With three weeks to go in many dynasty fantasy football league regular seasons, many team directions are already declared - in the playoffs and fighting for positioning or out of the playoffs and shifting their sights to 2022. This week will focus on the running back position and how different players fit different team directions:
STACK RUNNING BACKS
The term stack is to bolster contending team rosters. These are backs where they can benefit from an injury in front of them in a clear fashion and be a fantasy starter in a given week down the stretch. They are ordered generally by the depth of the league with the top names available in more shallow leagues where venturing low on the list will be required for deeper formats. If trading is still open, these are perfect add-ons to bigger trades.
Mark Ingram II: Already a clarified start in recent weeks, Alvin Kamara is still on the mend, making more Ingram starts in the near term a distinct possibility. Even when Kamara returns, Ingram has positioned himself as one of the stronger injury-away options to plug-and-play for contenders down the stretch run. Ingram is in the Round 3/4 pick range of cost especially if residing on a non-contender roster.
Ty Johnson: Michael Carter is likely out for multiple games, if not longer, with his high ankle sprain sustained in Week 11. Tevin Coleman is back and healthy (for now), but with minimal confidence of a sustained higher-volume role. Johnson, however, has shown well with underrated size, athleticism, and receiving acumen this season (and for his career). Johnson is an under-the-radar boost to lineups in the coming weeks and could even be considered for the 'hybrid' category below for beyond this season.
Devontae Booker: Saquon Barkley is working back into form from his latest injury (ankle). At a minimum, Booker is one of the least expensive clarified injury-away running backs with a profile and a track record of such usage this season. In a four-game sample of Barkley missing time this season, Booker had 72-82-93-73 as his snap percentages, strong totals even for established foundation backs in the NFL. Booker saw at least 16 touches in each of those games and averaged a hearty four targets per contest.
Jamaal Williams: Back and healthy himself, Williams is an established veteran with 20 or more touch potential any game D'Andre Swift misses this season, especially with Jermar Jefferson dealing with a high ankle sprain himself.
Devonta Freeman: The Le'Veon Bell experiment in Baltimore is over and Freeman was the clear starter for Baltimore even with Latavius Murray back in Week 11 with a 22-to-12 touch advantage and seeing a bulk of the receiving work. It has been nearly three months of seeking clarity from this backfield, but Freeman offers the best chance for clarity and upside in the closing weeks of the season.
Samaje Perine: One of the more underrated primary backups in the NFL, Perine has reclaimed his career after being on the fringe (or even off of it) before finding a role in Cincinnati. Perine has largely dominated rookie Chris Evans for RB2/3 preference in snap share and Perine has boosted his receiving appeal. Perine has a robust 61% snap share even in a game (Week 5) where Joe Mixon was on a limited use workload. Perine has strong upside any week Mixon is inactive.
Carlos Hyde is another older veteran with a clarified injury-away role. In the one game Robinson missed this season, Hyde collected 79% of snaps. Hyde would be an ideal boost to a contending team's lineup choices in pivotal weeks should Robinson miss time.
STASH RUNNING BACKS
These are preferred options for non-contending dynasty rosters. While some of them have avenues to turn into a producer this season, their talent, contract status, depth chart, etc. point to a situational change - or the possibility of change - in the offseason. Taking a few lottery tickets with good enough talent can turn into a player you keep through NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft instead of easily cutting early in the offseason.
- Travis Etienne: Round 1 pedigree and a lost rookie season with an injury. Ambiguity due to James Robinson on the depth chart only softens his potential acquisition price.
- Chris Carson: Many view Carson's career as likely over with being placed on season-ending IR after not returning from his neck condition in 2021. Carson is under contract with Seattle for 2022 and only his health would keep him from being the projected Week 1 starter next season.
- Trey Sermon: In the doghouse through 11 weeks now, Sermon has Day 2 pedigree and has shown quality moments when finding the field as a rookie. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are slated free agents in the offseason. Day 2 running backs, outside of rare situations and landing spots (Alexander Mattison, Darrynton Evans as recent examples) typically get an extended look as a starter by the end of Year 2.
- Ke'Shawn Vaughn: Day 2 pedigree and minimal dynasty cost (might be on waiver wires in league depth of the mid-20s for roster spots), Vaughn offers zero appeal for 2021. However, Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, and Giovani Bernard are all free agents in the offseason. Vaughn likely has a better standing on the depth chart next year than this one.
- Rashaad Penny: Health and durability have been the watchwords for Penny his entire NFL career. Penny is done with his rookie contract in Seattle this offseason and is likely to get more opportunities despite his checkered usage and availability since being drafted in Round 1. Expect an injury-away and prove-it opportunity for Penny in 2022 and the phrase "a player is injury prone until they are not" applies here with the bargain basement-valued Penny.
- Darrynton Evans: Evans is a hybrid of Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Rashaad Penny. Evans has struggled to stay healthy (see: Rashaad Penny) and he landed in a crowded depth chart at the top (see: Ke'Shawn Vaughn). Jeremy McNichols is a free agent in the offseason and Adrian Peterson and D'Onta Foreman were added as near-term stopgaps. Evans *should* have every opportunity for at least the RB2 role in 2022 with the durability asterisk as usual.
- Jaret Patterson: J.D. McKissic is a free agent in the offseason and Patterson rose from the undrafted ranks to not only make the active roster for Washington but secure the RB3 role and some weeks of usage. Patterson has injury-away possibilities in 2022 with a perfect storm behind Antonio Gibson.
HYBRID RUNNING BACKS
These backs fall into both categories as universal hold players:
- Javonte Williams: The highest-priced running back of this entire list, Williams has a foundational back role as a likely outcome in 2022 with Melvin Gordon III a slated free agent. Williams has also impressed in a committee role through 11 weeks as a rookie with early Day 2 pedigree. Williams will cost an already established core player as a limitation in the trade market but has massive payoff potential as a projected 22-year-old NFL starter with a profile (especially with a quarterback upgrade by Denver) in the coming months. An injury to Melvin Gordon III vaults Wiliams into an auto-start category as well for the rest of 2021.
- Rhamondre Stevenson could be the Patriots starter even without an injury, offering a more diverse skillset than also-good Damien Harris. Both Stevenson and Harris are under contract going forward for New England to create some ambiguity on the depth chart and a worst-case outcome of a lower-upside committee for either one. The upside is pronounced if Stevenson is the clarified starter.
- Tony Pollard has yet to have a clarified start in his career but has change-your-season upside if Ezekiel Elliott ever misses time. Plus, Pollard has a profile to project a lead role beyond Dallas if Elliott outlasts the younger Pollard in the coming seasons. Some value Pollard is the Round 1 or more discussion of rookie picks - pricey for an injury-away running back - while others are more in the Round 2 zone.
- Alexander Mattison is in the Tony Pollard mold, behind a clear starter and only having value if the starter is out. Mattison already has two high-quality starts this season with Dalvin Cook inactive and is locked into Minnesota with a similar role for 2022.
- Khalil Herbert has established himself as a proven injury-away already as a Day 3 rookie. Herbert has posted quality starts with David Montgomery out of the lineup and Damien Williams, even if Herbert had not passed him already on the depth chart, is a slated 2022 free agent. While Herbert could be in the Pollard-Mattison role for multiple seasons, Herbert is a proven entity capable of stepping into fantasy auto-start status any given week.
- Kenyan Drake, like others on this list, is locked into likely the same situation in 2022 as 2021 - the clarified RB2 to Joshua Jacobs' RB1 status for the Raiders. Drake has lead-back experience in the NFL, plus receiving upside. Ideally, Drake is available for Round 3 pick plus an upside player, or a contending Round 2 selection.
- Eno Benjamin is on the lower band of running back recommendations but qualifies with a window of Chase Edmonds out with a high ankle sprain (not returning until at least Week 14) to benefit from a James Conner injury. Also, James Conner and Edmonds are both 2022 free agents. Finally, Benjamin has a dual-threat prospect profile with plenty of appeal as a standalone dynasty stash but with situational benefits as well.