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Pope’s Pick 6: Running Back Rooms to Avoid in Fantasy Football

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Welcome to Pope’s Pick 6. Twice a week I’ll be bringing you a quick look at my fantasy football thoughts in quick-hit form. Today: Running back rooms I’m not even bothering with in fantasy football this season.

 

“Running back by committee” — The four most dreaded words when it comes to running back fantasy football production. With a significant amount of the NFL starting to deploy this style of backfield, we as fantasy managers have to decipher which running back will be the most productive every week. This creates more stress than we need. With this in mind, I have narrowed down six backfields I am avoiding this season. 

San Francisco 49ers 

(Elijah Mitchell, Tyrion Davis-Price, Trey Sermon, Jordan Mason, Jeff Wilson)

It feels like we draft the wrong 49ers running back every year, and this year feels the same. Right now, wisdom says Elijah Mitchell is the clear lead back last year, especially after an impressive rookie season that featured six weeks of double-digit PPR points and four weekly finishes within the RB1 ranks. On the other hand, he only played in 10 games because of injuries.

Elijah Mitchell 2022 Fantasy Football RB Rooms to Avoid

This year, the 49ers drafted Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round. He had impressive durability at LSU, never missing a game despite a physical running style. Also, last year’s third-round pick, Trey Sermon, bulked up this offseason and, per 49ers beat reports, is putting up some of his best practices. UDFA rookie Jordan Mason is also reportedly having an impressive camp, and brittle-but-productive Jeff Wilson is still on the roster. Add in dual-threat QB Trey Lance commanding carries and Kyle Shanahan’s penchant for a backfield committee, and the best bet for this backfield is to just avoid rather than trying to decide who will offer the most production each week.

Houston Texans 

(Marlon Mack, Dameon Pierce, Dare Ogunbowale, Rex Burkhead)

The Texans entered the offseason with one of the clearest backfield openings, so it might seem like a surprise that they appear on this list, but here we are. Instead of making a big splash at running back, the Texans signed two free agents who are laden with questions — Marlon Mack (two years removed from a ruptured Achilles and 127 rushing yards in 2021-2022 combined) and Dare Ogunbowale (never topped 303 scrimmage yards in a season). They drafted a running back, but not until the fourth round, grabbing Dameon Pierce out of Florida. Pierce is talented, but in four years at Florida, he never topped 574 rushing yards in a season despite some very solid elusiveness. 

The end result is that we don’t know how this backfield will shake out, especially after the team gave four different backs (Rex Burkhead — still on the team — David Johnson, Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay) 50-plus carries last year. Behind a patchwork offensive line, that group averaged only 3.1 yards per attempt and scored 7 total touchdowns last year, with Burkhead the top fantasy finisher at only R52. A low upside and a bad overall offense mean it’s not really worth even trying to figure out the target in this backfield.

 

Philadelphia Eagles 

(Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott)

Heeding the advice of Miles Sanders, I am avoiding him and all other running backs in this Eagles backfield. Last season, the Eagles failed to commit to any individual back — they had five players top 60 carries (Jalen Hurts, Sanders, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell). Additionally, Hurts led the team in attempts (139), yards (784), yards per attempt (5.6) and touchdowns (10). Per FTN’s advanced rushing stats, he also led the team in 10-plus yard runs (29), runs inside the 10-yard line (22), runs inside the 5-yard line (13), and red zone touchdowns (9). The more he rushes, the less is available for the team’s running backs — last year, no Eagles running back finished inside the top 40 PPR scorers. 

This offseason, the Eagles traded for A.J. Brown in an apparent effort to improve the passing game. That means it’s fair to assume the team might pass more than last year’s last-place ranking, when they only passed 50% of the time. Increased passing volume will hurt the run game, further limiting the opportunities for these backs. 

New England Patriots 

(Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Pierre Strong, Kevin Harris, J.J. Taylor)

Damien Harris 2022 Fantasy Football RB Rooms to Avoid

For the past five seasons, the Patriots have had at least three running backs top 40 attempts each season. Why would 2022 be any different? It won’t be, the Patriots were one of the first teams to lean on a backfield committee, and it has become a focal point of their offense. Last season, they had two players (Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris) over 130 carries — both of them went over 600 rushing yards and scored at least 5 touchdowns. The Patriots also deployed veteran Brandon Bolden in the passing game — he led New England running backs with 49 targets, which he converted into 44 receptions for 405 yards. Last season, Harris did finish as the RB14 in PPR scoring with 210 PPR points, but he was only able to do so because of his 15 touchdowns (42% of his point total).

The Patriots drafted Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris into an RB room that already had Harris, Stevenson, J.J. Taylor and James White. White is on PUP, so who knows when we’ll see him, but even without that, the best-case scenario is an even split between Harris and Stevenson, and that’s assuming none of Strong, Harris or Taylor forces his way into the conversation. I don’t expect any Patriots RB to be a top-24 finishers this year.

Las Vegas Raiders 

(Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Kenyan Drake, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah)

The Raiders hired Josh McDaniels as head coach this offseason. McDaniels helped assemble the Patriots offense over the last decade, and as mentioned above, that’s always meant a committee backfield. One of McDaniels’ first move was to decline Josh Jacobs’ fifth-year option, and he followed that up by signing ex-Patriot Brandon Bolden and Ameer Abdullah and also drafting Zamir White, putting all three of them along with Jacobs and 2021 signee Kenyan Drake

On top of all that, the Raiders traded for Davante Adams this offseason. You don’t add a receiver of Adams’ caliber when you already have Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller if you’re going to be a run-heavy offense, especially not in an AFC West that is full of high-octane passing offenses. In other words, don’t expect this ground game to be fully loaded with opportunities this season, making it hard for any one Raiders back to be a big-time fantasy option.

Miami Dolphins 

(Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed

With a new head coach in Mike McDaniel, the Dolphins’ offense is set up to look completely different than in years past, starting with the running back position. McDaniel is a first-time head coach coming off the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, and with the offseason moves, he made it pretty clear his backfield will look like a committee. The Dolphins brought in three new running backs (Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel) to add to a room that already had Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. There’s no one there that has proven to be a true workhorse back, and no one there who has much history as both a runner and receiver. Michel has had the most success on the ground over the long run, while Mostert has offered splash production. Edmonds has had been the most successful as a receiver. In other words, this is a full-on committee.

That is not good news for fantasy, especially on a team that also added Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson in free agency to improve the passing attack. Last season, the Dolphins only produced 214.8 yards per game and scored only 20.1 points per game. McDaniel is hoping to improve these this year, but the biggest gains are likely to come with the new receiving weapons. It’s hard to see any Dolphins back cracking the top 30 this season.

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