It’s a weird year for running backs as they relate to fantasy football.
After Le’Veon Bell sat out the 2018 season due to a contract dispute, two others are on track to do the same thing this year — though it may not go to the lengths Bell did. Furthering the aforementioned weirdness is the ongoing phasing out of primary-back offenses, meaning there only are a few running backs in the league still that see a significantly heavier workload than their teammate/teammates.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top running backs for the 2019 fantasy football season:
1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (Bye Week: 11)
The Giants might not be close to contending, but they still have arguably the best player in the game. Regardless of if you’re in a PPR league or not, if you have the top pick you should be selecting Barkley.
2. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 9)
It’ll be interesting to see how Mark Ingram’s departure impacts Kamara, as game-planning for New Orleans’ backfield just got more straightforward. Nevertheless, he’s a true dual-threat and is poised for another big year.
3. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (Bye Week: 9)
Last year the Rams weren’t afraid to run Gurley into the ground, to the point that it derailed their Super Bowl performance. But if he’s healthy, there’s no reason to believe Gurley won’t again be one of the most productive backs in the league again, even if the Rams don’t lean on him quite as much.
4. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 7)
McCaffrey again is going to be a dream for those in PPR leagues. He proved last season that he can be a much more dependable rusher, and there’s no reason to believe he’s trending anywhere but upward heading into this season.
5. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 8)
Part of the reason for ranking Elliott here is the uncertainty with his contract situation, otherwise, he could be higher. He’s one of the most electric backs in the game, but the possibility of him doing the same thing Bell did last season means there’s some inherent risk in picking him. We all know how talented he is but proceed with caution.
6. Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (Bye Week: 4)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bell play and he’s in a new system, but one has to think the time off might help him out in some respects. He’ll be the focal point of the offense as Sam Darnold continues to grow, and though in some senses that’s a good thing, it does make him the primary guy for defenses to focus on.
7. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 9)
The 23-year-old took a big step forward in Year 2, and there’s a good chance he progresses even more the third time around. The Bengals aren’t afraid to use him, either, as he had the eighth-most carries in the league last year, and it would stand to reason he gets even more usage in 2019.
8. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (Bye Week: 12)
The ability is there, but it has been a couple years since we’ve seen Johnson at his best. If Kyler Murray can help take some of the burden off Johnson to be the only source of offense, then he could prove to be a valuable pickup. Otherwise, he’s a high-risk option that someone probably will take too early.
9. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 12)
Another guy with an uncertain contract situation, Gordon is even riskier than Elliott because of his checkered injury history. But while acknowledging that, his explosiveness and ability to get into the end zone means you very easily could rationalize drafting him to be your top back. Again though, be careful.
10. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (Bye Week: 10)
One has to think that the Jaguars, who brought in Nick Foles this offseason, will try a more pass-heavy scheme. That should take some of the emphasis off Fournette, who might benefit from that in a big way, especially after playing in just eight games last season.
11. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 7)
It’s tough to assess how effective Conner will be this season now that everyone has far more film on him. Though an injury played a role, his productivity did dip after Week 9, so expectations should be tempered a touch. However, there’s no distraction of Bell’s possible return like there was last year, so maybe that will allow Conner to keep doing his thing this year.
12. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Bye Week: 5)
Johnson is a big breakout candidate to watch. He seemed to really be hitting his stride before sustaining a season-ending injury, and current signs from Lions training camp point to him getting more involved in the passing game. While he might be a low-end RB1, high-end RB2 at the moment, there’s plenty of reason to take a chance on him.
13. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 9)
After an injury-shortened season limited him to just two games last year and owners might be skeptical as a result, Freeman has displayed too much skill to just be glanced over. He had been good, if not great in the previous three seasons, so it’s fair to imagine him possibly regaining that form in 2019 if he stays healthy.
14. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns (Bye Week: 7)
Nobody really knows what to expect from the Browns this year, but Chubb should be a sneaky important part of what very well could be an electric offense. Duke Johnson is gone and Kareem Hunt is suspended for eight games, so there’s plenty of time for Chubb to prove he belongs as a primary back.
15. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 12)
The health issues are just too big to ignore, as he only has 13 games to his name through two seasons. Upon his return late last year he left a nice mark, which should give the individual in your league that takes him some hope. Still, there should be plenty of pause as we don’t know what he’s like for a full season.
16. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 11)
Around the middle of 2018, Jones found a way to carve out a role for himself before getting injured. How exactly he fits into Matt LaFleur’s plans remains to be seen, though, and that’s important to keep an eye on so long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback. Nonetheless, he’s an efficient player that also even could see some action in the passing game.
17. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 6)
Andrew Luck’s resurgence last season took some deserved attention away from Mack, who showed a knack for scoring. The risk here is he’s seldom used in the passing game, so if he’s not having success on the ground, well you’re probably in a tough spot for the week,
18. Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders (Bye Week: 6)
There’s plenty of excitement around Jacobs, who was taken with the 24th pick in this year’s draft, but there also should be some fear. The Raiders have all the makings to be a circus, and they were just flat-out bad in 2018, so he’s not exactly entering the best situation. However, he showed in college he can be a good dual-threat option, and that might be what the Raiders offense needs (well, that and a competent quarterback).
19. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Bye Week: 11)
His 2018 numbers are a bit skewed because of his four-touchdown performance against Jacksonville in Week 14. That said, his big frame makes him a desirable option for the Titans in the red zone, which should make his lack of usage in the receiving game a bit more forgivable for fantasy owners.
20. Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 12)
The Chiefs have a great offense, and Williams thrived in it upon the Chiefs’ release of Hunt. He has a pretty high ceiling for the upcoming year as a result now that he’ll get a chance to serve as the primary back for more than just a couple games.
21. Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 8)
There’s considerable risk in taking Ingram because this will be the first look at him in a few years without Kamara. Plus, he’s in a pretty raw Ravens offensive system that will feature Lamar Jackson under center for the first full season. He’s proven to be more than serviceable over recent years, but there’s a chance that might not remain the case now that he’s the top back on a new team.
22. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (Bye Week: 11)
It might shock you that Carson logged the seventh-most carries in the league last season, even with the Seahawks drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round. It’s fair to wonder whether the duties will be split a little more evenly this season, but either way, the trust clearly is there for Carson.
23. Sony Michel, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 10)
His receiving needs work, but all signs point to Michel being the primary back for the Patriots, especially after logging 931 yards in 13 games last season. Drafting Patriots running backs can be a gamble in fantasy, but Michel is worth the risk if you need an RB2, especially if his catching abilities come around.
24. Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 5)
Once you get to this point in the draft, you’re probably looking for guys who either are a FLEX or have decent RB2 abilities. That, in a nutshell, is Drake. He could be a nice get in a PPR league due to his involvement in the passing game, which is important since how he’ll be used on the ground remains to be seen with a new quarterback and head coach now in the fold.
25. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (Bye Week: 10)
Even with the acquisition of Johnson, Miller should shoulder more of the load for Houston. He’s coming off a down year, but maybe he’ll find his form better now in the second full year with Deshaun Watson as the quarterback. There’s a demonstrated history of Miller being a useful fantasy running back, so you could do worse in this spot.
26. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (Bye Week: 6)
The Bears have a couple options now between Montgomery and Tarik Cohen, but Montgomery’s versatility probably will result in immediate usage that only should increase as time goes on. He showed nice receiving ability at Iowa State, so that very well could help him carve out a role early on.
27. James White, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 10)
The only reason for our reticence with White is that the Patriots went through stretches last season where they just flat-out refused to use him (for reasons that still aren’t totally clear). Still, when heavily involved in the offense he was a tremendous asset for fantasy owners, so if you’re willing to deal with the lows, the highs should be pretty darn high.
28. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 10)
Who knows what the Broncos offense will be able to do next season, so keep expectations reasonable with Lindsay, who admittedly was quite exciting as an undrafted rookie last year.
29. Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers (Bye Week: 4)
The 49ers have plenty of options in the backfield, but it seems likely they’ll all get plenty of looks as the offense tries to figure itself out with Jimmy Garoppolo back. Coleman had some good years with the Falcons, so he could be an important contributor for San Francisco.
30. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 12)
Ekeler could be huge for the Chargers this season if Gordon elects to hold out, which seems like a very real possibility. He was a great waiver wire guy last season, and he could become even more useful as the top back this season.
Thumbnail photo via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images