Top 5 Fantasy Running Backs -2019

Attention Fantasy Football lovers: THIS IS NOT A DRILL! The NFL season (preseason) is kicking off in just about a week. The hall of fame game kicks off the season on Thursday, August 1st where we will all get to watch an exhilarating battle between the Broncos’ second-stringers and the Falcons’ second-stringers. But really though, I am extremely excited to crack open a cold beer and be able to watch actual people on an NFL field for the first time this season, as I’m sure most of you are as well. As football fans, we have waited a long 6 months(which might as well be an eternity). This is also the time of year for fantasy players to start turning their minds back to their fantasy drafts and start considering what their strategy is going to be for the upcoming season. My recommendation and what has helped me continuously perform well in my league, is making your own rankings and then breaking it down to tiers if you would like as well. If that sounds like a ton of work, well that’s because it is! Fear not, The Fantasy Whisperers have created these tiers for you and put that and PPR and Standard rankings inside their Draft Kit, so do yourself a favor and snag one today! As I get ready for 2019, I have been consumed by my own personal rankings for a couple of weeks now and if you missed my Top 5 QB Spotlight,  go check them out! In this week’s piece I will be giving you the RBs that I believe are going to finish top 5 at their position this year. 

Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley came into the league last year as a rookie from Penn State. He was thought to be one of the best, and most athletic players to come into the league in a long time. Barkley’s hype was gaining momentum even before being drafted, as he dominated the events at the combine. This is the reason, wright or wrong, that the Giants decided to pass on a QB at no.2 overall of the 2018 NFL Draft and instead drafted the Penn State product. The Giants drafting Saquon so high showed that they thought they could build around him as their main offensive weapon for years to come. They were not disappointed in the rookie during his 2018 debut. Last year he managed to rack up 1,307 yards on the ground and 721 receiving yards to go along with his rushing production. Barkley also saw 87.1% of the Giants’ snap share which was fourth highest in the league last year. 

Many fantasy players may not believe in Saquon as the #1 overall spot mostly because the Giants’ offense is not projected to be great this year or even good for that matter. I also believe that the offense is not going to be efficient this year, but I think that an elite player such as Barkley can overcome their offense considering he will be the main cog within the offense. Barkley evaded 114 tackles last year which is 7.1 per game, this means that even when caught behind the line Barkley consistently makes people miss. He also had 18 breakaway runs last season which translates to roughly better than 1 per game. I do not usually like to look at the breakaway run statistic when ranking a player because it is one of the more unpredictable stats, but when a player does it as frequently as Saquon did last year, it is worth noting. In my opinion, you can trust the breakaway run percentage in this case because of Barkley’s ability to force so many missed tackles which speaks to his elite talent. The other point is that the Giants do not have many other weapons to trust on offense. They traded away Odell Beckham Jr., which will likely lead to even more volume for Barkley. So although you may be nervous about the Giants’ offense this year, I think that Barkley can rise above the team’s circumstances and will finish as the RB1 in fantasy this year.

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott has officially found his way up to #2 in my rankings. Since being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott has proven year after year that he can carry a workload like no one else in the league. He is an absolute monster when it comes to eating up any volume that the Dallas has thrown his way. Last year, Zeke had a 93.8% snap share for the Cowboys which was the second highest mark in the league. He also ended up with 304 carries and 77 receptions, both of which were top 5 last year. The Cowboys have clearly put their trust in the star running back and it shows on the field. There is virtually no reason that I can see for the volume to go down for Elliott in 2019. The only risk that Zeke carries revolves around his potential holdout this season. I am not very worried about the looming holdout given that he is in the 4th year of his rookie deal and not the 5th and final year. I find it unlikely that Zeke goes through with a legit holdout or that Dallas doesn’t get his new deal done.

Zeke’s teammate Amari Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys last year and I have seen via twitter and elsewhere that some fantasy players believe that more of the offensive opportunity for Dallas will run through Cooper and the passing attack. Even after Cooper was traded to the Cowboys however, Ezekiel Elliott was averaging 23 half point PPR fantasy points per game. Conversely, before the Cooper trade, Elliott was only averaging 20.2 points per game. Essentially what Amari was able to do for Dallas was forced opposing defenses to pay more attention to the passing game and to take some of the focus away from Elliott. Opponents could not stack the box like they had done before because of the aerial threat that Cooper presents. Zeke is known for wearing down defenses and being able to run free near the end of the game because he is just so physically imposing. Last season, he managed to rack up 95 evaded tackles which was a mark that only Saquon Barkley bested. The other factor that fantasy players have to be mindful of  when drafting Zeke is that many people have projected Dak Prescott to take a step forward this year. If Prescott can take a step forward in his own contract year, then that only spells more good things for Elliott. Finally it is worth noting that Zeke scored a career low 6 touchdowns in 2018 and that makes him incredibly likely to see more opportunities to use his physicality in the red zone and hit paydirt more frequently in 2019. 

Melvin Gordon

To start, I would like to say that this ranking is based on the assumption that Melvin Gordon is extended by the Chargers for the 2019 season. As many of us know, there is a large chance that Gordon could either be traded to another team or decides to hold out during the season if he does not receive a new contract. If that is the case, then I will need to adjust my rankings accordingly. Until we have to cross that bridge, Melvin Gordon is my #3 overall RB in fantasy football this year. Last year, Gordon wildly outperformed my expectations and was, in my opinion, the most fun player to watch in the league. My ideal RB in fantasy should have a combination of being on a great offense, create their own space running between the tackles, and possess the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield effectively. Gordon hits on all three of these aspects and I believe he is poised for a huge season. The bulk of Gordon’s points came behind the 14 touchdowns that he scored last season. Being on a great Chargers offense last year benefited Gordon, giving him elite scoring upside, which by all accounts has a great shot and repeating this year given that not much has changed in Los Angeles. 

Based on current ADP and responses on twitter, many people think that my ranking of Gordon is too high, but last year he was scoring 22.6 half point PPR fantasy points per game. This put him as the fifth best  among all RBs on a per game basis. He also created 2.07 yards per carry before contact last year which shows that Gordon can really make his own space even when his offensive line is struggling to open holes for him. Although Gordon has a great chance to finish near the top among his position this year, there are some concerns and I have somewhat built them into his ranking for 2019. The first major issue would be Gordon holding out for the season. If fantasy players take him in the first round and he follows Le’veon Bell’s blueprint from last season, there will be many upset fantasy players. We can see the tangible evidence of this concern in Gordon’s plummeting ADP. The second issue with Gordon is that he is already considered an injury-prone player by some people. He always seems to miss a couple of games every season. In 2016 Gordon only played 13 games, the year before that he played a total of 14 games, and even last year he only managed to suit up for 12 total games. While this may worry some fantasy players, I think that Melvin Gordon will overcome any injury issues he may have had previously and is a great bet to end up as the RB3 or higher in fantasy this year. 

Christian McCaffrey 

Christian McCaffrey completely and undeniably broke out in the 2018 season. I believe that most of CMC’s success can be attributed to his new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Turner is known for using the RB1 on his team in a workhorse fashion. McCaffrey’s career is going to continue to skyrocket as long as his coaching staff continues to view him as the piece the offense should run through. The Panthers didn’t add anyone noteworthy to the roster who would  compete with McCaffrey, leading me to believe he will continue his reign of terror on opposing defenses. Christian McCaffrey had a 94.5% snap share last year which was the top mark in the NFL last year, even beating Ezekiel Elliott who is pretty much the standard for the modern day NFL workhorse. McCaffrey’s ability to handle large rushing volume was often questioned early in his career due to his small stature, but last year he showed that no matter how much volume you give him he can still remain highly efficient.

The receiving game is where McCaffrey excels on the field. My rankings are based on .5 points per reception leagues, but if it were based on a full point per reception league then he would easily be my second ranked running back. Last year McCaffrey was targeted 124 times and ended the season with 107 receptions for 867 receiving yards which was the most for any running back in the league. His versatility on the field gives the Panthers the ability to use him as a true three-down back which means he can stay on the field for almost every snap as we nearly saw last year. Though most people expected him to be a great pass catcher coming into the league, he has also become great while running between the tackles. Despite only receiving 219 carries last season, he still ended up with 1,098 rushing yards which speaks to his prowess as a pure runner. Finally, it is likely that no one in Carolina will threaten to take CMC’s role. The only running back behind McCaffrey worth mentioning is Cameron Artis-Payne who has no chance to take over the workhorse role in this offense. As long as Cam Newton is healthy for the upcoming season, and we are getting glowing reports to affirm this, then McCaffrey has nowhere to go but up from last year. 

David Johnson 

Fantasy players have been waiting for David Johnson to perform as he did in his 2016 breakout season. That year he put up 1,239 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He also added 879 receiving yards and 4 TDs through the air. If Johnson can repeat or even come close to this production that he has proven he is capable of, then he has a legitimate chance of finishing as the RB1 in fantasy yet again. Although these kinds of numbers are a proven possibility for Johnson, it has been a few years since he showed that efficiency and has gone through a lot since then. In 2017, Johnson suffered an injury that kept him out the entire year. In 2018 despite staying healthy, he was the focal point of one of, if not, the worst offenses in the entire NFL. The good news is that the Arizona Cardinals have made changes to both their coaching staff and their roster this offseason. They hired a young and innovative coach in Kliff Kingsbury that runs an air raid offense. Any change at this point will likely be an improvement for the Cardinals’ offense as they finished dead last in offensive yards last year, only racking up 3,865 yards in total offense. This offseason, Arizona also drafted Kyle Murray with the  #1 overall pick. Murray will be tasked to run this brand new offense. There is almost no way that the Cardinals repeat their terrible production last year and if the offense even improves a little bit David Johnson should see a bump in efficiency. 

Even though he was on the worst offense in all of football last year, DJ managed to have a pretty good year for fantasy finishing as the RB9 in most formats. Many people saw him as a disappointment last year because of his past production and his 2018 draft price, but he performed well in comparison to the rest of his offense. Johnson finished the year with 10 total touchdowns. The fact that was able to score double digit touchdowns last year is almost a miracle in my opinion. The team likes to utilize Johnson in the red zone and give him 35 touches which is roughly 2 per game. I could see him ending up with closer to 15 total TDs this year in Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense. The Cardinals also gave Johnson 258 carries and targeted him 76 times last year which paints a good picture of just how confident they are in him being able to carry this offense on his back. If Johnson can have yet another breakout season this year, then fantasy players will be happy that they drafted him at 1.06 in their league. The only downfall to drafting Johnson is that players are taking a risk as we have not yet seen the new offense in Arizona. It may be a little bumpy the first couple of weeks as everyone becomes accustomed to the new playbook and tempo, but that risk could pay off because Johnson’s ceiling is as high as it gets in fantasy this year.

Want more Rankings? Head over and download our Draft Kit for our rankings, projections, cheat sheets and more!