Every offseason, the fantasy football community spends countless hours poring over game tape, metrics, measurables, and a whole host of other things to formulate a plan of attack for the fantasy football draft season. But, as Mike Tyson so eloquently put it, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Every preseason is a series of punches to the mouth that makes us stagger back and rethink our plans. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the risers and fallers this August for fantasy football.
Running Back Risers:
Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
When the Patriots drafted Stevenson, I remarked that Bill Belichick had his “new LeGarrette Blount.” Blount was a beefy bruiser and was the last time that Belichick handed a running back the keys. The end result? 75 yards and a touchdown per game. Granted, he has to shake off Damien Harris, but the Patriots already traded Sony Michel to the Rams. Stevenson led the NFL in rushing yards in the preseason, averaging 72 yards per game on 7.2 yards per carry. He also scored one out of every six carries. He also showed his long speed, scoring a 91-yard touchdown, as well as his ability to punch it in at the one-yard line. Stevenson is the type of running back who could turn around and be a league winner, given the LeGarrette Blount parallels. But, he’s just a draft-and-hold, for now.
JaMycal Hasty, San Francisco 49ers
I already liked JaMycal Hasty, so the 49ers’ running back ranking fourth in rushing yards this preseason on 5.0 yards per carry makes me sit up and take notice. The third running back in San Francisco has been a fruitful venture in recent years. After all, it brought us the 2019 Raheem Mostert breakout and the 2020 Jeff Wilson Jr. breakout. This year, it seems like the RB room passes that torch to JaMycal Hasty. I thought it would be Wayne Gallman, but he looked wholly uninspiring this preseason.
James Robinson/Darrell Henderson/Gus Edwards, Jacksonville, L.A. Rams, Baltimore
This triple pack ascended to their teams’ respective RB1s thanks to season-ending injuries to the presumptive lead back (or at least the most talented back on the roster in James Robinsons’ case). They didn’t really do anything to earn an increased role, so they all get lumped together. James Robinson was the UDFA phenom of 2021, finishing as a top-five RB. The Etienne injury clears the road for Robinson to return to a high production level for 2021, with only Carlos Hyde in his path.
Henderson was well on his way to a 1,200-yard season before Sean McVay decided to get Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown more involved. Now, Akers is no longer involved, and Malcolm Brown is a Dolphin. The only contender to the throne comes in the form of Sony Michel, who will fit better as a 1B than any competition to the top spot in Los Angeles.
Gus Edwards is probably the biggest riser in this group because he’s such a strong talent that the Ravens sat behind other players throughout his young career. He’s one of two backs to have 100 carries for 5.0+ yards per carry in each of the last three seasons, alongside Nick Chubb. The backup will be a mix of Justice Hill and Ty’Son Williams, so call me crazy but I don’t think anyone is standing in his way this year.
Running Back Fallers:
Travis Etienne/Cam Akers/J.K. Dobbins, Jacksonville, L.A. Rams, Baltimore
This triple-stack is fairly straightforward: they were all top-24 running backs who will not take a snap in 2021. Travis Etienne suffered a Lisfranc injury, Cam Akers tore his Achilles, and J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL. It’s truly a tragic set of circumstances for three young and talented running backs. Dobbins should be up and running again in 2021, but recovery for Etienne and Akers could be less straightforward.
Michael Carter, N.Y. Jets
I don’t know if this one really qualifies as a “faller,” more of a “reckoning for fantasy football twitter getting themselves ginned up over a running back for no reason.” Carter is a rookie running back for the Jets, who they took in the fourth round. Fourth-round rookies rarely contribute their rookie year, but at 5’8” and 201 pounds, at least Carter is too small to be a bellcow back, too. Also, the LaFleur system appears to be a variant of the Kyle Shanahan system, meaning lots of running backs.
But other than that, Carter being a hot sleeper made a lot of sense. Anyway, the Jets gave Carter backers a huge dose of reality. He finished the preseason with 101 yards on 27 opportunities, mostly running against backups. Also, he ended the season hurt with an unspecified injury. He is mired in a committee with La’Mical Perine, Tevin Coleman, and Ty Johnson.
David Johnson, Houston Texans
David Johnson looked at guaranteed volume this offseason. Then the Texans added Mark Ingram and Philip Lindsay. This mired him in a three-way committee with Lindsay and Ingram this preseason, and now the Texans say they want to trade any veteran who isn’t locked down. All of this reeks to high heaven for Johnson, who pretty much just had guaranteed volume working for him this season and is now reduced to a part-time role as a third-down back. I’m going to pass on him unless the Texans trade him somewhere advantageous.