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Running Back Opportunity Analysis

The Running Back Opportunity Analysis – Tier 2

The Running Back Opportunity Analysis

 

If you haven’t read the The Running Back Opportunity Analysis check it out before reading the articles on the tiers. Check out the Tier 1 breakdown here.

Criteria: Tier 2 – Running Backs who saw between 15-19.9 touches per game who performed well in RBOM. These RBs range from RB1 to flex RBs who could take a leap into the elite tier with a bump in volume in 2020.

 

 

Tier 2

Elite2019 Touches Per Game2019 Points Per Game
Kenyan Drake*18.917.9
Aaron Jones17.818.4
Melvin Gordon1713.8
Mark Ingram15.215.3
James Conner15.013.1
*8 games with Arizona
Honorable Mention2019 Touches Per Game2019 Points Per Game
Alvin Kamara18.015.0

 

 

Kenyan Drake

    • Lost A.Q. Shipley (PFF #29 Center)
    • Drafted Tackle Josh Jones
    • Signed Tackle Kelvin Beachum (PFF #39 Tackle)

 

Once acquired by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9, Kenyan Drake operated as a top five back in fantasy seeing just under 19 touches a game. Drake during this stretch was 5th in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns while seeing the 6th most carries inside the five yard line.

This off-season the Cardinals shipped off David Johnson and slapped Kenyan Drake with the transition tag for $8.4 million. Now Drake is set to become the full-time feature back this season. Once he became the starter, Drake saw 85% of the touches in the backfield which is a clear feature back role in an offense that produced nearly 22 points per game for the RB position.

If Drake continues to monopolize the touches based on the production of last season he will clearly be a top 10 back in 2020.

Draft Recommendation

The Cardinals as a team should take another step in Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s 2nd season. This along with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins should vault this offense to another level. Currently being drafted in the first round as the RB 9, I fully support this decision and he shouldn’t fall out of the first round

 

Aaron Jones

    • Lost Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga (PFF #15 Tackle)
    • Signed RT Rick Wagner (PFF #71 Tackle)
    • Traded Trai Turner (PFF #34 Guard)
    • Drafted Running Back A.J. Dillon

 

The ‘Free Aaron Jones‘ movement was in full swing in 2019 as injuries to Jamaal Williams and Davante Adams allowed the people to see the elite upside of Jones. Flash forward to 2020 and the Packers drafted A.J. Dillion in the second round and people are running for the hills. The Dillion signing most likely has more to do with both Jones and Williams being in contract years.

Now let’s analyze Jones’ 2019 to see if he can replicate it.

A lot of talk about Aaron Jones revolves around TD regression, but here is a fun fact. In 2018, 34% of his fantasy points came from TDs and in 2019 it was just five percent higher at 39%. The major difference for Jones was his touches jumped from 13.3 per game to 17.8 while playing 16 games versus 12 in 2018.

The bigger issue for Jones will be maintaining those touches. In 13 games with Jamaal Williams he averaged just 13.7 carries per game vs 19 when Williams was not on the field. In 10 games with Davante Adams and Williams he saw just 2 receptions per game. These numbers would lower Jones’ touches from 285 to 239. If we apply his points per touch over the last two seasons Jones would still be the RB8 in fantasy in 2019.

Draft Recommendation

Aaron Jones is not a top five back in 2020, but he is currently going as the RB10 in ADP. This draft cost allows Jones to still offer value in the second round as he will once again flirt with double-digit TDs in 2020.

 

Melvin Gordon

    • Signed with Denver Broncos
    • New Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur
    • Signed Graham Glasgow (PFF #13 Guard)
    • Lost Conor McGovern (PFF #10 Center)

 

Melvin Gordon got paid from a division rival, and it coincides with the Broncos bringing in a new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Shurmur has been a huge proponent of the workhorse back dating back to his days as an Andy Reid disciple as his QB coach.

As a play-caller Shurmur oversaw offenses that gave Steven Jackson, Trent Richardson, Peyton Hillis , Latavius Murray and Saquon Barkley at least 17 touches a game.

Now insert Gordon, who was brought in because he has the capability to be a workhorse back.

We can’t completely dismiss Phillip Lindsay, but here are the facts of Lindsay versus Gordon. Gordon was better in pass pro and graded higher as a receiver according to PFF, so Gordon is going to be the lead back and be the trusted back in the passing game. This along with the fact he will already be the lead back on early downs makes Gordon an intriguing pick to become a workhorse back.

The offense as a whole should make strides with Shurmur now in town, and Drew Lock heading into his second season in an offense that now includes Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and K.J. Hamler.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as the RB16 in the top of the 3rd round, Gordon makes for a solid RB2 in that range if you decide to go with a WR in round two. The only RB I would consider ahead of Gordon going in that range is James Conner.

 

Mark Ingram

    • Lost Marshal Yanda (PFF #4 Guard)
    • Drafted Running Back J.K. Dobbins

 

Mark Ingram’s 2020 outlooks might have taken a slight hit with the addition of J.K. Dobbins and the loss of Marshal Yanda, but his strong red zone and goal line usage should keep him in the top 20. In Weeks 1-15 of 2019, Ingram was top six in carries inside the five, and tied for 9th in red zone carries.

Even if Dobbins earns a role, Ingram should still dominate these touches as the reliable veteran in 2020. NumberFire did an interesting study on when running backs fall off a cliff, and they targeted 1800 carries as the benchmark. Heading into age 31 season, Ingram has only seen 1,523 carries because he shared the workload for most of his career, so he should have tread on his tires for one more run.

His play hasn’t fallen off either. Among players who saw 100 attempts last season Ingram was #2 in the NFL in success rate.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as the RB 27 in the 5th round, Ingram is a great value as his “projected decline” is baked into his ADP after finishing inside the top 10 among running backs in 2019.

 

James Conner

    • Ben Roethlisberger returns from injury
    • Ramon Foster Retired (PFF #53 Guard)
    • Signed Stefan Wisniewski (PFF #18 Guard)

 

The Steelers are an offensive machine for running backs with Big Ben dating back to 2013. From 2013-2018, every Steelers RB1 who played at least 8 games had at least 15 points per game in .5 PPR. Those numbers have constantly put them inside the top 15, and most years made them an RB1.

This was evident without Big Ben as the first half of 2019 James Conner was the RB9 in PPG before injuries limited him to only 3 games the rest of the season. Now with Big Ben returning the offense as a whole should bounce back. For example, in 2018 James Conner had 19.4 PPG would have been tied him with Derrick Henry in 2019 as the RB2 in fantasy.

Draft Recommendation

Going as the RB19 in back of the 3rd round, Conner offers RB1 upside every time he steps on the field. Conner should be drafted ahead of Jonathan Taylor, Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon, but is currently being drafted behind all these players in 2020 drafts.

 

Honorable Mention Tier 2 Running Backs

 

Alvin Kamara

    • Released Larry Warford (PFF #8 Guard)
    • Drafted Guard Cesar Ruiz

 

Alvin Kamara was one of the top performers in RBOM in 2017 and 2018 before seeing a slight dip in production.  A lot of this can contributed to his ankle injury last season. Another big factor was his major dip in TD production as his TD-to-touch ratio dropped nearly 4%. This figures to bounce back as the Saints had an outlier year when it came to carries inside the five and RB touchdowns overall.

From 2013-2018 the Saints averaged 25.5 carries inside the five per season while that number dropped to 13 last season. The rushing touchdowns were similarly affected as they dipped to 12, their lowest total since 2013. Kamara has converted 14 of 29 (48%) carries into TDs and saw 72% of the teams attempts when healthy in 2019.

If the Saints get to their average of 25.5, Kamara could see an additional six TDs in 2020

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as the RB4 at pick four, Kamara is being drafted right where he should be in 2020 as we could see him have his best season now that he’s fully healthy in the lead back role in a contract year.