There have been a number of people, in a number of fields, throughout history who should have been remembered as one of the all-time greats. Should, were it not for the presence of one greater than they plying their trade at the exact same time. A bit like breaking the world record for the 100m . . . whilst finishing second behind someone even faster than you. Not every one blessed with great talent gets the chance to fully realize their potential. Greatness nearly always requires an opportunity in order to become great.
With this in mind, the writers here at RotoViz have named their favorite backup or second-stringer that most people should have on their radar. A player who, while not wishing it to happen, is waiting for an injury / or suspension to hit the player ahead of them on the depth chart. Once they are out of the way, they can stake a claim for greatness on their own. Think Tom Brady stepping in for Drew Bledsoe back in 2001. Mike Vick replacing an injured Kevin Kolb for the Eagles in 2010. But certainly not Curtis Painter on the 2011 Colts.
The writers offered their picks, explanations, and actionable advice. Here are some of the running backs that our writers are keeping an eye on.
Alexander Mattison – Pat Kerrane
Alexander Mattison isn’t necessarily my favorite backup RB in the league but I think he’s been criminally underrated at RotoViz (Rookie RB11 & 177 in overall startup ranks). Mattison wasn’t included in Shawn Siegele’s RB Prospect Lab Scores but when I ran him through he came out with a 55. This was 2nd among drafted RBs, and as a reminder, Mattison was the fourth RB drafted. Mattison is behind only an oft-injured starter and has a three-down skill set.
Yes, he’s slow, but he’ll be operating in a Gary Kubiak offense famous for making superstars out of slow 40-time RBs like Arian Foster and Terrell Davis. And because someone will probably highlight Benny Snell, you should know that Mattison had more attempts per game, more TDs per game, and nearly a reception more per game than Snell. Snell beat Mattison in rushing yards per game by less than three yards. Oh, and Mattison is younger and has a much clearer path to playing time. Mattison is one of the steals of the draft and RotoViz is uncharacteristically sleeping on him.
Chase Edmonds – Matt Wispe
The additions of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray have turned Arizona from a fantasy wasteland, outside of David Johnson, into a potential opportunity for significant scoring at a discount rate. And while Johnson is the clear workhorse who is unlikely to share opportunities, Chase Edmonds holds real value as a backup in the offense.
Edmonds may have only scored 63 PPR points during his rookie campaign, but his 23 targets were noteworthy on just 23.29% of snaps for the season. By converting 20 of those targets into receptions, Edmonds proved to be enough of a capable receiver to maintain a portion of the offense. And with three collegiate seasons with more than 250 carries, he appears ready to be a three-down back.
T.J. Yeldon – Ryan Collinsworth
T.J. Yeldon’s fantasy career arc has been lackluster, but last season exemplifies his upside as a receiving back. In four years in the NFL, he’s never recorded less than 40 targets and 30 receptions in a season. And last year – with Leonard Fournette battling hamstring injuries – he set career highs for targets (78), receptions (55), receiving yards (487) and PPR points (173.1). Some may think his sudden increase in PPR value was due to increased carries in relief of Fournette. But, that’s not the case. Instead, 73% of Yeldon’s PPR production came via receiving statistics.
He now joins a crowded backfield in Buffalo with LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, and rookie Devin Singletary. On paper, that competition doesn’t bode well for his potential touches. But, then again, Yeldon doesn’t need a huge volume of touches to be effective.
In fact, Yeldon’s current backfield committee eerily reminds me of the Dolphins last season with Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, and Kalen Ballage. Drake couldn’t earn early-down touches, but he was electric as a receiving back and was the only Dolphins RB who offered meaningful fantasy value (PPR RB14).
Yeldon is likely the best receiving option on the Bills roster and could claim a similar role to Drake last season. Gore is essentially a non-factor on third-down, and Shady’s not all that much better. Last season, McCoy set 10-year lows in yards per attempt (3.2), rush attempts (161), targets (46) and receptions (34).
So, with Gore on death’s door and Shady fading from fantasy relevancy, it’s up to Singletary to usurp Yeldon’s claim to that usage. However, there’s little evidence that Singletary has the receiving chops to do so. In his final college season at Florida Atlantic, he totaled just six receptions in 12 games.
The Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in run percentage (53.6%) last season, so someone from this backfield is likely to produce starting RB value. My bet’s on Yeldon due to his reliability as a pass-catcher and the downside risk associated with all three of his backfield-mates. Given the minimal draft capital investment required to snag Yeldon (ADP RB70), he’s a draft-day steal.
Lamar Miller – John Solis
Editors note: The Texans are apparently of the same mind as Mr. Solis, as they released D’Onta Foreman on August 4th, after this blurb was written. But for the sake of the rest of the RotoViz Slack Chat, don’t tell John he was right.
Everyone wants D’Onta Foreman to take Lamar Miller’s job. You’ve got guys on twitter speculating about the quality of today’s Achilles repairs. You’ve got my own peers, in the RotoViz Slack Chat™, making fun of me when I point out (accurately) that Foreman is just a slower, poorer Christine Michael.
Year-after-year disappointment? Check.
Stuck behind an RB perceived as “washed”? Check.
Analysts of all ages bending over backward to draft a guy with literally nothing at all on his NFL resume? Check, check, check!
Lamar Miller has 6,255 scrimmage yards across the last five seasons. He has 37 touchdowns in that span. He’s missed eight games in seven years.
In this instance, “the guy behind the guy” is actually the guy in FRONT of the guy! Lamar is available in the eighth round, what are you DOING!? Editors, you can run this or not, I don’t care! I have said my piece!
I also like Benny Snell. Thank you.
Patrick Laird – Blair Andrews
If you trust Rotoworld depth charts, Patrick Laird is technically the guy behind the guy behind the guy behind the guy behind the guy behind the guy.1 While you’re trying to figure out which team already had five RBs on the depth chart that Laird could possibly have joined as a UDFA, I’ll just go ahead and tell you — it’s the Dolphins. And the thing about the Dolphins is that probably none of the guys in front of Laird (or in front of any of the guys in front of him) are much more than that — just guys.
Kalen Ballage (not D’Onta Foreman) is the real second coming of Christine Michael — a fast person masquerading as a Zero-RB-squad savior. Kenneth Farrow is an exposed false prophet of DFS profits, and Mark Walton is the next Kenneth Farrow, only less compelling. Laird meanwhile caught 96 passes in his last two seasons at Cal with over 1,200 scrimmage yards in each season and was the top backfield dominator in the 2019 class. Ryan Collinsworth’s work has shown that college receiving production matters for NFL RBs. Laird also turned in a 6.84 three-cone at his pro day, which would have been the best time at the combine. It might not look like Laird is next in line for snaps at the moment, but I’m betting talent wins out here.
If Laird is just way too obscure for you,2 there is actually one guy on the Dolphins who might be more than just a guy. Myles Gaskin — a.k.a., the anti-Christine Michael — had a devilishly bad combine, but his collegiate production suggests actual demonic possession. Gaskin rushed for over 1,200 yards in all four years of his college career and added 65 career receptions. To imply Gaskin is the next Phillip Lindsay is almost blasphemous at RotoViz, but the resemblance is striking, which is to say that if you don’t think Kenyan Drake should be worried about Gaskin taking his job, Royce Freeman’s testimony is instructive.3
Rashaad Penny – Curtis Patrick
Other than a highlight-reel cutback run that was one of the most exciting plays of the year, Rashaad Penny had a mostly forgettable rookie season, failing to usurp former seventh-round selection, Chris Carson and also finishing behind Mike Davis in backfield market share. Penny actually showed plenty of promise early in training camp, but a broken finger caused him to miss the final three preseason games, which was evidently enough to fall out of favor with the coaching staff for the better part of the season. He finished the campaign with 94 touches, 494 yards from scrimmage, and two touchdowns. On a per touch basis, he was efficient, leading the backfield in yards per attempt (4.9) and yards per reception (8.3) in his limited work.
As one of the younger players in the 2018 class (he turned 21 just weeks before the NFL Combine) it perhaps is not surprising that he showed some immaturity in his approach. Penny worked with Marshall Faulk this offseason to “learn how to be a pro,” which is probably a good thing since gaining 16 pounds between the NFL Combine and training camp was not very professional.
With Davis’ 146 touches up for grabs, Penny should see a massive role increase regardless of whether he truly overtakes the oft-injured Carson as the team’s lead back. Drafters have gotten wise to Penny’s sneaky floor, as evidenced by his mid-sixth round ADP on FFPC, but his upside still far outweighs his price.
Mike Davis – Dave Caban
There are points to be had in Chicago’s backfield. In 2018, Jordan Howard rushed for nearly 1,000 yards while scoring nine touchdowns on the ground. It’s undeniable that Tarik Cohen is a versatile and flashy player but it would be surprising to see him given more than 125 rushing attempts. This leaves Mike Davis in competition with rookie David Montgomery for what should be 150 or more rushing attempts. The Bears did invest a third-round pick into Montgomery, but history tells us that in no way means he’ll enjoy sustained success in his first season.
As a Seahawk in 2018, Davis recorded 10 or more rushing attempts in five games. In these contests, he rushed for 4.7 yards per attempt and scored three touchdowns. He’s not an elite RB by any stretch of the imagination and may very well be average. Nonetheless, it does seem likely that he’ll be able to compile production and fantasy points if given opportunity as a Bear. Currently, he’s being drafted as the RB62 in FFPC Best Ball leagues. That’s a digestible price tag for a player that is likely to be involved early in the season and does have some upside if things break his way.
Ryquell Armstead – Larry Weinhauer
The Jaguars should be much improved with Nick Foles at quarterback. They still have an outstanding defense and won’t change from being a run-first offense. Leonard Fournette could have a monster year! “Could” is the operative word here as his injury history precedes him. He always seems to have some type of leg/ankle injury. Given the opportunity, Ryquell Armstead is the same type of back and could step in to put up huge numbers. Look at the tape from Temple last year. He ran for 1,098 yards and 13 TDs in 10 games. The kid is a beast!
At 5 feet 11 inches and 220 pounds, he can take the pounding (and give it out) of an every-down back in the NFL. He also ran a 4.45 40-yard-dash at the combine. Armstead has to beat out Alfred Blue for the backup role in training camp but that is very attainable. Given Fournette’s injury history, Armstead is a must handcuff if you have Fournette, and a great late-round sleeper if you don’t.