2019 Fantasy Football Preview: Rookie Running Backs Part 1August 19, 2019
By: CJ Buck, Head Football Analyst
Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders:
Josh Jacobs was the only running back selected in the first round of this years NFL draft. He’s also the clear favorite to lead all rookie skill position players in fantasy points this season. Jacobs should be a bell cow back for an improved Raiders offense, as he’s able to run between the tackles and lineup out-wide as a receiver. With the Raiders adding Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, and help on the offensive line, Jacobs should be able to find plenty of running lanes while opposing defenses won’t be able to key on the rookie back. He’ll be slightly more valuable in PPR formats, but he already seems like a lock to finish as a top-20 RB with top-10 upside in any format.
Jacobs starts and finishes the season as the Raiders starting running, ending the year with over 250 total touches and as a top-8 fantasy running back.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears:
The Bears didn’t have any draft picks in the first two rounds of the NFL draft due to previous trades. That didn’t stop them from trading up in the third round to select David Montgomery out of Iowa State. Like Jacobs, Montgomery is a do-it-all back with the ability to run downhill or catch passes at all three levels. Unlike Jacobs, Montgomery will be competing for touches with other skilled running backs on the Bears roster. Tarik Cohen had a breakout fantasy season last year, but he has a more defined roll as a passing-down specialist. The only true competition to take carries from Montgomery would be Mike Davis, who was signed this summer. Davis had a career year last year with Seattle, running 112 times for 514 yards and 4 touchdowns. Davis, however, is already 26 and is coming into his fifth NFL season. If he hasn’t already done enough to become a lead ball carrier at this point in his career, I don’t think he ever will. Montgomery may start the season splitting carries with Davis, but he could start producing like a high-end RB2/low-end RB1 by the time the Bears return from their bye, week 7 against the Saints.
Fantasy players who draft Montgomery will likely need to be patient the first couple weeks of the season, but assuming he eventually becomes the focal point of the Bears running game, he’ll finish the season as a top-15 running back.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles:
Sanders was the second running back selected in this years NFL draft. After backing up Saquon Barkley, Sanders was able to lead Penn State’s running game for only one season before declaring for the draft. Sanders impressed at the NFL Combine with his agility and his ability to run routes and catch the ball. If he was drafted into a different situation he’d likely be viewed in the same light as David Montgomery, if not better. The reason his ADP is currently in the seventh round range is because of the plethora of options the Eagles have at running back. They traded for Jordan Howard this summer and they are returning Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, and Josh Adams. That’s a lot of running backs, and that doesn’t even include other backs that are currently at training camp attempting to make the roster. Even with all those other options to carry the ball, Sanders and Howard are the clear favorites to lead the Eagles in carries and snaps. Sanders fantasy ceiling will always be limited, however, while Howard is there and likely taking the bulk of the goal-line carries.
Sanders will be much more valuable in PPR formats. Regardless of format he will finish outside of the top-20 running backs, but I do think he finishes inside the top-35.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams:
Henderson is currently being drafted around the eighth or ninth round in fantasy drafts. That’s a little too high for my liking, unless you also drafted Todd Gurley earlier on. Considering Gurley has led running backs in touchdowns and fantasy points over the past two seasons, Henderson is more of a handcuff option at this stage in his career. Gurley is dealing with ailments in his knee(s), so Henderson could be an extremely valuable handcuff, but the Rams also resigned restricted free agent Malcolm Brown this summer. If Gurley were to miss any games, the best case scenario for Henderson would be splitting carries with Brown. I do think Henderson could be used as a pass catching back even when Gurley is healthy, but he has a low floor and low ceiling as long as Gurley and Brown can maintain their production from previous years.
Unless something catastrophic happens to the other two ballcarriers for the Rams, Henderson will finish the season outside of the top-40 running backs.
Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens:
After flashing his athleticism at the NFL combine (4.4 40 yard dash, 40’’ vertical, 21 bench press reps) the Ravens selected Justice Hill in the fourth round of the NFL draft. He will be joining a new look offense built around second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have invested a lot in the offense the past two seasons, surrounding Jackson with young targets at receiver and tight end, and bringing in plenty of options at running back. Hill will be competing for snaps with newly signed veteran Mark Ingram and also Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon. Ingram should start the season as a workhorse back, which would make Hill nothing more than a valuable handcuff. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if as the season progresses Hill starts earning more and more touches in what should be an improved offense.
I wouldn’t necessarily use a draft pick on Hill in standard 10 team leagues, but definitely keep an eye on the Ravens backfield throughout the season. I think Hill finishes the season outside the top-40 running backs, BUT he will post a couple top-15 running back weeks in the final 5-6 weeks of the season.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots:
For the second year in a row, the Patriots used a draft pick on a SEC running back. Last season they used a first round pick on Georgia’s Sony Michel, this year they used a third round pick on Alabama’s Damien Harris. Michel had a lot of success in his rookie season, rushing for 931 yards and 6 touchdowns on 209 carries in a 13 game span. He faired even better in the playoffs, where he averaged 24 carries for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns over a three game span en route to winning the Super Bowl. All of Michel’s success, along with the return of fellow Patriots running backs James White and Rex Burkhead, made the third round selection of Harris a little bit of a head-scratcher. Patriots running backs are already unpredictable on a week-to-week basis in regards to fantasy, and adding another player capable of handling the majority of the carries any given week just adds to the unpredictability. White and Burkhead are used more on passing downs, while Michel is used in between the tackles. Michel did deal with a knee injury last year, and it resurfaced this offseason, so Harris gives the Patriots another back capable of dealing with the in between the tackles carries. As long as all the backs on this team are healthy, Harris’ fantasy ceiling will be low, but if Michel misses any time Harris could immediately be a solid FLEX/low-end RB2 play.
Harris won’t be flashy, but he will be productive with the touches that he receives. He’ll finish outside of the top-35 running backs, but if you roster Michel than you need to also consider rostering Harris.