This week’s buy low sell high will be completely devoted to the late season practice of stocking your bench with backup running backs. Seemingly every year as running backs break down at the end of a season, backups end up making the most of new opportunity and help fuel teams to a fantasy championship. Picking the right one can make or break your season.
Five factors help us sort out priorities when filling out that last bench spot or two with the final bye in sight:
1. The quality of the backup
2. The quality of the situation
3. The likelihood of the backup being needed
4. The clarity of the depth chart behind the backup
5. Flex or emergency value in current role
First Tier - Rosterable in short bench leagues
Spencer Ware, KC - The only missing link here is Kareem Hunt appears to be durable, and he’ll be rested with the late bye. Ware might be a starter again yet, the Chiefs offense is golden, and he’ll be the man if Hunt goes down
Malcolm Brown, LAR - Brown looks like a good all-around back when he gets touches and he’s in an incredible offense. Todd Gurley got dinged in the epic Monday night game to up Brown’s fantasy potential going forward, but John Kelly is an excellent back and would be rosterable if Gurley went down. He might perhaps even surpass Brown in value. He has desperation play potential in Weeks 13 and 16 in possible blowouts.
Rashaad Penny, SEA - Penny is an ascendant talent, the situation is great, and Chris Carson has missed time with two different injuries this year. Mike Davis complicates matters and should be among the third tier backs in priority, although not the primary back to target from this backfield for our bench.
Second Tier - Rosterable in typical 18-20 roster spot leagues
Jaylen Samuels, PIT - Samuel is a multi-faceted rookie back in a tremendous situation. James Conner could be wearing down under a heavy workload and Samuels appears to be decisively ahead of Stevan Ridley. Samuels has no desperation play value outside of the Oakland matchup.
Giovani Bernard, CIN - Bernard is good enough to start for a lot of teams and always produces when he gets more opportunity, but the situation is terrible at least until AJ Green comes back and looks like his old self. Joe Mixon has missed time with a knee injury and recent practices. Bernard is the clear backup and has some low-end PPR upside as a desperation play
Alex Collins, BAL - Collins hasn’t gotten in a groove this year but has flashed his 2017 burst. The Baltimore running game is on the upswing with Lamar Jackson, although that could be temporary. Gus Edwards is fresh and powerfully build, so his injury risk low. Kenneth Dixon is coming back and Ty Montgomery is there, but Collins actually has upward mobility with it being far from certain that Edwards has taken over this backfield in a permanent way. Week 12 could see more of a committee approach. The bottom line here is even though Collins disappointed and the arrow is pointing down, he’s still rosterable in this context and could get enough carries in any given week to hit as a flex as long as Lamar Jackson is the starter.
Rod Smith, DAL - Smith is an underrated three-down talent, clear backup, and Dallas’s running game is coming on, but Ezekiel Elliott is ultradurable. Still, injuries can strike even in the most indestructible of running backs, and Smith showed last year during Elliott’s suspension that he has a nose for the end zone and big play ability.
Ito Smith, ATL - Smith had a four score in five-game run earlier this year, but the Falcons offense is fading right now. Tevin Coleman has been healthy this year but has missed games in the past. Smith could have the backfield basically to himself if Coleman goes down and carries some desperation play value.
Latavius Murray, MIN - Murray has been productive in place of Dalvin Cook now, but Cook seems healthy now and Murray’s role has dried up. He has good matchups in Weeks 15-16 and what he showed before along with Cook’s extended absence makes Murray one to not overlook when being thorough filling out your last bench spot.
Third Tier - Priority if bench thin and counting on starter
Jamaal Williams, GB - Williams proved to be a very unexciting back this year, but this can be a productive offense and Williams was strong with Brett Hundley last year. He’s the clear backup but has no desperation play value and Aaron Jones is peaking right now.
Chase Edmonds, ARI - Edmonds hasn’t underwhelmed, but he hasn’t popped on his limited touches yet. The Cardinals offense is getting better and Edmonds is the clear backup, but he has no desperation play value.
Nyheim Hines/Jordan Wilkins, IND - Both of these rookie backs have their moments this year, and the Colts offense is fertile fantasy soil. Marlon Mack has already missed time this year and been on the injury report recently for a second injury. Where the circuit doesn’t complete here is the sharing of the backfield. If Mack goes down, Wilkins and Hines might only ascend to the fringe of flexworthy with the tight ends leaving less for the backs in the passing game. Both have some desperation play value right now.
Alfred Blue/D'Onta Foreman, HOU - Blue is workmanlike while Foreman has much more potential. The Texans running game is surging and Lamar Miller tends to wear down. The uncertainty about Foreman casts a shadow on Blue, and the delay in Foreman’s return means he might yield nothing. Blue does very little with most carries than most backups in a desperation play scenario.
Carlos Hyde/T.J. Yeldon, JAX - Hyde is the backup hammer and Yeldon is the passing game back. Both are borderline starter talents at worst and Jacksonville will feed the running, if inefficiently, with a defense that has a newfound swagger to give the offense positive game scripts. The shared backfield and limited offense dampen enthusiasm to carry a Jaguars backup even though they are talented and Leonard Fournette is injury-prone. Yeldon has better desperation play value with his steady passing game role.
Fourth Tier - Due diligence in the deepest of leagues
Wayne Gallman, NYG - Gallman has some talent but has had ups and downs this year and Jonathan Stewart is due back soon. The Giants backfield could turn into a barren fantasy situation if Saquon Barkley went down.
Chris Ivory, BUF - Ivory has actually looked good this year and the Bills schedule could produce a random whole running game outburst. LeSean McCoy has gotten dinged up as usual but has been used lightly. Marcus Murphy would play a role, but Ivory has actually been relevant for fantasy in both games McCoy that was a non-factor. Still, Buffalo makes Ivory one of the least essential handcuffs.
Devontae Booker, DEN - He’s a replaceable talent, but he had decent numbers when Royce Freeman was out and would have borderline flex value in either version of a two-back backfield. Even if injuries take out Freeman and Lindsay, the ceiling is low.
No Running Back Listed
Los Angeles Chargers - Austin Ekeler should be rostered already
Miami - Kenyan Drake is getting fewer touches but more likely to be rostered. Frank Gore has more limited weekly upside than Drake but could gain value if Drake goes down. He would be prioritized around the top of the third tier if he is on the waiver wire.
New England - Rex Burkhead isn’t really a backup, but worth adding at the top the third tier if you’re looking for another lottery ticket
New York Jets - Elijah McGuire might not become a true lead back if Isaiah Crowell goes down, although he already has rosterable value around the bottom of the first tier/top of the second as potential quality depth with his arrow pointing up going into his bye and Crowell on the injury report all year.
Oakland - This has turned into a committee, but Jalen Richard is only rosterable back. He’s worth carrying over the first tier if you need PPR depth more than upside on your bench.
Tennessee - Derrick Henry is likely rostered, but if he’s not he would be around the bottom of the first tier in priority.
Carolina - No clear backup
Chicago - Both backs rostered in most leagues, no clear starter or backup
Detroit - Kerryon Johnson is out and Blount is still only worth about the same as a fourth-tier back on the above list. Theo Riddick should be rostered in PPR and is worth the same as a first-tier handcuff if your bench is thin in a PPR league.
New Orleans - There’s no clear back to own if one of the co-starters go down.
Philadelphia - Josh Adams has the same waiver priority as the top tier if you need depth. No one else in this backfield is worth rostering.
Washington - No clear backup