Day 2 Dynasty Diamonds: Rookie RBs with the Potential to be Fantasy Football Steals in 2019
In recent years, we’ve seen something of a renaissance in the NFL Draft when it comes to running backs being drafted early. Starting with Todd Gurley in 2015, a running back has been drafted in the top 10 overall in four consecutive drafts, culminating in Saquon Barkley going second overall to the New York Giants a year ago. All four of those backs (Gurley, Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Leonard Fournette) have become valuable fantasy assets.
That streak’s going to end in 2019. Not only will Josh Jacobs (the consensus No. 1 tailback in this class) not be a top-10 pick, there’s a real possibility he won’t be drafted in the first round at all. However, whether it’s Cleveland’s Nick Chubb in Round 2 a year ago or Alvin Kamara of the Saints and Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs in Round 3 two seasons back, fantasy owners have seen the NFL draft’s second day produce its fair share of stars of late as well.
None of the young ball-carriers listed here are mortal locks to be the next Kamara or Hunt—if only it were that easy. But each of these backs has the talent to make a real dent in the NFL (and fantasy football) in relatively short order—provided that things break the right way in Nashville.
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NFL Draft: Day 2 RBs with Breakout Potential
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
As Richard Johnson wrote for SB Nation, by the numbers there wasn’t a more explosive tailback in college football last year than the 5’8″, 208-pound Henderson. “By conventional stats,” he said, Henderson led this draft class in nearly every category: touchdowns (22), yards (1,909), yards per carry (8.9), and yards per game (146.85). He personally had 19 scrimmage plays go for more than 30 yards, a higher total than even Barkley (a human highlight reel) had his last year at Penn State. Advanced stats tell a similar story. In 2018, Henderson averaged 12.1 Highlight Yards per carry — a stat developed by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly that measures how many yards a player gains after reaching the five-yard threshold his offensive line is generally responsible for. That was the most in the class by four yards.”
Henderson’s highlight reels are indeed impressive—he was a threat to score just about every time he touched the ball in college and averaged an absurd 8.9 yards per carry in college. But he’s also on the small side—and there’s a bit of difference between the American Athletic Conference and the NFL. Henderson could be a home-run threat that fantasy owners come to love and start on a weekly basis—or just the latest in a long line of players who tore up college football only to fall flat in the pros.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
At just 5’10” and 198 pounds, Hill’s on the small side for an NFL tailback—and then some. And while Lance Zierlein of NFL.com loves Hill’s motor, he believes Hill’s upside is severely capped in the NFL. “Hill is an undersized but excitable runner with a go-go tempo that can work for and against him on any given series,” he said. “He runs tough along the interior and has the vision and agility to slip tackles, but his lack of size and explosive top-end play speed could work against him. Hill might not have the skills needed to handle third-down duties, so he could be pigeon-holed as a try-hard backup with average upside.”
For being a sub-200 pound running back, Hill demonstrated impressive power in Stillwater, averaging upwards of 5.5 yards per carry (or more) in each of the past three seasons. He also shined at the scouting combine, running a 4.40-second 40 and posting a 40″ vertical and 130″ broad jump. Were Hill even 10 pounds heavier, the number of people making a huge deal about his size would be massively lower. It’s not that hard to imagine him adding a little weight without sacrificing speed—and if he can do that, look out.
Miles Sanders, Penn State
There are those in the draftnik community who believe that after gaining over 1,400 total yards in 2018 and having a strong combine that Sanders might sneak his way into the back of Round 1. “Sanders isn’t getting the same pre-draft buzz as other running backs in this class,” Peter Schrager of NFL.com wrote of Sanders being drafted at No. 31 overall, “but his combine performance turned heads around the league. His pass-catching ability — see: the Indiana game, when he hauled in six catches for 54 yards — helps him. Los Angeles will look to add a complement (with the ability to catch passes out of the backfield) for Todd Gurley at some point in this draft.”
With a 4.49-second 40-yard dash time, 4.19-second 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill time of under seven seconds in Indy, the 5’11”, 211-pound Sanders alleviated at least some of the concerns that he’s a try-hard runner with limited athleticism. Sanders looks the part of an every-down back, with a nice combination of short-area quickness and strength to run through arm tackles. If concerns about his top-end speed turn out to be somewhat overblown, Sanders has a chance to be something of a poor man’s Saquon Barkley at the NFL level—and that’s meant as a compliment.
Mike Weber, Ohio State
I’ve already previewed Weber here at Fantrax, and his draft stock got a robust boost after the 5’10”, 211-pounder was one of the most impressive running backs at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. “Injuries and platoons limited Weber’s touches in Columbus, but he was quite productive when given a chance,” Chad Reuter of NFL.com wrote . “Weber was one of the fastest backs at this year’s combine with a 4.47 40-yard dash, and he also recorded a 33 1/2-inch vertical and lifted 22 reps on the bench. Weber’s best part of his workout may have been the excellent foot quickness, change of direction and receiving skills he displayed during position drills.”
Per Matt Eurich of 247 Sports, Weber has visited or will visit with the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, and Pittsburgh Steelers. The downside of that is that none of those teams present Weber in the short-term with a clear path to a role as the lead tailback for an NFL offense. The upside is that it indicates more teams are opening their eyes to Weber’s well-rounded skill-set. He can gain yards on the ground both between the tackles and around the edge, catch the ball out of the backfield and even pick up a blitz now and then.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
After tearing up the SEC to the tune of 1,760 yards on the ground last year, the 5’8″, 206-pound Williams has a supporter in Brad Kelly of the Draft Network. “Williams is an exciting, well-rounded running back prospect,” he said. “Though he doesn’t have great size, his power and quickness combination make up for it. Well-built and diverse in his skill set, he has few weaknesses. He’s a dynamic runner to the outside who fits into multiple schemes for the next level. While his size may prevent him from being a workhorse runner in the NFL, his projection is that of a focal point of a rushing offense.”
Williams’ critics point to a lack of any superior qualities—he isn’t especially big, or especially fast. He also didn’t force a ton of missed tackles with the Aggies and sometimes ran into contact instead of hitting the right hole. However, while some of those criticisms have validity, almost 1,800 rushing yards (and over 2,000 total yards) in the SEC is no joke. Williams averaged just under 6.5 yards a carry and over 10 yards a catch a year ago, and he’s one of the better pass-protecting backs in this year’s class. In the right landing spot, it’s not hard to imagine Williams carving out a sizable role early in his NFL career.
It would be awesome if I could point to one of these potential Day 2 picks and say definitively, “this guy is going to be the next Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt.” But the reality is that while those tailbacks had supporters heading into the 2017 draft their success as rookies was influenced greatly by where they landed.
There’s a reason these running backs are listed alphabetically.
However, each of the young running backs listed here has enough potential to be fantasy relevant early in their careers that they’ll bear close monitoring as this year’s draft unfolds. Should one hit the landing spot lottery in this year’s draft, that back will leapfrog many of his colleagues and shoot up the rookie rankings at the position.
A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.
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