The first week of training camp is mostly about letting players get their feet back under them after a long offseason. Most teams only put pads on and started hitting within the past few days, and there isn’t too much you can learn from professional football players playing two-hand-touch that is going to translate to Sundays.
Still, I thought today would be a good time, in the middle of our RB preview week, to update you on where every team’s backfield stands. I’ve been scouring every beat writer’s Twitter timeline and newsfeed for everything you need to know about where things stand heading into the first preseason game of the season. Yep, football is on your television — or computer or tablet, this is 2022 after all — screen at 8 p.m. ET, as the Jaguars and Raiders kick off in the Hall of Fame game on NBC. Or, more accurately, the Jaguars and Raiders backups kick off tonight, because we shouldn’t expect to see the names of too many people we know out there this week.
But we could learn something tonight. I, for one, am excited to see rookie Zamir White play for the Raiders, because he’s one of my favorite late-round sleepers, so hopefully he’s out there. In going over each team’s RB depth chart and hierarchy in today’s newsletter, White is one of the non-starters I identify as potentially moving quickly up Fantasy draft boards with a good preseason and camp, so I’d love to see him get off to a good start tonight.
In tomorrow’s newsletter, I’ll go through how each of the top 12 running backs in ADP could bust, take a look at my favorite ADP values and who I’m fading at the position, and I’ll answer some of your running back questions – send them my way at Chris.Towers@ViacomCBS.com with the subject line “#AskFFT” to be included. And you’ll want to make sure you check out Jamey Eisenberg’s latest Busts column to see who he’s avoiding.
But for now, here’s the latest you need to know about every backfield in the league.
Breaking down every RB depth chart
The Cardinals seemingly want to have multiple backs involved, but it’s not clear whether that’ll be Benjamin or Williams. Conner has dealt with a lot of injuries over the years, but if he can take on a bigger role in the passing game than he had for much of last season, he has top-five potential in this offense. I lean Williams as the backup to have at this point, though it isn’t clear from camp reports yet if one has the lead over the other.
- No. 1: Cordarrelle Patterson (presumably)
- Backups: Damien Williams, Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, Qadree Ollison
Patterson is the do-it-all guy who will split out wide, though the Falcons have made it clear they want to be careful with his usage after he faded down the stretch. Williams got the first crack with the first team, but with Williams out Wednesday, Huntley and Ollison got some additional reps with the first time. Allgeier is getting his reps too, so it doesn’t sound like there’s a ton of clarity here. Fantasy analysts are betting on Allgeier, the rookie, but I’ve got my eye on Huntley as a deep sleeper.
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Dobbins is aiming to be ready for Week 1, but he figures to be worked in somewhat slower than he otherwise would be if not for the injury. With Edwards more in doubt for the start of the regular season, that leaves open the possibility that Davis could be Fantasy relevant early on – at this point, I’m assuming he’ll get the first crack at it, though the coaching staff hasn’t really tipped its hands just yet. According to the Ravens official site, expect the preseason games to be the real test.
The surprise here is that Moss sounds like he might matter more than we expected. He was inactive at times toward the end of last season, so his role will likely come down to whether Buffalo opts to keep three true running backs active on game day. But this could be more of a mess than we expected – and given Buffalo’s track record as one of the worst offenses for running backs in Fantasy, any split figures to render whoever the lead back is as a fringe Fantasy option.
All three backs figure to be active on game days, though coach Matt Rhule did mention that Hubbard’s role might tilt more to the special teams side of things, at least as long as McCaffrey is healthy. It could be one of those situations where Foreman is the backup when McCaffrey is healthy while he and Hubbard split work if anything happens to McCaffrey. I don’t think either of the backups has much appeal in drafts.
It sounds like Ebner and Evans are competing for the third-string role, with Herbert locked in as the backup. Based on how he looked last season – 197 yards in two games as a starter – Herbert has real RB2 appeal if anything happens to Montgomery, but he doesn’t have much value when Montgomery is healthy.
Perine and Evans are competing to be the backup to Mixon, and that role has some standalone value, though not enough to matter for Fantasy if Mixon is healthy. Perine is in the lead right now, as coach Zac Taylor acknowledged recently, but the battle isn’t over by any means.
We know how this works: Chubb is a dynamite rusher and Hunt is one of the best complementary backs in the league. As long as both are healthy, they take just enough from one another to limit Chubb to more of an RB2 role, while Hunt is a flex. But he remains one of the highest-upside backups in the league. What we’ll need to watch more than anything is the NFL‘s just-announced appeal of Deshaun Watson‘s six-game suspension. The league was pushing for a season-long suspension, and that could still be in play. This offense is a lot less interesting with Jacoby Brissett as the QB.
Despite the protestations of Fantasy players everywhere, the Cowboys remain committed to Elliott. In fact, owner Jerry Jones recently said he still wants Elliott to be the “focus” of the offense, though he added there is “room for Pollard while Zeke is in there.” So, it sounds like it’ll be a lot like last season. For what it’s worth, Elliott was probably better than you remember before his early-season injury – he averaged 101.4 yards per game with six touchdowns in the first five games.
Lions coach Dan Campbell is acknowledging that the team has to be careful in managing Swift’s workload after he has struggled with injuries in his first two seasons. He has Austin Ekeler/Alvin Kamara-esque upside as a pass-catcher and could be a top five Fantasy RB, but expect WIlliams to get 8-12 carries most weeks, similar to last season.
This is going to be a split backfield just as it was last season, though with the absence of Davante Adams, more may be asked of both in the passing game. Aaron Rodgers praised Dillon’s growth in the passing game since the team acquired him, but Jones still figures to be the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. For his part, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso recently wrote about why he thinks this is the year Dillon takes over as the team’s primary back.
- No. 1: Unclear – Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead and Dameon Pierce competing for the role
- Backups: See above.
At this point, it sounds like an open competition with Mack and Pierce getting most of the buzz. Whether that ends up being true when the games matter is a different question, but Pierce is the guy most Fantasy players are gravitating towards. The problem is, this figures to be a bad offense and neither Pierce nor Mack profiles as a big pass-catcher, so there’s probably just low-end RB2 upside for whoever wins. It’s not an exciting battle right now.
The Colts have spent all offseason talking about finding ways to get Hines more involved after he took a step back last season, but we know this offense runs through Taylor. We may see more two-RB sets, but Hines still profiles as just a low-end PPR starter even in a best-case scenario.
- No. 1: James Robinson/Travis Etienne
- Backups: Ryquell Armstead, Conner Snoop
Basically every report about Etienne out of camp has been positive, and he very much looks like he could be the team’s best playmaker. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to dominate carries – Robinson is healthy coming off his ruptured Achilles and looks like he’ll be ready to play in Week 1. Of course, as Cam Akers showed last season, there’s a big difference between “ready to play” and “ready to make an impact” with this injury, so Robinson remains firmly outside of the top 100 in ADP. I like drafting him there.
Pacheco has surprisingly seen some work with the first-team offense, and his speed (4.37 40-yard dash) could make him another weapon in this offense. The question is whether he’ll be able to carve out a pass-catching role, or if he’s competing more for early-down work. If it’s the latter, it’s harder to get excited about him.
Williams is one of the more controversial backs in Fantasy this year. He’s a talented player with a knack for breaking tackles, but he spent most of his rookie season in a frustrating timeshare, and Gordon is back. Williams is the lead back in this offense, but he’s continuing to split work with Gordon in the first-team offense, so if you thought Williams was going to render Gordon irrelevant, that was never going to be the case. Williams is a risk at his early-second round ADP, but the upside — especially in the event of an injury to the 29-year-old Gordon — remains considerable.
White missed the first week of camp with an injury, which is always a bad sign for a rookie. Still, the Raiders turned down Jacobs’ fifth-year option, so there’s no long-term commitment with either of the top two backs on the depth chart here. If White impresses in camp, there’s an outside shot he has a real role come Week 1.
The competition behind Ekeler remains wide open, and this is potentially a very valuable role, both as Ekeler’s complement and potential injury replacement. I’m pulling for Spiller to win the job, but at this point it sounds like he’s working more with the second and third teams. He has a chance to change that as camp goes on, and I’m willing to take a chance on him in the ninth-round range. .
Akers didn’t look great in his return from a ruptured Achilles last season, and I remain skeptical that he’s going to hit the upside some envision. However, if he’s healthy and effective, he’s likely to dominate touches in this offense, and that counts for a lot. Keep an eye on Williams, who suffered a broken foot but could be back before the end of training camp. Darrell Henderson is fine, but his inability to stay healthy has seemingly soured the coaching staff on him, so Williams could work his way into the next-man-up role.
The Dolphins have been nearly impossible to get a read on in camp over the past two seasons – there just doesn’t ever seem to be much to go off from reporters on their hierarchy, which was how we went from an expected competition between Matt Breida and Malcolm Brown in 2020 to Gaskin dominating snaps in Week 1. At this point, things look truly wide open, though Edmonds and Mostert have had some absences from camp in recent days, which could give Michel an opportunity. He’s a dark horse to be a viable starter in what we expect to be an effective rushing game in the mold of San Francisco’s.
You know how it works here. When Cook is healthy, he dominates. When Cook isn’t healthy — something that happens more than you’d like from your first-round pick, even though he’s mostly managed to avoid lengthy absences since his torn ACL – Mattison is a top-five back.
The Patriots are playing things so close to the vest that they’ve refused to name an offensive coordinator this season, so don’t expect them to just come out and tell us if Stevenson has usurped Harris. However, he’s the most high-upside back on the roster, capable of providing a similar bruising rushing style to Harris while also seemingly having more trust as a pass-catcher. Don’t ignore Montgomery, however – he seems to have a leg up on the pass-catching role that has typically been White’s when healthy. White had 13 targets in the first two games last season, so Montgomery could have some appeal for zero-RB builds early on.
A potential suspension continues to hang over Kamara’s head, given the felony battery charge he is facing. However, he had his preliminary hearing postponed to late September, and it increasingly looks like that situation may not be resolved in the legal system until after the season. That likely means the NFL won’t come down with a punishment until next season, if at all.
Barkley has had a lot of positive things to say about Brian Daboll’s offense, which figures to be more creative in how they get him the ball. Barkley is still looking to recapture his rookie season glory days, but I think you can at least assume that, if healthy, he won’t be ceding touches and snaps like he was last season. Breida and Brightwell likely only matter if something happens to Barkley – and remember, his ankle injury last season came from stepping on someone’s foot.
Hall has been lining up all over the formation in camp so far, and the expectation remains that he’ll start. However, the expectation also remains that the Jets will utilize multiple backs. Hall has the potential to be a difference maker, but this offense needs to be a lot better than it was last season for him to be a huge Fantasy contributor. That upside is worth chasing, though I’m a bit lower than the consensus on Hall at this point.
The Eagles are rotating backs in camp more than last year, per Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP.com, with one recent stretch showing Sanders getting 10 reps with the first team while Boston Scott got five; Sanders also got nine reps with the second team. Gainwell seems to be working more with the second team, but he remains the back to target here, in my opinion; we know Scott is more of a change-of-pace back, but Gainwell could be the No. 1 guy if something happens with Sanders, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
There has been some talk this offseason about limiting Harris’ workload, but I’ll believe that when I see it. And I haven’t seen much reason to think Harris is really going to split work in the backfield – something that really hasn’t happened during the Mike Tomlin era in Pittsburgh. Snell remains the backup, but he’s given little reason in his career to think there’s much reason to be excited about that.
Mitchell is coming off offseason surgery on his knee and struggled to stay healthy as a rookie, but all indications are he remains the primary back for the 49ers. That being said, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan did at least hint at some frustration with Mitchell’s trouble staying healthy, saying, “but we need Elijah to get back into practicing and being consistent with that because what he did his first year was great, but if you miss that much, it’s just not built to last.” Here’s another quote that caught my eye, though: “”If you didn’t know any better. You would think that Trey Sermon and Jordan Mason were the best running backs on the team.” Sermon fell into Shanahan’s doghouse last camp, but it sounds like things have gone much better this time around, and he’s an intriguing late-round target for Fantasy entering Year 2.
Penny enters camp as the presumed starter after Chris Carson‘s retirement, but Walker looms as a talented young runner ready to step in if Penny falters. Injuries have been the primary thing holding Penny back throughout his career, and that’s always a concern here. As is the quality (or lack thereof) of the offense. Penny has never been much of a pass-catcher either, so there isn’t huge upside here unless he’s consistently breaking off long runs like he did late last season when he averaged 134.2 yards in the final five games.
The Buccaneers like White enough that they invested a third-round pick in him, and many viewed the Arizona State back as the best pass-catcher at the position coming out of college. However, coach Todd Bowles still talks about Fournette like a three-down back, so we should expect him to remain that. White might add a more explosive element to the passing game, but Fournette’s ability to play all three downs is very valuable to this offense. And those concerns about Fournette being overweight during minicamp look completely in the past now. He’s a solid RB1.
Maybe we won’t see Henry in the preseason to keep him fresh, but Henry is going to dominate touches for the Titans when healthy. That last qualifier had to be added for the first time after he suffered a broken foot and missed the second half of the season, and it makes the massive 28-year-old a risk given his physical style and workload history. Hilliard looked decent in a bigger role with Henry out last season, but the Titans leaned on D’onta Foreman more heavily, and Haskins could fit that mold more naturally if something were to happen to Henry again.
Robinson, the team’s third-round pick, has earned plenty of praise in camp, to the point where some Fantasy analysts are starting to get antsy about what it might mean for Gibson’s value. Those concerns are fair, though it’s not clear if Robinson is actually a threat to Gibson’s first-team role yet. Another mouth to feed in an offense that already heavily features McKissic as the pass-catching complement is a concern, but Gibson still has room to take a step forward as an all-around player, so I’m not writing him off just yet. Given how much hype there was around him this time last year, I like the idea of buying low on what is now a fifth-round ADP.