Evaluating Rushers into 2022

Updated: August 8th 2022

Evaluating running backs is a notoriously difficult task using many basic statistics as running back production relies extensively on many factors outside of the back’s control.  The often cited “yards per carry” is one of the single worst NFL statistics in evaluating a player because of these issues.  The following takes a deeper dive evaluating rushing performance by more useful criteria.

The Data

I aggregate 2018-2021 data of running backs with at least 100 carries during that timeframe creating a four-year sample of 112 running backs.  This gives a big enough sample to matter while keeping the data relevant to the evaluation of current NFL players. This article focuses on three key rushing metrics from Pro Football Reference on a per attempt basis: Yards Before Contact (YBC), Yards After Contact (YAC), and Broken Tackles (BRK) to evaluate a group of running backs heading into 2022.

These metrics all depend on outside factors independent of running back skill to some degree.  As examples: offensive line, scheme, situation, and running back role all potentially influence yards before contact; downfield blocking may affect yards after contact;  broken tackle rate can be influenced by how quickly second and later defenders get to the ball carrier.   With that being said, broken tackle rate is widely considered among the most running back independent measures.  The data also suggests it influences yards after contact.  An increase in broken tackle rate correlates with an increase in yards after contact as seen in the plot below.   Yards before contact, on the other hand, displays minimal to no relationship to yards after contact or broken tackle rate (R2 = 0.00 for both) in the data set.

As always, nothing is absolutely certain.  Sometimes we don’t have the available data to properly segregate individual player influences.  Ben Linsey makes an anecdotal case for running back influence on yards before contact:  “The evidence points toward running backs with plus speed and vision being able to consistently avoid contact despite middling to below-average blocking in front of them.”  So, while yards before contact is likely the most team-dependent metric of the three focused in on this article, running back skill also influences it.

The following highlights a number of interesting players heading into the season with ranks of (broken tackles, yards after contact, and yards before contact) from the data sample.

Quality 2nd Year Running Backs to Watch

The hype for Javonte Williams (1 BRK, 33 YAC, 55 YBC) remains strong going into his second season largely due to his ability to break tackles which translated from college.  Williams essentially broke the broken tackle metric in this sample as the top-ranked back.  He more than doubled the average broken tackle rate and was about 18% higher than the next running back in this metric.  The Denver offense should increase scoring opportunities with Russell Wilson at the helm.  The main question is how much Williams’ role increases this year.  Melvin Gordon (27, 35, 47) is absolutely a quality back but wasn’t a priority free agent for the Broncos and only resigned for a marginal deal after failing to secure a bigger contract elsewhere.

Many people call Najee Harris (13, 39, 98) a plodder due to his sub-4 yards per carry figure from his first year.  This is far from the truth.  Pittsburgh’s abysmal offensive line led to one of the worst yards before contact numbers in the dataset which distorted his per carry numbers.  He’s going to get a ton of touches in this offense (which we care about for fantasy).  The offensive line and offense still projects poorly going into the season though.

Elijah Mitchell (44, 15, 57) ranks very similarly to Saquon Barkley (43, 12, 86) and Jonathan Taylor (54, 11, 10) in broken tackles and yards after contact.  San Francisco provides an excellent environment to rack up yards before contact also if Mitchell is able to maintain a hold on most of the rushes.  The lack of passing game utilization for 49er backs limits fantasy upside.

Many project Breece Hall to immediately assume a true workhorse-type role for the Jets after the New York traded up in the 2nd round to get him.  Michael Carter (20, 25, 79) meanwhile performed admirably in a challenging situation last season.  He might just be too good to completely take out of a meaningful role in New York.

Rhamondre Stevenson (3, 8, 91) looked borderline unstoppable at times last year plowing through prospective tacklers for New England.  Does a path exist for him to take over the main back duties or contribute significantly in the passing game?  Incumbent starter Damien Harris (40, 46, 16) ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd highest graded running backs each of the last two seasons.  The Patriots possess an impressive duo at running back no matter how the split plays out.

Green Bay Running Backs

Aaron Jones (25, 22, 15) and AJ Dillon (11, 23, 64) also form one of the butter running back duos for any NFL team.  They complement each other in ways which allow the Packers to utilize both in optimal situations but are both diverse enough to use alone without giving away the play call.  They both make for quality fantasy targets at cost on a Green Bay team without much in the way of proven receiving options.

Josh Jacobs

If one made a list of the most underrated NFL running backs, Josh Jacobs (18, 34, 87) would have to be near the top.  He sits among the most technically sound rushers in the league.  Jacobs ranks as one of the most evasive workhorse backs in the league over the last few seasons.  Only Nick Chubb (6, 1, 39), who I consider the top rusher in the league, compares with Jacobs in terms of making tacklers miss among lead backs as seen in the table below.

Most Forced Missed Tackles on Runs | Since 2019 per Pro Football Focus

Unfortunately for Jacobs, he’s another back stuck behind an awful offensive line the last couple of seasons as evidenced by his 87th ranked yards before carry and probably isn’t getting much better this season.  Some situational concerns also exist with a new coaching staff in Las Vegas this year and failure to utilize the 5th year rookie contract option but Jacobs is in a class of his own for Raiders’ running backs.

Concerns for Cam Akers

It’s been a rough start for Cam Akers (106, 56, 65) who I liked coming out of college.  A devastating Achilles injury short-circuited his second year before it began (he remarkably made his return in 2021, albeit ineffectually) after flashing at the end of his rookie season.  Unfortunately Akers’ body of work leaves a lot to be desired.  He hasn’t shown to be particularly good at any rushing aspect so far. Akers ranks among the worst tackle breakers in the data set next to players past their prime and backups.

Bottom-10 in Broken Tackle Rate

We also don’t know how effective he will be as the history of recovery from Achilles injuries is not encouraging, particularly for running backs.  The Rams were dead last in running back target rate for Stafford’s first season and the offensive line struggles in run blocking.  Akers’ fantasy case really rests on a presumed large rushing workload with touchdown upside for an efficient passing offense.

Cordarrelle Patterson probably won’t Repeat 2021

2021 produced a nice fantasy story for Cordarrelle Patterson (99, 76, 67), the long-time multi-purpose player in his age 30 year.  He beat his previous high in receiving yards and destroyed his previous rushing totals.  Atlanta cast Patterson as the main rusher primarily due to a lack of viable running back options.  The main problem is Patterson just wasn’t very good rushing the ball ranking below average in most categories.  This lack of success shouldn’t be a surprise as Patterson specialized as a returner with occasional wide receiver gadget plays on offense during his career.  While Patterson should maintain some role on offense with plays in the passing game, it’s difficult imagining the Falcons continuing using him as a significant portion of the run game unless his fellow Atlanta running backs fail miserably again.

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2021 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: August 1st 2021

My annual look at RSO auction values moves to running backs.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished this year.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.  Provided fantasy stats and rankings utilize PPR per game scoring.

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

RB1 s

Perhaps the most striking aspect for top running backs is how close the top contracts are together.  The top-6 average contracts are within $3 million per year of each other.  McCaffrey, Barkley, Cook and Kamara should be no surprise near the top.  Once again, rookies come at a premium in early auctions with the caveat of extremely small samples so don’t be surprised to see Harris this far up.  He’s virtually assured of a huge workload for Pittsburgh with volume in the run and passing game.  Taylor was a bulletproof prospect coming out of Wisconsin with a striking athletic and production profile and landed behind one of the better offensive lines in the NFL.  He only got better as 2020 went on adjusting to the Colt’s rushing scheme.  The main question is how much receiving work he gets with Nyheim Hines cemented as the passing down back.

Henry posted the 5th highest rushing season of all time with over 2,000 yards. He was still significantly behind McCaffery, Kamara, and Cook in per game scoring bringing nothing as a route runner where he pitifully averaged less than four yards per target last season.  There’s definitely a cap in non-PPR leagues.  Fortunately that cap is high.  Chubb has similar issues to Henry as maybe the best pure rusher in the league but with limited passing game volume.  He also shares work with likely the league’s best RB2 in Kareem Hunt.   The masses downgraded Elliott’s projections after a disappointing 2020.  He gets his offensive line back healthy and is supposedly in the best shape of his career.   Mixon deals with the same issues as last season, a great all-around running back playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league limiting his efficiency.  Gio Bernard signed with Tampa Bay potentially opening up even more passing volume.

In the RB2 Mix

Second year running backs dominate the top of the RB2 contract tier.  The Rams lost Akers for (at least) the season with a devastating Achilles tear that could derail his career just as it was really beginning.    The dynamic Dobbins averaged a robust 6 yards per carry as a rookie in a Lamar Jackson –centric offense set up for big rushing totals.  Jackson and Edwards extracted over 300 rushes and a rushing QB like Jackson isn’t known for utilizing running backs in the passing game much.  Gibson far exceeded expectations as a rookie for a player with limited running back snaps in college, finishing as the fantasy RB20 as Washington’s main back.  He wasn’t particularly effective in the passing game for a player known as a receiver coming out of school, produced an extremely high touchdown rate bound to regress, and averaged only 43% of snaps his rookie year.  The dynamic rusher needs a big boost in play time to meet expectations this season but has top-five upside if he manages a true workhorse load.  Edwards-Helaire averaged over 20 touches per game and was on pace for over 1.800 total yards prior to the signing of LeVeon Bell (who is now off the team) plus is due for serious positive touchdown regression on the league’s top offense after only five scores last year.  Will Kansas City feature him next season?  Swift runs behind Detroit’s heavily invested offensive line and should be a featured part of the Lions’ passing game.  How much work does Jamaal Williams take and will the offense overall be effective enough to manufacture enough scoring chances?

Jones produced consecutive top-5 fantasy seasons.  The Aaron Rodgers discontentment news seems to have depressed his value significantly.  Ekeler likely won’t ever be a true bellcow but maintains massive receiving upside which can easily put him in RB1 territory.  We also see the two other highly drafted rookies, Etienne and Williams, in this group.  Both should have significant roles from the beginning but not might have dominant usage with quality veterans in the fold on Jacksonville and Denver.   The fantasy community is down on Jacobs and Montgomery after top-15 seasons largely due to perceived increased competition.  Injury concerns probably depress Carson’s price as he’s had two consecutive top-15 seasons without any significant additions in Seattle.

Uncertain Roles and Committee Backs

It won’t surprise me if Davis, Gaskin, or Edmunds maintains consistent lead roles and provide solid RB2 value.  It also wouldn’t shock me if they are mere cogs in running back committees.  How long do Robinson and Gordon keep key roles away from the highly drafted rookies?  Does Mostert, Sermon, or any other San Francisco back take a big enough role in a high volume rushing attack to warrant every-week fantasy starter status?  Moss played well last season and looked to be the back in Buffalo for high-leverage goal-line and passing downs.  Will there be enough work in an offense that transformed from one of the most run-heavy to one of the most pass-heavy, especially with quarterback Josh Allen commanding healthy redzone usage?

Outside the Top-40

The Rams lost Akers which opens the door for Henderson to assume lead duties.  He gets a major value bump but expect a significant veteran presence added to a running back room devoid of much NFL experience.  Williams and Singletary should have consistent weekly touches in limited upside environments, classic “zero RB” candidates (yes the term “zero RB” makes no sense).  Hines averaged over 55 receptions per year in his career on a Colts team without many established receiving threats.  His role does not really change with a Taylor injury so he’s not really a handcuff with upside.  Pollard, Mattison, and Murray are among the top handcuffs with limited fantasy usage outside of injury to the starter.

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2020 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: August 30th 2020

My annual look at RSO auction values moves to running backs.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished this year.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.  Provided fantasy stats and rankings utilize PPR scoring.

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

Top Five

Barkley, McCaffrey, Elliott and Kamara are high-end talents with extreme workloads in the rushing and/or receiving game without many significant questions.  No need to discuss them in much detail here.  One interesting player in this group is Joe Mixon who joins the top running backs at RB5 in RSO startup auctions just below Kamara.  The argument for the Cincinnati RB1 is not hard to make.  He has one of the best all around skill-sets of any back in the league including being a fantastic receiving prospect out of Oklahoma.  Mixon accumulated 1,400+ scrimmage yards over the last two seasons despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.   The Bengals upgraded at QB, in many people’s views, with the selection of number one overall pick Joe Burrow.  There are a number of concerns, both long and short-term.  The offensive line should be better and healthier but most would still consider it a bottom-level group.  Cincinnati has limited Mixon’s receiving work, mixing in Gio Bernard.  Mixon is also in the final year of his rookie deal and the running back market could be saturated with free agents and incoming rookies to take jobs.  In the end, Mixon provides the ultimate bet on talent versus situation.

Second Tier

Cook looks like one of the best running back when on the field and broke out with a RB2 per game finish in 2019.  He also missed a lot of games in the NFL due to injury with a lengthy history of shoulder problems dating back to college which may indicate structural issues.  Like Mixon, Cook is in the final year of his rookie deal with no long-term contract done.  Henry, Chubb and Jacobs obtained PFF’s #6, 1, and 2 rushing grades among running backs, respectively.  Each was also among the bottom of PFF’s receiving grades for RBs.  Henry is a known zero as a route runner and Kareem Hunt likely limits the volume Chubb receives in the passing game. Jacobs presents the most hope for increased receiving production among this group given his collegiate record and the fact he was playing with a broken shoulder for much of his rookie season, but having mainly receiving specialists as his potential backups gives pause.  Sanders accumulated over 1,300 yards as a rookie and finished strong in the fantasy world after an injury knocked out Jordan Howard.  His real life play did not match his statistics as he ranked as only PFF’s RB50 and was losing work to Howard while being outplayed before Howard’s injury.  CEH is set up perfectly for a huge rookie season with Kansas City in the NFL’s best offense after presumptive starter Damien Williams opted out this year.  We don’t know what his role necessarily will be and perhaps KC limits his work as a rookie.

Third Tier

We are already at the point with running backs where significant questions exist with regards to roles.  Jones broke out as the RB2 in 2019 thanks, in part, to 19 total touchdowns and has been an efficient producer throughout his career.  The Packers have always limited his touches and added massive 2nd round thumper A.J. Dillon to the running back mix which likely caps Jones’ touches.  Jones is another quality back in the last year of his rookie contract.   Ekeler racked up 92 receptions and just under 1,000 receiving yards last year.  The Chargers consistently used a committee approach with departed Melvin Gordon and moving from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor and/or a rookie at quarterback is likely a huge loss to the receiving work of Los Angeles running backs.  Taylor, like formerly mentioned Edwards-Helaire, is set up for a big rookie season, with a tremendous offensive line and many projected run-heavy game scripts.  The Colts talked up a three-heady committee all offseason which could limit Taylor’s usage, particularly early in the season.  Drake flashed big-time rushing ability throughout his career and finished with a huge 2019 after the trade to Arizona.  He is a thin running back who struggled with injuries going back to college and most of his work last year occurred with the corpse of David Johnson and Chase Edmunds (who also flashed) injured.

Former Stars and Rookies with Potential Workhorse Roles and Questions

Gurley lands in a high-output offense with no real competition for touches.  His weekly status due to knees remains unknown.  Fournette should maintain a workhorse role with Jacksonville.  The Jaguars offensive line and overall team could be among the worst in the league leading to touch and production issues.  What role does Gordon have in Denver with Lindsay still available?  He also has extensive knee issues.  Bell’s 2019 is a perfect example of running back situation dependency after moving to the Jets bad offensive line and finishing with an awful 3.2 yards per carry. David Johnson lands in a spot with tons of vacated touches at running back.  The Texans’ inside-heavy, early down thumper role does not really fit his skills and he’s probably not the best DJ in Houston at this stage.  Baltimore, Detroit, and LA spent high draft capital on Dobbins, Swift, and Akers respectively so expect a big role eventually, though when that happens is somewhat in question.

Committee Backs

Mostert exploded down the stretch last season for the run-heavy 49ers but is a career special teamer who will have limited passing game chances.  Does Hunt maintain the passing down role for Cleveland with a new coaching staff in town?  He is an interesting long-term investment with demonstrated three-down ability.  How long do Ingram, Mack, and Johnson keep fantasy relevancy with the afore-mentioned rookies ready to step in?

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Running’s Back – Here’s Who Is Good At It

Updated: March 24th 2020

Some of the best business advice I ever received came from my Uncle one day upon discussing the stock market.  He said, “Grant, there are 3 keys to making it in this arena.  You have to be aggressive, you have to be lucky, and you have to be disciplined.”  Now I think most would agree that the first two are a given, but just how does one practice discipline on Wall Street?  After all, isn’t it basically Roulette on your laptop?  The answer is both big and simple.  I’m not kidding…that’s literally the answer.  Big data becomes a simple model/message.  You do the work combing through the annals of history, whether that be the last 3-12 months of the Oil and Gas sector, or say the 2019 NFL Season, and then you convert it into some concise, actionable strategy that gives you an edge over the rest of the field.  Straying from your edge reverts you back to just another gambler.  Staying discipline by ALWAYS implementing your model gets you in the green, or for our purposes, in the dance for your fantasy playoffs.  Let me show you what I mean.

Here are the NFL’s 2019 Top 25 Runners based on a composition of 1st Down Efficiency and Yards Per Carry Metrics.  I emphasize Runners because this list does not factor in the receiving aspects of the Running Back position.  Our focus is on measuring true efficiency & effectiveness; receptions are often a product of game script.  Therefore, players like James White and Austin Ekeler have been left off the list.  Same goes for Christian McCaffrey.  He’s the best in the bizz and we don’t need to poke holes in his game.  There are 13 metrics and they each feature Yards Per Carry and 1st Down %:

Attempts 1-10, Attempts 11-20

1st Half Attempts, 2nd Half Attempts

1st Quarter Attempts, 2nd Quarter Attempts, 3rd Quarter Attempts, 4th Quarter Attempts

Score Margin:  Attempts when the margin is within 0-7, Attempts when the margin is within 8-14, and Attempts when the margin is 15+

Attempts when Ahead, Attempts when Behind

If we aren’t going to log in the countless hours breaking down individual game film to spot specific reads, schemes and personnel, I believe this offers the next best way to get a well-rounded evaluation on how these RBs perform in various situations.  Our benchmarks are 4.5 Yards Per Carry and 21.54% 1st Down Rate (the average conversion rate for these 25 RBs).  We are fading anything sub 3.9 YPC or 18.54% 1st Down Rate.  The numbers in each category are Rankings.  Here are the results…

Overall Name 1st Down YPC
1 Derrick Henry 7 3
2 Chris Carson 2 10
3 Ezekiel Elliott 4 8
4 Mark Ingram 3 6
5 Nick Chubb 14 1
6 Devin Singletary 5 4
7 Dalvin Cook 8 16
8 Marlon Mack 1 16
8 Aaron Jones 9 7
10 Josh Jacobs 13 5
11 Carlos Hyde 11 12
12 Leonard Fournette 15 8
13 Todd Gurley 10 22
14 Melvin Gordon 6 20
15 Saquon Barkley 16 10
16 Ronald Jones 19 18
17 Miles Sanders 24 2
18 Alvin Kamara 21 12
19 Adrian Peterson 20 14
20 Joe Mixon 18 19
21 Sony Michel 12 23
22 Phillip Lindsay 22 15
23 David Montgomery 17 21
24 Devonta Freeman 23 24
25 Le’Veon Bell 25 24



Although the usual suspects round out the Top 5, it doesn’t take us very long to see how applying these metrics can shake up the natural order of things.  Yes that is Devin Singletary chillin’ in the #6 spot.  He missed 4 games and was sharing reps with the Little Fundamental – Frank Gore.  As a result, many of us overlooked a stellar rookie campaign.  Devin was pegged as Maurice Jones Drew 2.0 in some circles, and he backed up those comparisons with a top 5 finish in 1st Downs Conversion Rate.

Nick Chubb is hands down the best runner of the football.  However, due to his team’s poor play-calling, his perceived limitations as a 3rd Down Back, and the Browns embarrassment of riches at the WR position, Chubb only finished 14th in 1st Down Conversion Rate.  Meanwhile, guys like Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon put up pedestrian YPCs, but were leaned on heavily to extend drives.  The correlation between 1st down conversions and touchdowns is very strong.  Gordon has 18 rushing TDs in his last 23 games started, while Gurley has 29 of his last 29.  Nick Chubb….16 rushing TDs in 32 games thus far.

I’ve highlighted Carlos Hyde (245 carries for 1070 yards 6 TDs) and Josh Jacobs (242 carries for 1150 yards 7 TDs) because they essentially had the same production, and I’m not sure many owners are privy to that comparison.  Of course, there is no way of knowing where Hyde will be in 2020 or how he will be used, but the perception that he is a one-trick pony plodder,  while Jacobs is a 1st rounder, All-Purpose Back is CURRENTLY incorrect.  Jalen Richard ate just as much into Jacobs (20 catches) receiving opportunities as Duke Johnson did to Hyde (10 catches).

On the other end of the spectrum, Miles Sanders (179 carries for 818 yards, 509 receiving) and Alvin Kamara (171 carries for 797 yards, 533 receiving) are on the field for 3rd Downs, but usually do so in the role of receiver due to their steady QB play.  Sanders touchdown upside may always be limited.  After Kamara’s descent from 14 to 5 TDs this season, I’m not sure the same can’t be said for him.  All I know is TODAY, Miles Sanders should absolutely be viewed in the same light as Alvin Kamara.  They are the same player to me.

I know I said we wouldn’t let receptions interfere with our metrics, but I just want to clarify something.  Marlon Mack and Dalvin Cook are counterparts using this scale.  Very similar rushing production.  However, Cook caught 40 more passes than Mack.  As long as that trend continues, Cook “should” outpace Mack in fantasy production.  I emphasize should because most folks do not realize Marlon Mack led the league in 1st Down Efficiency.  That’s a stat that correlates extremely well with projected redzone and goal-line attempts.  With Philip Rivers now at the helm, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Mack lead the league in touchdowns this year.

So I gave you all a tiny taste of the data and some important takeaways, but what’s this mysterious model I teased earlier?  Value is the name of the game, same as it’s always been.  You will be hard-pressed to find a 2020 redraft league in which you could acquire Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Josh Jacobs and Mark Ingram, but I am here to tell you it is possible.  You simply have to target smaller names that play just as big.  Substitute Marlon Mack, Miles Sanders, Carlos Hyde (hypothetical in which he has a similar workload with his new team) and Devin Singletary, and you have got a stable just as good, yet far more realistic.  This is a battle tested fantasy model that I strongly encourage everyone to consider, especially after the Saquon Barkley, Leveon Bell, James Connor, Devonta Freeman and David Johnson debacle we witnessed last year.

More Analysis by Grant Viviano

Early 2019 RSO Contracts: RBs

Updated: July 31st 2019

My annual look at early RSO auction values moves to running backs.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The number of auctions for any particular player may also be limited this early in the RSO season.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.

Average RSO Running Back Contracts

The Next Four

Elliot, Barkley, McCaffrey, and Kamara form the top tier of virtually every ranking for running backs in 2019.  Elliott is always a danger for off the field incidents and Kamara has longer term question marks once (if?) Brees retires but the group poses no significant short-term question marks.  The question marks come quickly after.  The next four rushers present three-down backs with unknowns.  Bell took a sabbatical last season from the NFL forfeiting about $14.5 million in the process.  He goes from one of the most prolific offenses and top offensive lines in Pittsburg to a New York team with a second year quarterback, one of the worst offensive lines in the game, and Adam Gase as the head coach.  The all-around talent for Mixon and surrounding skill players is not the issue in Cincinnati.  His dreadful offensive line from last season is after already losing its top-two projected starters this season.  Gordon’s knee injury history is similar to Todd Gurley’s and he is threatening a holdout after not securing a long-term contract so far.  Expect Gordon’s RSO contracts to start sinking quickly.  Johnson only registered as PFF’s 51st running back in 2018 thanks, in part, to dismal surrounding talent and a new coaching staff not up for the challenge.  His usage and effectiveness are among the highest variance for running backs due to what is, in effect, an experimental college offense transitioning to the NFL.

Injury Concerns Result in Bargain Prices (Sometimes)

Fantasy gamers discussed Todd Gurley’s knee issues ad nauseam this offseason.  RSO GMs listened.  The RB1 in points per game each of the last two seasons is going off the board as the 13th highest paid running back.  Nagging lower-body injuries combined with an awful situation in Jacksonville also lowered the price of Leonard Fournette considerably from last year.   A substantial upgrade at quarterback, much healthier offensive line, and new offensive coordinator give Fournette significant upside at his cost with 300-plus touch upside.   Many considered Guice a borderline RB1 going into last season before tearing his ACL.  A lot has changed in a year.  Future hall of famer Adrian Peterson came back from the dead for an impressive late career campaign and signed an extension.  Washington also drafted former Heisman runner-up Bryce Love, falling to the fourth round after an injury filled 2018 and eventual tearing his ACL late in the year.

Surprisingly, the injury issues associated with Cook and Johnson apparently are not affecting their costs as both hit the boards as top-10 running backs so far in RSO leagues.  Both have massive injury histories including, most notably, multiple shoulder surgeries plus knee, ankle, and hamstring injuries.  Expect Johnson’s price climbing to even higher levels with news of pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick’s release from Detroit.

Young Featured Backs

Chubb, Jones, Mack, and Michel present cases with many of the same strengths and limitations.  All young backs play on projected upper level offenses with quality quarterbacks.  Their respective teams utilized each as primary running down backs with limited passing game usage.  Jones offers a bit more upside in this group because Green Bay does not possess a true receiving down back, albeit under Aaron Rodgers at quarterback who has never utilized running backs extensively in the passing game.  Duke Johnson (Cleveland), Nyheim Hines (Indianapolis), and James White (New England) give each team a strong, complementary passing down option.  Michel’s knee issues and New England drafting 3rd round running back Damien Harris depressed his price somewhat.

The Battle for Touches

While we have a good feel for the depth chart of most teams, not all backfields share as clear of picture.  The explosive and undrafted Phillip Lindsay dominated touches last year for Denver but faded to end the year failing to hit 50 rushing yards over the last three games.  Look for Royce Freeman gaining more looks to keep Lindsay fresh in 2019.  Barber won the starting spot battle in Tampa Bay last year but may have lost the war after displaying backup level skills.  It might be the last chance for Ronald Jones after an ugly rookie season in which the 20 year old was not prepared for the NFL and struggled with hamstring injuries for much of the year.  Philadelphia remains an enticing but disappointing fantasy situation for running backs as committees have dominated recently.  Will Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, or any of the other backs receive enough work to break the mold?  San Francisco possesses three talented backs in Coleman, McKinnon, and Breida on what should be a good offense.  We do not know if any of them receives enough consistent work to hold strong fantasy value.  The Bills running back room is a mess you may feel free to avoid on a team not likely to be among the higher scorers in the NFL.

Outside the Top-50

The afore-mentioned Hines racked up 63 receptions and is the receiving downs back for an Andrew Luck-led offense.    Kalen Ballage is a size-speed specimen with impressive receiving ability who will form a committee with Drake in Miami.  C.J. Anderson should carve out a significant role in Detroit where former New England coach Matt Patricia wants to run the ball as much as possible.  Jalen Richard ranked 7th in receptions among running backs in 2018 and is extremely cheap after Oakland spent a 1st round pick on Josh Jacobs.

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.


More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Early 2019 Free Agency Look: RBs

Updated: February 10th 2019

The running back position is fairly deep in this free agent class.  The group offers a diverse skill-set with three-down players among the best at the position and a deep group of backs with a history of solid rushing production.  Most of the proven players available are in the older age range for running backs and many of the younger ones have significant question marks.   Overall, though, this is a good group for teams not wanting to use draft picks on running backs.  The following list does not cover every free agent running back.  It does give the reader a brief overview of most free agent running backs with a chance to have significant roles with teams.

Tier 1 – Every-down Backs

Le’Veon Bell

Bell fits the mold of an every-down back in today’s NFL as well as anyone with prototypical size and incredible receiving ability.  Many would consider him one of the better slot receivers in the game.  He accumulated at least 75 receptions in different three years.  Still, a running back with three 1,800 scrimmage yard seasons should not have this many questions going into free agency.  Bell has significant past injury issues, a suspension, and over 1,500 touches already in his career.  Another issue is that every running back replacing Bell in recent memory, from DeAngelo Williams to James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, sustained success in the Pittsburgh backfield.  Teams will wonder how much of his production was due to the surrounding talent and scheme.  Part of Bell’s allure is the ability to continuously stay on the field during a game but one of his main complaints in Pittsburgh was the extensive usage.  He just sat out an entire year, refusing to play for $14.5 million after turning down a big contract extension offer from the Steelers.  Clearly Bell is looking for a huge payday.  What happens if the market does not develop as he is hoping for?  Ultimately, I do not think any of the questions will matter.  There are teams with loads of cap space for 2019 including the Colts, Jets, and Bills with the most cap room.  Someone will likely pay big money for the top back available.

Kareem Hunt

This one comes with a big asterisk.  Hunt was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after a video surfaced showing an ugly incident at a hotel and released by Kansas City.  The league is investigating this episode and other instances of alleged violent off the field behavior.  He will be suspended at some point, reportedly before free agency begins.  The early reports indicate Hunt playing in 2019 with multiple teams reportedly already showing interest in signing him.  There is a lot to like about the former Chief on the field.  Hunt won the rushing title in 2017 as a rookie and averaged over 100 scrimmage yards per game in his career.  He displays some of the best ability to take hits and stay on his feet in the NFL leading to a lot of missed tackles.  Hunt also turned himself a good receiver and pass blocker making him a good all-around back.  His contract situation will be interesting to follow.  Hunt has only two accrued years meaning any team signing him to a 1-year deal would have rights to Hunt in 2020 as a restricted free agent or as an exclusive rights free agent if Hunt’s upcoming suspension prevents him from earning an accrued season in 2019.  This makes for a potentially cost-friendly contract for a team willing to sign Hunt.

Tier 2 – Combo Back

Tevin Coleman

The thing a player wants in free agency is a skill-set that separates him from the pack.  Coleman is the only high-profile running back this year with true “home run” speed, the type of player who can take it the distance from any point on the field.  He also distances himself from most other backs as a plus route runner out of the backfield or lined up wide as a receiver.  These talents helped Coleman average an incredible eleven yards per reception over his career and at least four yards per carry in every season.  With the emphasis on the passing game for today’s NFL, his receiving ability combined with game-breaking jets probably get Coleman paid more than many predict.  He does not fit every running scheme.  He does not excel as an inside-heavy rusher as he does not possess the size to consistently push piles and brake tackles.  Coleman will not get 350 touches in a season.  Part of his draw on the free agent market will be that he touched the ball only a little over 600 times in his NFL career.  A team which exploits his outside running capability and heavily utilizes his receiving skills obtains a dynamic playmaker however who can lead a running back group.  He will be the target of many teams not wanting to pay Bell’s asking price.

Tier 3 – Rushing Down Backs

Mark Ingram

Good all-around rusher who developed quality hands for screen plays and quarterback check downs with the Saints.  Long history of solid production.  His best option is staying in New Orleans but could lead a committee elsewhere.  29 years old with only about the same number of touches in his career as Bell.

Jay Ajayi

One of the better tackle breakers in the game when healthy with nice combination of power and decent long-speed.  Career filled with knee concerns and that was before he tore his ACL.  Will the market develop for someone not fully healthy by the time free agency arrives?

C.J. Anderson

Big bodied back who showed spurts of really strong play with Denver and produced a huge end of year for the Rams after being cut by Panthers and Raiders.  Will it be enough to lead to a committee next season?

Latavius Murray

Large between the tackles runner with good breakaway speed once he hits his stride.  It makes a lot of sense for Minnesota to re-sign Murray given Dalvin Cook’s extensive injury history.

Adrian Peterson

The future hall of famer put up a bounce back campaign in 2018 showing off a little of the speed and power showcased throughout his early career.  He offers practically nothing as a receiver.  How much interest will develop for a one-dimensional 34 year old running back?

Frank Gore

The ageless wonder played very well in 2018.  He would like to stay in Miami.  The Dolphins have two young running backs on cheap rookie contracts for a rebuilding team where the need for an older veteran may be minimal.

The Raiders Backs

Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin (UFAs), and Jalen Richard (RFA) are all free agents.  Richard was excellent as a receiving specialist.  My first instinct is that Oakland signs Richard to a long-term deal and brings back one of Lynch or Martin depending on if Lynch retires.  Martin was serviceable replacing Lynch but graded out worse than the older back.

Tier 4 – Potential backups and role players to keep track of

T.J. Yeldon

Three down NFL size back with very good hands but average, at best, everywhere else.  Plays with the power of someone 20 lbs lighter and not much wiggle or speed with the ball.  Yeldon was one of PFF’s lowest graded qualified backs in 2018.  Reports of bad influence in locker room.  Solid do-it-all backup for teams which relies primarily on one back.

Jeremy Hill

Hill looked very good this preseason earning the big back role for New England before tearing his ACL in his first game with the Patriots.  Unlikely a team prioritizes running back recovering from knee surgery.

Bilal Powell

Underrated runner and receiver capable of receiving back or committee role.  Undersized and unknown recovery time from neck injury for player with long injury history.

Darren Sproles

The smaller dynamo says he might be back for another year.  He will be on the PPR radar if he plays depending on who the Eagles bring in at running back.

Ameer Abdullah

Smaller athletic back with 2nd round draft pedigree who never worked out with Detroit.  Will a new team be able to find a role?

Spencer Ware

Big, thick rusher who performed well throughout his time with Kansas City including a very good 2016.  Possible product of system as almost every rusher, given the chance, performs well in Kansas City.

Ty Montgomery

There are always potential spots on teams for former college wide receivers with running back size.  May always be a jack-of-all-trades player with no defined role or consistent usage.  Struggled with injuries throughout his time with Green Bay.

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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