What running backs are most likely to have a break-out fantasy season in 2019?
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, fantasy players of ALL ages, that wonderful time has finally come again. The grass is cut, the rosters are being pared down to 53 and Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season is just weeks away. That means that your fantasy draft is likely happening within the next two weeks; so we here at 5thDownFantasy have devoted ourselves to giving you the tools to find the diamonds in the late rounds.
DARRELL HENDERSON (Los Angeles Rams)
To call the current status of Rams running back Todd Gurley “sketchy” would be an understatement. The prolific tailback has had a lengthy history of knee injuries dating back to college (Gurley tore his ACL while with Georgia in 2014). While coach Sean McVay and the rest of the Rams staff ensure the media that Gurley will be ready for Week 1, it’s another back that’s turning heads at training camp.
Darrell Henderson was taken in the early third round of this past year’s draft for a reason, and that reason is to give Gurley time off. Henderson brings a three year pedigree of success both running AND catching the ball during his time at the University of Memphis (36 Rushing Tds/8 Receiving Tds). Those numbers are already impressive before you realize that 22 of those 36 rushing touchdowns were scored just last year.
The rookie presents a high ceiling opportunity in one of the top offenses in the league, and he can currently be yours late in the 7th or early in the 8th round (on average).
JUSTIN JACKSON (Los Angeles Chargers)
The ongoing saga of Melvin Gordon’s contract hold out has opened up a premium opportunity for the other two names in the Chargers backfield. While Austin Ekeler is getting most of the shine publicly, I believe it’s the lesser-known Justin Jackson that will end up being the value pick of the pair.
Reproducing Gordon’s production will be difficult for a single back to manage, but in Jackson/Ekeler the Chargers have a pair that can cover both the pass-catching (Ekeler), and rushing (Jackson) assignments. In PPR formats Ekeler definitely gets a boost in value, but as a pure RB Jackson is the guy that I can see getting the goal line and short-yardage work for this team in 2019.
Most fantasy owners will remember him as one of the most hotly contested waiver wire pickups going into last years fantasy playoffs due to the Chargers injury woes. To his credit, Jackson produced 2 TD’s and rushed for an average of 4.1 YPC over a two-game stretch. He’s a low key larger back at 6’0/200 Lbs and his mobility/responsibility as the team’s primary pure rusher will give him major upside in the later rounds. He can currently be yours at any time in the last three rounds in most leagues.
DEVIN SINGLETARY (Buffalo Bills)
There may not be a rookie RB in a better position to rise in 2019 than Devin Singletary. While Buffalo isn’t typically a sexy landing spot, it’s one that possesses fertile ground for a young back to rise and grow quickly. The Bills current running back room going into the 2019 season is a who’s who of the year 2008. The ageless Frank Gore is the presumptive lead back for Week 1, and LeSean McCoy’s name has been linked to trade talks virtually the entire preseason.
To his credit, Singletary’s looked like a strong candidate in both preseason games so far (most recently totalling 31 yards on just 5 carries). Buffalo clearly saw something in the former Florida Atlantic junior, taking him in the middle of the 3rd Round of this past years draft. Running Back is a clear position of need for the Bills, and with Singletary, they’re aiming to fill it sooner rather than later. There’s a ton of opportunity here and Josh Allen will need someone else (not named Cole Beasley) to give the ball to this year in Western New York. He’s well worth a late-round flier, and he can currently be yours in the late 10th round in most formats.
MILES SANDERS (Philadelphia Eagles)
The Philadelphia Eagles are coming into the 2019 season as one of the most talent-rich rosters in the NFL. With the acquisitions of Jordan Howard, DeSean Jackson and Malik Jackson it’s not hard to see why they’re projected to be one of the leagues elite squads. However, with that roster density comes the risk of the dreaded Running Back committee.
Head Coach Doug Pederson has become notorious in the fantasy community for utilizing a committee approach in Philly over the past few seasons, but that outlook is set to be seriously challenged by rookie RB Miles Sanders. Since the beginning of training camp, the hype has been building for the former Penn State stand-out, and he’s flashed in the preseason as well, showing off a level of shiftiness and mobility that Eagles fans haven’t seen since the youthful days of LeSean McCoy.
There’s no doubt that the presence of three other backs (Howard/Sproles/Clement*) can and will keep Sanders in check to start the year, but I believe his natural versatility and ability to produce will ultimately win him the coveted number one spot. The way that this Eagles offense is laid out is perfect for a guy like Sanders who can catch the ball and potentially rush all three downs. He’s another great example of what a prototype RB is in the modern NFL, a dual-threat play-maker that can gash a defense in a multitude of ways. Other fantasy owners tend to agree with this assessment, as he is currently being drafted on average in the early 6th round.
ROYCE FREEMAN (Denver Broncos)
Ah yes, this name looks familiar. Anyone who read my FANTASY FILES articles from last year will remember that Royce Freeman’s name appeared frequently as a bust candidate. His status as a fantasy afterthought in 2018 was largely based on the unforeseen rise of Phillip Lindsay, but Freeman also had issues producing when he was called upon.
This year shows promise to be more of a 50-50 split in the backfield, as new Broncos head coach Vic Fangio has repeatedly stressed the importance of the running game. Fangio’s experience as the defensive coordinator in Chicago gave him a front-row seat to the dual rushing attack of Jordan Howard/Tarik Cohen last year, and that bodes well for Freeman’s chances of getting more touches in 2019. The big-bodied, bruising back scored 5 TD’s last year and rushed for 4.0 YPC. If Fangio allows him to ease into the goal-line work this year, he could easily add another four or five TDs to that total. Freeman can currently be yours at the start of the 8th round in most fantasy drafts.
DION LEWIS (Tennessee Titans)
I saved one of my favorite values for last! Remember when Dion Lewis was getting drafted in the middle rounds just a few years ago? He was another name in a long line of strong PPR running backs on the New England Patriots roster, and he was a strong RB2 in most formats. Then, Lewis joined the Tennessee Titans and was buried in the depth chart and minds of fantasy owners behind the over-sized spectre of Derrick Henry.
This disappearing act is the exact reason why Lewis is one of my favorite values in 2019 drafts (particularly in PPR). With his name all but forgotten to most of your league mates, he can be a massive steal in the late rounds of most drafts. He plays the valuable role of check-down option for Marcus Mariota, and his between the tackles running is extremely underrated.
Just two years ago Lewis totalled 9 TD’s combined through the air and on the ground for New England, and he has the ability to be that type of player for Titans if they allow him to be showcased. I believe Tennessee will be forced to give Lewis some more shine this year because of how limited their offense is overall. With Delanie Walker breaking down, Corey Davis performing at an average level and Derrick Henry being one of the streakiest players in the league, the Titans need a safety valve they can rely on.
I believe that Lewis can (and should) be that safety valve for Mariota in his second season in the Music City. He can currently be yours in the 14th round in most leagues. While other players are drafting their Kicker, you could be grabbing one of the most overlooked gems at the Running Back position. Take a flier on Dion and thank me later.