Top Rookies Landing Spots: RB (2019 Fantasy Football)
While running back may be one of the least important positions from a real football perspective, it is the most important position in fantasy football. In addition to the overall impact running backs have in fantasy football, rookie running backs are the best equipped of all rookies to contribute immediately in their first season.
The 2019 NFL Draft was an interesting one. For the first time since 2014, there was no highly sought after elite running back prospect. There were also very few teams in dire need of a running back to the extent that we could bank on a rookie to step into an immediate heavy workload. With that being said, there was a handful of running back selections that fit, particularly for fantasy purposes.
Josh Jacobs (OAK)
There was a lot of talk about how the selection of Jacobs coincided with Marshawn Lynch’s retirement, as if that mattered. Lynch could sign with the Raiders right now and it wouldn’t change much. Lynch is done and the Raiders were moving forward whether he was “done” metaphorically or actually done with football.
There was no consensus on who the top RB was in this class, but many analysts had Jacobs as the leader of this weak class. Jacobs played behind Damien Harris at Alabama and completely bombed his pro day. He is one of the worst “top prospects” of all time.
With that being said, he comes with first-round pedigree and steps into a clear lead back situation. Jacobs is far from a terrible player and in fantasy football, volume is king. Jacobs should see 250-275 touches as a rookie as well as goal-line work and is a capable pass catcher, making him an immediate RB2 in fantasy. He is the only rookie RB that steps into an immediate starting role. The remainder of this list will focus on RBs that have a plausible path to fantasy relevance.
Miles Sanders (PHI)
Finally free from the prison that was playing behind Saquon Barkley, Sanders got the opportunity to shine in his junior season. His performance may not have been enough to justify being the second RB off the board, but he absolutely tore up the combine, posting upper echelon speed, burst, and agility scores. Sanders is still a relatively weak back to be the second off the board, but (again) this is a weak class.
In Philly, he will fit right into a committee with Jordan Howard and whichever back Doug Pederson decides is the third man. Sanders will have PPR upside as the likely third-down back. He enters this season as an RB3 and is an injury away from being a weekly RB2.
Darrell Henderson (LAR)
I would make the case that Henderson is the most complete RB in this class. He was productive in college during both his sophomore and junior seasons, with the latter being a monster performance of 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns on 214 carries. Henderson has a three-down skill set with excellent straight-line speed and above average lateral quickness. His path to fantasy relevance is rather straightforward — an injury to Todd Gurley. I firmly believe Henderson will enter this season as the clear backup. If Gurley’s arthritic knee flares up, Sean McVay has not shown any desire to use a committee; it will be the Darrell Henderson show.
Justice Hill (BAL)
If you look through the Ravens’ draft, it is filled with super athletes. Hill profiles as the prototypical satellite back. He is the ideal complement to Mark Ingram. Lamar Jackson typically takes off rather than throwing to his running backs, which could be a problem, but the Ravens also did not possess anyone with Hill’s skill set last season.
In Hill’s sophomore season, he touched the ball 299 times, including 31 receptions. I don’t think he can handle a full workload in the NFL, but he can easily work his way into a 60-40 split with Ingram. He is definitely someone worth taking a shot on late in fantasy drafts.
Trayveon Williams (CIN)
Prior to the combine, Williams looked like one of the best RBs in this class. He didn’t bomb the combine, but he certainly underwhelmed, particularly in the agility drills. But, as always with running backs, landing spot is key and for a sixth-round pick, Williams couldn’t have fallen in a better spot.
Joe Mixon is locked into a three-down role, but he’s been known to miss a few games here and there. Giovani Bernard is entering the final year of his contract. Mark Walton was an awful prospect that the Bengals released this offseason due to off the field issues (they should have released him for being bad at football).
The path is clear for Williams to settle in as the primary backup to Mixon, putting him one injury away from relevance. Williams has shown the ability to handle a full workload and run between the tackles, while also displaying quality hands in the passing game. He needs a couple things to break his way, but that’s much fewer than most of the backs in this class.
David Montgomery (CHI): The Bears did trade up to get Montgomery, which indicates they believe in him. Unfortunately, Montgomery’s best asset is his utility in the passing game and he is nowhere near as good at that as Tarik Cohen. He may push Mike Davis to the side, but the more likely scenario is he and Davis share early-down work, with Cohen handling passing down duties. With no burst to go along with average speed and agility, I don’t see Montgomery being much of a factor.
Devin Singletary (BUF): One of the worst athletes in this draft class, Singletary now enters a crowded backfield featuring LeSean McCoy, T.J. Yeldon, and Frank Gore. Even if Gore ends up cut, Singletary will be no higher than third on the depth chart on a bad offense.
Damien Harris (NE): This one should be obvious. The Patriots never feature a single RB to begin with, and Harris joins Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. There’s a chance Burkhead is the odd man out here, but either way, Harris will need multiple injuries in front of him to be fantasy relevant.
Overall, this is a very weak running back class and it’s evident most teams realized that. Coming off a year where as many as 10 rookie RBs were drafted in redraft leagues, I would be surprised if even half as many were taken this season. I would be equally surprised if more than a couple of these RBs ever emerged into useful fantasy assets.