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AFC East Dynasty Rankings: Running Back Edition

How does Member Corner writer Cody Wallinger rank the top dynasty backs in the AFC East?

Michael Carter

Editor’s note: This article is by Member Corner writer Cody Wallinger. Please welcome Cody and provide constructive feedback in the comments section.

I have decided to break down the three big positions (quarterback, running back, and wide receiver) from each division across the NFL. In doing so, I’ve determined that my top four, regardless of team, will be discussed. In some positional breakdowns, that means every team will be represented. However, that’s not a universal certainty. The reality of the situation is that some teams are heavily stacked in particular areas and may find themselves represented multiple times.

Please keep in mind that these rankings are my own. I have no intention of being controversial. However, please also keep in mind that this is from a dynasty lens, tinted with a proven production finished coating.

I hope you enjoy!

1. Michael Carter, NYJ

With the second pick in the fourth round (107th overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft, the New York Jets concluded their impressive offensive haul by locking up one of my pre-draft favorites in Carter. While I know this isn’t meant to focus on players outside of the highlighted ones, not mentioning Zach Wilson (second overall), Alijah Vera-Tucker (14th overall), and Elijah Moore (34th overall) would only be a disservice to this whole writeup.

In my previous AFC East QB edition, I revealed a big reason I have love for Wilson is because of the front office moves being made around him. Adding to a semi-re-vamped offensive line are free-agent wide receiver Corey Davis and the rookies, Moore and Carter. While we aren’t there yet in terms of explosiveness and stature, it’s happening. As first-year head coach Robert Saleh begins his tenure in the Big Apple, he’s certainly doing it the right way.

From a Michael Carter perspective, I see an individual walking into a running back room screaming for talent. As serviceable as Lamical Perine, Tevin Coleman, and Ty Johnson can be, I don’t believe any of them is ‘the guy’. With Carter entering the mix, the Jets have been gifted an individual fully capable of doing it all.

While his fellow UNC running mate and current Denver Bronco, Javonte Williams, may be getting more of the press attention, Carter is just as deserving. In 2020, while both backs eclipsed the 1,000-yard threshold, it was Carter who ran for 105 more yards on one less carry. Furthermore, it was Carter who led the entire Tar Heels offensive (outside QB Sam Howell) in total yards (1,512). No doubt, the 20-pound weight difference is a factor (Carter being lighter), but Carter’s 4.3-second 40-yard dash should also be highlighted in comparison to Williams’ 4.57.

As Dynasty League Football’s 100th player currently departing superflex draft boards, as well as our 30th ranked running back, the price for admission is as inexpensive as you may ever find. When all is said and done, if nothing else moves that needle for you, run this clip on replay:

2. Myles Gaskin, MIA

I’d just like to state that my love for Gaskin is probably higher than you might think. I hope that just goes to show you how much I really love Michael Carter. With that said, don’t let the man’s seventh-round draft capital fool you. If it already has, I’m confident you’ve avoided Austin Ekeler (undrafted) in every facet during your fantasy football experiences. In the off chance I’m touching on something a bit too close to home, let me just be your saving grace. It’s not too late to change your tune, especially with a guy like Gaskin.

Believe me, I was relatively convicted Najee Harris or Travis Etienne were getting drafted to Miami with pick number six last April. When that didn’t happen, I was certain the Jets would snag one of them at number 18. When that came and went and both options were still on the table, I started to find myself shifting my perception of just how valuable Gaskin truly is.

No doubt, injuries limited the 24-year-old RB, last year, but when Gaskin was on the field, he was making waves. Accounting for RBs who played in at least ten games, Gaskin finished as the RB10 – just a mere 0.1 points per contest lower than… drum roll please… yup, you guessed it, Ekeler (16.5). While the Dolphins have both Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed currently filling up their RB room, Gaskin’s unique ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is what sets him apart.

In my opinion, with an 87.2% catch rate, Gaskin’s fantasy value is almost entirely removed from what he does between the tackles. He still has a long way to go to reach elite-level status, but I’m not ready to rule it out of the equation. What Gaskin does this season will ultimately be the deciding factor. However, we might just have a poor man’s Austin Ekeler forming in our midst. So, stay attentive.

3. Damien Harris, NE

If ever there was a situation to fall in love with from a running back perspective, it must be the 2021/22 New England Patriots. Right?

First, they have Pro Football Focus’s third-ranked offensive line. Next, they are an organization void of almost any household name on the offensive end. Sure, Cam Newton is well-known, but this isn’t 2017 any more!

Finally, you have a defense filled with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Matt Judon, Jalen Mills, Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, and the newly-drafted Christian Barmore. After seeing a league-leading eight opt-outs last season and still finishing 15th in yards allowed, one must believe a return to top-five form isn’t out of the question. Yet, that’ll only happen if their offense can do their job and give them time to rest. Now, because of this reality, you better believe both Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels understand the importance of controlling the clock.

Enter Damien Harris.

Obviously, an RB54 (PPR) finish in his second NFL campaign doesn’t insinuate much confidence or create a lot of buzz. That’s fair. Though, using just the end-of-year numbers on this one is everything the “context matters” folk beat their drums about. So, what’s the context? Well, one big piece for me simply centers around the reality that when Harris got some run, he made the most of it. Namely, in the grading department. You know that old adage quality over quantity? Well, here we go. On his 137 rushing attempts, Harris used every one to pull off PFF’s second-best grade (90.3) among running backs. Considering he sandwiched himself in between Derrick Henry (92.4) and Dalvin Cook (89), the least you could do is tip your cap.

A little more context to the situation is just how explosive this Patriots’ offense, as a whole, was. With a 30th-place finish in the passing game (180.6 yards per game) and a 27th place finish in total yards per contest (327.3), I’m sure you’ve realized by now, my last sentence was a whopper of a fib. The truth was the New England Patriots offense was awful and their passing game was even worse. Everyone knew they needed to run and control the clock if they wanted to compete. Thus, it’s what defenses looked to stop.

Why is this relevant? Well, from Harris’s perspective, he saw the third-most (39.4%) stacked boxes (eight-plus defenders) from a percentage standpoint last year. One would think that an improved offensive line coupled with some off-season additions to their receiving weapons (Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor) will only help.

In time, the one variable Harris will need in order to make this work, from a fantasy-relevant standpoint, is volume. Unfortunately, that’s been the one variable lacking in just about every Bill Belichick-coached team I can think of. Thus, without much certainty of touches, James White still being on board, an unsure QB situation, and just a third-round draft capital (87th overall), I hesitate at the idea of Harris being much more valuable than his RB31 superflex ADP.

As Dynasty League Football’s 119th-ranked asset, I think if you can trade for anyone higher or anything more valuable, you jump at it. With some recent buzz surrounding New England’s potential RB1, you might just get lucky.

4. Zack Moss, BUF

I just have a hard time with Moss. While the Bills have a decent offensive line (PFF’s 14th-ranked OL) and an offense capable of duking it out with the best in the league, I’m worried about what Moss’s ceiling can become in an ideal universe. Don’t misunderstand me. He has a role. He’s the “thunder” to Devin Singletary’s “lightning” inside that Buffalo backfield.

It’s just, where most “thunders” make their mark, he falls victim to playing with 6’5, 237 lb Josh Allen who is anything but shy, when it comes to finding the end zone via his feet. That wouldn’t be a huge problem if Moss excelled in the pass-catching game. However, that’s just not his game. Or, at the very least, it wasn’t across his rookie campaign in which he saw just 18 targets in 13 games (0.7 per game).

Now, while there is always the possibility of a Singletary injury sling-shotting Moss into a workhorse role in Buffalo, I’m not sure I’m ready to cross my fingers there. As Dynasty League Football’s 108th-ranked asset and RB34, I’m absolutely finding myself eyeing players like Darnell Mooney (112), Bryan Edwards (113), and Mike Williams (118) a bit more. From a strict RB assessment lens, I’m more invested in Melvin Gordon (RB36), Damien Harris (RB37), or even Kenyan Drake (RB45).

You can follow me on Twitter at @CodyWallinger.

AFC East Dynasty Rankings: Running Back Edition
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Chris Mertz
1 year ago

I love this series and your in-depth review on the top RBs in the division. The AFC East, more than any other division, seems to be one absent of any obvious superstar at the RB position, but a ton of potential for a lot of playable RB2s who are available at reasonable prices. Sony Michel has the highest NFL draft capital in the division at the RB position and he may not even stick with the Pats. Appreciate the work.
FWIW, and not that it changes your overall point re: Moss and his passing game usage, you did the math backwards on his targets/game. His actual targets/game average is 1.38, which is nearly double the stated number when calculated accurately, but still illustrates his ineffectiveness in the passing game as a rookie.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Mertz
Fireman Ed
1 year ago

Fun series. Thanks for the read.

One item of clarification, the Jets never had pick 18. They were I believe 23 and moved up to 14. The Dolphins had 18.

You didn’t really think Miami was going RB at 6 with the other talents at premium positions though, did you? I must be missing something in that paragraph…

sausenbaugh
1 year ago

Why are these rolling out so slow. A lot of drafts start this weekend and the season kicks off in less than a week – yet these are coming out every 4-5 days?

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