Throughout the early part of free agency, Chase Edmonds looked like he had a chance to be one of 2021’s biggest breakouts. The former fourth-round pick looked good in small doses and had the backfield all to himself with Kenyan Drake in Las Vegas. However, that is no longer the case with James Conner in town. Arizona’s starting running back is going to carry some fantasy football value, but will that player be Chase Edmonds or James Conner?
Chase Edmonds, James Conner Fantasy Football Outlook
Arizona Cardinals Running Back Usage
Before we talk about the players themselves, we first need to identify how Arizona utilizes their running backs. Volume is king in fantasy football, and the most valuable players are the ones that are always on the field. At first glance, one would think that Edmonds and Kenyan Drake had a pretty even split in the backfield. According to Pro Football Reference, Drake saw the field on 54.33% of Arizona’s offensive snaps, while Edmonds was right behind him at 46.3%.
However, those snap numbers come with a grain of salt. Drake missed Arizona’s Week 8 matchup with the Miami Dolphins, leaving Edmonds as the only reliable option on the depth chart. Edmonds had a staggering 95.7% snap share in that game, which greatly boosted his overall numbers. In games where Edmonds and Drake were both healthy, Edmonds usually finished with a 35-50% snap share while Drake was in the 55-70% range.
What’s really important to note is that these are the only two running backs that saw any type of work in Arizona’s offense. D.J. Foster and Jonathan Ward are the only other two running backs that saw the field for the Cardinals, and they combined for a whopping 29 snaps. No matter what happens with Conner and Edmonds, it’s hard to imagine a third player coming into the equation.
This isn’t elite usage by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s easily enough to support a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 finish with decent efficiency. One of these guys should have a decent season (barring health), but which player will it be?
Chase Edmonds vs James Conner
The running back position is very plug-and-play, as rushing production has a lot more to do with playcalling and blocking than it does the actual runner. Both Conner and Edmonds are NFL-caliber runners, which means that both guys should be fine on a per-touch basis if given the starting job. However, winning the starting job comes down to talent, and Edmonds is probably the better player at this point in their respective careers.
James Conner was a fine runner last year, and was actually more successful than you’d expect given his blocking. However, going off the eye test, it’s clear to see that the end is near for the former third-round pick. As the season progressed, Conner simply looked slow and worn down, and that doesn’t get better with age. Edmonds, meanwhile, wasn’t the second coming of Barry Sanders, but he was good enough to eat into Drake’s workload. Drake is probably a better back than Conner, and the Cardinals had 10 million reasons to give Drake as many opportunities as possible.
Following the money is a good way to determine a teams’ interest in a player, and James Conner didn’t exactly break the bank in free agency. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Conner is set to receive just $1.75 million for his services in 2021. By comparison, Devontae Booker signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract to back up Saquon Barkley. The Cardinals aren’t paying Conner to be a starter – they’re paying him to be a complementary part of this rushing attack.
Chase Edmonds is the most talented running back on the depth chart and should be the primary starter. However, can his body handle a full workload? Injuries are more luck-based than anything else, so we need to tread lightly with this part of the analysis. While there is no way to predict injury with 100% accuracy, some players are more likely than others to stay healthy.
According to Player Profiler, Edmonds currently checks in at 5’-9” and 205 pounds with a 30.3 BMI. This BMI puts him in the 52nd percentile of NFL players, which means he is not at an advanced risk of injury. Again, this doesn’t guarantee Edmonds will make it through a full 17-game season, but it increases his odds.
Chase Edmonds is entering his age-25 season, which is good news for his short-term fantasy outlook. Running backs tend to fall off a cliff after hitting their age-27 season, so Edmonds should have another couple of seasons left in his tank. What’s even better is that the former fourth-round pick has never been in a featured role, which means that he should have more to give than the average 25-year old.
Conner, on the other hand, is an injury magnet. The former third-round pick has battled through injury after injury during his career and has yet to play a full 16-game season. Failing to reach the finish line once or twice is a fluke, but when it happens year after year, it becomes a trend. Conner is probably at the point where his body cannot handle a full-time role, which only continues to open the door for Edmonds.
Assuming Arizona doesn’t add a running back in the draft, I’d expect Edmonds to finish as the RB15-20 while Conner is down at RB30-35.
Embed from Getty Images