by Nick Ercolano
June 10, 2019
My running back rankings, broken down by tier!
I'm sticking with Saquon Barkley at number 1 overall, however, he's no longer in a tier by himself. He's with Kamara, C-Mac and Zeke, and I wouldn't be mad at anyone for taking either of these guys at the 1.01. All workhorses, or for Kamara's sake, less volume than a workhorse in arguably the best possible fantasy situation. With Barkley, they improved their offensive line adding Zietler, PFF's 6th highest graded guard last year, they scored Nate Solder in FA last year which looked like a bad contract, and probably is, but he got better as the year went on and I don't think they're going to have an offensive line that's an absolute liability anymore. Solder just underwent an ankle scope, so his health is up in the air, a situation to monitor. The other thing with Barkley is OBJ is now gone, right, so their field stretcher is not there, what happens to Barkley?
These are his splits w/ versus without OBJ last year. The fantasy points went down by a bit, but the volume did not. In fact, most of his production went up. Rushing attempts and targets were the same, rushing yards and attempts and TDs went up. The receptions went down, which obviously impacts rec. yards, but the targets were exactly the same. He had 30 targets in those four games, he caught 17 passes - he had 3 drops and 10 uncatchable passes thrown his way. None of this has anything to do with OBJ - those 3 drops in 4 games, he had 2 drops from Weeks 1-13, then 4 in the last four weeks? Is that predictive of how he plays with vs. without OBJ? Absolutely not. 10 uncatchable passes, like come on now. Yeah, he still has Eli, and the targets are going to be bad, but that's irrelevant to whether or not OBJ is playing, so I just want to get the narrative out that OBJ is a major impact on Saquon, because taking the numbers into context tell another story.
As for Alvin Kamara, as I said, he's just in the greatest situation, in a great offense, great QB, caught at least 80 passes in both seasons so far. They replace Ingram with Latavius Murray, keep an eye on Devine Ozigbo in your dynasty leagues (UDFA from Nebraska), but should be much of the same out of Kamara. He's not going to give you the first four weeks of the year as he did in 2018 with Ingram out, but I think you'll be happy with 18 FPs/game with 3-touchdown weekly upside.
Christian McCaffrey is very similar to Kamara in that both saw a major uptick in touches in year two of their offenses. C-Mac went from 117 attempts in year one to 219 last year, but more importantly, scored 7 rushing TDs from 2 the year prior, boosted his YPC from 3.7 to 5.0. He became a big-time playmaker and a player they could depend on throughout the course of the game: he broke off 3 runs of 40+ yards in 2018, compared to just one in 2017 and had 4 separate 100+ yard rushing games, 0 in his rookie year. But the biggest change was his involvement by the endzone:
People were saying they wanted to lighten his workload, but the dude is looking massive and ready to take on another 300+ touch, 100+ catch role. If they had taken a big, bruiser type back in the draft or from FA, I'd believe it maybe, but they waited until the 5th round to draft this kid Jordan Scarlett whose 208lbs which is probably the same size as C-Mac. A decent size-adjusted athlete, but never ran the ball for 900 yards in a season in college, doesn't catch passes, had a career season-high of 10. Not worried at all - love C-Mac and FBGawd also mentioned in last Tuesday's video when we broke down biggest offensive line changes this offseason how this Carolina offensive line should be sneaky really, really good.
Ezekiel Elliot is as good of a pick as any of these guys is as good of a pick as any of these guys, he was dominant last year, a HUGE step up in the receiving game, 95 targets and 77 catches after his career-high was 40 and 32, respectively in those categories in his first two years. Crazy that Zeke has only played three years, feel like he's played at least 5. We saw just how good he was once Amari Cooper came to Dallas and just how improved this offense was:
Zeke wasn't just good, he was amazing over the 2H of last year. Averaging 6.5 freaking receptions/game, from Week 10 on, didn't have a single game with fewer than 5 receptions. The question becomes, do you think this is going to be the norm? Do you think he catches another 70 passes in 2019? I'd side with no, closer to the 50-55 range. They drafted this running back from Memphis, Tony Pollard who is more of like a weapon, but he caught a ton of passes in college, 39 last year, averaging 11.7 YPR. I do think they'll use him more as a weapon then just having him in for Zeke to catch passes straight out of the backfield, so it's hard to say he's really gonna impact Zeke's catch totals. But, even if he catches 50-55 passes, that's still very good for a running back, we're just heavily skewed by wanting the 70, 80, 90 catches given what happened last year, but it was an all-time historic year for RBs in terms of catching passes ya'll. 55 receptions for a RB is normally good for around top-7, top-5 numbers at the position. Idk who I'm arguing against or for right now to be honest, I'm just dropping big facts.
Also, since we're on the big fact train, I thought you guys would appreciate this stat I dropped on Twitter the other day:
So, the only reason I have Zeke here right now is this stupid incident at EDC where he knocked some dude over with his chest, got put in handcuffs, not arrested or charged or anything, but he presents the biggest risk right now in this tier given the NFL sucks and might slap something on him, like you really never know, do they give him a 2-game suspension, gets appealed knocked down to 1? I think 1 game might make me want to take Cmac or Kamara cleanly over him, so I'm kinda of looking at it from a bestball standpoint or what I would right now if I'm on the clock.
The next group is a duo of kings. They should be respective workhorses in their offense and have the best chances of jumping up to that elite tier but haven't done it yet, or if they have, then they additional baggage compared to the top 4 backs. We have Melvin Gordon and Joe Mixon.
Melvin Gordon has obviously proven it before, last year he was averaging nearly 21 half ppr FPPG, 3rd best behind only Gurley and Barkley, his problem is injuries of course. He's now dealt with multi-week injuries in 3-of-4 NFL seasons, two games his rookie year, three his sophomore, played in full in 2017, then missed four in 2018. The underlying problem here is that yeah, maybe you miss 3 or 4 games, but you also have to think, the games that sandwich those 3 or 4 missed games. He likely left the game early and hurt your fantasy team and when players return from multi-week injuries, they're productivity and usage decreases:
That's the concern with Melvin, but I'll still take elite RB production for 13 games here.
Joe Mixon is a guy I'm moving further and further up my draft board following the NFL Draft and them taking Jonah Williams, again broke down the Cincy offensive line moves in last week's o-line video with Noah so go watch that. The two 6th rounders that they draft Trayv Williams and Rodney Anderson don't scare me at all, it's just depth after they had to cut Mark Walton, and I wouldn't be surprised, given their draft capital if one of them got cut. If Anderson gets hurt this offseason, it'll likely happen. Mixon missed two games last year with a minor knee issue, so if you take out Weeks 3-4, in the other 14 games, Mixon handled 81% of the Bengals RB touches, that's legit bellcow status. The problem was that this offense kinda stunk, as did the offensive line. Hopefully the line is much improved, and they have a new HC coming over from the Sean McVay tree, so maybe it won't be that much better, but it won't be slow like last year under Marvin Lewis who had them ranked 25th in yards/drive and T.O.P./drive, 24th in 3 and outs/drive and 23rd in plays/drive.
Dalvin Cook will end up in the elite tier if you get 16 games out of him, obviously, that's the concern here. when he's on the field his numbers are fantastic:
These are games where he played in 60% or more of the snaps, which I think we can project for this season for sure, if he's healthy, definitely closer to 70%, but he's getting over 20 opportunities (carries + targets/game), and grabbing over 102 YFS/game, great efficiency. He's SO good in the passing game which I love. The TD department is where he lacks a bit, but without Latavius Murray here anymore, he's just competing with the rookie Alexander Mattison. Mattison does have the size (221lbs) to be the GL back here, but it's not a given by any means. Cook was an absolutely prolific TD scorer on the ground in college, scoring 19 times on the ground in each of final two seasons for FSU, he just hasn't had the chance to do it in the NFL, so maybe this is the year. This ranking might be a little high for some people's taste, but scared money don't make no money baby! Dr. Jesse Morse pegged Cook as his breakout running back of the year in 2019, he has no injury concerns about Cook. I do, so that's why he's here. I'm a little nervous about taking Cook in the first round of fantasy drafts, especially ahead of the elite WRs who have done it year-in and year-out.
The other guy in this tier is David Johnson. He's finally moved up my rankings a tiny bit, to RB8. I still don't plan on using a first round pick on him. So this tier of him and Cook stop making their impression on my draft board around pick 12 ish, which means I probably won't get him. I made a bold prediction on the Fade the Public podcast a couple of weeks ago that DJ will become yet again a consensus top 5 fantasy pick (not finish, PICK) by the end of August. We're already seeing it happening, he's We'll first start off by saying not only was the Cardinals offense putrid in 2018 under Mike McCoy, but so was David Johnson if we're being honest with ourselves. 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.
The other thing that pisses me off A LOT, is the whole "well David Johnson was a top-10 fantasy RB last year, and it can't get any worse". Here's the thing, he was tied for RB15 if we talk about points per game. He averaged 13.7 FPPGs. That was below Marlon Mack, and tied with Chris Carson, Leonard Fournette, Phillip Lindsay, so stop with the top-10 shit like he was putting up remotely close numbers to those guys. James Conner was the RB8 in fantasy points per game last year... he averaged 19.1 fantasy points per game, that's nearly 5.5 more/game then DJ. So, yeah, he can improve on last year, let's say even 2.5 half ppr fantasy points/game more, which might not seem like a lot but that's an extra 40 FPs on the year, or 3 extra TDs and 220 yards, which would still have him far behind Conner at the RB9 on PPG. Idk, something in me is saying it's a mistake to think DJ is who he was in 2016. 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'm a BIG fan of Kyler and he will spread this offense out, Kliff will make this air-raid run, but they still have a very poor o-line despite a few plus additions in the offseason. The volume should be there, but I don't know, I'm not so sure Johnson is really that good anymore behind a weak o-line.
The first guy in this tier, Marlon Mack, I absolutely love. I've been well documented this off-season pouring out my love for Mack, I'm pretty sure I'm single-handedly pushing his DRAFT ADP up right, he's become an early-mid round staple of the 3rd and it's only getting higher. Love it!
I had a funny exchange with Josh ADHD on Twitter the other day:
HHe posted a team he just finished drafting (plug DRAFT), and I saw Mack at the 3.03 so I replied with a scissor GIF meaning "sharp" and his response is what made me crack up - "he just has to live". I couldn't think of a better way to summarize Mack's 2019 fantasy football outlook. He's in the single best situation for a fantasy back entering this season, okay maybe you could argue Damien Williams, but maybe not.
The concern everyone has is, of course, his lack of involvement in the passing game because of Nyheim Hines, I get that and it's definitely something I'm acknowledging. Hines saw 81 targets last year, a crazy number (t-7th highest among RBs), but it wasn't like that when Mack was on the field:
The target and reception numbers fell hard. And in the 14 games that the two played together (including playoffs - where Mack out-targeted and out-caught him, Hines literally had 0 catches or targets) Hines averaged just 1.2 more receptions/game than Mack, aided completely by his 9-catch game against Jacksonville when Indy couldn't get a single thing going and lost 6-0. Not saying Mack is going to catch 50-60 passes, but I think there's this idea that Hines is an elite pass-catching back and that's just not the truth when Mack is playing.
He scored 10 touchdowns in 12 regular season games guys, he's the undisputed GL back here, and this was a top-5 scoring offense last year with an elite offensive line. He's almost like the Davante Adams of two years go before he turned elite, like I don't want to rely on RBs that don't catch many passes, but I will if I know they're a lock for double-digit TDs. I wouldn't even be comfortable betting the under if Vegas set Mack's TD total at 11.5. Do you know how many opportunities this Andrew Luck-led offense is gonna have on the GL? A lot. And I've got news for you fam, if Mack is scoring double-digit touchdowns, which is a lock in my books, probably around 12, he's going to be a top-12 fantasy RB.
Next up we have Damien Williams a bit of an enigma, but as far as we're concerned he's the primary back in NFL's highest-scoring offense from 2018. Right now he's the 13th RB being drafted, 24th overall. He's very hard to figure out because there are a LOT of moving parts and only a very small sample size to work off of, so let's break down the pros/cons.
Carlos Hyde - far past his prime, a depth guy that, sure, could succeed if given the role, but he's not gonna beat out Williams for the role or be so good that he demands some of Williams' workload. The only way Hyde becomes really relevant is an injury to Williams and if that happens then the analysis is worthless anyway. Darwin Thompson and James Williams are big buzz names, but have very little draft capital between the two, 6th round a UDFA.
He certainly has the size and skill-set to operate as the primary back here, he's an elite weight-adjusted athlete and excelled last year when given the chance. The upside is real, but so is the lack of NFL production, the risk needs to be factored in. To rank him top 5, 6, 7 at RB, it's cute, but it's not weighing in the risk imo. In the 3rd round, I'm a fan of Williams, for sure. Get an RB1 and a WR1 in the first two, pair with Williams as your RB2. As long as reports keep coming out about Williams looking good and the role being his, he's a good pick in the first 3 rounds. Look, it could be worse, you could hear generic coachspeak "We have a really good group of guys, and they're all gonna have a role and contribute - that would make me nervous, but everything points to Williams securely owning that role." Really it comes down to, when Week 16 hits, looking back, do you have confidence that Williams remains the guy through all 16 weeks? Injuries, competition, etc.?
After that, we have Le'Veon Bell who I'm not a big fan of. He's my RB11, but he's the RB7 off the board right now and 9th overall, so I won't be getting him. He should secure a high volume, but is this offense going to be good? Is this offensive line any good? Reports that Adam Gase didn't want him, Le'Veon Bell's not exactly the most secure person out there, this could easily lead to some locker room issues - not to mention just how poorly Miami's offense has operated these past few years - bottom-5 in just about every category imaginable - yards/drive, plays/drive, points/drive, T.O.P./drive, pace, etc. Gase clearly has no idea how to use running backs, I.E. letting Damien Williams rot in Miami. Of course, there's something to be said about volume for Bell, but like I mentioned about David Johnson, got plenty of volume last year as their workhorse and was not good on a PPG basis, I could see something super similar happening with Bell - 300+ touches, but averaging 4.0 yards per carry, not getting 80 targets like everyone expects, maybe 50 receptions or so, not a ton of scoring opportunities. Idk, just a lot I don't like here I'd much rather have Mixon at this price or an elite WR over Bell as my first round pick. But volume is king, so he's in this tier.
Nick Chubb, James Conner and Kerryon round out this tier. None would surprise me to see finish as top-5, 6, 7 fantasy RBs at all. With Nick Chubb, we have some concern about his work in the passing game and Kareem Hunt coming back which makes me a bit nervous. I think he's going to be absolutely amazing over the first half of the year, and very good when Hunt immediately returns, but your fantasy playoffs are Weeks 14, 15 and 16, so by that point Hunt may have carved out a role here in this backfield, which needs to be factored in. It's definitely possible that Chubb is just far too good to keep off the field, they owe nothing to Hunt, he's on a 1-year, $1 million deal, it's not like he's owed a role when he returns, so. This might be a situation where you just have to step back and not dig too deep. An offense that should be very good, with a soon-to-be elite QB, Chubb already showed us elite NFL production as a rookie, an elite athlete, speed, size, it's all there. The more I think about it, the more I think Chubb is just going to be too good not to ride all year for Cleveland.
James Conner makes me very nervous anywhere near the late 1st, early 2nd. I think his range of outcomes is all over the place, but his ceiling is what he did last year, so he deserves to be in this tier. Last year, Conner saw 90% of the snaps/touches out of the PIT backfield? Jaylen Samuels filled in pretty well for Conner when he missed the three-game stretch at the end of the year, and when Conner returned in Week 17, Samuels out-targeted (8) and out-caught (7) Conner (3-3). We're going to see Samuels' receiving workload expand in 2019, and I've mentioned this quite a few times but:
Conner isn't that great of a running back, if we're being honest. Just from a raw talent perspective, especially compared to the other guys on this list. He does have some highlight real plays for sure, but in terms of creating yards, elusiveness, making guys miss, eh. That was what I saw when I watched so I wanted to confirm, and his yards created per carry (PP) ranked 38th among RBs, his PFF rushing grade was 26th, 26th in YAC and 20th in tackles evaded/attempt (PFF).
In theory, it's a good situation. PIT has had a great offensive line and will have a good one again, they should be a bit more run-heavy than last year, but everything in my gut says Conner is going to finish moreso towards the mid-low RB2 range this year and have a ton of disappointing games, similar to a Jay Ajayi or Alex Collins-ish. Yeah I know he got a ton of targets/receptions last year, but the delta between what he did with them, and what someone like Le'Veon did with his, or just someone better at pass-catching, PIT is leaving a lot on the field in that sense.
So, we move to Kerryon Johnson, and there's a good chance I move him ahead of Conner soon. I love Kerryon more than life itself. Like what is Kerryon's floor? I think where I have him ranked is his floor. PPG last year he was a top-16 fantasy RB, and that's including the games at the beginning of the year where he was ridiculously underutilized. Kerryon was a lot better than people realize and his involvement in the passing game was fantastic. We're worried about this being an RBBC, WHY. Because of C.J. Anderson? Gtfoh!!! After week's 1 and 2 where he played on 35% of the snaps, smh, fat Matt Pat - Kerryon had 14+ touches in all but 1-of-8 games. We're gonna get a 15-touch weekly floor for Kerryon like does anyone dispute that? Behind an offensive line that's going to be sneaky good, with a new OC Darren Bevell who is going to run him into the ground and has always used a workhorse, show me a 280-touch Kerryon, and I'll show you a top-10 fantasy RB.
This could very easily be the tier that makes or break fantasy seasons. These are those mid-round guys with glaring red flags. Lot's of upside, but the mid-round RBs from rounds 3, 4, 5, 6, many of them bust. This is Sony Michel, David Montgomery, Aaron Jones, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette. For the record, none of these guys will be on my team if I have to take them in the 3rd round.
We have Sony Michel and Derrick Henry, two guys that simply don't catch passes. Easiest tell as to who is going to be volatile and game-script dependent. EOS numbers going to be there? Maybe, but weekly they'll probably give you a ton of 13-52, 1-8 games. Like I mentioned earlier, last year was a historic year for pass-catching RBs, Dion Lewis caught 59 balls, which typically ranks top-5 if not higher among the position, he's still heavily involved on 3rd downs. Sony also has the knee issues that he dealt with in college and during his rookie year. They draft Damien Harris in the 3rd round, still have James White and Rex. Sony is still the highest in this tier because he could easily post subpar overall yards and stuff, but finish with 12-14 rushing touchdowns. This line is very good and they just score a lot.
Aaron Jones - yeah everyone loves his talent - but there's no part of me that believes he ever becomes the featured back in GB - this is going to be a RBBC whether it's Jamaal Williams or the rookie Dexter Williams, Jones has proven that he just ain't built for the workhorse role and GB knows it. New Packers coach Matt LaFleur literally already came out and said a "committee approach" is the most effective when it comes to Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.
You can miss me with these reports of him losing 7% body fat and gaining 14lbs of muscle. I love that everyone in the fantasy community is so ignorant to health, nutrition and fitness. It's officially gain 10lbs of muscle and drop 10lbs of fat season. Jones was 208 lbs, if he was at 11% body fat and dropped to 5.3%, he's going to be sub-200lbs coming into this year, it's actually quite simple math. You can't lose fat and gain muscle at the same time fam, I'm sorry, it's not possible outside of two situations:
Neither of which make sense for Jones - he's an NFL-level athlete, not new to his fitness journey - and it's been like 2 months since the season ended - and when I mean over a long period of time, I mean LONG. Like a year, two years. If y'all think I break this fantasy shit down, I'm almost just as into learning about fitness so.
I'm starting to really buy into David Montgomery. I really like the fit in this offense from a 3-down standpoint. Cohen is gonna take some snaps, sure, but look at the numbers. Cohen played on 46% of the Bears offensive snaps last year. And of that 46%, he played outside or from the slot on nearly 35% of those. Which will leave about 70% of backfield snaps open, and I think even on the pays Cohen is in the backfield, they can use both of them on the field. I really think Montgomery plays around 65-70% of snaps in 2018 and will contribute much more in the passing game then Jordan Howard did last year. To give you a frame of reference: Joe Mixon played 70% of the snaps, Melvin Gordon was at 72% (taking out when he left in Week 12), Kamara played 66%, most backs now-a-days plays 60% ish of their teams snaps. Jordan Howard caught 20 passes last year and finished as a top-20 back in fantasy last year, Montgomery should easily hit that. I think Montgomery might be my favorite 4th round back of this tier (assuming Mack and Kerryon don't fall to you there), since he has the receiving workload upside and a very good situation under Matt Nagy.
Fournette and Gurley are almost off my board with their injury risks relevant to where they'll get picked.
For those of you saying where's Josh Jacobs - he ain't it this year chief. But if you want to know, you'll have to cop the draft guide to find out where he ranks.
June 10, 2019
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