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 NFC 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 top tier of backup running backs isn’t just backups. These backup running backs can provide standalone value in a dynasty.
WAS: Antonio Gibson (BUY)
We’ve already seen what Antonio Gibson can do as a starter with the workload. Gibson has had RB1 seasons in the past. Robinson will enter the year as the starter 1A for the backfield. Gibson should be leaned on as the passing downs back and have weekly flex value in dynasty. Gibson, before 2022, gave us a back-to-back ten-touchdown season, which made him very valuable in fantasy. If something happens to Robinson, Gibson has an RB1 upside and will be used as a weapon in the passing game. Gibson will thrive as the back, with or without Robinson on the field.
PHI: Kenny Gainwell & Rashaad Penny (BUY)
I’d expect DeAndre Swift to be the on-paper starting running back for the Eagles. We all know Swift’s availability has been an issue over his career, which could open the door for backups. Kenny Gainwell is the next man up, and Rashaad Penny could be on the chopping block once preseason is finished. Gainwell has shown the ability to be productive, and I think he will be the 1B in this high-power offense. Gainwell hasn’t had the chance to see bigger workloads but has produced in limited touches. Last year, he was fifth in fantasy points per opportunity. If something happens to Swift, Gainwell will look for an even more expanded role unless Penny isn’t cut.
DET: Jahmyr Gibbs or David Montgomery (BUY)
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This one is pretty obvious for fantasy this year, as they should be named co-starters, but one is considered the backup. Gibbs or Montgomery will have weekly value in fantasy to start in lineups. If one goes down, that other one has the elite upside to be an RB1 in fantasy. We saw that the Lions could have two successful fantasy running backs, so whoever is considered the backup will have value. This duo is better than last year’s. Gibbs and Montgomery both could average over ten fantasy points per game.
GB: AJ Dillion (BUY)
Aaron Jones is the likely 1A in the Packers’ offense, but we’ve seen Dillion be a usable flex asset as the 1B. The early part of 2022 Dillion was a real disappointment in fantasy. From Week 12 on, he was a top-16 running back, scoring touchdowns each week. Now that Jordan Love is the starting quarterback, the Packers could focus more on the run game and give Dillion more opportunities. Jones is also an older back, so allowing Dillion to handle the regular season work could benefit the Packers. Plus, if Jones were to miss time, Dillion would have an RB1 upside.
NO: Jamaal Williams & Kendre Miller (SELL)
This one is easy since we will see firsthand these backups make some noise as Alvin Kamara is suspended for three games. Even when Kamara returns, Jamaal Williams will have a role that can be flex-worthy. Williams signed a solid three-year deal to join the Saints as the backup to Kamara. The Saints have always had multiple backs at once to be fantasy-relevant for us. Williams has a nose for the endzone after his 17-touchdown season a year ago. Kendre Miller is a complete wild card because of the pass-catching ability that he has shown so far in preseason.
LAR: Kyren Williams (BUY)
You'll have to plug your nose when you look at his athletic testing, but Kyren Williams is now the clear RB2 for the Rams, and may even have a standalone role— Sam Sherman (@Sherman_FFB) August 23, 2023
Kyren is emerging as a great leverage pick in the final rds of best ball drafts
Via @JourdanRodrigue of @TheAthletic pic.twitter.com/lxShsDV8VK
This one may be a surprise, but Kyren Williams could have flex value in PPR leagues this coming season. Cam Akers is no pass-catching back, with just 35 targets over his three seasons. Williams wasn’t used in the passing game as a rookie, but he had 78 receptions in his two years at Norte Dame. Matthew Stafford is an older quarterback with low mobility and a lousy shoulder, so dumping the ball off makes so much sense. Williams was inactive during the last Rams preseason game, so it’s safe to say he is the backup and should have a role. If Akers were to go down, there wouldn’t be RB1 upside for Williams since he is a smaller back but likely a low-end RB2 or a bit better than his potential stand-alone value.
SEA: Zach Charbonnet (BUY)
We aren’t sure what type of role Charbonnet will play with Ken Walker, but he has the potential for some stand-alone value as a backup. We’ll learn early on the split of these two running backs. Charbonnet is an elite talent who can work on the ground and the passing game. We could expect some flex value from the rookie. If Ken Walker were to go down, then Charbonnet has an RB1 upside for sure.
This tier among the running backs are players that would likely not see consistent flex value while their starter is healthy. If that starter does get hurt, they could have RB1 potential.
CHI: D‘Onta Foreman & Roschon Johnson (SELL)
As it stands, Khalil Hebert is the starter for the Bears based on what they are doing with him. This backfield could be a very confusing committee for fantasy. If something happened to Herbert, this logjam would clear up with Foreman and Johnson. One of them could take the lead and produce some RB1 upside. Foreman showed with an expanded role, and he can provide fantastic fantasy numbers as he had a career year in 2022. Roschon Johnson is a beast waiting to be unlocked after playing second fiddle in college. Either one could have an RB1 upside if an injury occurs, but until then, this backfield could be a headache.
SF: Elijah Mitchell & Jordan Mason (SELL)
Under Kyle Shanahan, running backs have been a beauty for us in fantasy football, even if they can’t stay healthy there. Christian McCaffrey is the clear starter in the offense. Next up is Elijah Mitchell, who was a big surprise during his rookie season, rushing for 900 yards. Mitchell has shown the talent to play at an elite RB1 production if something happens to CMC. I included Jordan Mason since Elijah Mitchell also gets hurt often. You see above that neither has a stand-alone value since their fantasy points are minimal. They averaged ten touches for 6.0 YPC in those games. Imagine if they saw 20 to 25 touches with CMC out; one of them could be RB1 upside.
ATL: Tyler Allgeier & Cordarrelle Patterson (BUY)
I’m torn whether Tyler Allgeier would have stand-alone value, but I decided against it. Allgeier will get work, but not enough to produce as a flex option most weeks. If something happens to Bijan Robinson, we’ve already seen Allgeier produce a solid RB2 in fantasy. The offensive line has improved, so Allgeier can have that RB1 upside if given the workload. When Desmond Ridder was on the field, Allgeier was the RB5 in fantasy points during Weeks 15-18. I’m not too worried about Patterson taking work away if it’s just him and Allgeier.
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.
CAR: Chuba Hubbard & Raheem Blackshear (SELL)
Chuba Hubbard has been on a rollercoaster for fantasy during his two-year career. If Miles Sanders were to miss time (Already dealing with an injury), Hubbard would be the next man up. Hubbard improved from his rookie with his 3.6 YPC to 4.9 last season. He would likely be good enough to start in the flex, but I don’t see much upside in his game.
ARI: Keaontay Ingram & Corey Clement (SELL)
As we all know, James Conner is not one to stay healthy for an entire season. Conner will be expected to carry the offense without Kylar Murray on the field. If that happens, it could increase Conner’s chances of missing time. Ingram would be the next man up. Ingram had a terrible 2.2 YPC as a rookie on 27 attempts. The team already tried to bring someone else to back up Conner in Marlon Mack, but a torn Achilles ended that. Ingram would like to get the start since he is better than Corey Clement. Ingram would be a decent flex play and see a solid opportunity for touches over anything.
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.
DAL: Rico Dowdle & Malik Davis & Deuce Vaughn
The Dallas backfield could be a real mess if Tony Pollard goes down with an injury. Dowdle seems on the rise lately, as the coaches love what he is doing in practice. Malik Davis played well in limited outings. He has the potential to be a nice backup. Vaughn is an electric wildcard that could be used all over the field. I don’t think that just one player would get the work, and it could be a different player stepping up each week. The three of them have combined for 44 total carries, so there is concern.
NYG: Matt Breida & Gary Brightwell & Eric Gray
A Saquon Barkley-less backfield is doomed. Breida is the next man up, but he isn’t a player I’d want to give a full workload to. Brightwell is just a bruiser of a back who hasn’t been given much opportunity since coming into the league. Eric Gray is someone I like, but he doesn’t seem to be making an impact on the depth chart and will likely stay due to his special team’s ability. Nonetheless, I don’t expect one guy to step up and be the lead if Barkley goes down. The Giants will likely use that committee approach or focus more on passing instead.
MIN: Kene Nwangwu & Ty Chandler & DeWayne McBride
This one, I could change my mind about as Kevin O’Connell, as an offensive coordinator or head coach, has shown to use mainly one back to carry most of the work in his offense. In his two seasons away from Sean McVay, O’Connell’s scheme had used one running back, a central back, to take on the workload. If Mattison gets hurt, based on the talent of the backs, I expect a committee approach from them. A guy like McBride has that heavy workload experience and size to do if it comes to that. This backfield could be a headache if they can’t find the right backup.
TB: Chase Edmonds, Ke’Shawn Vaughn & Sean Tucker
The Bucs are already a team that is tough to judge based on expected lousy quarterback play. Rachaad White should be the lead guy and handle most of the work among the running backs. If he were to miss time, this would be a full-on committee. Edmonds will likely receive some passing work in the offense, but he can’t handle a full workload. Vaughn has been a bust from the 2020 NFL draft but would likely serve as the early downs back. You have Sean Tucker, who was an exciting prospect, but health concerns had him go undrafted. It would be an easy three-headed backfield that doesn’t help provide weak fantasy outings.