The Lowdown – Running backs

Titans running back Derrick Henry looks for yardage during a game against the Jaguars.

Ability. Opportunity. The two most critical components for a running back in fantasy football. 

If you’re fantasy team is stocked with backs who have ability, good for you. If you have backs who find themselves with great opportunities, terrific. But the magic formula for fantasy owners – acquire RBs who have both. If you do — DING, DING, DING! You’ve won the running back lottery. 

We know what you’re thinking… 

“Running backs with ability and opportunity? Great analysis Czar, you moron.” 

“Funny, I always wanted running backs with no skills and no opportunity. Czar my a#@.” 

But the thing is, it’s not that easy to get running backs with both ability and opportunity. There just aren’t that many of them. Christian McCaffrey. Ezekiel Elliott — awesome backs who get a ton of touches each and every week. There are a few others. But not many. 

So what’s a fantasy football owner to do? 

We’re in a dynasty league that has two owners with very different philosophies when it comes to the running back spot. Owner A likes backs who have been big time players – NFL, college, both. Guys who have been “The Man,” or have the ability to be “The Man.” Owner A hangs on to those backs, and waits for their opportunity to arrive. Patience Grasshopper, patience. 

Owner B will pick up and play any running back if he thinks the guy has a chance to score some fantasy that week. Next week doesn’t matter. Neither does last week. Owner B is the King of the Waiver Wire. If a starter gets hurt, his nondescript backup will soon be on Owner B’s roster. And probably gone the next week. No loyalty, no patience, Owner B goes through running backs like The Czar goes through white socks in the summer. But it works for him… 

Owner A went 9-5 and missed the playoffs. Owner B went 10-4, made the playoffs and finished second in the league. 

So what do we take from that little scenario? 

Well, I’m sorry, but you still want the elite running backs on your roster. You still want talented players at running back, even if they aren’t in the most opportunistic of situations – especially if you have patience. But, if a running back, almost any running back, gets touches, he’ll help your fantasy team. You just have to stay on top of the waiver wire and not be afraid to roll the dice a few weeks every season. 

RUNNING BACK THOUGHTS… 

Based on the previous paragraph, if you can’t land one of the top eight or nine running backs, don’t be afraid to load up on wide receivers and a top quarterback early, then get after the running back position. There should be great numbers put up by the backs in Tiers 3, 4 and 5 of our rankings. 

Derrick Henry led NFL running backs in most everything in 2019 – carries, yards, touchdowns. Can’t imagine him repeating those achievements, but he’ll still be one of the top backs in the league. 

Sure hope we’re wrong, because he sure was special. But hard to imagine that we’ll ever see the Pittsburgh version of Le’Veon Bell again. But if we do, what a great story. 

Love Miles Sanders ability. Not so crazy about the offense that he plays in – from a fantasy perspective. Doug Pederson’s offense doesn’t lend itself to big numbers from backs, because he uses plenty of them. That’s great for everything other than fantasy and contracts. 

Expect David Montgomery and Ronald Jones to put up big numbers in 2020.   Both very talented, both in situations that could result in plenty of opportunity.

The Czar may be the only dork in North America not drinking the Austin Ekeler Kool-Aid. But the Czar is sipping the Kool-Aid. Ekeler is talented —- especially as a receiver out of the backfield. Not overly concerned that his rushing average per carry has dropped in his three seasons from 5.5, to 5.2, to 4.2 in 2019. Not overly concerned that he’s never rushed for more that 557 yards in a season. But if I drafted Ekeler, I would be concerned about Justin Jackson. We know – not many folks feel the same way.

But in the first three games of 2019, Jackson had 18 carries for 142 yards – that’s 7.9 yards per carry. However, he injured his ankle in practice, Melvin Gordon ended his holdout, and – voila! —Jackson had just 11 carries the rest of the season. He finished the season with 29 carries for 200 yards – 6.9 yards a pop. Our thinking – Jackson will make a significant dent into Ekeler’s rushing opportunities. So bottom line – The Czar wouldn’t draft Ekeler in the first two rounds. And, we’d scoop up Justin Jackson late, and keep our fingers crossed that we end up with a steal. 

David Johnson can’t possibly be done at the age of 28, and he’s in the perfect spot to prove it in Houston. Bill O’Brien has had 1,000 yard running backs in three of his six seasons as Texans head coach. That includes squeezing 1,070 yards and 6 TDs out of Carlos Hyde last season. If Johnson has anything left – and we think he does – O’Brien will find it.