As recently as a half-decade ago, players like Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, and Jamaal Charles defined fantasy leagues as every-down running backs who were the centerpiece of their real-life offenses. Now, there’s only a handful of running backs who aren’t a part of an RBBC (running-back-by-committee) approach. Multiple backs are used by teams to fill different roles and even top-ten finishers from last season like Aaron Jones (Jamaal Williams), Nick Chubb (Kareem Hunt), and Alvin Kamara (Latavius Murray) ceded touches to other running backs on their respective teams.
The continued push toward RBBCs on offenses around the NFL may cause you to hesitate when considering drafting running backs with early picks. As might the continued emphasis on passing around the NFL as spread formations and up-tempo styles have become the norm. However, it’s crucial to understand how receiving work has buoyed the running back position in fantasy scoring. In 2014, only five running backs had more than 50 passing targets. In 2019, that number was all the way up at nineteen running backs with 50+ targets. That massive uptick in receiving work for running backs has made it so multiple backs on the same roster can carry fantasy value at the same time.
All of that is to say that the way we value NFL running backs for fantasy has wildly changed from even a handful of years ago. So what are the critical factors to look at in today’s league? I’m glad you asked.
- Receiving work – how many targets did the running back get in 2019? Should we expect that number to increase this season due to vacated targets in the offense? How often does the specific team/quarterback throw to their running backs in general? Running backs like Derrick Henry, Marlon Mack, and Jordan Howard can still hold fantasy value. Still, it’s much easier to establish fantasy consistency when you see a handful of targets every game.
- Red-zone touches – touchdowns are still king in fantasy football, and while they’re a difficult stat to predict year-to-year, the number of expected red-zone touches a running back receives is the best place to start. One of the more frustrating things for fantasy owners is when the big-bodied running back comes into vulture red-zone touches from your starter, and some guys are more prone to this than others.
- Game script – running backs who don’t contribute much to the passing game can still have value for fantasy. Again, if their offense is continually playing catchup and needing to air it out, they may inherently see their playing time decrease. The reverse holds as well, as backs who don’t profile as between-the-tackles workhorse guys may not be as valuable to a team that is always playing with a lead.
Sleepers are often categorized as late-round draft picks who can turn into early-round studs, but I’m going to start this off with some mid-round running backs who I feel may be going under drafted as compared to their potential for this season.
*ADP numbers are taken from the Lineups database and scoring is PPR
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
ADP: 31.5, RB 14; My Ranking – RB8
It may seem strange to start a sleepers article with Miles Sanders, a player who finished as a top-15 running back in PPR leagues last season and is being drafted within the first few rounds of most leagues. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to tout him as my favorite potential breakout running back this season. There may not have been a more significant departure at the running back position than Jordan Howard from Philly, as he saw 119 carries in just ten games last season. If Miles Sanders receives even half of that carry count, his total carries will approach 250. Darren Sproles also retired, leaving Sanders as the go-to receiving threat out of the backfield.
The Eagles had opportunities during free agency and the draft to add another running back, but they opted not to. Behind Sanders, there isn’t a whole lot of proven talent between Boston Scott, Corey Clement, and Elijah Holyfield. The Eagles have reportedly shown interest in Carlos Hyde, LeSean McCoy, and Devonta Freeman, which would bring Sanders’ potential fantasy production back down to earth. However, this type of signing could push his ADP down to a spot where he is still a value. The fact that he finished as a top-15 running back despite sharing volume in the backfield should tell you his potential is still high even with a split workload.
Even if the Eagles do add competition for Sanders in the backfield, his pass-catching work should keep him a weekly starter in fantasy lineups. He saw 63 targets last season and caught 50 passes. His 10.2 yards per reception shows his ability to be more than just a check-down receiver, as well, as he can be more of a downfield receiving weapon. In terms of red-zone work, Sanders was efficient in 2019 and should pick up the work that Howard left behind. If Sanders gets 70% of the red-zone touches Howard left behind (in 10 games, keep in mind) and maintains his 33% red-zone scoring rate, he could approach 15 touchdowns. The Eagles’ schedule also lends itself to production from the running back position as they take on the Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys in-division, none of whom finished higher than 23rd in fantasy points allowed to running backs last year.
I see Miles Sanders as having a top-ten baseline on the Eagles’ roster as presently constructed with top-five upside thanks to a should-be improved defense, high-level offensive line, and Sanders’ receiving upside. If the Eagles bring in backfield help, Sanders may drop a bit, but I still see his top-15 finish from last year as being his absolute baseline. I’ll be drafting him in any league where he makes it past the third round.
Average yards after contact per rush attempt for NFC East RBs (min 150 carries)
1) Miles Sanders 3.25 (6th in league)
2) Saquon Barkley 3.23 (7th)
2) Ezekiel Elliot 3.23 (7th)
4) Adrian Peterson 3.00 (14th)#Eagles @BoobieMilesXXIV pic.twitter.com/fFfOeCqleD
— Thomas R. Petersen (@thomasrp93) May 11, 2020
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
ADP: 55.1, RB22; My Ranking – RB13
I’m pretty surprised that Drake’s ADP isn’t in the first few rounds after the production he put up in 2019 after joining the Cardinals. Drake played eight games in Arizona after a midseason trade from the Dolphins. His numbers during those eight games would have been good for about 246 carries for 1,286 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns as well as 56 receptions for 342 yards through the air. That would have put him at 314.8 fantasy points, tied for the #2 running back in the NFL with Aaron Jones. It’s unlikely that he scores 16 touchdowns again – I have him rushing for eight scores this season. The Cardinals didn’t make that many trips to the red zone in 2019, but that should improve this year as the offensive line is upgraded, and Kyler Murray is entering his second year in the NFL.
What should be there for Drake again is the passing game work – Kliff Kingsbury has a well-documented history of utilizing running backs in the passing game, and I believe Drake should excel in that role in the Cardinals’ offense. The Arizona defense is quietly going to be solid this season – Budda Baker was a Pro Bowler in 2019, Chandler Jones had 19 sacks in a First-Team All-Pro campaign, and Patrick Peterson should be healthy and continue to lock down number one wideouts. Those players will be joined by first-round draft pick Isaiah Simmons as well as free agency additions De’Vondre Campbell, Devon Kennard, and Jordan Phillips.
Fantasy owners may be worried about the presence of Chase Edmonds, who has flashed solid talent in the NFL on the roster. Still, the Cardinals have already invested significant resources in Drake – they traded a draft pick for him, used the transition tag ($8.4 million) on him, and have had discussions surrounding a contract extension with him. Edmonds only managed two rushing attempts after Drake joined the team last season (he missed three of those games due to injury). The arrow is firmly pointing up in the desert after a rough few seasons, and the starting running back position is Drake’s to lose in what should be a surprisingly fantasy-relevant offense. Drake has the upside to finish as a top-ten running back and should be a steal at his current draft range.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 9, 2018
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
ADP: 87.1, RB31; My Ranking – RB15
Recency bias always provides a significant market inefficiency in fantasy football – players coming off significant injuries or unproductive seasons will be lower drafted, even if they have every opportunity to get back to their former high-level status. Todd Gurley finds himself in that situation this season, as the former offensive player of the year has gone from the first-overall-pick lock to an unwanted fantasy commodity. With an ADP well into the 80s, Gurley is being drafted after guys like Tevin Coleman, Kareem Hunt, and David Montgomery in many leagues. The former Rams’ running back and offensive player of the year had an ignominious end to his tenure in Los Angeles, but Gurley is still only 25 and should have enough left in the tank to come through with a productive fantasy season. I was worried his draft price would remain high as he makes his way to Atlanta, where the star running back played college football previously (University of Georgia). His draft stock has dropped significantly, though, and I think he could be a steal at his current draft price.
That the Falcons threw the ball more times than any team in the NFL in 2020 should give you some pause, but Gurley has previously shown a high-level ability to catch the ball (64 catches in 2017 and 59 in 2019). Devonta Freeman, the Falcons’ starter at running back in 2019, saw the 10th-most targets at the running back position with 70. With the recent departures of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper from the offense, Matt Ryan could target his RBs more than ever before. If Gurley can be a reliable receiver in this offense, it will boost his ability to stay on the field for all three downs. The running back depth chart after Gurley is pretty bare – Brian Hill, Ito Smith, and Qadree Ollison don’t exactly move the needle – so Gurley should see plenty of playing time this season.
The Falcons probably won’t have a great defense this season even after signing Dante Fowler Jr. and Charles Harris as well as drafting A.J. Terrell and Marlon Davidson. Especially in a division with Drew Brees and Tom Brady, they figure to be playing from behind often. That may not be great for Gurley’s rushing yardage potential, but the Falcons did travel to the red-zone 3.8 times in 2020, which tied them with Baltimore for 2nd-place. Despite the team’s defense being subpar, the offense should be firing on all cylinders, which will provide more scoring opportunities for the former NFL touchdown leader.
Prudent fantasy owners will take advantage of recency bias and take Todd Gurley as likely their second running back off the board. He has the potential to put up a career-high in receptions and should be getting consistent red-zone touches. He signed a one-year deal and has every ounce of motivation in the world to prove himself this year.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) May 14, 2020
David Johnson, Houston Texans
ADP: 69.1, RB27; My Ranking – RB12
DJ is another perfect example of recency bias destroying a player’s public perception. Last season, the former Cardinals’ running back seemingly fell off the face of the Earth as he put up a career-low 345 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in 13 games with the team. It’s easy to completely disparage Bill O’Brien, the general manager for the mishandling of the DeAndre Hopkins situation. Still, casual NFL fans are letting that overshadow the fact that David Johnson could make a significant impact in Houston this season. Carlos Hyde, last year’s starting running back, wasn’t exactly a prolific talent, but he was very productive with 245 carries for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns.
The much-maligned Houston offensive line fared decently well in run-blocking last season, and playing alongside a mobile quarterback like Deshaun Watson is always a massive plus for running back production – just look at Mark Ingram’s impressive numbers playing next to Lamar Jackson last year. Despite the Texans being a fairly pass-heavy team, Hyde was frequently utilized in the red-zone – he ranked 17th among all running backs with 36 total red-zone touches. Those should be going to David Johnson as his replacement. The other significant part of David Johnson is a fantasy asset is he’s theoretically game-script proof. If the Texans are playing with a lead, they will want to be more conservative on offense and give him all the carries he can handle. If they are playing from behind, DJ will be a threat in the passing game as more of a downfield receiver than running back.
The Texans also have the unenviable task of replacing DeAndre Hopkins in their offense. The 3-time First-Team All-Pro receiver has averaged 162 targets per season over the past three years, and Houston is left with the most significant void in their offense of any NFL team after his departure. The Texans did acquire Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, who should pick up some of that work along with incumbents Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and Kenny Stills. However, David Johnson was likely acquired to be more of a threat in the passing game than Hyde ever was. In DJ’s 2016 First-Team All-Pro campaign, he saw 120 targets and had 80 catches. While he likely won’t repeat those lofty numbers, Watson is arguably the best quarterback he has ever played with so he could see a career-high catch percentage and yards per reception.
David Johnson will be heavily utilized in the Texans’ offense and should approach 100 targets as well as 240+ carries. Bill O’Brien believes DJ has some gas left in the tank. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have acquired him, and I’m inclined to believe the Texans’ head coach/GM as DJ’s career carry count isn’t nearly at the level where I would be concerned with his body deteriorating. Draft DJ as your second or third running back and be confident in his ability to take on a high volume of touches in what should be a high-level offense helmed by Deshaun Watson.
— Yahoo Fantasy Sports (@YahooFantasy) May 9, 2020
Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
ADP: 105.4, RB40; My Ranking – RB23
Mostert was a hero for the 49ers in the playoffs this past season, compiling 53 carries for 336 yards and five touchdowns, most of which came in a 37-20 drubbing of the Green Bay Packers in which Mostert put up 29 carries for 220 yards and four touchdowns. That elite playoff production wasn’t exactly surprising, though, as Mostert was the RB7 in PPR scoring during the final six games of the 2019 season. The 49ers did trade away Matt Breida this offseason (more on him later). However, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson are still on the roster, and Jerick McKinnon is expected to make his long-awaited return from injury.
I still think Mostert could be a steal at his current ADP, however, as I see him being the leader of the crew of running backs in San Francisco. The 49ers ran the ball more than any team other than the Ravens last season, and that’s part of their recipe for success, so it’s hard to see that changing. Kyle Shanahan has been able to produce some incredibly fantasy-relevant running backs in recent years, and Mostert appears to be the Niners’ favored back after his playoff success.
It’s certainly possible that McKinnon, Coleman, and, to a lesser extent, Wilson, could cut into Mostert’s work in 2020. However, Mostert is the best red-zone threat of the bunch as he put up eight touchdowns to Coleman’s six last season despite seeing half as many red-zone touches. He was also on the field the most during the crucial part of the season as his snap count went from 24% during the first nine weeks to 53% during the final seven weeks. Mostert is the 49ers’ most trusted option at running back, and as the starter in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, he should have excellent fantasy value.
Raheem Mostert’s top 10 plays of 2019. pic.twitter.com/zMKZyt4b8Q
— Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) January 3, 2020
James White, New England Patriots
ADP: 82.9, RB30; My Ranking – RB22
Fantasy owners will be hesitant to draft any Patriots to their rosters this season after the team saw Tom Brady walk in free agency. Still, when the fantasy football community has given up on a particular offense, it usually means some players are being overlooked. White’s ADP will be suppressed due to concerns over the Patriots’ offense, and I would be thrilled to land him as my RB3 in PPR leagues. White has seen an average of 112 targets per 16 games over the past two seasons and should continue to see a high volume of targets as a safety blanket of sorts for new quarterback Jarrett Stidham. White’s career catch percentage is 73.6%, with Tom Brady, of course, but even if that drops a bit to 70%, he should still be useful for around 80 catches. In every season since 2016, White has ranked in the top ten among the most targeted running backs in the passing game.
James White’s lack of consistent rushing production always seems to deter fantasy owners – his 16-game average over the past three seasons is just under 70 carries. However, White led all Patriots running backs in total snap count last season at 42.65%. Damien Harris is expected to be more involved this season (more on him later), but White has carved out a role for himself in an offense that wants to utilize its running backs in the passing game. White can be counted on for about 80 catches (assuming he plays a full 16-game slate) given the lack of talent at the receiver position on the team and his past usage as a pass-catcher.
Raheem Mostert’s top 10 plays of 2019. pic.twitter.com/zMKZyt4b8Q
— Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) January 3, 2020
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 112.3, RB 39; My Ranking – RB19
The Buccaneers were widely expected to draft a running back this season given Peyton Barber’s departure (29.8% of RB snaps in 2019) and the team’s lack of depth at the position. Many analysts had them drafting Cam Akers or Zack Moss, but I think Vaughn is the perfect fit for this offense. He has excellent field vision, combining good open-field speed with an explosive burst through the line of scrimmage to spring himself for yardage – his career YPC in college was 5.8. At just 5’10”, you may not see him as a genuine red-zone threat, but he rushed for 21 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons combined.
Vaughn only had 66 receptions across four college seasons, but that number doesn’t do justice to the talented and versatile receiver Vaughn can be coming out of the backfield in the NFL. He described himself as an “Alvin Kamara-type running back,” able to be placed all over the line of scrimmage and run a versatile route tree. Tom Brady has a history of throwing to the running back position at a high volume (see: James White), and Ronald Jones (38 career receptions in two seasons) wasn’t quite going to cut it. I see running backs making up over 20% of the target share in Tampa Bay this season, and I have Vaughn down for about 45 receptions in his rookie season.
My one concern with Vaughn is the fact that Bruce Arians has had a very short leash with pass-blocking from his running backs in the past (just ask Ronald Jones). If Vaughn isn’t up-to-par in that regard, he may be taken off the field. However, in a high-octane offense led by Tom Brady, there should be plenty of opportunity for fantasy production from the running back position, which brings us to…
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
➕TD every 16.5 touches
➕Production despite poor O-line
➕3.73 YAC per attempt
➕10% Target Rate
— Alex Johnson (@a_johnsonFF) March 18, 2020
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP: 167.9, RB 64; My Ranking – RB34
Recent reports have stated that Jones has “worked diligently” on his pass-catching and pass-blocking skills, which makes sense, especially after the team drafting Vaughn directly threatens his starting role. Ronald Jones may not be the most exciting talent at running back, but he has been a borderline starting-worthy running back for fantasy in the past, and that was with Jameis Winston, not Tom Brady, at quarterback. I see the Bucs’ backfield as being a true time-share between Vaughn and Jones, which should leave both of them as having flex-worthy considerations in fantasy.
If Jones can improve his pass-blocking to the point that he doesn’t need to be taken off the field as often in 2020, he could be a steal in fantasy as an essentially undrafted commodity at the moment. The Bucs should need running back production as they will likely be playing with a lead in a lot of games thanks to the talent all over the roster. If Vaughn runs into fumbling issues as a rookie (0 career fumbles, but still a possibility) or has pass-protection woes, we’ve seen how short of a leash Bruce Arians has with his running backs. There’s a strong likelihood no Tampa running backs see more than a 40% snap share (which was the case in 2019), so both Vaughn and Jones should have fantasy value, as annoying as they may be to own week-to-week.
Ronald Jones had the 2nd most ever all-purpose yards in a Bruce Arians offense year 1 in that system.
First: Rashard Mendenhall in 2015 with 1055 yards
Second: Ronald Jones in 2019 with 1033 yards
Translation: It’s a super hard offense to learn. Year 2 in system pic.twitter.com/hJnEk4mWJS
— Fantasy Football 24/7 (@FFBallAllDay) May 15, 2020
Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP: 94.3, RB32; My Ranking – RB29
The Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of this year’s draft, which has led fantasy owners to all-but give up on Williams as a worthy asset. However, I think both running backs could have serious value in Kansas City this season. I’m a massive fan of CEH’s talent (I already have him in one of my dynasty leagues), but he will still need to prove himself if he’s going to become a bell-cow back and Williams is still a very serviceable player. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said he expects Damien Williams to “come in as the starting running back,” and both guys will likely be used this season.
In 2019, no Chiefs running back had more than a 35% share of backfield snaps. LeSean McCoy had 129 total touches and is no longer on the team. Darrel Williams, Spencer Ware, and Darwin Thompson combined for 124 targets last season. Andy Reid has a long history of coaching running backs who are very productive for fantasy football, and he could have two such guys this season. CEH is going to be the much sexier name, and Williams’s ADP could drop to the double-digit rounds where he could be a steal as a premium handcuff who should see playing time Week 1 and should still be the starter.
As of right now, I have Williams down for 189 touches to CEH’s 177. Those numbers will likely swing towards CEH as the offseason continues, and reports come out of camp about how he fits into the team’s offense. Williams already knows the playbook, though, and there’s something to be said for his veteran experience, especially given the bizarre circumstances hanging over this year’s NFL offseason.
Damien Williams with the dagger! #SBLIV
— ESPN (@espn) February 3, 2020
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
ADP: 101.1, RB38; My Ranking – RB40
Henderson is the epitome of a post-hype sleeper – he was drafted as high as the 8th round of some fantasy drafts last season as Todd Gurley insurance, and now will likely see his ADP fall into the double-digit rounds. I have no idea what to make of the Rams‘ backfield at this point, as Henderson, Cam Akers, and Malcolm Brown should all be involved. It will be a significant departure from 2019 when Gurley saw 70.9% of the team’s backfield snaps and should be a true time-share. Fantasy owners were primed to be all over Henderson as a sleeper candidate this year, but then the Rams went and drafted Cam Akers in the second round of this year’s draft.
The addition of Akers to the offense should keep Henderson’s ADP down, but there’s a genuine chance Henderson becomes the starter out of the gates. He knows the playbook after a full season in LA, so he has a leg up on Akers. The Rams will likely opt for a hot-hand approach in 2020 in their backfield, but Henderson has enough talent to win Sean McVay over. Henderson was never built to be an every-down running back at just 5’8″, but he has explosive big-play ability and profiles as a reliable receiver as well (career 12.0 yards per reception in college).
Recency bias will point fantasy owners towards Akers as the Rams’ shiny new toy, and they might be right as the former Flordia State runner had high college production (4.9 yards per carry, 27 touchdowns) despite running behind a terrible offensive line. Henderson is the type of talent who could produce big numbers on limited touches, however, and I have him as a borderline RB3, flex play on less than 180 touches in my season-long projections. If Akers or Brown were to suffer an injury, Henderson’s value would explode as well. He’s the type of high-upside, talented running back I would love to add in the later rounds of the draft.
First he set the AAC single-season rushing record. Then he led his Memphis Tigers to the conference title game.
Have a day, Darrell Henderson. pic.twitter.com/cf3YJqW5Iu
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 23, 2018
Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
ADP: 66.9, RB25; My Ranking – RB35
After being drafted by the Redskins in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft, Guice has yet to make an impact as he didn’t play at all in his rookie season and only got on the field for five games in 2019 – he has a concerning history of left knee issues that may derail his career. However, Adrian Peterson is now 35 years old, and while he has still been productive for the Redskins over the past couple of seasons, he has to be nearing the end of his illustrious NFL career. Guice rushed at a 5.8 YPC clip last season despite the team’s offensive line being subpar, and Chris Thompson’s departure leaves 58 targets to the running back position up-for-grabs.
The Redskins ranked second-last in the NFL last season in rush attempts per game, but Peterson was able to maintain decent-enough RB2 value for the majority of the year. Guice’s ADP is going to rise throughout the offseason, and already in the 7th round, I have some hesitations about drafting a guy who can’t seem to stay on the field. Guice is a substantial risk-reward player, though, as his talent is undeniable, and he should be able to be very productive if he can stay on the field.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoRCC) December 1, 2019
Matt Breida and Jordan Howard, Miami Dolphins
ADP (Breida): 95.4, RB28; My Ranking – RB31; ADP (Howard): 130.4, RB44; My Ranking – RB32
I currently have Breida and Howard close in my rankings, and I’m not sure what to make of them as fantasy options just yet. The Dolphins got virtually no production from their running backs last season – Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team with 243 rushing yards, and Mark Walton was the leader in the running back room despite only playing in 7 games. It makes sense that they went out and got two reliable options for their backfield, and their league-worst 21.8 rush attempts per game should significantly improve this season.
Howard profiles as more of the red-zone, short-yardage back, and I currently have him down for eight rushing touchdowns. Breida is the more enticing option in PPR leagues as the better pass-catcher between the two, especially on a team that figures to be playing from behind often this season. I have Breida down for 64 targets, but he could see even more than that. Regardless of whether we see Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa under center for the Dolphins this season, their offense figures to be significantly improved. Both Breida and Howard should hold low-end RB2, high-end RB3 fantasy value, and I will be looking at both as later-round draft options.
— Fourth and Nine (@fourth_nine) September 15, 2019
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
ADP: 95.2, RB27; My Ranking – RB22
The Bears ranked 4th in points allowed per game last season. Still, after losing several defensive starters, including Leonard Floyd, Prince Amukamara, and Haha Clinton-Dix, among other role players, I don’t see their defense being quite as good. That likely means an increase in passing attempts per game, which is good news for Cohen, who was the 3rd-most targeted player at the running back position last season. Cohen has carved out a role for himself as an elite pass-catcher – career 76.3% catch rate and 7.6 YPR with nine total touchdowns through the air.
David Montgomery was mostly ineffective as a rookie, and the team didn’t make any significant moves to add backfield competition for him. Cohen was on the field for 49.9% of snaps to Montgomery’s 57.4%, but that should swing in Cohen’s favor this year. The Bears also lost Taylor Gabriel (48 targets in 9 games) from the offense, which should open up even more passing game work for Cohen. The combination of vacated targets and a likely slightly worse defense will increase the team’s reliance on Cohen as a receiver, which should keep him very relevant in fantasy. He’s a weekly starter in PPR leagues.
Tarik Cohen houses a 61-yard punt with an insane return! pic.twitter.com/nIAKTcotpe
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) December 3, 2019
Deeper League Sleepers to Keep an Eye On
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had the 2nd-most rushing attempts in the NFL last season, and Kyle Shanahan has a long history of producing fantasy-relevant running backs. McKinnon signed a 4-year $30 million contract for San Francisco in 2018 but has yet to see the field after reconstructive ACL surgery. The 49ers are “cautiously optimistic” about his health going into this season. If he can stay on the ground, he could be surprisingly productive for fantasy, especially given his ability to contribute to the receiving game in the past.
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) June 15, 2018
Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams
Fantasy owners will be excited about Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers heading into this season, and while those two guys are certainly the upside plays in the Rams‘ backfield, Brown may end up being the most productive of the bunch for fantasy. He’s been with the team for five seasons now, and while he only has picked up just under 200 career carries playing behind Todd Gurley, he had five rushing touchdowns last season and is by far the most experienced running back on the team.
This Malcolm Brown TD is why I never take for granted how athletic these NFL players are and the gifts they possess pic.twitter.com/NUkJo3VpGx
— Abdul Memon (@abdulamemon) November 4, 2018
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor in the 2nd round of this year’s draft and have Marlon Mack as the incumbent starter with 247 carries in 14 games last season. However, Hines should significantly benefit from the addition of Philip Rivers at quarterback as the veteran passer has a long history of targeting running backs in the passing game. Hines has the ninth-most targets (139) and eighth-most receptions (107) since entering the league a couple of seasons ago. Austin Ekeler was targeted 108 times by Rivers last season and dating further back to when Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator in San Diego. Rivers completed 80 passes in a season to Danny Woodhead. Hines could have sneaky PPR value with his stranglehold on the third-down role in the offense.
Buy up all the Nyheim Hines stock while you can. With Philip Rivers as QB1, Hines will be on the field a lot more playing the Austin Ekeler / Darren Sproles role.
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) March 20, 2020
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
Fantasy owners will be all over Austin Ekeler this season, and rightfully so after the departure of Melvin Gordon from the team opens up a ton of rushing work – Gordon had 175 and 162 carries in the previous two seasons despite only playing 12 games in each campaign. However, Ekeler doesn’t quite profile as the between-the-tackles, workhorse back, and I’m not sure I see him getting much more than his career-high 132 carries from last season. The Chargers did grab Joshua Kelley in the 4th round of this year’s draft as a bruiser at the position, but as a rookie without any elite traits, I’m not sure how he will be utilized. Jackson has been good for 5.1 yards-per-carry in his two seasons with the Chargers, and given his experience with the team, he should be the second man up in what will likely be a true RBBC.
— NFL (@NFL) December 3, 2018
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
In Harris’s rookie season, he was only able to get on the field in two games for the Patriots and only saw four total carries for 12 yards. It makes sense that he’s entirely off the radar in fantasy as Sony Michel figures to handle the bulk of the rushing work on the team with James White and Rex Burkhead, serving as his primary backups. However, the Patriots are expected to run the ball more than in previous seasons with Tom Brady no longer on the team, and Michel and Burkhead both have a lengthy injury history. Harris profiled as an explosive runner coming out of college with the ability to contribute as both a receiver and pass protector, so he should see much more playing time than he did last season. If there’s an injury ahead of him, he could be a league-winning starting running back down the stretch of the season.
— Alabama DieHards (@AlabamaDieHards) October 24, 2019
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
Fantasy owners will understandably be unenthused about Gus Edwards this season after the Ravens spent a 2nd round pick on J.K. Dobbins in the draft. Edwards has been very productive in his two seasons in the NFL, compiling 270 carries for 1,429 yards (5.3 YPC) and four touchdowns. Edwards is uniquely effective in short-yardage situations, and while his overall carry count may be decreased with the addition of Dobbins to the roster, he could still hold some fantasy value as a touchdown-dependent flex play in deeper leagues. The Ravens ran the ball more than any other team by far in 2019, and while Mark Ingram sits comfortably ahead of him on the depth chart, I’m not ready to dismiss Edwards as a potentially fantasy-relevant running back.
Gus Edwards trucked Jordan Poyerpic.twitter.com/jLQlPG8M3J
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 8, 2019
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
I have Kenyan Drake listed above as a guy who I’m more than comfortable with drafting at his current ADP, but it’s worth mentioning the potential for Edmonds to eat into his workload this season. Drake doesn’t exactly have a long history of being an elite bell-cow back, and the Cardinals may opt to split up the backfield touches more than I expect. I currently have Drake down for about 67% of the team’s carries and 13% of the team’s targets, but the workload could be split more evenly than that. Edmonds was productive last season with 60 carries for 303 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. Arizona is invested in Drake’s success after giving him the transition tag, and rookie Eno Benjamin will be a factor as well. Still, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Edmonds surpass 150 touches in what should be a much-improved offense.
You should’ve started Chase Edmonds in fantasy. pic.twitter.com/CVPi3MHe9p
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 11, 2020
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks running back tore his ACL again on December 8th, which is, unfortunately, going to hamper his ability to start this upcoming season at 100%. Penny is reportedly expected to start the season on the PUP list, which would keep him out of at least the first six games of the season. It’s essential to keep an eye on his health as the offseason progresses, but Seattle averaged the 3rd-most rushing attempts per game in the NFL last season, and Penny showed flashes of the talent that made him a first-round pick in 2018, averaging 5.7 yards per carry on the year. Chris Carson is entrenched as the starter in Seattle, but even after the team drafted Deejay Dallas, there is a lack of talented depth behind him. If Penny can get healthy, he will surely have a role in this run-heavy offense.
— SeahawksUnited (@SeahawksUnited_) November 24, 2019
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
The Browns hired Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach, who is good news for the running backs in Cleveland. Stefanski was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings last season, and he helped Dalvin Cook break out in the 5th-most run-heavy team in the NFL. The Browns only averaged the 22nd-most rushing attempts per game last season, and that number will be boosted as the team looks to make a playoff push. Nick Chubb is the clear-cut starter and 3-down back in Cleveland, but Kareem Hunt should be heavily utilized as well and has the talent to force his way on the field. Hunt only played in 8 games last season, but he compiled 37 catches in that time. He should be involved in the passing game this year – the Browns have even discussed lining him up in the slot since the team’s full receiver depth behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is so underwhelming. Hunt will be a do-it-all offensive weapon for the Browns this year and carries high-upside flex appeal even with Chubb entrenched as the starter.
Kareem Hunt is a DAWG pic.twitter.com/E8foxSzOj4
— Athlete Tweets ➐ (@AthleteTweetts) March 24, 2020
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Like Penny and Hunt, Murray is the backup running back on his team but plays on an offense that figures to lean on the run and be very productive as a whole. The Saints are traditionally a very run-heavy team, and their rush attempts per game figure to be higher in 2020 after their lowest mark since 2015. Murray was very productive in this offense, putting up 146 carries for 637 yards and five touchdowns. He was on the field for 40.8% of snaps last season, and while he benefitted from Alvin Kamara’s injury woes, he was still on the field plenty when his backfield mate was active. Alvin Kamara is an elite talent, but the Saints have shown they want to utilize two running backs dating back to Mark Ingram’s time with the team, and Murray should still be heavily used this season. He profiles as a touchdown-dependent, solid weekly flex play.
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2019
Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Fantasy owners likely won’t be thrilled about any Jaguars players this season, least of all the second or third running back on the team’s depth chart. However, I think Thompson has a clear-cut role on this team as its third-down running back. Leonard Fournette ranked 4th among all running backs last season with 100 targets, but he’s never been an elite pass-catching weapon (7.5 career YPR). The Jaguars’ defense figures to be even worse than it was in 2019 (21st in points allowed), which means plenty of positive game script to feature the passing game. I have Thompson down for about 56 targets, which could rise even more depending on how the team is feeling about Fournette at the start of the season. You don’t go out and get a guy like Thompson unless you plan on utilizing him, and he could be a solid deep-league PPR option.
Good luck to Chris Thompson with Uncle Jay & Jags. Will always respect CT. Went from being waived in cutdown to 53 in 2014 to one of better third-down RBs in NFL from 2015-17. Was on fire in 2017 prior to fractured fibula. #Redskins pic.twitter.com/bilU8Of8Yv
— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) May 1, 2020
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