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NFL Draft

Fantasy Football: Ranking Sophomore RBs You Want To Draft

  • The Draft Network
  • June 11, 2020
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Rookies are always en vogue in the months following the NFL Draft. Keeping that same energy for players the following year is a little more difficult, but can be the key to fantasy success. 

Running back is a young man’s position in the NFL. The debate on whether or not to pay elite players at the position and the rapid decline and ouster of Todd Gurley in Los Angeles has brought this to the forefront. Fantasy managers think the same way, typically overvaluing rookie running backs in comparison to more proven veterans. However, plenty of rookie running backs make an immediate impact and carry that success into year two. Some break out as sophomores with a better understanding of their offense and increased opportunity. 

Twenty-three running backs were taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. They are broken down into five categories below: Stars, Productive, Intriguing, Hanging on by a Thread, and Irrelevant. Let’s take a closer look at those 23 RBs to evaluate their average draft position (ADP) and what they could bring to your fantasy team in 2020. 

Check out sophomore wide receivers you want to draft here.

STARS

-- Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (ADP: RB9)

-- Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: RB12)

Fantasy managers who took the plunge and paid the RB2 price tag last season saw a nice return on their investment. Jacobs was the Raiders’ starter right away and was productive from Week 1, while Sanders really shined and helped some win fantasy championships late in the season when Jordan Howard was injured. Rostering either one of them this season comes with an RB1 price tag.

Jacobs wasn’t exactly eased into a starer’s role last season. He had 23 carries in Week 1 and averaged a little more than 20 touches per game in his 13 games as a rookie. He played through a shoulder injury for most of the season and it kept him out of Week 14, 16, and 17. Fantasy managers were left with an empty feeling when they needed him for the playoffs. This season he should flirt with his full potential but needs to catch the ball more to be a true top 10 running back. The re-signing of Jalen Richard and drafting of Lynn Bowden Jr. do raise some small concerns about Jacobs’ ability to get more than the 2.1 targets per game he averaged in 2019. Still, he’s worth the low-end RB1 price. 

In totality, Sanders finished as the RB13 in total PPR points and RB20 on a points-per-game basis as a rookie. But, as mentioned above, he really found his stride once Howard was injured. In the Week 11-16 stretch Howard missed, Sanders averaged 18.8 points per game, ranking as the RB6. Howard is now in Miami and Sanders has the backfield to himself in Philadelphia. He’s shown he can put up RB1 numbers for more than a month, but you’ll be paying full price to see if he can do it over 16 games with (likely) fewer injuries to starting skill position players. If he falls to the latter portion of Round 2 or into Round 3, I’ll take a chance. 

PRODUCTIVE

-- Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills (ADP: RB22)

-- David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (ADP: RB24)

This duo was more of a mixed bag last season. Montgomery went higher in fantasy drafts and was expected to be the featured back for the Bears. He was, at times, but his lack of consistent usage became a major point of contention in Chicago. Singletary got way more competition from Frank Gore than many expected and suffered an early-season hamstring injury. He didn’t get his first double-digit touch game until Week 9 but had a solid finish to the season except he only scored one touchdown from Week 10 on.

Singletary’s touchdown woes could continue into 2020, which would seriously hamper his value. Rookie Zack Moss is primed to come in and pick up Gore’s old role in goal-to-go situations. Keep in mind the future Hall of Famer was 12th among all running backs in carries inside the 5-yard line last season. After finishing as the RB29 in total PPR points and RB26 on a per-game basis last season, I’m not willing to pay more than that price this year. Singletary is a flex play with too much workload risk to take as an RB2.

Montgomery finished as the RB25 overall but just the RB33 on a points-per-game basis. He even ranked in the same spot (RB33) on average from Weeks 7-17 when he was averaging 18.5 touches per game. Montgomery’s draft price isn’t crazy but the RB2 price tag is too rich. I’m not convinced the Bears’ offense will be much better this season or that they’ll be playing with more leads. If he plays 16 games you might get a low-end RB2 in total points, but he’s more of a mid-level flex play on a weekly basis. 

INTRIGUING

-- Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: RB43)

-- Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings (ADP: RB45)

-- Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: RB46)

-- Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: RB64)

This group can easily be re-named “high-end handcuffs.” Henderson doesn’t necessarily fit into that mold as he’s expected to split time with rookie Cam Akers in Los Angeles, but the rest of this group is one injury away (or a trade, in Armstead’s case) from being a weekly starter. 

The battle for touches in the Rams backfield will be very interesting to watch throughout the preseason. That position, led by Gurley, has been incredibly productive for fantasy managers in recent years. It’s not likely any one back gets the lion’s share of the workload out of the gates, but Henderson could spike into flex territory depending on the matchup if we feel comfortable with his usage. 

We already know what Mattison and Pollard can do if given the opportunity. If either Dalvin Cook or Ezekiel Elliott miss time, both are top 15 players any given week in a neutral matchup. Update: Cook looks like he might hold out. If he does, here's how you should value Mattison.

Armstead flashed his pass-catching prowess briefly in 2019, catching five balls for 52 yards and a touchdown in his only start last season (Week 17). If Leonard Fournette gets traded, Armstead could see 15 touches per game as a borderline RB2. 

HANGING ON BY A THREAD

-- Damien Harris, New England Patriots (ADP: RB69)

-- Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: RB71)

-- Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: RB80)

-- Bryce Love, Washington Redskins (ADP: RB101)

-- Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: RB105)

-- Qadree Ollison, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: N/A)

There’s a lot of talent in this section but little guaranteed playing time. Harris could be a Sony Michel clone in the Patriots offense if there’s an injury, but there are a ton of backs in New England and who gets what workload is anyone’s guess week to week. Hill could be an X-factor in the passing game, but the addition of J.K. Dobbins adds even more capable bodies in Baltimore’s backfield. Snell, Love, and Ollison need injuries to be fantasy relevant and each has competition for the job even if their team’s starter gets hurt. It’s hard to imagine any of these players being more than waiver wire fodder. Thompson’s raw skill on the Chiefs’ offense is tantalizing, but his path to any sort of playing time will prove to be too much to overcome.

IRRELEVANT

-- Jordan Scarlett, Carolina Panthers (ADP: N/A)

-- Trayveon Williams, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: N/A)

-- Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions (ADP: N/A)

-- Dexter Williams, Green Bay Packers (ADP: N/A)

-- Travis Homer, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: N/A)

-- Rodney Anderson, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: N/A)

-- Mike Weber, Free Agent (ADP: N/A)

-- Kerrith Whyte, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: N/A)

-- Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins (ADP: N/A)

This section is filled with third-string and practice squad players. None of them should be rostered unless there are multiple injuries in front of them on their team’s depth chart.

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