Fantasy managers used to covet Andy Reid running backs like audiophiles used to covet compact discs. For years, Reid generated huge stats from some of the most unheralded prospects in the game. Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Kareem Hunt come to mind as rushers who weren’t first-round picks in the NFL Draft but became first-round picks in Fantasy because they thrived under Reid.
We thought Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be the next back to do it when the Chiefs took him with the last pick of Round 1 in 2020. We thought wrong. Edwards-Helaire has never finished higher than 22nd in PPR points per game in Fantasy, never played more than 13 games in a season, never had more than 1,100 total yards in a season, never had more than six scores in a season, has six career games with 15-plus carries and has five career games with 100 or more total yards in 27 total games (regular-season and playoffs).
So it should surprise absolutely no one that Fantasy managers gravitated quickly to rookie Isiah Pacheco when he impressed at Chiefs’ training camp practices. Reports were glowing about not only how well he adapted to the pro game, but how quickly he advanced up the depth chart. We saw the latter last Saturday in preseason action in Chicago when Pacheco was the second running back in the game for the Chiefs after Edwards-Helaire started.
Wearing Tyreek Hill’s old number, Pacheco played three straight snaps and was one play away from being on the field at the end of the Chiefs’ first drive. He continued to play with the second-team offense for five more snaps before giving way to Ronald Jones, who was technically the fourth running back in the game for Kansas City (Jerick McKinnon played the last snap of the first drive).
Pacheco’s stats weren’t great, but he flashed quickness both as a rusher and as a route-runner. On his only catch, he moved into the right flat quickly, focused on catching Mahomes’ target before turning up field, took a hit from a Bears defender as soon as he swiveled his head and managed to keep his balance and stay on his feet to pick up a few extra yards.
The effort was better than the results. The usage, however, was most interesting. Pacheco played one fewer snap than Edwards-Helaire and didn’t play a single snap after the first quarter, which is pretty rare for a seventh-round draft pick.
It seems Pacheco is the biggest threat to Edwards-Helaire’s job. Reid surely knows what he has in Edwards-Helaire; he spent some resources, first on Jones, then on Pacheco, to add competition. Seeing Pacheco rise quickly up the depth chart is more evidence that Reid is looking for better results from his run game than in years past.
Make no mistake, the Chiefs’ offense will be about Mahomes. But if Reid could improve his run game, especially when defenses literally dare them to run, he would. Pacheco might be an alternative who can help the Chiefs.
That’s why people should draft him as a sleeper starting in Round 10. He might end up being a backup who sees five touches per game, but that would mean Edwards-Helaire would play better than ever. That’s not a tough concept to bet against.
The Commanders conundrum
Antonio Gibson looked tentative overall and couldn’t make a defender miss on his first preseason carry, and he fumbled on his second preseason carry. That mistake cost him touches with the first-team offense as he was replaced by rookie Brian Robinson. Gibson got back out there with the second string and ran harder (which head coach Ron Rivera noted after the game) but didn’t have great results, though some of that had to do with the backup O-line he was sacked with.
Meanwhile, Robinson did a nice job running through contact on a run, looked totally natural catching the ball on two occasions from Carson Wentz, and scored on a third-and-goal from the 1 thanks to a nifty micro-juke to an inside rush lane that froze a Panthers linebacker just enough for Robinson to dart through an outside lane for the score.
Robinson is quickly proving to be a reliably serviceable runner, but he lacks serious speed and obviously doesn’t have pro experience. Gibson has speed and two years of experience, but the fumbling is a major issue and he needs to run stronger. And neither one of them figures to play much on passing downs as long as J.D. McKissic is healthy.
This is the stuff Fantasy nightmares are made of. I think either Gibson rights his ship and does what his coach wants him to do, or he gets relegated to a backup role and Robinson becomes a usable Fantasy starter. And I don’t think we’ll have a definitive answer either way until after the season starts (and the answer could change mid-season).
That makes Gibson a player to avoid in drafts. Even if he bounces back with a great preseason showing, the writing’s on the wall for what happens the first time he fumbles in a regular-season game. Obviously, Robinson’s a terrific late-round pick, but if his ADP skyrockets into Round 7 or higher, he’s nowhere near as desirable … unless Gibson is toast. Then Round 7 might be too late.
Here’s the last point: Gibson played valiantly through injuries last year and scored 10 times, but he did fumble six times. Robinson had two career fumbles in five seasons and 545 carries at Alabama. To Rivera and the Commanders, it might come down to something as simple as that.
The skinny on …
- Travis Etienne: Don’t let the box score fool you — Etienne’s 9-23-0 rushing numbers looks sluggish but he was lightning fast when he ran decisively. And that’s the thing — he just didn’t always run decisively. I think that was a combination of him hesitating in his first game back and an offensive line that didn’t consistently block well enough. I would imagine he’ll gain confidence as we get closer to Week 1, and the O-line is what it is. I’m still a little worried about him beating expectations, and his return reminded me of how lean he is, but there’s plenty to be excited about as a fourth-round pick.
- Breece Hall: The rookie deserves a pass for his stat line in his first preseason game, but if he can’t flash speed or excel in other ways in the Jets‘ other preseason games, I might get nervous about what his statistical ceiling could be. I don’t care that he didn’t start, but I can’t help but notice that he and Michael Carter played the exact same number of snaps (10). Also, it’s going to be really hard to run on the Eagles this year.
- Kenneth Walker: Walker’s first run at Pittsburgh was his best — he was patient and took advantage of a good push by his offensive line. His other carries were marred by the Steelers stuffing him or his offensive line not blocking so well. I felt like Walker ran with hesitation, which shouldn’t be a thing once the season starts (but it’s bad if it is). I didn’t like him getting pulled for Travis Homer in obvious passing situations. Walker’s going to have his moments this year but if he’s splitting reps with Rashaad Penny and potentially Homer, all in an offense that has some legitimate passing concerns, he’s going to require a lot of patience. Remember that on Draft Day.
- Dameon Pierce: Against Saints backups, Pierce ran violently and made some outstanding cuts to help him burst past the line of scrimmage. All five of his runs went for at least six yards. The pass that bounced off his hands and became an interception wasn’t great, and he did seem unbalanced on his 20-yard jaunt, but I’m not sure if those are things we need to sweat. One thing that’s not worth sweating: His competition in Houston. Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead and Royce Freeman will compete for playing time, but the only way Pierce isn’t leading the way in Week 1 is if coach Lovie Smith insists on trusting a player with more experience.
- James Cook: The Bills rookie looked at his best on a five-yard flare route (big surprise) but otherwise couldn’t fight his way out of most contact and only pushed a pile once. It’s early, but his upside is diminished if he won’t get trusted much as a carrier. I’m scared some people might be drafting him way too close to his ceiling, especially with other targets in the Bills offense starting to get more attention from the media in practice.
- Tyler Allgeier: In the Falcons‘ preseason game in Detroit, Allgeier was the fifth running back to get into the game for Atlanta behind Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, Damien Williams and Caleb Huntley. And although his short-area burst and power running was evident in spurts, his blocking was really impressive, including a crucial pass protection rep on Desmond Ridder’s game-winning heave. He’s an interesting player, but in an offense that has too many backs to compete with. You will probably need patience if you put him on your bench.
- Ronald Jones: Ten snaps, four carries, one yard, all with backups and against backups. It’s been a terrible camp for Jones, and yet I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he is cut or traded by the Chiefs and becomes part of another team’s backfield simply because he’s fast and experienced.
- Josh Jacobs: After starting the Hall of Fame Game, Jacobs didn’t play in the Raiders‘ first home preseason game. Neither did Ameer Abdullah. But Kenyan Drake did. I’m still worried about Jacobs’ job security but it’s looking more and more like the Raiders’ top back.
- Rachaad White: Big dude — leaner than Leonard Fournette but about the same height. White had good awareness to run to daylight after making an effortless catch on a dump pass, but then he had the ball stripped as soon as he tried to bring it in and it wound up as an interception for quarterback Kyle Trask. I ultimately thought White ran with power and decisiveness. He’s an easy final-round pick whether you draft Fournette earlier or not.
- Trey Sermon & Tyrion Davis-Price: Davis-Price was solid in pass protection and fearlessly ran with power. He showed flashes of potential with some quick cuts but his inexperience was clear. He slipped while trying to stiff-arm someone, and his vision was shaky. By comparison, Sermon was better and seemed to play freely. He also had a little more speed than Davis-Price while using just as much physicality on his runs. Sermon also had some good moments last preseason and wound up inactive for Week 1, so I can’t say for sure he’s the best guy behind Elijah Mitchell. But for this game, Sermon looked better than the rookie.
- Chuba Hubbard: Of the 16 snaps he played, 12 were pass plays. Most were with Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker. He ran some basic routes out of the backfield but did fare well as a blocker. I doubt he’ll play enough snaps to help Fantasy managers when Christian McCaffrey is healthy, but if McCaffrey hits the injury report again, Hubbard might be the better bet over D’Onta Foreman.