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At this time of year, we should be stocking our dynasty benches with long-term upside plays if we are out of the playoff hunt, and even if we are in the playoffs, it’s time to cut your depth to a lean and mean level and still maximize your bench spots for future growth. For the next four weeks, we’ll look at each position and sort out end-of-season dynasty stashes and players to monitor next offseason into Snorkel, Scuba, and Submarine levels of league depth. This week, running back, where December we remember that depth charts can get turned upside down in the blink of an eye. For the purposes of this exercise, we are assuming that late-season waiver wire adds like Gus Edwards, Spencer Ware, Jaylen Samuels, Justin Jackson, and Jeff Wilson are rostered in all dynasty leagues.
John Kelly, LAR - Kelly should have gone earlier in the draft and will turn heads if he gets a chance to give Todd Gurley a breather down the stretch. He has outstanding contact balance and hands out of the backfield. Malcolm Brown is a restricted free agent next year and the Rams could keep him, but Kelly will be a coveted stash if what we saw at Tennessee translates to the pros, and he should be the prime handcuff to Gurley by 2020 at the latest.
Rod Smith, DAL - Smith should be rostered for the playoffs because of his speculative value if Ezekiel Elliott goes down, but he also has speculative value for the future in dynasty leagues. He’s a free agent who can offer a team three-down capabilities, including some fullback experience and excellent hands out of the backfield.
Chris Warren, OAK - Warren was one of the most impressive rookie backs in preseason, not just one of the most impressive undrafted backs. He was put on injured reserve before making the Raiders 53-man roster, so he wasn’t eligible to be activated, but he’s still on the roster and could position himself for a lot of work next year.
Corey Grant, JAX - Grant had the look of a real weapon in the passing game and as a runner out of spread sets, but the Jaguars never seemed to settle into a good usage pattern. He’ll be a free agent this offseason and hopefully, land in an organization that has a better plan for him.
Jordan Wilkins, IND - Wilkins had a big opportunity to open the season and did little with it. He has flashed more while getting limited playing time since Marlon Mack came back. We haven’t heard the last from him.
Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon, BAL - Dixon can still play. He also can’t stay healthy. The Ravens backfield is wide open for 2019. This easily could be the landing spot for a top rookie or free agent. Still, Collins endeared himself to the team this offseason, making them forego a rookie or free agent pickup, and he could do that in another organization if the Ravens move on from him. We’ve seen Collins hang in the NFL as a starter and he’s still only 24. If Dixon can have a healthy and suspension-free offseason, he could enter next season as a big part of this backfield.
Kalen Ballage, MIA - Ballage has one of the most impressive packages of physical gifts in the NFL, but he hasn’t shown a lot on tape in the way of having the skills to unlock those gifts. He is refined as a receiver and in the same organization that helped Kenyan Drake realize his potential, and Drake will be a free agent in 2020.
Elijah McGuire, NYJ - McGuire came out of the gate hot when he returned from injured reserve this year, but has slowed down to the speed of the Jets offense. He’s a dual-threat back with explosiveness and he should get the chance to occupy a large role in an RBBC next year.
D’Onta Foreman, HOU - We might not see him this year, and we might never see him get back to pre-injury form, but Foreman is still in the Texans organization, and they still have a long-term opening at running back despite Lamar Miller’s resurgence this year.
Jeremy Hill, NE - There was talk of Hill regaining his pre-fumble-loss-of-confidence form before he went down with a torn ACL. He’ll be a 26-year-old free agent next offseason and could get another shot in New England or elsewhere.
Ameer Abdullah, MIN - Abdullah at least leaped over Mike Boone on the depth chart when the Vikings claimed him, and while he might not make the team next year, he’s only 25 and it feels like the Lions never really set him up for success.
Mark Walton, CIN - Walton is still blocked by two very good backs and the Bengals didn’t exactly lean on him when he was active, but there’s plenty of time for him to develop. Make sure he wasn’t dropped during the season in deeper leagues.
Darrel Williams, KC - Williams is the latest LSU back to stay under the radar in college because of the elite talents ahead of him, but not escape the NFL’s eye for pro-quality talent. Their very valuable running back situation is wide open next year.
Wayne Gallman, NYG - Gallman doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunity with Saquon Barkley blocking him, but he has shown good hands out of the backfield and an NFL quality burst over the last two years. He’s likely to carry Barkley injury upside in deeper leagues and could still develop into a better back than he is now at a young (October birthday) 24.
Chase Edmonds, ARI - Like Gallman, Edmonds isn’t going to matter for at least three years without an injury, but the Cardinals seem to love him and he could easily be a player who hits on his second team, or possibly the Cardinals if the team wants to move on from David Johnson after his contract is up in 2021.
Daniel Lasco, Boston Scott, NO - Scott never lived up the hopes we had for him after Jonathan Williams was released and he seemed to win part of the early season #2 job, but the Saints kept him on the practice squad and Mark Ingram is a free agent next year. Lasco is a SPARQ stud that the Saints stashed on the PUP list after he was sidelined with a neck issue. Any back with a line on work in the Saints backfield is worth monitoring.
Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, MIN - Both of these undrafted backs had outstanding preseasons and forced the Vikings to keep them even though they had two strong running backs on the roster. Thomas has displayed great long speed, and Boone is s SPARQ stud. If the Vikings can’t continue to roster both next year and they show out as well in the preseason as they did this year, a running back needy team could pounce.
Trenton Cannon, De'Angelo Henderson, NYJ - They are both behind McGuire in terms of opportunity, but at least still on a roster that has future opportunity at running back on the horizon. Henderson has been on the practice squad while Cannon has been on the active roster, but pecking order can change in the offseason and next summer, especially with Henderson only joining the team on the eve of the season.
Ralph Webb. PIT - Webb was supposed to be the Patriots practice squad back to groom for the future, but he didn’t stick in their organization. Now he’s with the Steelers and could end up as the #3 back next year with a good offseason. When a back is productive in the SEC like he was at Vanderbilt, we have to take notice.
Buddy Howell, HOU - Howell is a bigger back that the Texans poached when the Dolphins tried to slide him through to the practice squad. His pedigree doesn’t suggest a lot of upside, but when a team uses a valuable 53-man roster spot on a player all year, it indicates that the organization sees more than we do.
Jonathan Williams, IND - Williams had the resume of a second-day pick but a foot injury knocked him down the draft board. He has failed to stick with the Bills, Broncos, and Saints - and the Saints employed his college position coach - but now the Colts have taken a liking to him and tied up a 53-man roster spot despite not really needing his services right now. He’s still only 24 years old.
Jeremy McNichols, TEN - McNichols failed to stick with Bucs after they spent a fifth-round pick and has since spent time with the 49ers, Broncos, and Colts before the Titans decided to give him a 53-man roster spot after poaching him from Denver’s practice squad this week. He’s got good receiving ability and measurables, but there isn’t much opportunity coming in the Titans backfield in the near future.
Detrez Newsome, LAC - It’s hard to find a path to opportunity for Newsome, but the Chargers kept him over Justin Jackson at one point this season, and he’s still on the roster. That represents some future value in the deepest of leagues.
Donnel Pumphrey, PHI - There’s no evidence that Pumphrey can stay healthy for long in the pros, but he had a good summer before losing a roster spot because of durability issues. He’s back on the Eagles practice squad, which means he could slide into the Darren Sproles role next year. The league continues to evolve offensively to allow for bigger roles for undersized backs like Pumphrey.
Ryan Nall, CHI - Nall has a chance to play a role for the Bears with his FB/RB tweener skillset and outstanding measurables for a big back. He had a good preseason before landing on the practice squad and could push for a roster spot next year.
Elijah Hood, CAR - The Panthers don’t seem to even need a backup running back these days, but if they do next year, Hood could be their guy. He’s an excellent power runner and his blocking ability could win him a roster spot after spending this year on injured reserve.