Don’t Overdraft Volatile Satellite Backs

by Taylor Smith ·

As the sharp NFL teams continue to devalue the running back position, committee backfields continue to rise. For teams that don’t deploy a single bell-cow, their backfields are divided between grinders and satellite backs. These pass-catching satellite backs are clearly more valuable than their between-the-tackle counterparts based on their advanced stats and metrics, but fantasy gamers are putting too much stock in them.

Week-to-week inconsistency

Make no mistake, satellite backs have the ability to post insane games. Some are afforded many red zone touches that lead to multi-touchdown games on top of their solid PPR value. While receptions and touchdowns are a big part of fantasy scoring, most satellite backs are too undersized and won’t see strong volume. The satellite back poster boy is Bears RB, Tarik Cohen. Cohen posted four top-six weeks in 2018. He caught at least seven balls in each of those games, as Chicago mostly faced negative game script in those matchups. While his ceiling was evident, Cohen also finished outside the top-20 in nine other matchups. That gave him a Weekly Volatility of 9.6, which was the ninth-highest among running backs.

Check out Tarik Cohen on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

While he probably helped you win four fantasy matchups, there’s a chance he cost you nine others with his inconsistent volume. Cohen is the perfect target in DFS or best balls, but this volatile production illustrates why you shouldn’t overdraft satellite backs in season-long leagues.

Satellite backs to avoid

Tarik Cohen sits at the top of this list, as his inconsistency will make or break your team. In addition to his low floor, he also has a potential bell-cow waiting in the wings. The Bears grabbed David Montgomery in the third round of the NFL Draft and he’s set up to slide right into Jordan Howard’s role. Montgomery also flashed pass-catching chops at the college level with a 9.6 percent (71st-percentile) College Target Share.

Montgomery’s strong pass-catching background will allow him to see the field at the expense of Cohen. Having an all-purpose back on the field helps keep defenses honest and open up the playbook. A good football mind like Matt Nagy understands that benefit and Cohen will be the odd man out in 2019.

James White is another satellite back to avoid. His Weekly Volatility of 8.2 was the 17th-highest among backs and that was with Sony Michel missing three games. White averaged 23.1 points per game in those contests. When Michel returned in Week 10, White posted a mere 11.3 points per game.

If White owners were hoping for Michel’s knee to hold him back, New England crushed their dreams. The Patriots also selected Damien Harris in the NFL Draft, adding another dimension to an already stocked backfield. Harris was an above-average pass catcher at Alabama and will assume Michel’s role when his knee needs maintenance. It seems as if White’s days of returning value are over.

The “satellite back-plus”

Not all satellite backs are created equally. A satellite back-plus is a pass-catching option that has the size and capability to shoulder a full workload. Jaylen Samuels is a prime example. Samuels played both running back and tight end at NC State, where he commanded a 20.2 percent (97th-percentile) College Target Share. He also offers bell-cow size at 225-pounds, meaning he’ll push James Conner for significant touches this season.

satellite backs

Jaylen Samuels Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Austin Ekeler is another satellite back-plus that is set to explode given Melvin Gordon’s contract situation. Ekeler has been hyper-efficient posting a top-10 Production Premium in back-to-back seasons. While he doesn’t have prototypical bell-cow size, he did command 250 touches in three straight seasons to end his college career at Western State. He also averaged over 100 rushing yards per game in every collegiate season, so he can get it done on the ground when called upon.


Satellite backs have the capacity to win you a fantasy week, but they are more likely to lose you one. The lack of consistent ground volume leads to a low floor. This makes targeting satellite backs with bell-cow capabilities paramount in your fantasy leagues. You’ll get the same high-ceiling with the possibility of a league-winning RB.