Fantasy Football Today: The state of the RB position is stronger than ever, plus a Carson Wentz injury update

The best asset you can have on your Fantasy roster is an elite running back. If you can get one of those truly elite, 20-plus Fantasy point per game players on your team, it’s going to be hard to lose. 

Last season in CBS Fantasy leagues, teams with Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, or Derrick Henry — the top three finishers in PPR points at the position — won over 56.9% of their games. No full-time starter at quarterback had a higher win percentage, and only Davante Adams and Travis Kelce topped them. There’s a reason Christian McCaffrey is the unquestioned No. 1 pick even after missing most of last season with an injury — he averaged 29.0 PPG in 2019 and 30.1 in his three games in 2020. 

The Fantasy Football Today team is going to be spending this week trying to help you find exactly those kinds of difference makers as we preview the RB position all week. We’ll have our expert sleeper, breakout, and bust picks for the position, updates of position tiers for both 2020 and Dynasty, and more research and analysis to help you make the right calls at what very well may be the position that decides your fate. 

I’ll be sending all of that right here to your inboxes everyday this week along with the latest news from training camps around the NFL you need to know about. But first, you need to know what you’re dealing with, so today’s edition of the FFT Newsletter is going to be your intro to our RB preview, with a look at the state of the position entering 2021. 

Here’s what today’s newsletter includes before we get into what you need to know about running back for the 2021 season. 

  • The State of the RB Position?
  • The latest on Carson Wentz’s injury?
  • COVID-19 concerns
  • A TE sleeper to get to know?

The State of the RB Position

To borrow a phrase from basically every State of the Union speech ever, the state of the RB position is strong. Perhaps stronger than it ever has been. Or, at least, that’s the way people are treating it in drafts. If you compare where RB are being drafted relative to all other players, an immediate trend becomes apparent: The top 20 or so running backs haven’t been this expensive in drafts in the past five years:

That’s based on historical NFC draft data. If you just look at drafts since July 1, you’ve got 14 running backs with an ADP inside of the top 20 and 21 inside of the top 48 — and those numbers were both one higher before Cam Akers‘ season-ending injury. 

If you just go by last year’s numbers, however, it’s kind of hard to make sense of that, to be honest. Seven running backs scored 250 PPR points in 2020 and only 14 got to 200; 10 wide receivers got to 250 and 27 got to 200. But that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, because the RB crop was missing McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley for most of the year and Austin Ekeler, Joe Mixon, Miles Sanders, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D’Andre Swift, and Myles Gaskin all likely would have gotten to at least 200 if they had stayed healthy. 

But the real reason RBs cost so much this year is because the position is unusually stocked with young, up-and-comers, most of whom have legitimate three-down skills. You can probably go 25 deep at the position with guys who could be must-start players, and just among rookies and second-year players in that range, you’ve got Jonathan Taylor, Antonio Gibson, Najee Harris, Edwards-Helaire, Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Sanders, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams; David Montgomery and Josh Jacobs are just entering their third seasons, too. 

It’s easy to be enamored with the position this year, for sure. There’s a lot to like, and there’s no shortage of players you can talk yourself into. Of course, things often go wrong for running backs, certainly more so than at any other position. Later in the week, we’ll get into some of our favorite sleepers and breakout picks as well as who we’re worried about busting, plus I’ll be taking a deep dive into the best and worst offenses for running backs, what history tells us about how we should approach the position, and how things can go wrong for each of the top 12 at the position. 

By the end of this week, you’ll be an expert on the most important position in Fantasy. 

Three biggest things to know from the weekend

Carson Wentz (foot) is out indefinitely 

Wentz suffered a foot injury Thursday and suddenly his status for the start of the season is very much in question, if not in doubt just yet. Details aren’t known just yet, except that surgery is a possibility. At this point, Wentz will try to rest and rehab the injury to see if he can avoid surgery and play through it, but it’s hard to feel great about that. And the longer Wentz avoids surgery, the more actual time he’ll miss if he does end up needing it. 

So, what happens if Wentz does miss time? It’ll likely be second-year QB Jacob Eason stepping up, though the Colts did sign veteran journeyman Brett Hundley over the weekend, making him the only healthy QB on the roster who has actually played in an NFL game. Remember, Eason didn’t get a preseason last year after being the No. 122 overall pick in the draft. And he was viewed as a project then coming off a college career where he completed fewer than 60% of his passes for just 7.1 yards per attempt. It sounds like Eason will remain at the top of the depth chart for now, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hundley ending up as the starter if Wentz were to miss time.

Obviously, neither scenario would be ideal for the rest of the offense. Jonathan Taylor figures to get a ton of work either way, but unless he is used more in the passing game than he was as a rookie, his upside would be limited by an offense that would likely struggle to move the ball. And he would be the only player on this team even worth viewing as a starting Fantasy option if Wentz missed time — T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman are already on the fringes of relevance heading into the season. We’ll keep a close eye on Wentz’s status over the coming days and weeks. 

Nick Chubb signed a three-year extension

Do not tell the Browns that RBs don’t matter, because they’ve now locked in both Chubb and Kareem Hunt through the end of the 2022 season. Chubb’s deal gives him $20 million guaranteed with a total of $36.6 million over the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons. That will take him through his age-29 season and is probably a relative bargain for a guy who has been the best rusher not named Derrick Henry since entering the NFL. 

Chubb is going off draft boards at 11.9 overall, as the No. 9 running back, and he’s a perfectly fine pick there. I wouldn’t personally take him there, but I can understand why he’s going there — he’s a rock-solid Fantasy RB, a good bet for a high weekly floor with the potential for huge games when he breaks those long runs he’s known for. I’m not willing to buy at the price because his receiving potential is muted — he has just 35 receptions in 22 games since Hunt joined the team. He just doesn’t have the upside some of the other guys like Ezekiel Elliott or Aaron Jones have in his tier, but he’s also about as safe as an RB can get — assuming health. 

One interesting thing to note is that, while Hunt is under contract for 2022, his $6.25 million salary for that season can be removed from the books with no dead cap hit if the Browns decide to do so. I’m not saying it’s likely they will — they seem to value having two excellent running backs they can count on — but it’s an option, one that may be slightly more likely now that Chubb is locked in. This is an arrow-up situation for Dynasty leagues. 

The Vikings had to practice with just one QB 

This is just a reminder that, for as much as things feel like they have returned to normal, COVID-19 is still very much a presence across the country, with cases rising due to the “Delta” variant. Vikings rookie QB Kellen Mond tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, and with Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley deemed high-risk close contacts, Jake Browning was the only QB in Saturday’s open practice. Browning threw nearly 80 passes during the practice, and he’ll be the only QB until the others are cleared. 

We saw a situation last season where the Broncos lost every QB on their roster due to contact tracing, leaving wide receiver Kendall Hinton to start in a 31-3 loss to the Saints. The risk of something similar happening this season is clearly still there, and given that the NFL has mandated that teams who deal with outbreaks among unvaccinated players will have to forfeit, the stakes are incredibly high if teams have a situation like this arise in-season. Unvaccinated players are subject to contact tracing requirements that can keep them away from the team longer than their vaccinated peers. 

That’s not to say there is really anything here that is actionable for Fantasy — you shouldn’t be fading Justin Jefferson because of this. But this is still very much a factor, and whether that means putting in procedures for how to handle last-minute scratches or just taking your chances, this is likely going to impact the 2021 NFL season as well. We’re not clear of this yet. 

Injuries, news and notes

  • Dak Prescott seems unlikely to play in the preseason opener — The Cowboys kick off the preseason Thursday against the Steelers, but it seems unlikely Prescott will be able to play through his shoulder injury. Everyone continues to downplay the issue — Prescott said if it was the regular season, he would be playing right now — and the hope is he can return to practice this week. Playing it safe is the right call, because we need Prescott healthy for Week 1, not for the Hall of Fame game. 
  • Zach Wilson is taking all of the first-team reps — He’s pretty much the only rookie QB you can say that about right now — even Trevor Lawrence is splitting first-team work with Gardner Minshew early in camp. Wilson is going to get the opportunity to sink or swim from Day 1 for the Jets, who are relying heavily on other rookies like Michael Carter and Elijah Moore, all of whom could start in Week 1. Carter is the most interesting of the three for Fantasy, but Wilson and Moore could emerge as viable starters before long if they can get up to speed. 
  • Devonta Smith left practice Saturday with a leg injury — It doesn’t sound like there’s much reason to be concerned here, but it’s worth noting, especially with Jalen Reagor’s training camp off to a delayed start. Smith has mostly worked with the first-team offense so far, as expected, while Reagor has yet to be cleared to join the team after failing the conditioning test last week. He is dealing with an off-the-field issue that has him a few days behind the rest of his teammates. Smith and Reagor could be a dynamic duo for Fantasy, but Smith is the one you should be targeting in the middle rounds. If you can get him as a reserve WR, there’s a chance last year’s Heisman winner emerges as a must-start player early on. 
  • Will Fuller is dealing with a foot injury — We don’t have much more to go on here other than Fuller left Miami’s first practice with the injury. The Dolphins have also been without Preston Williams and DeVante Parker so far, leaving Tua Tagovailoa mostly working with reserves and Jaylen Waddle. Fuller has a chance to be Miami’s No. 1 WR just like he was in Houston last season, and he has top-12 upside if he’s healthy after finishing up his suspension in Week 1. 
  • The Saints signed DeVonta Freeman — It’s not entirely clear what the Saints view as the need here, given that Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray are both healthy and Ty Montgomery rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries when he got an extended look in Week 17. More depth is never a bad thing from a team’s perspective, but it’s hard to see the 29-year-old Freeman being Fantasy relevant after he rushed for just 172 yards in five games last season. 
  • Henry Ruggs added 13 pounds of muscle — “Best shape of my life” talk is one of the hoary clichés of training camp, so I won’t dwell on this long. Ruggs struggled to make an impact as a rookie, but he is still running with the first-team offense and has talked about how he was too easy for defenders to move off his spots as a rookie. Can Ruggs establish himself as a No. 1 WR for the Raiders? It seems more likely he’ll always be a relatively low-target, big-play receiver, but if he can do more to earn and profit off of short and intermediate routes, that’ll help make him Fantasy relevant for sure. He’s a late-round flier in most leagues. 
  • Marquise Goodwin is getting most of his reps with the starters for the Bears — This is interesting as Goodwin sat out last season and hasn’t had more than 400 yards since 2017. The 30-year-old is still plenty athletic, as he finished 19th in the long jump at the 2020 Olympic Trials, and it looks like he could be the third WR after Anthony Miller was traded. He’s a long shot to do much for Fantasy, but he could be a late-round Best Ball flier with his world class speed.

Keep an eye on … Jacob Harris

Throughout camp and the preseason, I’m going to highlight some under-the-radar players picking up buzz. Often you can’t take much from beat writer reports or coach comments, but when a player consistently gets brought up, you should take notice. Last year, it was Logan Thomas, who earned rave reviews in Washington’s camp en route to a breakout season, and Harris is following the Thomas blueprint. 

Well, not quite exactly: Harris is converting from wide receiver to tight end. The University of Central Florida product is garnering a surprising amount of press among Rams beat writers despite being limited early in camp after having core muscle surgery. He’s close to returning and seems likely to see time with the first-team offense, just as he did in minicamps back in June. He’s not on the PUP list and could be cleared to ramp up his activity in the next few days. 

Harris is 6-foot-5 and ran a 4.48 at his Pro Day, so it’s not hard to see how he could be a difference maker in this offense. Beyond Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp there isn’t a ton of playmaking in this passing game, and he could conceivably share the field with Tyler Higbee, with Higbee manning a more traditional TE role while Harris works as a big slot receiver. That’s similar to how the Raiders use Darren Waller, a player Harris is trying to model his game after as he makes a similar transition the one Waller made en route to becoming a superstar. 

I’m not saying Harris is a future superstar. I’m not even saying he can be as good as Thomas was last season — he was TE6 in points per game in PPR. But as I go through training camp notes, his name has come up too often not to at least mention. In deeper leagues and especially dynasty  

They said it … 

  • “That’s my vision of this 1-2 punch. That’s how I see Jamaal Williams for us, for Detroit. He’s high energy, he’s a bit of a hammer and I think he’s a guy your team can feed off of a little bit. I said that when we signed him. That was always what [Mark Ingram] was for [the Saints] and Latavius Murray when Mark left us. That’s what Jamaal is.” — Lions coach Dan Campbell. There’s been a lot made of how the Lions will use Williams and D’Andre Swift, especially after offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn referred to Williams as his “A” back. In his four seasons in New Orleans, Alvin Kamara has never had more than 200 carries, but he’s been a must-start Fantasy option thanks to his nose for the end zone as well as his passing game role. Swift is in a much worse offense, but he can still be a must-start Fantasy option if he gets something like 200 carries and 80-plus targets. He may split carries with Williams relatively evenly, but if the comparisons to Kamara are legit, he’ll be the best back here for Fantasy by a long shot. 
  • “But he sure has a knack for the pass game. He does a nice job with that.” — Chiefs coach Andy Reid on Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon is drawing positive reviews for his work in the passing game so far, though he’s still a long way from being Fantasy relevant. If he can overtake Darrel Williams as the No. 2 RB, then we can start talking about him more. 
  • “He be balling. Josh is smooth.” — Mike Williams on Chargers rookie WR Josh Palmer. Palmer, the No. 77 pick out of Tennessee, has drawn very strong reviews so far in camp as he battles for the No. 3 spot. Palmer doesn’t have a particularly strong profile as a prospect — decent, but not great athletic testing with subpar production for even a third round pick — but the Chargers seem to like him and he’s making plays right now. He’s someone to keep an eye on, especially for deeper leagues with an eye on the future. 

So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen’s huge season, and find out.

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