What you want from your starting fantasy running backs is a guy
who is “scoreboard proof.” A back who gets plenty of
work even when the team is behind and fighting tooth and nail for
the win. While still doing the “run-out-the-clock” work
when they are ahead in the fourth quarter.
It’s not just talent which makes a great fantasy running
back. It’s a team using that talent to its fullest advantage.
For many running backs, that means when their team is ahead on
the scoreboard, getting volume rushing attempts, and pounding
out the yards while playing keep away from the opposition.
However, not all teams can dominate their 16-game schedule. Fewer
still go undefeated for the season. So the most consistent fantasy
running backs are those who get usage whether or not their team
is ahead or behind.
Below is a chart of what each of the backs did last season when
their team was behind. The backs at the top of the list should
be “scoreboard proof.”
Barkley, New York Giants – No surprise here. He’s
great running the ball, great catching the ball and the Giants
spent most of last season playing catch-up. It’s likely to be
more of the same in 2019 with holes on both the offense and defense,
therefore we already have plenty of evidence to be relatively
sure that Eli Manning
(or Daniel Jones
late in the season) will continue to feed his star running back
no matter the score.
Johnson, Arizona – Another back who spent most of
the season looking up at the opposition. However, the team has
been redesigned for 2019 with a running quarterback and an offensive
head coach known for putting points on the board (at least at
the college level) so there are question marks for the upcoming
season. Having seen how Lamar
Jackson helped the Ravens’ running back corps (3.51 ypc behind
Joe Flacco and
5.41 under Jackson), I think Kyler
Murray does the same for Johnson and the Cardinals backfield.
Gurley, Los Angeles Rams – Considering that the Rams
went a league-best 13-3 and outscored their opponents by 148 points,
they couldn’t have been behind that much making Gurley’s No. 3
ranking all the more impressive. If we knew he was healthy, this
would be an easy choice on draft day, but the arthritic knee has
to worry every fantasy owner. By contrast, the combined totals
of both James
White (329) and Sony
Michel (164) of the 11-5 New England Patriots produced less
than half Gurley’s total (1078).
McCaffrey, Carolina – McCaffrey is heavily involved
in the Panthers’ passing game and was ranked fourth in productivity
when behind. He finished the year second among backs in receptions
and third in receiving yards to help overcome his low volume rushing
attempts. He’s also the only quality back on the roster, so rushing
attempt volume isn’t in question and happily quarterback Cam
Newton doesn’t steal as many touchdown on the ground as he
used to when he was younger.
Mixon, Cincinnati – The Bengals started out 4-1 before
falling apart, but don’t blame Mixon, who performed well gaining
half his total rushing yards and 70-percent of his receiving yards
when his team was behind, which was often. With prospects still
bleak for Cincinnati in 2019, you should have faith in Mixon’s
ability to keep producing. Also, talk of Giovani
Bernard stealing a bigger portion of Mixon’s work (and before
that Jeremy Hill’s)
is a yearly training camp fallacy.
Lindsay, Denver – The Broncos never got their offense
in gear last season primarily due to the passing game’s failures.
Injuries to Demaryius
Thomas and Emmanuel
Sanders disrupted any gains from Lindsay. The passing game
will be all new with Joe Flacco, Courtland
Hamilton and rookie tight end Noah
Fant joining Sanders so the ground game, led by the second-year
Lindsay, should be a constant factor on offense against a tough
Kamara, New Orleans – When you go 13-3 you probably
didn’t play much from behind, but despite that Kamara produced
the seventh-best total. A slight downgrade of his backfield running
mate, from Mark
Ingram to Latavius
Murray, should allow Kamara to amass plenty of touches even
in limited time from behind. As future Hall of Fame quarterback
Drew Brees has
aged he’s thrown less (673 in 2016, 536 in 2017 and 489 in 2018)
and handed the ball off more. Brees is a wise old quarterback
and Kamara owners the beneficiary of that wisdom.
Elliott, Dallas – Elliott is a volume rusher and
the focal point of the Cowboys’ offense so ahead or behind makes
little difference in his usage. Head coach Jason Garrett has proven
time and again to be a conservative play caller on offense and
with the solid defense the team will put on the field in 2019
is likely to continue that strategy. Give the ball to Zeke early
and often and play great defense is good for the Cowboys future
and Elliott’s fantasy owners.