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Fantasy Football: The backfield blues

Related: NFL playoff picture: Patriots move into 2nd place in the AFC

Carolina Panthers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

The poor managers who owned the first four picks of your fantasy draft back in the preseason.

After Sunday’s games, which saw both Christian McCaffrey (ankle) and Dalvin Cook (shoulder) leave their games due to injury, the consensus top four overall picks from the preseason (McCaffrey, Cook, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry) are all injured. Luckily for Cook, the Vikings star is only expected to miss a handful of games with a dislocated shoulder. McCaffrey on the other hand is not as lucky, as he was ruled out for the remainder of the season.

With the running back landscape completed altered entering Week 12, let’s get right into some backfield talk.

Minnesota Vikings: With Cook out, back-up Alexander Mattison will undoubtedly be the No. 1 waiver wire priority this week (even though he already should have been rostered in all leagues). Just look at Mattison’s production in the two games Cook missed:

  • Week 3: 26 carries, 112 yards, 6 catches, 59 yards — 23.1 fantasy points (RB7)
  • Week 5: 25 carries, 113 yards, 7 catches, 40 yards, TD — 26.3 fantasy points (RB6)

Mattison has RB1 value as long as Cook is out.

Carolina Panthers: Carolina's backup situation is not as clear cut as Minnesota’s. While McCaffrey missed time earlier this season, Chuba Hubbard became the main prize to fantasy owners, but never really blew up the fantasy stat sheet. On Sunday, it was Ameer Abdullah who received the majority of the snaps in McCaffrey’s absence (27-11) as both backs saw just two carries. Going forward, Hubbard and Abdullah may be in for a split of the rushing work with Abdullah manning the passing game (21 routes ran to Hubbard’s four on Sunday). With games against Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans on the upcoming schedule, Abdullah may be the preferred option.

Los Angeles Rams: Darrell Henderson Jr. has operated as a true workhorse back this year. However, the back has an injury history and tweaked his quad Sunday — he will be “monitored” throughout the week. Sony Michel, who provides top backup running back value, would be in line for 15+ touches against a weak Jacksonville defense if Henderson is ruled out. He should be owned regardless.

Detroit Lions: Another injury, as D’Andre Swift left Thursday’s Thanksgiving game early with a shoulder injury. Dan Campbell mentioned it would be “hard to see” Swift playing Sunday against Minnesota, putting Jamaal Williams in line for the bellcow roll. Williams has proven he’s capable of big performances and can be trusted as an RB2 in Swift’s absence.

Tennessee Titans: No new injury this week, but this backfield is still figuring things out after Derrick Henry’s foot injury. This week, it was Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman leading the way, both rushing for over 100 yards. While both backs ran well, Foreman had the edge in carries (19-12) and looked like the preferred option on early downs and near the goal line. Hilliard — who now has 19 carries for 166 yards (8.73 YPC) since being elevated off the practice squad last week — likely will command more work in the passing game. The Titans are on a Week 13 bye and then have a juicy matchup with the Jaguars in Week 14.

New York Jets: With Michael Carter on IR, the Jets operated as the dreaded committee on Sunday. New York surprisingly made Austin Walter from the Dallas Renegade of the XFL active and he even scored a touchdown. Walter ended up with more rush snaps than Ty Johnson, but Tevin Coleman still led the way in rushing snaps and carries. Coleman remains the top option, but the committee backfield on a bottom of the league offense should be avoided.

Philadelphia Eagles: Even with Miles Sanders back from injury, the Eagles remained in a committee approach as well. Sanders did miss some time with an ankle injury, but even when healthy watched on as Boston Scott saw more rush and pass snaps, leading to more targets and carries. To make matters even more confusing, Kenneth Gainwell saw more second half snaps and who knows what will happen when Jordan Howard returns. The Eagles backfield has some promising matchups on the horizon, but a three to four man committee is not trustworthy for fantasy purposes.

Seattle Seahawks: Gross. Alex Collins’ volume has not equalled any production as the whole Seahawks offense has been stuck in reverse for weeks. We pushed for more DeeJay Dallas as he offers PPR upside, but the majority of his yardage came on the final drive. With Rashad Penny and Travis Homer factoring back in the mix sometime in the future, it is yet another muddled backfield in a dumpster fire of an offense.

New England Patriots: The old Patriots committee. New England split of their backfield work about as even as it could be. Damien Harris played two more snaps and saw two more carries over rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, while Brandon Bolden continued to dominate the pass catching work. Harris still is the preferred option, but either catapult into low-end RB1 territory if there counterpart misses any time. Bolden should be rostered in deeper formats due to his PPR appeal.

“Writing something about other positions!” *screams the crowd*


Logan Thomas returns. It was a disappointing return for last year’s breakout at the position, as Thomas finished with just three receptions for 31 yards. He also had a touchdown overturned in the fourth quarter on a debatable call. Washington has been giving their lead tight end near 100 percent of the playing time this season, but Thomas played just a shade under 80 percent as he was on a pitch count. He should be trusted in lineups moving forward.

Bourne to Run. Patriots’ receivers are also tough to trust — just like their running backs — but Kendrick Bourne has quietly been WR16 since Week 3, while recording two top-five finishes at the position in the last three weeks. He’s been boom or bust, but his team target percentage is second on the team the last three weeks, and he has a potential boom opportunity championship Sunday against Jacksonville.

Beckham is back. After playing just 15 total snaps in his Rams’ debut, Beckham was elevated to a full time role on Sunday. He played 60-out-of-61 snaps, while tying Cooper Kupp for the most targets (10). Beckham also hauled in his first touchdown of the season. If this is his role every week, get him in your lineups — especially against Jacksonville next week (Jacksonville is really getting dragged in this week’s post).

Newton struggles. SuperCam was no more Sunday, as some of Newton’s issues with New England last year came back to bite him. Newton completed just 5-of-21 passes (4 of 15 for 28 yards on short passes) for 92 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions before being benched. With Christian McCaffrey now out and a tough upcoming schedule, it may be best not to rely on Newton. It was a fun week.

Defenses. Defense talk! Miami has recorded 17+ fantasy points in three of their past four games and now face off against the Mike Glennon led Giants in Week 13. After a Week 14 bye, they then get the Jets. ... Minnesota’s defense has been slightly above average in fantasy scoring this year, but get back-to-back dates with the Lions (without Swift) and then the struggling Steelers’ offense on a short week. ... Indianapolis ended their back-to-back games of double digit points against Tampa Bay, but are in a strong spot to rebound against Houston this week.

That is all for this week’s recap. Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter @iambrianhines if you have any questions about your fantasy team!