by Nick Ercolano
April 05, 2019
Let's circle byke on our 2019 fantasy football running back rankings because a LOT has changed since the last time we dove into my rankings back in early February, following the immediate conclusion of the 2018 fantasy football season. Lots to recap.
Barkley's basically already the GOAT. A few things have happened since we last talked about Barkley. The biggest thing, of course, is that Odell Beckham Jr. is in Cleveland now. Kevin Zeitler is now a Giant, he slides in as their starting LG and Golden Tate also joins the team.
The problem at QB still remains. The question becomes, does the departure of OBJ hurt or help Saquon.
Look carefully at the numbers though. Was Barkley really worse without Beckham? He averaged more rushing yards without OBJ, more rushing attempts, and identical target numbers. Same exact target totals. The volume w/ vs. w/o was unchanged OBJ didn't matter. The difference came in receptions/game. He averaged over 6/game with OBJ vs. 4.25 without him. Seeing as the target total was the same, that very likely, I can't get the actual stats, but I'm guessing it just so happened that the targets he saw in those 4 games were less accurate, some bad throws by Eli, that's not predictive of having OBJ on the field or not. So, when it comes to Barkley, I'm absolutely fine with him as the 1.01 still. You need to look at things in context, not just a birds-eye view.
Adding Zietler to the mix is obviously a big boost to the offensive line here. He was PFF's 6th highest graded guard in the NFL last year, guards are the most crucial position when it comes to RB success running the ball.
With OBJ gone, I think Barkley has a legit shot to break C-Mac's record that he just set with 104 RB receptions in a season.
With Gurley being a hard fade, Zeke moves up by default and is a close 2 to Barkley. You just look at what the team did after acquiring Cooper, complete 180 like me after some applebees margs.
The offense transformed, as did Zeke's production over the second half of the year. Starting in Week 10, he caught a minimum of 5 passes in every, and over the last 8 games he was averaging a ridiculous 150+ YFS/game. Pacing out his 2H of the season numbers to a full 16 games and you're looking at:
The other thing to take into consideration for Zeke is the offensive line. They've had the elite run-blocking line for the last few years, but their health was a big concern this year. They had all-pro guard Zack Martin miss a few games and deal with a lingering knee injury, and Travis Frederick arguably the league's best center missed all of 2018, his backup Joe Looney, was the 32nd graded C per PFF this year. The o-line still finished as FO's 8th best RBing line and PFF's 13th best. Frederick is reportedly expecting to be ready for OTAs, which we should probably take with a McDonald's size grain of slate, but if it's true, it's a monster upgrade for the line and Zeke.
No difference here for C-Mac. The offensive line pieces have shifted a bit. Their long-time C Ryan Kalil is expected to retire. But they signed Matt Paradis to a three-year, $27 million contract. He's coming off a broken fibula, but he's expected to be fine for 2019. They released Matt Kalil but re-signed Daryl Williams after an injury-plagued 2018.
C-Mac is as solid as they come in anything PPR, even if they do bring in a running back via the NFL Draft. He's going to catch 90+ passes and see 200+ carries in 2019.
Not much change here either. Ingram is in Baltimore, but they bring in an identical replacement in Latavius Murray, inking him to a four-year, $14.4 million contract.
These are probably similar numbers to what we can expect for Kamara in 2019. The blistering pace he began the year it was never going to hold steady. 17.5 half PPR fps & over a TD/game is good by me. Plus he has a weekly 3-touchdown ceiling that just wins you your week.
Max Unger, their center, randomly retired but they signed OG Nick Easton, formerly of the Vikings, to a four-year, $24 million contract, so nothing there. Their offensive line is still amongst the elite.
Speaking of elite, Gordon is just that when he can stay healthy. He'd be up there in the 1.01 discussion if he didn't miss multiple games in the majority of his NFL seasons. He's missed at least 2 games in 3-of-4 seasons, but never more than 4. Last year he averaged 20.5 FPs/game (half ppr) which was 3rd only behind Gurley and Barkley. So, you get the small injury discount with the same weekly output. Dr. Jesse Morse said there's no worry about Gordon's injury outlook going into 2019, not moreso then any other year. SPI has him slated to miss 2 games, if that's the case I'll take 21 FPPG in 14.
Easily my biggest riser here, Dalvin Cook. I'm all in on Cook for 2019. Another player Dr. Jesse Morse said there are no concerns for Cook from an injury standpoint. The torn ACL is two years in his rearview so the likelihood of retear is virtually gone, and last year's hamstring was obviously fluky, he doesn't have those deteriorating ankles as Leonard Fournette does.
The biggest concern for me is their offensive line. Easton, as I mentioned signed with NO, he left MIN so they need to address their interior in the draft.
But when I look at what's in store for this Vikings team in 2019, I imagine Cook is going to see 20+ touches/game easily, and he's not just a guy getting 20+ touches, Cook is electric, supremely talented. And this offense wants to run. the. ball. Last year's interim OC, Kevin Stefanski for the final
It's what he and Zimmer are going to game plan around.
The bigger news is that Latavius Murray is gone. I'm not gonna call Murray a vulture, because he's better than that, he was a legitimate running back that likely would eat into a workload of most starting backs. Murray caught 22 passes and had 140 carries last year. More importantly, though, he had 22 RZ carries and had more 10z and GL carries than Cook. Cook is gonna get the early-down work, he's an excellent pass-catcher, caught nearly 4 passes/game last year and now has a window into GL work.
This just opens the door for Cook to really be featured in this Vikings offense. And whenever he's healthy, that's what they've done. Looking back to his rookie year. The first four games before tearing his ACL, he averaged over 21 touches, 111 YFS and scored twice. One he was finally healthy in 2018, down the stretch, he became fantasy's RB6 over the last five weeks of the season. SPI puts him at missing a little above 1 game in 2019.
But really take it within context. He appeared in 11 games last year. One was in Week 4 when he played 20% of the snaps before leaving with a hamstring injury, on was in Week 9 coming off of a 4-game rest where he played like 50% of the snaps (compared to his season avg of 75%). So, using the games that he was actually his regular role for (9 games) - his 16 game pace:
That's while splitting time with Latavius Murray and not getting the GL work. I think he'll easily push 300 touches, 70 receptions, 1600 FYS, and double-digits TDS in 2019.
Mixon hasn't moved for me. Still a workhorse in his offense. An offense that I still don't love, which is why I have him below Cook. I trust Cook to get used more in the passing game. They have a new HC in Zac Taylor and OC in Brian Callahan, neither of which have ever coordinated, let alone coach a team. So, it's easy to get excited about Marvin Lewis finally gone, but it's far from a guarantee that this offense really takes a step forward.
Bell to New York is interesting, of course. I've talked about this in like 7 videos already, but Bell gets his four-year, $52.5 million contract, $35M of which is guaranteed.
At the end of the day, who are the most valuable players in fantasy football? Workhorse running backs, plain and simple. That's what Bell is going to be in New York under new HC Adam Gase. Gase is my biggest concern, he's been miserable at leading an offense ever since Peyton Manning single-handedly made him out to be an offensive guru back in Denver. Looking back at his three years in Miami, he clearly didn't know how to use his running backs, but there's no way that Bell isn't getting 85% of the touches here. And you can look back to 2015, the last time Gase was outside of Miami, he was the OC in Chicago, Forte's last year there which was his 29-year-old season, Forte appeared in 13 games but was on pace for 322 touches, 54 receptions. That's easily doable for Bell, the problem is he doesn't have anywhere near the ceiling he had in Pittsburgh, behind an offensive line like that and being used in the receiving game as heavily. Bell was consistently catching 5-6 passes a game in Pittsburgh, which is between 75-90 receptions on the year. He won't hit that number.
So he's still a solid low-end RB1 in my eyes, but the elite RB1 status he used to have won't be coming in New York, at least not in 2019.
Gurley was my RB2 and a lot of you are probably saying WTF right now. But only those of you that didn't watch my actual interview with Dr. Jesse Morse. That tendinitis is a HUGE deal. I'm just going to insert the entire clip from that video about Gurley here (if it isn't here when you watch it YouTube wouldn't let me) but do yourselves a favor and go watch that video and fade Gurley in the 1st.
One of the true enigmas of the 2019 fantasy football season, Damien Williams.
As a running back, you can't find yourself in a more enviable position then the Kansas City Chiefs backfield. But that's the case for the soon-to-be 27-year old (turns 27 tomorrow) Damien Williams who spent much of his time misused by Adam Gase, unsurprisingly during his years in Miami. It might come as a surprise to some that Williams is 27 and 2019 will be his 6th year in the league.
What we're working off, ranking him in the top 10 is the fact that he'll open the year as the starter in this Andy Reid/Patrick Mahomes offense, they immediately extended him after Week 16 (two years, through 2020 - $8.1M max w/ incentives) and that 6-game stretch we saw him have while operating as the lead back at the end of 2018.
Let's take a look at that 6-game run, it was Week 14-17 and including the DP and CC - I know those aren't fantasy weeks but it helps open up the sample size and show what the Chiefs think of Williams.
Over that span Williams was actually not too involved on the ground, getting double-digit carries in 5-of-6 games, but more than 13 only once, in the DP when they were rolling over INDY. But his touchdown numbers and receiving work were unreal. He caught 28 passes over the 6 games (4.6/game) catching at least 4 balls in 5-of-6. He had 10 touchdowns in those 6 games, 6 on the ground and 4 through the air. It's hard to say that's fluky whatsoever given that Kareem Hunt had 9 touchdowns in his final 6 games with the Chiefs before being suspended. It's the RB in an Andy Reid offense. It really doesn't matter who.
Chiefs GM Brett Veach said the starting running back job is "Damien Williams' to lose." Like the co-sign from the GM, clearly, they believe in the guy. They're not resigning Spencer Ware, the only thing they had behind Williams was the 4.72, Darrel Wiliams. So, they went out an inked Carlos Hyde to a one-year, $2.8 million contract to compete for the back-up role. This is great news for Williams, because it likely means they won't invest draft capital on a rookie back or sign a big-name FA on the market to compete with him. If they brought in Tevin Coleman, who just got 8-10$ million, I'd be a lot more nervous. Hyde has was not good on the Browns, even worse and more irrelevant on the Jags and got just $2.8 million.
So, the sample size of Williams concerns me, which is why he's not top-5 where Karate Hunt would be if he was still the lead back in KC. They don't owe him anything, his contract wasn't huge and it's not like this regime drafted him and used draft capital on him, so if he struggles, or if he gets hurt and the backup performs well, it's not 100% his job to reclaim. But the upside is simply too large to ignore.
He came into the year banged up, got hurt again, so he only played in 12 games. 12 games and he was close to 1,000 yards on the ground. He finished the year with 908 yards on 195 carries, 9 rushing touchdowns, catching 17 passes for 103 yards and another score. So you're looking at 215 touches, 10 scores and over 1,000 YFS.
All Marlon Mack has done in his life, ever, is be a really good running back. Sure, he went to USF, but he had offers from a lot of D1 schools. His first game in college rushes for 275 rushing yards. Dynamite as a freshman goes for 1400 YFS as a sophomore, 1,500 yards as a junior. Bad rookie year with the Colts, but they didn't have Andrew Luck, of course, it was going to be a shitshow. The first year he did - 215-1000-10.
Now look at the situation he's in. Indy is set up to make a Super Bowl run, likely for the next few years. This offense is going to be fantastic, and mack is going to get all of the GL work. How can you reasonably expect him to go under 11.5 TDs next year, when he hit 10 in 12 games in 2018? The offense will only get better, this line is ELITE, young and the aspect of continuity is one of the biggest factors in OL play - they're going to grow as an OL and get better.
The pass-catching is what makes me nervous because Nyheim Hines was so involved, he had 81 targets but look at his splits:
Hines was only averaging 3.9 targets/game when Mack played. If Mack was healthy, are we looking at Hines as 55-60 target back? Mack also isn't a scrub in the passing game, his college target share was in the 80th percentile. And we're not as concerned. The Colts were 0-4 in games without Mack, and 9-0 in games where Mack played at least 40% of their offensive snaps. And how many game scripts to
I mean the man had individual game lines of
We're severely underestimating Mack's upside in 2019.
DJ was straight up bad last year. He didn't look explosive or elusive at all. Which is really, at the core what makes me nervous. Sure, the team was bad, but they were literally one of the worst offenses in the NFL of the last five years. It's going to get better with Kliff Kingsbury there as the new HC - statistically speaking, at least. Regardless of offensive line play, David Johnson was bad. I know that's gonna get some people mad on the internet, but what else is YouTube really for.
I owned a lot of David Johnson and I watched a lot of him. He honestly sucked. His run grade per PFF was 40th/47 RBs, his elusive rating was 43rd/47th and his missed tackles forced/attempt (0.09), literally only Jamaal Williams was worse. His Juke Rate on PP was 51st, and his yards created/carry was 52nd. So we're now this is going to be going on three years since we've seen David Johnson be good on a football field.
I can't explain why he played like that, but those were stats outside of offensive line play and QB play, so don't @ me.
The line is still shit in Arizona too.
April 18, 2019
by Nick Ercolano
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