Let’s set the scene. It’s approaching the middle rounds of your draft. You drafted your fantasy studs in Rounds 1 through 4 and you are now approaching Round 5 and staring at names you’re not so sure about.
Here are three RBs you should keep in mind as potential fantasy breakouts you can pick up later in your drafts for a steal.
The following statistics and average draft position are based on half PPR, the Ballers preferred method of scoring.
Drake’s fantasy production was all over the board last year. He would score you 13 points on your bench then only six points when you started him the next week. Meanwhile, Frank Gore owners pointed and laughed at your folly for picking up Drake.
The 2019 season is shaping up to be a very different environment for Drake. Gore is in Buffalo and head coach Adam Gase is now in charge of the New York Jets. Drake’s competition for the backfield is Kalen Ballage and rookie Myles Gaskin.
The new head coach Brian Flores has made it clear he plans on making his players earn their right to start at their prospective positions. He has also suggested a running back by committee was not off the table, either. Usually, this would make fantasy owners cringe. We don’t want to see our starters share work. We want all the points going to the player we started so we can dance gleefully upon the broken hearts of our opponents each week.
For the past two years, Drake has had to put up with Gase who seemed hell-bent on disliking at least one of his running backs each season. In 2018, that running back was Kenyan Drake. However, in 2017, Jay Ajayi had the misfortune of drawing Gase’s wrath in the first half of the season. This was excellent news for Drake. Check out the difference between 2017 and 2018 with Jay Ajayi compared to Frank Gore.
Drake is clearly fulfilling the pass-catching role in the backfield. In 2018, despite Gase’s unwillingness to use him as a running back, Drake was the 2nd leading receiver on the team with 53 receptions behind Danny Amendola with 59.
When Drake is incorporated into the offense he can make some fantasy magic happen like in weeks 12 through 14 where he scored 10.2, 21.6, and 21.8 respectively. For whatever reason, Gase seemed to forget that Drake was a running back for the Miami Dolphins in 2018 and was essentially phased out of the run game despite playing 59.24% of the snaps.
If Flores sticks to his word about his starters, Drake has the potential to explode this season. Even if the Dolphins decide a committee backfield is best, Drake should still feature prominently in the pass-catching role, making him a weapon in PPR formats.
For a more in-depth look, check out a recent article, Kenyan Drake is This Year’s Secret Weapon.
Players being drafted near Rashaad Penny: Latavius Murray, Tyler Lockett, DeSean Watson
Oh, the pain that was Rashaad Penny’s 2018 rookie year. The Seattle Seahawks drafted him in the 1st Round with the 27th overall pick ahead of guys like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. After Marshawn Lynch left, the Seahawks struggled in the run game, throwing darts at players like Thomas Rawls while Russell Wilson ended up being their leading rusher. The run game was struggling and Seattle was making a statement about addressing that issue by drafting Penny.
Ouch. So many of us were excited about Penny’s potential in his rookie year until he broke his finger in preseason. After surgery, he had to miss several weeks while Carson and Davis usurped the reps. Penny simply didn’t look or play the part of a speedy running back upon his return so his counterparts remained in the featured role.
Coming into 2019, Davis is now a Chicago Bear and Carson has sustained yet another injury, this time to his knee. Carroll admitted that Carson has some work done but that he should be ready for training camp. In the kingdom of “coach speak”, Pete Carroll reigns supreme so we don’t really know the extent of Carson’s injury.
Carson played 42.47% of snaps, Davis finished with 36.58%, and Penny saw only 181 plays for 16.93% of the snaps. That volume in the run game has to go somewhere. Seattle cemented their identity as a run-first offense and this could be Penny’s time to prove why he was their number one pick. If Carson remains banged up or reaggravates his knee injury, Penny could quickly become the RB1.
Coming off of the 2018 season, Carson may be overdrafted and drafted too high. With an ADP of 7.07, you can get tremendous value out of Penny. Even if he ends up being a handcuff, you are not wasting draft capital picking him up in the middle of the 7th Round.
I’m not sure anything was more surprising than the phenomena that was Phillip Lindsay erupting into magical fantasy points last season. Of course, this came at the expense of Royce Freeman’s production.
Fantasy GMs took Freeman early, expecting the Broncos to use their new stud running back they had spent a 3rd Round pick to acquire. Instead, Lindsay balled out with 192 carries for 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns as well as 35 receptions for 241 yards and an additional touchdown. Freeman, on the other hand, had over 60 fewer carries, almost half of the yards, and exactly half of the Lindsay’s total touchdowns. The struggle was very, very real. Freeman’s best fantasy finish last year was 12.7 points as the RB18 in Week 4. Those of us who drafted Freeman in the 3rd or 4th Round paid way too much for a fantasy dud and that pain lingers entering the 2019 season.
However, there has been a regime shift in Denver in the offseason. The Broncos hired Vic Fangio as the new head coach and Rich Scangarello at the offensive coordinator position. The new management may not have the same ties to Lindsay. It is also very likely that the Broncos will try and justify their expensive 3rd Round draft pick who only saw 130 carries, 14 targets, and five touchdowns.
Case Keenum is now a Washington Redskin and the veteran Joe Flacco is taking over as the new quarterback. Lindsay is still suffering from his wrist injury, has put no timetable on his recovery, and has been limited so far in OTAs. This means Freeman is the one taking valuable first team reps and establishing a rapport with Flacco.
All of this means absolutely nothing if Freeman doesn’t have the talent to get the job done. Let’s take a look back at the 6’0”, 229 lb running back out of Oregon. He averaged 236.75 carries a year, for 1,405.25 yards, with 15 touchdowns. That includes a year where he only rushed 168 times for 945 yards and nine touchdowns due to injury.
With Lindsay looming in the shadows getting ready to return to full strength, there is no shame in admitting that Freeman may be a scary grab for your squad. Just remember that he is taking the reps instead of Lindsay, a new head coach may lighten Lindsay’s workload to keep him healthy once he’s back, as well start pushing for Freeman to see more action to justify his high draft pick.
Freeman’s ADP is currently sitting in the middle of the 8th round. The potential to see a larger workload is certainly there as is his upside potential. With only Devontae Booker as competition if Lindsay doesn’t get healthy soon enough, Freeman is poised to become the lead back in Denver.
For a more in-depth look at Lindsay’s 2019 prospects, see 3 Potential Bust Candidates of 2019.