenny Gainwell

Miles Sanders is the lead, but Boston Scott has been getting a lot of run with the first team as well this summer. The Eagles new head coach Nick Sirianni liked deploying multiple backs in Indianapolis and we probably can’t count on a huge workload for Sanders. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be the lead though.

Jacksonville Jaguars

RB1: James Robinson
RB2: Travis Etienne
RB3: Carlos Hyde

Robinson had a breakout 2020 campaign as an undrafted rookie, so the Jaguars decided to draft another running back in the first round for some unknown reason. They say that Travis Etienne will just be the receiving back, but he is good and they will want to justify that draft capital I’m sure. Robinson should remain the lead though, and if he can repeat his 2020, he can hold off Etienne, but his receiving numbers will likely take a hit.

Washington Football Team

RB1: Antonio Gibson
RB2: J.D. McKissic
RB3: Jaret Patterson
RB4: Peyton Barber

Gibson is poised for a strong sophomore campaign after a nice start to his NFL career in 2020. J.D. McKissic is a good receiver and isn’t going away, but Gibson is also a good receiver and will start to see increased usage this year if he can stay healthy. There isn’t a clear backup to look toward in fantasy if Gibson does miss time though.

Las Vegas Raiders

RB1: Josh Jacobs
RB2: Kenyan Drake
RB3: Jalen Richard

Jacobs was a bell cow back last season, but dealt with injuries, so the Raiders went out and got free agent Kenyan Drake. Drake is likely there to lighten Jacobs’ load, which could help his efficiency and health, but also cut into his usage. This is a tough call, but I’m leaning toward less work for Jacobs this season and fewer fantasy points overall. But, his ADP also has fallen due to Drake’s presence and there is likely still value there.

If Jacobs does miss time, Drake should be a reasonable fantasy play in his absence.

Baltimore Ravens

RB1: J.K. Dobbins
RB2: Gus Edwards
RB3: Justice Hill

Fantasy footballers want to see J.K. Dobbins take on a big workload in the Ravens strong rushing game, but Edwards isn’t going to go away. Their efficiency will be great, but they will hurt each other’s usage no matter how you slice the usage pie. Dobbins should be the lead, but either would be strong fantasy play if the other were to miss time.

Committees with questionable outcomes

San Francisco 49ers

RB1: Raheem Mostert
RB2: Trey Sermon
RB3: Wayne Gallman
RB4: Elijah Mitchell
RB5: Jeff Wilson

The 49ers run game is awesome, but it is often spread out and hard to predict. Raheem Mostert has shown tremendous upside and is still the favorite to lead the way, but he has had trouble staying healthy. Rookie Trey Sermon will see work and Jeff Wilson, when he returns from his injury, should find his way back onto the field. I want pieces from this backfield for fantasy, but I don’t want to overspend either.

Miami Dolphins

RB1: Myles Gaskin
RB2: Malcolm Brown
RB3: Salvon Ahmed

It’s still early, and Myles Gaskin played well as the every down back last season when he was healthy, but we did see Malcolm Brown lead the way in their first preseason game. Is this some kind of way that coach Flores is motivating Gaskins or has Brown just won the lead back job? It is hard to say at this moment, but it does give me pause. Hopefully the situation will clear up sooner than later.

Denver Broncos

RB1: Melvin Gordon
RB2: Javonte Williams
RB3: Mike Boone

Melvin Gordon is the starter, but there’s no reason to think Williams won’t gain traction as the season goes along or earlier. It’s a tough situation for fantasy drafters though, as the two could end up splitting work overall. The Broncos are all in on Williams after trading up to grab him in the second round, but they’ll want to get what they can out of Gordon in the last year of his contract.

Detroit Lions

RB1: D’Andre Swift
RB2: Jamaal Williams
RB3: Jemar Jefferson

Lions coaches have been indicating that Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift will split work this season. I still believe in Swift’s ability, especially as a receiver on a team with few strong receivers, but this situation is dicey. How effective the offense is as a whole could damper Swift’s overall numbers. But this is one situation where I’m willing to bet on talent.

New England Patriots

RB1: Damien Harris
RB2: Sony Michel
RB3: James White

Damien Harris has looked good in camp and should continue to be the lead back. But, Sony Michel has been healthy all camp as well, which is new for him. If he can keep it up, he’s going to still be a factor while James White continues his receiving duties. I like Harris in this offense, but he could have some low volume games.

Buffalo Bills

RB1: Zack Moss
RB2: Devin Singletary
RB3: Matt Breida

Zack Moss has been running ahead of Devin Singletary in camp, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to take the bulk of the work. Singletary looked good in their first preseason game while Moss was out with an injury. We will likely see a split in their work, with Moss taking the lead, but even that isn’t written in stone. Unless things change, we could see a repeat of 2020, which wasn’t great for fantasy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

RB1: Leonard Fournette
RB2: Ronald Jones
RB3: Gio Bernard

Ronald Jones led the Buccaneers in rushing last season, but Leonard Fournette came on strong in the playoffs and led the team into the Super Bowl. I like Jones better, but Fournette did get the start ahead of Jones in their first preseason game while new receiving back Gio Bernard was a big factor in the receiving game. At this point I don’t feel good about any single back here, but with such a strong offense, I will grab a Buccaneers back late.

Arizona Cardinals

RB1: Chase Edmonds
RB2: James Conner
RB3: Jonathan Ward

Chase Edmonds appears to have the edge to start, but free agent pickup James Conner will be a factor if he can stay healthy. I prefer Edmonds at the moment, but if Conner can buck his trend of missing games due to injury, this situation could be mediocre overall for fantasy.

New York Jets

RB1: Tevin Coleman
RB2: Michael Carter
RB3: La’mical Perine
RB4: Ty Johnson

Rookie Michael Carter will get fantasy footballers more excited, but Tevin Coleman is likely to be the lead back to start the season. Their effectiveness will be tied to rookie Zach Wilson and the offense as a whole, so it’s hard to be too excited about either until we see them move the ball in the regular season. But if Coleman can be had at a discount, he could have value.

Houston Texans

RB1: Phillip Lindsay
RB2: Mark Ingram
RB3: David Johnson

The Texans backfield might be the least appealing of all the backfields for fantasy, but that still doesn’t mean we completely bypass them. If a single back comes out of this scrum with the bulk of the work, his ADP could easily be one of value. We saw Philip Lindsay start the first preseason game and right now David Johnson is the highest ADP back of the group. At this point I would be happy to add Lindsay late in hopes that he leads the way.