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Which running backs will repeat last year’s success this season?

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Taking a look at the top 10 running backs last year and who’ll keep the train rolling and who’ll stumble.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

I looked into three separate categories among the running backs trying to decide who was likely to be a star this year. I looked at the top 10 rushers, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns among RB between 2015-2019.

Rushing Yards

There are 31 different running backs who were in the top 10 in rushing yards in a given year. Among those 31 different backs, only SIX were able to repeat the status as top 10 RB for two consecutive years. Given the last four years, there is a 20% chance that Nick Chubb, Phillip Lindsay, Adrian Peterson, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Chris Carson, Joe Mixon, Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott repeat as a top 10 rusher in yards.

Rushing Touchdowns

Using the same metrics (top 10 in rushing touchdowns each year from 2015-2018) there are 30 different RBs who have been among the top 10 RBs one of the last four years. Among those players, EIGHT have repeated from one year to the next, this means given the last four years there is a 26% chance that one of the following RBs is top 10 in rushing touchdowns this year: Chris Carson, Marlon Mack, Jordan Howard, Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon, Saquon Barkley, James Conner, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley.

Total Touchdowns

32 names, of which EIGHT players have repeated as a top ten fantasy player in total touchdowns (25% of the time). 25% of these players will repeat this year: Nick Chubb, Phillip Lindsay, Marlon Mack, James White, David Johnson, Derrick Henry, James Conner, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley II (there was a tie at 10th place last year so 13 total players were among the top 10).

Here are the players who were in the top 10 in rushing yards and total touchdowns last year:

  • Nick Chubb
  • Phillip Lindsay
  • Derrick Henry
  • Christian McCaffrey
  • Todd Gurley
  • Saquon Barkley

Six players were good enough to excel in both yards and touchdowns and there is a strong likelihood that three to four of these names will not repeat that again this year. Among these six names three of them were rookies last year (Nick Chubb, Phillip Lindsay and Saquon Barkley) and could be ripe for a sophomore slump, one has serious knee issues that limited his ability to almost no usage during the SUPER BOWL! (Todd Gurley), two have never been in the top 10 in rushing yards or TDs (Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey). Needless to say, an argument could be made to say anyone of these players could fall off that list this year.

Let’s see what each of these backs could do in 2019.

Nick Chubb

He has quite a few things going in his favor. The Browns were listed as a top five offensive line last year by ProFootballFocus, they have an accurate quarterback who likes to throw a deep ball and just got a new wide receiver who can now grab those deep throws spreading out the defense. Unfortunately Nick Chubb is going to run into the Kareem Hunt train half way through the season when Kareem’s suspension is up and touches will suddenly be at a premium. Additionally, OBJ will want his catches and I think Cleveland airs the ball out more this year.

Prediction: Not likely to repeat (avg draft ranking 15.5)

Phillip Lindsay

He has a lot going on around him. According to ProFootballFocus, the Broncos ended the season among the bottom third in the league with two of their best starters Ronald Leary and Matt Paradis injured. He started the year rushing for fewer than 75 yards in five of his first six games and scoring just 1 touchdown over that time. Through the last 10 games of the season, he would rush for over 75 yards five times, including two games with 100+ yards and he would rush for eight touchdowns during that time. Adding to his rushing yards was a fairly consistent 2-4 receptions for 20-30 yards in most games. The risk here lies in new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello who was the QB coach for the 49ers the last two years. Rich’s quote on Phillip: “He’s just one of the more dynamic players in this league. [I’m] excited to get to work with him. The great part is, we kind of know the people around us and what they’re capable of and he’s a guy that we know he’s capable of a lot.”

Prediction: Likely to repeat (avg draft ranking 42.25)

Saquon Barkley

He won rookie of the year last year and was utilized heavily by the Giants. His 261 rushing attempts last year were second only to Ezekiel Elliott and he was one of just three players to have 150+ attempts, 1,000+ yards and 5.0+YPC (Christian McCaffrey and Phillip Lindsay are the other two). The other star of the team OBJ is now gone so he will continue to be the workhorse for the Giants under either Eli Manning or Daniel Jones

Prediction: Likely to repeat (avg draft rank 2)

Todd Gurley

He is the only player to land on the top ten in 3 years on both rushing yards and total touchdowns. Additionally, the Rams have a top 5 offensive line and he is only 24 years old so he should be the shoe in for a repeat performance right? Well, there is a giant red flag in his current knee injury. Todd Gurley tore his ACL in 2014 and appeared to have no hindrance in bouncing back from it in 2015-2018. Last year he even finished first in total TDs and third in rushing yards. When it came to the playoffs his touches slowed and during the Super Bowl he was essentially non-existent as word spread about his ongoing knee issues that he was battling all season. If he could not play in the Super Bowl, this issue is serious.

Prediction: Not likely to repeat (avg draft rank 24.5)

Derrick Henry

He’s now 25, a three year vet of the NFL and yet everything changed in the 2018 season. Previously his season high had been 2017 where he had 744 yards, 5 touchdowns (6 total touchdowns). Last year he vaulted up to 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns. The main reason behind this was a new approach Tennessee implemented over their last five games as they utilized their top ten offensive line to a ground and pound mentality. They went 4-1 over this time and Derrick flourished with 80+ yards in each game, eight total touchdowns over that time and 5+ YPC in three of his last four games. I don’t feel overly confident that Derrick holds up under an entire season at this pace as they gave him fewer than 20 carries in the first 12 games where he did not exceed 60 yards in any game. Additionally, the Titans seem willing to give others a handful of carries whether it’s Dion Lewis, or a number of rookies in Ryquell Armstead (Temple), Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic) or Trayveon Williams (Texas A&M).

Prediction: Not likely to repeat (avg draft rank 31.5)

Christian McCaffrey

He had an uphill climb working past an offensive line that lost both starting tackles in preseason. He certainly emerged in his 2nd year getting 90 total yards in 12 of his 16 games and scoring a touchdown in seven of his 16 games all the while fumbling just once. It’s clear they are utilizing him completely in their game plans moving forwards on both rushing and receiving fronts which is exactly how he excelled at Stanford.

Prediction: Likely to repeat (avg draft rank 3.75)

In summation, I’m bullish on Barkley (avg draft rank 2nd), Christian McCaffrey (avg draft rank 3.75) and Phillip Lindsay (avg draft rank 42.25) to repeat. The strong value play here is Phillip Lindsay who I will be looking to grab in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

Poll

Who do you think is least likely to repeat as both top 10 in Rushing Yards and Total Touchdowns?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Nick Chubb
    (13 votes)
  • 13%
    Phillip Lindsay
    (9 votes)
  • 20%
    Saquon Barkley
    (14 votes)
  • 13%
    Todd Gurley
    (9 votes)
  • 18%
    Derrick Henry
    (13 votes)
  • 15%
    Christian McCaffrey
    (11 votes)
69 votes total Vote Now