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Ambiguous Backfields to Target and Avoid

Backfields to Target and avoid

Now that we know that most ambiguous backfields offer extreme value, I will provide my list of ambiguous backfields to target and avoid.

In the first article in this series, I quantitatively defined ambiguous backfields. In the second article in the series, I discovered that most quantitatively-defined ambiguous backfields (76%) produced at least one running back who offered significant value. Finally, in the third article of the series, I promulgated a revolutionary draft strategy for ambiguous backfields that ignores individual player names and instead focuses on NFL teams alone, which is contrary to every draft strategy previously concocted. Step one of my draft strategy involves removing backfields to avoid, and step two encourages you to pick a few backfields to target. The data and advice below will help you perform steps 1 and 2 and find ambiguous backfields to target and avoid.

My first article in this series, which determined our initial 2019 set of ambiguous backfields, was published over week ago, so the intervening time has given me an opportunity to remind you that the ambiguous backfield formula must be applied contemporaneously when you draft, not just once. ADP is constantly shifting, so if your draft is later in the year, don’t just use my list from today’s article; apply the definition for yourself so that you can capitalize on current ADP.

So, applying the ambiguous backfield definition, here is August 6, 2019’s list of ambiguous backfields (current ADP in parenthesis): [1]

2019 Ambiguous Backfields Running Backs
Baltimore Ravens Mark Ingram (4.06), Justice Hill (12.01)
Buffalo Bills LeSean McCoy (9.04), Devin Singletary (12.08)
Denver Broncos Phillip Lindsay (4.09), Royce Freeman (8.09)
Miami Dolphins Kenyan Drake (6.01), Kalen Ballage (11.02)
New England Patriots Sony Michel (5.07), James White (4.12), Damien Harris (9.08)
Philadelphia Eagles Miles Sanders (7.10), Jordan Howard (8.03)
San Francisco 49ers Tevin Coleman (6.02), Jerick Mckinnon (10.10), Matt Breida (13.06)
Seattle Seahawks Chris Carson (5.01), Rashaad Penny (7.02)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ronald Jones (8.12), Peyton Barber (10.12)
Washington Redskins Derrius Guice (7.03), Adrian Peterson (10.09)

But how do we know which of these nine ambiguous backfields to target and avoid? Well, let’s again glean some data from the last two years to guide our process. Since we are seeking a list of NFL teams, not players, team level statistics from ambiguous backfields should best enlighten us. Here are some team-level numbers for ambiguous backfields that produced a cheapest, successful running back.

2017 Successful Cheapest Rushing Carries Rank Pass Attempt Rank Offensive Plays Rank Yards per play Yards per rush Wins
BAL 7 11 8 4.6 (31st) 4.0 (20th) 9
CIN 29 26 32 4.8 (29th) 3.6 (30th) 7
NO 13 19 20 6.3 (1st) 4.7 (1st) 11
NE 11 7 4 5.9 (3rd) 4.2 (11th) 13
SEA 21 16 17 5.2 (17th) 4.0 (19th) 9
WAS 24 18 27 5.3 (16th) 3.6 (29th) 7


2018 Successful Cheapest Rushing Carries Rank Pass Attempt Rank Offensive Plays Rank Yards per play Yards per rush Wins
CLE 15 11 10 5.8 (12th) 4.6 (11th) 7
NE 3 12 2 5.9 (9th) 4.3 (17th) 11
WAS 14 26 27 5.0 (28th) 4.3 (20th) 7

Hopefully, you are looking at those charts and failing to see a trend, because I sure don’t see one. Truthfully, I don’t think we will find anything especially common about these offenses because 76% of ambiguous backfields produced someone who beats ADP. We are bound to see a diverse set of offenses and results from over three-quarters of the NFL over two years. Perhaps instead of looking for commonality between the ambiguous backfields that did produce a successful running back, we should instead look for commonality between the ambiguous backfields that did not.

Running that experiment, here are the same numbers as above for the ambiguous backfields of 2017 and 2018 that were complete failures.

2017 Unsuccessful Rushing Carries Rank Pass Attempt Rank Offensive Plays Rank Yards per play Yards per rush Wins
PHI 6 13 8 5.5 (9th) 4.7 (3rd) 13
DEN 8 12 13 4.8 (27th) 4.1 (17th) 5
DET 31 10 12 5.5 (10th) 3.4 (31st) 9


2018 Unsuccessful Rushing Carries Rank Pass Attempt Rank Offensive Plays Rank Yards per play Yards per rush Wins
PHI 20 7 8 5.6 (17th) 3.9 (30th) 9
TB 22 4 6 6.3 (4th) 3.9 (31st) 5

Eureka! Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ambiguous backfields that failed generally came from NFL teams that had a high pass-to-run ratio, but not the highest ratio. This makes sense as generally pass-happy offenses tend to downplay the role of the running back. Also interestingly, none of these teams featured a running back integral to the passing game.[2] In other words, particularly pass-happy offenses lacking a running back integral to the passing game should be avoided when applying my ambiguous backfield draft strategy.[3] Let’s run with this trend and pick our ambiguous backfields to target and avoid in 2019 based on this assumption.



While I am certainly excited about Tampa’s offense this year under Bruce Arians, this is a team built around the pass. Bruce Arians is well-aware that running back is currently a weakness of his team, so he immediately signed a familiar and trusted player in Andre Ellington. Last year, the Bucs threw the fourth most passes, and they project that way again (Mike Clay has them projected for 9th most passes in 2019). This NFL team projects to throw and throw often, neither Ronald Jones nor Peyton Barber are integral to that passing attack, and Andre Ellington might surprise fantasy players in how much involvement he receives. As such, the Bucs perfectly fit my “avoid” formula.

Recommendation: Avoid all TB running backs during the draft. Monitor Ellington’s early-season involvement, and grab him off the waiver wire in week 1 if he is involved.


I have to be careful here because I am not necessarily recommending that you avoid the Eagles altogether. Instead, I believe that you should avoid the Eagles when applying my Ambiguous Backfield Draft Strategy. While the Eagles’ offense is actually quite similar to the Buccaneers in that they project to pass frequently and they lack a running back who is integral to the passing game, I cannot recommend that you attempt to pick one running back from a team having eight running backs on the current roster. Even so, the only running back having any buzz is Miles Sanders, who is the highest drafted RB from the Eagles. Reports of out camp suggest that Miles Sanders is the clear leader, a la Jay Ajayi in 2018, and Sanders’ current ADP of 7.08 (RB36) is already a fantastic value. Meanwhile, Jordan Howard is being drafted only seven picks later, which means there is no ADP disparity and therefore no reason to wait for Howard. So, if you like Sanders, feel free to draft him, but I am avoiding all seven of the other Philadelphia running backs using my Ambiguous Backfield Draft Strategy because it’s almost certain to end in failure.

Recommendation: Draft Miles Sanders at current cost (mid-seventh) applying a different draft strategy, but his ADP is likely to rise with positive reports. Avoid Eagles running backs using Ambiguous Backfield Draft Strategy.

Honorable Mention Backfield to Avoid: Washington.

I think Adrian Peterson’s is unlikely to produce real value this season with Guice returning from the torn ACL. Also, the Redskins project to have a terrible offense. That said, if Guice has any setbacks, which Redskins players have been known to do, Peterson could be a nice value.



There is no reason to believe that the Patriots won’t continue to produce late-round gems. Indeed, they have each of the last two years, and fantasy players are still figuring out how to attack this crowded backfield. Well, all fantasy players except the readers of my articles! Sony Michel and James White both have out of control ADPs, but Damien Harris is sitting there in the 9th looking fantastic. Also, don’t forget about Rex Burkhead, even though his current ADP is undrafted. While Burkhead may be cut due to the presence of Harris, if he stays on the team, he might be the one getting the fantasy points we are currently projecting for Damien Harris. That said, the Patriots tend to exploit players before they regress, which makes me believe that Harris is the one to own, and Burkhead is likely to be cut.

Recommendation: Completely avoid White and Michel at current cost. Draft Harris at current cost. Monitor whether Burkhead makes the team and possibly throw an extremely late-round dart at Burkhead.


Kyle Shanahan just knows how to use running backs. Even when he has multiple of them, he finds touches, scores, and fantasy points for all of them. Currently, Matt Brieda’s ADP is a joke. He might honestly end up being the primary ball carrier for this team, and you can get him in the 13th. That’s league winning potential. I’m grabbing Brieda every time I can, and you should to.

Recommendation: Draft Brieda at current cost and forego McKinnon and Coleman.

Honorable Mention Backfields to Target: Baltimore.

Everyone is projecting Mark Ingram to be the workhorse, but I am not so sure. Gus Edwards was great at the end of last year, and Justice Hill has the shiftiness required to find lots of yards in space. The Ravens project to be possibly the most run-heavy team in the NFL, and I’d love to get a piece of that running game for super cheap in either Hill or Edwards. The only problem is that the best Ravens running back to own might be playing Quarterback (Lamar Jackson).


[1] All ADP data from

[2] While Theo Riddick in 2017 may have been the exception to this rule, I choose to rule him out because most of his passing work came in obvious passing down situations. Jim Cooter was a terrible offensive coordinator in that he frequently tipped his hand merely by formation.

[3] Note: while pass-happy offenses should be avoided for the purpose of finding value from an ambiguous backfield, they should not be avoided under normal drafting circumstances. Remember we are looking for ways ambiguous backfields to target and avoid using the Ambiguous Backfield Draft Strategy only.

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