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Way-Too-Early Half-PPR Running Back Rankings for 2019

The BallBlast positional rankings are up and running at full steam, and running backs are no exception! Sure – you can win your league with an Alvin Kamara or an Ezekiel Elliott… but the real tell is what you can make happen in the later rounds of your fantasy football drafts. This week, I discuss my favorite fantasy football running back bounceback, top values, and bust candidates for the 2019 NFL season. All that lies below my 2019 Running Back Rankings for half-PPR formats. Also, check out my way-too-early quarterback rankings for more hot takes.

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Half-PPR Running Back Rankings

The Running Back Bounceback

Devonta Freeman finished the 2018 NFL season on the injured reserve after accumulating a myriad of injuries week one. After producing as a top 12 running back for three consecutive seasons, he finally let us down. He didn’t exactly have much time on the field, but that’s beside the point, right?

Although many cite his injury history as their reason to fade Freeman, they might be forgetting that he’s played 14+ games in three out his four NFL seasons. He does have a concussion history that could certainly keep him out of games, should they recur. However, Dan Quinn has said that Freeman looks back to himself in regards to the injuries sustained last season. Given the timing of his injuries last season, I’m more willing to trust this coach speak at this point in the year.

Devonta Freeman Fantasy Football Value

While evaluating Freeman’s ceiling in PPR formats, we can’t ignore the absence of Tevin Coleman. This off-season, Coleman was signed by the 49ers and vacated an average of 147 rushing attempts and 41 targets per season. While Ito Smith should see more snaps and rushing attempts, Freeman is clearly more suited for a three-down role given his abilities as a receiver.

In Freeman’s sophomore season, before Coleman was utilized more heavily in the offense, he soaked up 97 targets… and finished as THE running back 1. It’s hard not to see his upside given his history, and with the upgrades to the Falcons offensive line in the 2019 off-season, and an ADP in the mid to late third round, I’ll take my shot and bump him up in my running back rankings.

Top Values at Running Back

Latavius Murray

In the 2019 offseason, Latavius Murray was signed by the New Orleans Saints to a sneakily decent four-year contract to keep him under wraps until 2022. Among all running back contracts signed in 2019, Murray’s ranks third in total value and second in guarantees at signing.  I’m inclined to follow that money and take the value on Murray in my 2019 fantasy football drafts.

Lucky for Murray, and fantasy owners, there might not be a better team in the league to bring him back to NFL and fantasy football relevance. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram wrote the blueprint for RB1 and RB2 production, and this format truly allows the team to strike the ultimate balance of run, pass, and defense that brought them to a winning record.

Based on Ingram’s workload in the last few seasons, I project Murray with around 220 carries and to take over a portion of Ingram’s passing downs, which could be a conservative estimate. This puts Murray as RB 28 in my running back rankings, a value with his current ADP at RB34 – and that’s without acknowledging the upside and potential with one of the best run-blocking units in the league.

AFC Position Battles

Kenyan Drake

Although he disappointed many fantasy owners in 2018 with his inconsistent production and opportunities, Kenyan Drake somehow managed to finish as the running back 14 in PPR formats. He was the Dolphins’ second-leading receiver on 73 targets, looks electric every time he touches the ball, and is yet to finish a season averaging less than 5.4 yards per touch in his three years in the NFL. With that, he somehow managed to hit 1,000 scrimmage yards despite limited opportunities in the offense.

Luckily for him, his, former head coach Adam Gase has found himself a new home and backfield to mess with. This should clear a pathway for Drake to handle an increase in rushing attempts, particularly given the lack of a clear number two on the running back depth chart.

He’s currently being drafted as the RB24 in PPR formats, per Fantasy Football Calculator, after escaping an offensive system where he averaged fewer carries per game than Frank Gore. Opportunity is coming – we just have to draft him.

The Running Back Bust

Mark Ingram signed with the Ravens this off-season, and fantasy football twitter exploded at the thought of Ingram’s potential on one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL. He established himself as a proficient pass-catcher within the Saints offense, which gave him a safe floor in PPR formats that made him a massive value.

The Ravens are a team who successfully utilized the running back by committee approach in 2018. They’ve come out of the offseason with running backs Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, and rookie Justice Hill, taken in the late 4th round of the 2019 NFL draft. Although many take Ingram as the clear-cut winner of the group, I can’t shake my concern regarding the Ravens’ use of the position as a whole.

The number of backs who could eat into some of his carries is enough to give me some concern regarding his consistency as a fantasy football asset in 2019. Despite the fact that Gus Edwards hardly found the end zone which limited his fantasy football production, he was actually the 16th-most highly graded rusher among running backs with 100 or more attempts, per Pro Football Focus. Out of the top 36 most highly rated RBs, Edwards finished #1 in run blocking grade and ranked #2 on pass blocking% on passing down plays with a 95% pass blocking efficiency grade.

Although perhaps not the sexiest choice at RB, Edwards is a well-rounded player. The Ravens would be silly to keep him off the field, and I do think that Edwards can push for a small chunk of Ingram’s carries. Pair this with the fact that you’ve got a quarterback to vulture some designed runs, and this might lower his floor.

Lamar Jackson shows the inclination to utilize the pass-catching running back less than would be ideal for fantasy football purposes, likely due to his limited time as a starter. He averaged just 3.5 targets per game to the running back. This would have put the entire RB corps on pace for 57 team targets. Even if Ingram sees 100% of those targets (and he likely won’t), we’d still see a drop in his receiving floor.

YearLeading Rusher% RB attsMost RB TargetsRB Rnk
2015Justin Forsett44.5% (151 att)62 (J Allen)40
2016Terrance West59.2% (193 att)45 (T West)23
2017Alex Collins50.7% (212 att)60 (J Allen)18
2018Gus Edwards37.3% (137 att)43 (J Allen)47

Last but not least, for being one of the most proficient running teams in the NFL, the consistency for Ravens lead running backs  to finish as an RB2 or better in fantasy football leaves much to be desired. Over the last four seasons, the Ravens RB1 has finished as the RB32 on average – not the odds for upside that you hope for when investing a fourth or fifth round pick in drafts. I’ll be looking outside of the Ravens backfield for league winning upside and bumping Ingram well down my 2019 running back rankings.

What other surprises did you find in Kate’s running back rankings? Give her a follow and let her know on Twitter @FFBallBlast, and be sure to check out BallBlast: A Fantasy Footabll Podcast wherever you listen.

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