I’m onto the second part of my series, where I project of who will be this year’s versions of the players who over and underachieved their draft stock in 2019. We’ve already covered the quarterbacks and now we’re onto the running backs.
Who will be this year’s Austin Ekeler (AKA the backup who goes bananas when given the chance)?
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Though Alexander Mattison finds himself in a similar situation this off season as Ekeler was 12 months ago, he’s not a candidate to this year’s Ekeler. Firstly, I have little faith in Dalvin Cook’s holdout threat, given the constraints he finds himself in around the future salary cap, the new CBA’s effect on accrued seasons, and that Cook would still find himself as a restricted free agent next off season. Secondly, Mattison himself is not the player Ekeler is, as Ekeler has almost three times the production Mattison had in the season before his breakout. Instead I’m looking at a player with real top 10 positional potential, and someone who has already eaten into his competition’s touches last season.
Kareem Hunt is a legitimate starting running back in the NFL, and in my opinion is a better all-round back than Nick Chubb is, especially as a receiver. Hunt only got on the field in Week 10 after serving an eight game suspension, and immediately got the passing down work in the Browns’ offense. Hunt saw 40 targets to Chubb’s 15, and had double digit fantasy points in each of his first six games. Chubb did see the majority of the rushing touches, with 144 attempts to Hunt’s 43, though overall Hunt outscored Chubb in six of the eight weeks they were on the field together. Hunt also fits the mold better of the type of player new head coach Kevin Stefanski was working with in Minnesota in the aforementioned Dalvin Cook, so I expect Hunt’s touches to increase in 2020. However, without an injury, suspension or holdout for Nick Chubb, Hunt wont be in line to produce the top-5 point scoring we saw from Austin Ekeler. I want as many Hunt shares as I can get in 2020.
Who will be this year’s Derrick Henry (AKA the 2-down banger who leads the league in rushing)?
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs had a stellar rookie season for the Raiders, rushing for 1,150 yards and 7 touchdowns in 13 games before a shoulder injury kept him out of three of the final four games. He was utilized almost entirely as a runner, seeing just 28 targets all season, but his 4.8 yards per attempt ranked 5th among the 15 running backs to rush for over 1,000 yards. There’s no reason Jacobs cannot take on more passing work as his college tape showed he had good hands and good elusiveness in open space. The Raiders’ offensive line has top-10 potential according to Pro Football Focus and this gives Jacobs a really solid base upon which to kick on and become a star in his second year.
Who will be this year’s Mark Ingram (AKA the veteran who shines in a new home)?
Gordon’s move to the Broncos was a pretty low key affair, and showed that his holdout definitely hurt him as he signed a two-year, $16 million deal to stay in the AFC West. Despite putting up the worst totals of his career to date with 612 rushing yards and 296 receiving yards, he did still manage nine total touchdowns and 15.1 fantasy points per game, which was 15th at the running back position. In a new home and with a contract that should see him installed as the starter, Gordon has a good chance for success. If he can maintain that 2019 points per game pace and finishes as a top-15 running back, you are getting some decent value as he is currently the RB19 in PPR drafts, going off the board late in the third round.
Who will be this year’s Miles Sanders (AKA the rookie who flies when they get the starting job)?
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
This is an easy one. Take one of the most talented backs in the draft and slot him into the top rushing attack in the NFL. Yes its a crowded backfield, with Lamar Jackson and three other backs who can carry a decent load—including last year’s RB11 in Mark Ingram—but none have Dobbins’ pedigree. Coming off a year where he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns for Ohio State, Dobbins may start slowly and see his touches increase, but with Ingram likely out of Baltimore after this year, Dobbins can take the starting job and run with it. Currently going as the RB32 in drafts in Round 7, Dobbins is in a prime spot to be drafted as your RB3 with flex upside before making your lineup weekly in the second half of the season.
Who will be this year’s Damien Williams (AKA the back in a good offense who loses touches in a committee)?
Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
Was anybody shocked when Damien Williams ended up in a timeshare in the Kansas City backfield last season? Williams was being drafted as the RB13 and finished the season as the RB38 as injuries and a loss of touches to LeSean McCoy impacted his fantasy value.
Raheem Mostert is in a very similar situation heading into 2020. A strong end to the regular season helped him to finish as the RB26 after going undrafted in fantasy before the season. A strong playoffs followed by the 49ers trading Matt Breida to the Dolphins has helped Mostert see his fantasy stock rise and he is currently the RB25 in drafts. The backfield in San Francisco however remains a murky situation, with Tevin Coleman still a presence and Jerick McKinnon hoping to put two years of injury misery behind him. I also expect the 49ers to add another running back before the season just to spice it up a little more and then on top of all of that you have one of the most creative play callers in the NFL in Kyle Shanahan, who will adapt his offense every week to suit the situation in front of him. All in all I just want to pass on Mostert and let his potential up and down weekly performances be someone else’s problem this year.