Fantasy Football Running Back Shuffle Up: Alvin Kamara saves the Saints

Scott Pianowski
·7-min read

Every position in fantasy football is important, but some are more important than others. I always feel like if you run pure at running back, you have the best chance of winning your league.

Every Shuffle Up is done from scratch. I think it’s counterproductive to justify an old, dated list. What’s below is how I would view the position if I entered a new, start-from-scratch league today.

[Week 4 Fantasy Rankings: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | FLEX | DST | Kickers]

A few caveats upfront. The salaries are unscientific in nature, merely used as a way to compare players within their position. I do not compare salaries outside of position — the salary of a running back is only meant to be considered within his positional class. I am generally far less expectant with injury-returning players, so don’t be surprised when I like them less than you do.

In this particular shuffle, I ranked the currently hurt backs at the bottom, with provisional salaries. Those I will not debate; injured players have highly contextual currency, league to league. If you are more injury optimistic than I am, good for you. Take that stance and go rule your league.

Players with the same salary are considered even. Assume a half-point PPR scoring system, and away we go.

The Big Tickets

$47 Alvin Kamara

$46 Ezekiel Elliott

$44 Dalvin Cook

$43 Aaron Jones

$41 Derrick Henry

$41 Josh Jacobs

$41 Austin Ekeler

$36 Clyde Edwards-Helaire

$36 Nick Chubb

$34 James Conner

$33 Jonathan Taylor

The Saints badly need Michael Thomas back, and Drew Brees looks like a compromised player in what is likely his last season. The fix has been simple: All Kamara, all the time. Kamara is on pace for an absurd 144 catches for 1,520 yards — those sound like the numbers we expected from Thomas — in addition to his rushing production. It’s a smart move for the Saints to lean on Kamara the receiver — given his build, why not have him tackled by the defense’s lighter defenders, not the heavier beef in the middle? But Kamara’s current usage is not sustainable for a full season, either.

Ultimately I gave Kamara a slight nod over Elliott because of the receiving chops. Elliott, to be blunt, is an ordinary receiver at best. But what offers fantasy buoyancy for Zeke is the fact that the Cowboys think he’s a good receiver. He’s gobbled up 15 catches, fourth-most at the position, despite a mediocre 5.9 yards per target. My buddy Michael Salfino had a good summary of the Dallas offense: They want Elliott to be the team’s identify, but it really should revolve around Dak Prescott. The sooner the Pokes realize this — if they ever do — the better off they’ll be. Elliott is still a dynamic player, but his current snap share and usage pattern aren’t optimal. (Of course, in fantasy, we just want the numbers).

Edwards-Helaire currently ranks RB12 despite a modest one touchdown. Good times are ahead, especially with no major backfield competition . . . Jonathan Taylor still has to share some with Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins (the proper insurance back, if you play that way), but Indy’s line is still the best in the league and Frank Reich is an offensive designer we trust . . . Ekeler’s fantasy juice was saved when the Chargers were forced to shift at quarterback; Tyrod Taylor is a minus for pass-catching backs, but rookie Justin Herbert will feed Ekeler liberally.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Bigger weeks are soon to come for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Every-Week Staples

$31 David Montgomery

$29 Miles Sanders

$28 Joe Mixon

$27 James Robinson

$23 Kareem Hunt

$23 Myles Gaskin

$23 Kenyan Drake

$21 Melvin Gordon

$21 David Johnson

$20 Devin Singletary

Kevin Stefanski ran the ball liberally in his Minnesota days, and his buttoned-down playbook has enabled both Chubb and Kareem Hunt to rank in the Top 13 through the September schedule. The Browns are also winning, which encourages the team to leave things be. Chubb was always going to be a set-and-forget name when healthy, but this offensive approach pushes Hunt into the Circle of Trust. As for Odell Beckham Jr., the first moment a trading window opened, I’d be working the phones . . . David Johnson rarely comes off the field and Bill O’Brien desperately wants to justify that curious trade, so he’ll continue to see the ball — and high-value touches — no matter how his efficiency looks . . . Gaskin keeps losing the short touchdown plunges to Jordan Howard, but otherwise he’s shoved his teammates out of this backfield. He has a capped upside for touchdowns, but follow the volume for a steady RB2 . . . Montgomery’s value jumped in Week 3, with Tarik Cohen out for the year and Nick Foles stepping into the quarterback chair . . . Robinson was one of the biggest winners in the opening month, showing the power to handle inside runs and the chops to stay on the field for at least some of the passing work. And although Jacksonville played poorly in its Week 3 loss to Miami, this could be a league-average offense, a team that can support a game-script independent back.

Talk them up, talk them down

$17 Darrell Henderson Jr.

$15 Todd Gurley

$14 Antonio Gibson

$13 Mark Ingram

$12 Leonard Fournette

$12 Mike Davis

$11 Adrian Peterson

$11 Ronald Jones

$10 Chase Edmonds

$10 James White

$9 Nyheim Hines

$8 Jordan Wilkins

$8 Joshua Kelley

Gurley is the oldest 26-year-old in the league, with a history of injury problems and arthritic knees. I’d keep Brian Hill on a close watch . . . Davis has been about 70 percent of McCaffrey during the last six quarters, as the Panthers have not radically shifted usage despite the downgrade in ability . . . Fournette probably has more upside than Jones, but the frustrating thing about the 2-1 Buccaneers is that no one on the offense has proven healthy and consistent every week . . . Ingram’s in a tough spot, sharing with a running quarterback and two other talented backs (don’t overlook Gus Edwards, who is hellish to tackle). But I can’t fully collapse Ingram’s value until I see what the Ravens do in their get-back spot against Washington.

Worth bench space, at least

$7 Alexander Mattison

$7 Latavius Murray

$6 D'Andre Swift

$6 Devonta Freeman

$6 Sony Michel

$6 Jerick McKinnon

$6 Gus Edwards

$5 Zack Moss

$5 J.K. Dobbins

$5 Carlos Hyde

$5 Brian Hill

$5 Rex Burkhead

$5 Tony Pollard

$5 Malcolm Brown

$4 Giovani Bernard

$4 Duke Johnson

$4 Jamaal Williams

$4 Anthony McFarland

McFarland has probably stepped in front of Benny Snell in the all-important James Conner insurance role . . . The tepid number on Freeman suggests that I don’t see any winners in the Giants backfield . . . Burkhead was a touchdown surprise in Week 3, but remember James White will return soon, and the Patriots also had Week 3 contributions from Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor. All the while, Cam Newton remains New England’s best goal-line option, and this has always been a team that likes 16 different game plans for 16 weeks. Happy guessing.

Bargain Bin

$3 Chris Thompson

$3 Boston Scott

$3 Kerryon Johnson

$3 Dion Lewis

$3 Matt Breida

$3 Jeff Wilson

$2 Darrel Williams

$2 Benny Snell

$2 Damien Harris

$2 Wayne Gallman

$2 Travis Homer

$1 J.D. McKissic

$1 LeSean McCoy

$1 Devontae Booker

$1 Jalen Richard

$1 Frank Gore

$1 Jordan Howard

Provision Ranks of Injured Backs — Not for Debate

$38 *Christian McCaffrey

$25 *Chris Carson

$23 *Raheem Mostert

$13 *Cam Akers

$6 *Le’Veon Bell

$7 *Phillip Lindsay

$5 *Tevin Coleman

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