Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman, and Giovani Bernard were backup running backs in September that had big impacts during the 2020 season. Additionally, James Robinson, Myles Gaskin, and Antonio Gibson looked buried on their depth charts this time last year. Who are the candidates for difference-making backup running backs this year?
There is plenty of evidence the NFL thinks Malcolm Brown is good. To start his career, Brown had a committee role with the Rams before the Lions offered him a two-year contract as a restricted free agent, which the Rams chose to match. Brown then entered free agency in 2021 and signed with the Dolphins. The 2020 Myles Gaskin storyline, where he became a starting running back with little forewarning, seems entirely possible for Brown. If not, Brown is a cheap, three-down capable running back in a backup role behind a low pedigree Gaskin who has not seen a leading role in an NFL offense. That is a great formula for an injury-away backup running back entering the season.
Jordan Wilkins can be the one injury away back in the Indianapolis Colts backfield behind Jonathan Taylor. This is a situation to watch because Marlon Mack, returning from an Achilles injury, re-signed to a one-year deal, but there is no guarantee he returns to his pre-injury form. Nyheim Hines is also on the roster but projects as more of a receiving-centric role player than a three-down running back in waiting. That leaves Wilkins as the best candidate behind Taylor to capitalize in the event of an injury.
Darrel Williams is the backup to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City. In Week 16 and the three playoff games in 2020 (in Week 17, Williams had one reception when the starters sat), Williams saw 12.25 touches per game. Edwards-Helaire missed Week 15 through 17 and the first playoff game because of an injury but returned for the final two playoff games. During those games, Edwards-Helaire and Williams each saw 18 total touches. This timeshare was likely due to Edwards-Helaire’s return from an injury but warrants watching as Williams could have standalone value. At worst, Williams can be a difference-maker in a high-powered offense if Edwards-Helaire misses time in 2021.
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