During the 2023 season, fantasy football analyst Jorge Martin will provide weekly analysis of some of the muddiest fantasy RB situations while looking ahead to future matchups.
It’s time to take a look at some running back rooms that after one week, well, the outlook is muddy at best. As much as numbers are crunched and film is viewed, there is still a murkiness that’s just making it too hard to get a clear look into the future of who to recommend for fantasy football.
So here are 10 backfields, with some analysis and a look ahead to Week 2's opponent to get an idea of how to predict if there are any starting-caliber players for this week or in the future.
The numbers say this backfield is incredibly tilted toward David Montgomery, who was on the field for 55 total snaps while rookie Jahmyr Gibbs saw just 19. Montgomery was most trusted, as he was asked to block on 10 pass plays to none for Gibbs. That usage translated to touches, as Montgomery drew 21 carries for 74 yards and a score. The rookie turned seven carries into 42 yards, and caught his two targets for 18 yards. He might have scored if not for slipping in the red zone.
One thing the numbers don’t tell is the different speed that Gibbs showed on the field. The acceleration was special, and it stands to time before the Lions start giving Gibbs more touches.
Seattle is coming to Motown this week, fresh off a 30-13 shellacking at the hands of the Rams, who ran the ball 40 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns. Montgomery should continue to get the bulk of the carries, with Gibbs gradually becoming more involved.
Quick reminder: Seahawks-Lions last year was a Week 4, 48-45 slugfest at Ford Field. Could this be a replay?
It was not the plan to include the Ravens in this write-up after a single week. A torn Achilles for J.K. Dobbins changes things dramatically and throws the Ravens’ backfield into a bit of chaos. Just looking at the in-game adjustments that Baltimore did, Justice Hill and Gus Edwards are going to share the load.
Hill scored on a pair of 2-yard runs but finished with 9 yards on eight rush attempts. Edwards rushed for 32 yards on eight carries and is the large, north-south bruising running back who has been a mainstay for the Ravens. Neither back drew a target.
The Ravens travel to Cincinnati for an AFC North rock fight, and the Bengals are smarting after having Nick Chubb trample them for 106 yards and 18 carries last week. Even though Hill scored twice, my money — FAAB and figuratively — is on Edwards to own more of the load.
But it won’t be a great advantage, and there is the chance the Ravens sign Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt or another running back before Sunday. Or promote Melvin Gordon from the practice squad.
All offseason the chatter in the fantasy community was that Antonio Gibson would go into this hybrid role, as a threat to catch passes out of the backfield, while Brian Robinson would be a two-down banger who cedes the field in obvious passing situations.
They both ran 17 routes and caught a single pass apiece against Arizona. “This is why they play the game,” Chris Berman famously said.
Robinson dominated the rushing attempts, 19-3, as well as being on the field for 43 snaps to 25 for Gibson. Even though ADP had Gibson at the RB33 to Robinson’s RB35, this is looking like a clear advantage for Robinson.
The Broncos, Washington's Week 2 opponent, were supposed to be tougher against the pass than the run this season, but 2022 NFL rushing champ Josh Jacobs was held to 48 yards on 19 attempts last week.
The recommendation is to bench Gibson until he becomes a larger part of the offense. As for Robinson, if there are options for a better running back, he could take a seat for a week. Otherwise, he’s an RB2 at best for now.
Los Angeles Rams
Late in training camp, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic pointed out the increasing role that Kyren Williams was taking in the Rams’ offense, which was a similar drum beat to what we heard last year before Williams got hurt in the first quarter of the 2022 opener.
Then came Sunday, and Williams dominated Akers in total snaps, 51-27. Williams also ran 26 routes to Akers’ one. The carries were in favor of Akers, 22-15, though the incumbent gained just 29 yards. Williams is clearly going to be a factor in this offense, and the distribution of touches between these two is going to be a headache for fantasy managers who used a fifth-round pick on Akers. Williams needs to be rostered in all formats 12 teams and up for the rest of the season.
This week, though, it’s going to be hard to start either back, as the Rams are facing the 49ers, who were the No. 2 defense against the run in 2022 and just went to Pittsburgh and stifled Steelers running backs to 52 combined rushing yards.
So how many people accidentally left Rashaad Penny in a starting lineup because they were playing in the afternoon game? Raised hand here. The pundits had this backfield pegged as D’Andre Swift being a dual threat in the passing and running games, with Penny being the early-down back. Kenneth Gainwell was supposed to pick up the scraps in garbage time.
All Gainwell did was more than double Swift’s snap count, 38-16, and turn 18 total touches into 74 yards. Swift had two total touches. Gainwell suffered injured ribs during the New England game and hasn’t practiced since. He’s already been ruled out for Week 2, which brings up question marks as to how this backfield will divvy up touches in the next game and beyond.
This Thursday night, the Eagles get the Vikings, who are still vulnerable to the pass — 31st in passing yards allowed last year. Look for this to be an aerial assault from Jalen Hurts, with few answers to be had in the backfield unless Swift gets more targets.
Keep an eye on Penny’s usage if they activate him for TNF. If Boston Scott gets more opportunities, it may be an early sign to cut bait on Penny.
This is a backfield that’s going to qualify as a good problem to have because both running backs are very much startable. Bijan Robinson, well, fantasy managers spent a first-round pick on the rookie and he delivered in both WOW factor and in fantasy points with that screen pass that he turned into an electric 11-yard touchdown reception. With 83 total yards on 16 touches, Robinson is positioned to deliver on that “weapon” moniker foisted upon him.
The “problem” is that Tyler Allgeier drew 19 touches and 94 yards of his own, and scored on a pair of 3-yard runs. Robinson did not see any carries inside the 5-yard line. All fantasy managers are starting Robinson, but does Allgeier also have starting chops? At least this week, yes.
Green Bay was 26th in rushing yards allowed in 2022 and has been among the bottom-dwelling defenses against the run for the past several years. Last week the Bears rushed for 122 yards as a team. Start Allgeier with confidence, because this should be another week of minimal passing if the Falcons can keep the game close.
My feet are on shaky ground. Before the season I made Najee Harris one of “My Guys.” Then Sunday happened, and Harris was on the field for 32 snaps out of 61 total for the Steelers. And teammate Jaylen Warren had 24 snaps, and also out-targeted Harris, 6-2.
Now, the opener against the 49ers was a near-blowout from the beginning, as it was 20-0 San Francisco not even midway through the second quarter. So touch distribution will be more telling in a more hard-fought game.
That could come on "Monday Night Football" against Cleveland.
The Browns shut down the Bengals, 24-3, and held running backs to 75 combined yards. This game being in Pittsburgh, it will be another test for the Steelers’ running backs. I’m still starting Harris because he was either a third or fourth-round draft pick. Warren is someone to watch to see if his snap count remains similar to Harris’ and he stays a factor in the passing game.
What a mess we have here. Jonathan Taylor is on the shelf for at least three more games. Evan Hull just went on IR. Deon Jackson got the bell-cow workload — 50 of 69 total team snaps — but turned 13 carries into 14 yards and two fumbles.
Zack Moss has returned to full participant status in practice and could be the clear lead back until Taylor is back. In four games as Taylor’s replacement late last season, Moss averaged 83.5 rushing yards per game. He picked a good game to return, as the Texans were dead last in rushing yards allowed in 2022.
Moss is the only startable player out of this group. Other than that, count the days until Taylor is back.
On the surface, Derrick Henry dominated the Titans’ touch count, 17-4, over rookie Tyjae Spears. Henry also had 119 total yards — 56 of them via the pass — to 28 for Spears. Then why is this team listed here? Well, Spears actually was on the field eight more plays than Henry (36-28). It stands to reason that with Spears being on the field quite a bit, he’ll start to touch the ball more often.
For now, Henry is still el hombre in Tennessee, because when he was on the field, he almost always got the ball. The fact that Spears is taking some snaps away from Henry may be good for keeping the King fresher later in the season. A date with the Chargers means wheels up starting Henry, and Spears could be a consideration in deep leagues with lots of flexes.
Ah, Da Bears. This is more like Philadelphia-Lite when it comes to running back drama.
Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson each saw between 21 and 26 touches last week, though Johnson seemed to have the decided advantage when garbage time came in the fourth quarter.
If I’m targeting anyone to start out of this trio, it’s still Herbert for now. Johnson’s usage in the passing game — 17 routes run and seven targets — is promising to keep an eye on for down the road, though.
A road matchup in Tampa Bay — 15th against the run last year, and third in 2021 — may be a rough one if the 62 combined rushing yards to Vikings running backs is an indicator for the Bucs’ future performance suppressing the run.