8 Running Backs Primed to Break Out
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 of receiving a heightened workload. Below are nine 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.
Considering running backs have an NFL lifespan of about three years and we’re talking about breakouts, this list is likely to be littered with rookies. The first appearance —and the player I’m most bullish on— is Jonathan Taylor of the Colts. Mainstays Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines are driving Taylor’s price down in redraft leagues but that simply makes it easier to take him as your third running back (or higher). While it may seem unrealistic to expect the rookie to come in and usurp both roles from the incumbents, it’s probable that he siphons work on the ground from Mack and work through the air from Hines in handfuls as the season wears on.
Despite working behind an exceptional offensive line in 2019, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines couldn’t get much going after taking what the o-line had blocked for them. Of 68 qualifying running backs (minimum 50 carries), they ranked 39th and 58th respectively, in yards after contact per attempt. This behind arguably the best inside blocking line in the league, setting Mack and Hines up with plenty of one-on-one situations against smaller second-level defenders.
When Taylor is able to work himself into the passing game, he’ll be gifted a quarterback in Philip Rivers, whose shrinking air yards over the last four years has correlated to a heightened usage of the running back as a target. This culminated in 2019 when Rivers targeted the running back 10% more than the league average, resulting in 74 more RB targets than the average NFL quarterback.
Jonathan Taylor has a road paved for 250-touches and makes a perfect addition if your roster already has two veteran running backs.
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