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Impact Rookie Running Backs (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
Jul 5, 2019

In this piece, we will take a look at the rookie running backs slated to make an impact in their rookie season. While this list could go on forever if we included every rookie runner with a chance to make an impact, we will instead focus on the names that seem all but certain to make one. This means we will be avoiding major sleepers and best ball targets like Devin Singletary, Myles Gaskin, Karan Higdon, Bruce Anderson, and Darwin Thompson. These are all running backs who project to generate standalone value regardless of where they open the season on the depth chart.

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Josh Jacobs (OAK)
The running back that projects to see the most touches this season is Josh Jacobs. A talented back who was somewhat hidden in an explosive Alabama committee, Jacobs will finally get his first shot at a feature role. With Marshawn Lynch again retired, Jacobs should get all of the work he can handle. The Raiders ran the ball 24.3 times per game last season despite playing with a negative game script for the majority of the season. Jacobs looks like the lone workhorse rookie running back in 2019.

David Montgomery (CHI)
With 250 carries and 27 targets vacated by the departure of Jordan Howard, Montgomery is primed for workhorse-like volume. Being overlooked in the fantasy community due to sharing a backfield with the explosive Tarik Cohen, Montgomery has RB1 upside as a rookie. He has a clear path to heavy volume with only backup-caliber Mike Davis to fend off. A thousand yard rushing season seems like all but a certainty for the tackle-breaking specialist.

Miles Sanders (PHI)
Sanders joins a crowded backfield in Philadelphia. However, his draft capital dictates he will have a chance to earn a role. His college tape suggests he is the best talent in this backfield, but prior to the draft, the Eagles splashed the cash for Jordan Howard in free agency, thus ensuring him a role. However, Sanders could still push for RB2 value. The Eagles saw their carries per game plummet from 29.6 per game in 2017 to 24.6 in 2018. The addition of Sanders and Howard means they should be back up around their 2017 watermark. Sanders should find a way to claim at least half of those carries as the season progresses, and he earns his coaching staff’s trust.

Damien Harris (NE)
With Sony Michel’s recurring knee problems rearing their head once again, Damien Harris now has an opportunity most may not have envisioned for him on draft day. Michel has more talent, but as you may have heard, one of the most important abilities to have is availability. Harris is now in line for a legitimate chance to take over as the starter in this backfield. Michel absolutely shined at times last season, but there were others where he looked like just a guy. His playoff explosion suggests he’s ready for prime time, but if his health cannot cooperate this will become Harris’ backfield. Even if both backs are healthy, the Patriots have proven they have no qualms about employing a three-back rotation. Harris has RB2 upside with what appears to be Flex floor.

Darrell Henderson (LAR)
Henderson projects to have some standalone value this season. I am not buying into Todd Gurley’s career being on the rocks or that they are going to limit his weekly touches. However, I would not be surprised if they find a way to get the explosive Henderson on the field even when Gurley is playing. Both of these running backs can split out wide, and Henderson is a true backup for Gurley. He can step right in and put up RB1 numbers in Gurley’s absence. Perhaps the most valuable handcuff in all of fantasy football, he should find his way to Flex value at worst. Depending on how they utilize him in the passing game (Gurley is still as good if not better as a receiver) he could claim RB3 value as a rookie.

Justice Hill (BAL)
Hill projects to have a role right out of the gate. Comparing him to Alvin Kamara due to Mark Ingram being in the Ravens’ backfield is a little lazy. Perhaps a better comparison would be DeAngelo Williams with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina. Either way, Hill projects to be the lesser half of a committee with Ingram. Both backs have every-down skills, but a QB like Jackson needs a bruiser to be out there with him as he can provide the slash/dash element himself. When Hill enters the field the Ravens’ offense will look to beat teams with speed from every angle and will likely turn into must-see TV.

Alexander Mattison (MIN)
Mattison is expected to step right into the role of the back I compared him most favorably to coming out of Boise State. Mattison is less athletic than Latavius Murray, but you would not know it from watching him hurdle would-be tacklers. Mattison has an every-down skill set, and while he is more of a spot starter on a good team, he can indeed be a workhorse in the event of injury. Mattison is joining a team with 140 vacated carries who plans to run the ball more than they did last season. This is Dalvin Cook’s backfield, but 150 touches as his change-of-pace back is not out of the question due to his ability to contribute on both early and passing downs. Mattison is one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy but should also generate what amounts to Flex value as a floor this coming season.

Benny Snell Jr. (PIT)
Benny Snell has the opportunity to secure an early-down role for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This may sound preposterous after James Conner shocked the world during a mini stretch last season. However, Conner averaged less than four yards per carry against playoff-bound teams, and as Jaylen Samuels proved, was as much a product of volume and an inspired offensive line than his own talent. Snell is a significant upgrade as a runner, but Conner remains the team’s best all-around back. This backfield could morph into a three-headed monster with Snell and Conner splitting touches on early downs, and Conner and Samuels splitting touches on passing downs. Most are of the belief that James Conner’s comments regarding the backfield touches being split pretty evenly were in relation to Jaylen Samuels alone. However, he singled out Snell, as did coach Mike Tomlin who offered that “..It’s not just a two-man discussion at the running back position..”. Snell is ready to make his mark for the Steelers and it appears he will be given the opportunity to do just that.

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his profile and follow him @FantasyContext.

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