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AFC Back up Tier RBs

As everyone is focused on starters for the 2023 season, it's essential to look at depth to see who can step in if something happens to the starter.

As we inch closer to the 2023 season, injuries can occur whether we like it or not. It’s also essential to understand depth, and one position that can have great players that can rise or fall into chaos is the running back position. I will tier the backup running backs for the AFC into four categories. Their backfields are in no particular order but grouped in tiers that make sense to what they are currently.

Potential Standalone Flex Value

This is the top tier of backup running backs who aren’t just backups. These backup running backs can provide standalone value in a dynasty.

NYJ: Dalvin Cook (SELL)

Cook signed with the Jets a week ago now. At the same time, superstar youngster Breece Hall has finally come off the PUP list. Cook should be able to see 10 to 15 touches every week and have a chance to score in any game. OC Nathaniel Hackett has shown us he can make two running backs start-worthy in fantasy. Cook was brought in to help ease Hall back rather than risk injury by giving him too much work. Cook could see bigger workloads in the early part of the season and then fall into a limited touch basis as the season progresses. He can provide that standalone value as a flex option but has RB1 upside if Hall gets reinjured.

The below numbers show Hackett as the OC in Green Bay during the 2021 season with two strong backfields.

2021CarriesTouchdownsTargetsRoutes RunFantasy FinishSnap Share
Aaron Jones**1711065255RB1258.7%
AJ Dillion187737151RB 2342.0%

PIT: Jaylen Warren (BUY)

No, I’m not basing Warren’s standalone potential on his 63-yard run during the week two preseason game. He showed he could be the lighting to Najee Harris’s thunder in the Steelers’ offense. Warren can be a nice change of pace or work as a receiving back for the young offense. He continues to see significant involvement with the first-team offense. Warren had opportunities in the red zone last season, but things didn’t go his way. He is a little riskier but presents a significant upside that can make him a flex play or RB1 if Harris misses time.

DEN: Samaje Perine (SELL)

Perine has been a poster boy of a running back to grab late that has starter appeal. Javonte Williams is continuing to recover from his nasty injury last season, which made the Broncos sign Perine. At the same time, Wiliams looked great in the week two preseason game, primarily as a pass catcher. Perine was efficient on the touches he received last year as a pure backup with the Bengals, being 11th in fantasy points per opportunity. I don’t think the Broncos will give Williams a workhorse role, allowing Perine to split the work down the middle in 2023. We could see a similar split to what Williams had with Melvin Gordon back in 2021. Perine should be a flex-worth player in 2023. We’ve seen if Perine is the starter, he can put up RB1 numbers as well.

2021CarriesTouchdownsTargetsRoutes RunFantasy FinishSnap Share
Javonte Williams203453218RB 1749.9%
Melvin Gordon203838220RB 1852.0%
Williams and Gordon 50/50 split in 2021

KC: Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (BUY)

This one is difficult because we don’t know how the Chiefs will play their offense in 2023. They have more exciting young receivers who are looking to step up. The focus on passing downfield could be an option for the Chiefs. Isaih Pacheco is the current starter, but I don’t believe he is fully healthy or has a long leash during the season. McKinnon saw big production at the end of last season with six straight games with a touchdown. McKinnon could find himself in a similar role again if that is part of the game plan. CEH is also a wild card in this situation. Unlike the others in this tier, if Pacheco goes down, it could be a full-blown committee.

RB1 Upside

This tier among the running backs are players that would likely not see consistent flex value while their starter is healthy. If that starter gets hurt, they could have a major upside for RB1’s potential.

JAX: Tank Bigsby (BUY)

I would love to move Bigsby to the above list, but I’ll be smart about it. Head coach Doug Pederson said that Bigsby’s role will expand as the season goes on. We could expect a slow start, so he isn’t in the tier above. If Travis Etienne were to miss time, Bigsby should command most of the running back work in the offense. He has three down capabilities as a running back to be a dominant force. Etienne has shown that he can get banged up, which could lead to Bigsby seeing a big role.

TEN: Tyjae Spears (BUY)

Spears is another running back I’d like to move up to the next tier, but I haven’t seen much talking about using Spears and Derrick Henry on the field together. Spears will be a nice change of pace back, but it’s still the King’s show in Tennessee. Spears has fantastic speed and agility that could make him elite if something happens to Henry. I’m not concerned about his weird non-ACL situation regarding the long term, but in 2023, Spears could see RB1 value if he were called to the starting lineup.

CLE: Jerome Ford (BUY)

Ford is an interesting player that could see big numbers if he becomes the starter. He has a great blend of speed and power to be used as a three-down back. He is banged up at the moment, so that is something to watch for the season. The hype on Nick Chubb finally becoming a full three-down back is full steam ahead, so Ford may not get the stand-alone value we all want for him.

Decent RB2/3

This tier is players who likely aren’t going to see the workhorse role but can see a good portion of the work. Also, they don’t have the elite traits to have that RB1 upside, but they can put up solid RB2 numbers in fantasy.

MIA: Jeff Wilson and Devon Achane (HOLD)

The Dolphins backfield will likely be in a committee approach, but if Rasheem Mostert gets hurt, that log jam can clear up. Wilson would likely be the next man up, especially with Achane dealing with a shoulder injury. Last year, the Dolphins’ run game only gave a few high-upside performances due to the elite passing unit. Wilson could be a solid RB2 in fantasy, splitting time with Achane. Achane will see only part of the workload if the roles are swapped, as Wilson will be involved. I don’t see a clear path for either one unless another injury occurs, but one of them could have decent RB2 every week. Note: Jonathan Taylor is rumored to MIAMI, so watch out!

BUF: Damien Harris and Latavius Murray (SELL)

James Cook will go into the season as the Bills’ lead rusher. Cook has shown and has been allowed to be the guy. Harris is still dealing with an injury, so I doubt he would be a weekly flex option for us in dynasty. If something happened to Cook, a hopefully healthy Harris could carry this workload for the Bills and get touchdown opportunities. Murray is a free grab right now in dynasty. At his age, Murray continues to shine big when given a workload. It would be a split role rather than one just being the guy for Buffalo.

NE: Ezekiel Elliott and Ty Montgomery (SELL)

The Patriots will be in an interesting situation if Rhamondre Stevenson gets hurt. Newly signed Elliott would take over the groundwork, but he has lost a step. Unless Elliott were to see the passing volume, he likely wouldn’t reach RB1 numbers each week. The Patriots continue to show love for Montgomery, and he would play a big part in the passing game. Elliott had career lows last season, so trusting him as anything more than an RB2 is hard.

HOU: Devin Singletary and Mike Boone (BUY)

Devin Singletary#8#12#16#27
Dameon Pierce#35#39#32#26

Singletary could see some stand-alone value, but based on what Houston is telling us, Pierce is likely to see most of the work. Singletary has shown his worth as a passing back, as he performed better than Pierce last year. Pierce showed that he could break down, leading to Singletary taking over if Pierce missed time. We’ve already seen Singletary be a strong RB2 in fantasy football. He has been a solid 4.6 YPC runner and 50 target back. He would take over as the primary back, but I don’t think he has an RB1 upside due to his limited talent and poor offense.

LV: Zamir White and Ameer Abdullah (BUY)

White is already showing he is the next man up if Josh Jocabs doesn’t report to camp. In case of an injury to Jacobs, White could put up RB2 numbers for us in fantasy. He’d be higher if I knew he would see the passing work, but I don’t see that happening. Abdullah or Brandon Bolden would likely be the third down back in the offense. That would limit White from having that RB1 upside in the offense. White should be on everyone’s radar early since the history of a running back coming back from a holdout has not been good.

LAC: Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller

If Austin Ekeler were to miss time, Kelley would have a strong hold on the backup job. Kelley was somewhat productive during his rookie season three years ago. So he would put up high-end RB3 numbers as the starter. I haven’t heard enough about Spiller to trust his involvement. The offense would likely move away from using the running backs as much with Ekeler out and pass more. In terms of who will be the starting back, Kelley looks to be that guy.

Full Blown Committee

This tier is the worst situation that would be a headache for dynasty owners. They are likely the least-own player, even in a dynasty league.

CIN: Trayveon Williams, Chase Brown, and Chris Evans

If the Bengals lose Joe Mixon, it will be a full-blown committee for this backfield. Someone could emerge, but it’s likely to be a three-way backfield. Williams and Evans will likely get a first crack at the starting job. None of these running backs have more than 25 carries at the NFL level. It could be a headache; most of these guys are probably on your waiver wire. Brown has a shot but hasn’t been lighting it up at camp too often.

BAL: Gus Edwards and Justice Hill

This one could come as a surprise to many since Raven’s backfield usually has a clear backfield. Edwards has missed too much time over the last two seasons to be trusted as a 28-year-old running back. Hill has flashed at a camp this year but never has had an opportunity for a significant role in three years for the Ravens offense. If Dobbins were to go down again, I’d expect the Ravens to sign someone to work in the backfield. A few years ago, it was clear that Edwards was the true backup, but I think those days are long gone. It could be a headache if we lose Dobbins again in 2023.

IND: Zack Moss, Evan Hull, and Deon Jackson

The drama between Jonathan Taylor and the Colts is heating up since they are allowing him to find a trade partner. Even if that doesn’t happen and Taylor gets hurt, the Colts’ backfield will be a mess. Last season, Moss was the next man up and performing well, but that was a different coaching staff. Shane Steichen has used multiple backs in his offense as he did in Philadelphia. Moss is also coming off an injury, so I’d expect a messy backfield. Hull and Jackson could be used just as much to where they all have a role in the offense.

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