Relying on any running back in a committee is always a risky play in fantasy football, but Mike Gillislee appeared to separate himself from his New England Patriots compatriots during Thursday's season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
While New England lost the game 42-27, Gillislee scored all three of the team's touchdowns—all on the ground—and notched a team-high 15 carries.
Seeing him operate as the primary running back at the goal line was welcome news for his fantasy owners, as James White, Rex Burkhead and even Dion Lewis (two carries for nine yards) serve as threats to vulture some of his production.
Gillislee finished with 45 rushing yards, White posted 38 to go with three catches for 30 receiving yards, and Burkhead finished with three carries for 15 yards and one catch for eight yards on three targets.
The red-zone production was nothing new for the former Buffalo Bill, as Field Yates of ESPN pointed out:
If Thursday's game was any indication, Gillislee is the Patriots running back to own in fantasy circles for 2017. However, viewing him as a top option after such a small sample size would be a tremendous risk, especially since he has never run for more than 577 yards in a season to date.
The Patriots' depth at the position and tendency to rotate backs also makes it risky to rely on any of them, as any fantasy player who had Jonas Gray after his 201-yard game in 2014 can attest.
In terms of number of carries, White (10) was second behind Gillislee and was used in multiple third-down sets and in between the tackles. Burkhead flashed potential as an option in point-per-reception leagues with three targets, although White (60 catches last year) and Lewis (53 catches across the last two years) are also threats in the passing attack.
At this point, any Patriots running back will be a high-risk, high-reward option. This offense figures to put up plenty of points with running opportunities in the red zone and as it works the clock late in games, but the sheer volume of playmakers—to say nothing of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the passing attack—cuts into the overall value of any of the backs.
Gillislee is the early leader in the clubhouse, though, if forced to choose between them.