In yesterday's edition of the Fantasy Football Today Newsletter, we talked about the news that Carson Wentz was out indefinitely with a foot injury, and then shortly after sending that out to your inbox, we found out what "indefinitely" meant: 5-12 weeks, as Wentz will undergo surgery to repair a bone break.
That gives us more information about Wentz's timetable than we had yesterday, but it also doesn't so much to settle concerns about the Colts offense. If Wentz were back in five weeks, he would be there for Week 1; if he missed 12 weeks, you're looking at an absence that would stretch to the end of October. That's an awfully wide range of possible outcomes, and it makes it awfully hard to trust that this offense is going to be useful for Fantasy.
I wrote about the news yesterday, so before you do anything else, make sure you head over to CBSSports.com to read about how I think this impacts the Colts offense.
We're still in the midst of our RB preview week here at CBS Fantasy, of course, so let's make sure you're caught up with everything the FFT team has published so far this week, starting with Heath Cummings' RB preview, one of the best pieces we put out every preseason. It's a must-read:
- Ideal Draft Day strategy, sleepers, breakouts, and busts, numbers to know, projections, and more
- FFT Panel: Five biggest RB questions
- Pick-by-pick series: Drafting from No. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12
- ADP Review by Jamey Eisenberg: Justin Herbert being overdrafted and Leonard Fournette's too pricey, while Mike Evans and T.J. Hockenson emerging as early values
In the rest of today's newsletter, I'll be giving you my favorite sleeper picks for running backs, along with Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, and Heath Cummings' picks -- we'll go over our breakouts and busts Wednesday and Thursday. Plus, I'm looking into the best and worst offenses for running backs over the past three seasons to see which situations you might want to target, which you might want to avoid, and where there might be some hidden value. Spoiler alert: There's very good news for D'Andre Swift and some pretty bad news for Zack Moss down there.
But first, here's a quick rundown of the news you need to know about from Monday. We'll go further in depth on some of the biggest news in tomorrow's newsletter:
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- Matthew Stafford left practice with a thumb injury -- There's no indication right now that this is much to be concerned about, but Stafford had to have surgery on that thumb in the offseason after an injury last season. We'll see what comes from this, but obviously, any lingering issues would be a big blow for a team with big expectations for 2021.
- DeVonta Smith is out 2-3 weeks with a sprained MCL -- While this doesn't appear likely to put Smith's availability for Week 1 in doubt, it's not what you want to see from a rookie first-rounder who needs time to develop chemistry with his new QB. It's hard enough making that transition to the NFL when you get a normal training camp, and it's clear Jalen Reagor's shoulder injury last year during camp hampered his ability to get up to speed. I won't downgrade Smith for now, but he's just a WR4/5 for me anyway.
- Marquise Brown has no timeline for his return from a hamstring injury -- Brown is hoping for a breakout season after just showing flashes in his first two seasons, so this is obviously bad news. First-round pick Rashod Bateman is also limited right now due to some muscle tightness, but Brown is the bigger concern. Hamstring injuries have a way of lingering, so let's hope he gets fully healthy before trying to return. Of course, with Lamar Jackson out through at least the end of this week after testing positive for COVID-19, I guess there's nothing lost so far. What a mess ...
- Saquon Barkley is "making tangible progress" toward a return, per Joe Judge -- Barkley is coming back from an ACL tear and has played things close to the chest about his timeline, so this is good news. We want to see him practicing and preferably playing in a preseason game before we feel great about viewing Barkley as a first-round pick. He has a ton of upside, but as we talked about in Tuesday's episode of Fantasy Football Today, there's a lot of ways things could go wrong for him this season:
Here are three of my favorite sleepers at RB:
- Michael Carter, Jets -- The Jets figure to have one of the most improved offenses in the league after 2020's historic futility, and Carter should be a big part of that. I'd be surprised if he ever got a consistent 15-20 touch per game role given his limited usage in college, but he's already getting first-team reps in training camp and seems locked in the passing down's role already. 50 catches and 200 carries is a perfectly reasonable goal for Carter, and while he's undersized and playing in what will likely be a pretty bad offense still, Carter is a solid target if you can get him for your bench outside of the first 30 running backs selected.
- A.J. Dillon, Packers -- We know Dillon is going to have a bigger role for the Packers than he did last season with the loss of Jamaal Williams, so the question is, "How big?" Can he get to something like a 50-50 split in carries with Aaron Jones? Williams hadn't been close to that since 2018, but Dillon figures to be a better playmaker than Williams was, and with Jones likely to see a larger role in the passing game, maybe they take something off his plate as a rusher. If Dillon can get to right around 12 carries per game, he's going to be a solid starting Fantasy option on a team that should create plenty of scoring opportunities, with the upside to be a borderline No. 1 RB if anything happens to Jones. Dillon is going right around pick 100 in drafts on average, making him actually one of my favorite values at the position right now.
- Javian Hawkins, Falcons -- James Robinson had a once-a-decade kind of season as an undrafted free agent in 2020, so I don't want to put anything like those kinds of expectations on Hawkins. But if you're looking for a situation where an undrafted free agent could make an impact, this is it. The Falcons have Mike Davis at the top of the depth chart and, while he was solid for the Panthers early last season, he was relegated to a non-existent role in Chicago the prior season after entering as the starter. He's exactly the kind of back who could very quickly lose his job if anyone behind him shows a spark. Maybe that'll be Qadree Ollison, but he's been in the NFL for two seasons and hasn't been able to earn that role yet. Hawkins is a long shot himself, but he's well situated to return value as a last-round pick.
You can read about all of our favorite sleeper picks at RB here.
The best and worst offenses for RBs
Talent only matters so much in Fantasy Football, and that's especially true at running back. You can be a tremendous talent, but if you're in a bad situation, there's only so good you can be. Joe Mixon is probably the best example of this in recent years: He's been viewed as one of the most talented backs in the league since he was drafted, but he's been a perpetual frustration if not outright disappointment because he's never been in the right situation to maximize his talent.
When you look at what every team has produced from the running back position over the past three seasons, it's not hard to see how that has happened. Here's what every team has produced on average when it comes to RB PPR production since 2018:
It's surprising to see the Titans just 14th, given how good Derrick Henry has been over this span, but that sort of highlights why doing this exercise has value: Henry's dominance is also about how much of his team's RB production he gets. He has accounted for 71.7% of the Titans' RB points in that span, including 80.3% over the last two seasons. Compare that to Baltimore, which has created nearly an identical number of points -- 1,158.6 for the Ravens, 1,155.5 for the Titans -- but whose lead backs have accounted for 42.9% (J.K Dobbins in 2020), 60.1% (Mark Ingram in 2019), and 30.6% (Alex Collins, 2018) of their points each season.
Let's take a look at the best and worst offenses for RB production over the past three seasons and see what we can learn:
Best offenses for RB
1. Saints - 503.17 per season
Having Alvin Kamara goes a long way toward making sure you produce a lot of RB points given how efficient he is, but it's going to be very interesting to see what this offense looks like for RB without Drew Brees. Brees processed the defense so quickly and was able to move to the dump off while still putting his pass-catchers in position to make big plays. Can Jameis Winston recreate that dynamic? Will Taysom Hill's rushing ability make this a less valuable offense for running backs? On the latter question, I'm pretty sure the answer is "yes," and Kamara's value will definitely be impacted if Hill is starting.
2. Chargers - 496.27 per season
This might be a D'Andre Swift thing as much as anything, given that former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is the offensive coordinator in Detroit now. Austin Ekeler is arguably the best playmaker in the passing game of all running backs, but Swift showed that a lot to like in that part of the game as a rookie, too. Head coach Dan Campbell recently told reporters he views New Orleans as the blueprint for Swift and Jamaal Williams -- and the Chargers are also implementing an offense under Joe Lombardi that will borrow liberally from the Saints' as well. That's good news for Ekeler.
3. Patriots - 482.67 per season
Obviously, I follow the NFL pretty closely, but I would not have guessed the Patriots were still in the top 10 in Fantasy points from running backs last season. They didn't have a single running back finish in the top 40 in scoring despite that, so the question if the production will be more concentrated, though if that does happen, James White is the most likely one to benefit; he and Rex Burkhead actually led the team in scoring, and even if you combined Damien Harris and Sony Michel's production they would have been good for just RB22 last season. There's more upside in White's potential role.
4. 49ers - 460.00 per season
The 49ers are a lot like Baltimore in that no one back is ever likely to dominate the scoring here. That's not how Kyle Shanahan runs his offense. That being said, Raheem Mostert as RB30 in ADP is a pretty obvious value in drafts right now. He's one of my favorite options in the sixth/seventh-round range at RB. He may not have RB1 upside, but even when he's splitting with Trey Sermon (RB28 in ADP), Mostert should be a solid starting option for as long as he's healthy.
5. Panthers - 440.40 per season
Yeah, Christian McCaffrey is awesome. They dropped to 18th in RB scoring last season, which is a bit of a concern given the coaching change, but McCaffrey still averaged 124 yards and had six touchdowns in his three games, so there still isn't a player with a ceiling anywhere close to his.
The worst offenses for RB
32. Bills - 277.77 per season
I've talked about it quite a bit this offseason, but here's exactly why I have very little interest in Buffalo's backfield right now. The Bills have finished in the bottom three in each of the last three seasons and you should still be assuming a backfield share between Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. Even if Moss or Singletary got a Derrick Henry-esque 75% of the Bills total points, that would come out to 208.3 based on the past three seasons. When your absolute upside scenario is equivalent to a typical RB24-ish season in points per game, it probably isn't a situation worth chasing. The Bills would have to fundamentally change how they use their backs for either to have much more than fringe starter appeal.
31. Texans - 296.57 per season
On the one hand, the likelihood that Deshaun Watson won't be the starting QB means the Texans should use their running backs in the passing game more. On the other hand, this could be the single worst offense in the NFL without Watson. David Johnson as a (very) low-end starting RB in the middle rounds can have some value, as can Phillip Lindsay in the (very) late rounds, but I wouldn't blame you if you just skipped this team entirely.
30. Jets - 300.37 per season
The last season before Adam Gase came to town saw the Jets RBs finish 26th, so it's been a rough go of things lately. However, there is a potentially very good offensive line here along with a coaching staff that would surely like to replicate San Francisco's success running the ball, so it seems fair to assume they'll have their best season in at least the last three. Michael Carter is the upside play here since he seems to be the best bet for whatever receiving game work comes along, and if you can get him outside of the top 30 backs, it's worth the investment.
29. Bengals - 330.23 per season
If you're wondering why Joe Mixon has been so disappointing, it's because he's been sharing this role. If you're wondering why I'm high on Mixon (he's my RB6) this season, it's because he's a lot less likely to be sharing the role now than in the past. He may not get to those Henry levels, but if the Bengals offense takes the step forward everyone expects and he gets a more valuable role in that offense, the path to an elite Fantasy season is pretty clear.
28. Buccaneers - 330.87 per season
They've been more like middle of the pack in 2019 (19th) and 2020 (17th) after a terrible 2018, and if you weigh the more recent seasons the Bucs move closer to the middle of the pack. However, if you're talking about a situation with no clear No. 1 back plus Giovani Bernard potentially eating into the third-down role … well, it's easy to see why Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette are going outside of the top 30 at the position. If you have to take one, Jones is the guy, but the ceiling is capped unless he sees a much larger role in the passing game or he just has a 2016 LeGarrette Blount kind of touchdown rate.