We all want those elite bell cow running backs on our fantasy squads. The draft doesn’t always fall that way, or better values emerge at wide receiver. In that case, we’re mining the middle-to-late rounds for running backs that have a clear path to weekly fantasy production. This means taking a chance on players who aren’t even their team’s lead back. These players that can provide fantasy production in a shared backfield. This includes the massive upside of taking over the job due to injury or other circumstances, but they don’t reliant on that. The obvious candidates who many already project to overtake their team’s incumbent starters are Rashaad Penny, Royce Freeman and Ronald Jones. More under-the-radar options with even greater potential exist though. Here are six running backs whose advanced stats, metrics and analytics profiles put them into that category.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Conner took over the Steelers backfield when Le’Veon Bell opted to sit out the 2018 campaign. While Conner was bumped to the top spot, then-rookie Jaylen Samuels made the ascension to RB2. He was stuck there for most of the season, seeing only limited snaps in relief of Conner. When Conner suffered an ankle injury in Week 13, Samuels received his chance. In the three games without Conner, Samuels averaged 109.3 all-purpose yards per contest. His time atop the depth chart was highlighted by his 19 carries, two receptions and 172 total yards against New England. He caught 19 of 20 targets (95-percent catch rate) over the final four games. Including seven receptions on eight targets in Week 17 despite Conner’s return to the lineup. The 2018 fifth-rounder was efficient when given the opportunity. He finished with a +24.4 (No.9) Production Premium and was in the top-25 in True Yards Per Carry (4.4). Those are impressive numbers considering he entered the league as a TE/RB hybrid with limited experience carrying the football.
In four years at NC State, Samuels averaged 45.5 carries per season with a total of 1,107 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. He made his greatest impact, though, as a pass catcher. He dominated in that department with over 200 receptions 1,851 yards and 19 scores. He held a 20.2-percent (97th-percentile) target share in his senior season. In comparison, Conner caught 30 total passes in college. Samuels poses a real threat to Conner’s passing downs work and is a much better athlete. At 6-0, 225-pounds, Samuels possesses a 105.9 (83rd-percentile) Speed Score with a 119.2 (53rd-percentile) Burst Score and 11.21 (72nd-percentile) Agility Score. In comparison, Conner lands in the 63rd-, sixth-, and 18th-percentiles, respectively.
With his size and all purpose skill set, it’s not inconceivable for Samuels to eat into Conner’s early-down workload as well. If an injury were to keep Conner sidelined for any length of time, Samuels fits the mold of a bellcow back with weekly RB1 upside. That’s a potential league-winning asset that can be found in the double-digit rounds of fantasy drafts.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley’s career is dead, his knee is done, and Darrell Henderson is the new RB1 in Los Angeles. Well, that may be an exaggeration. Gurley’s knee is a concern and he is a fade in fantasy drafts because of it. He’s still in line for an RB1 role in the Rams offense. Where the injury plays into Henderson’s favor is expected volume. Gurley will see a lightened workload compared to what we are used to, opening the door for Henderson.
The Rams traded up to select Henderson with the sixth pick of the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He had a tremendous career at Memphis, departing as the second-leading rusher in the program’s history behind only DeAngelo Williams. Henderson averaged an incredible 8.9 yards per carry in each of his final two seasons. In 2018, he was second in the country with 1,909 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on 214 carries. He had 43 carries of 15 or more yards and 11 total touchdowns longer than 53 yards. His 6.16 yards after contact per attempt was best in the nation. Not only is he an impressive runner, his receiving skills make him a threat out of the backfield. He had 19 or more receptions in all three seasons at Memphis, with 15.5 yards per reception and a 7.4-percent target share in 2018. Henderson’s 33.9-percent College Dominator Rating lands in the 77th-percentile. At 5-8, 208-pounds, he ran a 4.49 (81st-percentile) 40-yard dash, resulting in a 102.4 (72nd-percentile) Speed Score.
Check out Darrell Henderson on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:
The rookie has drawn comparisons to Alvin Kamara in terms of expected role. In his first season with the Saints, Kamara received 120 carries and 100 targets working in a two-headed committee with Mark Ingram. In a similarly prolific and running back-friendly offense, Henderson should be used in a similar role even if Gurley’s knee holds up. He will provide standalone fantasy production in a committee with league -winning upside if anything were to happen to Gurley.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Latavius Murray made the move from the Vikings to the Saints this offseason. He steps into the Mark Ingram role as Alvin Kamara’s running mate. Fantasy gamers couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot. The Saints have given 61.5-percent of all team touches to the running backs over the last two seasons, the third-highest rate in the NFL. Ingram’s departure leaves 13.3 vacated touches per game. The Saints don’t want Kamara operating as a true bell cow back. Meaning that Murray will receive a consistent workload, making him a reliable weekly fantasy play. In the two seasons Ingram shared a backfield with Kamara, he averaged 14.75 fantasy points per game. Murray is a more explosive version of Ingram and an elite goal line back. There is a good chance he tops that weekly average. Since entering the league in 2014, Murray’s 25 rushing touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line rank fifth among all active RBs. He has been knocked for his lack of elusiveness, but in 2018 he was 18th in Juke Rate (28.4-percent) with 46 (No. 28) evaded tackles and 1.5 (No. 22) Yards Created per carry.
There is massive upside for Murray in this offense if anything were to happen to Kamara. With Dwayne Washington, Javorius Allen, Matthew Dayes, and Devine Ozigbo as the only other running backs on the roster, Murray would face little competition for touches if he found himself atop the depth chart. At 29-years-old, an age when most running backs begin to fade out, Murray is poised for a career year. He will be a quality flex play with weekly RB1 upside. There are far worse ninth-round picks out there.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
With Sony Michel already dealing with a knee ailment, Damien Harris provides massive upside at his 11th-round ADP. Michel was absent from offseason workouts after reportedly undergoing a knee scope. Now, he has started training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The 2018 first-rounder sat out most of training camp last year with a knee injury and missed three games during the regular season with knee issues. The fact that New England felt the need to spend another pick in the first three rounds on a running back indicates they have trepidation about Michel’s health. If Michel continues to battle these ailments, the door will be open for Harris to capture a large share of the New England backfield. Any running back atop the Patriots depth chart is a running back that fantasy gamers should target. The Patriots were ninth in run rate (45.4-percent) in 2018 and landed inside the top-10 in two of the last three seasons. They have been top-10 in team rushing yards every year from 2016-2018. Even more impressive, the Patriots have finished top-12 in rushing touchdowns every year since 2004. They were outside the top-10 only three times over that span. We have Dion Lewis, James White, and LeGarrette Blount emerge as fantasy stars from that backfield in recent seasons.
Damien Harris looks the part of a fantasy RB1 if given the opportunity. He shared playing time with fellow rookie Josh Jacobs during their time together at Alabama, but Harris proved he can play on all three downs. He topped 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons from 2016-2017 with a career 6.4 yards per carry average. While his rushing totals were down in his senior season, he saw his receiving production rise to 22 receptions for 204 yards. He lacks elite speed but, at 5-10, 216-pounds, his Speed Score still lands in the 61st-percentile. His most impressive trait is his 123.4 (77th-percentile) Burst Score, providing the explosiveness that dominant backs possess. The opportunity with Michel’s uncertainty makes Harris a great value with even greater upside in the 10th round or later. The longer Michel is sidelined, though, the higher Harris will rise in ADP.
Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
Justice Hill is criminally undervalued in fantasy drafts. He dominated the NFL Combine with a 4.40 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical jump, and 130-inch broad jump. All were best among the running backs. From that performance, he owns a 105.7 (82nd-percentile) Speed Score and an incredible 133.0 (95th-percentile) Burst Score. Hill was productive from day one at Oklahoma State, even overtaking incumbent starter Chris Carson as a 19-year-old freshman. He then topped 1,400 yards as a sophomore and added 31 receptions, with a nine-percent target share and 16 total touchdowns. On three occasions that season, Hill reached 30 rush attempts in a single game. Proving that despite his 5-10, 198-pounds frame, he can handle a large workload when called upon.
Hill is the most talented runner on the Ravens roster. He has a real shot at eating into Mark Ingram’s early downs production and also securing the passing down work. Even if Ingram gets the lion’s share of the carries, the team rushing volume will be enough to warrant a solid workload for a second back. After Lamar Jackson took over the starting quarterback job, the Ravens turned to a run heavy approach and neglected the pass game almost completely. With Jackson, they averaged a league-bottom 23.4 pass attempts per game. It was the lowest rate since the 2004 Steelers. Despite leading the league in pass attempts over the first nine games with Joe Flacco under center, the Ravens managed to finish with the most rush attempts and third-highest run rate. Even if they increase the number of pass attempts per game, they will still be among the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL. All it will take is a couple explosive plays in the preseason, or an injury to Ingram, for Hill to skyrocket up draft boards. Take advantage of his low cost now.
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Chase Edmonds carried 60 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 20 passes for an additional 103 yards during his rookie campaign. He will once again be behind David Johnson on the depth chart. What makes this year different is that the Cardinals ditched their stone age coaching staff for one that wants to spread the field and run a ton of plays. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has already expressed interest in having Edmonds play a more significant role than he did in 2018. Based on the number of offensive plays they project to run, he will have to see the field more to spell Johnson. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them run two-RB packages where either Johnson or Edmonds lines up in the slot with the other in the backfield. Edmonds seeing 10-12 touches every week is a realistic projection.
At 5-9, 205-pounds, Edmonds is an athletic satellite back with a 96th-percentile Agility Score. He was a dominant runner in college, albeit at Fordham, with three straight seasons of over 1,600 rushing yards. Including 1,838 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman. His 67 rushing scores and 74 total touchdowns are both the best in Patriot League history. Edmonds showed off quality receiving skills with 86 catches for 905 yards and seven scores, proving he possesses the skill set to do it all. If anything were to happen to Johnson, Edmonds would be a plug-and-play weekly starter in fantasy leagues. But even without a DJ injury, Edmonds can provide flex appeal in deeper best ball leagues. While his FFPC ADP is still well into the 200s, he has been among the fastest risers in recent weeks. Take him as a late-round flyer and laugh your way to the bank.