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Evolving Backfields

Evolving Backfields

A fresh look at ten backfields
By: Pete Davidson : October 08, 2013 1:18am

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As we head into Week 6, it seems we are finally getting some clarity around the league as to how the backfields are shaking out. I’ve chosen ten backfields today to have a look at and what’s cool is that some of them are actually becoming clear ... and then there’s the Jets and Dolphins. I’ll obviously be covering a lot of these players in tomorrow’s waiver wire and I’ll have a buy low, sell high piece coming out on Wednesday.  As always, if you are looking to catch up on content or find a particular article, go to The Rotobahn, where I archive our content week by week.

Giants

As I said in my blog post regarding the Giants’ backfield, with Da’Rel Scott now gone, David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs will form a 2-headed backfield until Andre Brown returns from his broken leg. If Wilson continues to get steady work, he’ll carve out a permanent role for himself. If he flops or underwhelms, which I doubt, Brown could return to a big role because we don’t see Jacobs doing much at this stage of his career.

***UPDATE***  David Wilson is unlikely to play this Thurdsday and the Giants will re-sign Da'Rel Scott.  Scott and Jacobs will most likely be the two backs that  play on Thursday versus the Bears.

Packers

Eddie Lacy was the answer all along once he was their 2nd round pick. There was some drama early on with his health and then a little more after his Week 2 concussion, but we saw what Green Bay wants to do last week. This is Lacy’s gig and Johnathan Franklin is going to have a role behind him. James Starks will get healthy eventually, but he’ll be a role player unless there’s an injury.

Rams

We may finally have some clarity here.  I’ve said throughout this season that Zac Stacy was the St. Louis tailback with feature back skills and it seems that the Rams are finally seeing the light. To give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Stacy has finally raised his overall game to an acceptable level. Either way, I expect Stacy’s role to grow going forward. On the down side, a tough schedule will likely keep him from being a consistently productive fantasy back. He’ll be more of a matchup play. Stacy should continue to be the primary guy and the back to own in most fantasy leagues. Daryl Richardson, based on talent and last week’s snap totals, is the next back to roster leaving Isaiah Pead off the radar in typical formats.

Cardinals

As Rashard Mendenhall’s struggles continue, the cry for our guy Andre Ellington continues to get louder and louder. Ellington has earned a bigger role. That much appears clear. Still, people should be careful what they wish for, because Ellington is not a big back and he’s still a rookie that had a rough offseason health-wise. It would be foolish for Arizona to bench Mendenhall for Ellington. What Ellington fans should hope for is for the rookie to start winning the touch battle and he has a chance to do just that. Another VERY large factor in this backfield is HC Bruce Arians, who is doing something that very few coaches do. He’s getting his two best tailbacks on the field together. Ellington is being lined up in a variety of ways including as a traditional tailback. His excellent receiving skills have been on full display the last few weeks. We’ve seen some advanced routes and some good footwork on the sidelines to stay in-bounds. This kid is earning his touches. He’s been a real weapon for the Cardinals. His role will continue to grow and he may not need to displace Mendenhall to become a legit fantasy option. This is obviously a backfield to watch, with both Mendenhall and Ellington on the flex radar in 12-team leagues while the byes are in effect.

Patriots

New England has four very good backs and they’ve needed them all so far this year. How it evolves from here will be very interesting, but the back to own in the long run appears to be Shane Vereen. Of course, we won’t see Vereen again until Week 11 due to a wrist injury. We expect him to hit the ground running at that time, but until then, we’ll have a mix-and-match approach with Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden all playing a role. From what we’ve seen so far, a healthy Brandon Bolden would be the most valuable fantasy asset, but he’s been battling knee pain. Blount, and to an extent, Ridley, have shown some limitations when their all-around skills get compared to Vereeen and Bolden. My guess is that the Patriots envision a backfield led by Vereen with Bolden as the next guy up. Why? Because the Patriots want the whole playbook on the field at all times and that’s what those two backs give them.

Dolphins

This backfield is hard to figure. The Dolphins’ coaching staff has been less committed to the run than any staff in football. It’s bizarre to watch in-game as they use Daniel Thomas as almost a pure pass blocker (2 rushing attempts in Week 5) to the point of having no running game and being completely one dimensional. In Week 5, even when Miller was in the game, there were only seven rushing attempts. That’s nine for the game in a game where they were not trailing by more than a few points at any time and were often ahead. The Dolphins are making things very hard on themselves. They don’t have the personnel to play the way they are playing. Green Bays does have the personnel, but they don’t opt to play that way. The same goes for the Saints (28 Week 5 rushing attempts by non-QBs) and Broncos (28 attempts for non- QBs.) The takeaway here is that only Miller is a viable play in fantasy. They just don’t use Thomas enough when he’s in there. Miller will only be a flex option in 12-team leagues unless they begin to run the ball more consistently or give Miller more snaps and Thomas less. We expect both to happen eventually, but our conviction is not what it was a month ago. 

Bills

Fred Jackson has proven once again that he is fine tailback. He’s also an old tailback and he really can’t keep up this pace for 16 weeks. The Bills need to start doing what I said they’d do from the beginning. They need to use both backs to keep both backs fresh and they need to use the strengths of each back in various game situations. They have telegraphed Spiller’s usage in particular, and that must change. They must find more ways to get him outside in the running game and in space via the pass. It’s about quality and not quantity with Spiller. He only needs 15-20 touches be be a stud on a weekly basis but he needs to be used in all facets of the game as he was in 2012. Jackson needs more rest. He can’t be a 20-touch back on a consistent basis or they will lose him. Now you have a new QB for a few weeks. Some serious imagination is needed. We’ll have to see if the Bills new coaching staff is up to the task. Both backs should be healthy for Week 6 and I see Spiller as a RB2 option and Jackson as a flex.

Jets

This backfield is evolving into the tailback stew. The Jets have four backs who can all make a claim to being worthy of a large role in the offense.

  • Chris Ivory
  • Bilal Powell
  • Mike Goodson
  • Alex Green

Only Powell has stepped up so far. The thing is, Powell is the only back not brought in by new GM John Idzik, and Idzik has been a force so far in terms of which players get opportunities. It will be very interesting to see how the Jets’ backfield plays out tonight against Atlanta. Powell makes the best start tonight, but this is still a very fluid situation. Stew indeed.

Broncos

Knowshon Moreno has taken this thing. There’s no doubt about that, but there is plenty of doubt as far as Moreno’s ability to stay healthy is concerned. For now, Ronnie Hillman appears to have the edge on Montee Ball for snaps behind Moreno, but that could change if Moreno goes down. Ball has a better build for lead back duty. The Broncos schedule is very good and that means all of these backs should be owned in 12-team leagues with deep benches (more than sixteen roster spaces.) Moreno as a light RB2. Hillman and Ball are lottery tickets or stash options.

Chargers

As amazing as it sounds, Danny Woodhead is the clear back to own in San Diego. Having said that, he may be a player to deal away soon. As much as people are writing off Ryan Mathews, he is a player with significant talent and he will get healthy eventually. He took a knee to the helmet last night and would have had more usage otherwise despite a tender hamstring. This should continue to be a combo backfield that includes Ronnie Brown. My advice is to ride Woodhead for another week and then deal him at his peak.