As Week 1 of the regular season approaches, we’re in the thick of fantasy football draft season. While RB depth charts can be elastic (especially with rookies), it’s important to see where there stand for the early chunk of the season. Obviously, a guy like Najee Harris will step in from the first game and carry a heavy workload. For many other rookie RBs, such as Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, it’s more complicated. That’s causing plenty of confusion on rankings boards and sleeper lists.
Williams has a capable veteran RB in Melvin Gordon sharing the backfield with him, so he’s had to earn his work this offseason. Michael Carter isn’t in the most talented RB room in the league, but he was merely a Day 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Day 3 picks often see uphill climbs to see a lot of action. A guy like Zack Moss failed to separate himself from Devin Singletary in his rookie season, so it remains to be seen if he can shoulder more of the load this season.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet
For now, all fantasy drafters can do is consume the information we have now, and try our best to project the future. Below, we’ll highlight the top RB position battles and how they affect rankings.
Before diving into those, get an updated look at Michael Thomas’ fantasy value here. For a take on whether you should draft Deshaun Watson, go here. We also have help for those wondering if they should draft Saquon Barkley in the first round (click here). For position battle news, click here. For all the latest fantasy news, follow us on Twitter @SN_Fantasy
Javonte Williams/Melvin Gordon Position Battle Update
When the Broncos traded up in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft to take Williams, The writing was on the on the wall for Gordon’s long-term future in Denver. However, this doesn’t mean Williams will fully take over the backfield this season. Last season, Gordon fell just short of being an RB1, finishing as the RB13 in standard leagues and RB14 in PPR leagues. He was still an effective runner and pass-catcher and took the backfield away from Phillip Lindsay. The guy still has juice, but Denver obviously wants to bring youth to the position.
For now, we assume Gordon will be the Week 1 starter, but Williams will have a role. In the long run, it shaped out to be a timeshare, with Williams presenting the best chance to fully overtake the backfield. Per FantasyPros ADP, Williams is being drafted at the RB27 (standard) spot, with Gordon going as the RB29. Our projection is Williams will overtake the majority of the work at some point this year, perhaps during the fantasy playoffs where he could pay off huge.
After all, the Broncos decided to rest Williams in their final preseason game despite him being clear of injuries. They were happy with what he showed in their first two preseason games, and the decision makes it apparent he’s going to be involved early. If you’re going to draft one of the two, Williams is the clear choice for the higher upside. At very worst, he’ll be a top-tier RB handcuff with standalone value early in the season before he fully breaks out.
Zack Moss/Devin Singletary Position Battle Update
Moss and Singletary are heading into their second and third seasons, respectively, and this is one of the trickier backfields to sort out. We could see either one taking over the backfield or a near 50/50 split. Nothing in the Bills’ preseason games gave us any indication of who is leading the pack. Moss rushed eight times for 31 yards and caught a touchdown pass from Josh Allen. Singletary rushed 10 times for 63 yards and added rushing and receiving touchdowns. For those doing the math, Singletary averaged 2.4 more yards/carry and scored one more touchdown. It’s tough to tell how meaningful those splits will become the regular season, but Singletary is gaining steam.
However, Moss (5-9, 205 pounds) possesses a little bit more size to be a workhorse RB in the NFL than Singletary (5-7, 203 pounds), albeit not by a lot. Thus far in their careers, neither have necessity been breathtakingly impressive, so we can probably expect to see much of the same. Singletary will probably be the more efficient player, which is why he ranks just ahead of Moss in our rankings. A lot of times, it might be smart to just take the cheaper option in your fantasy drafts (especially in standard leagues). There is a scenario both can be productive in one of the league’s top offenses, but don’t count on either to carry the load for you.
Moss is our RB32 in standard while Singletary ranks one spot ahead at RB31. In PPR, Singletary separates himself, ranking RB28 with Moss falling to RB40.
Michael Carter/Tevin Coleman/Ty Johnson Position Battle Update
This position battle is the single-most head-scratching one to figure out. The trio of Carter, Coleman, and Johnson figure to be the contenders for the lead dog in the Jets offense. La’Mical Perine is also there, but he seems to be the odd man out. Realistically, this could shape out to be a 49ers-like committee, with no true No. 1 throughout the entire season. After all, the Jets new offensive coordinator is Mike LaFleu, who coached under the RBBC king himself, Kyle Shanahan.
You’d think Carter has the best chance to take over as the new, young RB talent, but it’s important to remember he was only a fourth-round pick. Without the expensive draft capital tied to his name, he’s not set in stone to be a top priority. From 2018-’20, 13 running backs were selected in the fourth round (Joshua Kelley, La’Mical Perine, Anthony McFarland, DeeJay Dallas, Bryce Love, Justice Hill, Benny Snell, Tony Pollard, Nyheim Hines, Mark Walton, Ito Smith, Kalen Ballage, Chase Edmonds). Of the 13 RBs, do any of those names get you excited? Even the top guys like Hines and Pollard aren’t fantasy stars but mere handcuffs and streamers. And as rookies, they did next to nothing. It’s important to look at historical data before assuming Carter will be the lead man
However, someone in the backfield has to be ranked first, and we do have Carter there. Ultimately, his combination of youth and talent should propel him, but it’s very unlikely he emerges as a player to completely control the backfield, especially in his rookie year. LaFleur has a previous relationship with Coleman, and Ty Johnson has been getting as many first-team reps as anyone. So while, we have Carter as our top-ranked Jets RB, it may be a smart move to take the cheapest option in this backfield, too.