As we move toward the 2023 NFL Season, I’m turning my focus to a series of sleeper candidates. I’ll be offering four players at each of the positions—QB, RB, WR, and TE—that I think can make a positive impact for you in fantasy. This will be a list of veteran players, as we already have our expectations set for the class of 2023. Today I continue with running backs, moving to the Buffalo Bills.
For a couple seasons it’s seemed like the Bills needed more consistency from the running game. Yet, no big splashes have been made. That was true again this off-season as Devin Singletary moved on to the Texans. The team still has 2022 Second-Round Pick James Cook and moved to sign veteran Damien Harris this off-season. Is there fantasy value for Harris? Let’s consider.
The Case for Damien Harris
For the first four seasons of his career, Harris was been running for the Patriots, a team notorious for using Running Back By Committee. And yet, when given a chance, Harris thrived. In 2020, he saw 137 carries in just ten games, rushing for 691 yards. In 2021, as more of a primary back, he saw 202 carries in 15 games and rushed for 929 yards and an eye-popping 15 touchdowns. That was good enough to make him RB14.
He steps into a situation in Buffalo with an opening. For the past four years, while Harris was running for the Patriots, Singletary was running for the Bills. Singletary saw 672 carries for 3,151 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s been a primary contributor, including in 2022. Last season, Singletary led the Bills with 177 carries for 819 yards and five touchdowns. That was good enough to be RB23. With him in Houston, the Bills need someone to fill the void, and Harris has filled that role before.
The Case Against Damien Harris
It starts with his competition—Cook. The Bills drafted Cook in the Second Round, and he made an impact when on the field. In just 89 carries, he rushed for 507 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He’s also a better receiver. It’s quite possible the Bills were comfortable letting Singletary walk so they could feature Cook, adding Harris as a bit of veteran depth and insurance.
Additionally, there’s a case against all Bills running backs, and that’s quarterback Josh Allen. In his five seasons with the Bills, Allen has rushed for 3,048 yards and 38 touchdowns. The past two seasons he’s rushed for more than 700 yards, and he’s never had less than six rushing touchdowns in a season. He’s often seemed to be the Bills best goal line back. Part of Harris strength with the Patriots in 2021 was scoring touchdowns, something that might not be a plentiful opportunity with the Bills and Allen.
Finally, there’s the question of whether the Bills are done adding pieces and if Harris can stay on the field. Harris played only two games as a rookie, was limited to ten in 2020 and played 15 in his breakout year in 2021. Last season, he was limited to 11 games due to injury, during which time Rhamondre Stevenson surpassed him on the field and on the depth chart. The Bills have also kicked the tires with a number of bigger name backs, including Cook’s brother Dalvin, who is now a free agent. The addition of one of them could well relegate Harris to the bench barring injuries.
The Bottom Line
Fantasy Football is about risk versus reward. There’s plenty of risk in banking on Harris to be a weekly starter given all the unknowns about his role on a new team, Cook, and his ability to stay healthy. But he’s currently going as RB36. We’ve seen him do better than that, and if he steps into the rushing workload of Singletary, he has a bigger opportunity. That’s especially true if the Bills try to save Allen and his long-term health and start using backs out of the backfield to pound the rock in the Red Zone. I like Cook as a receiver, but I think Harris is the more likely choice to get those tough carries.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.