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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Newcomers - Running Backs
Which RBs will rise into the fantasy top ten in 2019?

I’ve recently been profiling those QBs, RBs, and WRs I think will take a step back this coming season, so now it’s time to identify their possible successors. We’re always on shakier ground here--much smaller pool of potential dropouts than replacements, after all--but I did bat a cool .500 last summer. Just sayin’...

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.

A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy RBs from last season...

  Top 10 Running Backs - 2018
Rank Player
1 Todd Gurley
2 Saquon Barkley
3 Christian McCaffrey
4 Alvin Kamara
5 Ezekiel Elliott
6 James Conner
7 Melvin Gordon
8 Kareem Hunt
9 Joe Mixon
10 David Johnson

Running Backs Most Likely to Rise in 2019:

Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones, GB

Jamaal Williams was the fourth highest scoring RB in Week 16, meaning he ultimately mattered more to fantasy GMs last year than Aaron Jones, the guy he mostly backstopped the rest of the season. Regardless of whether Williams won you a fantasy chip or cost you one (sigh), there should be no mistaking who the Green Bay back to own is this year. Everyone knows it, probably even Mike McCarthy, the guy who was criminally slow to warm to Jonesí talent.

The speedy 5th rounder from UTEP raised some eyebrows as a rookie in 2017 when he averaged an FBS-like 5.5 YPC in limited carries (81). This would have been the second-best YPC clip amongst running backs had he qualified, trailing only Alvin Kamara, a much more celebrated 2017 noob. Enthusiasm for Jones heading into the 2018 campaign was still fairly muted, however, as he faced a two-game suspension right out of the gate and, presumably, many doubted he could be as efficient with more touches. Does 5.5 YPC over 133 carries enthuse you a bit more? That led the league and it absolutely qualified.

McCarthy got the hook after 13 years in ĎSconny, meaning itís now Matt LaFleurís job to figure out how best to deploy Jones, who hasnít yet notched a 20-carry game as a pro. LaFleur will also employ a committee approach, but consider that his Titans offense ran the ball 454 times last season compared to Green Bayís 333 (dead last). More carries to split up is still more carries for all involved. Coach LaFleur also intends to involve his backs more as pass catchers and Jones, while raw, showed promise as a receiving threat last year. I believe thereís no better value or upside at the RB spot in 2019.

Dalvin Cook, MIN

Itís way early still and RB shelf lives are brutally short, but that 2017 RB draft class sure looks to be shaping up as one of the all-time greats: Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, Kareem Hunt, James Conner, Tarik Cohen, Marlon Mack, and Chris Carson. Oh, and Dalvin Cook, the guy we probably thought would be the biggest star of all after theyíd played a month or so of professional football.

Cook averaged 14.1 FPts/G over that first month of the 2017 season and looked every bit the dual-threat dynamo his fellow classmates did before disaster struck against Detroit in Week 4 (torn ACL). 17 missed games later and a much slower start to his sophomore campaign has the former Seminole needing to rehabilitate his fantasy profile heading into this season. And if early projections and ADP are any indication, heís already starting to do that. Cook is very consistently being projected in the RB9 to RB11 range based on my limited research (we have him at RB9) and that seems like the perfect slot for a high-upside, high-risk rock toter.

Whatís likely buoying those projections heading into 2019 is what people saw out of Cook once Kevin Stefanski took the reins of Minnesotaís offense late last year. Through Week 14, he averaged an uninspiring 10.9 carries per contest, clearly not enough to thrill his owners. From that point forward, however, Stefanski gave Cook the rock 15.3 times per game. Add that to the 3+ targets he received over that stretch weíre cooking with fire. Itís no surprise Minnyís main man ranked as RB7 over the seasonís final five weeks and a similar utilization rate would almost certainly vault him into the Top 10 this year.

Damien Wiliams, KC

If Dalvin Cook was good over the seasonís final five weeks, Damien Williams was great. Despite garnering 21 fewer carries over that same Week 13-to-Week 17 stretch, the former Sooner scored more fantasy points and, almost overnight, made Chiefs fans forget about Kareem Hunt and his career-imperiling behavioral problems. In fact, from Week 14 through the end of KCís season (including two playoff games), the previously unheralded Williams averaged 20.0 FPts/G. Thatís better than Huntís 18.6 FPts/G mark and better than every other RBís full-season rate save for Todd Gurleyís.

Itís uncertain as we sit here in early to mid-August whether Williams will earn the same workload Hunt and previous Chiefs bell cows have. Andy Reid et al. said all the right things this summer but an early-camp hamstring injury has clouded the outlook to an extent. Itís probably just coach doublespeak, but Reidís praise of backup Carlos Hyde (blah) is at least worth a mention. That said, itís also worth mentioning that in six years as the head man in KC, Big Red has placed four RBs in the top eight (Jamaal Charles twice and then Hunt two more times). When Reid has a stud, he knows what to do with him.

Whatís particularly compelling about Williams is his ability to contribute as a pass receiver. In that aforementioned six-game span to close out the year, he averaged nearly five receptions per contest and scored four times via the airwaves. Add those four receiving TDs to the seven Hunt had already accumulated earlier on and we start to envision how high the ceiling for the main Chiefs back can actually be. Monitor his usage the rest of this month, but start getting excited about Williamsí potential in the leagueís most dynamic offense.

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