5 Running Backs Primed to Breakout
Workhorse running backs are few and far between in today’s NFL. That’s why it’s important to use the middle rounds of our drafts to peg players who have an exceptional chance at receiving a heightened workload. Below are six such running backs who—by air or by ground—have a shot at out-kicking their average draft position and delivering results not unlike the top tiers of running backs.
All ADP data is pulled from 4for4.
5.03 Chris Carson, Seahawks (RB24)
(August 26th Update: Carson's ADP has jumped up two entire rounds since the original publication of this article. I still don't mind taking him in that range but would prefer to wait until at least the fourth round where possible.)
Despite finishing 2018 as the 0.5 PPR RB13 in points per game, Chris Carson is still going as the 24th running back off the board. Carson’s fifth-ranked finish in rushing yards (1,151 yards) is largely being ignored because of (1) a lack of involvement in the passing game and (2) the presence of 2018 first-round rookie pick Rashaad Penny. While the first point does have merit, sharing the backfield with Penny shouldn’t have too much of an effect on Chris Carson.
Much to the benefit of the player at hand, Seattle in the Pete Carroll era have long been known for giving the starting nod to whomever they deem the worthiest, not who they have put the most draft or monetary value in to. Look no further than Russell Wilson, who as a third-round rookie won the quarterback job from Matt Flynn who had signed a $20 million contract just months before. This is not to say Rashaad Penny won’t eat into the workload of Carson—that much is a guarantee—but it’s a good bet that Carson will be first in line for one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL, no matter the draft capital spent on Penny.
After beefing up their offensive line with 345-pound road grader Mike Iupati, the Seahawks now sport the league’s second-most experienced line, and they’re making no bones about how they want to move the ball—send out large, experienced, road graders and slam the ball into the defense until they tap out. Seattle has run the ball at the second-highest clip over the last three seasons (53.72%) and led the league with a 52.44% rushing rate in 2018. When the team as a whole is gaining 160 rushing yards per game, we can afford to lose some passing game work and still be looking at a top-12 fantasy football running back.
6.08 Latavius Murray, Saints (RB30)
The easy thing to do here would be to slide Latavius Murray directly into the Mark Ingram role in New Orleans, but that likely wouldn’t be the most prudent thing to do. Pretty much any metric or film will bear out that Ingram is the better all-around running back, but that doesn’t change the fact that Murray just got slotted into one of the most coveted positions in all of (fantasy) football. Alvin Kamara will still be enjoying most of the usage for the Saints but it’s clear that the team has no interest in allowing him to shoulder the entire workload, which means Murray will spell the pass-catching machine early and often.
Murray has never shown much of a propensity for pass-catching (37 receptions during the last two seasons in Minnesota), but he has shown the knack at converting an even more important aspect of the game: touchdowns. Now, year-to-year touchdowns have a terrible correlation and are therefore very difficult to predict, but there are reasons why Murray’s situation in this offense will be an exception to the rule. In 2018, Alvin Kamara ranked second in carries from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line with 34 such rushes while Mark Ingram wasn’t far behind, ranking 14th, with 19 of his own. Murray has kept pace with inside-the-10 usage, racking up 56 carries over the past three seasons with the Raiders and Vikings.
Over that three-season sample, Murray has scored 26 touchdowns (all on the ground), all the while playing behind offensive lines that were far inferior to that of the juggernaut that New Orleans has created. Latavius’s double-digit touchdown scoring upside alone could push him up in the top-15 RB territory. If he actually does take over the Mark Ingram role completely then look out. Ingram has finished in the top-10 of 0.5 PPR scoring twice while sharing the backfield in New Orleans.
7.06 Kenyan Drake, Dolphins (RB34)
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