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RB3s With RB1 Upside (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 21, 2019

Sony Michel has a good shot to reach double-digit touchdowns if he remains healthy

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We search for breakout players every year, but what does the term “breakout player” really mean? Does Nick Chubb count considering he finished outside the top-12 running backs? He was a breakout candidate, so where do we draw the line?

In this series, we’ll be talking about players drafted as RB3s or later who have RB1 potential, which would definitely classify as a breakout player. To get into the top-12 running backs, it often requires quite a few targets, as there’s been just two running backs over the last five years who’ve finished inside the top-12 with less than 32 targets. Todd Gurley, who scored 10 touchdowns, and LeGarrette Blount, who scored 18 touchdowns. So, if they’re not catching many passes, they’d better be playing for a team who scores a lot of points. Here’s my list of running backs being drafted outside the top-24 who present top-12 upside.

Sony Michel (NE)
In the intro, I talked about the importance of target for running backs. Michel saw just 11 of them last year, so what gives? Well, did you happen to read the part about scoring a lot of touchdowns to make up for that? Michel scored 12 touchdowns in the 16 games he played (playoffs included), despite falling behind in the playbook after having a knee scope during training camp his rookie year. There’s also rumors about the Patriots using him in the passing game more throughout camp, which makes sense considering he was a rock-solid pass-catcher in college. If he remains healthy, he absolutely has RB1 upside.

James White (NE)
Another Patriots running back? Well, yeah. White finished as a top-12 running back in all formats last year, including the RB7 in PPR formats. What most are ignoring with White repeating is the fact that Rob Gronkowski is gone. In 14 career games without Gronkowski, White has averaged 13.94 PPR points per game. That would have ranked top-12 last year. Knowing that Julian Edelman is 33 years old, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson are gone, White is going to be heavily involved as someone who knows the offense and has chemistry with Tom Brady. It’s not out of the question that Michel and White finish as top-12 running backs.

Lamar Miller (HOU)
Editor’s note: Miller suffered a potentially serious knee injury on 8/24 vs. the Cowboys
Do we think of the Texans as a high-scoring team as we head into 2019? Sure, we do. Did you know that 62 percent of the top-12 running backs over the last seven years have come from top-12 scoring offenses? That’s a mighty high number considering 12 teams only make up 37.5 percent of the league. Miller has finished as a top-12 running back before in both 2014 and 2015. Since then, he’s had three top-24 performances. After spending some draft capital on a few offensive linemen, getting their three wide receivers on the field at the same time, and having Deshaun Watson healthy, Miller should find the defensive fronts on the light side in 2019. Duke Johnson presents a new challenger with some more risk, but understand if he wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be getting Miller as the 30th running back off draft boards. He’s been known as a boring fantasy asset, but top-12 is definitely in the realm of possibilities.

Rashaad Penny (SEA)
We watched the Seahawks run the ball an average of 32.8 times per game in 2018, which is a massive number, particularly in today’s NFL. Penny came into camp out of shape his rookie year and it led to Mike Davis stealing precious work from him. While Chris Carson is still there, there’s plenty of work to go around between these two, and let’s not forget the Seahawks spent a first-round pick on Penny while they had Carson on the roster. With Davis gone, there’s an additional 10 touches per game that’s been freed up, and Carson hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a complete season at this point. Penny should at least offer RB3 value but with RB1 potential.

Miles Sanders (PHI)
Believe me when I say that I’ve been avoiding Eagles running backs under Doug Pederson like the plague, but Sanders could be the exception to the rule. While there are concerns about his fumbling at Penn State, why would the Eagles draft him in the second-round if they were that concerned? In fact, why draft any running back in the second-round if you’re going to operate with a timeshare. Sanders is a true three-down back, while those who’ve been playing under Pederson have lacked things. Ryan Mathews could never stay healthy, Jay Ajayi had health issues and wasn’t a standout in the passing game, and now Jordan Howard is clearly just a two-down back who they paid a sixth-round pick for. If Sanders impresses like the Eagles hope, he could be the workhorse in this offense and finish as an RB1. If we knew he was going to be the workhorse, he’d be drafted as a top-15 option behind that offensive line.

Latavius Murray (NO)
Some may be thinking, “Sure, Murray has RB1 upside if something happens to Alvin Kamara,” but that’s not where I’m going with this. While that is certainly true and would help his cause, he may not need an injury to finish inside the top-12. With the Saints moving towards more of a run-heavy approach, we watched both Kamara and Mark Ingram finish as top-six running backs in 2017, averaging a combined 32.7 half-PPR points per game. While they didn’t both finish top-12 in 2018, they did combine to average 31.9 half-PPR points per game. Murray has played at a high level in both Oakland and Minnesota, so what makes us think he’ll fail in New Orleans? It’s very possible he’s a better running back than Ingram and comes with RB1 upside.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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