2019 Rankings: Top 40 Running Backs for Fantasy Football
Tuesday I covered the Top 20 Running Backs for 2019, and today I move on to ranks 21-40.
My general strategy with running backs is to hammer the position early and often. Running backs are volatile and unpredictable; since even experts are wrong so often on running backs, I want to take as many shots as possible. Some will be flops, and you’ll wonder what you were thinking in hindsight. But the running back picks that hit can be league winners. I often remind myself in drafts; just when you think you have enough running backs on your roster, draft one more to be sure.
Running back rankings are based on PPR scoring. I will note adjustments to make in standard leagues when necessary.
Tier 4: Beginning of the End
21. Chris Carson (Seattle Seahawks) – This tier is a continuation of the back end of yesterday’s top 20 running backs. Carson may get slept on athletically due to being a 7th round draft pick, but his 77th percentile SPARQ score tells a different story. Injury issues have tempered some enthusiasm on Carson, as he broke his leg in his rookie year, was dinged up throughout last year, and had a minor knee procedure in May of this year. However, Carson broke out in his second year in the league in 2018 after a 32 carry game in Week 3 and never looked back. Carson had double-digit rush attempts in all but one game the rest of the season, posted six 100 yard games, and ended the year with a healthy 4.66 yards per carry while scoring nine rushing touchdowns. Rashaad Penny figures to be more involved in his second year, but that isn’t my primary concern, as the Seahawks figure to have plenty of carries to divide up in 2019. The hole in Carson’s game is his passing game work, however. Carson had five games without a single target last year, three games with one target, and three games with two targets; making up 11 of his 14 games overall. In standard leagues, Carson finds himself closer to the top of this tier next to Leonard Fournette. But his overall numbers will take a dive in PPR leagues.
22. Kenyan Drake (Miami Dolphins) – I could get so much more excited about Drake if he was on a team other than the Dolphins. Shockingly, Drake was the RB14 overall last year, although some of that was due to playing all 16 games as he was just the RB21 on a point per game basis. Drake lived off of his pass game work with 53 catches on 73 targets for 477 yards and five touchdowns, though he did average a more than respectable 4.5 yards per attempt on the ground. Drake’s limiting factor was his rushing attempts, as he only reached ten carries or more in five games all season. Former coach Adam Gase seemed to have it out for Drake, citing his pass protection as a reason to limit his usage. With a new regime in town, there is at least a chance that things finally break right for Drake. It will be interesting to see how the depth chart plays out, as his primary backup, Kalen Ballage, plays a similar pass game role as Drake does, and the rest of the running backs are 7th round picks and UDFAs. The Dolphins lack of scoring upside and inability to play with a lead will likely hold Drake back from a true breakout, but better days could be in store for the 25-year-old soon to be free agent.
23. Mark Ingram (Baltimore Ravens) – Ingram has a lot of potential downside that could lead to a truly disappointing season on his new team. He will be fighting for carries with one of the league’s most run-heavy quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson, as well running backs Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, and lightning-fast rookie Justice Hill. Ingram could find the competition in the red zone especially detrimental to his fantasy scoring if Jackson or Edwards siphon touchdowns away from Ingram. But Ingram has shown enough versatility in his career that he should demand a solid role, with two 50 catch years as well as two 1,000 yard rushing seasons on his record. I’m intrigued enough by the possibilities of the Ravens offense to give Ingram a shot, as he could see a lot of volume if the offense is able to find a rhythm. And if he can carve out a red zone role, I could see Ingram finishing off plenty of long drives with short touchdowns.
Tier 5: Character Flaws
24. Sony Michel (New England Patriots) – I’m likely to wait on whichever Patriots running back falls down the draft boards in a particular draft, since trying to predict the Patriots backfield usage has proven tricky. Michel gets a bump in standard leagues due to his touchdown potential, putting him behind Chris Carson. But Michel’s lack of passing game involvement is a concern in PPR leagues. Michel saw a minuscule 11 targets in 13 games last year, and despite being young and capable of improvement, it sure seems like New England is happy feeding its targets to pass-catching back James White. Michel had a season of peaks and valleys in his rookie year, with his 139 fantasy points largely built on five good games. Even his six regular-season touchdowns in 13 games are disappointing. Michel did stand out in the playoffs, however, scoring six touchdowns in three games on the way to a Super Bowl victory. Michel seems to be over a minor knee procedure in the offseason but still has to fend off White and 3rd round rookie Damien Harris in a typically murky backfield, lowering him in my ranks.
25. James White (New England Patriots) – Speaking of White, let’s put the Patriots top two backs right next to each other since I don’t know what to make of either of them. Last year White became one of only 4 running backs over the past three years to reach 120 targets on his way to a surprising RB7 finish. If you’re in a standard league, you can go ahead and knock White down about 10 spots, but in a PPR league, White is interesting. Last year looks like a career year, as White topped his previous best target total by 37, ran for five touchdowns after having only two rushing touchdowns in his entire career, and doubled his previous best total touchdown mark by scoring 12 times in 2018. If he returns to his normal touchdown numbers and gets squeezed out of snaps by the addition of Harris, White could drop down the ranks quickly. But with Rob Gronkowski retired, it would at least make sense for the Patriots to lean on White in the passing game once again. Just don’t expect another top-ten year out of him.
26. Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans) – Henry has some truly shocking statistics from last year. In 2018, Henry scored a whopping 39% of his yearly fantasy point total in Weeks 13 and 14 alone. In addition, Henry set a career-high target total last year with… 18 targets. Unfortunately, he was unable to make that increased target total count, as he only registered 99 receiving yards on the year. But in all seriousness, I just don’t see myself drafting Henry in a PPR league because of those two stats alone. In a standard league, Henry should provide a decent touchdown floor, and could rise as high as Chris Carson’s level. But in a PPR league, I’ll let others chase last years epic two-week explosion.
27. David Montgomery (Chicago Bears) – The Bears rookie third-round pick didn’t test particularly well at the combine, and probably doesn’t possess the breakaway speed to be a dynamic threat in the Bears offense. But the Bears weren’t looking for that type of player with Tarik Cohen already in the mix, so Montgomery should slide right into the role vacated by Jordan Howard, only with more passing game versatility. Mike Davis does pose a hurdle to clear for Montgomery, and maybe he eats into Montgomery’s volume early on. But we know Cohen isn’t a between the tackles runner, so the opportunity is there for Mongtomery to seize a large role. On what should be a good team that looks to run the ball, Montgomery could turn into a steady, if unspectacular, rookie option.
28. Tarik Cohen (Chicago Bears) – Another set of teammates next to each other, Cohen mirrors White in New England. He won’t ever take over the backfield, and it would take more touchdown luck to move Cohen much higher. But his target floor is an attractive option for zero running back drafters in PPR leagues. Cohen saw the sixth most running back targets in the league last year with 91 and finished as the RB11 overall. So why is he ranked so low? Cohen’s low 19.5% of the Bears red zone carries plus targets was only the 29th best rate among running backs last year, and he was probably fortunate to score eight touchdowns considering. And Montgomery poses more of a threat to Cohen’s role, as he isn’t the pass game liability that Howard proved to be. In standard leagues, Cohen can be dropped considerably down from this spot.
29. Tevin Coleman (San Francisco 49ers) – Though it feels like he has been in the league forever, Coleman is still just 26 years old entering his fifth season in the NFL. Reunited with coach Kyle Shannahan, Coleman walks into an injury-riddled backfield as the healthiest option. Coleman’s best season from an efficiency standpoint came with Shannahan in 2016, where he scored 11 touchdowns on very limited touches while averaging 4.4 yards per rushing attempt and 13.6 yards per reception. If Coleman wants to be fantasy relevant again, however, he is going to need to see huge increases in volume. With career single-season highs of 167 rushes ad 44 targets, Coleman will need to be used in ways he never has before to truly break out. But with Jerrick McKinnon coming back from an ACL injury, walking wounded Matt Breida already missing time with a torn pectoral muscle, and Raheem Mostert needing a second surgery on a broken arm this offseason, there’s a chance Coleman is relied on early and often. Coleman probably won’t get the volume needed to move up too many tiers, but he could be a nice value option with some big weeks.
Tier 6: Shoot For The Stars
30. Rashaad Penny (Seattle Seahawks) – Here’s where we get to the part of rankings that could vary depending on roster construction. If you’ve gone zero running back, or need some safe options, skip to the next tier. But if you draft as I do, and already have three or four running backs from the top 29, you’d be better off chasing upside as opposed to the safe and boring veterans in the tier below. Penny had an up and down rookie year and failed to compete with Carson for the starting job. But Carson has battled injury issues, and Penny showed flashes of promise down the stretch. Seattle may run the ball enough to support two running backs regardless, and any weeks Carson were hurt would be a huge boost to Penny’s value. With the rest of the Seahawks running back depth comprised of 3rd down backs, Penny has a clear opportunity for a breakout, though you may need to stash him on your bench for a bit.
31. Darrell Henderson (Los Angeles Rams) – The hype is likely going to get out of control on Henderson, so I recommend staying rational with him and not drafting him too early. But it’s easy to see why the hype has reached this point already. Watching Henderson play in Memphis offense was a blast, and the Memphis offense had some parallels to the Rams offense that made it easy to see how Henderson could fit in. He flashed breakaway speed, was versatile, and while often running through wide-open lanes, seemed excellent at taking advantage of his opportunities. The Rams have said that they see the third-round pick as their Alvin Kamara, which is overly optimistic, but he could provide a complement to Todd Gurley in the passing game while also spelling him on drives. Then, of course, is the issue of Gurley’s knee, which has everyone in a panic and has driven up Henderson’s cost. Gurley will be on the Rams for three more years due to his contract, and he’s not going to ride the bench all game. So Henderson will need Gurley to miss time due to the knee or be so limited that he takes on a secondary role. Malcolm Brown will also be competing for work, and the coaching staff values his veteran presence. But it’s easy to see a way a scenario where Henderson carves out a moderately successful fantasy role, and the mouthwatering upside in the Rams elite touchdown scoring offense makes it worth taking the risk on Henderson until his price goes completely bonkers. Just don’t count on plugging him into your lineup week one.
32. Miles Sanders (Philadelphia Eagles) – Sanders may have the widest range of outcomes of this group. If he can take control of the Eagles backfield, the sky is the limit in 2019. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get lost in this running back committee and struggle to see the consistent snaps needed to be a fantasy asset year one. Primarily competing with Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood, Sanders could easily get cast aside to start the year in favor of those professional backs. But the 5’11”, 211 pound rookie out of Penn State showed athleticism in college as evidenced by a 77th percent SPARQ score, showed the ability to split out in the slot and run routes, and frequently hurdled college defenders. He may not be the prototypical goalline back, that work could fall to Howard, and his pass blocking may be a work in progress, which could affect his third-down role. Those two issues give me pause about his fantasy prospects in year one. But just from an athletic standpoint, I like Sanders more than fellow rookie David Montgomery, and I don’t think he is actually all that far off from Josh Jacobs as a long term prospect. Don’t overdraft Sanders based on this rank, just have him in your queue and draft him as a stash if you have the roster space.
Tier 7: Ground and Pound
33. Latavius Murray (New Orleans Saints) – In a standard league you can actually jump Murray up to tier five, as he has some interesting touchdown potential in New Orleans. Taking over the Mark Ingram role, Murray isn’t the pass catcher that Ingram is, but he isn’t a complete zero in that department as he’s at least had a 50 and 40 target season in his five years in the league. At age 29, Murray isn’t likely to have a massive breakout, but he certainly finds himself in an ideal landing spot, as the Saints have been able to support two fantasy running backs for what feels like decades. And if Alvin Kamara ever missed time, the rest of the Saints backfield is undrafted rookies and former 7th round picks. Murray will be playable in blowout spots as the likely clock-killing option and has decent red zone potential in one of the league’s best offenses. I just don’t think he has major upside barring a big injury to Kamara.
34. Jordan Howard (Philadelphia Eagles) – Howard was the RB20 last year averaging 11.25 PPR points per game, a steady decline from his 2016 rookie season where he averaged 15.34 points per game. His yards per rush have gone down each season, from his rookie year 5.2 yards per attempt to 2018’s 3.7 rushing average. His targets have even been on the decline, from a rookie year high of 50 down to last year’s 26. In a new spot in Philadelphia, Howard finds himself in a loaded offense that in theory fits his red zone ability, as Howard saw 29% of the Bears red zone carries plus touches last year, good for the 11th best running back rate. But with all of the Eagles offensive options, both in the backfield and in the passing game, I’m not sure if we can just pencil in Howard for all of that work automatically. Howard could challenge tier five in standard leagues, but in PPR I don’t think he ends up being much more than a matchup dependent touchdown option, much like Latavius Murray.
35. Lamar Miller (Houston Texans) – Do I even need to write up Lamar Miller? Don’t we all know what he is at this point? Theoretically, he could improve on his past numbers if the rookie offensive lineman bolster the Texans running game. But Miller likely isn’t hitting another gear in his age 28 season, and should continue his trend of 170 to 190 PPR points scored, unless D’Onta Foreman begins to eat into his work. Miller was the RB 23 last year overall, and likely won’t be finishing much higher than RB20 this year. If you’re stuck with no depth, he can at least offer some consistent points. But ideally, you should be rostering players with more upside.
36. Royce Freeman (Denver Broncos) – I didn’t particularly like Freeman coming out of Oregon last year, and he disappointed in his rookie season, so I’m hesitant to rank him this high. But there has been some training camp buzz that he is a good fit in offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello‘s scheme, and Philip Lindsay‘s recovery from a wrist injury has left the door open for Freeman a bit. With a lack of depth behind him, Freeman would have a pretty nice role if Lindsay missed time, and could establish a decent role even with Lindsay around. The Broncos will want to run the ball and play defense when possible, so Freeman could see solid work in games where the Broncos are favored. But ultimately, Freeman only managed about four yards per rush in his rookie year, and only averaged a catch per game, so his likely outcome is settling in as a touchdown-dependent option, which has more value in standard leagues. If training camp buzz dies out, I may lower him in my rankings as we approach the season.
Tier 8: Dart Throw Veterans
37. Ito Smith (Atlanta Falcons) – If I’m going to be so down on Devonta Freeman due to injury concerns, then I need to be high on someone else in that backfield, and that someone is Smith. I don’t think the former fourth-round pick is a special player, and he didn’t overly impress last season in his opportunities, but that won’t matter if Freeman misses major time again. With Tevin Coleman gone, someone has to split the load with the injury-prone Freeman, so Smith should at least have a complementary role. And if Freeman misses time, Smith would have a major opportunity in one of the NFL’s best offenses. Smith had developed a bit of a red zone role for a few weeks last year, and his 32 targets aren’t too bad for a rookie running back in a part-time role. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Smith outperform his draft position in 2019.
38. Derrius Guice (Washington Redskins) – I don’t like taking already injured running backs in drafts, but it looks like Guice’s recent hamstring scare coming back from ACL surgery is minor. Added with the competition from Adrian Peterson, and Guice has the odds stacked against him this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take weeks to get back to full speed, much like Dalvin Cook’s ACL comeback last year. So if you don’t have room for a bench stash, you can skip over Guice. But his athletic profile coming out of LSU was promising, with explosive speed and a physical style. The second-round pick would stack up favorably to any of the rookies in this year’s draft class, so there’s some upside here. But with Washington expected to struggle offensively, I likely won’t be targeting him unless he drops considerably in drafts.
39. Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers) – While it is too early to freak out about Melvin Gordon‘s potential holdout, it isn’t too early to move Ekeler up draft boards. in 2018 Ekeler offered some solid production with 12 PPR points per game and 53 targets in the passing game. Ekeler is never going to be a direct fill in for Gordon’s role if he misses time, but Ekeler did see his only double-digit rush attempt games in his three starts last year. Ekeler was the RB 25 in PPR last year even with Gordon around, so he’s not a completely wasted pick if Gordon doesn’t miss time. The Chargers love using their running backs, and Ekeler is squarely in the mix for touches.
40. Ronald Jones II (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – I wasn’t a big fan of Jones coming out of college, so I avoided his disastrous rookie season. I still don’t feel great about his chances, but the backfield is wide open in Tampa for him to take over. We’ve seen the ceiling that Peyton Barber offers, so I’ll be passing on him in drafts. The talk out camp has been all positive surrounding Jones, though that could just be coach speak to help his confidence. But at this point in drafts, there aren’t a lot of every down backs left, and while Jones hasn’t shown that ability in the past, he will have ample opportunity to win the job. If he struggles in the preseason, however, he could almost completely fall of draft boards.
(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)