Fantasy News  


Fantasy football backfield situations by team in 2017


If you want to dominate fantasy football, you need to know running back depth charts. But who the hell has time to research all the camp battles and watch Northwest Liberty State game tape? We here at NFL Fantasy do, obviously. Below I give you the quick skinny on how running back depth charts are shaping up for all 32 teams in mid-July. I've also included a full color-coded chart at the very end for those of you too lazy to read.

Editor's note: This is organized alphabetically by team name, not city because James Koh marches to the beat of his own drum.

San Francisco 49ers

Projected Starter: Carlos Hyde
Handcuff: Tim Hightower
Dark horse/PPR Option: Joe Williams

From a talent standpoint, Carlos Hyde is the guy, but there have been rumblings the team isn't totally sold. Utah rookie Joe Williams is an awfully interesting name. A natural one-cut runner, Williams has all the athletic tools (5-foot-11, 210 pounds, 4.41 40-yard dash) to be an absolute monster in Kyle Shanahan's system but he also comes in with a lot of off-field baggage.

Chicago Bears

Projected Starter: Jordan Howard
Handcuff: Jeremy Langford
Dark horse/PPR Option: Tarik Cohen

Rookie Tarik Cohen's nickname is "The Human Joystick" and his highlights are a fun watch but he's all of 5-foot-6 and 180 pounds. He could see a small handful of passing targets but unless he's Chris Johnson 2.0, don't expect him to be an every-down back. Especially since, you know, Jordan Howard is the guy in this backfield.

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected Starter: Joe Mixon
Handcuff: Jeremy Hill
Dark horse/PPR Option: Giovani Bernard

The backfield competition in Cincy sounds like it's coming down to Joe Mixon and Jeremy Hill. You'd think Mixon wins the job, but he is a rookie and sometimes teams defer to veterans early in the season. Meanwhile, Hill is in a contract year and is obviously very familiar with the offensive system, giving him a leg up. Don't be shocked if Hill wins an extremely tenuous starting job to open the season.

Buffalo Bills

Projected Starter: LeSean McCoy
Handcuff: Jonathan Williams
Dark horse/PPR Option: Mike Tolbert

Mike Gillislee is gone, meaning LeSean McCoy's new annoying touchdown stealer will be the big-bodied Jonathan Williams. A second-year player from Arkansas, Williams is 5-foot-11, 220 pounds. As for Mike Tolbert, remember he and new head coach Sean McDermott have history from when they were together in Carolina.

Denver Broncos

Projected Starter: C.J. Anderson
Handcuff: Devontae Booker
Dark horse/PPR Option: Jamaal Charles

You could shuffle up these names, switch them around and a case could be made for any one of them as the starter. The Broncos will transition to a power run scheme under Mike McCoy, something that could favor Devontae Booker. If Jamaal Charles is healthy, he could be the guy. But that's a BIG if.

Cleveland Browns

Projected Starter: Isaiah Crowell
Handcuff: Duke Johnson
Dark horse/PPR Option: George Atkinson

The third running back spot will be a battle between George Atkinson and rookie Matt Dayes out of North Carolina State. Given that Atkinson plays special teams, I'd lean there. Atkinson on paper should be a beast; 6-foot-1, 220 pounds with 4.48 speed. But for whatever reason, that prototypical size/speed combination rarely shows up on game days. If it ever clicks, though, watch out.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected Starter: Jacquizz Rodgers
Handcuff: Jeremy McNichols
Dark horse/PPR Option: Charles Sims

Doug Martin is suspended for the first three games. It's assumed he'll be the starter if/when he comes back, although I'm not 100 percent convinced. Jeremy McNichols is the x-factor here. He's the most well-rounded back outside of Martin. If he gets an opportunity, it could be lightning in a bottle.

Arizona Cardinals

Projected Starter: David Johnson
Handcuff: T.J. Logan
Dark horse/PPR Option: James Summers

Logan is no old man, and the rookie from North Carolina is more Flash than Wolverine. At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Logan ran a 4.37 40-yard dash. You mix that speed with the mind under that Kangol lid in Arizona, magic could happen if pressed into service.

Los Angeles Chargers

Projected Starter: Melvin Gordon
Handcuff: Branden Oliver
Dark horse/PPR Option: Kenjon Barner

The depth behind Melvin Gordon is non-existent but at the very least Kenjon Barner provides the most health and upside as a backup. Branden Oliver tore his Achilles last year and Kenneth Farrow had a campaign-ending shoulder injury late in the season. Even when healthy both were uninspiring.

Kansas City Chiefs

Projected Starter: Spencer Ware
Handcuff: Kareem Hunt
Dark horse/PPR Option: C.J. Spiller

Spencer Ware and Kareem Hunt will battle for lead-back duties but it appears Ware has the inside track as of this moment. If you want to draft C.J. Spiller, go for it, I definitely won't get in your way.

Indianapolis Colts

Projected Starter: Frank Gore
Handcuff: Robert Turbin
Dark horse/PPR Option: Marlon Mack

Frank Gore has posted at least 1,200 total yards for ELEVEN CONSECUTIVE YEARS. This man is legit a machine. But he's 34 years old and had 301 total touches last year, the third-most of his career. Marlon Mack is a home-run hitter but inconsistent between the tackles. But if he develops under Gore's pro tutelage, the opportunity could be there for him to post solid numbers.

Dallas Cowboys

Projected Starter: Ezekiel Elliott
Handcuff: Darren McFadden
Dark horse/PPR Option: Alfred Morris

In 2015, Darren McFadden racked up 1,400 total yards behind this same offensive line but was once again limited by injuries in 2016. Alfred Morris is third on the depth chart but is a high-quality backup as well.

Miami Dolphins

Projected Starter: Jay Ajayi
Handcuff: Damien Williams
Dark horse/PPR Option: Kenyan Drake

This backfield belongs to Jay Ajayi, but Kenyan Drake could get in on the mix on passing downs and special packages. His explosiveness and game-breaking speed (4.45 40-yard dash) can be deadly in space.

Philadelphia Eagles

Projected Starter: LeGarrette Blount
Handcuff: Wendell Smallwood
Dark horse/PPR Option: Darren Sproles

Literally no one is expecting Blount to put up 18 touchdowns again. I won't be one of those experts telling you, "There's no way he does that again!" Duh. That being said, given the roster construction, 1,000 yards and eight to 10 touchdowns is absolutely doable. We don't know how much juice Darren Sproles has left in those little legs of his but I wouldn't count him out.

Atlanta Falcons

Projected Starter: Devonta Freeman
Handcuff: Tevin Coleman
Dark horse/PPR Option: Brian Hill

Let me wax poetic for a second about Brian Hill. A rookie out of Wyoming, Hill is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds with 4.54 speed. Obviously, the measurables are great but man, put on this dude's tape and enjoy. He's a decisive, violent runner that immediately enters the conversation as Atlanta's goal-line back. If he somehow gets a chance to start it could be fireworks ... but the Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman combo isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

New York Giants

Projected Starter: Paul Perkins
Handcuff: Shane Vereen
Dark horse/PPR Option: Wayne Gallman

Paul Perkins is the starter but it looks very much like Shane Vereen will steal a ton of passing down work and Wayne Gallman at 6-foot, 215 pounds could steal goal-line work. The roles seemed defined which is nice, but the fantasy upside for all three is pretty limited.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected Starter: Leonard Fournette
Handcuff: Chris Ivory
Dark horse/PPR Option: T.J. Yeldon

We've seen with full clarity how ineffective Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon are (3.8, 3.6 yards per carry respectively). Yeldon does have some appeal in PPR (50 receptions last year) but honestly, if L4 (Leonard Fournette) goes down, please lord don't make me pick between Yeldon and Ivory in standard.

New York Jets

Projected Starter: Matt Forte
Handcuff: Bilal Powell
Dark horse/PPR Option: Elijah McGuire

Realistically, Matt Forte and Bilal Powell are projected to split the work about 50/50 but Forte should open as the nominal starter. Elijah McGuire is a rookie from Louisiana-Lafayette and the former Ragin' Cajuns (note: for realsies that's their team name, apostrophe and all) is a smallish back who is a terrific pass catcher. Unfortunately for him, so are Forte and Powell. It'll be tough for the rook to make an impact this year.

Detroit Lions

Projected Starter: Ameer Abdullah
Handcuff: Zach Zenner
Dark horse/PPR Option: Theo Riddick

It's difficult trying to predict who'll be the Ameer Abdullah handcuff here but the team favored Zach Zenner down the stretch over Dwayne Washington, so there's that. Obviously, Theo Riddick has value in PPR (133 receptions over his last 26 games, more than five per game) but should be considered in standard leagues super late as well.

Green Bay Packers

Projected Starter: Ty Montgomery
Handcuff: Jamaal Williams
Dark horse/PPR Option: Aaron Jones

The idea that the Packers don't trust Ty Montgomery as a lead back because they drafted a bunch of RBs this year is taking a pretty cursory approach to this situation. Green Bay invested a fourth- and fifth-round pick on Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, respectively, which is nothing special and neither one is a bigger back than Montgomery anyway. Williams is a solid, if unspectacular, between-the-tackles runner but he's 212 pounds. Jones, who has a bunny-like twitch, is all of 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds. To me, it looks like the team added depth and not a replacement.

Carolina Panthers

Projected Starter: Jonathan Stewart
Handcuff: Christian McCaffrey
Dark horse/PPR Option: Cameron Artis-Payne

There has been zero indication that it won't be Jonathan Stewart starting. That being said, the plan is to use Run CMC a lot and in a variety of ways. Both will get work although I've been on record saying Christian McCaffrey is being severely overdrafted right now. Barring injuries to both, no other back is worth investing in.

New England Patriots

Projected Starter: Mike Gillislee?
Handcuff: Rex Burkhead?
Dark horse/PPR Option: James White?

We know nothing. The team made not insignificant moves to acquire Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. There are some indications Gillislee will be the starter but again ... it's Bill Belichick. We know nothing.

Oakland Raiders

Projected Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Handcuff: Jalen Richard
Dark horse/PPR Option: DeAndre Washington

Jalen Richard never saw more than nine carries or seven targets in a game but in an insanely small sample size, he was insanely efficient. The undrafted rookie last year sported a 5.9 yards per carry average through 89 carries and caught 29 of his 39 targets in the passing game (74 percent catch rate). Pro Football Focus rated Richard as the second-most "elusive" running back per their metrics. He'll see limited work so long as Lynch is Beast-ing but it'd be wise to keep Richard's name handy.

Los Angeles Rams

Projected Starter: Todd Gurley
Handcuff: Malcolm Brown
Dark horse/PPR Option: Lance Dunbar

Lance Dunbar will be LA's receiving back but Gurley's true handcuff is still unclear. It could be Malcolm Brown, it could be Aaron Green or hell it could even be local kid, former USC Trojan Justin Davis. I'll go with Brown for now but the undrafted Davis could be a legit contender here. I like what I saw from him in college and at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds he ran a sub 4.5 40-yard dash at his pro day. For a backup? You could do a lot worse.

Baltimore Ravens

Projected Starter: Terrance West
Handcuff: Lorenzo Taliaferro
Dark horse/PPR Option: Danny Woodhead

Kenneth Dixon is suspended for the first four games and when he returns it's expected he and Terrance West will split the ground work with Danny Woodhead shouldering most of the passing situations. If that sounds like a horror show for fantasy, you would be correct. It should be noted Lorenzo Taliaferro switched to fullback this offseason but as we saw last year with Kyle Juscykzxjcv!giuwe0[8lkxzc (ed. note: correct spelling would be Kyle Juszczyk) Baltimore will utilize that position offensively. It's unlikely Lo-T will be fantasy relevant but he's worth keeping a tab on.

Washington Redskins

Projected Starter: Samaje Perine
Handcuff: Rob Kelley
Dark horse/PPR Option: Chris Thompson

I know the starting gig is yet to be determined but c'mon brah. Samaje Perine should win the job going away. If/when he does, his workload remains unclear. Chris Thompson will have standalone value in PPR leagues later in drafts after hauling in 49 catches to go along with 705 combined yards and five total scores a season ago. Rob Kelley lost weight this offseason but will be fighting all season for touches.

New Orleans Saints

Projected Starter: Mark Ingram
Handcuff: Adrian Peterson
Dark horse/PPR Option: Alvin Kamara

Why Saints, why? Why add Adrian Peterson and then draft Alvin Kamara after Mark Ingram finally, finally, finally showed you he can get it done for an entire season (16 games, 1,300 total yards, 10 total scores)??? It sounds like it could be a 50-50 split between Ingram and Peterson while the rookie Kamara mixes in on passing downs. It's Patriots Part II and on behalf of the entire fantasy community, let me just say, not cool New Orleans, not cool.

Seattle Seahawks

Projected Starter: Eddie Lacy
Handcuff: Thomas Rawls
Dark horse/PPR Option: C.J. Prosise

It appears the starting gig is Eddie Lacy's to lose but I mean this is Pete Carroll we're talking about here. The guy who preaches competition and all that. If Thomas Rawls wins the job, I would be surprised zero percent. C.J. Prosise is currently going in the double-digit rounds even in PPR mocks according to Fantasy Football Calculator. I'd buy that all day in PPR. Then there's Christine Michael ... nah I���m just kidding, he's not even on the team.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected Starter: Le'Veon Bell
Handcuff: James Conner
Dark horse/PPR Option: Knile Davis

Davis will likely be the third back given his special teams skills but will be irrelevant for fantasy purposes unless both Le'Veon Bell and James Conner get injured.

Houston Texans

Projected Starter: Lamar Miller
Handcuff: D'Onta Foreman
Dark horse/PPR Option: Alfred Blue

D'Onta Foreman could push for enough carries to really sting Lamar Miller's fantasy value but at the very least expect the behemoth back to vulture a big chunk of goal-line carries. Alfred Blue, Akeem Hunt, and Tyler Ervin are currently inconsequential from a fantasy standpoint regardless of format.

Tennessee Titans

Projected Starter: DeMarco Murray
Handcuff: Derrick Henry
Dark horse/PPR Option: Khalfani Muhammad

As a rookie Derrick Henry had 110 carries, while DeMarco Murray had 293 (tied for third-most in the league). It's fair to assume Henry sees at least a bit more work this year, but Murray remains the workhorse. Should Murray miss time, though, Henry combined with that offensive line would instantly be a top-10 back. Khalfani Muhammad is a perfect complementary back with cray-cray speed. At his Cal pro day he ran an outrageous 4.34 40-yard dash ... in the rain. That being said, he's 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds.

Minnesota Vikings

Projected Starter: Dalvin Cook
Handcuff: Latavius Murray
Dark horse/PPR Option: Jerick McKinnon

Worst-case scenario for Dalvin Cook is he will be a between-the-20s guy with Latavius Murray snaking goal-line looks. Best case? Cook's versatile skills shine through, he wins the starting gig outright and becomes a workhorse. But given the Vikings offensive line question marks, it'll still be tough sledding for the rookie regardless. If Cook suffers injury, McKinnon would be a viable PPR option. He averaged more than five receptions and about 30 receiving yards per game the last five games of the season. Not bad if you're hurting for RB depth.


Color key:
Red = Volatile backfield / Starter could change weekly
Yellow = Clear starter in a commitee / Starting gig up for grabs
Green = Stable backfield / Clear lead back

-- James Koh is the host of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast and an analyst on NFL Fantasy LIVE. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast!


Fan Discussion