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Best Ball Running Back Dart Throws (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jun 18, 2020

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Back in late April, before the NFL draft, I highlighted a trio of running backs who stood out as stellar dart throws. I’m still enamored with Justin Jackson, and Nyheim Hines remains a back who I’m taking in the late-rounds. That said, Rashaad Penny is less interesting to me, as the Seahawks drafted DeeJay Dallas in the fourth round and signed Carlos Hyde, which suggests that they’re concerned about the health of their running backs with Chris Carson and Penny coming off of season-ending injuries.

Moving on, now’s the time to take a look at a new trio of late-round dart throws at the running back position. A speedy rookie kicks things off. He’s joined by a satellite back in a new home, and the touted players are rounded out by a supremely athletic back who last played in a meaningful game in 2017.

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Darrynton Evans (RB – TEN): ADP — 185.0, RB59
The run-first Titans, powered on offense by stud Derrick Henry, spent a third-round pick to add a complement to their backfield. Evans is a burner and ran a blistering 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also measured five-foot-ten and weighed 203 pounds, and NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein described him as “a little undersized.” However, he also pointed out Evans’ “three-down skill set.”

Graham Barfield of Fantasy Points also noted that Evans is a bit undersized, but he added that if he weren’t, “he would be getting way more buzz in this class.” Notably, Barfield’s yards created metric paints a more favorable picture of Evans’ ability to run between the tackles than the scouting reports do. Ultimately, Barfield describes him as a likely “high-energy change-of-pace back in the NFL.”

The good news for Evans’ fantasy outlook is that he doesn’t need a hefty volume of work to deliver the occasional starting-caliber point total thanks to his home-run speed. You can see him translate his timed speed to the gridiron in this highlight reel.

Last season, Dion Lewis received only 54 carries and 25 receptions. In 2018, though, he carried the ball 155 times and caught 59 passes. Henry was underutilized in 2018, but Evans could have a chance to siphon enough touches away from Henry to fall somewhere between Lewis’ 79 touches in 2019 and 214 touches in 2018. Something like 125-150 touches doesn’t feel out of reach for the rookie jitterbug, and that many touches would give him ample opportunities to take balls to the house.

His long touchdown scoring potential plays well in best-ball formats. Additionally, if Henry sustained an injury, Evans would be positioned for even more work. That said, if Henry were to miss significant time, the Titans would be a good bet to add a between-the-tackles grinder via trade or free agency to work in tandem with Evans. Still, there’s plenty to like here at Evans’ average draft position (ADP).

Chris Thompson (RB – JAC): ADP — 193.5, RB62
Usually, I think of dart throws as high-upside picks late in drafts. Thompson doesn’t fit that mold. Instead, Thompson allows you to embrace volatility for ceiling earlier in drafts while securing his stable receiving-game floor late. For example, if you’re loading up on rookie running backs early who may need some time to get up to speed because of coronavirus, Thompson makes for an appealing glue guy to complement them.

The seven-year vet reunites with Jay Gruden on the Jaguars. Before this, he had spent each of his professional seasons with Washington. Gruden is no stranger to using a pass-catching back in his offense, and that dates back to his offensive coordinator days with the Bengals. He’s utilized Giovani Bernard, Roy Helu, and Thompson as receiving weapons in his offenses. There should be an opportunity for Thompson to carve out a role as a receiving complement to Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville’s offense.

Fournette saw his most extensive usage as a receiver last year with 100 targets, 76 receptions, and 522 receiving yards. However, he flopped from an efficiency standpoint. Out of 35 running backs targeted at least 40 times, Fournette’s 5.22 yards per target ranked 29th, according to Pro-Football-Reference’s Play Index Tool. Additionally, out of 50 running backs targeted at least 25 times, Fournette ranked 42nd in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), per Football Outsiders. Comparatively, Thompson ranked 12th in yards per target (6.52) and 26th in DVOA.

Further, we’ve seen Thompson perform at a higher level in the passing game recently. In 2017, Thompson finished first out of 31 backs targeted at least 40 times with 9.44 yards per target, and he ranked first out of 62 backs targeted at least 25 times in DVOA. The oft-injured back missed six games during his ceiling campaign in 2017, missed six more games in 2018, and missed five games last year.

It’s possible — if not probable — that his 2017 ceiling is out of reach, but building on last year’s work is within his range of outcomes. Thompson’s an unspectacular-but-useful RB6 or RB7 in best-ball formats like RT Sports and BestBall10’s, as both of them use PPR scoring, and he’s a good option for gamers who swing for the fences at running back early in drafts.

Jerick McKinnon (RB – SF): ADP — 242.5, RB74
McKinnon last played in a meaningful football game back in the 2017 playoffs with the Vikings. He hasn’t played a single regular season or postseason snap for the 49ers since he signed a lucrative four-year deal before the 2018 season. There is cautious optimism regarding McKinnon’s return this year after he lost his 2018 and 2019 seasons to an ACL injury. Further, there’s even the age-old “best shape of his life” buzz around McKinnon. While stories of a player being in the best shape of their life should always be taken with a grain of salt, it’s promising that McKinnon’s rehab hasn’t hit any snags.

He still has hurdles to clear to demonstrate that he’s healthy enough to play in games, but that’s baked into his cost as basically a last-round pick in 20-round best ball drafts. A healthy McKinnon would add a receiving element to San Francisco’s backfield that Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman haven’t brought to the table. That alone should help him carve out some role in the backfield.

It’s easy to dream on more, though. Before his ACL surgery, McKinnon was a 100th-percentile SPARQ athlete with eye-popping measurables across the board, as you can see on his PlayerProfiler page. There’s also the Kyle Shanahan factor. In 12 years as an offensive coordinator (nine years) or head coach (three years), his offenses have finished in the top five in rushing yards four times (fifth in 2013 and 2016, second in 2019, and first in 2012).

The uncertainty about McKinnon’s health — and what he’ll look like in his return — make his floor legitimately zero. That said, his upside makes him a tantalizing RB6 or RB7 target. In a vacuum, I’d select Evans first out of the three running back dart throws that I’ve suggested, followed by McKinnon and, later, Thompson.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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