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Stark Raven Mad - AFC

All Out Blitz: Volume 181

By Doug Orth | 9/16/21 |

In less than two weeks' time, the Baltimore Ravens experienced more chaos to their backfield than any team should have to experience in a season - much less during a stretch from the final preseason game to the season opener. J.K. Dobbins was the first running back to go down, suffering a torn ACL on Aug. 28. Nine days later, Justice Hill blew out his Achilles. Three days after that, presumptive new lead back Gus Edwards tore his ACL.

With that said, the situation provided me with the inspiration for the topic to lead off Year 13 of this column. As an ESPN production assistant many years ago, we were taught to go into a game with a well-researched plan for the highlight we were assigned to cut for SportsCenter that night but have the flexibility to let our research go at the drop of a hat once the game went off the rails. While not to the same degree as my ESPN experience, NFL backfields rarely remain intact or play out according to plan. Deciphering how backfields could potentially play out when chaos strikes is one of the ways successful fantasy managers can stay ahead of the game.

As a result, this week's focus will be examining what I believe would happen if/when each team's primary ball-carrier is forced to miss at least one game this season.

KC | LV | LAC | MIA | NE | NYJ | PIT | TEN


Starter(s): Ty'Son Williams

Reserves: Latavius Murray, Le'Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman

Comment: Williams' Week 1 disappearing act following his impressive start was curious. Considering Murray did next to nothing in the second half and showed little explosion while doing so suggests HC John Harbaugh and OC Greg Roman either don't trust Williams' ball security yet (possible but unlikely) or his ability to pick up the blitz. Based on how lost he appeared on both of the Raiders' blitzes in the opener, it is safe to assume this was the reason behind his lack of activity. With that said, Williams looked better in Week 1 than Murray did or Bell and Freeman have recently.

What happens if Williams goes down? Do we really want to go there with the fourth running back on this team? Murray is the back that most fits how Baltimore likes to run, so he would likely be the primary back with Freeman serving as his 1B. Bell and Freeman would likely split most of the work on clear passing downs.


Starter(s): Devin Singletary

Reserves: Zack Moss, Matt Breida

Comment: Some recent pass-run ratios for the Bills: 51-25, 48-25, 37-16, 35-21, 38-25. The Bills haven't tried to establish the run to a large degree in their last five games. Thankfully, Singletary worked out hard enough during the offseason and stood out enough during camp to make Moss a healthy scratch in Week 1. Was it because Buffalo didn't expect to run much against Pittsburgh? Possibly. Either way, Moss isn't a priority right now.

What happens if Singletary goes down? Moss would likely be the lead man in a two-back committee with Breida similar to the one he and Singletary operated out of last season when both were healthy. Would it matter in fantasy? Unlikely. Moss deserves better, but he is a poor fit for an offense that is relying on four-wide sets significantly more than just about any team in the league.


Starter(s): Joe Mixon

Reserves: Samaje Perine, Chris Evans

Comment: The Mixon takeover that has been expected ever since he entered the NFL in 2017 may finally be happening. Cincinnati gave him a break on long down-and-distance plays in Week 1, but there was not another facet of the game where he did not see an overwhelming amount of the playing time versus the Vikings.

What happens if Mixon goes down? The expectation would be that Perine would assume most of Mixon's current workload, although Evans was drafted in part because of his ability to be a weapon in the passing game. Thus, the best and perhaps most appropriate comparison would be Perine and Evans playing the same respective roles Mixon and Giovani Bernard played in recent years for Cincinnati.


Starter(s): Nick Chubb

Reserves: Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton

Comment: Much as the case was last year, Chubb yielded a disproportionate amount of work to Hunt in Week 1 - except for when it came to rushing attempts (15-6). Otherwise, Hunt ran more routes and held the advantage when it came to short or long down-and-distance snaps AND two-minute work. If there is an upside for Chubb here, it is that Hunt was not nearly that involved early. Hunt also did not record the first of his three catches until the 9:28 mark of the fourth quarter. One of the reasons I liked Chubb so much this year was the likelihood they would be playing with a positive game script much more often than not. We saw what could be for him over the first three quarters.

What happens if Chubb goes down? There is no reason to expect much of a departure from what happened last year when Chubb missed four games, other than Felton would likely steal some of Hunt's work as a receiver. In Chubb's absence last season, Hunt commanded 75.5 percent of the rushing attempts and 77.8 percent of the targets this backfield had to offer.


Starter(s): Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams

Reserves: Mike Boone (IR), Nate McCrary

Comment: Gordon's 70-yard touchdown run made things look a bit lopsided in the box score, but it is ultimately a very promising thing that Williams essentially battled him to a draw almost across the board in terms of opportunities and specific usage. Williams held a 14-11 edge in rushing attempts, while Gordon was slightly more involved in the passing game. Expect things to lean slightly more to Williams as the season progresses.

What happens if Gordon/Williams goes down? About what you would expect. Gordon and Williams each played 33 of 66 snaps in Week 1. No other back played one. Boone could end up being a bit of a factor once he is healthy enough to play, but Gordon would almost certainly be a workhorse if the rookie gets hurt and vice versa.


Starter(s): Mark Ingram

Reserves: Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson

Comment: Imagine how bad the Jaguars had to be in Week 1 to give up one run of more than 11 yards on 41 attempts and still surrender 160 yards rushing. Not one of the aforementioned trio averaged more than 3.3 yards per carry. We learned that Ingram is the clear lead back for however long Houston can remain in games this season. It appears Lindsay's role is to relieve Ingram, while Johnson handles most of the traditional passing-down work.

What happens if Ingram goes down? I'm not sure the answer to this question matters. With their next eight games coming against the Browns, Panthers, Bills, Patriots, Colts, Cardinals, Rams and Dolphins, there won't be much of an opportunity for Houston to establish the run. To answer the question, I believe Lindsay would likely assume Ingram's role while probably holding a 60-40 edge in rushing work over Johnson.


Starter(s): Jonathan Taylor

Reserves: Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack

Comment: One of the more encouraging things here was that Mack did not even log an offensive snap in Week 1. Another encouraging thing is that despite Hines being one of the best passing-game weapons in the league at running back, Taylor nearly rivaled him in terms of passing game usage in the opener. With that said, the Colts did not run the ball with much success against Seattle, possibly giving some credence to the narrative that the Colts (Taylor in particular) took advantage of a light schedule down the stretch last year. It is also unlikely the Colts want 15 of 38 potential targets going to the running back position every week.

What happens if Taylor goes down? We saw this movie play out a bit last year when Taylor was struggling to establish his place on the depth chart. Indianapolis has shown a willingness to make Hines the lead back when necessary. It is fair to assume he would handle roughly half of the carries in any given game and play about 90 percent of the snaps on passing downs. Mack would likely get most of the scraps and share work near the goal line.


Starter(s): James Robinson

Reserves: Carlos Hyde

Comment: The injury to Travis Etienne last month was supposed to clear up the uncertainty in this backfield. Instead, it appeared as if the Week 1 plan was to minimize the one thing that worked in 2020. Robinson had two carries through the team's first three drives and was done for the day as a runner after three totes on the fourth drive. The good news here is that Robinson still ran significantly more routes and saw way more usage on clear passing downs than Hyde. Expect that to continue.

What happens if Robinson goes down? Hyde would be this year's James Robinson, right? Well, not exactly. The Jaguars would almost certainly ask Duke Johnson or Dare Ogunbowale to handle the majority of work in the passing game. It seems clear at this point that Hyde would handle the bulk of work on early downs, although it is fair to wonder how much that might mean on an offense that struggled so mightily against Houston and didn't bother to use one of its best weapons (Trevor Lawrence's rushing ability) to get something going.

Kansas City

Starter(s): Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Reserves: Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon

Comment: CEH played 72 percent of the team's offensive snaps in Week 1 - the third-highest mark of his brief pro career and the area where we can start thinking of players approaching workhorse status. Another very encouraging stat from the opener was that he handled 14 of the 16 carries that were allotted to the backfield. McKinnon barely played (six percent of snaps) and did not steal any of the long down-and-distance or two-minute work that may have had CEH managers on edge in drafts. Unfortunately, Williams handled the majority of those specific opportunities. Interestingly, Williams barely dented the box score (one carry) in spite of that.

What happens if Edwards-Helaire goes down? It would appear McKinnon was added in the offseason to complement Williams in case of an Edwards-Helaire injury and not to share passing-down work with him. Williams seems to be the preferred option - at least in HC Andy Reid's mind - over McKinnon and would be in line for the same 12-14 carries that CEH figures to receive on a weekly basis. More than likely, Williams and McKinnon would split work on passing downs.

Las Vegas

Starter(s): Josh Jacobs

Reserves: Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber

Comment: Jacobs was clearly dealing with a toe or ankle issue early and often against Baltimore. Drake logged 41 snaps to Jacobs' 45 on Monday Night Football, although it is difficult to say how much of that was a product of the Raiders not holding their first lead until Zay Jones' game-winning catch in overtime. However, the early returns are not overly promising for Jacobs, who finished with the same number of touches as Drake (11).

What happens if Jacobs goes down? We may not have to wait very long to find out if Jacobs continues to play in pain. Drake inked a two-year deal worth $11 million in March to give Las Vegas a versatile chess piece that could complement Jacobs when he is healthy and handle 20 touches if Jacobs was forced to miss time. Barber could get some short-yardage and goal-line work if Jacobs has to sit at any point, but Drake would almost certainly be treated as a bell-cow.

LA Chargers

Starter(s): Austin Ekeler

Reserves: Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley

Comment: Ekeler was slowed by a hamstring injury last week, which is about the only explanation as to why he didn't see a target in a game Justin Herbert threw 47 times and the offense ran 81 plays. (Jackson was the only running back to see a target.) It seems pointless to read too much into Ekeler's usage given his uncertain nature leading up to the opener, although it is somewhat encouraging he logged 58 percent of the team's snaps and wasn't pulled near the goal line before converting from 3 yards out on the team's first drive.

What happens if Ekeler goes down? We saw the scenario play out last season when Ekeler missed Weeks 5-11, although that was under a different head coach and play-caller. It's reasonable to assume based on preseason and Week 1 usage that Rountree would handle the bulk of early-down work, while Jackson would change the pace for him as a runner and hold down most of the work on passing downs.


Starter(s): Myles Gaskin

Reserves: Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown

Comment: One of the most-discussed topics in fantasy last month was whether Gaskin was going to return to last year's workhorse role. The Week 1 answer: apologies to those who believed it would happen. Thankfully for his fantasy managers, he performed far better than his teammates and assumed the overwhelming majority of work in two-minute situations. The good news: even just playing 54 percent of the snaps, he still logged 14 touches (five catches). Brown appears to be the preferred option in short down-and-distance situations.

What happens if Gaskin goes down? I get the distinct impression Miami would prefer to keep Brown in his current role, if only because he has never been trusted to carry the load for more than a game or two at a time. Therefore, we can probably assume Ahmed would likely take on Gaskin's role.

New England

Starter(s): Damien Harris

Reserves: Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White

Comment: Stevenson fumbled on his first regular-season catch and was not heard from again in Week 1. Harris fumbled on his 25th and final touch with the Patriots in field-goal range and in position to close out the Dolphins. Few coaches show their disdain for ball-security issues like Bill Belichick, so Harris could see his role reduced and Stevenson could get benched for the foreseeable future. Enter preseason standout Taylor, who was inactive last week. It would be far from surprising to see Belichick make Stevenson inactive as punishment and give the 1B role to Taylor, who reminds some of a bigger Dion Lewis.

What happens if Harris goes down? It is nearly impossible to peg what Belichick might do with his backfield on a weekly basis, so predicting how it would take shape over the rest of the season seems pointless. However, if Harris were to miss time, the primary beneficiary would be whichever back (Stevenson and Taylor) is on the coach's good side when it happens. That player would be a strong bet for 15-plus carries, while the other would likely be in line for 5-8. White might see a carry or two more than he usually does, although his main job would continue to be operating as the primary back on passing downs.

NY Jets

Starter(s): Tevin Coleman

Reserves: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter

Comment: This backfield actually entered Week 1 with a bit of a promise. While most of us realized the Jets would use a committee, OC Mike LaFleur's San Francisco-inspired offensive scheme combined with the improvements New York made to its offensive line was generating optimism. That is not how it played out against Carolina. Even before LT Mekhi Becton was lost for multiple weeks with a knee injury, the running game looked awful. Johnson was able to muster a 12-yard run on one of his four carries, but it was one of only four rushing attempts for him. Somewhat interestingly, Johnson held a significant advantage over his teammates in snaps and routes as well as long down-and-distance and two-minute work.

What happens if Coleman goes down? Week 1 was a disaster for the running game, and it is hard to believe much will change against the Patriots or Broncos in the next two weeks. My point is that I don't think the answer to this question will matter much in fantasy, outside of reducing this backfield from a three-headed mess to a two-headed mess.


Starter(s): Najee Harris

Reserves: Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr. (IR)

Comment: As advertised, Harris was drafted to handle the majority of the workload in this backfield. Harris played all 58 offensive snaps in Week 1.

What happens if Harris goes down? McFarland appeared to be making some headway toward winning the backup job before an undisclosed preseason injury put him on IR. Over the next two weeks, Ballage would seem to be the favorite to take over if Harris can't go, although the most likely conclusion would have him splitting time with Snell. Ballage would likely handle most of the passing-down work.


Starter(s): Derrick Henry

Reserves: Jeremy McNichols, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans (IR)

Comment: Tennessee's blocking was atrocious for the better part of the first half against Arizona. (Well, that and Chandler Jones made himself nearly impossible to block.) One of the problems with riding with Henry in fantasy is that we have become so accustomed to the Titans holding leads or staying within one score that panic can ensue in the rare instance the Titans lay an egg. An unexpected bonus to come out of Week 1 was Henry's four targets. It was only the fourth time in 79 career games he has recorded that many.

What happens if Henry goes down? Here is the million-dollar question that has not needed to be answered yet. Evans was drafted to be the answer, but he has been injured so much in the 1 1/2 years he has been with the team that Tennessee may just decide to keep him in a change-of-pace role regardless of Henry's health. McNichols would likely split work as a rusher and receiver with Sargent almost right down the middle if King Henry took a tumble.


Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.