Top 12 Fantasy Running Backs: Hall of Fame Week Edition

Mike Fanelli | July 29th, 2019

The 2019 NFL season is almost here! Well, the preseason at least. The Hall of Fame game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos is just a few days away. The regular season is a little more than five weeks away, but football is back baby! Of course, that means redraft fantasy leagues will be drafting left and right over the next month or so. With that in mind, here are my top 12 running backs for the 2019 season.

My rankings are based on PPR scoring and I will have an updated top 12 after the third preseason week so be sure to check back then. For all my redraft PPR rankings, click here.

Make sure you also check out my other fantasy rankings:

1) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Last year’s offensive rookie of the year award winner, Barkley was close to perfect for fantasy owners. As a rookie, on a terrible offense, he finished as a top 24 running back in 93% of his games last year. He had the highest usage rate among running backs at 35.8% and was third in red-zone touches with 61. His 121 targets and 91 catches were second only to Christian McCaffrey last season and with Odell Beckham out of the picture, more of the passing game could flow through Barkley. Even with his 352 touches last year, Barkley averaged 5.8 yards per touch and has the ability to shoulder even more of the offensive workload this season.

2) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

As impressive as Barkley was last season, McCaffrey was just as good, scoring just 0.3 fantasy points less. McCaffrey led all running backs in targets and catches, setting the NFL record for most catches in a season by a running back with 107. Despite a questionable at best offensive line and an injured Cam Newton, McCaffrey still averaged five yards per carry even though he repeatedly faced a stacked box. Greg Olsen will return in 2019 but he has played just 16 games over the last two seasons because of a foot injury. If Newton can’t throw the ball as often downfield and Olsen can’t stay healthy, it means even more targets for McCaffrey, making him worth his weight in gold in PPR scoring.

3) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Many might be surprised that Ezekiel Elliott‘s name hasn’t popped up yet but it will in a moment. However, third in my rankings is Kamara because he is more of a pass-catcher, plays on the better offense, and will now see a bigger role on that offense. Last season Kamara was second among running backs in total touchdowns with 18, while his running mate Mark Ingram had seven. Where Kamara really shined last year was in the red-zone. Kamara was second in rushing attempts with 52 and first in catches with 21. With Ingram in Baltimore and replaced by Latavius Murray, Kamara will take on a bigger role in the offense.

4) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Some will think I dislike Zeke because I have him as my RB4 but that’s simply not true. He is fourth on my overall draft board and I would happily take him over any wide receiver in the first round. The downside with Elliott is there though. He is another security guard bump away from potentially facing a suspension. I believe his 77 catches last year (more than his first two years combined) won’t sustain this year. The Cowboys brought back Jason Witten, signed Randall Cobb, and drafted Tony Pollard in the offseason. All three will catch passes in the middle of the field and as a check-down option, limiting the number of targets Zeke will get this year. This is where tier one rightfully comes to an end.

5) Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

As of right now, I haven’t moved Gordon down in rankings over his training camp hold out situation. I believe that he will either get an extension or will show up for week one. However, when I redo my rankings after the third preseason games, if he hasn’t shown up by then, he will drop. On the field, Gordon is one of the better fantasy backs in the league. Despite missing four games last year he finished as the RB8 overall and the RB5 on a points per game basis. While Gordon has an injury history, he misses just 2.25 games per year on average for his career and when he is on the field, he is one of the most consistent running backs from week-to-week.

6) David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

Even despite all the nonsense going on in Arizona last year, Johnson finished as the RB9 with 1,386 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns. Despite poor coaching, two different play-callers, a horrible offensive line and a merry-go-round at quarterback, Johnson still finished as top 24 running back in 63% of his games. Now he’s the center point of Kliff Kingsbury’s explosive offense that will properly use Johnson in the passing game. With Kyler Murray under center (or more likely in the shotgun), opposing defenses will have to focus on his running ability, opening up bigger running lanes and less attention for Johnson.

7) James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

In his first season as the starter, Conner didn’t disappoint fantasy owners. While he tailed off in the back half of the season and got hurt, Connor still finished as the RB6 despite missing three games while finishing as a top 24 running back in 77% of his games. The Steelers were the most pass-happy team in 2018 but with Antonio Brown gone, the team will likely lean on the running game more this season. Benny Snell doesn’t worry me, he is more depth than a threat at this point. While Jaylen Samuels‘ played well in Conner’s stead last year, he isn’t capable of a full-time starter’s workload. Conner’s starting job is safe and on this offense, he has a fair amount of upside.

8) Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

I had really high hopes for Mixon this season. They hired a new offensive-minded head coach and spent their first-round pick on left tackle Jonah Williams. However, Williams injured his shoulder and is out for the season, forcing starting guard Cordy Glenn back to left tackle. If that wasn’t bad enough, the other starting guard, Clint Boling, surprisingly retired two weeks ago. The preseason hasn’t started and Mixon is already down 40% of his starting offensive line. Mixon finished as the RB10 last year despite missing two games and behind a bad offensive line. He should finish as a mid to low end RB1 again this year but he no longer has the upside to finish as the RB1 anymore.

9) Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets

This is where tier three begins as all of these guys should be viewed as a RB1 but have a big question mark attached to them. For Bell, it’s two things. One, how well does he play after sitting out last season? Two, how will he play on a new offense without a Hall of Fame quarterback and wide receiver around him? Bell is a great talent and has shown season after season to be an excellent fantasy running back but his new situation and a year away scares me. He also has a history of injuries that will turn some fantasy owners off. Bell will more than likely be fine and finish as a RB1 this season, but things could go south in New York quickly.

10) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Chubb is the one player in my running back rankings I feel uncomfortable with his ranking. Despite having Carlos Hyde start the first six games of the season (thanks Hue!), Chubb finished as a top 24 running back in 50% of his games. However, with the addition of Odell Beckham, the Browns should be more pass-happy this season, limiting Chubb’s upside. Also, while it’s not till week 10, Kareem Hunt will cut into Chubb’s workload. Furthermore, unless Duke Johnson is traded, it will limit Chubb’s impact in the passing game. I can see Chubb finishing as the rushing leader and I can see him in a full-blown running back committee.

11) Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

The RB1 from last season on a points per game basis, Gurley would have finished as the top overall running back for the second consecutive season if not for the issues in his knee. After sitting out the last two games of the season, Gurley had one good playoff game and struggled the rest of the postseason. In the offseason, the Rams matched Malcolm Brown‘s offer sheet and traded up in the third round to select Darrell Henderson. Since the Rams still haven’t paid Gurley a dime of that big extension he signed last offseason, they would be wise to limit his workload and protect his knee. Of all the running backs on this list, Gurley is the one I’m most scared to draft.

12) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

In his first two years in the league, Cook has played in just 47% of the games because of injuries. Can he stay healthy this season? That’s the million-dollar question. If he can, the Vikings are committed to using him as a three-down running back after letting Latavius Murray leave in free agency. Mike Zimmer has repeatedly said he wants to run the ball, control the clock, and play good defense. If Cook holds up, he could push for the rushing title. The Vikings spent two of their top four draft picks, including their first-round pick, on offensive linemen. Last season, Cook finished as a top 24 running back in 73% of his games, showing that when he is on the field, he is fantasy productive.

HM) Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

For the honorable mention spot, Freeman kicks off the start of tier four and the RB2s. Because Freeman missed 14 games last year with injuries, he was unfairly slapped with the “injury prone” label. However, in his other four seasons, he has missed just three combined games. From 2015-2017, Freeman finished as the RB1, RB6, and RB13. Tevin Coleman is in San Francisco while Ito Smith averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season. There is no one on the roster that can challenge Freeman’s feature role. The only downside to Freeman is the Falcons are a pass-happy offense that limits his upside. If he stays healthy, he is one of the safer running backs to take this year.

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