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Running Back Opportunity Analysis

The Running Back Opportunity Analysis – Tier 3

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 Tiers 1 and 2 breakdowns.

 

Tier 3 – Running Backs who saw 10-14.9 touches per game who performed well in RBOM. This tier is where we can find mid-to-late-round gems in the 2020 draft. It is important to evaluate this tier to see if it is possible for them to take the next step in opportunities.

 

Tier 3

Elite2019 Touches Per Game2019 Points Per Game
Jordan Howard14.311.8
Austin Ekeler14.016.7
Damien Williams12.811.6
Raheem Mostert10.110.8
Kareem Hunt10.110.3
David Johnson10.09.7
Honorable Mention2019 Touches Per Game2019 Points Per Game
Miles Sanders14.312.1
Ronald Jones12.79.7
Tevin Coleman11.38.9
Latavius Murray11.38.8

 

Jordan Howard

    • Signed with Miami
    • New Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey
    • Signed Guard Ereck Flowers (PFF #33 Guard)
    • Signed Center Ted Karras (PFF #19 Center)
    • Drafted Tackle Austin Jackson

 

Jordan Howard has been solid on the ground over his career averaging just under 1,000 yards per season. Last year Howard started to get it going on the ground, posting back-to-back games with at least 80 yards and a TD before going down with a season-ending injury. Now he has signed with Miami and looks to be the favorite for early down work.

The Dolphins have made a lot of changes, most notability hiring offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Gailey has produced a lot of fantasy production from the RB position dating back to his days with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Chris Ivory had his lone 1,000 rushing campaign under Gailey as an early down grinder that was paired with Bilal Powell.

The Miami Dolphins have a similar situation that Howard could take advantage of in 2020. The main issue will be the Dolphins’ run blocking as last season they were dead last in adjusted line yards. The Dolphins did bring in free agents Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras along with drafting Austin Jackson in the first round, but this group will still be towards the bottom in the NFL.

Draft Recommendation

The lack of run blocking could prevent Howard from eclipsing the 4 yards per carry mark this season, and with his limited pass catching ability Howard might only return low-end flex value. Currently being drafted in the 8th round at 88th overall, Howard can be had as an RB3 or 4, which isn’t bad value.

That being said, a pick like Howard most likely wont win you a league so unless you went zero RB early and are desperate for an RB2, you can probably pivot to a wide receiver in that round like Marvin Jones, Christian Kirk, or Jamison Crowder.

 

 

Austin Ekeler

    • Melvin Gordon and Philip Rivers depart
    • Signed Bryan Bulaga (PFF #15 Tackle)
    • Acquired Guard Trai Turner (PFF #34 Guard)
    • Center Mike Pouncey returning from injury

 

The QB change to Tyrod Taylor will impact Austin Ekeler in the passing game. In three seasons with Taylor, LeSean McCoy had a 16 game pace of 70 targets per season. This would be a huge downgrade from the 108 Ekeler had in 2019.

However, with the improvements to the offensive line along with the new featured RB role, Ekeler’s additional carries should help compensate for a reduction of targets. Last season in the first four weeks without Melvin Gordon, Ekeler averaged 14 carries per game.

That would put his 16 game pace at 224 which is 92 more than what he had in 2019. If we factor in the loss of targets but the increase in run game production, Ekeler would still fall inside the top 10 for RBs in 2019.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as the RB13 at 15th overall, Ekeler is going right where he should be as as an early second round RB. I view Ekeler in a tier that includes Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, James Conner, and Aaron Jones. In any PPR format Ekeler can be drafted at the top of this tier right behind players like Miles Sanders, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Josh Jacobs in 2020.

 

Kareem Hunt

    • New Head Coach Kevin Stefanski
    • Signed Jack Conklin (PFF #10 Tackle)
    • Drafted Tackle Jedrick Wills

 

No one is doubting Kareem Hunt’s talent as he’s a legit RB1 if given the opportunity. However, it will be tougher for Hunt to get on the field with the Browns set to utilize more two-RB sets with a fullback as they acquired Andy Janovich this off-season.

Another key element in evaluating Hunt is the lack of tight end usage down the stretch of 2019. In the eight games Hunt played, Demetrius Harris and Ricky Seals-Jones combined for 21 targets. This won’t happened again as the Browns signed Austin Hooper and get David Njoku back from injury. This should immediately impact Hunt who over that span last season saw over five targets per game.

On a more positive note new head coach Kevin Stefanski does have a history of being a part of schemes that utilize a second back. In 2017 after Dalvin Cook went down, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon both carved out a viable role as an RB2s after Week 5.

This could be a very realistic scenario for Hunt as he is the superior passing down back to Nick Chubb, and with no clear WR3 behind Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr..

Draft Recommendation

Kareem Hunt has seen his value steadily rise as he is now locked in as a 5th round pick. At this price many fantasy players are drafting him over Tyler Lockett, T.Y Hilton, and Keenan Allen who all offer a safer floor and a higher ceiling barring an injury to Nick Chubb.

Even last season with his heavy pass game usage Hunt still averaged just over 10 points per game in half-point ppr. That total was outside the top 30 among RBs in 2019. Unless Hunt begins to fall into the late 6th or early 7th round, it’s best to grab players with more secure and clear roles in 2020.

 

Raheem Mostert

    • Acquired Tackle Trent Williams
    • Joe Staley retired (PFF #7 Tackle)
    • Traded RB Matt Breida

 

Now that Raheem Mostert’s holdout is over we can comfortably dive into his 2020 outlook. The first thing to point out is that Matt Breida is gone and it is clear that Mostert is primed for an uptick in workload. This is great sign for Mostert as he was an absolute stud in RBOM, finishing inside the top three in this metric in 2019.

His elite points per snap and touch numbers make him the exact type of player to target from this analysis. The real question is can he get more touches? A dive into Kyle Shanahan’s history could help us get a better picture.

Before 2018, Kyle Shanahan routinely gave his RB1 at least 225 carries per season, including Alfred Morris, Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde, and Steve Slaton (!). Also, over the last eight games including the playoffs Mostert began to see a heavier workload. During this stretch he averaged 15.8 touches for 99 yards and 12 TDs.

The TDs alone are absurd, but once Shanahan finds a guy who fits his system he becomes RB1 gold.

Draft Recommendation

We are starting to see Mostert’s ADP creeping into the 4th round. Based on RBOM, Mostert is a great pick at the 4/5 round turn. He is going right where he should be as the risk of him taking a backseat to Tevin Coleman or Jerrick McKinnon in any given week is possible.

It is clear that when given the touches Mostert makes of the most of them which is exactly why you should bank on Shanahan giving him that chance in 2020 making him a solid pick at his current ADP.

 

David Johnson

    • Traded to Houston Texans

The move to Houston puts David Johnson in line to be a featured RB1 again in 2020.  It is easy to make that argument after Carlos Hyde hit 1,000 yards rushing in Houston last season. The issue is Hyde did most of his damage between the tackles and during his career has been more successful there than Johnson.

Last season, Hyde scored 94% of his fantasy points on the ground. In contrast, David Johnson scored 63% of his fantasy points in 2019 through the air. This might not be the ideal fit for Johnson as the Texans have been in the bottom five in target percentage to the running back each of the last two seasons.

However, in the end it is about how much opportunity a running back has and Hyde is vacating 245 carries and 10 receptions from last season.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted in the middle of the 4th round Johnson isn’t being over-drafted, but the talent around him is hard to ignore as A.J. Brown, Robert Woods, and Tyler Lockett are all being drafted after him. More secure backs like David Montgomery and Mark Ingram are going behind Johnson, as well.

Overall, I would fade Johnson at his current ADP as his fit in this offense is questionable and the other players being drafted after him provides a lot more upside in 2020.

 

Honorable Mention Tier 3 Running Backs

Miles Sanders

    • Lost Brandon Brooks (PFF #1 Guard)
    • Jordan Howard left via free agency

 

Doug Pederson has been the head coach of the Eagles since 2016. During that time frame no running back has hit 200 touches in a season until Miles Sanders eclipsed it in 2019. That shows the writing is on the wall for Sanders to become a monster entering his second season as the clear lead back in the Eagles offense.

This is evident as the Eagles have passed on signing multiple veterans this off-season. In 2019, Sanders already began to show glimpses of RB1 upside. After the bye and Howard’s injury, Sanders averaged 16.6 points per game while seeing just under 20 touches in those contests. These numbers would have made him an RB7 in 2019.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as the RB8, Sanders is already being drafted as an RB1 and should be drafted with confidence in the back of the first round. After the big five RBs Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry, Sanders, and Clyde-Edwards Helaire make up the next tier for me, so you can draft Sanders as high as pick six and I would not blink an eye.

This confidence comes from the fact that not a lot of running backs have a better QB/HC combo than Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson. This level of offensive continuity should result in a lot of scoring chances in 2020.

 

Ronald Jones

    • Signed Tom Brady
    • Did not re-sign Demar Dotson (PFF #31 Tackle)
    • Drafted Tackle Tristan Wirfs

 

Ronald Jones made an incredible leap in his second season after being one of the worst running backs in 2018. Jones is still young; he won’t turn 23 until August and now he is playing with Tom Brady. Brady should immediately put the Bucs in much better game scrips which is a boost to Jones value.

Due to the negative game scrips brought on by Jameis Winston’s turnover-prone style, Jones only exceeded 50% of the teams snaps three times in 2019. Another key element Brady brings is red zone opportunities. Since 2013 the Patriots have averaged 26 carries inside the five yard line per season, which is the most in the NFL during that span.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as the RB30 in the 6th round, Jones may see his ADP drop after Tampa signed LeSean McCoy. Regardless, Jones’ opportunity with a great head coach and QB is too much to ignore. If you’re looking for either an RB3 or 4 in the draft, I would not hesitate to pull the trigger on Jones as he looks to make another leap in 2020.

 

Tevin Coleman

    • Acquired Trent Williams
    • Joe Staley retired (PFF #7 Tackle)
    • Traded RB Matt Breida
    • Mike Person Retired (PFF #37 Guard)

 

Raheem Mostert re-signed so it looks like Tevin Coleman will once again be taking over the start-but-get-out-touched role. A career RB2 in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme Coleman lacks a lot of upside, but the efficiency of this run game puts Coleman on the flex radar week in and week out.

Another key element is the losses of Emmanuel Sanders (free agency) and Deebo Samuel (injury), which could open up more opportunities in the passing game for Coleman. A big red flag for Coleman is the disappearing act he had once Raheem Mostert took over the main role down the stretch.

After Week 13, he failed to crack the top 50 running backs once. Even in the playoffs Coleman had the one great performance but was barely used in the other two games.

Draft Recommendation

Currently going in the 9th round as the RB37 Coleman’s draft cost is probably right where he will finish. At this point in the draft it makes more sense to target other players that could help you win your league as Coleman has never shown this level of upside in his career.

Notable players I would take over Coleman that are going after him in drafts include Jamison Crowder, Zack Moss, Mecole Hardman, Boston Scott, and DeSean Jackson.

* Damien Williams Opted-out

*Latavius Murray failed to qualify once you remove the games he started

Sources: Expand The BoxScore, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference