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Ranking the Backup Running Back Situations

Sigmund Bloom ranks the backup running back situations with an eye towards fantasy potential, starter injury risk, and cost in drafts.

You can count on back up running backs making a difference in fantasy leagues this year, because they do every year. Sometimes backs that aren't even on a roster on week 1 will have fantasy value during the crucial fantasy playoff weeks. While it's hard to predict those names in advance, we can objectively look at the back up running back situations to assess the fantasy upside, likelihood of starter injury, and clarity on pecking order to get an idea of how likely each backfield is of producing a fantasy difference-maker. Below, the 32 backfields are ranked based on a combination of those factors to help with mid and late-round draft preparation.

While this exercise should not cause you to override your feelings about back ups to target, it should bring a few potential "perfect storm" situations and other useful fantasy takeaways to your attention:

  • Atlanta - The Falcons regard Jacquizz Rodgers as a three-down back, Steven Jackson tends to get nicked up (not to mention he's 30), and the offense will create a lot of production for anyone who is back there.
  • Detroit - The Lions will use their running back heavily as a receiver out of the backfield, Joique Bell is a quality all-around player, and Reggie Bush hasn't been the most durable over the years.

In addition, the Jets rate high because of high injury risk, low cost, and a clear target in drafts (Bilal Powell). Ben Tate could make your draft, but he could also be a frustrating "pick the wrong week" flex option all year if Arian Foster stays healthy. Fred Jackson is a lottery ticket with a similar cost and odds in Buffalo. Seattle and Washington are plug and play backfields, so taking the most talented backup (Christine Michael and Roy Helu) in the 15th round or later isn't a bad gamble. Chicago stands out as a situation with a reasonable draft cost solid offense, talented backup, and starter who has missed time in recent years. Oakland and Dallas are two of the most likely backup situations to yield a spot start or three, but are also hard to decipher right now. Philadelphia has high value, but Chris Polk is closing on Bryce Brown. New England and San Francisco are plug and play backfields that may lack RB1 upside from a temporary starter, but those backups also come dirt cheap.

Hope this chart helps you organize your running back end game:

Rk Team Ceiling (PPR) #1 Inj Risk Clarity? Cost Notes
1 ATL low RB1 Yellow yes 10th-12th Rodgers could be 3 down back if Sjax out
2 DET low RB1 Yellow yes 12th-15th Bell might lose goal line carries; but would be PPR stud
3 NYJ mid RB2 Red yes 15th+ Powell\'s ADP will be trending up
4 HOU mid RB1 Yellow yes 8th-9th Foster is worrisome; but Tate pricy
5 BUF mid RB1 Green-Yellow yes 8th-9th Spiller injury worries seem overblown
6 SEA low RB1 Green no 12th-15th Michael probably best bet bc of talent
7 WAS low RB1 Green yes 15th+ Helu will be backup if healthy
8 CHI mid RB2 Yellow yes 12th-15th Bush was hurt last year; potential flex value when healthy
9 BAL low RB1 Green yes 9th-10th Rice seems ultradurable
10 OAK low RB2 Red no 15th+ Murray hurt. If Reece was backup; low RB1 ceiling in PPR
11 DAL low RB2 Yellow-Red no 15th+ Dunbar is the bet right now; but RBBC likely if (when) Murray hurt
12 PHI low RB1 Green no 8th-10th Polk having a great summer; could be a lot of carries to go around
13 IND mid RB2 Yellow yes 10th-12th Bradshaw plays thru injuries
14 NE mid RB2 Green no 15th+ Ridley could lose job to fumbles
15 SF mid RB2 Green-Yellow yes 12th-15th LaMichael James will have role regardless of starter
16 DEN high RB2 Green no 9th-12th Moreno looms; RBBC likely even if Ball or Hillman get hurt
17 CAR mid RB2 Green-Yellow yes 10th-12th Stewart interesting gamble; but Tolbert may end up being handcuff
18 NYG high RB2 Green-Yellow yes 8th-10th Brown much bigger injury risk than Wilson
19 MIA mid RB2 Yellow yes 15th+ Thomas huge disappointment; but Miller durability a question
20 GB mid RB2 Yellow no 10th-12th Really hard to say how this will turn out
21 ARI low RB2 Yellow-Red no 12th-15th Williams knee acting up; Taylor getting 1st team reps
22 SD low RB2 Yellow no 9th-10th Doubt Woodhead\'s role grows much if Mathews out
23 CIN mid RB2 Green-Yellow yes 8th-9th BJGE limited ceiling even if Bernard out; but Bernard low RB1 if BJGE out
24 TEN low RB2 Green yes 12th-15th Hard to get excited about Greene in any scenario
25 MIN mid RB2 Green yes 15th+ Wouldn't be waiting around for Peterson injury
26 KC mid RB2 Green yes 15th+ Not a Davis fan; but KC appears to be + decent camp to date
27 PIT mid RB2 Green no 15th+ Bell very durable
28 JAX low RB2 Green-Yellow yes 15th+ MJD looking good; Forsett hurting
29 CLE low RB2 Green-Yellow no 15th+ Lewis seems to be in lead; but likely RBBC if Richardson out
30 NO low RB2 Green no 8th-10th Saints show no inclination to have a true feature back even with injuries
31 STL low RB2 Green no 10th-15th Hard to see a featured back here in any scenario
32 TB low RB2 Green no 15th+ Clear as mud