7/01 - Running Backs to Target or Avoid in 2019 Fantasy Football (Mid-Rounders)

by Nick Ercolano July 08, 2019

7/01 - Running Backs to Target or Avoid in 2019 Fantasy Football (Mid-Rounders)

Kenyan Drake - Miami Dolphins | RB22, 44th Overall

Drake is one of the more interesting fantasy running backs to discuss in 2019. He somehow finished as a mid-high end RB2 in 2018, (RB17 in half ppr - RB22 in FPPG). He was nearly impossible to put in your lineup though he was so sporadic. He'd have two terrible games, followed by a 20-point game, get you excited, then another 3-point game, so you'd sit him and there goes 22 points on your bench. So, realistically he was awful to own. But there is definitely optimism for Drake in 2019.

He came away from the NFL Draft as a winner in my opinion. Not only the NFL draft but the off-season in general. With Frank Gore in Buffalo, Drake sits atop the depth chart in South Beach with only Kalen Ballage, Kenneth Farrow and 7th round rookie Myles Gaskin behind him. At the very worst, Drake will split the workload with Ballage like he did last year with Frank Gore, he finished as RB17.

Drake quietly caught 53 passes in 2018 which goes unnoticed given the explosion of reception-totals from RBs last year. It was the 14th highest total at the position, but typically that's top-10 and if you're looking just a few years ago, 2016, 15, 14 that's nearly top 5 among running backs, so just note that in PPR leagues.

What else went on in Miami? Well, much like the concerns we had for Drake going into last year - is this offense going to be bad? Offensive line? Quarterback? We still have a lot of those concerns. Their offensive line graded out 28th per PFF in run-blocking (14th per FO's), and they lose Ja'Waun James, arguably their best run-blocking lineman to the Denver in FA who signed him to a four-year, $51 million contract. Probably an overpay, but still a blow to MIA. They used a 3rd and 6th round pick on lineman, but still, just a 3rd and 6th round pick - no sure things. The offensive line, still very much a concern.

The big storyline of the last few weeks has been Josh Rosen who will come in and compete with Ryan Fitzpatrick for the starting QB job. I'd be shocked if it wasn't Rosen under center for Miami in Week 1, even if Fitzpatrick outperforms him all summer. They got him for almost nothing and will sacrifice almost nothing if he does poorly, they can draft someone else next year. So, Rosen under center, I mean it's definitely an upgrade from last year, but we saw how poorly Rosen played when constantly under pressure in Arizona, and as we already covered, the Dolphins o-line is barely an upgrade if they even are in that category (28th per PFF, 31st per FO's in PBing) - they're not setting up Rosen to fail. They really didn't bring in any new weapons on the offensive side of the ball at all - resigning DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Kenny Still, Mike Gesicki - it's hard to imagine this offense being any better this year than it was in 2018, a year in which they ranked 26th in scoring (19.9 ppg).

The other major change is at HC and OC - they bring on two Pats coaches who have worked together under Bill Belichick for the last 10 years - Brian Flores as the HC who was the DC in NE and Chad O'Shea, the former Pats WRs coach. Flores is a defensive specialist, while Chad O'Shea has never called plays in the NFL. They hired Jim Caldwell as an offensive assistant which should help bring O'Shea along, but 2019 might shape up to be a tank job. They should be trailing a lot, which could be a good thing for Drake.

The problem is we still don't know what we're going to get. I think we, as a fantasy community, collectively would love to see Drake get a full workload, or at least a sizable one no a consistent basis. However, he's been in Miami for 3 years now and we've yet to see anything close to that. After finishing the 2017 season on a five-game tear, carrying the ball 91 times in that span, we all got excited only to see him carry the ball 120 times in 2018 in 16 games, seeing double-digit carries in just five games, seeing 5 or fewer carries in 25% of their games. I love the idea of what Drake can be, but to just assume we're going to see it in 2019 would be naive. He never handled a big workload in college, similar to Josh Jacobs, and hasn't in the NFL. NFL players usually don't change much, we can usually find out who they are by looking at college, then we have a 3-year sample in the NFL. Make the excuses you want, but the facts are there. Drake seems to be a receiving back, that has the upside of and size of being a workhorse. Don't expect the latter and be disappointed with the former. If he keeps dropping, Drake is someone I'm cool targeting in the 6th or 7th, but it's still a bad offensive, offensive line, with unproven coaches and QB that won't score much.

Tarik Cohen - Chicago Bears | RB28, 57th Overall

Alright, so I feel like Tarik Cohen is such a controversial running back in 2019. Everyone likes Tarik Cohen, he's so much fun to watch. He's explosive & everyone roots for the bite-size guys. He had a great 2018, sophomore campaign. He was half PPR's RB13, RB18 on PPG. His stat-line last year: 99-441-3 / 89-71-725-5 - by all accounts a great year - over 70 receptions, 1150+ YFS and 8 touchdowns. At the age of 23. But, as they almost always do for pass-catching running backs, those EOS numbers came at the expense of consistency. Cohen had 5 complete bust games last year - most of any RB at where he finished or higher:

In 50% of his games, Cohen scored 12 FPs or fewer.

The other thing to consider here is the backfield. Last year he literally shared it with no one other than Jordan Howard and they accounted for 94% of RB touches in Chicago. Let's keep in mind that Jordan Howard is incapable of catching passes. This year, they signed Mike Davis, whose 34 receptions last year were more than Howard has ever had in a single season. And they drafted David Montgomery who is a great receiving back in the 3rd round, already getting rave reviews out of camp as a pass-catcher. Cohen plays a solid % of his snaps in the slot of outside, but I think the targets/receptions from the backfield are going to dip down - both of these backs have 3-down skill-sets, if Howard was on the field last year he wasn't getting targeted. This is gonna give Nagy far more incentive to keep them on the field at any time. What else, I mean Allen Robinson missed 3 games, Anthony Miller missed a couple and was playing with one shoulder for most of the year after he separated it in Week 2 or 3. Adam Shaheen missed almost all of the regular season.

I feel liek you have to pick Cohen where there's very little room for ROI given how I imagine his volume to be combined with the devalue prop that you have to pick and choose when to start him, because he goes through weeks where he's basically unusable:


L4 games of the season including their playoff games = 7 touches and 32.5 yards/game. I'm not knit-picking small sample-sizes - I'm not like pacing out 16 games - but this is what comes with a guy like Cohen - you will get patches of games like this, which absolutely diminishes his fantasy value in season-long leagues.tarik cohen 2019 fantasy football

It happens like multiple times a year, and you have to think of yourself, like you probably sat him most of those games, and you definitely sat him the game after those 3 or 4 bad games in a row, which was the explosion game, you know what I mean, it becomes a minefield of madness.

I will leave you with this:

tarik cohen 2019 fantasy football

RRB1 is Tarik Cohen, RB2 is Austin Ekeler.

James White - New England Patriots: RB26, Overall 54

Taking James White near round 5 in season-long is basically suicidal. I mean, it's easy to disagree based on recency bias, with White coming off a year in which he set career-highs across the board. 94 rushes were twice as many as his career-high (43), as was his 425 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, 123 targets, 87 catches, 751 rec. yards and 7 receiving scores. He finished as the RB8 in fantasy football.

These types of seasons happen with satellite backs. Chris Thompson's had his year, Gio, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead... as soon as you have to pay for their breakout season's numbers, they lose all value in fantasy drafts.

With James White's numbers, they were super inflated based on injuries to both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead:james white fantasy football 2019

These are his White's games last year when both Sony and Rex Burkhead played. They obviously cannibalize each other. Last year, in the 10 games that one of those two backs didn't play, White scored 10 touchdowns, 10 in 10. When they were on the field, his numbers predictably dipped by a huge margin. His touch total went from about 12.5 to 9, and that 3.5 is major when the majority of your touches are passes, that' probably 5 points or so in PPR. His TD numbers dropped to about 0.34 TDs/game, over the course of the year, that's about 5 touchdowns if paced to 16 games, which makes perfect sense when you look at White's history. As a rookie in 2014 he didn't play much. 2015 = 6 touchdowns, 2016 = 5 touchdowns, 2017 = 3 touchdowns. The five rushing touchdowns he scored last year are not going to happen again, not a chance. He had a total of two rushing touchdowns in his career in 45 games before the 2018 season. He had five last year, most of which came when these other two weren't on the field. Now, to ensure that they don't have to use James White in the ground game if one of these guys get hurt, the Pats used a third-round pick on Damien Harris - the running back out of Alabama. Not an elite runner by any means, but a really solid all-around prospect that can play on all three downs and can do anything out of the backfield. It kills White's chances of filling in and benefiting from any injuries to the backfield.

White is a guy who will still have a role, but he's not putting up close to his 2018 numbers and he's a guy you now have to pay the price of those numbers for. Once Sony came back in Week 10, White had a few good games, but 8.3 half PPR points or fewer (5.1, 8.3, 6.2, 3.8) in the majority of the remaining games. You have to try and guess which games to start him, just don't take satellite backs this early in your drafts.

Honorable Mentions

James White - New England Patriots

Chris Carson - Seattle Seahawks

Derrius Guice - Washington Redskins



Nick Ercolano
Nick Ercolano

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