Best Ball: Drafting Ambiguous Backfields (Fantasy Football)

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On the most recent Fantasy Footballers’ DFS & Betting Podcast, Betz and I discussed a few backfields that are tough to traverse for Best Ball.

Let us define what we mean by ambiguous backfields and discuss some of the main conundrums of 2023 and our stances as we move through the heat of the summer.

Defining an Ambiguous Backfield

We need to distinguish how we view this term in best ball. Keep in mind that managed leagues (redraft, dynasty, etc.) offer the ability to trade and make moves off the waiver wire that best ball does not afford you. The draft method and scoring dictates a different approach.

We’ll dub an “ambiguous backfield” as any team with their RB1 being drafted after pick 80 and the RB2 going inside pick 180. It presents an opportunity for multiple backs to become valuable pieces for Best Ball roster construction purposes. While very few of these RBs might be league-winners, we can find players with valuable enough roles to become 20+ percent advance rate players, a mark I’ll use in this sample.

In 2022, there were eight teams that met this criteria of “ambiguous backfield” in bestball..’

Miles Sanders was lower in ADP solely on the basis of noting scoring any rushing TDs the year before. Whoops. Betz pounded the table for  Rhamondre Stevenson last year and came out on top. Multiple pieces in the Miami backfield not named Chase Edmonds were valuable late additions to roster. What’s wild is that Kansas City’s RB4 (Jerick McKinnon) ended up having one of the best advance rates (21%) of this group but we didn’t end up with enough room in the chart to display RB4s because they are mostly irrelevant.

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Keep in mind that the ambiguous backfield debate isn’t always about which back is drafted 1st or 2nd according to Underdog’s ADP. Perhaps the best approach is to locate the RB with a true three-down skillset. Multiple RBs usually favors the RB1 in ADP as the wisdom of the crowd is right more often than not. I’ll also add that sometimes the answer is… no one. (Hello Buffalo!)

Miami Dolphins

Pos Player ADP
RB39 Devon Achane 118.4
RB54 Raheem Mostert 173.2
RB58 Jeff Wilson Jr. 186.2

Last season, the Dolphins ranked 31st in rush attempts after trading for Jeff Wilson in Week 9, so this could end up being one of those backfields where we look back at the end of the year and realize the answer was…no one.

Dalvin Cook has been strongly linked to Miami, and there’s reports that he does have an offer on the table from the Dolphins. Obviously, his signing would have a major impact on this backfield. As far as Dalvin himself goes, we’re well behind ADP, and he was one of our RBs to Take a Stance On in 2023. Given the decline in efficiency over the last three years, we’re happy to fade an aging RB and hope for the best, regardless of whether or not he signs in South Beach.

Borg– I took a major early stance on Jeff Wilson Jr. and he’s currently in my top-5 of RB exposures. I could be wrong and I’ve cooled off recently with the rumors of Dalvin Cook signing with Miami. Achane is incredibly low in my exposures and Mostert only is being rostered if he falls past ADP.

Betz– Earlier in the season, I was taking shots on Jeff Wilson, but until the Dalvin Cook dust settles, I’m passing on both Wilson and Mostert. In my opinion, those two would lose early down work if Cook signs there. Achane is a guy I typically only take on DraftKings where he can do some damage in the passing game. I don’t see him having the goal line role at less than 190 pounds, so on TD heavy sites like Underdog, he’s a fade for me.

New Orleans Saints

Pos Player ADP
RB33 Alvin Kamara 99.0
RB42 Jamaal Williams 126.1
RB45 Kendre Miller 138.2

The New Orleans situation largely comes down to how long Alvin Kamara is suspended. If he somehow escapes without any league discipline, you could argue he’s a massive value while J Willy and Kendre Miller are over-valued. If he escapes with a four or six-game suspension, which seems to be the most likely scenario, he’s in no man’s land in terms of his value in best ball formats. For now, this is a situation to monitor as we get into camp.

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The other thing to note with this backfield is that Kendre Miller injured his knee late in his college career at TCU and has missed virtually all of New Orlean’s off-season program. That doesn’t bode well for a rookie, so we’ll need to see what he’s doing in training camp to get a better sense of his viability at his current ADP.

BorgKendre Miller is the archetype I bet on in Best Ball. Day 2 draft capital at only 21 years old in an offense that should regress closer to the mean for TDs in the backfield. He can be a late season hammer and I’m drafting him to be my RB4.

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BetzAlvin Kamara‘s efficiency numbers signal that the end might be near. He’s entering his age 28 season on the decline and now faces a likely suspension, making him a tough sell. The market seems to think the recent Kamara news is good for his outlook. Maybe it is, but if his ADP starts to climb into August, I’ll be fading. I’m with Borg – I like taking shots on the young RB in Kendre Miller who could emerge late in the year.

Philadelphia Eagles

Pos Player ADP
RB23 D’Andre Swift 78.4
RB37 Rashaad Penny 112.0
RB3 Kenneth Gainwell 166.8

We’re slightly cheating here based on our criteria. Swift checks in at 78th overall but it’s worth bringing up regardless. The Eagles RBs are tricky. The offensive line is PFF’s #1 ranked unit entering 2023, and this team should score a ton of points, but the issue here is that Jalen Hurts logged the lowest check down rate in the NFL last season, and he was second in the entire NFL (not just QBs) in carries inside the 5-yard line. In other words, the Eagles RBs aren’t likely to see a large target share, and the goal line role is no sure thing.

Borg– I’m a bit above market on Kenneth Gainwell. Penny feels too fragile for me to invest in and Swift’s ADP is much higher than where I have him ranked.

Betz– I’m well behind market on Swift, fine with Penny when I need RB in that range, but I like taking shots on Kenneth Gainwell late given his price. Gainwell ranks #1 in the NFL among all RBs in EPA per rush attempt over the last two seasons, and we know he can play in the passing game. We saw his snap share increase in three straight playoff games last year (Playoff Kenny?), so the staff clearly likes him.

Chicago Bears

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Pos Player ADP
RB40 Khalil Herbert 119.9
RB48 Roschon Johnson 151.7
RB51 D’Onta Foreman 166.0

There should be plenty of rush attempts for this backfield after Chicago ranked 32nd PROE last season, and we do expect the rushing attack to be efficient thanks to Justin Fields‘ rushing ability opening up lanes, but much like the Eagles, there won’t be much here in terms of target share, especially after the team brought in D.J. Moore. Fields had the 6th lowest check down rate of any QB last season. Chicago is also only favored in six games all year, so this has the potential to turn into a backfield that disappoints if one guy can’t emerge.

Borg– Other than late shares of D’Onta Foreman, I’m mostly taking a hands-off approach for this backfield. Roschon Johnson feels like an easy fade based on being a 4th round rookie.

Betz– I think Khalil Herbert gets the first crack, so I’m fine with him at ADP but I see a world where D’Onta Foreman emerges as the guy if Herbert can’t get it done in a full season of work. Since 2010, only four rookie RBs drafted in the 4th round have averaged more than 10 PPR points per game, so I’ll be underweight Johnson.

Other Ambiguous Backfields

The previous four situations were all discussed on the podcast at length. Let’s quickly review a couple more. Remember our criteria is the RB1 going after pick 80 and the RB2 going before pick 180.

Buffalo Bills

Pos Player ADP
RB30 James Cook 94.5
RB38 Damien Harris 116.5
RB83 Nyheim Hines 215.9

This is a backfield we aren’t as interested investing in for multiple reasons. Since Josh Allen became the starter in 2018, Bills RBs have averaged 4th fewest points per game & 5th fewest red zone carries. While James Cook was solid on a per-touch efficiency basis ranking 3rd among all RBs in yards before contact, he surpassed 12 touches just once last year. This is a backfield we aren’t investing in unless they fall 10-15 spots beyond ADP.

Denver Broncos

Pos Player ADP
RB29 Javonte Williams 90.8
RB35 Samaje Perine 104.4

All off-season we’ve had a firm stance: lower on Javonte and higher on Perine than the market and we’re still there. With the recent positive news flowing from Javonte’s camp, that gap between the two Broncos RBs will continue to widen. Scoop up that Samaje value as Sean Payton’s systems have always allowed for multiple RBs to have fantasy value.

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Kansas City Chiefs

Pos Player ADP
RB26 Isiah Pacheco 84.6
RB43 Jerick McKinnon 127.7
RB64 Clyde Edwards-Helaire 207.0

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is my highest exposure RB as I don’t believe in Isiah Pacheco being able to sustain production nor Jerick McKinnon holding up over the course of the season. For your last pick, he is sure to see the field more than other RBs that could air ball and not make a roster.

Washington Commanders

Pos Player ADP
RB31 Antonio Gibson 98.0
RB43 Brian Robinson 111.3
RB85 Chris Rodriguez Jr. 216.0

Eric Bienemy brings over a faster offense that features more of a passing game. In those KC days, we’ve seen his pass-catching backs do very well, so count is in for Antonio Gibson pain in 2023. The days of Gibson being a top-24 RB are very likely over, but the good news is that we’re not drafting him to be that. He’s currently coming off the board around pick 100. If Gibson continues to see targets in the passing game and takes over as the no-doubt pass-catching option with J.D. McKissic out of the way, he’s a strong bet to out-perform ADP. And, if anything should happen to Brian Robinson, Gibson would be in a position to be a potential league winner at his cost.

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