Top 5 Running Back Breakouts in 2019 Fantasy Football
Imagine thinking these guys aren't going to break tf out in 2019 fantasy football. The NFL seems to replenish itself with youthful running back talent annually. It's probably because coaches are getting better at putting running backs in the best position to succeed, so they're not squares being shoved into round holes, making everyone look better and more efficient. But there are a few young almighties on the cusp of dominating their backfield - here are my top 3.
Kerryon Johnson - Detroit Lions
Current ADP: RB16, 30th Overall
Kerrrrryon, kerrrryon, with your dominance young man.
The big news here is that Theo Riddick was cut last week. I wasn't surprised whatsoever, [INSERT BOLD PREDICTION VIDEO] but I'll be honest, I'm kind of pissed about this, because I was smashing Kerryon in the late 3rd of every bestball draft I've done so far this summer.
I've done over 115 bestball drafts already, yeah I know, I'm a psycho, we already knew this tho. And Kerryon is my most-owned running back. Riddick getting cut is going to, similar to what I predicted, spike KJ's ADP up real high. He'll be a borderline 2nd round pick by the time drafts roll around.
Let's look at the situation we find ourselves in for this Detroit backfield.
The first concern on everyone's mind should be health. Dating back to college, KJ has seen his fair share of injuries. He injured his shoulder in 2015, leading to surgery in 2016. Plus a bunch of other minor injuries throughout the rest of his time at Auburn - hamstring, ankle sprain, re-tweaking that shoulder - nothing major, but still banged up consistently. In his rookie season, on his way to a breakout campaign, Johnson limped off the field in Week 11 with a knee injury. We never got exact confirmation on what it was but Dr. Morse - ***who is doing injury writeups in the BDGE draft guide*** - "likely he suffered a sprain to one of the supporting knee ligaments, probably the MCL, as that is the most common in football." The plan was to let him rest for 3-4 weeks and re-assess. They ended up shutting him down for the rest of the season. My suspicion is that he was probably fine after that 4 weeks, but by Week 15 Detroit was 5-9 and out of playoff contention - there was no reason to push him and cause a more serious injury that would affect his 2019 status.
Johnson has since been cleared and is fully recovered from last year’s knee sprain, and from what we've been hearing is dominating at training camp, especially in the passing department, which I believe would have easily been the case prior to the Riddick releasing, but my GAWD, it's wheels up for his receiving workload.
As a player KJ was stellar during his rookie season:
- 2nd in YPC (5.4)
- 7th in YAC (3.3)
- 10th in Evaded Tackles/Attempt
So what actually happened here in Detroit. Let's go Picasso and paint a mf picture. Before the injury, KJ was just warming up. From Week's 1-5, KJ didn't play on over 50% of the snaps for Detroit in any of their games.
They had their bye in Week 6 and I'm spitballing here, but maybe they realized, hey, at this point in the season maybe the carry split between Kerryon and LeGarrette Blount should not be 50-47. Because a 5.7 ypc mark (what KJ had at time) is a little bit higher than Blount's 2.7 ypc. Incredible analytics department DET must have over there!!!!
So, from Weeks 7-11 (5 games), KJ would play on over 50% of snaps in all five games before injuring his knee. In those five games, KJ averaged exactly 100 yards from scrimmage, but most importantly was him averaging nearly 5 targets and 4 receptions per game. He also scored 3 touchdowns in those five games.
Who knows what would've happened if KJ stayed healthy - he could've been a possible league-winner down the stretch last year.
Looking forward to 2019, we know KJ is a great talent, but what kind of offense is this going to be - which is question mark number two. We know offensive lines (plug Noah draft guide article) can make or break running backs. Last year, Detroit was PFF's 11th best run-blocking line in the NFL. With a young group anchored by their first-round pick Frank Ragnow at center, I love continuity, so I expect this group to be even better in the trenches in 2019 - it's a group they've been investing in pretty heavily the last few years and we're starting to see those investments finally come to fruition a bit. So that's a positive.
This offense overall, though. They bring in Darrell Bevell as the OC.
Bevell was the OC in MIN from 2006-2010 and then in SEA from 2011-2017.
His first-ever year as an OC in 2006, his RB1 was fantasy's RB14, after that 8 straight seasons of the overall RB6 in fantasy or better. The last three years were a fall-off in Seattle as you saw that backfield completely carousel due to injuries after Beast Mode retired. In his 12 years as OC, the average RB1 saw 250 carries/season. If you take out the last three years we're looking at 299 carries/season. You can absolutely make the chicken or the egg argument for Bevell because he coached Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson but it also tells you that he's not afraid to use a workhorse.
And's let's not forget Blount's 17 carries inside-the-10 and 11 GL carries, good for top-12 among NFL running backs. Kerryon sitting with a whopping 2 GL carries.
Coaching is a huge factor for Kerryon's outlook. We know Matt Patricia want's to ground-and-pound and play defense, with his non-existent defense, but that's another story. Just how much did Patricia's hiring sway the philosophy in DET? Near the EZ check these numbers out:
2016 (56% - 8th) and 2017 (59% - 7th) pass rate inside the opponent's 10-yard-line.
2018 (36% - 29th) pass rate inside the opponent's 10-yard line.
If KJ is getting these GL touches, it could be plentiful in the scoring department.
I love KJ for a breakout 2019 fantasy football season, BUT the injury history paired alongside with this Detroit's offense possibly being ineffective as a whole, lot's of running does mean lots of clock off, makes KJ a great pick in the 3rd round as your RB2, but is a bit risky for me in the 2nd.
Aaron Jones - Green Bay Packers
Current ADP: RB16, 30th Overall
So, Jones is a guy I admittedly didn't love going into the summer. When I initially started looking at this Green Bay backfield, I thought RBBC, stay away. And then I started to think - wait, maybe this is a good thing. I'm stating to think of Aaron Jones as Alvin Kamara. He will benefit over the long-run by being used less frequently, given his size and injury history.
Matt LaFleur comes over from Tennessee to Head Coach this Green Bay team. We know the background of LaFleur - under Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta then under McVay in LAR. Last year was not good at all for LaFleur in TEN. Say what you want about the QB situation - but the offense was bottom of the league in most offensive categories that would suggest a forward-thinking philosophy - pace, snaps/game, etc. What I do find extremely encouraging is the running back usage in the passing game, which we've heard time and again this summer from Green Bay camp and from LaFleur.
Last year, Dion Lewis caught 59 passes. That's a huge number. I think we can all agree that at worst - Aaron Jones is the best pass-catcher in this backfield - it's not close. What we also know is that he's far and away the best runner, too. He led the entire NFL in yards per carry last year (5.47), while ranking 8th in tackles evaded/attempt. Unlike Dion Lewis, Jones is not competing with Derrick Henry. I don't think he's particularly good, but as runners Jamaal Williams and Dexter Williams are Dominos to Derrick Henry's L&B Spumoni Garden.
The problem is, we don't know what the coaches in Green Bay prefer. Maybe they're a bunch of drunk college kids and they want Dominos at 2am. We can all objectively agree that L&B is better than Dominos, but that doesn't always mean that you're fading Dominos. Unfortunately, they've enjoyed greasy ass Jamaal Williams for too long.
What's going on in GB though. Jamaal Williams has been dealing with a hamstring injury and has been out. Aaron Jones has been soaking up the majority of the first team reps, mixing in with rookie Dexter Williams. This is great, new coach will have the chance to see exactly what Aaron Jones is up close.
I'm completely fine letting one of the fat boy Williams bro's take the grinder carries, so that leads to less injury risk for Aaron Jones - if he has a large % of his touches in this high-powered offense come by way or receptions, I'd love that. 12-14 carries a game + 5 targets? Fuck yeah give me 17-18 touches/game Aaron Jones with less injury risk than 5 games of 23+ touch Aaron Jones. Jones reportedly came into camp in great shape, I'm not going to go on a rant about his 5.3% body fat, no one needs me yelling on a monday morning - but it's better he comes in, in good shape than out of shape, the last preseason it was the suspension and him getting injured in the preseason i believe it was a hamstring he was dealing with last August - so he's getting a nice fresh start in 2019.
This is also quietly a very good offensive line in Green Bay. They were Football Outsider's 7th ranked run-blocking line and PFF's 5th best run-blocking line. They drafted a kid named Elgton Jenkins from Miss St. 4th overall to sure up that interior - love that. They signed Billy Turner from Denver in FA to a 4-year $28M contract, hired former 49ers O-Line coach Adam Stenavich so LaFleur + Stenavich wil be on the same Kyle Shanahan esq page.
This is going to be a great offensive unit in Green Bay, on all cylinders. The scoring opportunities should be plentiful. Jones is a terrific GL/RZ rusher, even dating back to his days in college - a guy who ran for 33 rushing scores in 35 games. Last year, he handled 67% of the Packers GL carries and was absolutely dominant inside-the-10 yard line.
He led the NFL in TD rate in carries in the 10zone - he turned 8 10zone carries into 6 touchdowns. Small sample, but super-efficient.
The number I just can't get off my mind is that 59 reception mark by Dion Lewis. If Jones even flirts with that number, given the rushing work upside that he has compared to Dion Lewis, plus being in this offense that's going to score and score and score, I'm starting to love the idea of Jones, even in a committee - which honestly might not even be the case.
David Montgomery - Chicago Bears
Current ADP: RB16, 30th Overall
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.
Something I did talk about with Montgomery pre-draft was that it would be important for him to land in an offense that runs from the shotgun often. This is for a few reasons. Because, like Le'Veon Bell, Montgomery can dance mane, but he has very little burst, he's not going to break off the huge runs. Guys that have that long speed and the burst, tremendously benefit from running under center because they get those 2-3 extra steps when they're getting the handoff from the quarterback to burst through the hole that's there. From the shotgun, a guy with vision and agility like Montgomery, you get the ball with no running start you get to sidestep and pick your holes, that's where he'll excel. So, is the Bears offense a good fit?
Indeed. They ran 79% of their plays from the shotgun in 2018, the 2nd highest clip in the NFL, with 33% of the plays from shotgun being a run, the 3rd highest rate in the NFL. This is great news for Montgomery.
There are also some other random, probably nothing, but cool connections to note. For one, obviously, Matt Nagy comes over from the Chiefs who coached Kareem Hunt and says he sees a lot of similar traits between the two. The current recruiting director at Northwestern was the one that recruited Montgomery to Iowa State and Kareem Hunt to Toledo before him.
The explosiveness absolutely still makes me nervous. His breakaway percentage last year was 31.2%, 63rd in the NCAA. Jordan Howard who is also kind of deemed slow ran a 4.57 40, compared to D-Mont's 4.63 but Howards WASS puts him in the 81st %tile. Howard had plenty of plays of 15+ yards with Chicago.
Montgomery will compete with Mike Davis, who the Bears signed to a 2-year, $8M. Montgomery is similarly built to Davis and Howard but much better in the passing game. And I think that's why the Bears took him. So they don't have to rely on Tarik Cohen to be the only pass-catching back on the field and absolutely telegraph all of their plays. It's going to be a great running back duo that they can use on the field at the same time. Cohen will still be heavily involved, but he didn't even line up from the backfield on over 35% of his plays - he was out wide or in the slot for more than a third of the time he was on the field. This is an RBBC, but not much from the running side. All reports coming out of Chicago for weeks now are saying that they expect Cohen's touch-count to decrease in 2019 which make sense.
It gets cold in Chicago mane. Towards the end of the year, when they're playing that hard-nosed NFC North football in 20-degree weather, we saw Jordan Howard start getting bigger workloads Montgomery is that back who can thrive down the stretch given his size.
1. Rashaad Penny
2. Miles Sanders