A couple of guys from this list were already featured in the world-dominating Ultimate Draft Kit, so if you’re interested in the statistical ends of things (and just winning in general), drop what you’re doing right now, order the UDK, and THEN come back to this article.
The term “league winner” is often misunderstood. Every-week studs like Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffery are pivotal parts of any championship team, but it’s not what we mean when we say league winner. A league winner is someone who comes from the middle to late rounds and becomes a weekly staple of your team. Players like Alvin Kamara, Phillip Lindsay, Chris Carson, and Adam Thielen fit the mold of league winning players in recent years. When dissecting this type of potential, it’s important to understand that if the opportunity were an obvious one or the workload was guaranteed then they’d be higher on the draft board. Every one of these players comes with significant risk to completely flop, but they could also win you a #FootclanTitle. There’s always one or two of these guys every season, and unearthing them takes a lot of critical thought. Statistically speaking you don’t see many players like this jumping off the page since they’re usually injured or not in a starting role just yet.
Searching for league winners is like searching for love: keep an open mind and you might just get swept off your feet.
Ronald Jones II – 8.05 ADP
Few players broke the hearts of dynasty owners everywhere as drastically as Ronald Jones did in 2018. I would be insulting the word “disappointing” to refer to him as such, so I’ll just use the word “Jemarcus-y” to properly convey how badly he busted in year one. Typically when you lose your job to Peyton Barber you’re doomed to ride the bench for years to come, but so much has changed in Tampa Bay that Jones may be worth a mid-round pick.
Normally this is the spot where I’d refer to some statistics that show he was actually impressive, but there’s not many available. The things working in his favor are an opportunity and the lack of running game in general for the Bucs. Peyton Barber functioned as the starter for most of the year but he was far from impressive in his own right. He only managed 3.6 YPC and saw over 250 touches in total. He was the only player in the league to finish in the top ten in both carries and red zone touches but fail to reach 3.7+ YPC. This was a big enough sample size for anyone to question his place atop the depth chart under Bruce Arians. The Buccaneers didn’t spend any draft capital at the position and that could mean that Arians sees something special in one of his running backs (and it’s likely not Barber).
Ball carriers typically see a major workload in Arians’ offenses and since Barber squandered his opportunity there’s a realistic shot that Jones gets the first crack in the preseason. If the Bucs would’ve drafted a running back in the second round this year we’d be looking at a 3rd round ADP at the worst for that player. This means there’s a five-round discount on the second year running back based solely on 23 carries. Jones could win you a league this season in a similar fashion to Chris Carson last year. At this point in your draft, you’re deciding between high upside players or high floor, low ceiling guys that fill your flex spots. Jones has more upside than most guys in this range and he has an offensive Guru on his side this year.
Jerick McKinnon – 8.09 ADP
The Niners backfield is a mess, there’s no disputing that. When I got the notification that Tevin Coleman was signed I was genuinely shocked and moderately disappointed. Based on the depth and injury issues the team saw last season it makes a lot of sense from a football standpoint, but it’s more of a water balloon to the face for us fantasy owners. There will be a lot of debate in the offseason centered around Coleman, McKinnon and Matt Breida at their various ADPs. The primary reason for this McKinnon endorsement mirrors the primary reason Eddie Lacy left the league: they gave him way too much dough.
The Niners inked McKinnon to a $30 million contract last year and he went down before week one. At the time of his injury, all signs were pointing to him being the lead back and potentially a workhorse. The only thing that’s changed since then is the phantom Tevin Coleman signing. Coleman wasn’t a primary back in Shanahan’s offense in Atlanta, he’s never seen more than 170 carries in a season and his time at the top of the Falcons depth chart was disappointing at best. His contract doesn’t reflect a serious investment, it reflects a depth piece. Both Coach Shanahan and the 49er’s organization signed McKinnon for a reason and that reason hasn’t gone away yet since he didn’t even see the field. It’s very reasonable to go into 2019 expecting Mckinnon to be the guy we had hoped he’d be in 2018 and what a valuable fantasy asset that would be.
Lamar Miller – 7.03 ADP
Bore me once, I don’t draft you. Bore me twice, people forget you. Bore me three times, and your ADP free falls. Lamar Miller has entered stage three and he’s finally someone worth drafting at his current ADP. There were only two ball carriers last year that finished in the top ten in carries and rushing yards that can be snagged outside of the first six rounds. The first guy is Adrian Peterson who has to compete with both Derrius Guice and Bryce Love for carries this season. The second is Lamar Miller, who has to compete with the highly touted rookie….. Karan Higdon?
Although I secretly adore Higdon as a deep sleeper, ultimately this was a huge win for Miller. A lot of people will point to D’Onta Foreman as the guy who will surpass him this year but that narrative has been brewing since 2017 to no avail. It’s true that most of it has been because of injury, but after a while, a fluke becomes a trend. It’s evident that Foreman possesses a lot of talent but his injury history is too consistent to ignore at this point. I would never hope for an injury or predict one, but there’s a strong possibility that Miller sees another healthy workload in 2019. If you’re able to grab a high floor, low ceiling RB2 in round seven you do it every single time. If Miller can see a bit more red zone work in that high powered Texans offense he could easily produce his best season to date.
Justice Hill – 12.06 ADP
Any of the rookie running backs not named Josh Jacobs or David Montgomery have questionable paths to significant work in 2019. There are a few trendy names being thrown around the Twittersphere including Devin Singletary and Alexander Mattison, but the explosive rookie from Oklahoma State is getting some love as well. Justice hill went off the board in the fourth round and landed in Baltimore to immediately compete in a backfield with no clearcut starter. Mark Ingram was added to the mix and he’s the early favorite to lead the charge, but we can’t completely ignore his age and increasing durability concerns.
The Ravens led the NFL in rushing attempts and have a quarterback who begs the attention of linebackers everywhere. Even if Ingram opens the season as the top back, Hill has the ability and opportunity to take a lot of the work from him as the season goes along. His athletic profile compared closely to Reggie Bush and he managed to hold off Seahawks running back Chris Carson in college for the starting job. The most notable concern is his lack of size since he only weighs 190 pounds and isn’t the biggest guy on the roster. Hill lit up the combine and posted the second highest SPARQ score among running backs and Baltimore has been dying for someone with a bit more explosive potential. Since Hill is going so late in fantasy drafts right now, his potential to become the Ravens’ version of Tarik Cohen is enticing enough to throw the dart.