RB-Heavy Draft Targets (2019 Fantasy Football)

by James Esposito
Jul 2, 2019

The departure of Tevin Coleman and a reworked offensive line both bode well for Devonta Freeman

Stacking up on RBs is a great technique to help owners feel like they are walking away with the best roster after the draft. It always feels good to build a three-headed monster at RB by finding a potential high-volume flex player. It’s feasible in every situation, whereas “zero RB” will leave you in a pickle reaching on a WR with a top draft pick. Running back is the most difficult position to replace when it comes to picking up free agents and dealing with injuries, so it’s a smart position to invest in.

It’s also not every year when each team in the league will walk away with a player who could possibly rush for 1,200 yards, score TDs. and catch passes as well. Todd Gurley, an MVP candidate last year who had about 4,000 yards and 40 TDs over the last two seasons, is the RB10 and is even falling to the third round in some leagues. Everybody is going to get their guy, and most will get another. But only a couple teams will get reliable production out of their flex position, and for many years the person with this edge is the one hosting their fantasy trophy.

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Early Targets
The top five RBs seem to be set in stone at this point so if you’re picking in the top five, don’t get cute. In terms of the RBs at the end of the first and beginning of the second, I always felt more comfortable picking the players with the least amount of question marks and the highest chance of doing damage through the air and on the ground. Look to grab James Conner and Joe Mixon over Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, or Le’Veon Bell. There’s a great quote from Matthew Berry that’s always worth bringing up around this time of year, “You can’t win your draft in the first round, but you can definitely lose it.”

The RB-heavy strategy will carry most of its value in these next few rounds, where there are a few names who offer RB1 upside. If everything goes right, players such as Derrick Henry, Sony Michel, and Chris Carson will have a shot at clearing 1,200-1,300 rushing yards. More versatile weapons such as Devonta Freeman, Kerryon Johnson, and Mark Ingram can realistically put up 1,500 plus total yards, potentially unprecedented production from fourth and fifth-round picks. These three running backs are some of my favorite picks this season and are must targets for teams deciding to go RB heavy.

Tevin Coleman is gone this year, the Falcons heavily invested in new o-line pieces via the draft and free agency, and the Falcons’ defense has many injured players now returning. Matt Patricia can no longer shelter Johnson’s greatness from the world, as his partner-in-crime LeGarrette Blount was finally shown the door after finishing dead last in YPC at 2.7. Johnson averaged LITERALLY double the YPC (5.4) as Blount while taking carries for the same team, a rare accomplishment considering how team and scheme dependent the running game is. The chains should be off this year. Ingram is top two in the NFL in YPC, TDs, and YAC per attempt over the last six seasons and joins the best situation for an RB possibly in the entire league. In the games Lamar Jackson played last season, the Ravens’ read-option run game paced for over 3,600 rushing yards as a team, and Gus Edwards looked unstoppable. Ingram’s paced about 1,400 total yards over the past five seasons splitting time, a crowded backfield isn’t a major red flag given his ADP.

If going with this philosophy, I don’t mind taking a WR in the second if the top RB names are riskier picks in Damien Williams and Dalvin Cook. Nabbing a top WR would ease the stress of focusing on RBs in Rounds 3-5 where most of the RB value is found. Do your best to grab one of Ingram, Johnson, or Freeman, but don’t be upset with the compensation prizes that are Phillip Lindsay and Josh Jacobs.

Mid-Round Targets
When deciding to bypass the early WRs for RB depth, it is important for owners to do their best to grab at least one dependable WR you’re comfortable with starting. As long as you don’t reach on your picks, you will have the capital to make a move for another WR once somebody’s RB goes down, as most RBs fail to play all 16. Feel free to grab numerous high-upside WRs, playing the numbers game that at least one hits, hopefully two.

Some WR2 and WR3 players who could finish as a low-end WR1s or high-end WR2s include Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Tyler Boyd, Mike Williams, and Marvin Jones. Williams, Watkins, and A-Rob are all gifted outside receivers entering their second season of substantial playing time in their respective situations. Marvin Jones was a WR1 in Detroit in 2017, and Tyler Boyd broke out to finish 19th in FPPG last season. All these players will be high enough in volume to choose over their ADP peers such as D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, or Dante Pettis.

If I already have several RBs I feel confident in, I’m fading low-ceiling, mid-round players like Dion Lewis, Latavius Murray, and Tarik Cohen for the upside in Miles Sanders, Derrius Guice, and David Montgomery. When grabbing RBs for your bench in an RB-heavy strategy, look for players who could have a realistic path into three-down usage.

Late-Round Targets
There are a few late-round RBs that I find myself targeting, regardless of what strategy I’m drafting by. I’ve always been a proponent of passing on the late-round veterans with defined roles and zero value to offer to a starting fantasy lineup.

Duke Johnson’s ADP peers are Darrell Henderson, D’Onta Foreman, Kareem Hunt, Adrian Peterson, and Carlos Hyde. Johnson may even be the favorite out of this category to lead in fantasy points, but he is the only player that you can guarantee will not be worth starting in any week barring injury. These RBs are my favorite upside guys that you should be filling your roster with. We’ve seen Peterson, Hunt, and Hyde produce in years past, so one big game could be all it takes to convince another impulsive owner to let go of an asset. Foreman and Henderson were extremely productive college players who could shine in the NFL if they see the workload, but when it comes to Johnson, we know exactly who he is.

Most of the time you’re playing a late-round pick, you’re betting on a score. The best way to do this is by grabbing the late-round players on great offenses. In terms of late round WRs to target, breakout potential can be found in the Pittsburgh and Green Bay #2 receiver battles. Andrew Luck may also be able to support a legitimate fantasy WR other than T.Y. Hilton for the first time in his career. Funchess and Parris Campbell are talented enough to do damage in a Frank Reich offense headed by Luck’s brain and arm. If you draft Carson Wentz and have receivers on byes or IR, you could do worse than banking on the DeSean Jackson connection creating a 20-point, game-changing play.

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James Esposito is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from James, check out his archive and follow him @PropZillaa.

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