Startup Running Back Targets

Startup Running Back Targets

There isn’t a better feeling in fantasy than rolling out two or more top-tier running backs and intimidating your opposition when they look at your lineup. That’s why the first and second rounds of dynasty startups are usually littered with running backs, everyone is always looking for the next breakout at the position. Sometimes we overlook players that have already produced as high-end fantasy options because of changing situations or recent disappointments. I’m going to discuss three running backs that the overall community is down on for various reasons, and why they are currently being drafted near their floor.

Startup Running Back Targets

David Montgomery | Chicago Bears

2020 was a tale of two seasons for David Montgomery. Going into Week 10, he was the RB26 and most were expecting another disappointment from him. After their Week 11 bye though, he took off- averaging over 99 yards per week through the final six regular season games and being the best running back in fantasy during that stretch. Fast forward to now and people are drafting him like they expect a plummet back to the player that we saw in the first half of last season. That’s a mistake, and I’ll tell you why I’m still bullish on ”Monty”. 

First, let’s address the easy schedule. He faced some cupcake defenses to end the year and took advantage of them. Do you remember which teams that included?: Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, Houston, and Jacksonville. In case you haven’t noticed, more than half of them are in the NFC North, meaning he will face them each twice in 2021! His breakout doesn’t just boil down to an easy schedule though. After their bye week, Chicago made adjustments to the offensive line which included shifting Cody Whitehair from center to guard and moving Germain Ifedi from guard to tackle. They went from being a horrific run-blocking team to about average from that point on. With the addition of second-round rookie LT Tevin Jenkins, this is a unit that is on the rise.

The other knock on Montgomery is that he was only successful because Cohen was injured, which led to an uptick in receiving work. This is absolutely true, we can’t expect him to see 68 targets with a healthy Cohen involved. Something I bet you didn’t know is that Montgomery averaged 16.9 (half PPR) points in the games where he received less than five targets. That’s the same as Aaron Jones’ 2020 season average, who was the sixth-best running back in PPG. I’m also not convinced that Cohen will come right in and return to his same role. Montgomery rated as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best receiving running back last season, while Cohen averaged 4.38 yards per target in 2019. Since 1992, only two other running backs with over 40 targets have been worse.

After finishing last season as the RB4, Montgomery’s dynasty startup ADP is currently RB20. He just turned 24 years old, so he still has a few more years before the running back age apex, and is an excellent Startup Running Back Target. Don’t overlook him in your drafts.

Ronald Jones II | Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ronald Jones II was barely 20 years old when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. Saquon Barkley was the crown jewel of the class, but many argued for Jones being the second-best running back. He proved to be extremely raw to start his career. Jones barely saw the field as a rookie, and while he was given much more work in his second season, he didn’t produce much. His first career 100-yard rushing game didn’t come until Week 17 of 2019.

Going into his third year, hopes were high for Jones. Peyton Barber was finally out of the picture and Bruce Arians had been singing his praises all off-season. Just when it seemed like everything would line up for Jones, the Buccaneers signed Leonard Fournette right before Week 1 and created another messy backfield. It wasn’t so bad for Jones at the start, as he averaged five more touches than Fournette through the first six games and was the RB13. Then came the fumbles, dropped passes, and missed blocking assignments that got him benched several times between Weeks 7-9, causing fantasy managers to question their sanity for even trusting him in their lineups. After a huge bounce back in Week 10 against the Panthers where he put up 192 rushing yards, Jones appeared to regain the trust of the coaching staff and finished the year strong, outside of missing two games due to a broken finger.

Jones was set to be the lead back for the Bucs’ playoff run, but he injured his quad during pre-game warmups, and then the legend of “Playoff Lenny” was born. Fournette went on a tear and led the Bucs’ rushing attack on the way to a Super Bowl victory, in which while Jones barely played. Many saw this as Fournette taking the job, but this is a simple case of “fresh legs” looking good towards the end of the year. Lenny had always been a workhorse back before last season. He averaged 18.5 carries per game for his career before 2020, but only 7.5 per game in Tampa. Throughout the season, Jones was the better runner in nearly every rushing metric. He averaged the sixth-most yards created per attempt, and his 5.1 yards per carry was also the sixth-best among running backs last season. Despite his mid-season blunders and three missed games, he still ended up with 51.9% of the teams’ rushing attempts, which was in the Top 10. 

No one is ever going to mistake Ronald Jones for Alvin Kamara, he looks awful as a receiver most of the time. He still has fantasy appeal though, as I mentioned before, he was a borderline RB1 for the first half of the fantasy season with only two games of more than 20 receiving yards. Also, remember that he’s the same age as some incoming rookies at only 23 years old. Keep in mind that 2021 is the final year of his rookie deal. Either the team will commit to him by offering an extension, or he can go out and find the best situation for himself as a 24-year-old free agent in 2022. Much better days are ahead for “Rojo”, so don’t pass up his ADP of RB34. Another excellent choice for your Startup Running Back Targets. 

Josh Jacobs | Las Vegas Raiders

If I told you there was a 23-year-old running back with two consecutive seasons of over 1,300 total yards, coming off an RB8 fantasy finish, where would you be willing to draft him? My bet is higher than RB14, which is Josh Jacobs’ current startup ADP. Now, I will have to add some context to his 2020 season because anyone that rostered Jacobs knows that it didn’t feel like you had the eighth-best running back. He finished outside of the Top 30 RBs, the same number of weeks that he was in the Top 12 (5 times each). He was extremely TD-dependent and his boom/bust performances put fantasy managers in the tough position of not wanting to start him while also not being comfortable benching him- Fantasy Purgatory!  

The season was volatile for Jacobs, but the off-season got even worse. The Raiders decided to bring in free agent running back Kenyan Drake on a two-year deal. They also departed with several offensive line starters, including their best one, Rodney Hudson, who was traded to Arizona. With all these negative factors going against Jacobs, why am I still interested?

Let’s start with the offensive line concerns. You usually don’t like to see your running back lose starting offensive lineman, but this was a bad unit last season. ExpandTheBoxscore ranked them as the ninth-worst line in 2020. Gabe Jackson’s play had declined, and Trent Brown was often injured. Rodney Hudson was the only major loss, but they feel confident in third-year center Andre James can fill his shoes. Several other young linemen will be competing for roles, which should bring out the best in them. The left side of the O-line is actually solid with Kolten Miller who has improved every year since he was drafted in 2018 and Richie Incognito who is still going strong.

Next, I’ll address the addition of Kenyan Drake. Drake wasn’t good enough to take over the Arizona backfield from Chase Edmonds- a career backup. The Cardinals decided they were better off pursuing James Connor, who looked like a shell of himself last season, instead of bringing Drake back. Reports are that Drake will primarily be used as a receiver out of the backfield. While that does limit Jacobs’ fantasy ceiling, we have already seen him produce at a high level without a prominent receiving role. The Raiders have always used another running back on third downs, whether it was Jalen Richard, Devontae Booker, or DeAndre Washington in 2019. That is the role that Drake was signed for, he should have little impact on Jacobs’ volume. Do not be afraid to add Jacobs to your list of Startup Running Back Targets.