We don’t hide our affection (some would say hero-worship) here in the Fantasy section for our NFL writers — they are the lifeblood of a fantasy player’s decision-making process. There would be no player notes or frenzied free agent adds!
We’ve been fortunate enough to have access to The Athletic’s writers throughout training camp and the preseason, so we’ll be occasionally hitting them up for some information and passing it along here. Today, we bring you Carolina Panthers writer Joe Person and Los Angeles Rams writer (and host of “The Playcallers” podcast) Jourdan Rodrigue. The theme: backfields. Enjoy!
What is the mix of the top RBs handling first-team reps?
Joe Person (@josephperson): Miles Sanders has said he would like to get back to being a three-down back, as he was his first two years in Philadelphia. Sanders, who received the biggest multiyear deal among running backs this offseason, will get plenty of touches. You’d have to think a lot of those will be through the air via Bryce Young, but it’s a little early to say how much Sanders will be on the field on third downs.
Jourdan Rodrigue (@jourdanrodrigue): Per the Rams’ rules for credentialed media, a specific rep allocation count is prohibited. But I can say that Cam Akers has been positioned through the spring and summer to be the lead back.
How do you see the backups fitting into the backfield when the season starts?
Joe: Chuba Hubbard has done some nice things in a limited role during his first two seasons but has trouble catching the ball. Raheem Blackshear is more consistent in that role. But the guy to keep an eye on fantasy-wise is Laviska Shenault, the wide receiver who has been getting significant reps in the backfield at camp.
Jourdan: Kyren Williams appears to be taking on a larger workload this season in rotation with Akers. After Sony Michel’s surprise retirement, the Rams signed Royce Freeman as more of a short-yardage or goal-line back, but he’s not by any means a lock to make the final roster. Rookie Zach Evans has shown promising long speed, but there is a lot to learn for a running back in the first year in this offense.
Which RB is making the most progress as camp goes on and/or the fantasy community should keep an eye on (or take a flier on) at the end of drafts?
Joe: Shenault is interesting because even if he only gets a handful of touches, he’s shown he has the burst and yards-after-catch ability to make a big impact. Shenault is an excellent flier option because of his gadget-like versatility.
Jourdan: Williams has gotten a lot of work in the pass game through training camp and has stood out in a positive way there.
Related: 15 things I learned at the Panthers’ practice with Jets: Bryce Young, Hayden Hurst step up
Do you see your team leaning more run-heavy or pass-heavy this season?
Joe: It’ll be a good mix. But with a rookie quarterback, expect the passing game to feature a lot of underneath throws — including the crossers that are a staple of Frank Reich’s offense.
Jourdan: Sean McVay has leaned pass-heavy since he got quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2021 but has been outspoken about needing to establish a more even balance after a disastrous and one-dimensional 2022 season.
(Top photo: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images; in-line pic of Laviska Shenault: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)