During the 2023 season, fantasy football analyst Jorge Martin will provide weekly analysis of some of the muddiest fantasy RB situations while looking ahead to future matchups.
What happens when the Dolphins don’t score 70 points? Or when not one, but two running backs score four touchdowns apiece? Those are questions to be answered another day.
The 70-20 Miami victory over Denver was so otherworldly, it has to be appreciated like fine art, even with the caveat that Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane will probably never have such incredible games again. Unless they’re playing Madden.
For now, let’s truly marvel at the greatest offensive display since before the first Super Bowl. The Dolphins put up 350 rushing yards and 726 total yards. They ran the ball 43 times and passed it just 28 times, the first time this season that they ran it more than passed it. That’s significant, as Miami ran the ball just 390 times last year, which was 31st in the league.
Remember, Head Coach Mike McDaniel came to South Beach after coordinating the 49ers’ bruising rushing attack.
This is the type of running game he must have been dreaming of for the Dolphins. Achane, with his 4.32 speed in the 40-yard dash, was finally healthy after having just a single rushing attempt coming into the contest. Mostert appeared to have taken over the lead back role with 28 total rush attempts in the first two weeks.
Achane ran 18 times and caught four balls on the way to 233 yards and four scores. Mostert had 20 touches for 142 total yards and his four touchdowns. However, Mostert ran double the number of routes (18) as Achane (nine), so he would appear to be getting more of that valuable pass-game usage. Could this offense be so dynamic that both running backs are must-starts, similar to lightning-fast receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle being top-12 wide receivers?
Fantasy managers who sat Achane last week are definitely going to count on it, as are those who used up their FAB to acquire him (he was rostered in 42% of Yahoo leagues before waivers ran Tuesday; now, he’s at 87%).
This week in what’s shaping up as one of the most entertaining games on the slate, the Dolphins travel to Buffalo, which has gotten beaten up by running backs thus far. Breece Hall rumbled for 127 yards in the season opener, while Brian Robinson went for 70 yards on just 10 carries last week. Josh Jacobs added 51 receiving yards on five catches in Week 2.
Both of these Miami flashes are fantasy starters this week, and will likely be as long as they’re both healthy. Enjoy the show, just like when Taylor Swift went to Arrowhead Stadium and blew up the internet.
That said, the state of the running back position in other spots is not as well-off as Miami’s, so here are the rest of this week’s running back rooms that need extra attention for fantasy football.
Is this becoming a Rhamondre Stevenson-Ezekiel Elliott tandem? Fantasy managers who spent up for a third-round pick to grab Stevenson may have gone on high alert when Elliott turned 16 carries into 80 yards while Stevenson had 19 carries for 59 yards in Week 3. Both caught a single ball each.
Changing of the guard?
Quiet the alarm bells. This is still Stevenson’s backfield.
Stevenson was on the field for 45 snaps, which came out to 65.2% (thank you Fantasy Points’ Data). Elliott drew just 26 snaps, good for 37.7%. Stevenson tripled the number of routes that Elliott ran, 21-7.
The Patriots go to Dallas this week, in a homecoming for Elliott. The Cowboys remain an elite defense, the Arizona debacle aside. James Conner did rush for 98 yards against them last week, though it being a road game should be taken into account. Stevenson is still a start, because he’s more of a threat in the passing game. With the running back position in so much flux, Elliott may even be an RB2 on some teams, though don’t expect another 80 yards in his return to Big D.
Jerick McKinnon must have been feeling 22 after turning a pair of receptions into touchdowns (OK, last Swiftie reference). Does this mean he is going to take touches from Isiah Pacheco? Should Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 15 carries, 55 yards and a touchdown be taken more seriously?
McKinnon growing more involved in the red zone — both touchdowns were inside the 10 — is reminiscent of late last year when he scored nine touchdowns from Week 13 on. Pacheco played through a hamstring injury and still led the Chiefs running backs in routes run (13). He should lead the backfield as long as his hamstring doesn’t get worse.
Next up are the Jets on Sunday night, and the primetime audience will get the Chiefs looking to Pacheco early. As noted above, Patriots running backs combined for 139 rushing yards against the Jets, who have yet to allow a 300-yard passer this season and have picked off three passes to four passing touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire and McKinnon are emergency dart throws for fantasy starting lineups.
After a clunker against a beatable Vikings run D, it might be time to look away from Joshua Kelley. Rushing for 12 yards on 11 carries will do that to a fantasy manager. Kelley is the only other Chargers running back to roster right now, as he’s dominating what few running back touches there are. Though, the Chargers are clearly leaning into the passing game as evidenced by Justin Herbert’s 47 passes to just 15 team rushing attempts.
Could Austin Ekeler be back? It’s likely he sits out this week, with the bye week coming in Week 5. With the Raiders on deck, the Chargers will likely ride Herbert again. Josh Allen completed 31-of-37 passes for 273 yards and three scores against Vegas. Even with Mike Williams out for the season, the game will be in Herbert’s hands.
Getting out to a lead may be Kelley’s only hope of getting significant rush attempts.
Alexander Mattison responded to the news that Cam Akers was being traded to the Vikings with 125 total yards on 25 touches in Week 3. Can he continue to hold off the inevitable challenge from Akers, who was inactive against the Chargers?
Mattison’s usage, and how many touches he gives up to Akers, will begin to show this week as the former Ram is worked into the running back mix. Figure something in the range of the 12 snaps that Ty Chandler received last week will be what Akers gets this week against the Panthers, who are 27th in the NFL allowing 136.7 running yards per game.
Whether you selected Najee Harris in the third round or made him a “My Guy” (guilty), there is no choice but to keep him in your lineup. However, it’s time to start taking Jaylen Warren seriously as a running mate and weekly flex option.
Out of 60 total team snaps, Harris was on the field for 31 and Warren for 26. While Harris was the clear leader in rush attempts (19), Warren ran 13 routes and saw four targets. A running back with playmaking ability like Warren getting double-digit touches is fast approaching flex starter consideration, if he’s not already there. And this week’s opponent, the Texans, are coming off consecutive games where they have allowed 88 rushing yards to individual running backs. That’s good for Harris, but Warren could get some work in the passing game, where Travis Etienne put up 50 yards against Houston last week.
The workload share for Dameon Pierce is concerning compared to Devin Singletary. In Week 2, Pierce had an advantage of 38-27 in snaps. Last week, it was 30-22, in what was a positive game script for the Texans. Singletary even ran more routes, 11-9, so this is dangerously getting close to a timeshare for a running back in Pierce who was drafted in the fourth round.
With C.J. Stroud playing very well for a rookie, this offense could be rounding into form a year earlier than expected. Pittsburgh is coming to Houston, and that defense has given up a pair of 100-yard-rushing games to Christian McCaffrey and Jerome Ford. Those teams have top-tier offensive lines, while the Texans’ unit is banged up. Singletary is a sit this week unless injuries have caused a running back shortage on rosters, while Pierce is at best an RB2 because of the state of the position — not because of his performance.
Is there anyone who should be considered on this team while Saquon Barkley is out? Matt Breida was on the field 80.4% of the snaps in the 30-12 loss to the 49ers — the first game without the injured Barkley. Breida turned that into just four carries for 17 yards and three catches for one yard. Barkley does not appear to be close to returning, and a tough opponent is next.
Seattle has not allowed any running back to go beyond 67 rushing yards in any game, which does not foreshadow good things for Breida. The passing game has been a problem for the Seattle defense however, as it is 31st with 339.3 yards allowed per game. Four receivers have gone over 100 yards against them in three games.
Look for Daniel Jones to pass plenty, and the run game being somewhat of an afterthought.
In an extreme negative game script, the Commanders may have shown a glimpse into Antonio Gibson’s future role in the passing game. Trailing from the start to the Bills, Gibson ran 27 routes to Brian Robinson’s seven. Gibson also drew all five of the team’s running back targets.
This is telling, with the Eagles hosting the Commanders this week. Philadelphia should get off to an early lead, and that could mean Eric Bieniemy turning to Gibson to play catchup. Robinson still needs to start because he’s the clear choice in the running game, but Gibson is a wild card flex play this week.
This team was so decimated at running back that it started a UDFA (Tony Jones) and a rookie making his NFL debut (Kendre Miller) this past Sunday. No bueno. Returning to the team is Alvin Kamara, back from his three-game suspension, while quarterback Derek Carr figures to miss at least this week.
There was talk of Kamara getting back to a role he had his first few years in the league, when he would run about 10-12 times a game and get targeted 6-10 times. Unless Miller steps up in a major way, Kamara will be the clear lead back. Miller’s snap count will be important to view though; he hit 21 last week, compared to 29 for Jones.
If his snap count increases against the Eagles, he could become that second back the Saints like to deploy (see: Mark Ingram Jr.)
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