When it comes to drafting running backs late, you want to find a guy with upside.
There's no exact science to upside. But you want a reasonably talented back who could see opportunity. You also want him in an offense that can maximize his skill set.
The New England Patriots are a team that maximizes running back value as good as any in the NFL. It's also looking like they will be doing much more of that in 2019.
Last season's success
The Patriots ran the ball a lot more in 2018.
They used a combination of James White and Sony Michel and the results were solid.
Both running backs finished in the Top 25 overall. Only the Chicago Bears achieved the same feat with Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard.
In Week 4, White and Michel combined for over 40 fantasy points.
The reason this worked was because Michel was the ground guy, rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. White finished with eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. So he was the clear receiving back.
But things got messy when Michel went down with an injury. In Week 13, backup running back James Develin sniped 2 touchdowns on 4 carries.
This Patriots offense has a clear system with running backs that works. This is why backup Damien Harris could become a major fantasy asset this season.
Why the Patriots offense is good for running backs
The Patriots are a SMART team. There's a reason they've won as 6 Super Bowls despite being in a league where it's hard to stay on top.
This is because they follow the analytics. One of those analytics is rushing attempts inside the 5.
The Patriots ran the ball a lot on the goal line. Michel had 12 carries inside the 5 last season, tied for fifth most in the NFL.
Harris is a power back who would be an ideal goal line guy for New England.
Two, they throw the ball to running backs on first down a lot. This is the new way to get first downs in the modern game. It also leads to more scoring opportunities.
2019 offensive outlook for New England
The Patriots are going to be one of the more run-heavy teams in the league again this season. This is largely because they don't have much at receiver this year. They lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement. There have been reports that rookie N'Keal Harry has struggled with drops in camp. Josh Gordon's status for reinstatement is still up in the air and Phillip Dorsett is just a guy. As of now, Julian Edelman is the only sure thing they have. But he's only a slot receiver.
Why Harris is a good selection
The biggest reason Harris is a good selection is Michel's injury status. There's a lot of concern that Michel's knee injury is worse than most of its kind. It's likely he could be held out the entire preseason. This is giving Harris valuable reps to get up to speed faster.
Plus, Harris is a power back who will fill Michel's role nicely. His ball security and pass protection ability are both excellent for a rookie. He should instill trust in coach Bill Bellichick right out of the gate. He's a threat to take carries away from Michel at some point during the season.
Great ADP value
As of now, Harris is going off draft boards as an RB44. He's behind other backup running backs like Ronald Jones II and Latavius Murray.
Harris is probably a better choice than both of those backs. His offensive line is better. His skill set fits perfectly for his specific role. Plus he will also have plenty of red zone running opportunities.
Now, all of Harris's fantasy value rests on the health of Michel. So if Michel turns out to be fine, then Harris won't matter. But there's enough question marks on Michel to make Harris worth the risk. If you even want to call it that considering there isn't much else to draft at that spot.
So buy as much Harris stock as you can in 2019. You'll be glad you did.
One of the most common mistakes I see people making in fantasy football is...
Getting too emotional.
Here's one thing you you shouldn't say when drafting a fantasy player.
'He burned me last year so I'm not drafting him this year.'
This is one of the more common things I hear from fantasy players. They get salty about a guy they were really high on who didn't pan out during a particular season.
For example, you're looking to draft the best quarterback possible in your fantasy draft. You immediately come across a guy like Andrew Luck.
Now, Luck is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league. But you drafted him back in 2015 and he finished as a QB27.
As he comes across your draft board, your subconscious tells you...
'No, not taking him. I can't trust him.'
To that I say... Woah. Slow down there.
Ok, you don't want to draft Luck. I get it.
But just because he burned you four years ago is not a good reason to avoid taking him this year.
Ask yourself these questions about Luck for this season.
— Does he have good receivers to throw to?
— Is he one of the most talented at his position?
— Is his offensive line blocking well for him?
— Is his defense so bad he will be forced to throw the team back into games?
— Does he have a coach with the right system to maximize his talent?
— Does he have an easy schedule?
— Is he healthy?
— Is he in his prime?
If he checks all those boxes, then get over him burning you in 2015.
If you don't want to take Luck because you'd rather draft a different position at that point in your draft, that's fine. Just make sure you avoid drafting someone for the right reasons.
Not drafting a player because 'he burned you one time' is never a good excuse.
I use Luck as an example because he's a quarterback on the verge of perhaps his best ever season in 2019. The Colts were the hottest team in the league down the stretch in 2018.
Their coach, Frank Reicht, is one of the more effective quarterback coaches in the league. He turned Nick Foles into a Philadelphia legend for life. A guy who was almost out of the league before 2017.
Now, Reicht will be using Luck in a way that maximizes his talent. Which involves him throwing the ball a ton.
It's not out of the question to think Luck could lead the league in passing attempts in 2019.
Even Blake Bortles finished as a QB3 when he passed the ball on a ton.
Imagine what would happen if a talented quarterback like Luck leads the league in passing attempts. In an offense with big-time weapons like T.Y. Hilton.
There's a real chance we see the best version of Luck ever in 2019.
Ok, so this was partly an Andrew Luck hype piece and a partial philosophy piece on not letting your emotions get in the way in fantasy football.
So there you have it.
Stay rational out there.
Don't get sucked into that recency bias thought pattern. You often miss out on drafting a great player when you do that.
Sure, Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny burned you last season. But while you're stewing over his dismal rookie campaign, somebody else is about to draft a gem.
We can call a spade a spade here. Penny is coming off a disappointing rookie season. He rushed for just 419 yards and two touchdowns.
But hold the phone, Penny did a lot of things well in 2018. Plus, things are shaping for him to have a major impact in 2019.
One of the traits that sticks out about Penny is his ability to make big plays. Penny had two rushes of 30 yards or more in 2018. He also had nine rushes for over 15+ yards.
Not only that, Penny got better as the season went along. After Week 4, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry and that number stuck for the rest of the season.
Sure he started off slow, but many great NFL running backs plodded out of the gate. Shaun Alexander, another great Seattle back, rushed for 313 yards his rookie year. Alexander did just fine after that, rushing for over 9,000 total career yards.
Excellent ADP value
There's a lot of potential for Penny to blow the doors off his ADP in 2019.
If you like to squeeze as much value out of the later rounds of your fantasy draft, Penny is a top flight option. He's going off at No. 67 overall according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
When you look at the backs going ahead of him, No. 67 is a tremendous value. Penny is going behind Lamar Miller, a running back who's rushed for over 1,000 yards just twice in five seasons. Miller has also never cracked higher than 1,073 yards. He's the ultimate 'safe' pick if you even want to call him that.
Penny is also going behind Derrius Guice. Guice is a running back we've already written about as a potential disappointment. But even recently he tweaked his hamstring and may miss the start of training camp. Guice also has a ton of competition behind him with Adrian Peterson, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson and Bryce Love in the backfield. While Guice has a lot of talent, he just can't catch a break right now. If we had the choice between Guice and Penny, Penny is the obvious choice.
Opportunity... it's there
Penny has a serious chance to see a lot more carries in 2019.
For one, he just has to beat out one guy for the starting job, and that's Chris Carson. The Seahawks let Mike Davis go in free agency, so you won't have to worry about that gross 3-headed monster attack.
Chris Carson is coming off an excellent 2018 season, but his health is a concern. Carson recently 'had some work done' on his knee this past offseason. Details are vague and it could be nothing, but Carson already has some other injuries under his belt after two seasons. Plus, with a team looking to run the ball as much as Seattle is, you can expect even more wear and tear on Carson as the season goes along.
Seattle's run heavy approach
The Seahawks were the only team to run the ball more than they passed in 2018. And offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is doubling down on that approach in 2019.
The one minor knock on Penny's opportunity is Pete Carroll's unpredictable approach. Seahawks.com reporter John Boyle reports Carroll wants to adopt a 'hot-hand' approach. This usually translates to 'who knows I am going to just run some plays and see what works best.' This is often frustrating for fantasy players. But again, with Carson's injury history and Penny's ADP, it's well worth the risk for what you're paying.
Work ethic getting better
We always hear about players 'being in the best shape of their lives' knowing it's player speak. It's still good to see someone taking his game seriously. Penny is doing that in 2019.
He hired a nutritionist in 2019, so he's taking better care of his body. He also met with Marshall Faulk twice a week in the offseason to study film.
Are these game-changers for his fantasy value in 2019? Of course not. Most players study film and take good care of their bodies. But it's still good to see he's not exactly going off the rails like some players seem to always do. See Josh Gordon.
Probability of outplaying ADP: Very high
Penny is one of the best value picks in 2019. He plays in a run heavy offense. The starting back in Seattle has some injury history already and will likely need to take some snaps off. Plus he's got the versatility to make big plays in the passing game. You should be looking to draft him in as many leagues as possible.
Drafting players who exceed their value in average draft position often separates the good teams from the truly great ones.
So how do you give yourself the best chance of finding talent in the later rounds at the running back position? You have to find one that fits several categories.
One guy with the potential is Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II.
So what do we like about this second-year back out of USC?
Steady producer in college
When it comes to predicting success, there's no greater indicator than college film. Specifically consistent, strong production over several years at the Division-I level.
Jones has this quality in spades. He burst onto the scene hard as a freshman at USC, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and 987 rush yards. He finished 2016 with 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns that year. He finished strong in 2017, rushing for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns. And this was despite USC being a pass-heavy offense.
I know it seems like an obvious strategy, but a lot of people end up reaching on an unproven back early because he has 'talent.' Sure, you're throwing some darts in the later rounds and not every player is going to fill every possible hole. But why not draft a guy who has talent but also showed he could produce at the college level?
Not much competition to deal with
The Buccaneers went extremely defensive heavy in the draft. They didn't take a running back and didn't even draft a skill position player until the sixth round, taking WR Scott Miller out of Bowling Green.
Because of this, all Jones is competing with is ho-hum back Peyton Barber. Barber only averaged 3.7 yards per carry last season, so he didn't exactly blow the doors off the place. Plus he's on a one-year deal for a little over $2 million, so it's not like the Bucs are heavily invested in him.
When it comes to finding running backs who will produce fantasy points, you want to find a guy who the coach likes and will look to get the ball to. Volume is one of the most effective ways of predicting fantasy success. Even a mediocre running back getting 25 carries a game is better than a great running back getting 12 carries a game.
Has the speed for big plays
There's a lot of speed here with Jones. He's an explosive player. He was one of the faster guys at the 2018 combine, running a 4.48 40. He can stretch the field with his speed.
When it comes to running backs, talent isn't the most important thing, volume is. However, the ability to rip off big runs at the second level is still very helpful. Often times a big 56-run will mitigate 10 runs of 3 yards or less. You want a running back with the capability of hitting a home run, and Jones has that.
He's a dual threat
Jones is a good route runner, has soft hands and catches the ball well. He wasn't asked to catch the ball a ton at USC, but he made the most of it when he did.
Key tip: Receiving running backs are deadly. If you look at the top running backs from last season like Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley, they all racked up a ton of targets.
His current ADP is juicy
Jones is going in the 9th-10th round in most fantasy drafts. Meaning you can get him at a steal. He's going around the likes of Adrian Peterson and Austin Ekeler. Now, his ADP will likely rise, especially if he shows out during preseason.
Overall, Jones is a worthy dart throw running back this season because of his speed and opportunity.
Todd Gurley has some issues, and people should be getting excited for rookie Darrel Henderson in 2019.
ESPN's Lisa Thiry reported earlier that Todd Gurley will miss the entire preseason.
While many weren't too concerned about Gurley's knee, it's definitely starting to look like there could be some issues now.
If that's the case, it's important to adapt to the situation as a fantasy owner. That's why we look to the next guy up. Darrell Henderson.
Why it matters for fantasy
Gurley battled injury woes down the stretch last year, and he was the worst kind of fantasy player because of it.
You didn't know what you were going to get with Gurley. But it was tough to bench him because he was such a stud.
Also, we saw how good a backup running back can be behind the Rams potent offensive line.
Running back C.J. Anderson had three games of 100+ yards in the playoffs last season, and was by the far the Rams best back in that stretch. With Anderson gone now, there's now more room in the offense for volume.
Why you should be excited about Henderson's immediate fantasy potential
Henderson is by far the most explosive back coming out of the draft this season. He was also one of the most efficient running backs in college football history. You can read more about his stats and traits in our 'Talent Evaluation' section here.
Also, the Rams traded up to get Henderson in the third round. Draft capital investment is often a good indicator of how soon a rookie sees the field. This shows that even if Gurley is healthy, the Rams are likely going to use Henderson anyway, making him valuable in deeper leagues.
To top it off, you can currently get Henderson in the 8th round according to FFCalculator. Making him an absolute steal there.
Is Malcolm Brown a problem?
While Henderson has some opportunity, Malcolm Brown is still in the mix. The Rams hung on to him in the offseason and he's a talented enough back that could be a starter on several other teams.
But should we get worried about Brown stealing touches?
There's definitely some cause to worry. Brown is definitely going to get a shot as well. So he's a welcome dart throw as well.
The current state of the Rams as a team
The Rams burst out of the gate last season as one of the best offenses in the league. But many factors contributed to their team's slow decline near the end of the season.
They had injuries to their key players, including key wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Plus Gurley's play declined as the season went along. Defenses also started to figure out Sean McVay's style, which lead to more teams beating them in the playoffs.
But despite that, the Rams are still a very good offense heading into 2019. They'll have Kupp back. Sean McVay will also have to evolve his play style once again to counter other coaches counters. But he's proven to be a smart enough guy where I'm confident he'll do that.
Overall, Henderson has the potential to be a league winner for fantasy teams in 2019. The Rams offense will be among the best in the league. There's opportunity for high volume with Gurley's knee issues. The Rams showed a lot of interest trading up to get him in the third round.
Lastly, Henderson is one of the most explosive rookie backs this season. Draft him in as many leagues as you can.
The 2019 running back class didn't have a once-in-a-generation star. But many rookie running backs still have a chance to score massive amounts of fantasy points in 2019. As we know, landing spot matters a lot for running backs. And in the 2019 NFL Draft, many backs got drafted to teams in dire need of a running back.
The most talented of the bunch was clearly Alabama prospect Josh Jacobs. But the question remains, is Josh Jacobs the best fantasy rookie running back to draft in 2019?
The answer to that is undoubtedly yes. Don't say 'yeah but I think Miles Sanders blah blah blah or David Montgomery blah blah blah.' I know you (the reader) are saying that right now. But take off your contrarian hipster glasses, put down the Pabst Blue Ribbon, and keep on reading.
Why Jacobs the better option
Sure, there were plenty of other talented rookie running backs with promise. Miles Sanders went in the second round to Philadelphia, a team with a good offensive line and only an injury-riddled Jordan Howard to beat out. David Montgomery went to Chicago, which was a solid spot since there's no clear-cut starting RB on the roster. Both backs have good potential opportunity in 2019, but Jacobs rises above them all for several reasons.
For one, there was no running back in a weak 2019 class more NFL ready than Jacobs. At Alabama, he showed he could run between the tackles, catch the ball and also pass protect (a common bugaboo among rookies). No running back in this rookie class was that solid in all three phases like Jacobs.
Sanders and Montgomery, while talented, have some holes. Sanders runs tentative at times and Montgomery lacks long speed to separate from defenses.
Jacobs isn't a speed demon either, but he's by no means slow. Jacobs even improved his 40-time on his second Pro Day, clocking in at 4.52 compared to 4.6 he ran on his first attempt. Plus, Jacobs' size creates more chances to break tackles and gives him a chance to rip off a big run.
Where Jacobs can become an elite fantasy RB
Jacobs is no doubt an excellent inside runner. He has great balance and runs with some anger to create yards after contact. According to Rotoworld's Graham Barfield (creator of Yards Created metric for Running Backs), Jacobs tied Saquon Barkley for 3rd highest percentage of carries to create 5 or more yards. This shows his propensity to break tackles.
That alone is exciting. But there's an even bigger factor that could help Jacobs be the man in 2019.
That factor comes in the passing game. Jacobs averaged 2.4 receiving yards per route in 2018, according to Graham Barfield. This ranked second among all rookie running backs. A good route runner who moves incredibly well for a guy his size, Jacobs can adjust his body to make difficult catches in ways most 220 lb backs can't. You can see some highlights of in this article here. He also has massive hands 10 inch hands, an obvious good trait for a pass catcher.
Receivers do fantasy better
In 2018, the Top 5 running backs (Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffery) all had at least 80 targets. And 3 of the 5 (Kamara, Barkley, and McCaffery) had over 100 targets. In 2017, three of the Top 5 fantasy RB's had over 87 targets, and the fourth had 79. While this is only a two-year sample, it's looking more like target numbers are becoming a huge indicator for fantasy success among running backs.
Catching running backs score fantasy points regardless of game script. They rarely post '0' point weeks. If the defense is stopping them in the run game, they can flare out on screen passes and create yards in the open field. If the defense has slow linebackers, they can exploit those matchups for big gains in the pass game.
Catching the ball is also good because it allows running backs to gain bigger chunks of yards in the open field. We saw Kareem Hunt do this especially well in 2017 on screen passes. Same thing with Barkley on the Giants in 2018. Jacobs isn't incredibly elusive like those backs, but he's fast enough and athletic enough to make people miss in the open field as well.
The right spot with Oakland
Jacobs steps into a golden opportunity with Oakland to showcase his receiving ability. With only Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to contend with, it's tough to see Jacobs not starting immediately in 2019.
The Raiders made some major splashes in free agency. grabbing arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Antonio Brown. They also added Tyrell Williams, a high-quality No. 2 who was a consistent touchdown producer with the Chargers. Williams is already impressing coaches in practice, and these receivers will move the chains and give Oakland more scoring opportunities in the red zone. When the Raiders get done around the goal line, Jacobs will be the top candidate to punch it in. This gives him added touchdown value.
The big question is quarterback Derek Carr. Will he be able to return to his 2016 form when he was a Pro Bowl quaterback? He hasn't played at that level since the injury, but you could argue 2018 was a rebuilding year since the Raiders lost key weapons in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Carr has proven he's capable when he has the tools, and the Raiders certainly have them in 2019.
Even more promising is the game script within the division. The Raiders play in the loaded AFC West, featuring MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers. There's going to be a lot of shootouts in these games, leading to more chances of getting Jacobs involved in the passing game and score touchdowns.
Rookie running backs are the best kind of rookie
Running back is a young man's position and so it's not surprising to see Jacobs as one of the top contenders to win this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. If you're playing the odds, three of the last five AP Offensive Rookie of The Year players were running backs. Those were Saquon Barkley (2018), Alvin Kamara (2017), and Todd Gurley (2015). All running backs finished in the Top 5 in standard fantasy scoring at their respective position.
To go deeper on one of them Alvin Kamara finished 4th overall in standard fantasy scoring as a rookie. A big part of that was his 105 targets, which allowed him to snag 81 catches and 709 receiving yards. Kamara also had the fortune of playing with one of the three best quarterbacks of this generation in Drew Brees.
But while it's safe to say you won't expect Jacobs to amass 105 targets as a rookie since the Raiders are unlikely to be THAT prolific on offense, there's still plenty of opportunity to utilize his catching ability. The Raiders passed the ball 59 percent of the time last season, good for 12th overall. It's expected they'll throw more given their new weapons in Brown and Williams on the outside. So expect Jacobs to see his fair share of targets in 2019.
Josh Jacobs is an NFL ready running back. He has a scintillating opportunity with zero running backs ahead of him on the depth chart. There's potential for Oakland to give him plenty of targets since they're a fairly pass-friendly offense. He'll also be playing in a high-scoring division where several games could become shootouts.
He's a no-brainer RB2 in all standard scoring leagues this season. You should also snag him a ton in best ball and he should be one of the first picks off the board in dynasty leagues at running back.
To see all our rookie coverage, check out our 'Talent Evaluation' section here.