Fantasy Football Slack and Forth: Mid-Round Running Backs to Target
Finding good running-back production later in the draft is a great way to have success in season-long fantasy football.
That's easier said than done, of course, but there are some mid-round running backs who stand out this year.
Of the running backs who sit outside the top 24 at the position by FanDuel's best-ball ADP, which ones should you zero in on? I chatted on Slack with fellow numberFire editor Austin Swaim to discuss which running backs are our favorite targets once we move past the early rounds.
Here's what we had to say.
Austan Kas: We all dream of finding later-round production at running back. Doing so can give you a big leg up on your league-mates, and hitting on a breakout star can win you a league title. Who is a running back going outside the top 24 at the position that you're actively targeting in drafts this year?
Most are out on Hunt by default because he'll never be the main guy, but let's not forget Hunt was the RB13 through the first six games of last year until he suffered a calf injury. He averaged 15.7 half-PPR points per game with a full-go Chubb in all of those games.
I expected Cleveland to be one of the best offenses in the NFL after acquiring Deshaun Watson, but obviously, Watson's status is far from finalized. Worst-case scenario, the Browns will likely revert back closer to the identical 53% situation-neutral pass rate they had with or without Baker Mayfield last year, and both running backs will get turns leading the offense.
If Watson's suspension stays at six games, Hunt will directly benefit when he returns. He saw 27 targets last year in just 8 games. Chubb got 25 looks in 15 games. Kareem is definitively the pass-catching back.
Oh, yeah, Hunt also just requested a trade. That could land him in a lead role in a place like Atlanta or Kansas City, but it also could manifest with a lead role in a place that would like an upgrade. After all, Jimmy Garoppolo could be an appealing addition for Cleveland if Watson's suspension is lengthened, and the 49ers would likely love a three-down tailback for Trey Lance.
This board is wide open, though, so which of these guys stands out most to you?
Austan Kas: I like Hunt, too. But Rhamondre Stevenson is a guy I'm into at his current ADP of RB33. While we all know how much of a headache the New England Patriots' backfield can be, Damien Harris made it work to the tune of an RB13 season last year in half-PPR formats (despite seeing only 21 targets), and the arrow is pointing up on Stevenson.
His role progressed last year throughout his rookie season, with Stevenson playing at least 46% of the snaps in three of his last four regular season games. He slowly ate into Harris' touches last year, and he may be passing him on the depth chart this summer. Stevenson has seen plenty of time with the starters in camp, and he was legit good last year. He also got more and more involved in the passing game as the season went on, which is a key thing with James White without a timetable to return.
New England was the seventh-most run-heavy team last year, and their offense could be a similar attack in 2022. If Stevenson has supplanted Harris as the primary ground guy and also sees a large amount of pass-game volume, he could be a breakout stud.
Am I guilty of falling into a trap here and buying into camp reports too much when it comes to Stevenson passing Harris?
Austin Swaim: I don't think so. Reports out of Patriots camp are the offensive line is struggling as a whole, and when offenses are struggling, pass-catching backs are more valuable.
Plus, we know Harris has his warts as you said. Stevenson can still have a fantasy-relevant season even with Harris still being a menace around the goal line.
Importantly, this also isn't an offense with a superstar wideout or tight end. It's wide open for a talented player to command a bulk of the work and touches, and to me, Stevenson is a better candidate than a mid-career DeVante Parker.
Stevenson and Harris are actually a clearer committee than most in this range when you compare alternatives.
Austan Kas: Yeah, I agree. Speaking of committees, which is a situation a lot of the guys in this ADP range are in, is there another mid-round back you're drawn to?
Austin Swaim: Well, we know Miami will now be San Francisco-lite in terms of the system. Mike McDaniel coming over from there has already loaded up the stable of backs, but the good news is that last year, McDaniel's offense featured at least 18 carries for the starter in all but five games.
That means I'm thoroughly interested in Chase Edmonds. After signing a larger deal for a running back in free agency, he's atop the depth chart and should get every chance to start in a three-down role.
Edmonds may have disappointed some in 2021, but it wasn't really his fault. He was seventh in yards per touch amongst running backs last year. The only reason he wasn't a high-end RB2 was that he scored just twice while James Conner scored four times more than he should have, according to PFF's expected fantasy points model.
Edmonds' profile isn't perfect considering Sony Michel has a history of goal-line work, and Myles Gaskin had more targets (63) than Edmonds (53) last year with the two in very similar roles. However, they're both buried behind Raheem Mostert on the Miami depth chart, and Mostert will likely run into injury issues at some point this year considering he's played just nine games in two years.
I love Edmonds' chances to separate into a really pristine role on an offense that should be much better with Tyreek Hill in the fold, but which committee are you thinking about? There are even better offenses than Miami's still with committee parts in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
Austan Kas: I've got my eyes on the Buffalo Bills. I think it makes a lot of sense to target either James Cook (ADP of RB34) or Devin Singletary (RB32) from the Bills' backfield. We know Buffalo will likely be one of the league's top offenses, and that gives both of these guys a path to upside.
Earlier this summer, our Brandon Gdula broke down why you should be targeting this backfield. In short, it stands to reason that one of these guys could break out, and if either Cook or Singletary wind up seeing the lion's share of touches, they could be a league-winner.
Figuring out which one to target is tricky, but I lean towards Singletary. He really came on down the stretch last year, averaging 19.9 half-PPR points per game over the final four weeks and scoring at least 16.1 points in all four of those games, ranking as the RB2 from Week 14 through Week 18. He played at least 76% of the snaps in six of the Bills' last seven games, including the playoffs, when he played every single snap in Buffalo's Divisional Round loss.
The argument against Singletary is an easy one -- if Buffalo wanted him to be a high-volume, three-down back, they wouldn't have drafted Cook in the second round. And that makes a lot of sense. The combination of the second-round investment in Cook and Cook's pass-catching chops likely means the rookie will be on the field a good amount in 2022.
But Singletary has clearly earned a good amount of trust with this coaching staff, and it's not a lock Cook will be ready to contribute as a rookie. Singletary finished last season with the 12th-most red-zone touches, so even if Cook does siphon some pass-game work, Singletary can still be productive for fantasy in this high-octane offense.
If you prefer Cook, I get it. I just know I want to leave drafts with one of these two. They each have the upside to nuke their current ADP.
Which of the two do you like?
Austin Swaim: It's Cook for me, and it's just a matter of personal preference towards the high-upside unknown.
Cook doesn't necessarily need that. If he comes out with similar talent to his brother Dalvin, he'll likely occupy a three-down role on a team favored to win the Super Bowl. Singletary just hasn't proved to be that level of player -- though he is still a good one.
That's a good springboard to another guy I wanted to get your thoughts on -- Tampa Bay's Rachaad White. I was absolutely enamored with him as a prospect, and I was bummed at first he went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers behind Leonard Fournette.
But, the more I think about it, he's not replacing Fournette. He's a massive upgrade over Giovani Bernard for a team that had the highest situation-neutral pass rate in the NFL (67%) last year. White had PFF's second-highest receiving grade last year for all FBS running backs in college.
He could be the aforementioned James White for Tom Brady from years ago -- but a better athlete. Sheesh...is it getting hot in here or is it just me?
Austan Kas: I think I like White a little more in dynasty right now than in redraft. I just think it's a big ask for a rookie to come in and earn Brady's (and the staff's) trust so quickly. But I won't deny White's appealing prospect profile, and if something happens to Lenny, someone is going to have to take on volume in what will once again be a really good offense -- and it's probably not going to be Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Austin Swaim: That's really a great point, and I get ahead of myself with rookies a lot. Javonte Williams is a tremendous talent, and he couldn't even separate from his committee in the first year. Asking White, Dameon Pierce in Houston, or Tyler Allgeier in Atlanta to shoulder a massive load right away is incredibly optimistic -- even if all three have the path to that role right in front of them.
Honestly, even with talking to you about these guys, I still don't know if I'd be certain on which ones I'd target in a given draft. I'd be open to any of these guys mentioned, and we've even neglected guys like Miles Sanders. It's a tough choice in this area!
Austan Kas: Yeah, it is. These guys have the ADPs they do for a reason -- it's easy to poke holes in their resume, but there are also reasons for optimism.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. You pick the topic next week.
Austin Swaim: Sounds like a plan to me!