On Wednesday’s episode #746 hosts Andy, Mike and Jason discuss the impact of Duke Johnson Jr.’s trade to the Houston Texans and break down their consensus Top-10 RB Rankings. In 2018, seven of the preseason top-10 RBs finished in the final top-10 with the exception of Le’Veon Bell, Kareem Hunt, and Leonard Fournette.
As fantasy GMs, we want to put ourselves in a position to have strong running backs and handcuff players in case of injury, which is why the Ballers are proponents of waiting to take a quarterback until the later rounds of your drafts.
Check out An Injury History of Round 1 RBs in Fantasy Football Drafts by Matthew Betz.
There really isn’t a question regarding Barkley’s talent, we all know he is incredibly good. He led the league last year in yards from scrimmage with over 2,000, which was the 3rd highest ever scored by a rookie, 16th best fantasy season of all time (also the best ever by a rookie), as well as having the 8th most targets of all time (again, the best ever by a rookie).
The biggest question marks come from his supporting cast on the New York Giants. Can Barkley be bulletproof in a terrible offense where the starting WR2 is Cody Latimer and uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position?
In all honesty, if Barkley busts, he will most likely still end up in the top-10, much like David Johnson in 2018. The key for Barkley is to stay as consistent as he did last year in order to be as productive in the 2019 season with several missing pieces and new players on the team. Barkley scored five fewer PPR fantasy points per game without Odell Beckham Jr., but he was still one of the top backs in that scenario. He has an outlandishly high upside with a rather safe floor with guaranteed volume.
McCaffrey was a stud for fantasy owners last year finishing with 1098 yards on 219 attempts and seven touchdowns as well as 107 receptions on 124 targets for 867 yards and six touchdowns in the passing game. Perhaps more importantly, McCaffrey was uber-reliable, with seven “great” games, eight “good” games, and zero busts on the entire the season according to the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit’s Consistency Charts. He also never finished under 10 fantasy points with the exception of week 17, which the Ballers highly suggest you do not play anyway.
It is important to evaluate whether or not the Panthers will limit his usage and whether or not touchdown regression is likely. His yards-per-carry may come down from over five yards, but he should still be utilized heavily in both the run and passing game. To give you an idea of his involvement in the passing game, if you only looked at his receiving numbers, McCaffrey would have finished as the WR16 in PPR leagues. He also amassed 187 targets over two years, the most ever by an RB.
3. Alvin Kamara
Nothing about the Saints’ offseason suggests that Kamara will be anything other than the absolute stud that he proved to be the last two years. Even with question marks surrounding Mark Ingram‘s return from suspension last year, Kamara finished RB4 with a consistency rank of #5, scoring more than 14.5 fantasy points every week except for Ingram’s ball-out game in Week 5. In 15 games, Kamara rushed an incredible 194 times for 883 yards with 14 touchdowns and tacked on 81 receptions on 105 targets for 709 yards and four touchdowns.
Even with the addition of Latavius Murray, Kamara has carved himself out as the primary back in this offense. He is also lethal at the goal line and the UDK illustrates his production within the 20 and 10-yard-line. Not only is he talented, but he is also in an incredible offense and can be relied upon as a consistent week-in, week-out fantasy superstar.
4. Ezekiel Elliot
There is no doubt that Elliot is a superstar as well. In 15 games, he had 304 rush attempts for 1434 yards and six touchdowns plus 77 receptions on 95 targets for 567 yards and three touchdowns. Amari Cooper only added to Elliot’s production when he joined the team halfway through the season.
Of course, there are concerns surrounding his holdout and the heaps upon heaps of praise Dak Prescott and the team are showering over Tony Pollard. How much of this is talk is simply the Cowboy’s standing their ground when it comes to paying Elliot is unclear. However, if (hopefully when) he returns, it will be with a lot of money and the team will be practically forcing him to run as much possible to justify the lightening of their coffers.
Last year, he averaged a touchdown every 50 attempts while his first years averaged a TD every 38 attempts. That may seem like regression, however, Elliot was not overly involved in the passing game during those first two years. His touchdowns per yards decreased as he became more involved in the passing game. If what the Cowboys’ camp is saying becomes true, and Pollard starts absorbing more of the passing work from Elliot, we are likely to see his touchdowns actually increase to the levels of this first two years.
This is, of course, IF we see Ezekiel Elliot on the field.
5. David Johnson
Despite breaking hearts all around the fantasy world, Johnson finished as the RB10 with 258 attempts for 840 yards and seven touchdowns plus 50 receptions on 76 targets for 446 yards and three touchdowns. While it was good, it wasn’t exceptional, which is what we have come to expect from him.
David Johnson was a victim of terrible coaching and deserves our forgiveness. The options surrounding rookie QB Kyler Murray are Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and Johnson while the ancillary pieces are developing rookies. Johnson was also a WR converted to an RB in college and has the hands to finally be a valuable asset once again.
Even if something as simple as the pace-of-play increases, this gives Johnson more opportunity than he had last year under Mike McCoy and later, Byron Leftwich. The Cardinals new head coach Kliff Kingsbury is notorious for targeting his running backs and again, Murray has very few reliable, veteran options to choose from in 2019.
See also: David Johnson is a Top-5 RB Discount for more information on Johnson’s 2019 fantasy outlook.
6. Todd Gurley
Some people may have a problem with Gurley being in the top-10, but he doesn’t have to put up Barkley-esque numbers to be productive. As long as you understand that the arthritic knee could cause issues, he’s falling into the 2nd Round in most drafts as a potential top-10 RB.
If you look at his other-worldly production last year, he had 256 rushing attempts for 1251 yards and 17 touchdowns. That’s SEVENTEEN touchdowns. Even if there is some regression, you’re still looking at double-digit touchdowns in the running game with continued targets in the passing game. If you look at his last 2 years in the league, he had nearly 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, which is only 2 less than Bell has had in his entire career since 2013.
There is no question that there should be concern with Gurley’s health risk. However, let’s say he only gets 70% of the workload in 2019. You’re looking at around 179 rushing attempts, 875 yards, and 11 touchdowns in the running game alone.
7. Le’Veon Bell
There are a lot of question marks surrounding Bell. He’s had a year off, on a new team, with a completely different offense with a head coach who is notorious for his snail pace-of-play.
This is in stark contrast to the last time we saw Bell on the Steelers’ offense where he rushed 321 times, for 1291 yards with nine touchdowns and had 85 receptions on 107 targets for 655 yards and two touchdowns.
Again, the Steelers and the Jets are vastly different teams and this will be a true testament to Bell’s talent with a bad offensive line and without such weapons like Antonio Brown to open up the field. If you believe in Sam Darnold and the Jets’ offense continuing to grow, then Bell will be a much-used machete to hack their way into the end-zone.
Don’t forget, Adam Gase did not want to pay Bell as much as they signed him for and then the Jets picked up Ty Montgomery a month after the ink dried on Bell’s contract.
Regardless of talent, Williams is ranked in the top-10 courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs explosive offense. In 2018 Weeks 14 -17 as the starter, he averaged 19.6 fantasy points half-PPR. However, he has never seen more than 73 touches a season, has 183 total carries over five years with under four yards-per-carry before 2018.
Yet, he has caught 95.8% of his targets with a carrier pass catch percentage of 75%. He is the clear leader in this RB corps in pass-catching ability and production.
The biggest caveat surrounding Williams is his health moving into 2019. The Chiefs will most likely not force the Damien Williams train if he is injured and unproductive, and will instead move on to the other backs behind him. Game script and health with the be key factors in Williams finishing in the top-10 at the end of the season.
9. Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook has never finished a season higher the RB29, but that was mostly due to missed time in addition to John DeFilippo last year who forgot that there should be a run game to accompany the passing game.
With a healthy Cook and no more DeFilippo after Week 13, he was RB6 with 46 rushing attempts for 248 yards and two touchdowns. To put this into perspective, over the first eight games of the season he had 87 attempts for 367 yards and zero touchdowns.
Both Zimmer and new OC Kevin Stefanski are committed to increasing the volume of the run game this year. Now that Cook is healthy and will be utilized, he should bell-cow numbers if he can stay healthy.
10. James Conner
There has been some preseason hype over the increased popularity of Jaylen Samuels in the pass catching role and perhaps Ben Roethlisberger‘s production will slide with no Bell or Antonio Brown. Conner was the RB15 in weeks 9 – 17 last year despite finishing with 215 rushing attempts for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns and 55 receptions on 71 targets for almost 500 yards and 1 touchdown.
However, if the Steelers are true to their word and get back to “Steelers” football, Conner will likely be the bell cow back since the organization doesn’t traditionally rely on a running back by committee.
No matter what, the Steelers must be a winning football team for Conner to stay in the elite RB company and finish in the top-10.
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