In this piece I’ll examine some of the risers and fallers at the RB position as we approach Week 1.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
The recipient of a four-year, $48 million extension, there’s a lot to like about Mixon’s fantasy prospects heading into the NFL season.
Starting with the obvious, Mixon projects to be a three-down workhorse on an offense that should be considerably better this year. As a byproduct of the improved offense, there should be an increase in scoring opportunities for Mixon who finished last season with 8 total TDs. From Weeks 9-17 last season, Mixon finished as the RB5 on a FP/G basis and is in an excellent position to carry that momentum into this year.
On a per game basis, Mixon averaged 17.4 carries and 2.2 receptions for an average of 19.6 touches per game. Veteran fantasy players are well aware that volume/usage are among the most important data when trying to predict future RB success. While efficiency metrics are less useful, Mixon managed to create 1.84 yards per touch (8th) and 576 in total (2nd) while seeing plenty of negative game script. With an improved offense and subsequent boost in game script, we should expect Mixon to eclipse the 19.6 touches per game he saw last year.
When it comes to the offensive line, the Bengals were among the worst in the NFL last season. This year, 2019 first rounder (11th overall) Jonah Williams will make his debut at LT. The Bengals also signed OG Xavier Su’a-Filo in free agency to bolster the interior of their offensive line. Both Williams and Su’a-Filo will slide in as immediate starters and give this unit a boost.
With a new contract, an improved offense and workhorse role cemented, Mixon’s fantasy outlook is trending up with a good shot at a Top-5 RB finish.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
A draft riser, Gibson’s fantasy stock has gone parabolic since training camp kicked off. Prior to being drafted, Gibson was a two-year player at Memphis who impressed with the following totals during his second year.
|GP||Atts.||Ru. Yds||Targets||Receptions||Rec. Yds|
At the combine, Gibson blazed a 4.39 40-yard dash (98th %) and registered a 122.8 speed score (99th %). Simply put, he can make big plays.
Throughout training camp, Gibson has routinely drawn praise out of Washington’s camp even receiving the lofty comparison to CMC from coach Rivera. There’s also been reports of Washington finding ways to scheme him the ball and Gibson taking the lion’s share of first team reps in practice.
The workload concerns surrounding Gibson are valid, and it appears Washington will take a committee approach in the early going. Regardless, Gibson is the back to own and offers considerably more upside than Barber or McKissic.
Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills
The Bills third round pick in 2020 has received stellar reviews throughout the duration of training camp. Approaching Week 1, Moss is rumored to have a shot at seizing the lead role from Singletary in the near future.
A four-year player at Utah, Moss produced consistently in the PAC-12 and posted a 35.7% dominator (82nd). Below are his production totals.
|GP||Atts.||Ru. Yds||Targets||Receptions||Rec. Yds|
It would also be wise for fantasy players to take note of how capable a receiver Moss is out of the backfield. Supporting this notion are reports out of Buffalo that Moss will be a factor on passing downs this year.
The stars have begun to align for Moss and it appears he’ll get a shot at carving out a role in the Bills offense as early as Week 1.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
While there was discussion the Eagles would add a veteran back this offseason, nothing ever materialized. Fortunately for Sanders, that should mean he’s locked into the monster workloads he enjoyed down the stretch last season following the Jordan Howard injury.
Following Howard’s departure, Sanders finished as the RB6 on a FP/G basis from Weeks 11-16 and saw a minimum of 13 touches during that stretch. With Boston Scott as his direct backup this year, fantasy owners should be expecting something of a 15 touch minimum for Sanders with plenty of room for more.
A unique blend of speed, explosiveness and hands, Sanders is poised for a Top-12 fantasy season at RB and has the upside for more.
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Shame on me. I entered the offseason thinking Jones was poised for a big season in the Bucs offense following the release of Barber. Instead, they drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third and sign LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette.
To this point, Arians and the Bucs’ staff have spoken highly of Jones yet every action they’ve taken has been the opposite.
All hope is not lost for Jones’ fantasy prospects at this point, but the Tampa backfield looks like one that belongs in the “Too hard” pile for the first few weeks. Inevitably, Jones’ fantasy stock is trending down for the time being.
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Does whirlwind adequately describe the offseason for Leonard Fournette?
Finishing as the RB9 in 0.5 PPR last year, Fournette was outright released by the Jaguars after being unable to trade him for “anything.” Freshly signed by the Buccaneers, what can fantasy players expect from this crowded backfield going forward?
As mentioned earlier, the situation is far from easy to forecast. At best guess, I would presume that Fournette and Jones cannibalize one another to some extent and end up offering some RB3/Flex value. With McCoy also in the mix and rumored to be the guy in passing situations it’s all but impossible for Fournette to come close to last season’s 76 receptions.
It’s possible Fournette completely takes over this backfield once acclimated to the offense in Tampa but for now his fantasy stock has taken a hit.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
Gifted an opportunity to claim a large share of the Rams backfield this season, last year’s third rounder has been unable to take advantage. Making matters worse, Henderson finds himself battling a nagging hamstring injury and is in a rush to get cleared for Sunday.
With Week 1’s game against the Cowboys now four days away, Henderson’s best case is finding himself a member of a frustrating three-back committee that includes Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown.
While his stock is trending down at the moment, Henderson is worth watching as the Rams backfield shakes out over the coming weeks. In a Sean McVay offense, there will undoubtedly be fantasy relevance for whoever emerges as the leader.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Harris is another back whose offseason could be considered somewhat of a whirlwind. After being selected in the third round last year, Harris spent nearly the entirety of his rookie season inactive, seeing just four carries in Week 7.
Entering this offseason there were plenty of questions surrounding the Patriots backfield. Up until a couple of weeks ago it looked as if Harris had answered those questions with each report out of Patriots camp labelling him as a standout player. Furthermore, it was said Harris was taking all first-team reps at practice.
Only a few days later, we learned that Harris may miss the season opener with a hand injury. Shortly thereafter, Harris was placed on the three-week IR and now players must wait until Week 4 at the earliest to see him play.
Once again it would appear that the Patriots backfield is shaping up as one to avoid for fantasy purposes.
If you enjoyed this article, you can read my previous one on Risers and Fallers at the WR position here: https://fantasyfuru.com/2020/09/08/risers-and-fallers-qb-edition/