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A critical strategy in building successful fantasy football rosters is identifying running backs who are currently backups, or the RB2, on their team. RB2s who are an injury to the starter away from a leading job offer clear starting opportunities in your lineup if their RB1 is injured.
The key RB2s to identify are those with a clear hold on the backup position on their team. Some running back situations are less clear. The depth chart statuses of rookies Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, DAndre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, and KeShawn Vaughn are unknown at this time. Some might represent top RB2 targets if they start the season as backups, while their primary competition, Damien Williams, Marlon Mack, Kerryon Johnson, Mark Ingram, Darrell Henderson/Malcolm Brown, and Ronald Jones II, respectively, might be top RB2 targets if the rookie wins out.
Given the uncertainty, those situations are excluded from the below list, focusing on veteran situations for RB2 target players.
A critical place to look for one injury away running backs are those selected on day two, rounds two and three, of the NFL Draft. Running backs selected on Day 2 are a clear tier break above day three running backs in odds of a top 24 season and individual starter games.
Alexander Mattison is one of the clearest RB2 targets in the league. Mattison is a Round 3 NFL Draft pick, and the backup to Dalvin Cook, who has yet to play a full 16 games in this three-year career. Mattison is prototypically sized at 221 pounds, caught over two catches per game in his final two seasons in college while rushing for over 2800 yards in three seasons. Add in the fact he was a 21-year-old rookie, he presented a strong profile entering the NFL.
In 2019, Minnesota ran on 49.1% of its offensive plays which was only behind Baltimore (56%) and San Francisco (49.2%). Their 476 rushing attempts in 2019 ranked behind only Baltimore (596), San Franciso (498), and Seattle (481). While offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is now the head coach in Cleveland, he was replaced by Gary Kubiak who has produced a long history of fantasy production for running backs. Add in the trade of Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, and the Minnesota offense should revolve around the running game.
Tony Pollard entered 2019 with a questionable role after working as a receiving centric back in college at Memphis. Pollard gained the backup role behind Ezekiel Elliott during the 2019 season and Dallas did nothing in the offseason to address the position.
Pollard is the backup to Ezekiel Elliott who has found his share of trouble off the field, including a suspension in 2017 but has only missed two other games in his career. While Elliott has been durable, this offseason will have an abbreviated conditioning schedule without minicamps or OTAs which increases the odds of conditioning injuries during training camp and into the season.
Dallas led the league in total offense last year, but only managed to finish sixth in terms of scoring. With the addition of CeeDee Lamb to an already explosive offense, Pollard would have a great offense to step into if Elliott misses time in 2020.
Kareem Hunt represents an interesting player in this orbit.
Hunt was suspended for the first eight games in 2019 and returned to the lineup in Week 10. From Week 10 through Week 16, Hunt finished as RB17 compared to Nick Chubb who finished as RB15. Of the touches during those seven weeks, Chubb had accounted for 76% of the rushing attempts, while Hunt accounted for 77% of the receptions.
The offensive structure is likely to change with Kevin Stefanski replacing Freddie Kitchens as Head Coach so Hunt’s standalone role in the offense is one to monitor. Fortunately, Hunt represents a two-way go. As an RB2 on his team, he is a potential flex play if he receives a receiving centric role. In any week Chubb is out of the lineup, Hunt is a top-12 weekly projection.
Latavius Murray was signed by the New Orleans Saints last year which led some to believe he would operate in a Mark Ingram-type role. From Week 1 through six, Murray largely disappointed with only 6.8 touches per game. However, when Alvin Kamara was forced to miss weeks seven and eight because of injury, Murray was dominant with PPR scores of 32 and 36.7 which was good for the RB1 in the two weeks. In just those two weeks, Murray produced 0.55 season-long wins over replacement player (WORP), meaning his owners were likely 1-1 or 2-0 during that two-game period.
Murray has been durable in his career, missing only three games in his six-year career, with at least 140 rushing attempts in the past five seasons.
In weeks where Kamara is healthy, Murray is a lesser version of Kareem Hunt in the flex category. If Kamara misses any time, Murray is a firm top 12 weekly projection in a strong New Orleans Saints offense.
Raheem Mostert represents the 2020 version of 2019 Damien Williams. Mostert came from down the depth chart in 2019 to finish as RB22 from Week 9 through 16 and RB14 in the fantasy football playoffs, before becoming a household name in the playoffs.
He is a rare case: an undrafted player who becomes a starter several years into his career and achieves fantasy relevance. Going nearly undrafted in dynasty drafts in 2019, Mostert is a top 10 round startup dynasty pick since the NFL Draft. That is a historical profile to bet against because players outside the top 10 rounds of average draft position (ADP) rarely produce a starter season the next season.
While the bet against Damien Williams in 2019 was unclear, Coleman is the clear bet against Mostert. San Francisco traded Matt Breida to the Dolphins during the NFL Draft. While they maintain hope for Jerick McKinnon’s return, he has missed two seasons and is no sure thing to be on the roster Week 1. Salvon Ahmed, JaMycal Hasty, and Jeffrey Wilson are interesting depth options, but Coleman is the best non-Mostert running back on the roster. With his history with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, the strong running game in San Francisco, and three top 24 finishes on his career resume, Coleman is a strong RB2 option for 2020.