2019 Running Back Primer
In this 2019 Running Back primer, we go through the rankings tiers of the position to familiarize ourselves with the entire field.
Running backs are moving up draft boards. In the last few years, many teams would start a draft with three consecutive wide receivers. Not as many teams are doing it as the rare three-down back is coveted. In almost every draft, the top four picks are running backs whether it’s Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara.
There’s talk the Panthers will lessen the workload for Christian McCaffrey, who barely came off the field last season, but the team didn’t do much to address the position. They drafted Jordan Scarlett in the fifth round, so expect a similar workload to last season. The Giants offense has questions, but Saquon Barkley will get a huge workload again after 352 touches last season. Ezekiel Elliott is set up to have a big season but begins training camp holding out for a new contract. Alvin Kamara hasn’t reached 200 carries in each of his first two seasons but has 105 and 100 targets in those seasons with 13 and 17 touchdowns.
David Johnson is coming off disappointing seasons, but with a change in coaching with Kliff Kingsbury taking over and a high-paced offense that utilizes Johnson’s skill set, Johnson is often going as the 5th RB off the board. Le’Veon Bell sat out last season and joined the Jets, who have questions on offense. Bell averaged four yards per carry two years ago with the Steelers. Bell will get volume, and he’s in great shape. Joe Mixon is a three-down back, but the Bengals have already lost two offensive linemen, and A.J. Green is injured. James Conner showed he could be an every-down back. He impressed and averaged 16.5 carries and 5.5 targets per game in 13 games last season.
If Dalvin Cook can stay healthy, he could have a big season. Latavius Murray left for the Saints and Cook is going to be fed the ball. Cook has played in only 15 games in his first two seasons. Nick Chubb looked excellent last season, and the Browns offense is rising. The concern is what the return of Kareem Hunt will do when he comes off his eight-game suspension. Todd Gurley is falling to the second round, and I am worried. He has an arthritic knee, and the talk is he will get 65 percent of the touches. He’s extremely risky.
Melvin Gordon was going in the first round, but he’s holding out for a new contract and is falling to the second round. He has a FFWC ADP of 22. Damien Williams has an ADP of 24. Williams played well down the stretch last season and a running back in the Chiefs offense is ideal, but Williams hasn’t had more than 50 carries in a season. Last season was a disappointment for Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars. He’s cheaper than his first two seasons with an ADP of 30, and the offensive line is healthy. The touches will be there. Fournette has played in 21 games in his first two seasons.
All Aaron Jones needs is the touches. On 214 carries, he is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. With Mike McCarthy, Jones might get them and has an ADP of 31. Marlon Mack runs behind one of the better offensive lines and top offenses, but he had only 26 targets in 12 games. Kerryon Johnson has an appealing ADP of 36. Theo Riddick was released, and Johnson will be on the field more in a run-first offense. Johnson caught 32 of 39 targets in ten games last season. Derrick Henry was dominant over the final five weeks, averaging 19.4 carries for 125 yards and 1.6 touchdowns. Expect the Titans to keep feeding him.
Devonta Freeman played in two games last season, and the Falcons upgraded the offensive line in addition to Tevin Coleman leaving. Freeman has an ADP of 37. Raiders rookie Josh Jacobs is expected to be a three-down back and has an ADP of 40. The stock of David Montgomery is rising. The Bears rookie has an ADP of 44. Mark Ingram moves to the Ravens in a run-heavy offense. When Lamar Jackson took over as QB, the Ravens ran 64 percent of the time. Phillip Lindsay was excellent last season, but some of the underlying numbers weren’t great. His yards after contact per attempt were outside the top 50 running backs, averaged 6.9 yards per catch, and he didn’t force many missed tackles. A new coaching staff means Royce Freeman will likely play a more significant role and he’s the better value with an ADP of 94. Freeman averaged 3.2 yards after contact. Kenyan Drake‘s stock is falling with Kalen Ballage opening training camp as the starter.
James White is game-script dependent, but he gets more targets when Rob Gronkowski isn’t on the field. Sony Michel‘s history of knee issues is a concern, and he wasn’t involved in the passing game last season. Chris Carson was a workhorse, averaging 20.9 carries from Week 3 on. He has an ADP of 64 and teammate Rashaad Penny has an ADP of 70. If the Seahawks can continue their plan to run often, both can have value. Tevin Coleman likely leads the 49ers backfield, but Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon will get touches, too. Tarik Cohen had some huge weeks last season, but also games with a low floor. Derrius Guice has an ADP of 71. Injuries and a lousy offense are the concern.
No one wants Lamar Miller. He’s boring, but he is the starter going into the season. Rams rookie Darrell Henderson has an ADP of 69, and that’s the crowd that is worried about Gurley. Latavius Murray should slide into the Mark Ingram role in New Orleans. The Saints always produce Fantasy points for running backs, and he’s an ideal target with an ADP of 83. Austin Ekeler is on the rise with an ADP of 85. He had value with Gordon healthy last season. The Eagles have a crowded backfield. The field is betting on Miles Sanders eventually winning out with an ADP of 89. Teammate Jordan Howard is at 91.
Peyton Barber isn’t very good, so the hope is Ronald Jones can become the starter based on his ADP of 96. Barber is at 128. As you get into the double-digit rounds, it’s about running backs that could get more prominent roles with injuries in front of them. Some of the appealing running backs here are Jaylen Samuels, Damien Harris, Nyheim Hines, Ito Smith, Dion Lewis, Ballage, Justin Jackson, Matt Breida, Justice Hill, Chase Edmonds, Devin Singletary and Tony Pollard.
*All ADPs as of July 31