The NFL season is less than two weeks away and for a lot of us, there’s some delicious little frosting to go on that thing they call pro football. It’s fantasy time.
Fantasy drafts are in full swing, and there’s still time to do some maneuvering to get your team situated for the new season. With no preseason games to observe, it’s even trickier than ever to sniff out those big difference-makers. But that’s what we’re going to try to do here.
Building a strong fantasy team consists of two key elements - knowing the numbers and trusting your gut. The math is very useful, and it’s instrumental in understanding the value of certain positions in your league in terms of points per game. For example, if your league is a half-PPR league, then the point distribution was as follows for the top 50 RBs/WRs from the 2019 season.
Other than the Christian McCaffrey/Michael Thomas “outliers,” this shows a very consistent trend for each of these positions. This is why those early running backs are so highly coveted. They’re scarce. And with so many wide receivers performing in a much tighter range, this position group gets overlooked early because there are so many viable options for a cheaper draft resource. Knowing these numbers is the easy part. Trusting your gut? That gets a little more tricky.
Today, we going to look at five different running backs who have some hidden value that could help your fantasy team. We’ll work our way down from the top dogs to the deep sleepers as we try to assemble the ultimate group of running backs to have on a roster this season.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Wouldn’t it be hilarious to win your league with a rookie? Wouldn’t it be even more hilarious to win it by making a bold draft choice? You may have not realized this, but I just did a little subliminal voodoo on you to help you properly pronounce the name of this year’s fantasy star. Wasn’t that hilarious?
Rookies always present risk because of the unknown, but that risk really doesn’t exist so much at the running back position. They come in and hit the ground running. Players like Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and Saquon Barkley have all been fantasy stars in their rookie season in recent years. Of course, it helps that most of them walked into a great situation.
And that is what Edwards-Helaire has done. Andy Reid is fantasy gold for pass-catching running backs.
Andy Reid has been a head coach for 20 years & 11 times he's had a RB finish in the top 10 in PPR. Brian Westbrook did it 5 times & he was No. 1 in 2007. LeSean McCoy & Jamaal Charles did it twice & Charles was No. 1 in 2013. Kareem Hunt & Duce Staley were in the top 10 once each— Jamey Eisenberg (@JameyEisenberg) July 11, 2019
The fact that Edwards-Helaire is coming off an 1,867 scrimmage yard college season with 453 of them being from his 55 catches is very tantalizing. He has the upside to join Christian McCaffrey as the only two running backs putting up 20+ points per game. He’s got zero competition, and really the only thing we don’t know about him is how his body will hold up in the NFL. His resiliency in college had been great so why even make that a concern?
He’s going as the RB#7 off the board because he’s got no past NFL history to pull from. While we don’t know Edwards-Helaire, we know Andy Reid and what he’s capable of. This is a “risk it for the biscuit” move that could produce huge dividends. I’m ride or die with Clyde ranked as my RB#2 and I’m not looking back.
If you think the Edwards-Helaire was a gamble move, then you’re going to get a kick out of this one. James Connor is a guy you should go after. He’s currently being drafted as RB#17, because they’re taking into account that he’s missed a total of 11 games over the course of his three years in the league. That’s understandable. He’s definitely an injury risk.
While the risk is there, it should be noted that when he’s healthy, he’s a fantasy gem. Last year, that includes a mark of 14.1 points per game, which would’ve put him at RB13. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. However, when we look at the year before when Ben Roethlisberger was playing, Connor put up 19.4 points per game. That would’ve been good enough for RB2, trailing only McCaffrey.
Similar to Edwards-Helaire, Connor has nobody behind him threatening his job. If you draft him, make sure to have a backup plan and add some good prospects later, but he’s got top five RB upside, and he most definitely should be on your radar.
You probably have seen Kareem Hunt’s name show up on fantasy sleeper lists, and for good reason. Hunt’s a great pick as his stand alone value gives you 10.3 points a game because of how he’s utilized in the passing game. That alone makes him a viable flex play.
But the real appeal is what he can do if Nick Chubb goes down to injury. Suddenly, Hunt would then catapult into a top three fantasy RB.
The same is true for Murray. While his floor is slightly lower than Hunts at 8.8 because most of his 11 touches a game come from rushes where there’s no PPR value, he still offers fantasy gold if Kamara gets hurt. And considering Kamara has missed action in each of the last two seasons, that’s not an unreasonable outcome.
The New Orleans Saints offense has finished top four in scoring in each of the last four seasons, so they are clearly known as an offensive juggernaut. Murray put up 29.5 and 32.2 fantasy points in the two games Kamara missed last year. At RB#40, Murray is a must own!
Check out this logic: if you felt Connor and Kamara each had a 50/50 chance of getting hurt this year, then owning both Connor and Murray would offer you a 75% of having at least one of those guys in your lineup. And having either of them in your lineup would give you one of top running back fantasy plays. Those are pretty good odds, considering their lower-cost investments. Partner that with Edwards-Helaire, and boom, there goes the dynamite!
All things being equal, Jonathan Taylor is the clear running back to own in Indianapolis. His talent is off the charts. And when considering the impressive offensive line the Colts have, it’s not hard to envision Taylor being a secret ingredient to a fantasy championship this year. If you can get him for the right value, by all means - go for it.
The problem is, he’s currently the RB#19 in drafts. That’s a little pricey for someone who hasn’t been handed over the reins just yet. So, in the meantime, why not cash in on the nice value of Marlon Mack. At the low cost of RB#38, you’d be getting a running back who averaged 12.3 points a game last year. Granted, that only equates to a finish of RB#21 and his chances of helping you down the stretch is low, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t capitalize on the gain right now. Buy low, watch him cash in on the Colts effective running game, and then look to pull the trigger on a mid-season trade for something good in return. For his cost, it’s a low-risk move.
Did you know that between David Johnson, Kenyan Drake, and Chase Edmonds starting at running back throughout the 2019 season, the Arizona Cardinals had 10 instances of their running back having at least 15 fantasy points in a game? If you look closely at each of those games and combine that with the Drake splits between Miami and Arizona, there has never been a more clear deduction - the Kliff Kingsbury offense is a super friendly place for a fantasy running back. For this reason, Drake is currently RB#12.
Drake is definitely a guy who could help you win a championship, but the evidence shows that it could come from any Cardinals running back. Edmonds isn’t as talented as Drake, but he can be very good in this offense. When Johnson went down midseason, Edmonds reeled off 27 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns for a total of 34 fantasy points. Had it not been for his own injury, Arizona may have not traded for Drake and we could be talking about a completely different Cardinals running back atop the draft boards this season.
If you’re a Drake owner, Edmonds is a must handcuff. But even if you’re not, Edmonds is a great stash since he’ll cost next to nothing at an average draft position of RB#52. Should he ever get a chance to start, he’d be at top fantasy play every time.
So, with this group of running backs we offered you a little bit of everything. You have some high-upside players who come with risk, but we’ve also provided a couple high-upside handcuffs who may come in handy later. And because all of these guys come with a discounted draft cost, it still leaves plenty of draft resources at your disposal to find great talent at other positions.