2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Risk factors for the elite running backs? Our experts discuss it

You get to see us every weekday on Fantasy Football Today live on CBS Sports HQ at noon. You get to listen to us banter on the Fantasy Football Today podcast, too. But, we have all kinds of discussions around the office that you don't get to see. This week, we'll but publishing some of our internal Slack chat discussions about various topics we're talking about as we prepare for our shows, drafts, articles and more. 

Today, we're talking about the Big Four running backs: Alvin Kamara, Ezekiell Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley. Below is a lightly edited transcript of a chat between Dave Richard, Jamey Eisenberg, and Heath Cummings about the downsides of the Big Four. 

chris.towers: For the first of our staff chats for this week, I want to talk about a big topic: The Big Four running backs. And more specifically, I want to get you guys out of your comfort zone, and get you talking bad about them.

I know, we all love Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekiel Elliot. But it's not all sunshine and roses. Elite running backs bust every single year. We have to prepare ourselves — and our readers — for the possibility. We have to know what the warning signs might be.

So that's where we're going to start.

jamey.eisenberg: Chris Towers, Debbie Downer

chris.towers: Bravely standing athwart history, yelling "Bust!"

So, let's start off like this: Give me the one-sentence (or two, if you can't self-edit) case for how this season could go wrong for Alvin Kamara, with one red flag we should watch out for as an early warning sign.

heath.cummings: His per touch numbers regressed last year. If his touchdown numbers do the same this year, he doesn't get enough touches to be a true top-four back.

dave.richard: If Latavius Murray turns out to be used more than Mark Ingram was, he'll certainly take more of the rushing workload and keep Kamara to under 1,500 total yards and under 10 touchdowns.

jamey.eisenberg: The only negative with any of these guys is injury. But if Kamara did have something go wrong, it's Latavius Murray taking away the majority of his touchdowns, and he goes from 14 rushing touchdowns from 2018 to, say, four this year.

chris.towers: Let's do the same for Christian McCaffrey.

heath.cummings: All of this chatter about the Panthers reducing his workload proves true, while D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel breakout and the passing attack turns downfield more often. McCaffrey loses touchdowns and targets and finishes top-12.

dave.richard: The Panther have already talked about lowering his snaps. What if they start lightening his carries and catches, too? Lots of rave reviews for Cam Newton's passing in camp, and you know Cam will steal about five rushing touchdowns.

jamey.eisenberg: Cam is Cam again, and he scores the majority of rushing touchdowns for the Panthers (McCaffrey had seven last year). And Carolina does limit McCaffrey's workload, which leads to someone else taking away production in all aspects of McCaffrey's game.

chris.towers: Let's tug on that thread before moving on to the next player: What do you make of this talk that the Panthers want to limit McCaffrey's snaps, but not necessarily his touches? Also, we got a report yesterday that they could be looking for another back to take on goal-line work. Is this a real concern?

jamey.eisenberg: They had a relatively in-shape C.J. Anderson last year and barely used him before cutting him. I'm not worried about McCaffrey.

heath.cummings: It's a small concern. Bigger than any concern in the top four RBs besides Zeke's contract.

dave.richard: I think it's a minor concern. It's basically the reason why McCaffrey was my No. 4 overall running back in non-PPR before the Elliott holdout got real.

chris.towers: Alright, let's move on to Elliott. We know what the issue is: He's holding out.

The question is, how real is the risk he misses actual games? Have you given any thought to moving him out of the top four?

jamey.eisenberg: I expect him to be there for Week 1. He'll stay in the top four until we get past the third week of the preseason. Then the slide will start to happen, which could be rapid.

heath.cummings: I'm strongly considering dropping him behind DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones and the first tier of wide receivers this week. I really don't think it's all that likely he misses games, but it feels more likely with every week that passes. I'll put odds at 10% right now.

dave.richard: I want him to have at least a full week of practice with the team before Week 1. If we don't have any optimism for a deal by about 10 days from now, I'll slide him toward the end of Round 1 and start studying their other running backs closely.

chris.towers: Right now, are you taking Tony Pollard or Alfred Morris in the reserve rounds just in case?

jamey.eisenberg: Tony Pollard. He's the guy right now.

heath.cummings: I'm looking to Pollard in the very late rounds.

dave.richard: I've been taking Morris assuming he'll get the chance at leading them in carries, but if Pollard continues working with the starters in the preseason, he'd have to be the guy.

chris.towers: Does Pollard have any standalone value?

heath.cummings: If Elliott plays? I really don't think he will. Solely a handcuff for me.

dave.richard: Not really. Maybe five touches per game with Zeke.

jamey.eisenberg: He's a lottery ticket.

dave.richard: And that could look like 10-12 touches without Zeke with potential for more if he succeeds.

chris.towers: Let's get to the last running back: Saquon Barkley.

What's the case against him?

Personally, as someone who drafted entirely too much David Johnson last season, I can't help but think Barkley is the riskiest of this four — yes, even more so than Elliott.

jamey.eisenberg: How dare you!

Go away!

Don't project that evil here!

The case against Barkley is ... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

heath.cummings: Let's say Eli continues to get worse and Daniel Jones isn't ready. The Giants could be the worst offense in football. If Barkley doesn't have six carries of more than 50 yards again, he could be a very boring low-end RB1,

chris.towers: Oh, come on. Have some imagination, Jamey.

jamey.eisenberg: Injury, that's it.

My imagination is taking me to a place far away from this chat. So ... gotta go, bye!

dave.richard: Is it possible Barkley isn't quite as amazing without a receiver who can take the top off the defense? His Fantasy points per game were down in the four outings without Odell Beckham ... from 24.6 to 19.8 in PPR and 18.4 to 15.5 in non-PPR.

chris.towers: That's a not-insignificant drop! It's still excellent, but it would have been ninth in Fantasy points per game in PPR last season. And that's probably not the floor, is it? Eli is a year older, and Daniel Jones could be Josh Rosen-bad as a rookie.

Jamey is right, I am a Debbie Downer.

dave.richard: Actually, if you buy into his preseason game, Daniel Jones already looks better than current-day Eli.

chris.towers: It is a low bar.

Alright, let's finish on a higher note.

Which running backs have the best chance of making this a Big Five or Big Six?

heath.cummings: In non-PPR I'll take Nick Chubb. He was a top-six back over the last eight weeks of 2018 (and he had a bye!). Obviously, Todd Gurley could join this group if he just stays healthy and repeats last year's efficiency. I'd also expect James Conner to be not far behind unless Pittsburgh really goes RBBC for the first time in memory.

dave.richard: I'm a big believer in the offense being installed in Arizona and a nice bounce-back year for David Johnson. Defenses are going to be tired and scared of the pass, which should open things up in the run game for Johnson. Playing off a running quarterback won't hurt either. And he's still going to catch a slew of passes. You can't judge Johnson off of the terrible 2018 season the Cardinals had.

chris.towers: You guys are forgetting a pretty obvious one.

heath.cummings: I'm so scared of Adam Gase.

chris.towers: Nope.

dave.richard: Mixon?

chris.towers: Nope.

dave.richard: LAMAR MILLER.

chris.towers: This guy outscored Ezekiel Elliott in PPR, and Elliott and Kamara and Barkley in non-PPR last season per game.

Give up?

dave.richard: Gurley.

heath.cummings: Yes.

(Please say who I think.)

chris.towers: Melvin Gordon!

You can get him for a third-round pick right now! In drafts with you scaredy cats, he might make it to the fourth round.

dave.richard: Oh yeah, him.

chris.towers: Invest and prosper.

heath.cummings: Yeah, he could do it. Though I do think he's going to need good touchdown luck to make it happen. They limited his volume in the running game last year and I wouldn't expect that to change if they pay him.

dave.richard: There is no optimism about him coming back to Chargers camp. There's no movement, no media reports, no nothing. And we already know he backed Le'Veon Bell's stance on a holdout last year — I'm getting nervous he doesn't show until Week 11.

chris.towers: I'm getting nervous the Fantasy community is over-learning the lesson of Bell's absence last year. We didn't take it seriously enough, so we're going to over correct.

Look, I get the risk. But if he falls to the third round, you'd be foolish to not take him. You're playing for first place, not third. Just win baby!

So what Fantasy Football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which RB2 can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Andrew Luck's huge season, and find out.

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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