Three Late Round Running Backs with Upside (Fantasy Football)

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In the first few rounds of fantasy drafts, the elite players with guaranteed NFL roles are taken.  As the draft progresses, there becomes more and more uncertainty about player outcomes.  If you can hit on a handful of middle to late-round picks, you’ll be in for a great season…even if your early picks are boring.  Toward the end of your draft, you should be drafting for upside.  Some of the best fantasy advice I’ve ever heard is that every player you draft should either:

  1. Provide a safe floor of fantasy production
  2. Produce at a high level if given an opportunity

This article dives into three running backs with upside in the later rounds (round 7 on).  These are players that I find myself drafting again and again in mock drafts, and all of them have a chance to become an every-week starter for your fantasy team.  I myself tend to be running back heavy in redraft and keeper leagues, and I always draft a couple of high risk / high reward players.  After all…no risk it, no biscuit!

Editor’s note: Unless otherwise specified, all statistics referenced in this article are based on ½-PPR scoring. Stats referenced from 2019 are based on a per-game basis Weeks 1-16.

J.K. Dobbins (ADP 7.05)

J.K. Dobbins is a highly touted rookie running back who was drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens.  Most analysts graded Dobbins as a top-3 rookie running back going into the draft.  The Ravens have an explosive offense and will be one of the most run-heavy teams in the league this season.

Dobbins landed in a prime spot for fantasy…. but there’s one problem: Mark Ingram enters training camp as the presumed starter.  Ingram has been a talented and productive NFL player for several years, and he has plenty of gas left in the tank to lead the Raven’s backfield again in 2020.  Oh, and don’t forget about Gus Edwards.  Or Justice Hill, who disappointed fantasy GM’s last season after a summer of crazy hype.  Ingram and Edwards both averaged over five yards per carry in 2019.  Last season, Mark Ingram saw 228 touches and Edwards saw 140.  Then there was Lamar Jackson with 176 rush attempts.  Will Dobbins be able to earn touches despite the talented veterans ahead of him?

Note: I want to shout out one of the most silently valuable NFL players who deserves some credit for the Raven’s rushing success: Pat Ricard (Pro Bowl Fullback AND Defensive End).  Fullbacks are valuable but rarely given the credit they deserve.

I think J.K. Dobbins has a legitimate shot to become the primary running back for the Ravens sooner rather than later.  The Ravens were a top-3 NFL team last season, and their greatest strength was their rushing offense.  It doesn’t make sense to use a second-round draft pick on a player just to put them third on the depth chart.  The Ravens are in win-now mode, and Dobbins was brought in to push them to the next level.  This is evident in General Manager Eric DeCosta’s commentary after the draft:

“This was a guy that was, in my opinion, one of the very best in college football this year…We didn’t anticipate it, but we just had to take [J.K. Dobbins].  He’s just a talented guy, and it just made too much sense for us not to take him.”

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J.K. Dobbins has the potential to produce as a top-3 fantasy running back.  The reason why he’s being drafted in the 7th round is that he has a lot of competition to earn carries.  No one disputes his talent, the question is merely about his opportunity this season.  If/when J.K. Dobbins earns a solid workload, he becomes a must-start until proven otherwise.  He would even become an RB2 / RB3 if he splits the work with Mark Ingram (think Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt).  If Dobbins impresses the coaching staff or there is an injury to others around him, he would immediately jump in value.  How many players can you find past the sixth round that have top-3 positional upside?

I’m happy to gamble on J.K. Dobbins this season.  And he should receive a steep bump in value for keeper leagues that are tied to the prior year’s draft cost.

Jordan Howard (ADP 7.10)

Jordan Howard is perenially undervalued because he’s viewed as a rusher who doesn’t catch passes.  However, he still has the 3rd most rushing yards since entering the NFL four years ago.  In fact, last season was the first time he failed to reach 1,000 yards from scrimmage because he missed time to injury – although he was on pace for 1,056 all-purpose yards.  Howard has been a productive, valuable NFL player every year of his career.

Howard was productive for the Eagles in 2019 when given the opportunity.  There were seven games last season that Howard was given 10+ rushing attempts (Weeks 3-9).  During that time, he averaged 13.8 fantasy points per game.  For reference, Todd Gurley scored 13.9 fantasy points per game through Week 16 last season – finishing as the RB15.

Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Now Howard is on the rebuilding Miami Dolphins.  It’s unclear who the starting quarterback will be Week 1.  Will Tua take the reigns at some point in the season?  Will Miami take a step forward?  I’m a believer that Miami will take a slight step forward on offense and a huge step forward on defense.  They added several talented pieces on defense, drafted Tua (who has a ton of upside), and beefed up their offensive line.  While the Dolphins brought in both Howard and Matt Breida, Breida has always played an ancillary role and it’s unclear if he can handle a heavy workload.  Conversely, Howard has been productive and fantasy-relevant on multiple NFL teams now.

Last season, the Dolphins lacked talent in their backfield, on defense, and on the offensive line.  They’ve improved in all three areas, which could lead to more opportunities in the running game.  I think Howard has the upside to become a solid RB2 for your roster, and he should be a good value in the seventh round.

Boston Scott (ADP 11.08)

Boston Scott is an undersized athletic beast, posting a 4.45-second 40-yard dash (91st percentile), a 126 burst score (84th percentile), and 10.82 agility score (97th percentile) according to Player Profiler.  He burst onto the fantasy radar at the end of 2019, posting three productive weeks from Weeks 14-17.  During that time, he averaged 15 touches and 17.6 fantasy points per game.  Scott did this while his hyped counterpart Miles Sanders saw a heavy workload of 20 touches per game.

Boston Scott is Darren Sproles-esque and could see similar volume in 2020 without taking work away from Sanders.  Head Coach Doug Pederson has always been known for his running back by committee approach, so why does everyone assume that will change with Miles Sanders this season?

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Plenty of pass-catching running backs produce at RB2 levels in recent years.  In fact, several change-of-pace running backs have even produced at back-end RB1 levels (i.e. James White, Tarik Cohen, etc.).  While I’m not projecting Boston Scott to be an every-week starter, it is absolutely in his range of outcomes.  With an ADP in the eleventh round, I’m happy to take a shot on Scott.  The other nice thing about Boston Scott is that we’ll know early on if the Eagles are designing offensive plays to get him involved.  And if he’s not involved?  Well, then you just found someone to drop for the inevitable waiver wire stars that pop up early in the season.

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