Second-Year RBs Primed for a Breakout Season (2019 Fantasy Football)
Geoff Lambert takes a look at a few second-year running backs that are not household names but are primed for a breakout season in 2019.
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Derrius Guice (WAS)
Guice is the obvious choice to be a second-year breakout but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention him. The 5-foot-11-inch 225-pound running back out of LSU came into the NFL with a lot of hype. Many thought he could have been drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but some off-the-field concerns dropped him to the second round where the Redskins happily scooped him up.
Guice is in a prime position to win the lead role in the running game this season as Adrian Peterson isn’t getting any younger and Chris Thompson hasn’t shown he is capable of a workhorse load. With that said, if you are drafting Guice in redraft leagues this year, I wouldn’t expect an immediate return as I think he will start the season slow and likely play second-fiddle to Peterson for the first few games.
However, I expect by as early as Week 3 Guice will have won this starting job and we will finally have a chance to see the guy that put up back-back 1,200-plus yards, double-digit touchdown seasons at LSU in 2016 and 2017. Guice will be the Redskins workhorse back of the future…as long as he can stay healthy.
Royce Freeman (DEN)
Last season, Freeman was overshadowed by his undrafted free agent and eventual pro-bowler teammate, Phillip Lindsey, but with a new regime in the coaching ranks, I expect Freeman to have a sophomore breakout season.
Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is the new head coach in Denver and the offensive coordinator is Rich Scrangarello, formerly the QBs coach for the 49ers under Kyle Shanahan. Common wisdom suggests that Fangio, as a defensive-minded coach, will want to run the ball, and he comes from a Bears team that utilized a two-running-back scheme with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. While Scrangarello comes from the Shanahan coaching tree which has long been known as one of the better running back friendly schemes in the NFL. Not to mention, Shanahan has a history of a two-back system he made work when he was the OC in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
That was a long round-a-bout way to say I think the Broncos want to use Freeman and Lindsey in a similar way as the Bears did with Howard and Cohen, and the offensive coordinator has the pedigree to make it work…at least on paper.
Kalen Ballage (MIA)
Ballage looked good in limited work last year under then HC Adam Gase. He had a 5.3 yards per carry average, albeit on a small sample size and one that included a 75-yard TD. Ballage’s breakout potential is tied to his opportunity, as he doesn’t have to overcome much to secure a starting role.
The only RB on the team that could keep Ballage from winning the lead role is Kenyan Drake, who has yet to have over 200 touches in the season and has not proved he can be a guy a to carry the load. Of course, neither has Ballage but the opportunity is there, and opportunity trumps talent every time.
Ronald Jones (TB)
Speaking of opportunity, Ronald Jones was not given much of one in his rookie season — touching the ball only 30 times for 77 total yards. Lucky for him, 2019 is a new year, he has a new coaching staff, and the Bucs did nothing in the draft or free agency to suggest they are moving in another direction.
Peyton Barber is still the incumbent, but let’s face it, he didn’t exactly light it up last season. In fact, Barber was 12th in total touches last season, more than Melvin Gordon, Derrick Henry and Phillip Lindsey, yet finished as the RB31 behind guys like Jalen Richard and T.J. Yeldon. If Jones is given that type of workload this season, it would be nearly impossible for him to underperform based on his current ADP of the eighth round or 98th overall.