It is never too early to start planning for the next fantasy football draft. At this point, most free agents have signed with their new teams, and only minor changes in rankings will occur for players. Unlike the past few seasons, there are no top running backs projected in this year’s rookie draft class. That means it is the perfect time to start ranking out running backs to target for the next fantasy season.
This will be part one of a four-part series that separates the running back class into four tiers and counts down to the top back.
Fantasy Football: Tier Four Pre-Draft Running Back Rankings
Sleeper: Rashaad Penny
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny is a tough running back to rate. Penny appeared in 13 games for the Seahawks as a rookie in 2018, averaging just 4.7 points throughout the year. However, it wasn’t necessarily that Penny wasn’t good, but more that he was in his first NFL season competing for touches against other talented backs.
Chris Carson ended up winning the starting job over Penny and performed admirably. Carson started 14 games last season, rushing for over 100 yards in six of those games. If he’s healthy, he will definitely be the guy. But there are question marks on his health since he missed two games with injury and was banged up a few other times. Mike Davis was the second back in line, and he is now Chicago Bear.
Penny boasted a nice 4.9 yards-per-carry (YPC) last year. The only game he had more than ten carries he went over 100 yards on the ground. Penny is a high-risk, high-reward guy. If Carson is healthy, he doesn’t have much value. If Carson goes down at any point, Penny has as much upside as almost anyone in the league.
Notable Free Agents
On to the rankings.
40 and 39. Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the most disappointing backfields of 2018. As a team, they were ranked 29th in rushing yards, and second-to-last in YPC (3.9). Peyton Barber was the team’s leading rusher, but he only managed 871 yards. The teams next two leading rushers were quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Most games, the run game was so ineffective it was abandoned completely.
Tampa Bay took Ronald Jones taken in the second round of the 2018 draft. Most thought he would come in and immediately take the job from the unproven Barber. Instead, he was only active in nine games and saw just 23 carries on the season. It is too early to call him a bust, but after his performance last season, people would be crazy to draft him to their fantasy team. There is no way the Bucs don’t add another running back, either through free agency, or the draft.
38. LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy’s fantasy value is surviving through name value alone. It was a only a few years ago that McCoy was a first-round pick in any league. From 2010 to 2018, McCoy had at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage every year. 2017 McCoy had over 1,500 scrimmage yards. However, he looked like a shell of himself in 2018.
He averaged a putrid 6.7 fantasy points per game and barely managed 700 total yards. Don’t be caught up in McCoy’s name value. He should not be drafted.
37. Adrian Peterson
Another once top name to avoid in fantasy next season is Adrian Peterson. Sure, he had a much better season than expected in 2018, but don’t expect the same for him in 2019. Peterson just turned 34, and even though the Washington Redskins re-signed him to a two-year deal, it is only insurance. The Redskins drafted Derrius Guice to be their next running featured back, although he is coming back from an ACL injury.
At best, Peterson and Guice will split work, but that does not bode well for All Day, who works best when he gets a full workload. This could quickly turn into a repeat of when Peterson was in New Orleans.
36. Latavius Murray
Speaking of the New Orleans Saints, Latavius Murray just signed with them after playing for the Minnesota Vikings for the past few years. Murray now plays behind one of the more electric backs in the game, Alvin Kamara. For the most part, Kamara split work with Mark Ingram last year, but it is unclear if that will be the case with Murray. Kamara has shown that he can handle a full workload, looking almost unstoppable in the games that Ingram was out with a suspension.
Still, Murray is one of the better number two runners in the league and should get some work. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be enough to give him any consistency from a fantasy standpoint. However, Kamara owners should consider handcuffing him with Murray, as he would be instantly productive should Kamara miss time.
33. Isaiah Crowell
Murray started his career with the Oakland Raiders, and Isaiah Crowell just signed there. Crowell has shown promise in his career, but not a ton of consistency. Last year, he split playing time with Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire with the New York Jets before going down with an injury.
Back to Crowell’s consistency issues. He had one game last year with over 200 yards rushing. He also had a game with zero yards on the ground. He is also in danger of falling into a similar role to the one he had in New York. Oakland already has satellite back Jalen Richard, and there is a chance Marshawn Lynch comes back for one more season.
Lynch and the Raiders have mutually said that they will wait until after the draft for a decision, but either way, it looks like Lynch comes back, or Oakland drafts a young guy. Crowell is a guy who needs to be re-evaluated during the pre-season to see if he has any value.
32. Kenyan Drake
What is the deal with Kenyan Drake? The guy looks like he can play, but for some reason, the Miami Dolphins just didn’t want him on the field. At first, it looked like the Dolphins were only giving mega-veteran Frank Gore the starting job so that he could preserve his outrageous starting streak. (The streak ultimately ended at 122 games after Gore missed the final two weeks of the season.)
Even after missing the final two games of the season, Gore still had 36 more carries than Drake. And although Gore had a surprisingly productive season, one can’t help but wonder why Drake didn’t get more work. Even when Gore went down, Drake didn’t get more than 11 carries in a game. With no one except Kalen Ballage on the roster to compete with hi, it seems like the perfect time for Drake to break out next year. However, there is probably a reason why he hasn’t yet.
Drake remains an extremely high risk, with little outlook for reward in fantasy.
31 and 30. Tevin Coleman/Jerick McKinnon
2019 looked like it might be Tevin Coleman’s chance to finally get a gig as a lead back. He even got an opportunity to showcase that he could be a feature back with the Atlanta Falcons when the Devonta Freeman missed most of last year. However, he decided to reunite with his former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
He joins a crowded backfield that includes Matt Breida, who started most of 2018, and Jerick McKinnon, who is returning from injury. This backfield will be tough to predict, but the most likely scenario is that McKinnon and Coleman split work. It may be good to keep the two of them fresh and healthy, but it doesn’t inspire a lot from a fantasy perspective.
29. C.J. Anderson
There are many who love the C.J. Anderson to the Detroit Lions. However, instead of going somewhere where he could be the undisputed starter, Anderson signed with a team that has competition at the position. Although he won’t have to worry about guys like Theo Riddick or Zach Zenner, he will be competing with second-year guy Kerryon Johnson.
Anderson signed with the Los Angeles Rams and completely tore it up at the end of the season. However, during the regular season, he had the backfield all to himself. That won’t be the case with his new team. Also, the Lions passing attack is nowhere near as scary as the Rams were, so teams will be able to zone in to stop him. Don’t expect the same numbers from Anderson as he put up at the end of 2018.
28. Tarik Cohen
Last season, Tarik Cohen finished as the RB17, yet he ranks all the way back as RB29 here. He averaged a healthy 10.1 fantasy points a game, but that doesn’t really tell the entire story. Cohen is basically only a running back by name. He actually had 725 receiving yards, compared to only 444 rushing yards. He only had three games with over 50 yards rushing. However, he did have two games with over 100-yards receiving.
Cohen’s issue that drops his ranking is consistency. He’s the definition of boom-or-bust. He had two games with over 20 points, but also five games with less than five points. Consistency is king and fantasy, and Cohen’s lack of it hurts his ranking here.
27. Lamar Miller
Lamar Miller is a guy who gets by purely on volume. He is not extremely productive, owning a career 4.3 YPC. He hasn’t had over 1,000 yards rushing in two years. It’s not necessarily that Miller is a bad back, it’s more that he doesn’t have a very high floor. He has also been trending downward for the past few years. After finishing as a top ten back in fantasy in 2014 and 2015, Miller fell to RB18 in 2016. Last year his decline continued, with him managing an RB22 finish.
Miller has been lucky to keep the starting job to himself, as there have been whisperings for while in the Houston Texans circle about D’Onta Foreman. Foreman was hurt in 2017, and still recovering for most of 2018. Should this backfield turn into a timeshare, Miller’s value would plummet.
26. Kerryon Johnson
Like his new teammate Anderson, Kerryon Johnson could be a lot higher on this list if he had this backfield to himself. Johnson was drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft. He spent most of the season in a timeshare with LeGarrette Blount and a few other scat backs, so he wasn’t very fantasy relevant most games. However, he showed a ton of promise. It started with him breaking the Lions sad streak of not having a 100-yard rusher for 70 games.
It seemed like the Lions would have to give him the rock more after that, but the 16 carries got that game were the second most he got in a game all season. The only other game he had more than 15 carries he also ran for over 100 yards.
However, Johnson was hurt in week ten and never returned. It looked like he would step into the starting role to start 2019, but now his usage will have a huge question mark. He still has a bit more upside than Anderson, since he can have a role in the passing game, but his production is tough to predict at this point.
Last Word on Tier Four’s Pre-Draft Fantasy Running Back Rankings
This ends the first tier of the pre-draft running back rankings. Debate the ordering in the comments, and don’t forget to stay tuned for tier three’s installment.
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