Running backs have always come at a premium in fantasy football, and that has been especially true this season.
There was already a shortage of quality backs to begin with, and numerous teams entered the year with something of a committee look. Early injuries have only made things tougher for fantasy owners.
New York Giants star Saquon Barkley was lost for the year after suffering a torn ACL in Week 2. Christian McCaffrey hit injured reserve after suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 2, while the likes of Nick Chubb and Austin Ekeler have longer IR stints after suffering knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Le’Veon Bell was on IR early before being released by the New York Jets, and Denver Broncos back Melvin Gordon is presumably on the shelf after being arrested for DUI late Tuesday night.
This season was always going to be about depth, particularly with COVID-19 also looming large in the first few weeks. But the slog continues for fantasy owners, and the running back position could still make or break fantasy campaigns.
Here is a closer look at RBs to insert into the fantasy football lineup or leave on the bench ahead of Week 6 action.
RBs to start in Week 6
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
The rookie out of LSU built momentum as a potential fantasy boon ahead of the 2020 campaign, and Edwards-Helaire has not disappointed thus far.
Edwards-Helaire burst through the gates in Week 1, rushing 25 times for 138 yards and a score. The last few weeks have seen his value drop somewhat, but there are reasons to be encouraged by Edwards-Helaire’s usage.
The 21-year-old has had a fairly heavy target share in the passing game. Edwards-Helaire had just three receptions in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders over the weekend, but he had 40 yards receiving and actually had eight targets.
Moreover, Edwards-Helaire has averaged 15 carries in the last three weeks, and still had 10 carries against the Raiders despite Kansas City chasing for much of the game.
Edwards-Helaire has a very friendly matchup against the Buffalo Bills, who are coming off a short week and were pounded by the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs could attack the Bills through the air early. But even if they do, Edards-Helaire figures to be involved, and it could open up running lanes as the game rolls along.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
I know, I know. Drake has hardly lived up to his status as a top pick early in the year, and he has ceded reps to Chase Edmonds in the passing game.
But Drake is still getting his carries, and he also has the good fortune of going against a woeful Dallas Cowboys defense this week.
Dallas’ defense has been pounded into submission on the ground this season. The Cowboys rank 28th in rushing yards allowed, and are giving up 4.7 yards per carry early in the year.
This bodes well for Drake, who still has big-play ability as a runner and is getting good volume on the ground. The 26-year-old is averaging 17 carries for the year, and could see a heavier workload against the Cowboys, especially if the Cardinals manage to build an early lead.
Arizona still needs to make a concerted effort to establish the run and open up the passing game for Kyler Murray and Co. The Cardinals have an opportunity to do so against the Cowboys, and Drake stands the most to gain, as does your fantasy football team.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
On the other side, Elliott has major upside for the Cowboys.
Dak Prescott’s devastating ankle injury in Week 5 means Andy Dalton will take over under center, and will likely result in the Cowboys establishing Elliott as the focal point of the offense from the jump.
Elliott was already off to a fairly strong start. Although the former Ohio State star is averaging just 4.1 yards per carry, he has six total touchdowns and is building momentum.
“Zeke” had 125 yards of total offense against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, and ripped the New York Giants for nearly 4.8 yards per carry and a pair of scores this past weekend.
Expect the Cowboys to feed Elliott early and often in Week 6.
The Cardinals are giving up 4.5 yards per carry, and they just lost star edge-rusher Chandler Jones for the season after Jones suffered a biceps injury. This is a susceptible defense, and the Cowboys can take advantage with a heavy dose of Elliott.
Other backs to start for fantasy football:
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
RBs to sit in Week 6
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
Gurley is coming off a huge game in which he rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers. The two-time All-Pro has also found the end zone five times, which is encouraging for owners who took a risk on Gurley.
But context is important: the Panthers’ defense ranks dead-last in the NFL in yards per carry, with something of a makeshift front seven.
Gurley’s YPC was also rather inspiring before he tallied over 8.6 yards per carry against Carolina, and he has not seen a ton of involvement in the passing game.
But the real reason owners should sit Gurley is this: the Falcons are likely going to throw the ball a lot against an inexperienced Minnesota Vikings secondary.
The Vikings rank 27th in football in passing yards allowed, and the Falcons have no problem airing it out with Matt Ryan under center. Atlanta might also get Julio Jones back this week, which would only serve to increase the idea Matt Ryan and Co. will look to go to the air.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Mixon’s workload has increased tremendously in the past couple weeks.
The former Oklahoma star has seen at least 24 carries in each of the last two games, in addition to 14 targets in the passing game.
But Mixon has had a hard time getting his yards against tough run defenses. This was especially true in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens, when Mixon rushed 24 times for just 59 yards.
Things do not get any easier against a tough Indianapolis Colts run defense.
The Colts rank third in rushing yards allowed. They have given up just one rushing touchdown all year, and are conceding just 3.6 yards per carry.
Indy’s front seven is monstrous, with DeForest Buckner anchoring the interior and Darius Leonard hold things down in the second level. The Colts did not even have Leonard for their last game against the Cleveland Browns, and still held Cleveland’s backfield under four yards per carry.
This is not a good matchup for Mixon, especially given Cincy’s offensive line has struggled to create leverage all season.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Sanders had his best game of the year against the Pittsburgh Steelers, rushing for 80 yards on over seven yards per carry and also nabbing a pair of scores.
This is especially encouraging considering the Steelers had held opposing rushers in check the first three weeks of the season.
But trusting Sanders to repeat that performance against a tough Ravens defense is a tough ask.
Baltimore ranks fifth in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry, and the Ravens have held opponents under 100 yards rushing in three of their five contests. Granted, those came against underwhelming rushing attacks in Houston, Washington and Cincinnati, but it is still worth keeping in mind.
Moreover, Sanders has not been able to establish himself as a weapon in the passing game, something he did quite effectively last season.
If your roster has the likes of Mike Davis or Alexander Mattison, they might be worth a start over Sanders this week.
Other backs to sit for fantasy football:
David Johnson, Houston Texans
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams