It's a crusher for the Jaguars that rookie first-round pick Travis Etienne will miss the 2021 season with a broken foot. But it means the franchise got lucky with the same running back twice. By signing James Robinson last year, and hanging on to him this offseason, they have the run-game presence necessary to help.
And it's a big deal for Fantasy managers too.
Robinson started each of the Jaguars' preseason games, though he wound up dishing out some good pass blocks in the opener against the Browns. In the same game, he put some tough runs on film before an incredible display of talent when he broke the grasp of two Browns defenders before being taken down by two more defenders.
Fast forward to the Saints game in Week 2 and he flashed his excellent vision and balance on a short run, then picked up a big lane from his O-line in the second quarter and dashed for 10 yards on a play we saw him make plenty of times last year. In this specific game, three-fifths of his starting offensive line was sidelined, so there were a lot of plays where Robinson (and Trevor Lawrence) didn't have time or room to do their thing. But the O-line should be good to go for the start of the season, and it should be an improvement over what Robinson worked behind last year.
In fact, the entire offense should be an improvement. Lawrence has looked bad through two preseason games but he's a wunderkind who should figure things out. And now that Etienne is out of the mix, Robinson is best suited to handle passing downs ahead of Carlos Hyde, who will probably take 30% of the snaps at minimum from game to game but not do enough with them to impact Robinson's numbers.
Robinson looks like his old self, and his role will increase. That's what matters. A favorable schedule doesn't hurt things, either. I'm cool with taking Robinson as soon as Round 3 in all drafts.
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Rams side of the Michel trade
Darrell Henderson's thumb sprain probably brought on bad memories of injuries past for coach Sean McVay. Not just what happened to Todd Gurley's knees or Cam Akers' Achilles, but Henderson's own ankle, quad and hamstring. That may have been what spurred the trade for Sony Michel. It can't be just for depth -- NFL clubs don't trade late fourth-round picks (the compensation the Rams are ultimately expected to give) for depth.
It may also have been Michel's preseason play which included a curious and unexpected number of targets. Against the Eagles, Michel caught all four targets sent his way for 37 yards including a 19-yard catch-and-run that saw him shed one tackler and juke another to create some yards. The preseason film confirmed Michel is good at getting what's blocked for him with occasional flashes of breaking tackles and ankles. But he's got the same kind of injury concerns that Rams running backs past and present have.
The Rams have at times utilized running backs situationally. Henderson has never played much on third downs. Guess what? Neither has Michel!
It's a complete unknown how the Rams will split their running back work, and that just makes me nervous to draft either of these guys. But I'm especially skeptical of Henderson keeping a busy workload since the coaches hesitated to give him a lot of work once Cam Akers got well last year and then traded for Michel when it was believed they weren't interested in adding a back.
Henderson falls to a Round 6 gamble for me in all formats while Michel elevates to a decent bench Fantasy option in Round 10.
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Patriots side of the Michel trade
It's always dangerous territory to buy into a Patriots running back, and that goes double in an era where Cam Newton's best work comes as a short-yardage rusher. But Damien Harris has cemented his spot as the Patriots best running back and deserves to be acknowledged.
His preseason film backs it up. Harris definitely benefited from good blocking but also showed off good speed and keen footwork to evade tacklers, cut into space and get moving quickly after stopping his feet. Is he a world-beater? No. And with 141 career carries, he may lack the necessary experience, but is best suited to lead the Patriots' run game nonetheless. Camp practices and preseason games confirm he's atop their running back depth chart.
But being atop the depth chart and performing like a must-start Fantasy running back are very different things. The Patriots have never been shy about utilizing multiple rushers -- James White is a cinch to handle passing downs and will steal a few carries per game (he already did against the Eagles). Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson also has looked fabulous as a big back with quick feet, and J.J. Taylor has the chops to back up Harris and White.
And never mind the fact that Newton was 7 for 15 on goal-to-go carries in 2020; Harris was 0 for 2). We figure Newton will be shown the bench at some point this season, and when that happens, Harris' upside should shoot into the sky, but there's no promise of it happening in Week 1 or Week 11.
It's gonna take guts to draft Harris with a top-60 pick, but in non-PPR leagues, I think I'd do it juuuust before 60th overall (and ahead of Darrell Henderson). I'd do it in the hope that he continues his streak of delivering at least nine-plus Non-PPR points in games with at least 15 carries. Half- and full-PPR are different stories -- I'd wait until closer to 70th overall to nab Harris since his reception potential is minimal. Henderson would be the preferred pick in those formats.
The remaining Patriots backs are worth late-round glances for bench dances: White in Round 12 in PPR, 13-plus in non- and half-PPR; Stevenson in Round 13 in all formats; Taylor as a late pick in the deepest of PPR leagues.
It's gotta be Gaskin
Not only did I survey the Dolphins' first-team offense against Falcons backups last week, I also got to check out their second practice against Atlanta before the game. On both days, it was crystal clear that Myles Gaskin was their primary running back.
He worked exclusively with the first-team offense in practice, including valuable two-minute offense snaps, and then played 16 of the first 22 snaps (including the first seven) for the Dolphins in the preseason game. And then after it looked like he was getting the starter's treatment by watching Salvon Ahmed and Malcolm Brown from the bench, Gaskin came back in with the hurry-up offense and had a catch and a good pass block to end the half.
The usage is what matters to me the most here. Did he look good with two touchdowns, 27 rush yards on six carries and 44 yards on four catches? Of course he did. He's looked better than any other Miami running back all summer. But he did the work against Atlanta's backup defense, so it's not right to get excited about the numbers, just the workload.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores said he'd use his running backs situationally, but what he didn't tell you was that Gaskin is pretty much good in every situation. The playing time proves it. He's worth a late Round 4 pick in half- and full-PPR, a Round 5 pick in non-PPR.
Three backfields in flux
The Bills surprised everyone by starting and then leaning pretty heavily on Devin Singletary at Chicago. And Singletary surprised everyone for the second week in a row by routinely flashing the vision, lateral agility and burst that made him an appealing player at Florida Atlantic.
It was actually the second straight week he played well, but seeing him in on the first 16 plays of the game before Zack Moss even got in was encouraging. Moss has suffered two injuries since January and the team hasn't played a regular-season game yet, so maybe the coaches aren't pushing him as hard.
Also of interest: Buffalo called pass plays on 19 of their first 21 plays.
Maybe putting a Bills running back on your team isn't a good idea no matter how they look in the preseason, but if you must take one, Singletary has looked very good.
After starting promising rookie Michael Carter in Week 1, Gang Green went with Tevin Coleman (10 snaps) and Ty Johnson (11 snaps) with starting quarterback Zach Wilson in Week 2. Carter, by comparison, did not play with Wilson even though there was nothing I saw from him in Week 1 that looked bad.
As for the game against the Packers, Coleman was nothing special but Johnson impressed for the second week in a row with good burst and determination. Carter also impressed with the backups -- his best run was evidence of him creating yards when he literally shook off a defender and ran for another 10 yards after as part of an 18-yard gain. He got downhill easily on another run to the left edge for 8 yards, and he had two excellent pass protection reps, which is a great developmental sign because he was not good at blocking at North Carolina.
From where I sit, Carter is the Jets' best running back, but Johnson hasn't played poorly and it's not like there is no redeeming value to Tevin Coleman. I fear we'll see the Jets begin the season using all three of these guys. That's why Carter should fall a little bit in Fantasy drafts, but if you take him as a No. 3 running back (or even a fourth guy) in Round 7, you should reap some rewards as the season moves on.
We haven't seen what Melvin Gordon looks like this season, and we have seen that the Broncos appear committed to using two running backs in a rotation at all times. That's not good. Javonte Williams is the rusher we're focused on in the early/middle rounds, and he had mostly good plays against the Seahawks to take note of.
Probably his best trait was his physicality. On an early second-and-2 play, tight end Noah Fant botched his blocking, leaving Williams one-on-one with D-lineman Kerry Hyder. Williams stiff-armed and shoved down the 270-pound Hyder en route to a six-yard gain when he should have lost yardage on the play. He did it again later on when he shoved a linebacker to turn a three-yard loss into a one-yard gain. This type of yardage creation is hard to find, but coaches love it for obvious reasons. Fantasy managers do too.
There's some bad, too: An ugly drop on a third-and-1 was followed by a fourth-and-1 run that Williams converted by running helmet-first at full speed into tight end Eric Saubert's back. I would hope for a little better vision from Williams there. He also picked up a carry on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line where he semi-dove into a pile of humanity, stayed on his feet but couldn't push the ball ahead for the score. Instead, guard Dalton Risner took the ball as a lateral handoff and scored with it. Weird play, and disappointing Williams couldn't convert there. He also was hit-or-miss in pass protection and never played more than four consecutive snaps on offense.
I am a little nervous about Williams as a Round 6 pick, but that's about the going rate for a promising rookie running back who has the potential to break a tandem backfield. Perhaps the better advice is to not completely rule out drafting Gordon in late Round 7 since he could be given preferential treatment on high-value touches until Williams earns more work.
I'm thinking RBs
- Ever go bowling? Know what it's like to see a bowling ball speed into a bunch of defenseless pins and knock the pins over. That's what it's like watching A.J. Dillon play football. He played just seven snaps but managed to show off his natural receiving skills on two plays and use his lateral agility to cut inside with solid speed to pick up a first down on first-and-10 while bouncing off defenders. But the cherry on top was the Jets need three defenders to bring him down on two plays (once on a designed screen) and two defenders to collapse Dillon on another play. Dillon's on my Round 9 checklist.
- Tony Jones didn't impress as much this week as he did last week for the Saints, but Sean Payton's comment to the ESPN crew about Jones being second on the running back depth chart makes sense. Jones is as physical while clearly more sudden and explosive than Murray, plus he can catch the ball about as well and is getting paid $3.5 million less. Not that they're in dire straits with the salary cap, but the Saints would save over $2 million if they let Murray go. Jones should be in consideration in Round 12 as a draft-and-stash running back who could eventually elevate to a 10-touch-per-game role.