It sure was fun to catch that much-anticipated breath of fresh air in the person of Keaton Mitchell in Week 9. His 40-yard touchdown run through the Seahawks’ defense made him look like he was in another gear than those trying to catch him.
“Oh, they’ve found something today,” exclaimed Jim Nantz during the CBS broadcast. While the Ravens may have unveiled the rookie for a national audience, fantasy managers have been waiting for the undrafted rookie out of Eastern Carolina with 4.37 speed since he had a 31-yard run in a preseason game. Now that Mitchell gave my colleagues Matt Harmon and Andy Behrens De’Von Achane-lite vibes and is the proverbial genie out of the bottle with his 138-yard performance on just nine carries, what do we do with the player who commanded so much FAB this waiver period?
Well, deciphering the Ravens’ backfield could be one of the skeleton keys that leads to fantasy championships in a little less than two months. Why? Gus Edwards may have had five carries in Sunday’s 37-3 demolition of the Seahawks, but he turned them into 52 yards and two touchdowns. And let’s not forget Justice Hill, who had the most carries on the Ravens (13), but almost 100 yards less than Mitchell (40). With Baltimore being one of the best teams in the NFL — Yahoo has them at the top of its NFL power rankings — the backfield figures to be plenty busy in the second half of the season.
At this point, getting any kind of juice off the waiver wire or from a bench stash is an important shot in the arm for any fantasy team. Especially at the running back position. Mitchell could be that, because Edwards and Hill were picked up weeks ago when J.K. Dobbins went out for the season with an Achilles injury.
But are there red flags with Mitchell?
There sure are. In fact, if we look hard enough, this backfield could become the dreaded “three-headed committee” that really helps only when the players within it score touchdowns. And that’s beyond a challenge to predict. What we did get a window into was how each of the three players were deployed against Seattle.
Interestingly, all three players saw four carries in the first half, when the Ravens took a 17-3 lead into the locker room in what was still a competitive game. So Mitchell’s great game is not a byproduct of garbage-time touches. He was very much a part of the offense when the game was still relatively in doubt. That bodes well for Mitchell and those fantasy managers who bet on him. But overall, he was not on the field as much as most would like when deciding to put him in a lineup with the fantasy playoffs on the line.
Hill drew the most snaps in the game (47) for a 62.7% snap count, according to Fantasy Points Data. He also ran 20 routes, which was exactly double what Edwards and Mitchell ran combined in the game. Consider that during Lamar Jackson’s five years as a full-time starter, no running back has drawn more than the 42 targets that Devonta Freeman saw in 2021. Should much fantasy-relevant production be expected of Hill in the passing game? Only twice has Hill gone over 10 fantasy points in a week, so is he worth a start in hopes that he falls into the end zone? It’s been a rough year for running backs, but bye weeks and/or injuries would have to be major factors before I recommend putting Hill into lineups.
Edwards has hardly been a threat in the passing game, but his running in a pair of scores inside the five-yard line shows he is going to remain a part of the team’s goal-line situations. At 6″1′, 238 lbs., Edwards is five inches taller and almost 50 lbs. heavier than Mitchell (5″8′, 191 lbs.). This was the first week since the season opener that Edwards had less than 10 carries in a game, so he should remain a significant part of the offense, especially with the cold-weather months coming and certain defenders beginning to make “business decisions” before getting in the way of a human battering ram like Edwards.
Mitchell is going to be the wild card. Yes, he saw only 13 snaps, but he got the ball on 10 of those plays. It brings back how De’Von Achane saw only 42.3% of snaps in his monster Week 3 breakout. Mitchell has amazing play speed that few people other than Achane and Jahmyr Gibbs have at the running back position (check out the similarity in running styles and speed between Achane and Mitchell on long touchdown runs). The Ravens have to see if he could get close to being a game-changer for their postseason run.
Will he see goal-line carries? Maybe not, but if he’s flying through the line from 40 yards out, those count, too.
This week the Ravens get the Browns, who are No. 10 against running backs. This will be strength vs. strength. With this game (and the following week against the Bengals) being in Baltimore, that’s going to make the sledding a little easier. Edwards and Mitchell are starts until it looks like either is dominating carries. That’s not likely anytime soon, however, as the Ravens have shared carries among running backs for several seasons.
Speaking of the Cleveland Browns, this backfield is interesting as well. Jerome Ford was rumored to miss Week 8 with an ankle injury, but he played 30.7% of snaps compared to 36% for Kareem Hunt and 32% for Pierre Strong Jr.. Then came the 27-0 blanking of the Cardinals, when Ford took control of the backfield with 63.4% of the snaps to 27.6% for Hunt. With Strong getting just five snaps total, it really looks like this is a two-man backfield.
With Ford getting 20 carries last week, it appears that the coaching staff feels like his ankle is plenty healthy. He also ran 18 routes and got seven targets. Ford is an every-week starter, no question. Hunt is a bit of a question mark, but he has at least 10 carries in the past four games and has scored in each of those efforts. He hasn’t rushed for more than 55 yards in that time, so he needs to score to pay off the start.
With an AFC North bare-knuckle brawl against the Ravens up next and Deshaun Watson’s balky shoulder still a question mark, both Browns running backs should get some work. This game could take football back to the 1960s, and it could take 2.5 hours to play. Emari Demercado had 78 rushing yards two weeks ago against Baltimore, so the Ravens are not impenetrable. Both Ford and Hunt are startable, but it’s hard to expect big games from either one. Ford, however, should lead in volume.
That Rhamondre Stevenson 64-yard run was beyond a touchdown deodorant. It was like rolling in a flower bed. But is that covering up what is still problematic utilization for someone who came into the season with massive expectations as the RB12 with a third-round Yahoo ADP? Stevenson saw just nine carries, but he was on the field for 39 snaps (61.9%). With him being on the field as much as he is, it’s reasonable for fantasy managers to expect more than topping out at 10 carries in two of the past four games. He has seen 22 targets in that span, so it’s not like he’s disappearing in the passing game. A trip to Frankfurt to face the Colts is coming up, and Stevenson may be able to get loose against a defense that gave up 110 total yards to Alvin Kamara in Week 8.
A few people in the fantasy community were jumping off the D’Onta Foreman bandwagon after he was limited to 34 rushing yards in the Week 8 loss to the Chargers. Roschon Johnson was healthy and many were sure he was going to take touches away from Foreman.
The result: Foreman went for 20-83 and Johnson got six yards on a pair of carries. Foreman dominated the snaps as well, 64.1% to 26.6%. So is Foreman a must-start player? The answer is yes — though we’ll see beyond this week.
It’s hard to sit a player who has 80-plus yards in two of his last three games, but Khalil Herbert had his 21-day practice window open on Monday. Could he come back and turn this into a committee? Herbert did draw 18 and 10 carries, respectively, the previous two games before going on IR with a high-ankle sprain. This could be just problematic enough for those who lucked into Foreman off the waiver when Herbert is ramped up.
The other question is, do the Bears’ coaches eventually look to Johnson to see what they have in the rookie and gauge if they need to draft a running back in 2024? If so, that could happen during the fantasy playoffs. Hardly ideal timing, so Johnson cannot be dropped anytime soon.
The Indianapolis Colts looked so smart by acquiring Moss during the offseason when the veteran ran for 445 yards in Weeks 2-5, good for second in the league, while Jonathan Taylor went on IR. But it was in Week 5 that Taylor came back from injury, and JT’s touches have gradually risen to the point that he had 43 snaps to 11 for Moss last week.
That looks problematic for those who are looking to continue to start Moss in fantasy lineups. That snap share (19.3%) was very concerning. The Colts did not trade Moss at the deadline, which is a sign in his favor. But when Taylor is on the field for almost four times as many snaps, it’s time to look for other starting RB options. He should not be dropped, because the Colts are not going to treat Taylor as a bell-cow back in a season when they’re not likely to make the playoffs. That could mean some carries for Moss, but they probably won’t be enough for him to be a regular fantasy starter.
What to do with a backfield where Chuba Hubbard had looked pretty serviceable while subbing for Miles Sanders through an injury, only for Sanders to come back and start to take back some carries? While in NFL circles it’s standard operating procedure for injured players to not lose their starting positions, it’s not like Sanders was making anyone forget about Christian McCaffrey. Through Week 5, when he got hurt, Sanders was the RB29 with just 190 rushing yards on 61 carries (3.1 YPC). Hubbard put up a line of 19-88-1 against the Dolphins in his first game flying solo. After that, he had 54 total yards against the Texans.
Last week, Sanders saw the field for 17 snaps while Hubbard drew 41. Does this even out, or will Hubbard keep the larger workload? We’re going to find out quickly, because the Panthers go to Chicago on Thursday night. The Bears are 27th against running backs, and Austin Ekeler stuck them for 123 scrimmage yards (94 of those receiving) and a touchdown. While this backfield has stay-away vibes to it, the matchup is too juicy to sit Hubbard. Sanders is more of a wild card that I’d recommend sitting until it looks like he’s going to get more touches.