Future Top-15 Running Backs

Jacob Feldman

The regular season has come and gone and it is fantasy playoff time! Hopefully, that means you are still fighting for the title in your league’s playoffs. However, it also means that about half of us are sitting at home, looking over our rosters, and trying to figure out what went wrong. Regardless of if it was injuries, players underperforming, bad luck, or something entirely different, it is time to dust ourselves off and get ready for the next phase of the dynasty season!

To help you out with that, I’m here to give you a few players who are on the younger side and have a better chance than most to turn into every week starters at their respective positions. I define every week-starters as being top-ten quarterbacks, top-15 running backs, top-30 receivers, and top-ten tight ends. I’m going to avoid taking the easy way out, so I’m not going to pick any rookies to be the next great thing. We all know that TJ Hockenson is a tight end to target. Instead, I’m going to try and pick players who are a ways away from every week starter status, meaning they could be relatively cheap additions to your roster, especially if they do turn into an every-week starter for your team next year!

Let’s take a look at the potential starters as well as the pros and cons for each one, in order of their current DLF positional rankings.

Note all stats are valid through week 12.

Kareem Hunt, RB CLE

Current DLF Positional Ranking: 23

Pros: Hunt returned from his well-deserved suspension to put together three straight double-digit fantasy games. He still has his three-down skill set which made him a top-five running back just two short years ago, and he hasn’t been shy about showing it off. Through three games, he is averaging over four yards per carry and just shy of seven yards per reception in a part-time role. He is proving to fans and NFL teams that he is back and ready to be a starting running back in the NFL once again.

Cons: There is always the morally grey area of owning a player who has done something like Hunt (or a few others) did a year ago. If you choose to move past that and are willing to accept that even a tiny mistake on his part could mean the end of his career, then you can look at other things. The biggest other concern is when and where will he be playing. His contract ends this season, but due to his number of seasons in the league, he will be a restricted free agent. That means the Browns could bring him back again at a fairly cheap price, creating a full-time committee in their backfield for 2020. This would obviously limit his ceiling. Someone could obviously make him an offer as well, so the uncertainty of where needs to be factored in a bit.

Derrius Guice, RB WAS

Current DLF Positional Ranking: 31

Pros: Supremely productive at LSU, Guice was an early first-round selection in last year’s rookie drafts. He has prototypical size for the position with some solid athletic ability. He has also started to show just a little bit in the passing game with five receptions in three games, including a 45-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Being able to learn from one of the best of all time over the last few years definitely isn’t going to hurt things either.

Cons: You can’t talk about Guice without bringing up the injuries. He had various little injuries at LSU, a torn ACL last year, hamstring tear this summer, and then the torn meniscus this year. Can he stay healthy? If he can, does he still have the same power and explosiveness he did before the knee injuries? If both of those answers are yes, then you need to look to his offensive line. Washington has one of the worst units in the league to go along with very few weapons on the offense as a whole. The team is a mess, which could lead to decreased opportunities for Guice.

Ronald Jones, RB TB

Current DLF Positional Ranking: 39

Pros: Much like Guice, Jones had a great college career but basically a lost rookie season. If you can get past how miserable he looked as a rookie, there are some positive signs from this season. When rushing, Jones is averaging about four yards per carry this season with a nose for a goal line. His usage in the passing game has all been increasing as the season has gone on with 15 receptions in the last four games. Overall, he has amassed double-digit fantasy points in half of the games this year, even though the Bucs have been in negative game scripts for the vast majority of those games. I believe he has shown the Bucs enough this year to start 2020 as the starter at the position.

Cons: His struggles to adjust to the NFL in 2019 are obviously concerning. Most rookies can come in and at least look good running the ball, but Jones didn’t look good at all last year. As a result, he landed himself in a full-blown committee attack this year. There is a chance that will stick around for next year as well. The other concern is that the Bucs are a pretty bad team, forcing them to play from behind and abandon the running game. This has resulted in two of the most productive receivers in the league, but not much opportunity in the running game.

Kenyan Drake, RB ARI

Current DLF Positional Ranking: 41

Pros: One of the best things about Drake is that he is a complete running back. While he isn’t as athletically gifted as some of the others on this list, he has shown to be very capable both as a rusher and especially as a receiver. Since coming to the Cardinals, he has averaged just under 14 carries, just over five receptions and 94 combined yards. If you play that out over a whole season, we are talking about a top-five running back! I think that is a bit overly optimistic, but he definitely seems to be winning the starting job in Arizona this year.

Cons: The largest concern for Drake is that he’s a free agent at the end of this season. He could elect to stay in Arizona or he could end up in a committee attack somewhere else as well. I’m hoping he stays with the Cardinals because I think he could be their starter in 2020. Then the biggest question is how will the evolving offense of the Cardinals use his talents. I have high hopes for him, but there are a lot of question marks in terms of coaching and where he plays in 2020.

If I had to rank these four in terms of how excited I am about their futures and their chances of becoming an every-week starter at the position, here are my rankings:

  1. Kareem Hunt (Vastly ahead of the others)
  2. Ronald Jones/Kenyan Drake/Derrius Guice

Other players I considered but ultimately decided against with the reasons stated are: Chris Carson (Fumbles, competition, declining role), Matt Breida (Committee approach), Austin Ekeler (Limited role, questions about offense).

I’ll be back soon with a look at some of the other positions. Good luck in the playoffs!

jacob feldman