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Backfields to Avoid - Rest of Season


I’m not ashamed to admit that there are certain things in life that, frankly, I’m just simply too good for. Fast food restaurants inside of gas stations, for example. No, thank you. Strong pass every time. In the same breath, gas stations in the hood. Nope. Overly corny chick flicks that give women unrealistic, fairytale expectations of what men and relationships are supposed to be. I’d rather eat glass. Running backs with "potential" who find themselves in situations that lead to a season-long migraine. I’m good on that too.

You see, sometimes opportunity outweighs talent. Other times, lack of opportunity isn’t the culprit and it may purely be a case of a talented back landing in a less than ideal environment. However, when it comes to fantasy football, we have the ability (to an extent) to create our own destiny in that regard. Draft Todd Gurley and you’re set. But, we didn't all have the #1 pick and we’ve all botched a draft or two. Plus, all it takes is one injury to derail an otherwise promising roster. Well, we’re now at the point in the season where it’ll take a blockbuster deal (don’t get Cowboy'd) or the right waiver pickup to make a notable difference should you be looking for an upgrade at the running back position. Now, I’ve heard many a debate that the league-wide focus on passing has all but eliminated the value which running backs hold in our fantasy leagues. I’ve even kinda made that case myself. But, at the end of the day, I favor the opposing school of thought and actually believe that these aerial-centric offenses have placed even more importance on having an advantage at the RB position. Why? Fewer options.

Go take a quick look at your waiver wire - I can guarantee that there are far more legitimate options available at the wide receiver position on a weekly basis than there are at running back without knowing a single thing about you or your league-mates. It’s simply a numbers game. Not to mention, the difference from RB1 in PPR scoring, Todd Gurley, and RB12, Tarik Cohen, is a vast 13.5 points per game. All of which brings us to two questions: 1. How do you know who to target in a trade? And, 2. What’s the key to unearthing that waiver wire gem? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I can’t accurately answer those questions without knowledge of the construction of your roster or the makeup of your league. But, what I can tell you is where not to look -- fast food gas stations -- should you be in the market for an upgrade at RB. To do so, let’s have a look at the Top-5 backfields to avoid (in trades, on waivers, maybe even in lineups altogether) because I’ll take knowing where not to go in advance, over trying it out and dealing with a headache, every single day of the week.

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Backfields to Avoid

5. Philadelphia Eagles

Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, and Josh Adams have all seen work in this backfield and all three have flashed promise at different times over the course of the season. Problem is, none have received the opportunity to be featured in this offense - even with the injuries to Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles. Smallwood has seen 54% of the team’s carries since Ajayi went down with Clement receiving 38%, and from that, we can assume that Smallwood is the lesser of two evils. Who cares, though? His season-high on the ground is 56 yards and he’s yet to eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage in a single game. Likewise, for Clement. (Literally. That exact sentence applies to the both of them.) Oh, and Sproles will be back sooner than later -- he hasn’t played since Week 1 -- to further convolute the situation.

Sure, the fact that Philly's backs have combined for six rushing touchdowns (tied for the eighth-most) may appear to give them a slight boost in fantasy appeal. However, Ajayi registered three of those six, and TDs are one of the most difficult elements of the game to predict. Enter at your own risk.

4. Tennessee Titans

Whoa, wait?! Didn’t Dion Lewis just put up 155 yards from scrimmage and his best game in a Titans uniform?! Yes. Yes, he did. Didn’t Derrick Henry just score his first touchdown of the season?! Also, true. You know what else is a fact? Despite the 10th-most carries at 22.6 per game, the Titans backs have combined to put up just 79 yards per game -- tied for the eighth-fewest – and Henry’s TD Sunday was only the second time this season one of their backs have found the end zone. (Lewis scored the other in Week 1.) Oh, and while Lewis exploded Sunday -- he also put up 110 yards from scrimmage in Week 1 -- the remaining five games which were sandwiched between his two best performances on the year produced a mere 211 scrimmage yards. Combined. That’s an average of 42.2 yards over 71.4% of his young Tennessee career. My skepticism is easily justifiable.

Not only have Lewis and Henry not been very productive this season, but their coaching staff can’t seem to settle on one guy as the guy. Lewis has seen 46.2% of Tennessee’s RB carries this season with Henry seeing 53.2% - nearly a 50/50 split. And, while Lewis is clearly the favored pass-catching back (29 receptions to Henry’s six) his 28.4 receiving yards per game are good for 16th at the position - despite bringing in more passes than all but eight RBs. Meanwhile, Henry's 3.25 yards per carry rank 76th with his 5.5 fantasy points per game being good for 53rd. Again, they haven't been very productive.

Let’s go ahead and add some gas to the fire, some salt to the wound, a little insult to injury. This Titans offense ranks 30th (there are only 32 teams) in points per game at 15.1, Marcus Mariota has a 78.5 passer rating (30th of 33 qualified quarterbacks) -- teams have no reason to not stack the box -- and their offensive line has also been woefully wack – their 20% stuff rate puts them tied for the 11th-highest. I do understand the optimism coming off the positive outing. (Especially, heading into the bye where you can only hope they use the additional time to get it together.) I’m just having an extremely difficult time convincing myself that what I've seen twice now will somehow miraculously become the new normal.

3. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have had just two 1,000-yard rushers since Aaron Rodgers took over as the full-time starting quarterback in 2008 (four total seasons: Ryan Grant – 2008/2009, Eddie Lacy – 2013/2014). In other words, more often than not, this offense has relied on the golden arm of Rodgers with a committee approach behind him. It should then come as no surprise to know that Green Bay has finished 17th and 20th in rushing over the past two seasons and currently sit 20th in rushing yards per game.

Last season saw Jamaal Williams garner 9.6 carries per game while Aaron Jones toted the rock 6.8 times per contest. Both accounted for around 35 rushing yards per game in 2017. And, both added four rushing TDs. This season? More of the same. Jones has seen eight carries per game while Williams has seen just under 10. Jones has put up 47 yards on the ground with Williams adding about 37. They have just one rushing touchdown between the two of them. And, most notably, there’s really no sign of one taking over the other at this point - it’s basically a revolving door behind Rodgers with Ty Montgomery popping in to say hello a few times per game as well.

High-octane offenses (Packers run the third-most plays per game) are typically ideal for fantasy purposes. But, when just 30.6% of those plays are RB designed runs (fourth-fewest), and that 30.6% is being split between two and a half men, yeah - no thanks. Like most of the guys on this list, I can’t blame you for saving them a roster spot in hope of landing the next Nick Chubb. But, unfortunately, your chances might be better at winning the Mega Millions… I guess that wouldn’t be too unfortunate, huh?

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs backs have combined to average 57 rushing yards per game. 20 running backs are averaging at least 60 yards per game individually. If that’s not enough, Tampa’s RBs have combined for just 17.5 carries per game (fourth-fewest) and at a cumulative 3.25 yards per carry, only the Cardinals have been worse. I understand the Ronald Jones intrigue, but he’s averaged 5.7 carries over his three appearances and it’s hard to imagine Peyton Barber (or even Jacquizz Rodgers to a much lesser degree) completely vanishing from the equation at this point. Even if they do, their run blocking has been abysmal and the volume still wouldn’t be enough to support a breakout in what’s clearly a pass-first, second, third.... fourth... offense. Why even bother?

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

Very few -- in their right mind -- would debate the fact that Leonard Fournette is one of the most physically gifted backs the league has to offer, T.J. Yeldon is a Top-10 fantasy running back this season, and recently acquired Carlos Hyde’s five rushing touchdowns put him tied for fifth at the position. It’s all fool’s gold. Not from the standpoint of talent, but simply in terms of logic -- when applied to fantasy football -- following the Hyde deal.

Let me explain.

On the surface, the sensible assumption would be that the acquisition of Hyde is a clue on Fournette’s injury status – suggesting he’ll miss significant time. Problem with that ideology is that just two days after the trade, news came out that Fournette would return after the Jags Week 9 bye. If Fournette is that close to returning, why trade for Hyde? Any answer to that question is entirely inequitable until we take a look at it from the long-term perspective.

Fournette averaged 20.6 carries per game a season ago (only Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell saw more) and due to injury, that rookie season was cut short at just 13 games. Seeing how he’s yet to complete a full game this season, it’s pretty obvious to me that in adding Hyde, Jacksonville is making the statement that they want to monitor Fournette’s touches moving forward in an effort to increase his longevity. They have no choice, to be honest. They can’t afford to lose him forever, Yeldon isn’t likely to hold up very long as an every-down back, and I’ve loved Jamaal Charles since his Longhorn days, but he’s just not it at this stage in the game.

On the flip side, it’s Leonard effing Fournette. If he’s healthy, he’ll be on the field to some degree. So, any hope that Hyde would maintain the same level of production he’s had to this point in the season -- albeit in different threads -- is borderline foolish. Sure, he’ll get one game in as the man before the bye, but after that, this appears to be a full-blown committee. Not only do I believe that Hyde and Fournette will eat into each other’s value, but Yeldon’s as well, as a huge part of the reason he finds himself among the fantasy leaders at the RB position is the injury to Corey Grant; not Fournette. The Jags literally had no other option after Grant went down which explains why they kicked the tires on Charles and also explains Yeldon’s 63.7% carry share in this offense – higher than the likes of Melvin Gordon. You can expect that number to decrease drastically, and at 4.3 receptions and 37.6 receiving yards per game, without the carries, he’s Kyle Juszczyk… Or, T.J. Yeldon. And, for giggles, Blake Bortles was just benched in favor of Cody Kessler. Which, in itself, should explain the state of this offense as a whole. Sell, sell, sell.

Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers

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