Startup season is generally wrapped up, the NFL draft has come and gone, and the rookie draft wave has started and will continue for the next month or so. You take a good, long at your roster and think, “I need some running backs!” I have good news for you, it’s not too late.
Everyone wants to package a deal and get the Christian McCaffreys and Joe Mixons of the fantasy world, but they come a very high premium. The following list is made up of twelve running backs who are currently being draft as the backups of their team, but who are all capable of being quality fantasy producers in 2019.
Jalen Richard - Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders just selected Josh Jacobs with their second pick in the first round of the 2019 draft. He is “Gruden's Grinder” and they plan to use him as a three-down back. So why buy Richard now? Only five running backs (McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley) surpassed more than 75% (footballoutsiders.com) of their team’s offensive snap counts. Even if Jacobs becomes the Raiders’ bell cow, we should not expect him to get more than 60-65% of the work. The Raiders did sign Doug Martin after Isaiah Crowell tore his Achilles, but I believe Martin will serve more as insurance to Jacobs, rather than a utilized part of the offense. Richard saw 81 targets last year and averaged 4 receptions a game. His total targets should decrease slightly in 2019 with the addition of Jacobs and Antonio Brown, but Richard will be still be utilized and factor into the Raiders game plan.
Royce Freeman - Denver Broncos
Freeman averaged 4.0 yards per carry while seeing 8-man boxes 36.15% (nextgenstats.nfl.com) of the time (second highest) in his rookie season and showed at Oregon that he could handle a large workload week to week. Although Phillip Lindsay had an incredible rookie season as an undrafted free agent, I have my concerns he will be able to sustain the workload he had in 2018. Vic Fangio was hired this past offseason, and even though he is a defensive minded coach, I am always wary about players like Lindsay and if he fits the plan a new head coach has in mind. Freeman was being drafted in the first round of rookie drafts last year and could be bought for a second now.
Damien Harris - New England Patriots
Harris had a stellar career at Alabama, and on most devy boards was ranked higher than Josh Jacobs prior to this past college season. Jacobs proved to have a little more flash than Harris, but this doesn't discredit Harris as a running back and as an NFL player. I recently shared on the Devy Happy Hour (dynastyhappyhour.com) podcast I think Harris could be one of the “Most Dependable” players of this class. Sony Michel, who isn't nearly as dependable, with red injury flags dating back to Georgia. With New England trying to prolong Tom Brady and create a run-first offense, I think Harris could easily be a flex play week to week and an easy RB2 on your roster if something happened to Michel.
Duke Johnson - Cleveland Browns (For now)
As we are today, Johnson is the primary backup to Nick Chubb. Kareem Hunt has to sit out half of the season due to his suspension and Johnson will still be involved in this revamped offense. Duke still has stand-alone value and has increased value to the Nick Chubb owners of your leagues. However, what if there is some validity to the potential trade rumors and Duke wanting to be moved from Cleveland? He is a great football player and could be a valuable addition to a handful of NFL rosters, especially those who didn't draft running backs as most suspected. Johnson is a cheap grab who could pay off in just a few months.
Justice Hill - Baltimore Ravens
He’s fast. He’s a good running back. He’s playing for the Baltimore Ravens who might run the ball 35-40 times a game. Alex Collins led the team in snap percentage with 26.2% (footballoutsiders.com) and wasn’t even used after Week 10. The addition of Mark Ingram is great for Baltimore, as was the addition of Hill. Hill is going to get a decent workload as a change of pace running back and he is definitely worth grabbing in the mid-2nd of your rookie drafts.
Ryquell Armstead - Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette is one of the most intriguing running backs in the league. The Jags spent high draft capital on him just two years ago. Since then, he's been injured several times, suspended, has had his remaining contract guarantees voided, and has flashed as one of the most talented backs in the NFL. The Jaguars lost T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant in free agency, but brought in Alfred Blue and drafted Armstead in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. The draft capital isn't there, but the opportunity could be in a matter of weeks. Armstead is one of the cheapest players on this list who I haven't seen be drafted any sooner than the early part of the 3rd round.
Jerick McKinnon - San Francisco 49ers
Just over a year ago, McKinnon was the hottest free agent target after the 49ers signed him to a 4 year, $37M contract. Now he is considered a backup by many in a crowded backfield which lots of folks are avoiding. Shanahan clearly liked him last year and envisioned him working in the offense. I had concerns last year that McKinnon was going to be able to carry an RB1 workload, so the addition of Tevin Coleman may actually benefit McKinnon with his health and longevity.
Jordan Howard - Philadelphia Eagles
Hello, rookie fever. Everyone loves Miles Sanders and I don't blame them, but Jordan Howard is third in rushing yards in the NFL over the past three seasons. I understand he isn't flashy, but neither are the Eagles. Howard is still an above average football player and he is getting thrown to the wayside. Howard optimizes buy low, especially if you are a contending team.
Alexander Mattison - Minnesota Vikings
Mattison was a workhorse at Boise State and finished 2018 with back to back 200-yard games. Dalvin Cook has played in only 15 games over that past two seasons which is why Mattison might be one of the most sought after handcuffs for the 2019 season. Aside from Darrell Henderson, Mattison might be one of the most desired backup running backs in the NFL.
Devine Ozigbo - New Orleans Saints
Ozigbo was one of my favorite running backs from this past season. He has size, speed, production, receiving ability, and landed in a Sean Payton offense led by Drew Brees. The backup in New Orleans always holds stand-alone value, and although they signed Latavius Murray in free agency, Ozigbo is much cheaper to acquire and is definitely worth a mid-late 4th round pick.
Ito Smith/Qadree Ollison - Atlanta Falcons
If the over/under on Devonta Freeman getting hurt is 7.5 games, which side are you taking? Freeman has clearly had a hard time staying healthy, and the Falcons have always used more than one back in the offensive game plan. Ito Smith has immediate flex upside, but Ollison could be forced into playing time sometime this year as well. Smith didn’t wow much in his rookie year but this time the opportunity will be there from Week 1. Ollison is a much deeper stash and is usually available in free agency after your rookie drafts are complete. Ollison is a big boy who is a much different player than Freeman and Smith, and could be getting goal line and short yardage work early. If you have room on the back end of your bench or on your taxi squads, Ollison is worth a stash.