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Opportunity Efficiency: Backup Running Back Rolodex

Outlining the most inexpensive backup running backs around the NFL and why they matter in 2017

Running backs offer the largest variance on a week-to-week basis in terms of opportunity. A backup option can sit for weeks or months at a time with few opportunities...unless the starter misses time. The then-backup-now-starter is thrust into fantasy demand like Black Friday shoppers going after a door buster sale. Here are the highest-leverage backup running backs to target with final roster spots heading into the preseason for owners to avoid the rush of a future waiver wire:


*Not listed among 87 running backs as of July 28 on ADP*

Rex Burkhead

Remember when Burkhead was the hot addition to the Patriots backfield? Mike Gillislee stole his buzz from early in the offseason, but Burkhead projects as the next interior runner of choice after Gillislee while Dion Lewis and James White center on the pass game.

Elijah Hood

Hood is a long-shot as a late Day 3 rookie. However, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington fit the change-of-pace mold more than 15+ interior carries per week type backs. Hood needs to stick on the roster first and foremost, but at 230 pounds with quality burst and speed for his size, can offer workhorse upside if Marshawn Lynch is out of the picture during the season.

Chris Johnson

Kerwynn Williams spent much of the offseason listed as the No.2 behind stud David Johnson in Arizona. Chris Johnson loomed on the free agent market and was the starter for the Cardinals before David Johnson broke out for good. Johnson still has enough athleticism to provide some RB2 moments if forced into a bigger role at this twilight stage of his career.

Malcolm Brown

Brown has flashed in the preseason for the Rams and they added no notable backs of prototypical size this offseason. Brown is a former top high school recruit and 18-year-old phenom for University of Texas. It has been a bumpy road from then until being an undrafted back in the NFL, but he has stuck to-date simmering on the Rams. Brown offers the most volume upside if Todd Gurley misses time.

Peyton Barber

Doug Martin is out to start the season and the undersized Jacquizz Rodgers is slated to start in Martin's place. Rodgers is a stopgap option at best for a substantial role and Barber offers a rugged interior running style with a prototypical frame. Charles Sims was unimpressive in his lead role opportunity last season and Jeremy McNichols needs to worry about sticking on the roster more than angling for the No.2 job entering the season.

Outside RB50 in ADP

Jonathan Williams RB51

Buffalo will ride LeSean McCoy with high-level touches, but Williams' hold on the No.2 job is a firm one after a strong showing on limited opportunity in 2016 and the depth chart clearing out with Mike Gillislee off to New England. Joe Banyard as stuck in the NFL for a while and is the projected No.3 for Buffalo to start training camp, but Williams is the workhorse potential option in McCoy is out.

D'Onta Foreman RB54

Foreman has more upside potential with starting-caliber volume than retread Alfred Blue. Lamar Miller has been one of the more unimpressive starters in the NFL since arriving in Houston. Foreman needs to show well in camp and the preseason to project as the clear No.2, but is an upside play if he solidifies his standing from earlier news since this NFL Draft.

Jeremy Hill RB55

Hill may not be in the Bengals' plans beyond 2017, but Hill, not Giovani Bernard, is the biggest threat to Joe Mixon's volume and the most significant benefactor if Mixon were to miss time. Hill may even be the early-season highest-touch back in Cincinnati independent of Mixon's health status as the rookie finds his footing.

James Conner RB58

Conner, like Jonathan Williams, is clearly the second-most-talented back on his depth chart. Le'Veon Bell is both a suspension and injury risk, providing two avenues for Conner to see time as the unquestioned starter on a strong offense.

Darren McFadden RB61

Alfred Morris is also in the backup mix for Dallas, but McFadden has more athleticism left in the tank than Morris ever had. Ezekiel Elliott could still miss time by suspension, offering two paths to expanded opportunity for a backup in Dallas.

T.J. Yeldon RB72

Yeldon, while his value has tanked since the drafting of Leonard Fournette at No.4 overall back in April, remains the pass-catching option on the depth chart and likely 1A option if Fournette misses time.

Kenyan Drake RB73

Damien Williams enters his fourth season and has hung around the Miami depth chart, but is more of a pass-catching specialist than a legit three-down option. Drake is a high pedigree option offers more upside if Jay Ajayi misses time.

Robert Turbin RB75

Marlon Mack will have his hands full outright passing Turbin on the depth chart for 2017. Frank Gore has been an ironman option at running back, but Turbin is a two-way player in the seasoned veteran mold if needed to start.

Branden Oliver RB81

Oliver is a wild card as he returns from injury himself, but the Chargers depth chart is rail thin beyond Melvin Gordon III, who was seeing an insanely high snap market share - by necessity - last season until he broke down. 

Jeremy Langford RB84

Langford's appeal - like T.J. Yeldon's - has whiplashed from high to low since Jordan Howard's swift takeover of the lead job midseason in 2016. Langford still projects as the lead option if Howard misses time as Chicago did not address the position outside of change-of-pace dynamo Tarik Cohen this offseason.

Tim Hightower RB85

Carlos Hyde is one of the polarizing fantasy backs of 2017. Hightower, like Robert Turbin, is the steady veteran presence on San Francisco's depth chart. Most assume Joe Williams is (or will be with little resistence) past Hightower already. However, Hightower pushed Mark Ingram II for touches and has been a pleasant surprise since resurfacing in the NFL in recent seasons. Hightower is the name to know if Hyde is truly not a factor for the 49ers this year.

Ryan Mathews RB86

Mathews is still on the Eagles, but all signs point to a release once medically cleared from a neck recovery. Mathews still has size-athleticism appeal to stick on another roster and be a wild card to see another stint as the starter. Monitor Mathews' landing closely to gauge his shot at a 2017 opportunity if injury strikes.