Running backs will dominate the top of drafts of every format, with a clear top four (for now) and lots of difficult risk/reward propositions to parse at almost every juncture of the draft. It helps to understand the groups that represent similar ranges of outcomes or whose values hinge on similar factors. Understanding and navigating the 2019 running back landscape is the most important part of your draft strategy
Yes, I am not including Zeke here until his holdout is over. In a post-2018 Le'Veon Bell world, it’s clear that there’s more to lose by underestimating a holdout than there is to gain by fading it. I won’t go to the mat for the order of the three, but mine probably differs from most.
Christian McCaffrey, CAR - Target at ADP
The only downside here is the possibility that McCaffrey’s target share was out of necessity more than design. The offense should be better across the board to compensate for, if not negate or be larger than any target volume drop in his value.
Update: An uneventful camp for Cam Newton is a good one. No real changes here, despite a report that the Panthers want to give short yardage to another back to save Mccaffrey.
Schedule: Rams sans Suh to open and the Bucs and Cardinals. McCaffrey could help teams get off to a hot start
Saquon Barkley, NYG - Target at ADP
Perhaps Barkley is so much better than the field at running back that having a bottom five quarterback situation won’t affect his value. The line should be better, but he didn’t produce like a #1 overall pick when Odell Beckham Jr was out last year.
Schedule: Cowboys, Bills, Bucs, Washington to open, but Barkley is matchup proof
Alvin Kamara, NO - Faller - Target at ADP
Update: Sean Payton sounds like he wants to keep Kamara at previous usage levels with Mark Ingram II in the lineup, so the case for him #1 overall is less compelling.
Schedule: Texans, Rams, Seahawks, Cowboys to open should be strong early, but the Cowboys corralled Kamara last year.
Go Big or Go Home
Three #1 backs with a great record of top-end fantasy value face difficult to quantify risk factors this year. While we are more holdout-sensitive in a post-2018 Le'Veon Bell world, the reality is that Bell’s holdout probably did change the optics and odds of players taking the tank to “E” to wrest control of their destinies away from teams. How much is basically a case by case question and one that we can’t have true insight into for Melvin Gordon III and Ezekiel Elliott. The longer they go without reporting, the more chance there is that they take the holdouts into the season and the more chance there is that they aren’t as prepared and injury-resistant going into the season as they would have been had they showed for camp day one, or even day ten. The Todd Gurley situation is also elusive, as it was clear he wasn’t right from a physical and maybe even mental (in terms of trust of his surgically-repaired and arthritic joint) in December and in the playoffs last year. He is practicing every other day and so far, so good. We’ll see if we can say that come December this year. Elliott is still going in the top four. Gordon usually falls to the mid-late second, and Gurley is often available in the third.
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL - Target at ADP
With each passing day, his holdout risk grows. His line and offense should be improved and he has a chance to set a new bar for fantasy production if he shows and plays the first few weeks without incident.
Update: Jerry is being Jerry and the Cowboys say they love Tony Pollard, but there’s a good reason for them to say that. Elliott is falling to fourth or later and hard to say no to at that price with very credible #1 overall upside.
Schedule: Giants, Washington, Miami to open looks like wins, which could convince Dallas to not budge on contract offers and hope to start 3-0 and get Zeke back in the building when his leverage dissolves.
Melvin Gordon III, LAC - Faller - Avoid at ADP
Some outside observers believe Gordon has the will to take this well into the season. He would have first-round value if it wasn’t hanging over him, but he also failed to finish the season two of the last three years. A prolonged holdout won’t make us feel better about the chances of that happening this year.
Schedule: Colts, Lions, Texans, Dolphins are all winnable and none are key division games, more incentive for Chargers to hold the line on contract offers.
Todd Gurley, LAR - Avoid at ADP
Gurley should get about two-thirds of the work in this backfield, which is enough to be a mid-low RB1 assuming the offense (especially the two new starters on the offensive line) is similar to last year’s. His ability to stay at top form as the season goes on is a question mark.
Update: Gurley is on the “veteran plan” and won’t play in the preseason. He is hitting previous top speeds in camp in a straight line. Your opinion on Gurley’s viability at ADP hasn’t changed.
Schedule: Panthers, Saints, Browns to open should be a good test for Gurley and the two new Rams starting offensive linemen, especially vs. the Panthers/Browns front sevens.
How Much Do You Trust Kliff and Kyler?
David Johnson, ARI - Consider at ADP
Johnson is in a tier of his own, with the proven ability to produce with any back in the league, but coming off of a disastrous campaign. The offense and his usage will be better, and whether you take him or a top wide receiver (or Travis Kelce!) in the mid-first is mostly a bet on his raw talent and Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray’s ability to turn this team around.
Update/Schedule: The Cardinals defense can’t get off the field and that makes me a little more worried about Johnson early against Detroit and Baltimore.
Not Elite, but the Next Best Thing
The late-first through the mid-second is chock of full of backs who could produce at or near the clip of the elite, which could serve to shrink the gap that drawing a top-four draft slot creates on first glance. Like the top four (for now), the order is somewhat interchangeable, let your beliefs about the player and situation quality dictate who you target
Nick Chubb, CLE -Target at ADP - Riser
How much should we fear Kareem Hunt’s return after an eight-game suspension? If the Browns offense is as good as we hope, Chubb might do enough without Hunt to give plenty of slack for a slowdown in production in the second half of the year.
Update: Duke is gone. A downgrade in talent next to Chubb can only help him for the first eight games.
Schedule: Titans, Jets, Rams, Ravens, Seahawks, 49ers to open has plenty of favorable matchups vs the run
James Conner, PIT - Consider at ADP - Riser
Conner is the lead back, but will the Steelers run their lead back into the ground now that they have Jaylen Samuels versatility and Benny Snell’s overall effectiveness in the backfield? If they revert to old usage, Conner is a value, but if they reduce him to 60% of the work, he’ll be a letdown at ADP.
Update: Conner is looking good and Jaylen Samuels doesn’t appear to be a threat to his role.
Schedule: Patriots might be tough as an opener, but Seahawks, 49ers, Bengals make up for it
Dalvin Cook, MIN - Consider at ADP
With no proven backup on the roster and a Kubiak/Dennison running game suited to his strengths, Cook just has to stay healthy to flirt with top-five running back value this year - something he hasn’t been able to do yet in his career.
Update: Still no clear handcuff here, although both Mattison and Boone have looked good.
Schedule: Falcons, Packers to open could be more high-scoring than the Vikings want
Joe Mixon, CIN - Consider at ADP - Faller
Mixon’s situation looked good enough to vault him without shouting distance of the top four back in May. The Bengals have since lost their left tackle for the year and their #1 receiver for at least a few games in September. They are installing a new offense, although the new coaches could also see Giovani Bernard as worthy of a larger role than the previous regime. Mixon finished 2018 with his arrow pointing up but hasn’t played a full 16 game season yet.
Update: Getting lukewarm feelings from this offense and line.
Schedule: Seahawks and 49ers to open could disguise an up and down year coming for Mixon, or show he is becoming matchup-proof if he puts up massive numbers.
Le'Veon Bell, NYJ - Avoid at ADP
Bell gets a big downgrade in his situation from the Steelers plum spot and Adam Gase’s history of unpredictable running back usage looms. Ty Montgomery has had a good camp and might cut into Bell’s passing down work. This remains a proposition on Bell’s talent and Gase’s ability to maximize his value. Bell also had fewer explosive plays the last time we saw him play for the Steelers.
Update: A blissfully uneventful camp and preseason for Bell. His offensive line gained Ryan Kalil, but both starting guards are banged up
Schedule: Bills, Browns, Patriots, Eagles isn’t an easy set of run defenses and will test the Jets line and Bell’s ability to operate outside of the cozy confines of the Steelers offense
Potential RB1s available in the third round or later
This might be the most important decision in your draft. Maybe TY Hilton or Keenan Allen fall to the third round and make the call more difficult, but otherwise, the third round should be a running back round. There are a plethora of backs with the opportunity and history to make a top-ten finish possible, if not better.
Kerryon Johnson, DET - Target at ADP - Riser
He looked like a beast before his injury last year, and the Theo Riddick release ensures that he will have all of the work he can handle in the passing game. Johnson is a true three-down back who seems to get stronger as the game goes on a la Derrick Henry.
Update: The release of Theo Riddick helps, but the lack of third-down snaps for Johnson is worrisome
Schedule: Cardinals, Chargers, Eagles, Chiefs to open has a wide range of outcomes, but Week 1 should be a feeding frenzy
Devonta Freeman, ATL - Target at ADP - Riser
Freeman is either going to make everyone who faded his injury risk because of his healthy offseason look smart or make everyone who avoided him because of his injury history look smart. He is a clear lead back in a good offense who has already shown that he can produce with the best backs in fantasy football.
Update: No news is good news here. The Falcons appear to be ready to give Freeman all he can handle.
Schedule: The Vikings, Eagles, Colts, and Titans to open is no cakewalk.
Aaron Jones, GB - Consider at ADP
Jones has always looked like the best runner in the Packers backfield, but he might not be the best pass blocker. He was coming along as a receiver last year and the new outside zone running game should fit his strengths well. Jamaal Williams camp hamstring woes help Jones bid to be a clear lead back, and the offense could be revitalized after a coaching change. Jones also hasn’t stayed healthy for a whole season yet.
Update: Jones was dinged with a hamstring, but so was his backup Jamaal Williams. There hasn’t been anything too negative about the open of the LaFleur/Rodgers era, so that should be a net gain for the offense. There’s a lot of buzz about Packers backs getting more targets this year, which only helps Jones.
Schedule: Bears, Vikings, Broncos to open could be a rocky start
Chris Carson, SEA - Target at ADP - Riser
Carson should be a third-round pick with the role, offensive philosophy, and strong finish to 2018. He has some durability issues but is outplaying Rashaad Penny in camp, so don’t consider Penny a threat to overtake him this year.
Update: He is distancing himself from Penny and the Seahawks are making noise about featuring running backs more in the passing game.
Schedule: Bengals, Steelers, Saints, Cardinals to open, Weeks 1 and 4 look like Carson games, 2 and 3 Wilson games.
Leonard Fournette, JAX - Consider at ADP
Fournette could be a hit at ADP with increased passing game work and a better offense because a real quarterback is in the fold. The team could also flounder and give him fewer good game scripts, which were a key part of his 2017 triumph. Fournette also hasn’t stayed healthy for an entire season yet in his career.
Update: Fournette is getting good reviews for his attitude and approach and he should be a big part of the passing game.
Schedule: Chiefs, Texans, Titans, and Broncos have a few possible landmines if Nick Foles and the line aren’t at the top of their games.
Josh Jacobs, OAK - Consider at ADP
Jacobs is quickly establishing himself as a lead back for a head coach who destroyed Cadillac Williams with 290 carries in his rookie year. Jacobs also has the skillset to belong on the field in any situation.
Update: Jon Gruden seems satisfied that Jacobs is ready for the lead back role as Jacobs has responded well to the challenge in camp
Schedule: Broncos, Chiefs, Vikings, Colts, Bears to open will test his mettle
Swing for the fences
Rookie backs always represent the thrill of the unknown and sometimes what is behind Door #3 is indeed the new car. Both of these backs are explosive talents and they are in offenses that prime the running back to succeed
David Montgomery, CHI - Consider at ADP - Riser
Montgomery has a great all-around skill set and he is the best at breaking tackles in the Bears backfield. He can rise to the top of the committee, but this will remain a multi-back backfield.
Update: Montgomery has been very good in camp and the preseason and appears to have justified drafting him at his ceiling.
Schedule: Packers, Broncos, Washington gives Montgomery matchups to exploit in the passing game.
Miles Sanders, PHI - Target at ADP - Riser
The Doug Pederson Eagles have been committed to RBBC, but they’ve never had a back like Sanders. After being hurt this spring, Sanders has put on a show in camp. He would benefit from a great offense and maybe the best offensive line in football. A true lead back role could make him a league winner.
Update: The Philly beat is almost unanimous that Sanders is ready for prime time. If he can limit fumbling, he could be on that league winner trajectory
Schedule: Washington, Falcons, Lions, Packers to open will feature a few tough front lines vs. the run.
This group has a lower ceiling and higher floor but probably won’t win weeks for you because of a multi-back approach in their backfields.
Mark Ingram II, NO - Consider at ADP
Ingram is in a good spot on a run-first team that will be throwing a lot of new wrinkles at defenses. He will yield some carries to other backs and of course Lamar Jackson, but he’s a good all-around back who can get more value out of the RB1 role than Gus Edwards did last year. Ingram is turning 30 and has a PED suspension under his belt, so a decline is possible.
Update: Justice Hill is popping in the preseason, and a potential threat to Ingram’s touches as the season goes on, but his outlook has been mostly unchanged
Schedule: Miami, Arizona, Kansas City to open should get the Ravens running game off to a hot start.
Sony Michel, NE - Consider at ADP - Riser
Michel is actually a lot more in camp than he did last year, and that means he could be a bigger part of the passing game. Rookie Damien Harris is an impressive all-around back in his own right and could lower Michel’s weekly ceiling while improving his chances to hold up all year. Michel mostly stayed healthy last year after a preseason knee surgery, but this type of knee issue only stays the same or gets worse over time.
Update: Michel is getting a managed practice schedule, but his knee is holding up. He is getting more involved in the pass offense, but Damien Harris looks good enough to be a threat.
Schedule: Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Washington could feature 3-4 comfortable wins and strong Michel stat lines.
Austin Ekeler, LAC -Target at ADP - Riser
Ekeler was actually just as productive with Melvin Gordon III in the lineup as without him last year, although that was before the emergence of Justin Jackson. He’ll be a solid RB2 if Gordon holds out into the season and a PPR flex if Gordon reports before the season starts.
Schedule: Colts, Lions, Texans, Dolphins will give Ekeler some good matchups in the passing game after Week 1.
This group has RB1 upside in any week that their team wins and controls the game, but they also lack strong passing game involvement and have other questions casting a shadow on their season-long ceiling. They will be suitable RB2s if you only take one back in the first three rounds, but have the potential to be a strength or a liability in your lineup depending on how the week and season unfold.
Marlon Mack, IND - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Mack has top ten upside when the Colts win and play well on both sides of the ball, which should be a regular occurrence this year. He also has to stay healthy, and injuries were a regular occurrence last year. He will be a value if he plays 16 games.
Update: It’s hard to like any Colts at ADP now that Andrew Luck’s has retired
Schedule: Chargers Titans Falcons Raiders is manageable and could keep game scripts on track for Mack, but the boxes will be crowded.
Derrick Henry, TEN - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Henry is already sidelined with a mysterious calf injury. As long as he practices before the season without incident, we can restore his ranking to previous levels. He’ll be a boom/bust weekly option whose value depends on the Titans ability to feed him 20+ carries. Taking him is a bet on the Titans (read: Marcus Mariota and to a lesser extent new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith) to have a good year.
Update: He’s pretty much back from the calf injury that cost him most of camp, but the vibe around the Titans offense is still very lukewarm
Schedule: Browns, Colts, Jaguars, Falcons at least offers the Jaguars defense as a ritual sacrifice early on, but the Browns and Falcons game could be bad for Henry.
Limited Ceiling Flex/Strong Depth
This group can provide RB2/Flex production (especially in PPR leagues) at a discount, but in no scenario can they deliver consistent RB1 numbers or otherwise vastly outproduce their ADP cost
Damien Williams, KC - Target at ADP - Faller then Riser the Faller
Williams was a strong RB1 once he got the job last year, and the Chiefs appear to be treating him as an entrenched incumbent, but his hamstring injury in camp might be endangering that status. He will produce like an RB1 as long as he has the same role as last year, but he has never been a lead back for a whole season in the NFL and he has already broken the injury seal.
Schedule: Jaguars, Raiders, Ravens to open is manageable for this offense
LeSean McCoy, KC - Target at ADP - Faller then Riser
McCoy is basically a 1A with Damien Williams as the 1B. Do you trust this situation more than McCoy's eroding talent? McCoy should be relevant as long as he can perform.
Schedule: Jaguars, Raiders, Ravens to open is manageable for this offense
James White, NE - Avoid at ADP - Faller
White was outstanding when injuries depleted the Patriots backfield last year, but the addition of Damien Harris makes that less likely to happen this year. Sony Michel playing a larger role in the passing game also hurts. White could still have massive games when defenses make him the most attractive target, but the weekly ride could be rocky.
Update: The return of Josh Gordon helps the offense as a whole, but makes it tougher for any individual piece of the passing game to vastly surpass expectations.
Schedule: Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Washington should feature more running to clinch wins than passing to keep up in high-scoring games.
Phillip Lindsay, DEN - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Lindsay was a revelation last year, but Royce Freeman is healthier and will assume a larger role under the new coaching staff in a running scheme that better suits his style. The addition of Theo Riddick also eats up any upside he had via an increased passing game role. He remains a chunk play touchdown threat in any given week.
Schedule: Raiders, Bears, Packers, Jaguars to open could feature some Flacco ups and downs
Duke Johnson Jr, HOU - Target at ADP - Riser
Johnson has been explosive and an excellent passing down back, but the Browns haven’t carved out much of a role for him lately. His value would spike with a trade to Houston or even Tampa Bay, Lamar Miller's knee injury could make Johnson a big hit at ADP.
Update: Johnson was freed, and with Keke Coutee’s injury he could be a frequent target early in the season. He could be a major surprise in fantasy if he gets half of this backfield work.
Schedule: Saints, Jaguars, Chargers, Panthers could make Johnson a better play than Lamar Miller if the line is losing in the trenches.
Tarik Cohen, CHI - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Cohen had a ceiling game with Chase Daniel that helped his season-end totals, but the addition of two backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield will likely lower his weekly and season-long ceilings and make him more boom/bust flex than RB2 with RB1 upside.
Update: It sounds like Cohen’s workload will be reduced as David Montgomery has some big fans on the Bears coaching staff
Schedule: Packers, Broncos, Washington open will feature good matchups for Cohen in the passing game, so don’t despair if you have to rely on him early on in PPR leagues.
Kenyan Drake, MIA - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Hopes of Drake getting another chance to be a feature back after he dazzled in December 2017 were quickly quashed after the Dolphins new regime gave Kalen Ballage first-team touches to begin camp. A Patriots style committee will limit his upside, but he will have the better role for losing game scripts - something that is likely to come in bunches for Miami this year.
Update: Kalen Ballage will be in a committee with Drake and Drake was spotted in a walking boot.
Schedule: Baltimore, Patriots, Cowboys, Chargers could have a lot of garbage time, but that could Mark Walton time.
Lead backs by default
This duo is difficult to get excited about, but they are set to be the lead backs to open the season because of either lack of competition or lack of healthy competition
Tevin Coleman, SF - Consider at ADP - Riser
Kyle Shanahan loved Coleman back in Atlanta, and now they are reunited. He’ll share with another back or two, but likely get the bulk of the work to open the season against the weak Bucs and Bengals run defenses.
Schedule: Bucs, Bengals to open is juicy, with the less exciting Steelers and Browns matchups bookending a Week 4 bye.
Swing for the Fences, Part II
This group of young backs has similarly tantalizing ceilings as Montgomery and Sanders, but they need a little more help to be consistent fantasy producers this year.
Darrell Henderson, LAR - Consider at ADP - Faller
Henderson will reportedly get the Chris Thompson role in Sean McVay’s offense, which Thompson turned into top 10-15 numbers at times in PPR leagues. He can deliver on ADP without a Gurley issue if he is as effective as Thompson and gets the role as promised.
Schedule: Panthers, Saints, Browns, Bucs has some intriguing linebacker matchups for Henderson after he showed out well in the passing game vs Dallas
Justice Hill, BAL - Target at ADP - Riser
Hill has been making some noise with his pass-catching ability in camp and he is the most explosive back in Ravens camp by a large margin. Whatever their plans are for Hill, he could cause the team to revise them when they see his ability to break long plays.
Update: Hill looks like the kind of back who will be difficult to corral with fresh rookie legs. He will have to earn work, but so far he is doing just that.
Schedule: Miami, Arizona, Kansas City give him chances to get to the second and third level with ease
Devin Singletary, BUF - Target at ADP - Riser
He'll get every chance to lead this backfield with LeSean McCoy's release. It's not a great situation, but Singletary can contribute as a receiver and has the allure of unknown upside, especially if the offensive line gels.
Damien Harris, NE - Target at ADP
Harris has been impressing with his passing down ability and he might be the most well-suited back for short yardage carries on the Patriots roster. His role is uncertain and it might take injuries to make him relevant, but he’s not with a durable group. The Patriots overall backfield production makes him worth a bench spot.
Update: Harris looked great in the preseason so far, but this will be a crowded backfield. He is a stash to see if talent and a great situation can get married at some point this year.
Schedule: Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Washington should allow us to see if Harris mixes in at the goal line and gets the finisher carries in comfortable wins.
Matt Breida, SF - Target at ADP - Riser
Breida was actually very, very good last year in Kyle Shanahan’s running game, but he couldn’t stay healthy. This year, he’s likely behind Tevin Coleman to start the season, but Coleman isn’t known as one of the most durable backs in the league. He’s a patience play.
Update: Breida is staying healthy and second in line for touches. He might deserve to be first.
Schedule: Bucs, Bengals to open might get him out of the gate hot, even on limited work
Bye/Injury Depth/Big Injury Upside
These backs had buzz as rookies, but appear to need an injury in their backfields to be trustworthy in fantasy leagues
Rashaad Penny, SEA - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Penny has been better in this year’s camp than he was last year, but still not better than Chris Carson. He’ll need a Carson injury to be more than a matchup flex.
Update: Penny is still clearly behind Chris Carson, he’s more injury handcuff than upside flex or exciting bench stash.
Schedule: Bengals and Cardinals matchups in Weeks 1 and 4 could give Penny mop-up work if the Seahawks can win comfortably.
Royce Freeman, DEN - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Freeman should get more work than he did last year and he’s a better fit for zone running than the scheme the Broncos ran last year, but he’s still going to be a touchdown-dependent flex play without injuries in the backfield.
Update: Freeman is having a good summer, but the addition of Theo Riddick is bad news for the whole backfield.
Schedule: Raiders, Bears, Packers, Jaguars probably only features one possible smooth win, which would be the best game script for Freeman.
Jaylen Samuels, PIT - Consider at ADP
Hopefully, Samuels will be used more in the passing game this year and he would be the most valuable back if James Conner goes down. Whether he will have standalone value is to be determined, but it would hurt Conner’s value if it comes to pass.
Update: Samuels could get enough work in the passing game to be a viable flex, but he’s not pushing James Conner into a committee role.
Schedule: Patriots, Seahawks, 49ers, Bengals to open is more Conner friendly than Samuels, with the exception of the opener.
Justin Jackson, LAC - Consider at ADP - Riser
Jackson could be a co-lead with Austin Ekeler for any games that Melvin Gordon III misses. He looked very good in the comeback win over the Steelers last year and might end up being the goal line back during the Gordon holdout. He’ll have Gordon injury upside when the starter returns.
Update: Gordon is likely holding out into the season. Jackson has been behind Ekeler in preseason games, but some think the split will be closer to even in regular-season games.
Schedule: Colts, Lions, Texans, Dolphins doesn’t include an easy game for Jackson to finish out until Week 4.
Most exciting options in less exciting backfields
Sometimes the most talented back in a backfield is still not worth our time. When the backfields are going to split three ways and dragged down by a poor running game, that back is a hard sell.
Derrius Guice, WAS - Avoid at ADP - Faller
This is going to be a three-back backfield in any scenario, running behind a line that is unlikely to have its best offensive lineman (Trent Williams). Guice is a tremendous talent and it will show at times, but not consistently enough to matter for fantasy.
Update: Still no Trent Williams. Three-man RBBC looming here
Schedule: Eagles, Cowboys, Bears to open means Guice is unlikely to have a favorable game script in the first three weeks
Kalen Ballage, MIA - Avoid at ADP - Riser
Ballage is a good receiver and the team might even let him start. He would be the better back in Dolphins wins, which will be rare, but the team could also give him more looks as the season goes on if they have clarity that they will not re-sign Drake.
Update: Ballage appears to be in line to start Week 1. He has been the subject of glowing practice reports, but his gameplay has been less than stellar.
Schedule: Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys to open doesn’t sound like fun behind that line.
Ronald Jones, TB - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Jones has rehabilitated his career arc under Bruce Arians, but he is still going to be mired in a committee and needs to improve a lot to contribute on passing downs.
Update: Jones has a knee issue which is slowing any fantasy momentum after he fought his way into a part of this committee following a terrible rookie year.
Schedule: 49ers, Panthers, Giants, Rams to open doesn’t sound like a recipe for getting the running game on track
Limited Ceiling Veterans
These players could save your bacon in a bye/injury/emergency situation, but they would need an injury to an equal or better back in their backfield to be more than that.
Latavius Murray, NO - Avoid at ADP - Riser
Murray might be first in line for goal line carries in a great offense and he would be the back to rack up carries in comfortable Saints wins. He’s a matchup flex/RB2.
Update: Murray looks like a good Ingram replacement and his role is similar to Ingram’s 2018 workload so far. He’s a good depth pick, but one with a low ceiling, which is my aim in his part of the draft.
Schedule: Texans, Rams, Seahawks, Cowboys gives the no easy games in September. Blowouts were the only games that Ingram really helped fantasy teams last year.
Peyton Barber, TB - Avoid at ADP - Riser
Barber is the starter by default - that is if Ronald Jones doesn’t seize the job - but we already saw last year that his weekly ceiling is low even when Jones is a non-factor.
Update: Ronald Jones injury opens the door to a good start for Barber, but there is still the issue of this running game being one of the worst in the league.
Schedule: A strong Week 1 against the 49ers in Week 1 is possible, but the Panthers, Giants, and Rams will be tough going for this running game Weeks 2-4.
Jordan Howard, PHI - Avoid at ADP - Faller
Howard was looking like a Week 1 starter and solid value running behind the Eagles line before Miles Sanders grabbed all of the headlines in camp. He’s only going to matter consistently if Sanders gets hurt.
Update: Miles Sanders is the talk of camp. Howard could still be a value if Sanders fumbles his way out of a big early-season role.
Schedule: Washington, Falcons, Lions, Packers will only potentially create one, maybe two blowouts for us to see if Howard or Sanders will be on mop-up duty
Mike Davis, CHI - Consider at ADP - Faller
Davis will have a consistent role in the offense and he’ll play on all three downs, but the work will be split up between three backs and unpredictable from week-to-week.
Update: David Montgomery has gotten all of the headlines in this backfield. Davis is more injury depth than a potential weekly flex, but he’s good enough to change that.
Schedule: Packers, Broncos, Washington to open features matchups that might highlight the Bears pass-catching backs.
Passing Down Specialists
This group can get you a backdoor cover in PPR leagues via an outsized role in the passing game due to a game script/plan that emphasizes no-huddle, but all except Bernard are cemented in roles that won’t grow much, if at all even if the starter goes down.
Nyheim Hines, IND
Hines should be even better after his big contributions as a rookie, but there are only so many balls to go around in Indy and there are a lot more quality healthy players to catch them this year and no Andrew Luck
Update: It’s hard to see any Colts player as a value unless Jacoby Brissett is a revelation
Giovani Bernard, CIN
Bernard has the advantage of being a proven lead back if Joe Mixon misses time (and he has each of the last two years), and perhaps this new regime could give him a few more touches a week than the previous one.
Update: Bernard doesn’t appear to be ticketed for a significantly larger role under the new regime.
Dare Ogunbowale, TB
Ogunbowale should be the primary third down back and his role could grow with underwhelming competition and good performances.
Dion Lewis, TEN
Lewis will be relegated to role player status with a new offensive coordinator that is more likely to ride Derrick Henry.
Chris Thompson, WAS
Thompson has been productive on a per touch basis but rarely stays healthy for long. A mediocre offense could emphasize his short game passing skills, but he’s still just bench depth.
Update: No Trent Williams, but lots of uncertainty at wide receiver, so Thompson could be a decent PPR flex to start.
Darren Sproles, PHI
Sproles is back and a good bet to make the team. His role will be limited, but it could include red zone looks and touches.
Update: Miles Sanders is stealing the headlines. Sproles will be welcomed back but remain only emergency depth in fantasy leagues.
Upside Bench Stashes
Depth is nice, but a better use of bench spots is holding players who have a path to being more than mere depth.
Kareem Hunt, CLE
Hunt is difficult to roster through eight games of suspension because we are still looking at a complementary role in the best-case scenario. He is obviously talented and will be coveted once he returns. The decision to draft him comes down to whether you’re in a deep or short bench league.
Update: The trade of Duke Johnson Jr helps his cause for second-half value.
Malcolm Brown, LAR - Riser
Brown would likely get a lot of early-down work if Todd Gurley’s knee acts up during the season, enough to be a solid flex if not more.
Update: Darrell Henderson hasn’t taken the backfield by storm, so Brown might be the biggest winner if Gurley breaks down or needs some low volume weeks for maintenance.
Darwin Thompson, KC - Target at ADP - Riser
Tony Pollard, DAL - Consider at ADP - Faller
If Ezekiel Elliott misses regular-season games holding out, one or two Cowboys backs could have value in deep leagues. Pollard is the best talent, Weber can run between the tackles, and Jackson and Morris have been in and out of the organization so the team knows what they can do. Preseason games will help clarify this situation.
Update: Elliott looks like he will sign in time to play Week 1.
Schedule: The Giants, Washington, and Miami to open could still spell garbage time points for Pollard.
Injury Upside - First Tier
This group must have an injury to a starter to matter, but the makings are there for fantasy relevance if they do get a shot. The Packers situation isn’t clarified yet as Jamaal Williams struggles with a hamstring injury, and McKinnon might need two injuries to have value, in addition to an outside shot he doesn’t make the team. Anderson and Edmonds are the clearest handcuffs, and Kerryon Johnson did get hurt last year. Aaron Jones injury history makes the Packers situation even more important to monitor, and Wilkins is universally underrated behind an injury-prone (so far) Colts starter. Burkhead is tough to figure out with some role in the offense in any scenario, but the necessity of at least an injury to James White and probably another back to get to clear fantasy relevance.
Injury Upside - Second Tier
This group also has some injury upside, but the ceiling is more modest with the strong likelihood of sharing with a passing-down back, and in Edwards/Dixon’s case, another early-down back.
Waiver Wire Watch List
This group has little interest to us in typical leagues, but things change fast around here as Joe Bryant likes to say. Mostert is the one that stands out with the injury histories around him and the way he flashed when he got a chance last year. Snell and winners of the Minnesota, Atlanta, and Jacksonville back up jobs will be backing up running backs who missed time with injuries last year. If there is clarity in any of those backup situations before the season starts, the winner of the battle moves up to injury upside first tier. Houston should sign another back who will end up in the injury upside tiers, but for now, the UDFAs are vying for that spot. Williams is interesting in Kansas City and he could get a lot more attention if he outplays his counterparts in the preseason. Someone will be the back to target in the very sad event that Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey miss time. File Johnson’s name away as a long shot to be an Antone Smith type that generates some deep league value on very limited touches via chunk plays.
Raheem Mostert, SF
Benny Snell, PIT
Alexander Mattison/Mike Boone, MIN
Brian Hill/Ito Smith/Qadree Ollison, ATL
Ryquell Armstead/Devine Ozigbo, JAX
Darrel Williams, KC
Wayne Gallman/Paul Perkins, NYG
Frank Gore, BUF
Jordan Scarlett/Elijah Holyfield, CAR
Jonathan Williams/Jordan Wilkins, IND
Carlos Hyde, HOU
Damarea Crockett/Karan Higdon, HOU
Second Tier Passing Down Specialist
This group will all be limited to passing down roles, but as Richard showed us last year, with the right combination of injuries and game scripts, they can have some consistent PPR value.
Second Tier Waiver Wire Watch List
This group’s best path to value is probably being released and picked up by a running back needy team, but either their draft profile or in Yeldon’s case, NFL experience, show that there might be something there.
T.J. Yeldon, BUF