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Next Man Up: Running Backs

Who are those late-round backup running backs you should be targeting for a potentially huge fantasy impact?

Boston Scott

Anyone who has played fantasy football for some time is familiar with the concept of handcuffing your players. In this series, I’m going to look at some of the more overlooked backups who could become league winners if the players ahead of them fall victim to injury during the season.

READ: Next Man Up: Quarterbacks

This year, more than any, with a limited off-season and a global pandemic, it sure seems like we may see more backups see significant snaps than we have seen in recent memory. Omitting the obvious targets, I wanted to look at some of the more overlooked reserves who could be league winners if they are forced into action.

In the first part of this series, I looked at quarterbacks, and that is the world of haves and have-nots. Here, looking at running backs, we’ll see that almost everyone is already on the fantasy radar, especially with the prevalence of running back committees in today’s game. I tried to avoid players who are widely known as handcuffs or those who have an established change-of-pace role.

Lamical Perine, RB NYJ

The Jets’ fourth-round pick should be on your radar. Behind Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore, Perine could be in line for significant snaps if the 28 or 37-year-old miss any time. Temper your expectations though, as this Jets squad was among the league-worst at running the ball a year ago. They had the seventh-fewest rushing attempts, the second-fewest rushing yards, second-fewest touchdowns, and the fewest first downs and yards per carry. You can see Perine in action thanks to DLF’s Draft Prospect Video collection.

Duke Johnson, RB HOU

A year ago, the Texans acquiredJohnson from Cleveland, and fantasy owners rejoiced. Then they brought in Carlos Hyde, and the Johnson owners were once again sad. Hyde took over the lead-back role, and Duke was relegated to the change-of-pace role we grew to accept when he was with the Browns. This year, the Texans acquired David Johnson from the Cardinals, and again, it looks like we’ll see Duke Johnson as a backup. With Hyde as the lead back, Duke saw only 83 carries last season, and there is little reason to believe that number goes up sharing the backfield with a more talented David.

David Johnson is a very capable pass-catcher as well, and he should eat into Duke Johnson’s 62 targets from a year ago. Things look bleak for Duke Johnson; however, David Johnson has missed 18 games over the last three years and looked terrible towards the end of last season. If David Johnson looks awful again or gets injured, Duke Johnson should inherit a monster workload with only Karan Higdon and Buddy Howell competing for touches. Looking at current ADP, both Johnsons are a buy, but Duke could be a league-winner if things play out in his favor.

Tony Pollard, RB DAL

I hate Mike McCarthy. As a long-time owner of multiple Packer backs over the years, from Eddie Lacy and James Starks, to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, nobody is more frustrating to deal with than Mike McCarthy. Obviously, Pollard isn’t going to take away Ezekiel Elliot’s job, but he may eat into his workload. A year ago, Zeke got 355 touches, and Pollard saw 101 touches. It is well within the realm of possibilities to see 50 of those touches shift towards Pollard, with the end the year totals looking closer to 300 and 150 touches, respectively.

Checking out DLF’s coaching history app, you can see McCarthy has made his RB2 fantasy-relevant in years past, even at the cost of hurting his RB1 for fantasy purposes. And this says nothing for Pollard’s potential monster workload as he would compete with Jordan Chun and Rico Dowdle if Zeke misses any time.

Boston Scott, RB PHI

Philadelphia’s Boston Scott has seen a significant ADP rise in recent months. Given Doug Pederson’s history with using a running back committee, it seems warranted. Over Pederson’s four-year tenure as the Eagles’ coach, his teams have averaged 440 rushes with 74 receptions to running backs. Pederson’s top running back has averaged 35-percent of the team’s carries and 45-percent of the running back receptions. If those averages hold up, Eagles’ lead back Miles Sanders should see approximately 154 carries and 33 receptions. Although Sanders has the upside as a pass-catcher to surpass 50 receptions again, many think Scott will get more of that work in 2020.

Keeping up with those historic numbers, Pederson’s RB2 has seen 21 percent of all carries and 22 percent of the receptions out of the backfield. That should look like 92 carries and 16 receptions according to the averages. According to DLF’s trade finder, you’ll see that Scott can be had for a very fair price. If Sanders gets hurt (or fumbles his way out of some work) Scott would likely take over the lead back duties and an increased percentage of touches while Corey Clement would become the backup.

Reggie Bonnafon, RB CAR

Christian McCaffrey has seen 926 touches since he broke into the league three years ago – the second-most in the league over that span. Bonnafon has no stand-alone value, as McCaffrey has seen a monstrous 93 and 91 percent of the team’s offensive snaps over the last two seasons. Only Jordan Scarlett and the ghost of Mike Davis could eat into Bonnafon’s workload if CMC went down during the year. Carolina has had arguably one of the most productive backfields for fantasy purposes over the last few years, and Bonnafon would likely be handed the keys in a worst-case-scenario for McCaffrey owners. As the 91st running back off the board, Bonnafon is going undrafted and could be a great pickup if things go south for McCaffrey.

Running backs often miss time due to injuries, and the highest-priority handcuffs are generally scooped up in drafts. Some players always slip through the cracks and get overlooked. This season, more than any other, will test the depths of your bench at all positions. However, at running back in particular, any of the above players could end up being a league-winner.

Next Man Up: Running Backs
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2 years ago

Zeke is miles ahead of any RB McCarthy has had. As long as Kellen Moore is calling the offense, Zeke will get well over 300 touches.

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