Fantasy Football running back draft prep: Bust picks to avoid plus expectations for every backfield – CBS Sports

  • September 8, 2022

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In an ideal world, every player would live up to our wildest expectations and there would be no such thing as busts. But that’s not the world we live in. We know some number of our favorite players are going to disappoint us this season — it’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “who.”
That’s what we’re trying to figure out in today’s newsletter. I have my bust alerts for you, and so do Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings as you head into this final, massive draft weekend. For those of you who are drafting this weekend, make sure you didn’t miss our favorite sleepers and breakouts for this season, too.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep scrolling today, because in addition to our bust picks, I’ve written about where every single backfield in the NFL stands coming out of the preseason and into Week 1. All 32 teams, with starters and backups listed along with what I’m expecting to see from each team, both for Week 1 and the season as a whole, where applicable. There’s a whole bunch of actionable information in today’s newsletter, so make sure you scroll all the way down.   
As a bonus, keep an eye out this weekend for a couple of extra newsletters — on Saturday, we’ll go through every spot in the draft to walk you through how to approach building a team from the No. 1 to the No. 12 pick. And Sunday, the last big weekend draft day, we’ll have another Cheat Sheet ready for you to go, with everything you need to draft, from all of our sleepers, breakouts, and busts to every mock draft we did this preseason to our updated rankings. 
If you’re drafting this weekend, we’ve got you covered. 
On Thursday’s episode of Fantasy Football Today on CBS Sports HQ, Jamey Eisenberg, Heath Cummings, and Dave Richard talked about their bust picks for the 2022 season, and as you’ll see, there’s plenty of overlap between their picks and my own, which are just below:

I’ve moved Benjamin ahead of Williams in my mental hierarchy, but my expectation is this will be a split if Conner misses any time. The question that remains unanswered is how they will split passing downs work — Conner is a very good pass-catcher, and an increased role late last season fueled a massive stretch to close the season. If he’s getting five targets per game and the goal-line work, he’s a top-10 RB when healthy. 
With Qadree Ollison and Caleb Huntley cut, there’s a bit of clarity here. I’m expecting Patterson to be the lead back, but the Falcons are probably going to be pretty careful with his workload, so I’d be surprised if he got even 50% of the touches. This’ll be a committee, and Allgeier has a real chance to earn a significant role early on. 

The Ravens recently added Drake, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the lead back for Week 1. Dobbins is still coming along slowly and has yet to take contact at practice, so at this point I’d guess it’s more likely than not that he sits out Week 1. It’ll be a split between Drake and Davis in Week 1 if that’s the case, and it might be a few weeks until Dobbins is ready for something like a full workload, so just know that going in. 
Moss was actually running ahead of Cook during the preseason, after most Fantasy players had left him for dead. It sounds like all three could be active on game days, however Singletary dominated snaps with the first-team offense in the preseason, so he should still be the lead back. He’s a solid RB3, especially if you wait. 
All three backs figure to be active on game days, but there’s no reason to think McCaffrey is going to start resting series regularly. Panthers coach Matt Rhule has talked openly about how he isn’t worried about McCaffrey’s injury luck over the past few seasons, so I’m still expecting him to have the most valuable role in Fantasy. He’s my No. 1 RB, and I expect Hubbard and Foreman to split work if McCaffrey does miss any time. 
There was speculation among Fantasy analysts that Herbert might have a bigger role this season, and it’s possible he will given the Bears lack of weapons. However, Montgomery played 20 of 22 first-team snaps in his lone preseason action in the finale, so I’m not expecting Herbert to take much away from Montgomery unless Montgomery just falls flat on his face. His high-volume role seems secure. 
Maybe the fact that Evans hasn’t really been able to push Perine for the RB2 role yet is a sign that Fantasy players don’t have much reason to be excited about him. Mixon is going to get a heavy rushing workload and decent passing work, but Perine is going to have a role in some obvious passing downs, and should be viewed as the handcuff to Mixon. 
We know how this works: Chubb is arguably the best rusher in the league and Hunt is one of the best complementary backs in the league. As long as both are healthy, they take just enough from one another to limit Chubb to more of an RB2 role, while Hunt is a flex. But he remains one of the highest-upside backups in the league. This offense is going to have to ride both backs with Deshaun Watson suspended for the first 11 games, and unless there is some kind of surprise on the Hunt-trade-demand front, the status quo of the past two seasons should reign. 
Fantasy players may not like it, but Elliott is still a core piece of the Cowboys offense. In fact, owner Jerry Jones said at the start of training camp he still wants Elliott to be the “focus” of the offense, though he added there is “room for Pollard while Zeke is in there.” For what it’s worth, Elliott was probably better than you remember before his early-season injury – he averaged 101.4 yards per game with six touchdowns in the first five games, though starting tackle Tyron Smith‘s injury could drag the whole offense down.  
Lions coach Dan Campbell is acknowledging that the team has to be careful in managing Swift’s workload after he has struggled with injuries in his first two seasons. Swift has Austin Ekeler/Alvin Kamara-esque upside as a pass-catcher and could be a top five Fantasy RB, but expect WIlliams to get 8-12 touches most weeks, similar to last season. 
This is going to be a split backfield just as it was last season, though with the absence of Davante Adams, more may be asked of both in the passing game. Aaron Rodgers praised Dillon’s growth in the passing game since the team acquired him, but Jones still figures to be the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield. For his part, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso recently wrote about why he thinks this is the year Dillon takes over as the team’s primary back. One interesting wrinkle here is that wide receiver Amari Rodgers figures to see some time in the backfield after the team opted to keep just two running backs on the roster. 
Burkhead and Ogunbowale are more experienced as pass catchers, so I’m expected to see the two of them come in on obvious passing downs, but this should be Pierce’s role otherwise. I’m concerned about Pierce’s upside in what I still expect to be a very bad offense, which is why I don’t buy him as a top-20 back or a fourth-round pick, which is where he’s going in a lot of drafts. But, he has a chance to carve out a significant role — Lovie Smith’s primary running backs have routinely racked up 300-plus touches over the years.     
“I’m not saying he won’t lead the league in touches, because you never know how things are going to play out. But I almost don’t want him to.” That was what Colts coach Frank Reich had to say about Taylor, noting that “you don’t see teams that have this ground-and-pound run game win championships.” That’s not what you want to hear about your No. 1 overall pick — not my No. 1 overall pick, though — especially after an offseason where the Colts found as many ways as possible to say they want to get Nyheim Hines more involved. Still, Taylor figures to be among the league leaders in carries, and maybe he’ll see an increase in passing game usage with new QB Matt Ryan. This offense is still going to run through Taylor, but don’t expect the same kind of dominance as last season. 
It might be more accurate to say Etienne is the lead to open the season, with Robinson’s status still somewhat up in the air. He could be ready for Week 1 coming back from his ruptured Achilles, but I’m expecting him to be worked in pretty slowly. And that gives Etienne a big opportunity to emerge as a star and run away with the job. Robinson is going to have a role no matter what, but if Etienne shows a spark early, that could be the difference between a 55-45 split and a 70-30 one, which could be the difference between RB1 upside for Etienne and also-ran status in Fantasy. 
It was actually kind of surprising to see Jones make the final roster, because by all accounts he was on the bubble through most of the preseason. It’s not clear if he’ll have any role, but this is going to be a pretty messy situation either way. McKinnon seems likely to have a healthy passing downs role while Pacheco was getting a lot of first-team work in the preseason, so don’t expect Clyde Edwards-Helaire to dominate work here. He should be the lead back, but it might be enough of a rotation to render him a fringe Fantasy starter. 
Williams is the lead back, but the question is, is that a 55-45 split or a 70-30 split? We haven’t heard much about that since training camp got going, but one prominent Broncos beat writer reported that it’s more like a 55-45 split, which seems to have cooled a lot of the hype around Williams over the past month or so. The reality is, this was always heading toward a split, and the case for drafting Williams revolves around not his Week 1 workload but the potential that he’s a superstar by the Fantasy playoffs — whether because of a Gordon injury or just because this offense is so good and he forces the issue. Forcing Williams to be an elite RB1 was always setting him up for disappointment; letting him fall to the third round makes him a nice dice roll. 
Jacobs is the lead back to open the season and Abdullah seems to be in the passing downs role, and that’s all I feel comfortable projecting at this point. Jacobs could remain the lead back all season, or he could cede early-down carries to White as soon as the second drive of the season and neither would surprise me. White is a favorite late-round sleeper and Jacobs is a bust for me, mostly because that uncertainty favors the cheaper option. 
Spiller looks like a much less interesting late-round sleeper after the Chargers signed Michel, who I’m assuming will step into the complementary role alongside Ekeler. Ekeler is the lead back, but the Chargers always use multiple backs, though I don’t expect Michel to be much of a hindrance to Ekeler being an elite Fantasy option. Michel’s appeal lies in a very valuable role if something happens to Ekeler, and I’m assuming he’d step into a three-down role if Ekeler misses time, making him a viable late-round target. 
Both Akers and Henderson missed time in camp with soft-tissue injuries, but both were back at practice this week and seem likely to be fine for Week 1. The Fantasy community has been treating Akers like the No. 1 back, but reports out of Rams camp have had Akers and Henderson splitting work pretty evenly when healthy. Treat Akers like the lead back, but not with so much certainty that you just pencil him in as a starter — if he can’t rediscover some of his pre-Achilles burst, Henderson looms as a real threat to his work. 
Edmonds seems set to at least split early-down work while playing the majority of passing downs, with Mostert likely to split those early-down snaps. The question is, does Edmonds have the kind of No. 1 RB workload that sees him lead the way in early downs in addition to dominating passing snaps? I’m expecting Mostert to have a pretty sizable role as long as he’s healthy, given his success and experience in this system. And, well, he’s healthy for Week 1, it seems. He’s a great early-season sleeper.  
The only question here is whether, between now and Week 1, the Vikings will opt to move Mattison after failing to come to an agreement on a contract extension. If not, there’s nothing to discuss here — Mattison is arguably the best handcuff in Fantasy, a sure-fire RB1 if Cook misses time. And Cook has a tendency to miss time. If Mattison is traded, Ty Chandler and Kene Nwangwu would battle for the RB2 spot, with Nwangu likely in the lead based on experience. 
The Patriots seem to have changed their expectations for the RB position, with both Harris and especially Stevenson apparently seeing a lot more passing work than usual in the preseason and training camp. Stevenson is one of the Fantasy community’s favorite breakouts — and I count myself among those, obviously. But Harris figures to open the season as the lead back, and if he’s going to see more receiving opportunities than he has in the past, it’s possible we’re overlooking some obvious upside in his profile by getting excited about the shiny new thing. 
It looks like Kamara isn’t going to face a suspension this season, and he should continue to be one of the best backs in Fantasy as long as he’s active. Mark Ingram will have a role, but Kamara is the lead back here, especially in the passing game. 
As long as Barkley is healthy, I’m not expecting to see much of anyone else here. Draft Breida or Williams with your last pick in case something happens to Barkley in the first week or two, but you’ll be dropping them soon enough. 
At this point, it seems more likely than not that Carter will start in Week 1, but I’m still listing Hall as a co-starter, because I just have a hard time seeing how he’s going to be in reserve role. A timeshare? Sure, that makes sense — the Jets coaches come from San Francisco, where multiple backs are always in play. But Hall is going to have a role, and he’s falling enough in drafts to the point where I actually like drafting him now, especially if Dameon Pierce is going to go ahead of him. Give me the guy with the proven track record of high-level production who also had elite testing metrics at the combine. That’s a profile that wins in the long run. 
The Eagles claimed Sermon on waivers after the 49ers waived him, and it’s possible he serves as a spoiler. The Eagles liked having a bigger back in Jordan Howard, who averaged 12.3 carries per game despite being inactive for much of the first half of the season. If Sanders is healthy — a big if, seeing as he’s still missing practice with a hamstring injury — he figures to be the lead back. But he’s in a similar spot as Josh Jacobs, as he isn’t under contract for next season and could see his role diminished quickly if he doesn’t impress. 
There has been some talk this offseason about limiting Harris’ workload, and maybe the Lisfranc sprain he dealt with in camp will bring that to fruition. However, all parties involved have downplayed the injury, so at the very least, I expect Harris to be in a similar role to last season as long as he’s healthy. Whether he can hold up to that workload is probably the bigger question. Camp buzz suggests Jaylen Warren, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, is the likely No. 2 here. 
The 49ers always seem to have a back come out of nowhere, so keep an eye on Mason early in the season. He’s earned some positive reviews in camp and looked good in preseason snaps, and he gives the 49ers a different look with a bigger, more physical approach. Mitchell is the lead back as long as he’s healthy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mason or Davis-Price were the lead back ahead of Wilson if something caused Mitchell to miss time. 
Penny is the starter, and Walker’s early-season role is in doubt as he continues to recover from hernia surgery. Homer figures to see some passing downs work, but Penny is the only back worth more than a late-round look here as long as Walker is ailing. Penny is a fringe RB2 as long as Walker is out. 
The Buccaneers like White enough that they invested a third-round pick in him, but Fournette dominated snaps with Tom Brady in the preseason and figures to continue to fill a very valuable role as the team’s primary back. If he gets hurt, White could emerge as a very useful Fantasy option, but it probably won’t happen early in the season. 
Hilliard seems to be the clear No. 2 back here, and that means he’ll see some time on passing downs to keep Henry fresh and is the backup if anything happens to Henry. The Titans would likely turn to Haskins if something happened to Henry, but it sounds like Hilliard is the clear insurance policy for Henry. 
Robinson was likely set to open the season as the team’s lead rusher before he was shot last weekend, and his injuries from that incident will keep him out for at least the first four games of the season — though, apparently it may just be those four games, which is incredible. Gibson figures to return to the lead back role, with McKissic returning to his role as the primary pass-catching back, and both are viable starters to open the season. Gibson may step into McKissic’s role while splitting the rushing downs when Robinson is healthy, and I still like him as an RB2 in the sixth- or seventh round range. 
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