In this article, I highlight three running backs you can trust in 2019. Before revealing my trustworthy players, let’s breakdown why it’s important to have trustworthy running backs on your roster.
While there are many avenues to a fantasy football championship, all of them require that you start at least two running backs every week in standard leagues (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex). Some players like myself tend to go RB heavy early in drafts to maximize weekly production. Other players go with a zero-RB strategy and target upside RB in the middle and late draft rounds. Regardless of your strategy, roster construction is important. It’s important to balance safe players (high floor) with risky upside players (high ceiling).
Running Backs are the most valuable asset in fantasy football. Yes, that’s an opinion but consider these facts:
- The consensus top-4 ranked players overall are running backs.
- There are eight running backs being drafted in the first round of fantasy drafts (12-team league).
- Six of the eight most common players on 2018 ESPN fantasy playoff teams were running backs.
- The RB1 in 2018 (Gurley) scored 24.5 points/game. On a per-game basis, the RB24 scored 11.2 points/game. That’s a 13.3 point differential! What that means is that the top end RBs provide a significant advantage compared to the back end starters.
- For wide receivers, the differential is only 6.4 points (WR1→WR24).
- Both QB and TE had a differential of 7.4 pts (QB1→QB12 & TE1→TE12).
- Read more about Positional Replacement Value by Draft Round here.
We must also consider that the running back position is the most volatile in fantasy football, primarily due to injuries. Therefore, running back depth is key for fantasy football success. Rather than take this at face value, let’s look at the top-24 RB rankings from August 2018 and see how many games they missed during the season. The top-12 ranked RBs (going into last season) missed an average of 4.8 games over the course of the season! That’s five games that fantasy owners had to scramble for an RB1 replacement. Coincidentally, that number was identical for backs ranked in the RB13-24 range. The average owner rotated through at least four starting RBs last season…and that doesn’t even account for bye weeks and using an RB in the flex spot. The table below illustrates the volatility of each fantasy football skill position by showing the average quantity of missed games in 2018. Conclusion: build RB depth.
Note: Read An Injury History of Round 1 RBs in Fantasy Football Drafts by Matthew Betz for more injury analysis.
|2018 Draft Rank (TFFB UDK)||Avg Games Missed (2018)|
Aside from injuries, there are a few other factors that contribute to RB volatility and risk. Here are a few examples, for consideration:
- Hold outs (shout out Lev Bell owners last year).
- NFL trades.
- Changes to starting roster (i.e. Chris Carson as SEA starting RB over 1st round pick Rashaad Penny).
- Coaching influence (i.e. Mike McCarthy limited Aaron Jones’ workload for no apparent reason last year).
- Injury history.
Now that we know running back depth is critical and we understand some of the RB risks, let’s talk about trust as it relates to RB. Eric Ludwig outlined it perfectly in his Three Fantasy Football TEs You Can Trust in 2019 article. Trust refers to the return on investment for a player that is tied to a specific draft position. Trust = safe floor. Trustworthy RBs aren’t always the most exciting picks, but they give you start-worthy production every week. In this article, we will discuss three RBs you can trust in the middle rounds.
Consistency Charts can be found in the 2019 Ultimate Draft Kit. Dark Green denotes an RB1 finish, Light Green denotes an RB2 finish, and yellow denotes an RB3 finish in the 2018 season. Statistics and ADP are based on half-PPR scoring.
Chris Carson (ADP 3.11)
Chris Carson is an enigma. He had a monster season with 4.7 yards per carry in 2018 on the league’s 2nd most run-heavy offense. He’s a consensus value pick for nearly every fantasy football expert. And he’s going at the end of the 3rd round or beginning of the 4th. While Carson likely isn’t a surprise pick for readers, I want to instill confidence that he’s worthy of consideration in the third round. Here are some statistics to highlight his dominance.
- In 2018, he rushed 247 times for 1,151 yards and nine TDs. He also added 20 receptions for 163 receiving yards.
- He recorded the fifth-most rushing yards among all NFL players despite missing two games.
- He scored 10+ fantasy points in 71% of his games.
- Carson was ranked inside the top ten in evaded tackles, breakaway runs, and yards created last year.
- He had 28 rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line last year (ranked 5th among all players).
The Seahawks no longer have Doug Baldwin on the roster (retirement). Mike Davis, who had 112 rush attempts and 42 targets last year, is also no longer on the Seahawks. They will once again be top-3 in rushing in 2019. Furthermore, the reports out of camp suggest that Carson will become more involved in the passing game. Note that targets are more valuable for fantasy RBs than rush attempts (in 1/2ppr & full PPR).
Carson is the perfect foundation for a solid fantasy football team because of his safe floor and top-5 upside. That’s why he’s Andy’s “my guy”. Draft him with extreme confidence.
Sony Michel is a skilled running back for a top-5 offense. He had the eighth-most touches (43) in the red zone among running backs last year. He also ranked fifteenth among rushing yards (931) in just 13 games. He ranked a respectable eighth among yards created (399) last year as well.
The Patriots have become a run-heavy offense as Brady has aged. It makes total sense, as Brady is great but his endurance is lesser than it was when he was in his 20s and early 30s. Enter Sony Michel. The Patriots selected Sony Michel with the 31st pick of the 2018 NFL draft. Michel is a skilled runner and demonstrated pass-catching skills in college, although he hasn’t been very involved as a receiver so far in his NFL career.
Sony Michel could be pegged as a risky player, as he had a minor procedure on his knee this offseason. He’s had a history of injuries throughout college and the NFL. To be honest, it’s difficult to project anyone as an injury risk, but it’s fair to say he has recurring knee issues. The downside with Michel is that he gets injured and misses games. But if he plays, Michel is a must-start every single week. I personally like to draft RB heavy, and if I can grab 2 RB + 1 WR in the first three rounds and then snag Michel in the 4th round, I’d be ecstatic.
Sony Michel is one of the most likely RB to rush for double-digit TDs. And there is a chance he becomes more involved in the passing game. Imagine the narrative that the Patriots playbook is one of the most challenging to learn in the league, so it takes 1+ years for players to learn passing routes. Imagine that Sony Michel adds pass-catching ability to his existing skillset (talented runner). That would prop him into top-10 territory. While he’s not projected to be a top-10 RB, it’s in the range of possibilities for a talented runner on a top NFL offense in 2019.
Draft Sony Michel (4.04 ADP) with confidence. I also recommend drafting Damien Harris (12.10 ADP), the Patriots’ 3rd round draft pick in 2019. I’m not often an advocate for handcuffs, but Damien Harris is defined as a “coachable player” for a team that manufactures coachable players into elite producers. Damien Harris is a worthy late-round pick, especially if you’re in a keeper league. HOT TAKE: The Patriots trade Sony Michel in 2020 and promote Damien Harris to lead RB. It would make sense from a production standpoint to employ a talented RB that comes at a cheap, rookie price.
Sony Michel is a draft value – grab him as your RB2 or RB3 and enjoy.
Tarik Cohen (ADP 6.05)
Tarik Cohen is probably not the name you’d expect to see in this article. But hear me out. Sometimes you have to take a step back from statistics and think about football in simple terms. Tarik Cohen’s nickname is the Human Joystick for a reason. He’s a freak athlete that makes a difference when he’s on the field. Matt Nagy got him more involved in the offense last year because he is a great football player. The Bears want to be a high scoring offense in 2019, and it’s a no brainer that Cohen will be involved. Smart coaches find a way to use their most dynamic players, and Tarik Cohen is the new Darren Sproles.
Oh, you want statistics too? Ok, here you go:
- Cohen rushed 99 times last year for 444 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. He added 725 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 71 receptions. He also threw a TD pass.
- He finished as the RB13 last year despite Jordan Howard receiving 250 carries. David Mopportunity can still be a stud without limiting Cohen’s production.
- Cohen scored > 10 fantasy points in 63% of games.
- He scored as an RB3 or better in 75% of his games, which is a nice safe floor for where he’s being drafted.
- Cohen was a top-18 RB in 44% of his games last year, which is a great ceiling.
- He had 91 targets last year, 6th most among RB.
- He ranked 13th in run block efficiency despite being a smaller RB.
- Best of all, he had a breakaway run rate (≥ 15 yds) of 9.1%, which was second-highest among RB. (For reference, Saquon’s breakaway run rate was 6.9%.)
The counterpoints to Cohen include David Montgomery’s breakout potential and Mike Davis‘ involvement as well. Furthermore, Matt Nagy recently came out and stated that Cohen had a little bit too much work last season. I DON’T BUY ANY OF IT! There is enough work to go around for Montgomery to be a stud and Cohen to be a trustworthy RB2 or RB3, which is valuable in fantasy.
Good teams scheme around their best players’ skills. I think the Bears will be a good team this year. Mitch Trubisky should take a step forward this year, and Cohen will be a beneficiary. While Cohen will likely regress from RB13, he’s being drafted as the 31st running back off the board. He’ll finish higher than the RB31. Going back to the volatility section of this article, imagine his upside if there were an injury to David Montgomery. Draft Cohen as your RB3, he’s sneaky trustworthy and carries upside.