Everyone loves when a player they draft breaks out and suddenly is much more valuable. In fact, you need some picks like that in order to win a championship. On the other hand, no one enjoys drafting a player with an early pick and that player failing to live up to expectations. Not only that, in most cases busts not only cost you an early drafts pick, but they cost you by repeatedly putting up dud performances while in your lineup. By the time you sit them it may be too late. In order to do that you need to know which players will be breakouts and which will be busts. This article continues a series where I will be identifying breakouts and busts at each position. Today, I’ll take a look at my favorite breakout running backs for the coming season. I’ve already covered Quarterback Breakouts and Quarterback Busts.
Breakout Running Backs
Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets
It feels weird calling a starting running back who has finished as a top-30 RB every season in standard and top-35 each of his four seasons in PPR. But he currently is going off the board as the 37th RB according to FantasyPros ADP. Even if he is climbing, if you draft him as a borderline top-30 RB you are literally drafting him for his floor. Crowell has topped 850 yards in consecutive seasons and has been lined up out wide in preseason and has three receptions for 34 yards and a TD through three games. Crowell was never used heavily in the passing game in Cleveland largely because of Duke Johnson, but he does have a 40-reception season under his belt. He also will not have DeShone Kizer vulturing goal line touchdowns this season.
To me Crowell is an easy selection in the middle rounds. You can get him as an RB3, likely for your bench, but will quickly turn into an RB2 that you can start on a weekly basis. He may be viewed as boring, but do not leave value on the board.
Bonus: You can call me crazy but I think Bilal Powell is a great value as well this year. Powell, just like Crowell, has been a top-35 RB in PPR each of the past three seasons. In 2016 he was RB16, and last season was RB30. He has had over 940 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns each of the past two seasons. The Jets have also moved him around the field during preseason. Currently, he is going off the board in the double-digit rounds as the 54th RB off the board according to FantasyPros. That means you can take a shot on a player who has consistently been an RB3, for the price of an RB5. Jump on it. All it costs is a bench spot.
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
I have been #TeamWilliams for a while when it comes to the Packers running backs, but lately he has been gaining steam. Yes, Aaron Jones blew Williams and all Packers RBs away with his 5.5 yards per carry. No other Packers RB averaged 3.9 YPC. However, Jones is not only suspended for the first two weeks, but he did not show much in the receiving game. Last year he only had nine catches for 82 yards, while Williams had 25 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
Another point that I think goes overlooked is Williams played the least amount of the Packers main three RBs with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Ty Montgomery played the most, with Jones coming in second. The way I have always seen this situation is Jones is the best rusher, Montgomery is the best pass catcher, while Williams slide in the middle and is the best all around back.
With reports that he has taken the jump and Packers coaches all but naming him the starting back, I am fully on board with Williams as an RB2 and one of my favorite breakout running backs for this season. But the best part is you likely do not have to draft him as such and can get him as an RB3.
Jordan Wilkins, Indianapolis Colts
Marlon Mack is up in the air for Week 1, while Robert Turbin is suspended the first four games. You can buy into the Christine Michael preseason hype for the fifth time, or you can take a shot on a young RB that leads the Colts in preseason carries, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards through two preseason games.
Wilkins is a big bodied back who rushed for 1,000 yards and nine TDs at Ole Miss last year. I am not saying that he is an elite talent, but if he is the starting RB in an Andrew Luck offense… yeah, there is definitely value to be had there. Oh, if you notice I didn’t mention Nyheim Hines, it’s because he profiles more as a change of pace/third down back and has been having severe fumbling issues in camp. I have planted my flag in Wilkins as the Colts RB, and have drafted him in multiple leagues. Jump on board!
Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders
This one might come as a surprise to you, but I believe Richard is the pass-catching back on the Raiders and that is a role that will be heavily utilized in Jon Gruden’s offense. In his 11 years as head coach, running backs have topped 80 receptions in all but one season. The RB position was targeted over 100 times every season. In fact, the average season for the RB position under Gruden shapes out like this: 136.6 targets, 94.9 receptions, with the leading pass-catching back averaging 48.5 receptions a season.
That number is very respectable nowadays, but it is worth mentioning that we have seen RBs much more involved in the passing game in recent seasons than when Gruden was a coach. That makes me think that he will throw to backs even more. So far through three preseason games, Richard leads all RBs with 12 targets, catching 10 of them for 104 yards. No other Raiders RB has more than three targets. Richard has a chance to take the jump and deserves a place among my favorite breakout running backs for PPR formats.
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
I was fully avoiding Hyde coming into the preseason, but his usage clearly shows that he is the starting RB for the Browns entering this season. Hue Jackson has shown a tendency to allow one RB to dominated carries in his two seasons with the Browns. I questioned whether that was due to personnel and not his style. But the fact that Hyde has seen the majority of the run with the first team makes me think that Jackson plans to continue that trend. The risk of Nick Chubb stealing work is tied into his ADP and you can nab him as an RB3. It will not be hard for him to return that value.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
Last year I was completely off of Lynch and he did not return that top 12-15 production many had him projected for. However, due to a hot start he did finish RB19 in non-PPR and RB24 in PPR. He rushed for seven TDs last season, on only 24 red-zone carries, which tied for 19th in the NFL. I am expecting the Raiders offense to be better this season and I think Lynch can not only repeat those seven TDs but I think he can be in the 8-10 range as opportunities should increase. Getting that production from an RB3 is a great value. Best of all, you don’t have to pay the inflated hype price that you had to last season.
Matt Brieda, San Francisco 49ers
I am not a big believer in Jerick McKinnon. He has not been efficient when his touches increased and I worry about his ability to hold up. You’ll be able to read more on that in my RB busts article. However, if anything happens to McKinnon, Brieda would step in and likely see 10-12 touches a week, maybe even more. I will take a late round shot on him. I also think Alfred Morris is more than just a depth signing and could be useful this season.
Chase Edmonds profiles as a three-down back if anything should happen to David Johnson. I am not a believer that players are injury prone, but the last two times we have seen DJ he left the field with an injury. If he was to sustain one again, Edmonds would be a top waiver wire pickup and cost you a lot of FAAB. You can nab him with one of your late-round picks and it is something I have done even in leagues where I do not have Johnson. But if you draft Johnson, you definitely need to handcuff Edmonds.
Another backup who has been running well is James Conner. He projects to be the immediate backup if anything was to happen to Le’Veon Bell. It’s funny, but all the elite RBs, have backups with high upside.
John Kelly is a rookie RB that would be getting some hype if he wasn’t blocked by Todd Gurley. He fits the mold of taking a shot on a backup with upside, even if you do not own the starter.
Bo Scarbrough is another talented backup behind stud Ezekiel Elliott.
Some other RBs I have taken late round shots on include Spencer Ware, Jonathan Williams, Corey Grant and Buck Allen.
You can follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
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