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September 01, 2023

Fantasy football: Which NFL teams have bell cow running backs, which have committees?

Before your fantasy football draft, here's what you need to know about the NFL's running backs.

NFL Fantasy football
8.6.23_EaglesPractice_D'Andre-Swift-1555.jpg Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

D’Andre Swift #0 of the Philadelphia Eagles performs a drill during practice at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. on August 6, 2023.

The NFL has been devaluing running backs for years now, and for the first time it's really starting to show in fantasy football.

Of 32 NFL teams, we counted half that will employ a bonafide, high-volume starting running back, and 16 that will implement some kind of timeshare, backs-by-committee approach. That math means there are, as of right now before the 2023 season kicks off, just over 50 fantasy relevant running backs.

So which teams will be running their starting tailback into the ground, and which will share the carries? Keeping in mind that we are not diving into running backs more likely to be pass-catchers or red zone specialists (two things that are important to consider), here's a quick whip around the league — keeping in mind that these are educated guesses, and that anything could happen:

The bell cows


Saquon Barkley led all NFL running backs last season playing 80% of New York's snaps. You probably don't even need to know who his backup is unless he gets seriously hurt.


The No. 2 running back by total snap percentage in 2022 was Josh Jacobs, who recently signed a contract to return to the field in Vegas. He might just replicate the 75% of RB snaps he had last campaign.


Christian McCaffrey has a very good and productive backup in Elijah Mitchell, but the first round fantasy pick was on the field 73% of the time last season with the Panthers and Niners combined.


The downside to drafting James Conner is that the Cardinals will stink and probably be trailing a lot. The upside is he was fifth in the NFL with 71% of snaps in Arizona and will likely do the same in 2023.


Atlanta drafted Bijan Robinson and are by all accounts going to run him into the ground. Which is frustrating to those who were high on Tyler Allgeier — but the second year pro only played about 51% of snaps last year anyway so he'll likely be relegated to somewhere in the 30-35% range.


Once again, Derick Henry will be healthy and will be the bell cow back in Tennessee.


There is a lot of buzz around Najee Harris' backup Jaylen Warren, and he's certainly someone to be drafted in all leagues, but Harris was on the field two thirds of the time last year and should out-touch Warren handily again in 2023.


Last year rookie Dameon Pierce was on the field for 64% of the Texans' snaps. Devin Singletary is on the squad and could dig into that number but it doesn't really seem like a timeshare, more like a backup situation.


Austin Ekeler wasn't on the field as much as you think last year — 62% of snaps — but still enough to be considered a three-down bell cow back.


Joe Mixon again should be pretty safe in fantasy as he no longer even has Samaje Perine behind him.


Rashaad White is the guy in Tampa with Leonard Fournette gone. 


There isn't much depth behind Khalil Herbert with David Montgomery now in Detroit, so expect him to get more than 50% of running back touches.


There's a pretty good chance Miles Sanders, if healthy, is on the field for more than 60% of snaps in his new home with the Panthers.


Nick Chubb will be the guy in Cleveland with Kareem Hunt out of the league now. He's one of the few safe first round running backs this season.


Gone is Dalvin Cook, replacing him is Alexander Mattison, who is expected to get a ton of opportunities this season without much behind him on the depth chart.


The same could probably be said for Tony Pollard, who is getting a ton of hype in Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott gone.

The borderlines


There's a chance James Cook emerges as the No. 1 back here, but the team has Damien Harris on the roster so it's hard to say. Last year the Bills had Devin Singletary and he surprisingly had 709 snaps, or 65%. Buffalo may elect to give a ton of touches to one back, but we won't know until we see.


Rhamondre Stevenson had a surprising 66% snap count last season, but the aforementioned Ezekiel Elliott is on the roster and could be on the field a bunch himself.


When Alvin Kamara played last year he got more than 60% of snaps. However, he's suspended to start the year and has touchdown machine Jamaal Williams on the depth chart behind him, so this could go either way.


Samaje Perine might not start be he will be a big factor in the offense for Denver, as Javonte Williams tries to make a healthy return as a workload running back.


Travis Etienne had a healthy 59% of snaps last year with the Jags, but rookie Tank Bigsby could challenge him for touches after having a great camp.

The committees


Philly is the first team that comes to mind here, as they'll split snaps between Rashaad Penny, D'Andre Swift and Kenny Gainwell.


Breece Hall is coming back from a torn ACL, Dalvin Cook is learning the offense and Michael Carter is a solid No. 3. 


Last year, Aaron Jones was on the field for 58% of snaps and A.J. Dillion for 49%. Both are draftable and startable. 


In 2022, Kansas City saw three backs get 30% or more of snaps. With Andy Reid it's anyone's guess between Isiah Pacheco, Jerrick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.


There's no real way to know how the Lions will divvy up snaps between David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs.


Will it be Jeff Wilson or Raheem Mostert? Or will rookie De'Von Achane come on late in the season?


There seems to be a good case for an even split between touches for Kenneth Walker and rookie ‎Zach Charbonnet.


What a mess in Indianapolis. Jonathan Taylor will start the season on the PUP list as he demands a trade. Zack Moss looks in line to start, with some competition behind him.


With J.K. Dobbins still beat up from injuries, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill will alleviate the workload and all three will be sharing snaps.


The No. 1 back is Cam Akers, but there is likely to be some even distribution of snaps between him, rookie Kyren Williams and Zack Evans. This should resemble a committee.  


Brian Robinson Jr. or Antonio Gibson — take your pick.

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