Fantasy football preseason preview: Running Backs

Fantasy football preseason preview: Running Backs

Positional Analysis

Fantasy football preseason preview: Running Backs

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Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Other Positions: Quarterbacks | Receivers

The bad news about running backs is that they continue their decline in the number of rushing attempts. Their weekly average is down to just 21 carries per team.  But – their role as a receiver has never been bigger. Committee backfields remain the default for most teams and the college ranks haven’t served up that many new elite backs in recent years.

2019 may be the worst ever for rookie backs considering only one back was taken in the first round and then just one in the second. That alone says to temper any expectations from the freshman cast of rushers this year.

Running Back Totals by Year

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD Tot Yd Tot TD
2010 12,138 50,698 344 3,358 2,462 19,571 71 70,269 415
2011 12,078 52,034 324 3,373 2,430 19,694 75 71,728 399
2012 12,042 51,029 332 3258 2,361 18,849 66 69,878 398
2013 11,915 48,784 344 3,510 2,581 20,030 84 68,814 428
2014 11,715 48,338 324 3,463 2,530 20,368 100 68,706 424
2015 11,480 47,353 293 3,614 2,682 22,347 109 69,700 402
2016 11,485 47,724 363 3,395 2,533 20,400 94 68,124 457
2017 11,768 47,354 307 3,708 2,755 22,434 105 69,788 412
2018 10,956 47,672 354 3,617 2,748 22,039 118 69,711 472

The rushing numbers are still in a slide that hasn’t yet bottomed out. But the number of receptions continues to climb and the total of 118 receiving touchdowns is easily a record high. The position was in decline overall but the last few years turned that trend around thanks to throwing more to the position.

Top Ten Running Backs Totals

Year Runs Rush Yards Rush TD Targets Comps Receiving Yards Rcv TD FFP
2010 2,751 12,872 100 607 463 4,033 17 2,393
2011 2,544 11,688 97 616 456 4,112 21 2,289
2012 2,974 14,287 105 519 381 2,953 10 2,396
2013 2,686 12,176 92 662 505 4,319 26 2,358
2014 2,614 12,457 91 663 508 4,243 26 2,372
2015 2,359 10,443 82 512 395 3,318 14 1,952
2016 2,640 12,285 111 615 467 4,127 20 2,426
2017 2,418 10,431 83 836 633 5,367 28 2,246
2018 2,300 10,763 99 829 639 5,551 37 2,447

The same reality here as with the position overall. The top ten backs have never caught so many passes or posted as many yards and scores from them. It helps that each of the last four drafts has included at least one back drafted in the first round that produced a top ten back as a rookie. Saquon Barkley was everything his hype suggested.  Same for Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Leonard Fournette.

Both Fournette and Gurley have shared some injury issues but others have grabbed the baton in their place. The running backs are not nearly as good as they were ten years ago without reception points. But they are just as good as ever with them. Lean towards the pass-catching backs.

Arizona Cardinals

2018 Top running backs
David Johnson: Rush 258-940-7, Receive 50-446-3
Chase Edmonds: Rush 60-208-2, Receive 20-103-0

And the wait continues for David Johnson to replicate his 2016 season when he was the No. 1 fantasy running back.  He’s still been top ten in his three other non-injured seasons but the team has really undergone transition over the last few years. The offensive line has been one of the worst and not much done to correct that. There is an entirely new set of coaches headed up by Kliff Kingsbury who hopes to bring his wide-open pinball-stats offense to the NFL.

Carson Palmer is long gone and even Josh Rosen is gone from last year. The Cards used their 1.01 to tab Kyler Murray who promises to turn this offense into something quite unlike any other in the NFL. The passing offense looks shakier with the change at quarterback and an aging Larry Fitzgerald. That may mean even more passes for Johnson who caught up to 80 in 2016.

There is risk with so much new and the reality is that the offensive line and passing offense still have major question marks. But Johnson has always been good for at least top ten stats in any healthy year and there’s no reason to expect Chase Edmonds to be anything more than a change of pace.

Atlanta Falcons

2018 Top running backs
Tevin Coleman: Rush 167-800-4, Receive 32-276-5

Ito Smith: Rush 90-315-4, Receive 27-152-0

The 2018 loss of Devonte Freeman to a groin injury spelled disaster for the Falcons offense that plummetted in backfield production (but did spawn a career year for Matt Ryan). Freeman had been worth around 1,500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns when he was healthy but that was also when the offense was run by Kyle Shanahan.

Tevin Coleman left to reunite with Shanahan and Ito Smith remains behind as the primary backup/1B in the backfield. Qadree Ollison was drafted with the 5.14 pick and the big back (6-2, 225) could earn playing time in the preseason. Ito Smith (5-9, 195) was a fourth-round pick in 2018 and isn’t as big. He only ran for 3.5 yards per carry last year and is no lock to remain the primary complement to Freeman.

Freeman is only 27 years old and has been an electric part of the backfield since 2015. The Falcons offensive line is one of the better ones and Coleman’s departure likely means Freeman gets more work. He just needs to stay healthy. He’s reported to be completely over the foot and groin issues of 2018. If he does return to form, downgrade Ryan a bit as a passer.

Baltimore Ravens

2018 Top running backs
Alex Collins: Rush 114-411-7, Receive 15-105-1

Javorius Allen: Rush 41-110-3, Receive 35-196-2

The Ravens are going for a makeover this year starting with new OC Greg Roman who was promoted up to replace Marty Morinwheg. Joe Flacco is gone and replaced by Lamar Jackson. Alex Collins and Javorius Allen are also gone. This is a new team from 12 months ago, one that should run the ball far better (and the passing was never that great anyway).

The Ravens ended up with Gus Edwards to end 2018 and then added Mark Ingram and drafted Justice Hill. Kenneth Dixon remains on the roster though speculation is that he’ll end up not making the final 53-man roster.

Edwards only caught two passes but became a fulltime rusher by Week 11 when Collins left with a foot injury for the year. And in the same week, Jackson also became the starter so all passing declined anyway.

The Ravens have a solid offensive line and will be a rushing team. Ingram carries the most promise but Edwards wants to play as well so that has to be figured out. Ingram is making $15 million over three years and Edwards is on a one-year deal for $570,000. Wonder which one gets the most play?

Notable too is the addition of Justice Hill who was their 4.11 pick. The ex-Oklahoma State star adds a different dimension. He’s only 5-10 and 190 pounds but runs a 4.4/40 and is an open field threat to score on any play. He’ll add in on third downs and offer change of pace as well. Ingram appears to be the top dog here, Hill offers some intriguing help and Edwards has to hope they remember what he did for them down the stretch last year.

Buffalo Bills

2018 Top running backs
LeSean McCoy: Rush 161-514-3, Receive 34-238-0

Chris Ivory: Rush 115-385-1, Receive 13-205-0

The Bills enter the second season with OC Brian Daboll but nothing about this backfield is settled or clear. Or even reliable. Chris Ivory is gone. LeSean McCoy remains though he is now 31 years old and his effectiveness plummetted from around a 4.5 YPC average to only 3.2 YPC last year. He scored just three times and missed two games because of his hamstring. He has the look of a back that just hit the wall.

The Bills reloaded their backfield. They added Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon and drafted Devin Singletary (3.11). Let’s review:

LeSean McCoy – Starter that seems over the hill.
Frank Gore – One-time stud that is five years older than McCoy.
T.J. Yeldon – Alabama star that devolved into a third-down back.
Devin Singletary – The rookie version of McCoy.

The Bills went with a committee last year in part due to the decline of McCoy. But that was Daboll’s first season too.  The upside is all about Singletary but McCoy, Gore, and Yeldon are on the roster and may end up higher on the depth chart. More than anything, this seems ripe for an evolving situation as the season progresses, meaning the roles and workloads will change. That’s nothing to want on your roster other than a deep stash to see if, by chance, anything is clear by midseason or beyond.

And in the end, this was the No. 31 ranked fantasy backfield last year with a below-average offensive line.

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Carolina Panthers

2018 Top running backs
Christian McCaffrey: Rush 219-1098-7, Receive 107-867-6

C.J. Anderson: Rush 24-104-0, Receive 1-24-1

God bless Norv Turner.

In an era that splits up work among many players and even changes from week to week, Turner’s offenses tend to be throwbacks that rely on one stud running back and maybe a wideout and the tight end for the biggest chunk of production.

Christian McCaffrey dominated the offense. He ran 219 times and no other back totaled more than 24 carries on the year. He caught 107 passes when no other receiver managed more than 55. C.J. Anderson never got in the way of anything and ended up on the Rams by the end of the season. Cameron Artis-Payne is the backup and they drafted Jordan Scarlett with their 5.16 pick. That alone says that McCaffrey is in line for another monster workload.

Forget that the Panthers only ranked No. 31 in carries last year. McCaffrey gets almost everything.  He accounted for 80% of the running back carries and almost 30% of all team receptions.

Chicago Bears

2018 Top running backs
Tarik Cohen: Rush 99-444-3, Receive 71-725-5

Jordan Howard: Rush 250-935-9, Receive 20-145-0

The Bears produced a top ten backfield last year even if it never really felt like it. The first season for HC Matt Nagy and OC Mark Helfrich. Jordan Howard started the season slowly and surprisingly underused but ended the year with a string of productive games including four touchdowns over his final three games. Tarik Cohen’s use was all over the map, as good as 174 total yards and a score and as bad as just 19 total yards. Cohen started much stronger than he ended.

Cohen provided the receiving role for the backfield and ended with 71 catches though he managed just a single catch in four different weeks.

Howard left for the Eagles and the Bears brought in Mike Davis from the Seahawks where he had his only notable season in four years. Davis ran for 514 yards and four scores there and caught 34 passes. He would seemingly be in line to replace Howard but the Bears also spent their 3.09 pick on David Montgomery as the fourth running back drafted in April.

Montgomery carries all the upside and at 5-11, 219 pounds and was a dual threat at Iowa State. This is the back that the Nagy regime selected. Montgomery should be the lead back of a committee with at least Cohen, and Davis may figure in as well. Davis signed a $6 million/2-year contract so he’s not just a warm body for depth.

Cincinnati Bengals

2018 Top running backs
Joe Mixon: Rush 237-1168-8, Receive 43-296-1

Giovani Bernard: Rush 56-211-3, Receive 35-218-0

The Bengals finally moved on from HC Marvin Lewis and went with ex-Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor who will call plays. That may change up the workload in the backfield but likely not much if at all. The Bengals offense improved with Mixon playing a fulltime role in 2018 and he turned in a very healthy 4.9 yards per carry on his 237 rushes. He missed two games with a sprained knee early in the season or would have been even more productive. Mixon ranked third in per game rushing yardage (83) behind only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott.

Mixon missed two games as a rookie as well but has been otherwise highly productive as the centerpiece of the Bengals offense.  Giovani Bernard is the third-down back for the sixth straight season but his role as a rusher has never been lower. When Mixon is on the field, Bernard rarely has more than three carries and still only accounted for about two catches per game in 2018.

Bernard’s role may change a bit in the new coaching scheme but not enough to merit any rise in his fantasy value. And Mixon quietly has become one of the best backs in the NFL – at least when he is healthy.

Cleveland Browns

2018 Top running backs
Nick Chubb: Rush 192-996-8, Receive 20-149-2

Duke Johnson Jr.: Rush 40-201-0, Receive 47-429-3

Maybe too good is the problem.

The Browns went into 2018 with a committee backfield and a hope to not struggle as they had in so many other years. They left last season with a vastly upgraded outlook and that was before they added Odell Beckham to the receivers and Kareem Hunt to the backfield.

Carlos Hyde flamed out in Cleveland in short order but Nick Chubb hit his stride in the second half of the season when he started getting 18 carries or more per game and added a few receptions as well.  He’s the unquestioned starting tailback this year… at least until Week 9.

Kareem Hunt is suspended for the first eight games and will feel the NFL hammer if he strays from the conduct policy again. This offense will feature Chubb as the primary back and mix in  Duke Johnson as the third-down back for the first half of the season.

The question is what happens once Hunt is available? Johnson has already asked to be traded and received a “hard no.” The expectation is that Chubb will remain the primary back but Hunt brings a level of talent that was top five when he played for the Chiefs. The total production from the backfield could be very impressive but the final eight-game splits should decrease Chubb’s totals while leaving Hunt with more of a complementary role. Johnson May disappear altogether by the end of the year and he knows it.

This offense looks plenty potent on paper. And Chubb would be at least top ten if not top five without Hunt there to share.

Dallas Cowboys

2018 Top running backs
Ezekiel Elliott: Rush 304-1434-6, Receive 77-567-3

Rod Smith: Rush 44-127-1, Receive 9-60-0

There were no real changes to the backfield and no reason to do so. Rod Smith is out and the Cowboys drafted Tony Pollard (4.26) and Mike Weber (7.04). Darius Jackson starts training camp as the primary backup though he’s never had a carry in his three years in the league. Weber could come through for the job and the Ohio State star is 5-10, 211 pounds as a prototypically-sized back but already injured his knee in May. He’s expected to be good for training camp but still not a lock for the final 53-man roster.

Pollard offers a third-down role and caught 104 passes in his three seasons in Memphis. He’s a bit of a wildcard in that he’ll play special teams and has experience as a slot receiver as well. He’s one that the Cowboys was to be “creative” with though that generally means under-used and not quite sure where he fits in (like Tavon Austin).

Elliott is a workhorse but the rest of the backfield isn’t certain yet and if the past few years are indicative, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Denver Broncos

2018 Top running backs
Phillip Lindsay: Rush 192-1037-9, Receive 35-241-1

Royce Freeman: Rush 130-521-5, Receive 14-72-0

The Broncos wrapped up HC Vance Joseph’s job in January and now Vic Fangio takes over. The offense gets a new coordinator, again, in Rich Scangerello who last was the 49ers quarterbacks coach so the backfield isn’t set in stone for now.

Philip Lindsay was the undrafted surprise that quietly won the primary back role last summer and became the starter. He ran for 1,037 yards and scored ten times. Not bad for a guy that seemed two or three spots down the depth chart during training camp.

The Broncos spent their 3.07 pick on Royce Freeman who ended better than he started. Intriguing was that Freeman had little use as a receiver as a rookie but then caught eight passes in Week 17. The Broncos are featuring a new quarterback(s), new offense and coaches but will still stick with Lindsay and Freeman as the 1A and 1B in the backfield. That likely means a bit less from Lindsay and more from Freeman but neither are expected to offer true full-time workloads.

What the preseason should help understand, is how the new offense will use running backs as receivers and which one will most likely lead in that category.

Detroit Lions

2018 Top running backs
Kerryon Johnson: Rush 118-641-3, Receive 32-213-1

Theo Riddick: Rush 40-171-0, Receive 61-384-0

HC Matt Patricia’s first year with the Lions somehow resulted in one of their best showings by the backfield in many years – and the bar was rather low. The Lions swap out the primary back each season but the 2.11 pick last year of Kerryon Johnson returns as the main running back. A sprained knee held him out of the final six games but he had a healthy 5.4-yard average when he rushed and also turned in 32 catches. That’s as close as a Lion back has come to full-time work in a long time.

LeGarrette Blount added little in 2018 and is gone. C.J. Anderson replaces him and will figure in but the offense will be new with OC Darrell Bevell taking over (the ex-Seahawks offensive coordinator).  Theo Riddick remains a change of pace and some third-down work. He had nearly no work as a rusher until Johnson was out last year but did turn in 61 receptions.

Johnson was effective last year until injured and could take a sizable role even with C.J. Johnson there and Riddick ready to catch passes. OC Bevell was the one that helped turn Marshawn Lynch into a stud in Seattle so he’s not averse to relying on one player if the justification is there. Training will help to determine if C.J. Johnson will have a role of any note because his workload comes out of Kerryon Johnson’s volume. There are the elements of a committee backfield here but the Lions also learned what losing Kerryon to injury did to the offense last year. C.J. is at the least prudent insurance.

Green Bay Packers

2018 Top running backs
Aaron Jones: Rush 133-728-8, Receive 26-206-1

Jamaal Williams: Rush 121-464-3, Receive 27-210-0

The Packers haven’t been much for rushing the ball the entire time that Aaron Rodgers manned the offense. What hints that there could be changes in 2019 is that long-time head coach Mike McCarthy is gone and HC Matt LaFleur takes over having last run the Titans offense. OC Nathaniel Hackett comes over from running the offense in Jacksonville. LaFleur has already claimed that the committee approach would remain for both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

Jones only lasted for 12 games last year due to hamstring and knee issues which mirrors his rookie season in 2017. But in both years, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and usually added two or three receptions per healthy game. He’s reported to have lost weight and paid more attention to conditioning since he’s been called out for not staying healthy. There is optimism that Jones can take a heavier if not full load since he’s been far more effective than the plodder Williams who only averages 3.7 yards per carry.

The Packers also drafted Dexter Williams in the sixth round but the backfield should remain all about Jones and Williams. If Jones can stay healthy – which he has yet to do – he could carve out a more significant role and relegate Williams to relief duty. How that happens won’t be something that the preseason will show other than if Jones gets injured again.

Houston Texans

2018 Top running backs
Lamar Miller: Rush 210-973-5, Receive 25-163-1

Alfred Blue: Rush 150-499-2, Receive 20-154-0

Once again, the Texans offensive line ranks as one of the worst in the league and one of the least productive backfields.  The only change from 2018 is that Alfred Blue is gone. Cullen Gillaspia was added in the seventh round but there’s no certainty he’ll make the final roster.

Lamar Miller defied most expectations when he turned in his third disappointing season with the Texans and yet the team did not add any challengers. Miller has been average at best and not nearly as productive as when he was in Miami (though the offensive line is certainly culpable as well).

The Texans drafted D’Onta Foreman with their 3.25 pick in 2017 and both the Texans and the fantasy world has waited to see him at least contribute if not assume the primary role. The ex-Texas star flashed a bit as a rookie but injured his Achilles and landed on injured reserve. 2018 was hoped to see him return but he never hit the field until Week 16 when he ran seven times for a net one-yard loss.

There’s certainly a chance that there are no changes here. Miller could turn in yet another ho-hum season and Foreman struggles to make any inroads to more work. Miller’s contract runs through 2020 but he’s no lock to make it that far. And overall, the offensive line will limit anyone with the ball until it is fixed.

Indianapolis Colts

2018 Top running backs
Marlon Mack: Rush 195-908-9, Receive 17-103-1

Nyheim Hines: Rush 85-314-2, Receive 63-425-2

This is the second season for both HC Frank Reich and OC Nick Sirianni and their impact was a positive last year. Of course, getting Andrew Luck back to form had a tremendous influence on all aspects of the offense. The Colts have done a great job over the last few years of building up one of the best set of blockers in the NFL. That alone makes any Colts running back worth noting.

Marlon Mack was a fourth-round pick in 2017 and after a quiet rookie season, he led the team with 195 rushes for 908 yards with a 4.7-yard average over 12 games played. He dealt with a hamstring issue and a concussion last year.  He’s expected to take a full load according to team sources and ended last year with 20+ carries in most games.

The Colts drafted Nyheim Hines (4.04) to offer a complementary role. At 5-9, 197 pounds he really isn’t big enough for a heavy load but he’s a speedy back with receiving ability that saw him end with 63 catches as a rookie. In fantasy terms, he never has a big game but usually ends up with three or four receptions per week and 40 to 50 total yards.

There’s nothing that the preseason will do to this backfield short of a major injury.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2018 Top running backs
T.J. Yeldon: Rush 104-414-1, Receive 55-487-4

Leonard Fournette: Rush 133-439-5, Receive 22-185-1

The Jaguars moved on from OC Nathaniel Hackett and added John DeFilippo who ran the Vikings offense in 2018. This was one of the best backfields in 2017 when Leonard  Fournette was a rookie and the Jags also used Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. But Forunette suffered hamstring and foot injuries last season and the offense sputtered. They added Carlos Hyde during the year but that made no difference.

Now Hyde and Yeldon are gone but Alfred Blue was added for depth. The Jaguars also spent their 5.02 pick on Ryquell Armstead. The Jaguars are relying on Fournette returning to health and handling a very heavy load as the workhorse of the new offense. The Jaguars schedule is a bit lighter this season and they’ll want to rely on the run as much as they can as they install the new scheme.

The Jaguars have not been shy about running Fournette 20 to 25 times per game when they can. He also adds two or three catches so he’ll provide solid to great RB1 stats if he can remain healthy. There’s nothing behind him to offer anything more than a change of pace or relief.

Kansas City Chiefs

2018 Top running backs
Kareem Hunt: Rush 181-824-7, Receive 26-378-7

Damien Williams: Rush 50-256-4, Receive 23-160-2

The Chiefs already had 1,200 total yards and 14 touchdowns from Kareem Hunt by Week 11 when he was released by the team due to a domestic situation and apparent dishonesty with the coaching staff. Damien Williams spent four years as just a depth player for the Fins but then became the next man standing for the Chiefs when he ran for 5.1 yards per carry over the final five games. He also caught 28 passes over his last six games as well.

That’s as much a product of playing in a wildly effective offense as it is a statement on his talent. But he’ll start the year as the primary back. The Chiefs also added Carlos Hyde who flopped in Cleveland last year and ended up with the Jaguars for even less work. Hyde is 29 years old and has been often injured in the past.

The Chiefs also drafted Darwin Thompson who is a 5-8, 200-pound ex-Utah State dynamo who started just one season there after playing the first two years at a junior college.  He’s a less experienced wildcard that can catch and block though he’s a bit smaller than ideal. He wasn’t invited to the NFL combine with only one year at a major college and fell to the 6.41 pick.

Williams is the lead back to start training camp and Hyde could end up with enough work to merit consideration. But – Thompson could also factor in and the bottom line here is that any back that is the primary on a team as productive as the Chiefs merits fantasy attention. There will be plenty of fantasy points generated by this backfield but who and how much remains to be certain. Training camp will help determine if either Hyde or Thompson can make any inroads to more work.

Los Angeles Chargers

2018 Top running backs
Melvin Gordon III: Rush 175-885-10, Receive 50-490-4

Austin Ekeler: Rush 106-554-3, Receive 39-404-3

Melvin Gordon has been a top-eight back for each of the last three years. And that was after he missed four games last year. Gordon sprained his MCL during the year but was able to play in the playoffs. Austin Ekeler stepped up when Gordon was out and provided third-down duty all year. He ended with just under 1,000 total yards and six touchdowns. His usage was inconsistent during the year since Gordon dominated in most games.

There are no changes here. The same scheme under OC Ken Whisenhunt for the last three years and no new players.  Training camp won’t mean much for the backfield other than sorting out the backs underneath Gordon and Ekeler.

Los Angeles Rams

2018 Top running backs
Todd Gurley: Rush 256-1251-17, Receive 59-580-4

C.J. Anderson: Rush 43-299-2, Receive 4-17-0

There shouldn’t be anything new for a backfield with the vastly productive Todd Gurley coming off a year where they won the NFC. But there is. At least there may be. Or not. Depends on who you ask and what you want to believe because the information coming out of the Rams organization is less than complete or clear.

Gurley’s knee is an issue and just how bad it is hasn’t been completely described.  He was as good as any fantasy back through about Week 13 last year. And then he wasn’t even average. He totaled 47 yards over his final two playoff games combined. He looked slow and ordinary. Gurley won’t see any playing time in the preseason to save his knee. How much he is used during the season just depends on how he feels.

The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson with their 3.06 pick to become more than just a relief back. The ex-Memphis star racked up over 2,200 total yards last year and scored 22 touchdowns. On a team without a proven starter, he’d be in the mix for the top job. On the Rams, he’s likely to be used five to ten times per week depending on how Gurley looks and feels. Should Gurley miss any time, Henderson’s outlook skyrockets and that makes him worth stealing in a draft.

Training camp won’t say anything about Gurley’s status but it will give a look at Henderson.

Miami Dolphins

2018 Top running backs
Kenyan Drake: Rush 120-535-4, Receive 53-477-5

Frank Gore: Rush 156-722-0, Receive 12-124-1

The Dolphins backfield improved last year despite one of the weaker offensive lines. No matter. The Fins let HC Adam Gase go and brought in  HC Brian Flores who was the Patriots defensive coordinator. He brought along OC Chad O’Shea who was the Pats receiver coach. What the backfield will be is still a guess and it isn’t necessarily any clone of the Patriots.

Frank Gore led the team with 722 rushing yards but was let go. The Dolphins didn’t replace Gore other than waiting until their 7.20 pick when they made Myles Gaskin as the final running back drafted this year. Kenyan Drake hasn’t seen heavy use in his three years in Miami but has a 4.9-yard average when he rushes. Drake caught 53 passes last year and scored nine times. He enters the final season of his rookie contract with everything to gain if he plays well.

Kelen Ballage hopes to compete with Drake for the starting role and he averaged 5.3 yards on his 36 carries last year. Ballage is 6-2 and 237 pounds so he could see some short yardage work at the least. Training camp will help determine the roles of Drake and Ballage but going in, Drake is the primary back and the better receiver. Mark Walton may end up as the No. 3 back.

Minnesota Vikings

2018 Top running backs
Dalvin Cook: Rush 133-615-2, Receive 40-305-2

Latavius Murray: Rush 140-578-6, Receive 22-141-0

The switch to OC Dowell Loggains didn’t help the backfield at all last year despite a better passing game with Kirk Cousins. The Vikes promoted up quarterback coach Kevin Stefanski to run the offense this year.  They also let Latavius Murray leave for the Saints despite his sizable role. This was one of the least busy backfields in the NFL last year and since Dalvin Cook missed five games, Murray’s 140 carries were tops for the team along with his six rushing scores.

Dalvin Cook looked great for four games in his rookie season before blowing out his knee. His return was slow in 2018 and he suffered hamstring issues as well.  Up until Week 16, he had been held to around ten carries per game.  He was marginally effective even at the end of the year. He returns without Murray there to take any carries so the hope is that he’ll get a heavier workload. The Vikings drafted Alexander Mattison in the third round and he’s expected to make a move for the No. 2 role behind Cook that has been rather lucrative both years.

Ameer Abdullah and Michael Boone offer positional depth but are not expected to factor in much.  Cook claims to be confident and in great health and ready to assume a bigger workload. Preseason should give some positive feedback on his status in the newer offense. Mattison is the most interesting player as the No. 2 back that has too often mattered with Cook’s health issues.

New England Patriots

2018 Top running backs
James White: Rush 94-425-5, Receive 87-751-7

Sony Michel: Rush 209-931-6, Receive 7-50-0

This is bound to be interesting.

The Patriots backfield has produced major fantasy points for several years and that’s not likely to change any time soon. Tom Brady’s career is lengthened every time he hands off instead of drops back to pass. But who will take that handoff (or catch the short pass) will be harder to forecast this season.

Sony Michel turned in a nice rookie year when he rushed 209 times for 931 yards while missing three games with a sprained knee. Michel really kicked it up in the playoffs when he totaled  71 carries for 336 yards and six touchdowns over just three games. He’s not unfamiliar with getting dinged up but there was no denying how well he played when he was on the field and healthy.

James White also turned in a career-best year when he caught 87 passes and totaled 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns. His role was much reduced in the playoffs after he caught 15 passes for 97 yards in the Divisional Round. As Brady ages, the more he seems to look for White.

That would all be enough but the Patriots also drafted Damien Harris with their 3.23 pick. The ex-Alabama starter would generate much optimism for any team looking for a starting running back. The Patriots already have two backs ahead of him on the depth chart.

This is a stacked backfield. Michel was highly productive to end last year and earned the primary role. White has been a devastating receiver. And now Harris is waiting for his turn. Harris is the one to watch in the preseason. The better he looks, the bigger headache it becomes to rely on any individual back for the Patriots.

New Orleans Saints

2018 Top running backs
Alvin Kamara: Rush 194-883-14, Receive 81-709-4

Mark Ingram II: Rush 138-645-6, Receive 21-170-1

Great offensive line. No. 1 fantasy backfield for the last two years. Not much to dislike here other than Mark Ingram owners having to hope for good times in Baltimore. The Saints parted ways with Ingram but picked up Latavius Murray and Javorius Allen in the offseason to help replace the production.

Alvin Kamara ranked No. 3 and No. 4 in PPR leagues in his two NFL seasons and that won’t change with Ingram gone. Kamara should be good for at least the same level of production if not more. Murray is the one that stands to most benefit from his switch since Ingram provided top-twelve numbers while he was a Saint, even when playing with Kamara. Ingram turned in around a dozen carries per game along with a couple of catches.

Kamara won’t see much work in the preseason but Murray will need to get up to speed with his new team. Allen was a late addition for depth and shouldn’t be a factor if everyone stays healthy.

New York Giants

2018 Top running backs
Saquon Barkley: Rush 261-1307-11, Receive 91-721-4

Wayne Gallman: Rush 52-177-1, Receive 14-89-0

No reason to spend much time thinking about this. Saquon Barkley became the No. 1 fantasy running back in his rookie season and could be even bigger for 2019 with Odell Beckham gone and more reasons to check down and throw to Barkley who could eclipse 100 catches.

New York Jets

2018 Top running backs
Isaiah Crowell: Rush 143-685-6, Receive 21-152-0

Elijah McGuire: Rush 92-276-3, Receive 19-193-1

This will be one of the most closely watched backfields. The Jets dumped Isaiah Crowell and picked up the much-hyped Le’ Veon Bell and his pricey contract (maybe not that pricey). The Jets also released HC Todd Bowles and hired offensive guru Adam Gase who brought along his offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains from Miami. It certainly won’t hurt the Jets offense that struggled in recent seasons.

Bell leaves one of the better offensive lines in Pittsburg and inherits one of the worst with the Jets. Sam  Darnold enters his second season as the starting quarterback and should be better though he has yet another offense to learn.

Gase employed a committee backfield in Miami but Bell is too expensive to play part-time. Elijah McGuire, Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell will fight for the scraps left over from Bell. McGuire is the primary backup but training camp could reorder the depth chart potentially  – other than Bell remains at the top.

Oakland Raiders

2018 Top running backs
Jalen Richard: Rush 55-259-1, Receive 68-607-0

Doug Martin: Rush 172-723-4, Receive 18-116-0

The Raiders released Marshawn Lynch and opted to take the first running back drafted this year in Josh Jacobs (1.24). After shedding parts all last year, the Raiders cashed in their numerous draft picks and used free agency to build a very different team from 2018. The passing offense should be much improved with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams which will take some focus off the rushing effort.

Although Jacobs wasn’t even a fulltime back at Alabama, he brings in the full spectrum of running back talents. He’ll be the primary rusher and should also dig into the 68 catches that Jalen Richard had last year. The Raiders re-signed Doug Martin but he’s purely a backup and relief player. Richard will still have a third-down role but likely fewer receptions now that the Raiders have so many other viable receivers.

In a year where rookie running backs were considered a weaker class, Jacobs has the situation to produce solid stats and merit an every week fantasy start. Training camp should give Jacobs a chance to get comfortable in what should be an offense that will rely on him.

Philadelphia Eagles

2018 Top running backs
Wendell Smallwood: Rush 87-364-3, Receive 28-230-2

Josh Adams: Rush 120-511-3, Receive 7-58-0

There was plenty of changes for the Eagles backfield during the offseason. They parted ways with Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles. Jordan Howard was acquired and the Eagles drafted Miles Sanders (2.21) as the second running back taken in the 2019 NFL draft. And this has long been a committee backfield anyway.

Had the Eagles only acquired Howard or only drafted Sanders, either would have been a hot property in fantasy drafts. But both are there along with holdovers Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams. The coaching staff has already confirmed that they will use a committee approach and mix and match in the different backs.

Barring any unforeseen developments, Howard and Sanders carry enough fantasy potential to merit taking this summer but none of the others will. The best that could happen is that either Howard or Sanders clearly shows that they are the better option so that they at least get a reliable primary role. Most likely, neither will and an average backfield will split up the work.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2018 Top running backs
James Conner: Rush 215-973-12, Receive 55-497-1

Jaylen Samuels: Rush 56-256-0, Receive 26-199-3

On the plus side – no more Le’ Veon Bell questions.

The Steelers parted ways with their infamous no-show last year and saw enough in James Conner and Jaylen Samuels to stand pat. They did add Benny Snell with their 4.20 pick in April but barring a dramatic showing in the preseason, Conner and Samuels will again provide the backfield production.

Conner was a third-round pick in 2017 that took over with Bell not reporting last year. He missed three games with a sprained ankle but still ended with 973 rushing yards and caught 55 passes for 497 yards. He scored 13 touchdowns in total but was less effective in the second half of the season. All five of his 100-yard rushing games came by Week 9.

Samuels played late in the year when Conner was out and impressed with as many as seven catches in a game and 142 yards on 19 carries in Week 15. Both backs are expected to play this year and they are even trying out using both in the same backfield though that scenario is one that is often spoken in the summer and yet rarely shows up during the season.

Snell needs training camp to justify his draft pick and spot on the roster. Conner and Samuels need to stay healthy. The only development in the summer that could change roles is if Samuels looks dramatically better than Conner which is unlikely.

San Francisco 49ers

2018 Top running backs
Matt Breida: Rush 153-814-3, Receive 27-261-2
Kyle Juszczyk: Rush 8-30-0, Receive 30-324-1

The 49ers offense will have a new look for HC Kyle Shanahan’s third season. Just having a healthy Jimmy Garappolo starting is change enough but the backfield is in transition as well. Alfred Morris is gone after doing little in his one season there. Jerrick McKinnon was lost for the year with a blown knee but is expected to be ready for training camp. McKinnon was expected to play a “Devonta Freeman” role in Shanahan’s 49er offense.

Matt Brieda was an undrafted back who stepped up as the primary rusher last year when he gained 814 yards on 153 runs. He’ll take a step backward with the addition of Tevin Coleman who had played the Tevin Coleman role in Shanahan’s Falcons offense. While Coleman was mostly a complement to Freeman in Atlanta, he could end up as the primary back in San Francisco.

This will be a committee approach like all of Shanahan’s backfields. The question is what the distribution of work will be between Coleman, Breida, and McKinnon. The preseason could help determine the roles but all three will be involved. Assuming Garappolo remains healthy, an improved passing game will only help the backfield become more effective but at least Coleman and McKinnon both can catch the ball well. And all three can rush the ball with success.  Going into camp, the order should be Coleman, McKinnon and then Brieda.

Seattle Seahawks

2018 Top running backs
Chris Carson: Rush 247-1151-9, Receive 20-163-0
Mike Davis: Rush 112-514-4, Receive 34-214-1

Now there’s a turnaround. Under  OC Darrell Bevell, the Seahawks ranked No. 31 in rushing attempts in 2017. Under Brian Schottenheimer, they ranked No. 1 with 451 carries from their running backs. That didn’t help the fantasy fortunes of anyone in the Seattle passing offense, but it did wonders for Chris Carson, Mike Davis, and Rashaad Penny.

Penny was the 1.27 pick by the Seahawks last year but struggled for most of the year and dealt with knee and hand injuries. He improved during the second half of the season though he rarely had more than eight carries in any game and offered nearly no role as a receiver. He’s worked with Marshall Faulk in the offseason and by all accounts looks both leaner and improved.

Carson was a seventh-round pick in 2017 but earned the starting role that turned into 247 carries for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He’ll return to being the primary back and received over 20 carries in most games last year. He also added 20 receptions though was very inconsistent in how he was used in that role.

Mike Davis also pitched in but left for the Bears. The workload will be split between Carson and Penny and this was the busiest backfield in the league last year. There are enough carries for both to offer fantasy value. What the preseason could do is to show that Penny has improved as much as he seems and that may bring the duo’s workload into a more even split. Penny is the one to watch this summer.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2018 Top running backs
Peyton Barber: Rush 234-871-5, Receive 20-92-1

Jacquizz Rodgers: Rush 33-106-1, Receive 38-304-0

The amazing fact about the Buccaneers backfield isn’t that they were dead last in total fantasy points last year. It is that they did nothing to change that for 2019. They continue to have one of the worst offensive lines and their prized 2.06 draft pick of Ronald Jones resulted in just 44 yards on 23 carries. Peyton Barber was the undrafted 2015 free agent that was pressed into full-time duty last year with 234 carries for 871 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers was next best with only 410 total yards and one score.

The Buccaneers moved on from HC Dirk Koetter and went with HC Bruce Arians who last headed up the Cardinals. Byron Leftwich came along as well as the offensive coordinator. This was one of the worst offenses in 2018 so there’s nowhere to go but up. But they expect to improve while using mostly the same players.

Rodgers was released so the backfield is clearly Barber and Jones. And there has been at least some hype about Jones looking better so far. The new coaching staff noted improvement from Jones and he was only 20 years old when drafted last year. He turns 22 in August so he’s still very young.

There will be another sharing scenario again this year despite the new coaching staff unless Jones clearly shows dramatic progress and earns a fulltime load. Otherwise, it will be just Barber and Jones playing behind a bad offensive line while a new offense is installed around them.

Tennessee Titans

2018 Top running backs
Derrick Henry: Rush 215-1059-12, Receive 15-99-0

Dion Lewis: Rush 155-517-1, Receive 59-400-1

The Titans parted ways with OC Matt LaFleur after just one season and promoted up tight end coach Arthur Smith. That’s likely to keep mostly the same offense in place. And it was a backfield that produced the fourth-best amount of carries last year. The Titans added Dion Lewis after his lone good season with the Patriots but he fell to only 3.3 yards per carry on his 155 runs. Lewis added 59 receptions for 400 yards but totaled only two touchdowns.

Derrick Henry was the 2015 Heisman Trophy Winner from Alabama that never had more than a part-time role.  Henry was replicating his moderate workload again last year until he blew up for 238 yards and four scores on just 17 carries versus the Jaguars. He spent the final four weeks with a heavy volume of rushes and scored a total of seven times in those final weeks along with over 90 yards in each. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry as well.

Henry is intended to be a big part of the offense this year and they’re moving to a zone blocking scheme that should be better tailored to his running style. Lewis is just the complement and third-down back. There’s nothing in the preseason that will change roles and workloads barring an injury.

Washington Redskins

2018 Top running backs
Adrian Peterson: Rush 251-1042-7, Receive 20-208-1

Chris Thompson: Rush 43-178-0, Receive 41-268-1

Derrius Guice, Part II.

The Redskins spent their 2.27 in 2018 to upgrade their backfield with the LSU-product Guice but he tore his ACL and missed the year. The Skins relied on Adrian Peterson who turned in his eighth career 1,000-yard season and first since 2015. Chris Thompson once again only played in ten games thanks to rib and ankle injuries and only scored once last year while totaling just 446 yards.

Guice was due to take over the primary role and Peterson was a free agent but the Skins re-signed him to a two-year deal. That clouds the backfield picture a bit. Guice is expected to be the primary back but Peterson signed for two years and $5 million. Peterson is likely to be more than just insurance but how much more depends on what Guice can do coming off a knee injury and not playing since his college days in 2017.

Chris Thompson maintains a role but he’s not likely to see an increase and probably fewer passes and runs. Training camp and preseason games are critical for Guice to show that he’s ready to be plugged into the starting role. If he doesn’t impress in August, then both he and Peterson will be sharing the workload and bringing down either’s fantasy value.

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