In this year’s rookie running back class, there wasn’t a standout player worthy of a top-ten pick like Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, or Saquon Barkley so clearly were. Instead, we have one of the deepest running back groups in recent memory, a handful of which could be full-time starters by the end of this season. Fantasy football owners clearly recognize the massive upside of the players in this class, as four rookie running backs are being drafted in the first five rounds of PPR leagues. However, I’m a bit concerned by the presence of other capable players in the backfield for each of the incoming rookies, and more of them may end up being reaches at their current draft price. Let’s dive into a bit more on each of the highest-drafted guys at the running back position.
|Name||FPTS||FPPG||RUSH YDS||RUSH TDS||REC||REC YDS||REC TDS|
|Lynn Bowden Jr.||98.1||6.1||118.9||2||35.5||326.7||1|
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP: 2.10, RB14; Auction Value: $31; My Ranking: RB18 (PPR)
LSU’s national championship-winning team sent several players to the NFL, including five first-round picks. The Chiefs made Edwards-Helaire on of those five LSU first-round picks after an incredible season in which he rushed for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns and added another 55 receptions for 453 yards and another touchdown through the air. The Chiefs ranked just 23rd in the NFL last season with 1,569 rushing yards as a team and made a clear commitment to fixing the one weakness from their offense. The lead running back in an Andy Reid offense is a role that guarantees fantasy production, especially when surrounded by Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. However, I’m not totally confident in CEH being a workhorse right away. Damien Williams is coming off an injury-plagued but solid season and he arguably could have been the Super Bowl MVP with his 134 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns in that game. CEH is probably the more talented player and the team wouldn’t draft him if they didn’t plan on using him early and often, but his 2nd-round ADP means he’s being drafted ahead of the following RBs who I have projected for more points: Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and David Montgomery. I wouldn’t really be shocked if CEH ends up a top-ten guy this season, but his ADP is much closer to his ceiling than his floor.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
ADP: 4.03, RB22; Auction Value: $17; My Ranking: RB31 (PPR)
Taylor heads into the NFL as the most productive collegiate running back over the past few seasons – he rushed for 2,058 yards on average each of the past three seasons. He also ends his career at Wisconsin with 55 total touchdowns in three years. The combination of the Colts’ elite offensive line and Taylor’s undeniable talent gives him a monstrous upside in the NFL, but at the moment I’m not thrilled about his current situation. Indianapolis still has Marlon Mack involved, a player who had 247 carries for 1,091 yards last season. He won’t repeat that carry count to be sure, but it would be foolish to think he won’t be involved at all. After the draft, head coach Frank Reich had the following to say. “With Jonathan into the mix, I really envision that it’ll be Jonathan and Marlon really being that one-two punch. When you look at good teams over the years, it’s a long season. It’s a grind, and when you run the ball as much as we run it, it’s really good to be able to change that up. I think their styles will really compliment each other very well.” The Colts had the fourth-most rushing attempts per game last season and should have even more this season, but the presence of Nyheim Hines also complicates matters. Hines is a unique player and it will be very difficult for Taylor to unseat his clear-cut third-down role this season as the lead pass-catcher out of the backfield. This is a tough one because I love the talent and I love the team, but with Mack and Hines involved, I can’t find a way to get Taylor more than about 200 carries this season. I like him better in standard leagues – I have him as my RB24 in that format and he’s going off the board as the RB30 in that format. I’m wary of his current PPR ADP, though.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
ADP: 5.09, RB28; Auction Value: $17; My Ranking: RB32 (PPR)
Just a couple of seasons ago, the Rams had a two-time First-Team All-Pro and Offensive Player of the Year at running back. Now, Todd Gurley is on the Falcons, and the Rams were forced to start over at the position. LA addressed the issue with a second-round pick spent on Cam Akers, the former Florida State running back who ran for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns behind a terrible offensive line last season. The Rams do have Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson sitting on the depth chart, and Sean McVay has alluded to wanting to use a committee approach this season. Brown has never had more than 70 carries in a season and he has nowhere near the upside of Akers, but it’s important to note that he did have 5 touchdowns with the Rams last season and could be more involved in the red zone than Akers drafters will want to see. Darrell Henderson also has some solid upside in his second season as a pro, but he’s more of a change-of-pace back and I currently have Akers projected for more carries. Henderson isn’t nearly as established as Damien Williams in the Chiefs backfield or Marlon Mack in the Colts backfield, and unlike Taylor who’s being drafted a round ahead of Akers, I can see the Rams’ runner being very involved in the passing game. In the 5th round, the depth at the running back position falls off significantly, so I wouldn’t mind drafting Akers in that range since he has such a tremendous upside.
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
ADP: 5.11, RB29; Auction Value: $14; My Ranking: RB27 (PPR)
It wouldn’t take very much for D’Andre Swift to become the best Lions’ running back since Barry Sanders, a former First-Team All-Pro back and one of the best players at his position of all time. Since Sanders retired in 1998, Detroit has had just four 1,000+ yard rushers. They haven’t had a running back go for 1,000 yards since Reggie Bush in 2013, and that has been their only one since 2004. D’Andre Swift could quickly change all of that, though. He had two 1,000 yard seasons to close out his Georgia career and finished playing there with a 6.6 yards-per-carry average. Swift was widely expected to be the first running back selected in this year’s draft, but the Chiefs went with CEH instead. I love Swift’s talent, though, and while the Lions are going to utilize multiple running backs, none of the other guys on the roster have nearly Swift’s capabilities. Heading into the draft, I had Swift comped as a Devonta Freeman or LeSean McCoy-type running back as he runs with a low center of gravity and showcases awesome burst to the outside. He also profiles as a highly capable pass-catcher, a role which will surely boost his fantasy upside. Kerryon Johnson may be involved at the beginning of the season, but Johnson hasn’t been able to stay on the field for a full season to this point and his 3.6 yards-per-carry average last season left a lot to be desired. A healthy season of Matthew Stafford would make this a high-level offense and Swift should take full advantage with a strong fantasy campaign in his rookie year.
JK Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
ADP: 9.06, RB40; Auction Value: $4; My Ranking: RB43 (PPR)
The Ravens set the NFL on fire last season with the highest-output rushing offense in league history, leading the league in rushing yards and ranking second in rushing touchdowns – and then they felt the need to draft a running back. To be fair, starting running back Mark Ingram is 30 years old now, but he’s also had just four years in his career with 200+ carries and was awesome last season with a 5.0 yards-per-carry. Lamar Jackson has the ability to boost the efficiency of any running back he plays with due to his elite rushing ability. Ingram’s going to be the starter for this team once again, so Dobbins will have to wait to showcase his elite talents until next season at the earliest. Dobbins had 301 carries for 2003 yards and 21 touchdowns last season along with 23 receptions for 247 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. He’s going to be an awesome player for the Ravens eventually, but the backfield in Baltimore is crowded at the moment. Jackson’s elite rushing cuts both ways, as his 176 carries last year limited the team’s carry count for the running backs on the roster. Gus Edwards had 133 carries last year, most of which could go to Dobbins, and Justice Hill had 58 carries. Both players figure to factor into the equation again this season. The Ravens are a Super Bowl contender and provide one of the best offenses for running back success in the NFL, but Dobbins isn’t going to get enough touches this season to be anything more than a high-upside bench piece this season. If Mark Ingram were to be injured, Dobbins could win you your league.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 11.08, RB46; Auction Value: $6; My Ranking: RB26 (PPR)
It’s time for a bit of a disclaimer: I’m higher on Ke’Shawn Vaughn than practically the entire fantasy football industry. He’s ranked solidly inside of my top-30 running backs and being drafted well outside the top-40 at the moment. The Buccaneers only produced 1,521 rushing yards as a team last season, but they are going to look completely different in 2020. Tom Brady replaces Jameis Winston at quarterback and should allow the team to be playing with a lead far more often as there’s no way Brady is going to throw 30 interceptions like Winston did last season. Brady will be surrounded by arguably the best group of pass-catchers of his career in Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, but as he continues to age his teams have looked to support him with more of a running game. That the Buccaneers spent a third-round pick on Vaughn despite having other significant needs suggests that they plan to use him significantly this season – they are the definition of a win-now team. Ronald Jones was the team’s leading rusher last season, but he had an unproductive year overall and struggled in both pass protection and pass-catching – this led to him being benched on multiple occasions as Bruce Arians gave him a short leash. Vaughn is capable in both areas and could end up with far more of a workload than Jones – at the moment I have the backfield relatively evenly split. The Buccaneers should have all the tools to support a much-improved rushing attack with an elite, efficient passing game and high-level of offensive line play. Vaughn’s 11th-round draft price is delightful and he’s one of my favorite steals in the draft.
Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills
ADP: 13.01, RB49; Auction Value: $3; My Ranking: RB37 (PPR)
Moss is another rookie running back who I feel is being significantly undervalued at the moment. Devin Singletary is receiving a ton of buzz around fantasy circles, but I don’t anticipate him being a workhorse. Instead, I am projecting Moss to take on the bulk of the 166 rushing attempts that Frank Gore had last season (I have Moss with 165 carries). Moss is also a highly capable pass-catcher – in four seasons as a starter at Utah, he had 66 receptions for 685 yards (10.4 yards per reception). The Bills had the 6th-most rushing attempts in the NFL last season and while that number may drop a bit with Stefon Diggs joining the fold, the team has established a clear identity on the ground. Gore had 26 red zone touches to Singletary’s 20, and Gore wasn’t even particularly effective with those touches as he only had two red zone touchdowns. I’m projecting Moss to be the guy in the red zone for this team as he had 41 touchdowns in four years at Utah and he’s much bigger and more physical than Singletary. Moss is going to be a thorn in the sides of Singletary owners all season long and, more than that, he could carry some surprising flex value as he’s a talented player in a run-heavy offense.
Other Noteworthy Names
Antonio Gibson, Washington Redskins – ADP: 13.11, RB52; Auction Value: $2; My Ranking: RB55 (PPR) – The Redskins drafted Gibson in the third round this year, and will add him to a backfield full of question marks. Adrian Peterson is 35, Derrius Guice has played five games in two seasons, and the rest of the roster is entirely unexciting at that position. Gibson has a surprisingly easy path to significant snaps this season and can play at both running back and wide receiver. Keep a close eye on him.
AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 14.o3, RB61; Auction Value: $1; My Ranking: RB67 (PPR) – The Packers had two very solid running backs last season in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, which made it pretty baffling when they took Dillon in the second round. Dillon is likely the third back on the depth chart and I don’t see him factoring in on passing downs as he only had 21 catches in three seasons as the starter at Boston College. Unless Aaron Jones suffers an injury, Dillon is off my radar.
Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans – ADP: 14.11, RB64; Auction Value: $2; My Ranking: RB58 (PPR) – The Titans’ backup to Derrick Henry last season, Dion Lewis, is now on the Giants, and the remainder of the team’s depth chart left a lot to be desired. This is the furthest thing from a committee backfield, though, as Derrick Henry had 303 carries last season. Dion Lewis was left with just 54 carries and 25 receptions, which should be similar to the work Evans sees this season.
Lynn Bowden Jr., Las Vegas Raiders – ADP: undrafted; Auction Value: $1; My Ranking: RB61 (PPR) – Bowden Jr. was the most versatile player in this year’s draft class as he played running back, wide receiver, and quarterback for Kentucky last season. It’s unlikely Bowden throws very many passes in Las Vegas this season as Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are entrenched as the starter and backup, respectively. Bowden could have some deep-league value due to his versatility, though.
Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers – ADP: undrafted; Auction Value: $1; My Ranking: RB73 (PPR) – The Chargers lost Melvin Gordon this past offseason, and while Austin Ekeler is set to be the full-time starter, it seems like the Chargers aren’t prepared to make him a 250-carry guy. Both Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley should factor into the rushing game, although Ekeler’s three-down skillset will make both of the backups inconsistent for fantasy production.
La’Mical Perine, New York Jets – ADP: undrafted; Auction Value: $1; My Ranking: RB90 (PPR) – Le’Veon Bell ran for just 3.2 yards per carry last season in New York and really struggled in his first season with the team. I would have been really excited about rookie La’Mical Perine had the Jets not brought in veteran Frank Gore, but Gore is 37 years old and the Jets may opt to move on from Bell after this season. Perine has some sneaky deep-league value and could be a top waiver wire pickup later this season.
Anthony McFarland, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: undrafted; Auction Value: $1; My Ranking: RB78 (PPR) – Anthony McFarland was one of my favorite fourth-round running backs after he ran a 4.44 second 40-yard-dash which he called a disappointment – he was one of the fastest running backs in the nation at Maryland. He’s 5’8″ and just shy of 193 lbs, but he can contribute to the passing game as well. James Conner has been very injured over the past couple of years, and the duo of Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels is underwhelming, so I have some strong interest in McFarland this season. He’s a great dynasty pick, as well, in my estimation.