Staff Playbook: Which RB3 will be a RB1?
Welcome to the QB List Staff Playbook Series. Every week throughout both the summer and season, we will conduct a staff survey, asking multiple fantasy analysts to share their insights on some of fantasy football’s most pressing questions. Essentially, we’re sharing our “playbook” with you, revealing the hard choices and strategic moves we would make to stay ahead of the competition.
This week, the QB List Staff was asked what running back, drafted after the first 24 based on Fantasy Pros ADP for PPR leagues, had the best chance to break into the top-10 at the position. In short, which RB3 is most likely to finish the year as a RB1.
Let’s open the playbook:
Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs): Jerick McKinnon – ADP 112.6, 42nd RB taken overall
Reasoning: McKinnon is a former 3rd round pick with one of the highest SPARQ scores in the last two decades. Kyle Shanahan handpicked McKinnon to be his feature back last season, and the 49ers made him the fourth-highest-paid running back in football. McKinnon lost all of 2018 to a torn ACL, but in 2017, from Week 11 on, McKinnon was PFF’s 9th-graded running back, and his Elusive Rating ranked 12th best while sharing time in Minnesota. Last year, San Francisco averaged 118.9 Yds/G on the ground and 4.5 Y/A. They did that with hobbled UDFA Matt Breida, special teamers Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, and no Jimmy Garropolo to keep defenses from stacking the box. An unnamed Sports Illustrated insider who has studied film on every NFL squad confirmed that the Niners signed McKinnon to be their version of Devonta Freeman, who put up over 1500 rushing and receiving yards in both 2015 and 2016 plus 13 TDs each year with Tevin Coleman as his running mate. McKinnon has never topped 160 carries in a single season, but he won’t need to be a bell cow in this scheme to break into the top 10, and he’s already shown the requisite skills to do so. He’s the most complete back on the team, grading out at 73 or above in every major PFF category. Freeman was the top fantasy RB and second most valuable player overall in 2015; he was the sixth most valuable RB in fantasy in 2016. He did that with Coleman in the fold. McKinnon can break into the top-10 in the same role. Health is the only question, but as the 42nd rusher currently being taken in drafts, what’s the risk?
Matt Bevins (@MattQbList): Rashaad Penny – ADP 82.0, 33rd RB taken overall
Reasoning: Rashaad Penny was taken by the Seattle Seahawks as the second overall running back in the 2018 draft, and yet he has already been marked for dead. Seriously, some fantasy fans have already bought him a burial plot. Penny was an absolute beast at San Diego State, and Chris Carson was a throwaway and way in the rearview, until Penny ate himself out of the role and underachieved. Averaging 17 receptions per year in his final two years at SDSU, an average of 7.65 yards per carry in the same two seasons, Penny is sneaky talented and sneaky cheap to draft. With no Doug Baldwin and the absence of a true #1 wide receiver, I could definitely see a split to start (60/40 in Penny’s favor), but watch him totally gain the backfield by Week 4 or 5 and potentially being a top-eight back.
David Fenko (@Velcronomics): Derrius Guice – ADP 63.4, 29th RB taken overall
Reasoning: Prior to the knee injury that ended Guice’s first season before it even began, he was trending up on draft boards. In college, Guice was known for a violent running style that was tempered by great balance and speed, which would all translate well to the pros. Moving to 2019, the Washington line is largely the same and this unit was good enough to allow 34-year old Adrian Peterson to accrue over 1000 yards. Peterson is still around, but Guice is the best bet to seize the majority of the workload for Washington. The biggest caveat to consider – both in redraft and dynasty – is that the team has a plan on 3rd downs in Chris Thompson (and later Bryce Love), so Guice will likely be limited to the first two downs and running out the clock. In either case, I expect Guice to be a flex play that forces himself into your starting lineup each and every week.
Ryan Heath (@QBLRyan): Miles Sanders – ADP 75.8, 33nd RB taken overall
Reasoning: If you told me I could bet against Jordan Howard maintaining a strong share of a backfield, I’d be inclined to take the bet. Howard managed just 3.7 yards per carry last year while frequently benefitting from light fronts and positive game scripts. He’s also inept in the passing game and was traded away while still on his rookie contract for just a fifth-round pick. All of this points to a breakout opportunity for Miles Sanders, a superior athlete that the Eagles went out and invested a second-round pick in even after acquiring Howard. Sanders can also heavily contribute in the passing game, possessing an all-around skillset the likes of which a Doug Pederson-led team has never seen. Sanders has a chance to run away with this backfield as early as the preseason, now recovered from his hamstring injury. This loaded Eagles offense will provide many scoring opportunities, and defenses will often lose sight of Sanders when trying to cover the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Desean Jackson, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert. If Sanders wins the job quickly, a top 10 finish is overwhelmingly likely.
Tom Schweitzer: Jaylen Samuels – ADP 131.2, 45th RB taken overall
Reasoning: In order for a player in this range to finish in the top 10, he most likely needs a role in his team’s offense in Week 1 so he can start scoring points right away. Jaylen Samuels seems to have that. There are already reports from Pittsburgh of a timeshare with James Conner and the use of two-back sets to get Samuels on the field more. The Steelers even went as far as to hire his former running backs coach at NC State, which could mean nothing for Samuels, but it could also mean that they intend to borrow concepts from his alma mater, where Samuels was used as an unusual RB/TE/WR hybrid and led the Wolfpack in receptions for 3 straight seasons. More importantly, I think James Conner is on a much shorter leash than people realize. I don’t believe the Steelers intended for him to be their starting 3-down back; he just happened to be the only veteran on the roster when Le’Veon Bell decided to take a year off. Conner isn’t a special athlete; he’s a mediocre receiver, and he’s been hurt in both of his pro seasons. Samuels has the size and athleticism to be a traditional RB and has already shown he can be effective as a starter. When forced into action by a Conner ankle injury last season, Samuels was just as productive on a per-game basis, rushing for 223 yards on 42 carries over three games. Samuels is not Le’Veon Bell, but his versatility makes him better suited to play the Le’Veon role than Conner, and that alone is worth a flyer late in drafts.
Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN): Royce Freeman – ADP 102.8, 40th RB taken overall
Reasoning: Phillip Lindsay is being drafted as a can’t miss RB, but Lindsay is not built to handle a full-time RB role in the NFL. Measuring in at a generous 5’8” and 190 pounds, Lindsay has already suffered an injury serious enough to prevent him from taking handoffs or catching passes during Denver’s OTAs. The main beneficiary of Lindsay being sidelined is last year’s third-round pick Royce Freeman. Freeman is built like an NFL back, standing 6’0” tall and weighing in at 229 pounds. Freeman’s rookie season just never came together for him as he seemed uncomfortable in a predictable rushing attack that operated out of the I-formation much of the time, leading to a host of eight-man fronts whenever he was on the field. Compounding the issue, Freeman suffered a high-ankle sprain midseason that hampered him for the rest of the year. New OC Rich Scangarello is implementing a zone-blocking scheme that fits Freeman’s game much better. Freeman ran out of a very similar offense in college in which he amassed more than 6,400 total yards and 64 TDs. In addition, Mike Munchak was brought in to coach the offensive line, and he has demonstrated in the past the ability to turn a unit around in his first season. Mix in an average Joe Flacco and a dominant defense with Lindsay and Freeman, and you get an offense that will most likely be run-heavy and might just support two fantasy viable RBs. Denver would be wise to let Freeman handle the majority of the early-down work along with short-yardage stuff and utilize Lindsay as the change of pace RB. If Freeman can carve out a small piece of the passing pie, a top 10 season is certainly possible given Lindsay’s RB1 finish last season.
David Walton (@DrDavidWalton1): Tevin Coleman – ADP 73.4, 30th RB taken overall
Reasoning: Maybe it’s just rose-colored glasses because Tevin Coleman helped me to a championship not long ago, but I can’t believe that he’s only at 30 ADP. San Francisco has a pretty stacked backfield and Matt Breida and Jerrick McKinnon look to be adding to the RBBC timeshare. But the Bay area media and fans like Coleman, too. He has some history with HC Kyle Shanahan, and this gives him a leg up in some terms. Add to this the fact that McKinnon is coming off of a historically tough-to-recover injury, and Coleman starts to separate himself a bit. The fact that Shanahan brought Coleman in might indicate that Breida doesn’t hold favored nation status with the leadership. RBBC to be sure, but one tweaked knee for McKinnon or a lack of production from Breida could push Coleman to the head of the committee table. Welcome home, Tevin.
Mike Miklius (@SIRL0INofBEEF): Tarik Cohen – ADP 58.2, 28th RB taken overall
Reasoning: Last year James White caught 87 passes and finished as the RB7 despite rushing for only 425 yards. In 2017, Duke Johnson was 11th overall with 74 catches. He only rushed for 348 yards. What I’m looking for is a back with huge pass-catching upside, and this describes Cohen to a tee. Cohen is currently going as the RB25 despite finishing 11th last year; he is an integral part of the Bears passing game, and I am not worried about the addition of David Montgomery–we have seen good offenses support two running backs before. I have high hopes for Cohen to break into the top 10 this year. I think he is a steal at his current ADP, and he is too electric to simply disappear in this offense. Expect the Bears offense to take another step forward, and for Cohen to have an outside shot at 1,000 receiving yards.
Rich Holman (@nextdoorFFguru): Chris Carson – ADP 57.6, 27th RB overall
Reasoning: This feels a little bit like cheating because Chris Carson finished 11th in points per game (15th overall) over the 13 games he played last year. Despite his high finish, he’s currently being drafted as RB27. The Seahawks led the league in percentage of run plays in 2018 and according to OC Brian Schottenheimer, the team will remain run-heavy in 2019. The primary concern will come from Rashaad Penny, with whom the Seahawks spent a first-round pick on in 2018. At San Diego State, Penny primarily ran behind a fullback. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Seahawks used a fullback on just 86 offensive plays in 2018 and Penny struggled to adjust to the zone-blocking scheme that was implemented. If Penny continues to struggle and the Seahawks keep up their run-heavy ways, I could easily see Carson making the just into the top ten in 2019.
Caio Miari (@caioNFL18): Darrell Henderson – ADP 83.6, 34th RB taken overall
Reasoning: Darrell Henderson is a long shot here once the rookie is running behind Todd Gurley. But Gurley’s workload is still unknown for the season. Plus, Henderson had an impressive career for the University of Memphis. Running in a zone-blocking system (similar to what Sean McVay has in LA), Henderson totaled 2,204 yards (9.5 yds. per touch) and 25 TDs in his junior year. Besides that, he posted 63 catches in his college career. Last year, backup C. J. Anderson had 47 touches, along with 12 scoring opportunities (rushing attempts plus targets in the red zone) in two games for the Los Angeles Rams. With Anderson gone and Gurley’s workload management in perspective, someone else might have to get those touches. Why not the 3rd-round prospect who the Rams traded up to select in 2019?
Dave Lathrop (@DaveLathropQBL): Lamar Miller – ADP 74.8, 31st RB taken overall
Reasoning: Lamar Miller is coming off of a Pro Bowl season in which he totaled more than 1,000 from scrimmage and saw 35 targets in the passing game. In fact, Miller is the only RB in the league to go over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of the last five seasons and he has actually eclipsed 1,100 yards in each of those as well. He also averages 40 targets and 30 catches per year since joining the Texans. That is the type of consistency that you want to look for when drafting your team, especially in the middle rounds. But we aren’t looking for consistency, you say, we are looking for top 10s, right? Well, Miller has two top 10 PPR RB finishes in the last ten years with a 3rd place finish in both 2014 and 2015. He is also going into this year with new pieces on the Texans’ offensive line. The team displayed one of the league’s worst OL units last year, but they followed that up by drafting offensive tackles in each of the first two rounds of April’s draft and signed former first-rounder Matt Khalil to bolster their line. One of the biggest knocks on Miller’s value this year is the potential increase in D’onta Foreman’s touches. Foreman was widely believed to be the favorite to take over the team’s main RB role until tearing his ACL in November 2017. His 2018 debut was delayed multiple times and he wound up rushing only seven times for negative yardage. If he makes a prominent return, it could hurt Miller’s stock, but there are certainly questions about his ability to stay on the field and he is not as good of a receiver as is Miller. Miller is atop the depth chart at this time. Miller is currently being drafted as the 31st RB in full-point PPR formats (74th overall) and could potentially be a big bang for your buck in the middle of the eighth round. That is a potential flex pick that could end up a top 10 RB.
Nick Pezzillo (@Pez_FF): Latavius Murray – ADP 78, 36th RB taken overall
Reasoning: Latavius Murray is moving to one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Murray slots right into Mark Ingram’s role for the past two years. In his first year playing alongside Alvin Kamara, Ingram had a sixth overall finish in both standard and PPR leagues. Ingram finished 28th overall last year after serving his four-game suspension, playing in only twelve games. In his two years in Minnesota, Murray rushed for 1420 yards. He was a consistent runner and has the ability to reach RB1 status. In his final year as a Raider, Murray was just outside the top 10, finishing as the 12th best running back in Fantasy. Murray joins the Saints who finished as the third highest-scoring offense in the league per game, at 31.5. New Orleans was also the sixth team in rushing yards and yards per game, while first in rushing touchdowns scored at 26. Murray will have plenty of opportunities. The Saints are also capable of having two top ten running backs on the same team. In 2017, Kamara and Ingram finished fourth and sixth in fantasy, just 13 points apart. Currently being drafted as the 34th running back, Murray is great value in the middle rounds who can be a weekly flex and potential to boom into the top 10.
(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)