Many teams in the NFL have a star running back who dominates their backfield. The Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliot, Giants have Saquon Barkley, and the Titans have Derrick Henry. These players are also all studs for fantasy football. The teams that don't have a star running back typically use a running back committee. These teams usually have a first and second down back, a receiving back, and a goal line back, meaning the work load is very spread out. Without one running back getting the majority of the work, these backfields don't usually have great fantasy production. So which teams should be avoided for fantasy purposes?
The first team to stay away from is the New England Patriots. This team has Sony Michel as their number one on the depth chart, but consistently throw Rex Burkhead into the mix. James White is also on this roster and is used mainly as a receiving back. The Patriots also added Lamar Miller this offseason who will probably take some of the load away from Michel and Burkhead. Although he didn't see the field much, only 0.44% of the team's snaps, Damien Harris is also in this backfield.
As the starter, Michel only rushed for 900 yards and seven touchdowns on nearly 250 attempts. He also caught 12 passes for 94 yards. Michel clearly gets the majority of the load on the ground, but Rex Burkhead also had 65 rushing attempts and 27 receptions, and James White had 67 attempts and 72 receptions. The volume is there to support a lead back, but nobody stands out from this group of guys. Assuming Lamar Miller is healthy and makes the final roster, he could very easily take 30 to 40 attempts away from the rest of this backfield.
The Patriots also signed quarterback Cam Newton to a prove it deal. If he's healthy, Newton will easily beat out Stidham and Hoyer for the starting job. This means he will also take rushing attempts away from this backfield as a huge part of Cam's game is his ability to run. This offense will look very different from the past two decades and the running backs may receive even less work than before. The only running back potentially worth drafting would be James White in a full PPR league as Cam can tend to lean on the backfield for quick, short passes. There's a lot of mouths to feed in New England and not every running back is going to produce. And when they do, it'll be impossible to predict when.
The Washington Football Team is another team with a crowded running back room. Derrius Guice is now off the team after some off the field issues, but Adrian Peterson, Bryce Love, Antonio Gibson, Peyton Barber, and J.D. McKissic still all remain. One of these players will probably be cut before the start of the season, but it is possible they all make the final roster.
AD is listed as the starter on their depth chart now that Guice is gone so he will more than likely be the first and second down back. The third down back could be Gibson, Barber, or McKissic. Gibson was drafted in the third round (Washington's second pick) and is very athletic. He is going to both the receivers and the running backs meetings and workouts in camp as of today. Gibson is very versatile and is currently listed as the second running back on the depth chart so he may be the third down back. If it isn't Gibson, McKissic makes the most sense as he is a better receiver than Barber. Bryce Love has not been mentioned once, but he will be the real second string back and take some of the work away from Adrian Peterson. If age starts to catch up to AD, don't be surprised if Bryce Love takes over early in the season.
With the way the rest of the team is built, running the ball doesn't seem to be the best option. Washington has a solid defense that is carried by their defense line. They won't let up a ton of points, but the offense will struggle to score. Haskins didn't look great when he was first thrown in, but performed slightly better by the end of the season. The offensive line is below average which doesn't help Haskins or the run game. And they have very little at the receiver position after Terry McLaurin. This team will likely be behind in a lot of games which changes the game script to a pass heavy offense. This backfield is really hard to choose from but if Love or Gibson fall to one of the final rounds, they may be worth taking a shot on.
San Francisco had the second best rushing offense of the season in 2019, but this backfield is impossible to predict. After Matt Breida went to Miami, the backfield was left with Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Jerrick McKinnon. If McKinnon is healthy this season, this will make the 49ers backfield even harder to predict.
On the depth chart, Raheem Mostert is the leader, but he doesn't start every game. Tevin Coleman actually started 11 of 16 games last season while Mostert didn't start any. Mostert also just got his contract restructured so he will make more money next season after an impressive end of the year in 2019. Both Coleman and Mostert had 137 carries on the season, but Mostert averaged over 1.5 more YPC than Coleman. Coleman also had seven more receptions, but they finished with the same amount of receiving yards (180). If the 49ers continue to ride the hot hand, Mostert will see most of the work next season. San Fran thrives using a committee though, so Coleman is going to get his work as well. Mostert could see more than 150 carries and Coleman will probably reach right around 150 as well assuming he stays healthy all season.
By the end of the regular season, Tevin Coleman only finished with 22 total snaps more than Raheem Mostert. Following the departure of Matt Breida, there are 259 vacated snaps at running back. Jeff Wilson Jr. will receive less than 20 of those, leaving nearly 240 snaps to split between Mostert and Coleman. After week 12, Mostert was on the field an average of 59% of the snaps while Coleman played only 27% of the snaps. It's likely the 49ers will continue to use Mostert as he was more efficient and they just paid him more money this offseason. I don't like this backfield because 2019 showed they ride whoever is hot that week and the first guy on the depth chart doesn't mean he's the starter that week. If I had to draft one back from the team, it'd definitely be Raheem Mostert.
The Denver Broncos found a gem in UDFA Phillip Lindsay. He has been a stud for them ever since he signed back in 2018. In 2019, Lindsay was the lead rusher with just over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Royce Freeman actually shared the backfield snaps pretty evenly throughout the season as Lindsay only took two more total snaps than Freeman. In this offseason, the Broncos went out and signed Melvin Gordon from the Chargers. Gordon is a starting quality running back and will demand snaps and take them away from both Freeman and Lindsay. Although he held out at the beginning of the 2019 season, Gordon still finished the year with over 400 snaps and was on the field 54% of the time when he came back. And that's with the amazing season Austin Ekeler was having too.
Freeman became more of the receiving back for this Denver offense totaling 43 receptions on 50 targets. This role will most likely be taken over by Melvin Gordon as he is a very capable receiver and the Broncos went out of their way to sign and pay him. This will not be an even three way split for this team however. Freeman will lose 70% to 80% of snap count barring any injuries to Lindsay or Gordon. This will open up over 400 snaps for Melvin Gordon. Phillip Lindsay's snap count will more than likely take a hit as well, but not nearly as much as Freeman's did. Lindsay could lose anywhere from 5% to 10% of his snaps, only giving another 50 or so snaps to Gordon. This makes this backfield nearly a 50-50 split of Gordon and Lindsay, with a little bit of Freeman thrown in a few times a game.
Melvin Gordon is currently listed as the starter so he will be on the field early on in most games. He will also be on the field for most third downs as well as Lindsay isn't much of a receiving back. Phillip Lindsay is the second string running back, but it's in the same way as Tevin Coleman is the second string in San Francisco. It'll be impossible to predict who is going to have their week, but it seems like Melvin Gordon will see more valuable snaps than Lindsay (first and third down work). I really don't like this backfield for fantasy, but Gordon looks like the safer pick right now.
When Kerryon Johnson was healthy last season, he was on the field an average of 66% of the time (before his injury). Week seven and on, the backfield was pretty split between Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Bo Scarborough, and a few weeks of Paul Perkins. There was no clear back up in 2019 but coming into 2020, there is no clear starter. The current starter on the depth chart is listed as D'Andre Swift. Kerryon Johnson has proven to be good when he's healthy though. The only problem is the fact that Kerryon Johnson has only played in 18 games in his first two seasons.
With how restricted and shortened this offseason is, Kerryon Johnson may enter the season as the starter. He could very easily lose that job to D'Andre Swift if he gets hurt just doesn't perform well. The Lions spent a second round pick on Swift, which is pretty high draft capital to just sit him for his entire rookie season. Swift will without a doubt see the field, the only question is how much work he will get. I believe Swift is the better back and could outperform Johnson early on in the season, even with less carries. I don't think there's any way Johnson is completely eliminated from this backfield however. His work may drop down to 10 carries a game, but that's still enough to have an impact on Swift's production.
This backfield isn't very crowded, but it is likely going to be a relatively even split between two backs which is never good for fantasy. Until a true starter is announced, I would avoid this backfield entirely. Not to mention the Lions never really have a great rushing attack either due to coaching or poor offensive line play.
There are some other worrisome backfields, but they will probably work themselves out sooner rather than later. Some of these teams that just missed this list include: Buffalo, Indianapolis, Pittsburg (mainly injury concern), and LAR.
Buffalo has Singletary as the main starter. Josh Allen likes to run a lot so he will take some carries. Buffalo also drafted Zack Moss in the third round who could see goal line work and take touchdowns away from Singletary.
Indianapolis drafted Jonathan Taylor in the second round, which is high draft capital to not use him. They have announced that Marlon Mack is the starter but also said that they'd ride the hot hand. Nyheim Hines will also get most of the receiving work.
Pittsburg is rolling with James Conner, who is a great starter. If he goes down, which is very likely, the back ups aren't very appealing. Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels, and rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. all could see volume if Conner goes down.
Los Angeles drafted Cam Akers in the second round and will likely be the starter. He's a rookie so he's not guaranteed to perform well. The Rams also have Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, both of which were on the team last season so they already know the system.