Even though the NFL might not be back for months, it’s never too early to talk fantasy football! Here are my top 10 running back rankings heading into the 2019 NFL season:
#1: Saquon Barkley
Opportunity Share (#6) = 80.1%
O-Line rank at end of season= 21st
Most likely the unanimous 1.01 in all draft formats, Saquon comes in at my number one running back and my number one overall. Scoring 361.6 in full point PPR, I can only see his numbers going up. The reason I say his numbers are only going up is based on the status of the Giants offseason plans. In my opinion, the Giants team overall can’t get any worse. The Giants ranked 16th in game script (average points margin at any given point in the game) at -2.15. If the Giants can even only make their team a little better, Saquon will be able to score more than 24.1 points per game. The future is bright for this sophomore workhorse back.
#2: Ezekiel Elliot
Opportunity Share (#1) = 90.1%
O-Line end of season rank= 14th
Coming in at number 2, I have another workhorse back in Ezekiel Elliot. Since coming into the league Zeke has always been a top fantasy RB and has provided his owners with consistency week in and week out. His constant flow of points comes from the lack of weapons on the Cowboys offense. The lack of weapons has always allowed Zeke to be a top 5 running back, but it seems as if he is held back from being the top fantasy RB in the league. I have him this high because the addition of Amari Cooper at the deadline last year and hopes of the Cowboys adding weapons this offseason will open up the box and allow Zeke to run free. However, if the Cowboys do not add any weapons, I can see Zeke falling in my rankings down to 3 or 4. Just like Saquon, Ezekiel has the talent and opportunity share need to be the RB1, but their team’s offseason decisions could limit their upside.
#3: Todd Gurley
Opportunity Share (#2) = 86.2%
O-Line end of season rank= 6th
At number 3, I have Todd Gurley, who surprisingly has been hard to rank. You would think that he would be the obvious number 1 by the way he played when healthy last year, but there are a couple factors that force me to drop Gurley in my rankings. Let’s start with the potential vulturing of CJ Anderson. The signing of CJ seemed a bit confusing when it happened last year, but when Gurley went down with an injury, that confusing signing made Sean McVay look like a genius. Now post Super Bowl, all fantasy owners would think that CJ would join a new team and Gurley would resume as the fantasy RB1, but there have been rumors that the Rams want to bring Anderson back. Even though these are rumors, the point is that the Rams want to have a change of pace back, regardless of who it is, which obviously would limit Gurley’s production. The other factor is the future consistency of Jared Goff. Goff looked terrible in the Super Bowl, and I don’t think it was a fluke. By running a very simple offense like the Rams do, it is easier for defenses to consistently shut down Goff on a play-by-play basis. I am not saying to not draft Gurley, but I am saying do not draft Gurley with hope of him being as consistent as he was last year.
#4: Christian McCaffrey
Opportunity Share (#4) = 82.5%
O-Line end of season rank= 17th
Coming in at number 4 is a candidate that I had even thought about putting at my number 3, and that is Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey may have been the biggest surprise last year in terms of production, and he is in line for a strong career and another strong fantasy season. When I think of the perfect RB1, I think of a player with solid opportunity share and a dual threat running back that can provide consistent PPR points week in and week out. McCaffrey was 4th in opportunity share last year, and was able to average a little less than 7 catches per week. Even with the poor performance of Cam Newton and the Panthers last year McCaffrey was able to exceed expectations and finish as the RB2 while having an ADP right outside the first round at the end of draft season. McCaffrey is in line for another top 5 RB finish even if Cam isn’t healthy, which most likely will be the case.
#5: Melvin Gordon
Opportunity Share (#11) = 63.9%
O-Line end of season rank= 30th
Health is the biggest issue for this Chargers running back. Gordon, who only played 12 games last year, still managed to finish as a top 10 full point PPR running back, so the production is definitely there. I have always been a huge Gordon fan and have owned him in many leagues before, but the injury aspect of his game has always made his owners cautious. Gordon gets most of his points from touchdowns, as he wasn’t even in the top 10 for rushing yards. The good news is that Tyrell Williams, who had 5 touchdowns and many big plays, probably will not be returning to the team. If Gordon stays healthy, I can guarantee a top 5 finish and maybe even higher, but draft with caution.
#6: Alvin Kamara
Opportunity Share (#16) = 58.7%
O-Line end of season rank= 8th
Coming off an insane rookie season, Kamara was set to continue his fantasy dominance, but some owners may have been disappointed last year. Although Kamara did finish as a top 5 full point PPR, the bulk of his points came from the beginning of the year before Mark Ingram returned from suspension to be the ground and pound running back. Kamara provides elite pass catching ability; but when in a dual running back system, his opportunities seem limited. I struggled to rank Gordon and Kamara because they both provide the same amount of volume, but I am weighing the injury risk of Gordon over the chance of Kamara being the lone running back for the Saints.
#7: Joe Mixon
Opportunity Share (#7) = 79.1%
O-Line end of season rank = 27th
Coming in at number 7 is another workhorse back that provided happiness to his fantasy owners last year, Joe Mixon. Mixon, who finished at number 11 in full point PPR, had the potential to finish in the top 6 or 7, but the lack of competitive games limited Mixon from truly breaking out. Mixon, who also missed two games due to injury, was top 10 in opportunity share; but the Bengals, who had the 3rd worst game script (-4.81) was the biggest factor that held Mixon back from gaining a couple more fantasy points per week. With a new head coach in Zac Taylor and the return of AJ Green and Andy Dalton, the Bengals will be back to a form that will allow them to compete at a solid level, or at least enough to get Mixon the quality touches he needs to become an elite fantasy running back.
#8: Le’Veon Bell
2017 Season Numbers
Opportunity Share (#1) = 89.3%
There was some uncertainty on where to put Bell, but this is the best spot based off of who I have at 9 and 10. There may be some debate since it depends where he lands, but the talent of Bell and the opportunity he will receive should make him a top 10 RB. He provides elite running and pass catching ability–some may even argue the best in the league–so people should not be worried about where he falls in terms of his ADP. The only problem I could see is that Bell demands a ton of money and sits out another year, but I think a team like the Jets or Ravens will give him the money and provide him with the opportunity to thrive.
#9: David Johnson
Opportunity Share (#8) = 77.5%
O-Line end of season rank= 32nd
Talk about a fantasy heartbreak for his owners. After being drafted in the top 3 of almost every league, the owners of David Johnson expected a quality return of fantasy points to help them win a fantasy title, but his fantasy owners got exactly the opposite of that. Some people may call me crazy for having him at number 9, but here is how I look at it. Johnson finished in the top 10 in full point PPR last year with the worst O-Line in the league and a laughable quarterback, but going forward the team can only improve. With offensive genius, Kliff Kingsbury, at the helm there will only be more opportunities for Johnson next year. I also expect the Cardinals to try and add an offensive piece in free agency that can help free up some space for Johnson. Don’t let Johnson’s underwhelming season last year stop you from viewing him as a top 10 back going forward.
#10: Nick Chubb
Opportunity Share (#29) = 48.4%
O-Line end of season rank= 2nd
After having a breakout second half of his rookie season last year, most people have Chubb super high coming into next year. Although I did as well, the recent signing of Kareem Hunt provides some confusion going into these rankings. he new head coach, Freddie Kitchens, is looking to get wins no matter the cost. That’s why they signed Hunt, who Kitchens believes can split time with Chubb to provide an elite running back duo that can get them wins in the future. It is hard to gauge Hunts role on the team, but Chubb can still provide top 10 running back value for the time that Hunt is suspended. Like some of the other backs in this group, you will need to draft with caution and hope Chubb remains the workhorse when Hunt returns from suspension.
Lukas Kacer is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @SportsTier on Twitter.