We’re in the midst of Training Camp Season. With about a month before the regular season begins, these practices, combined with pre-season games, will help determine the depth chart heading into the regular season. Over the next four pieces, I’ll be looking at a few battles at QB, RB, WR, and TE, considering the competitors, the situation, and offering a prediction. Today, I continue with RBs, looking at five competitions that could impact the 2021 NFL season.
The Arizona Cardinals
- Chase Edmonds: 97 Carries, 448 yards, 1 TD; 53 receptions, 402 yards, 4 TDs (2020 with Cardinals)
- James Conner: 169 carries, 721 yards, 6 TDs; 35 receptions, 215 yards (11 games in 2020 with Steelers)
Situation: The Cardinals were led by Kenyan Drake in 2020, who finished as RB16 and signed this off-season with the Las Vegas Raiders. While some thought the Cardinals would find an RB in the draft, they signed veteran Conner to compete with Edmonds, who finished as RB25 in 2020. Edmonds is known mostly as a pass-catcher, in fact his 97 carries in 2020 represents the most he’s had in three years as a pro. Conner, who struggled to stay healthy, has a more impressive rushing resume. So, it would make sense that the Cardinals would employ both backs in a somewhat similar style to their tag-team in 2020. Rumblings from the coaches have implied a bigger role for Edmonds, but that remains to be seen. The Cardinals also beefed up their receiving corps, meaning fewer targets could be available for backs in 2021.
Last season, Drake took more of the heavy rushing load, finishing with 239 carries and 955 yards, adding 10 rushing touchdowns. Even if Edmonds’ carries increase, it makes sense that Conner was added to be more of a power runner in the offense.
Prediction: I think both backs split. The Cardinals had two running backs in the Top 25 in 2021, and I think they can end up with a couple in the Top 30 this year. I believe Edmonds is the better receiver and think he’ll finish as the top RB, but being between RB20 and RB25 makes sense. I think Conner ends up being more of the grinder, finishing between RB25 and RB30.
The Buffalo Bills
- Devin Singletary: 156 carries, 687 yards, 2 TDs; 38 receptions, 259 yards (2020 with Buffalo Bills)
- Zack Moss: 112 carries, 481 yards, 4 TDs; 14 receptions, 95 yards, 1 TD (13 games in 2020 with Buffalo Bills
Situation: Singletary was taken in the Third Round of the 2019 NFL Draft and flashed that season, sharing the backfield with Frank Gore. Gore left the Bills last off-season, and the team responded by taking Moss in the Third Round. It was a question of how the two would split the backfield work, but ultimately injuries limited Moss’ time on the field. Singletary played and started all 16 games and recorded worse numbers than he had as a rookie. So, in short, neither back really took control. This off-season, the team added veteran Matt Breida—who played 2020 with the Miami Dolphins—but it seems that Singletary and Moss will again share the backfield load in Buffalo. But which one is the back to bet on, and can either be a boon to fantasy owners?
The biggest competition for Moss and Singletary might be quarterback Josh Allen, who has had no less than eight rushing touchdowns in each of his three seasons. He’s the Red Zone back that gets the most work for the Bills, limiting Singletary and Moss’s upside.
Prediction: Many thought Moss would be the better fantasy option in 2020, but it didn’t happen thanks to a truncated off-season and injury. Still, he produced five touchdowns in 13 games, while Singletary managed just two touchdowns in 16 starts. Moss seems to have more upside, and I suspect he finishes as the slightly higher scoring back, albeit no better than an RB3 in 2021.
The Denver Broncos
- Melvin Gordon: 215 carries, 986 yards, 9 TDs; 32 receptions, 158 yards, 1 TD (15 Games for the Denver Broncos in 2020)
- Javonte Williams: 366 carries, 2,297 yards, 29 TDs; 50 receptions, 539 yards, 4 TDs (Three seasons at North Carolina)
Situation: Gordon came to the Broncos during the 2020 off-season after spending his first five seasons with the Chargers. He walked into a backfield split, sharing time with hometown hero Phillip Lindsay, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his NFL career. But the split became fairly lopsided, with Lindsay struggling to stay on the field. Gordon became the main man in the backfield, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and 9 TDs. That was good enough to finish as RB14. This off-season Lindsay moved on to the Houston Texans, it seemed Gordon was in line to be the man.
Then, in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Broncos moved up to snag Williams in the Second Round. Williams is a beast, rushing for 1,140 yards and 19 TDs in 11 games with North Carolina in 2020. With Gordon and former Third Round pick Royce Freeman entering the final year of their contracts, it’s clear Williams is the future for the Broncos’ rushing attack. The question is when that future will begin.
Prediction: Gordon will be the starter at the outset of the season, but the Broncos have already suggested it be a rotation. Williams is the future and the better talent, and I think it won’t take long for him to surpass Gordon, who thrived on volume and a lack of competition in 2020. I have Williams as a low-end RB2 and Gordon in the RB3/4 range.
The Jacksonville Jaguars
- James Robinson: 240 carries, 1,070 yards, 7 TDs; 49 receptions, 344 yards, 3 TDs (2020 with the Jacksonville Jaguars)
- Travis Etienne: 686 carries, 4,952 yards, 70 TDs; 102 receptions, 1,155 yards, 8 TDs (Four seasons with Clemson)
Situation: The 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars were a mess, but Robinson was a lone bright spot. The undrafted rookie free agent not only made the team but seized the backfield after Leonard Fournette was released just before the start of the season, and Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo were sidelined with COVID. Robinson carried the load, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and finishing as RB7. It didn’t take long for the shine to come off his rookie year. New Head Coach Urban Meyer brought in veteran Carlos Hyde during free agency, then spent a First-Round pick on Etienne out of Clemson.
Robinson was a league-winner in 2020, a back mostly snagged off the waiver wire that ended up Top 10. His path to touches is much more clouded in 2021. Though Etienne worked mostly at receiver during the off-season, it’s hard to believe he won’t be part of the rushing attack as well. Robinson was a three-down back himself, carrying 240 times but catching 49 passes as well. The Jaguars have two good backs plus a wily veteran, creating plenty of questions about how they’ll be deployed in 2021.
Prediction: Etienne is a great prospect, but I don’t think Robinson will just disappear. I suspect they are both involved—with receiver Laviska Shenault, Jr., also factoring in as a rushing and receiving weapon. Etienne probably has the better upside in dynasty, but I suspect both have RB3/flex value in 2021.
The New York Jets
- Tevin Coleman: 693 carries, 2,937 yards, 24 TDs; 117 receptions, 1,224 yards, 12 TDs (six professional seasons in Atlanta and San Francisco)
- La’Mical Perine: 64 carries, 232 yards, 2 TDs; 11 receptions, 63 yards (10 games in 2020 with the New York Jets)
- Michael Carter: 514 carries, 3,404 yards, 22 TDs; 82 receptions, 656 yards, 8 TDs (Four seasons at North Carolina)
Situation: The New York Jets entered the 2020 season with veterans Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore on the roster plus an intriguing Fourth Round pick in Perine. The season was a disaster; Bell was released mid-year, Perine struggled to stay on the field, and the coaching staff turned over. This off-season, with Perine returning the Jets, sought to add options. That started with the veteran Coleman who has experience in Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system in San Francisco. Then, in the Fourth Round, the Jets got a steal in Carter, who put up impressive numbers in North Carolina despite sharing the backfield with Javonte Williams.
The question all off-season has been who will carry the load for the Jets. To this point, it seems Carter has been the most impressive in Training Camp. Veterans Ty Johnson and Josh Adams are in the mix, too, but it seems like one of these three is most likely to finish as the top back for the Jets in 2021.
Prediction: I think all three are involved in some way, and possibly Johnson. But Carter was a back I liked in the draft process, and I thought this was a great landing spot. He has the opportunity and seems to be making the most of it so far. I like him to lead the backfield and push for low-end RB2 numbers in 2021.
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.