Fantasy football insurance is a tricky animal.
On one hand, you want to protect yourself from injuries by warehousing your star player's backup.
On the other hand, the price of expending that roster spot could cost you a valuable waiver pickup.
The fact is insurance is a valuable tool if used correctly.
Some backups are very good players, while others are not. In the event of an injury, some would be positioned for a clear path to a large share of touches, while others would see only a slight uptick in work. When evaluating insurance, the best game plan is to select players with high ceilings should the player ahead of them on the depth chart miss time.
For example, if Aaron Jones goes down, AJ Dillon would handle a feature back role in Green Bay and would be in the RB1 discussion (more on that situation later). If Arizona's James Conner goes down, however, some combination of Keaontay Ingram, Corey Clement and Ty'Son Williams would share touches and none would be a clear fantasy option. If you selected Conner and not Jones, don't cross Dillon off your draft board and force a dart throw at Ingram. Pick the guy who can win you a league championship, not a player who would barely be worth flex consideration.
Below is an examination of the top 10 running back insurance options available to you on draft day, as well as some thoughts on how the backfield might look if the starter goes down.
For updated insurance information and advice throughout the season, be sure to keep up with our fantasy depth charts.
As will be the case with several of these backfields, this one goes both directions. If Gibbs goes down, Montgomery will leap into the RB1 discussion. If it's Montgomery who is sidelined, Gibbs' role would increase and he would be in the top-10 mix. Last season, Detroit's backfield paced the entire league in fantasy points (501) and touchdowns (27) while ranking third in touches (509). Granted it was a different group, but you can easily make a case that Montgomery is an upgrade of Jamaal Williams and first-round rookie Gibbs an upgrade of D'Andre Swift. Montgomery and Gibbs will benefit from one of the league's best offensive lines and, in this scenario, would be competing with veteran backup Craig Reynolds (Go Golden Bears!) for touches.
It might seem odd to see a rookie this high, but Charbonnet was a second-round pick who might have begun his career in the RB2 mix had he landed elsewhere (several mocks had him in Cincinnati if Joe Mixon was cut loose *eyes emoji*). The former UCLA star has good size (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) and three-down ability, so Seattle's RB-friendly offense would vault him into the RB1 discussion, especially with special teamer DeeJay Dallas and seventh-round rookie Kenny McIntosh as his competition. Much to the chagrin of Walker's dynasty investors, Charbonnet's arrival has knocked Seattle's incumbent lead back down to more of a midrange RB2, but if the rookie misses time, Walker will leap back into the RB1 discussion.
Believe it or not, Dillon is one of 11 running backs with at least 180 carries and 25 receptions each of the past two seasons. And that came with starter Jones appearing in 32 of 34 games during the span. Aside from games in which starters rested, Jones last missed a game in Week 11 of the 2021 season. Dillon posted what were then career-high marks in snap share (74%) and targets (six) while putting up 97 yards on 17 touches. Dillon is one of the league's biggest backs (6-foot-0, 247 pounds) and has shown the ability to be a factor in the passing game. If the 28-year-old Jones is out, Dillon would have minimal competition for touches (Patrick Taylor, Lew Nichols III) and would jump into the RB1 mix.
With passing down specialist J.D. McKissic no longer in the fold, it's expected to be a two-man backfield featuring Gibson and Robinson in Washington this season. The setup figures to limit the fantasy upside of each, but if one goes down, the other would reach "lineup lock" status. That's especially the case for Gibson, who is a capable receiver and more polished three-down option. Gibson ranked fourth in touches (300) and was fantasy's No. 10 RB in 2021, so we've seen RB1 production from him in the past. If Gibson is out, Robinson wouldn't have a ton of competition for work (Jonathan Williams and sixth-round rookie Chris Rodriguez Jr. are the headliners), though a lack of receiving chops (nine receptions in 12 games last season) would figure to limit him to RB2/flex territory.
The Falcons -- yes, the Falcons -- led the NFL in rushing yardage by running backs last season (and it wasn't particularly close). A hefty chunk of that damage was done by then-rookie Allgeier, who racked up 1,035 yards on 210 carries (4.9 YPC). Atlanta still spent the No. 8 pick of April's draft on Robinson, but should the Texas product miss time, the Falcons will be in good shape with the 224-pound Allgeier handling the bulk of the carries and Cordarrelle Patterson operating as a change-of-pace/receiving back. We saw that utilization play out late last season and Allgeier posted four consecutive fantasy outings of 16th or better among RBs. At the very least, he'd be in the RB2 mix and Patterson would be on the flex radar.
We may get an early look at this one, as Williams is still recovering from a torn ACL and may miss time to open the 2023 season. If Perine is called on to start, the journeyman has shown he can be a fantasy factor. In three games Joe Mixon was injured last season, Perine stepped in and totaled 330 yards and four TDs on 63 touches. Only Josh Jacobs had more fantasy points during those three weeks. Perine is a career backup (401 carries and 122 targets in six seasons), so we don't want to get too carried away here, but he'd have minimal competition for touches (Tony Jones Jr., Tyler Badie) in this scenario and would very much be on the top-15 radar. That may be the exact situation come Week 1 against a shaky Las Vegas defense.
Mitchell has struggled with injuries, but it's quite apparent that the 49ers are very high on him. That was made clear when he soaked up 226 touches as a sixth-round rookie in 2021, as well as when he all but split carries with McCaffrey (62 to CMC's 67) when the two were healthy together last season. If McCaffrey misses time, Mitchell would figure to handle most of the carries (as he did in 2021), with unproven youngsters Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason offering change-of-pace work. Mitchell could be limited by a lack of targets (24 in 16 career games), so he'd be best viewed as an RB2 in this situation.
Same as with the Broncos, we might get a look at this one early in the season, as Kamara is facing a potentially lengthy suspension. In that scenario, Williams, who led the NFL with 17 rushing TDs last season, would step in as the lead back, with third-round rookie Kendre Miller and perhaps Taysom Hill also involved. I gave Williams a boost here because of Kamara's situation, but it's possible he maxes out as a fringe RB2/flex, especially considering his receiving limitations (12 receptions last season), the potential for a committee and the possibility that Miller straight-up beats him out for "1A" duties.
Warren appears to be an elusive, undrafted free agent gem, as he made his way onto the Steelers' 53-man roster last season and quickly locked down No. 2 duties behind Harris. He showed well on 105 regular-season touches, posting a healthy 4.92 yards per carry and catching 28 of 34 targets. Should Harris miss time, Warren would be set up well for a huge role, as Anthony McFarland Jr. and Jason Huntley aren't particularly intimidating competition. We don't want to get too carried away about a player with one career TD and zero 100-yard games, but it's hard to ignore Warren's insurance appeal.
Singletary signed with Houston during free agency after emerging as one of the league's most reliable backs during his four seasons in Buffalo. Including the playoffs, Singletary has been active for an RB-best 59 consecutive games, which traces back to Week 7 of his rookie season. He's also been productive as a rusher (career 4.69 YPC) and receiver (38-plus receptions in three straight seasons) but was unable to land anything more than a change-of-pace/backup role behind emerging Pierce in Houston. If Pierce is sidelined, Singletary's top threat for touches would be journeymen Mike Boone and Dare Ogunbowale. In that scenario, Singletary would be in the RB2 discussion.
Damien Harris, Buffalo Bills (if James Cook is out)
Rashaad Penny/Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles (if D'Andre Swift is out)
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (if J.K. Dobbins is out)
Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans (if Derrick Henry is out)
Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars (if Travis Etienne Jr. is out)
Kevin Harris/Pierre Strong Jr., New England Patriots (if Rhamondre Stevenson is out)
Jerome Ford, Cleveland Browns (if Nick Chubb is out)