In each of the past three NFL seasons, there has been at least one running back who started the year third on the depth chart on their own team but finished as a starting Fantasy option for several weeks in the majority of leagues. Can that happen again in 2020?
In 2017, we had Alvin Kamara emerge as a star after he started the season behind Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. In 2018, it was Nick Chubb standing out after starting behind Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. And last year, we had Raheem Mostert lead the way for the 49ers after he started the season behind Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.
With Kamara and Chubb, it was a trade that allowed them an opportunity to showcase their skills. Peterson was traded to Arizona in 2017, and Hyde was traded to Jacksonville in 2018. Mostert took advantage of Coleman and Breida battling injuries last year.
We'll see what transpires this season to open the door for one, or hopefully several, third-string running backs to become starting Fantasy options. And we're using the Ourlads depth chart for this exercise.
Now, I did alter two depth charts to better reflect how we approach them for Fantasy this year. For example, Ourlads has Zack Moss behind Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon at the beginning of August in Buffalo, but Moss should be ahead of Yeldon already when it comes to their Fantasy value. We don't need to talk about the Bills here.
And I also would put Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson ahead of Malcolm Brown, but Ourlads has Brown listed first of that trio. I'm going to include Brown below because he fits into this conversation since every Fantasy manager should draft Akers and Henderson first, in that order, ahead of Brown in all leagues.
So what we're going to do here is look at 10 third-string running backs who could end up as quality Fantasy options this year -- with maybe one or two potential stars.
Kelley fits the description of the next Kamara, Chubb and Mostert given the circumstances he has with the Chargers. He will likely open the season behind Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson, but I expect Kelley to be better than Jackson early in the year. There are 162 carries and 42 catches available in the Chargers' offense with Melvin Gordon gone as a free agent to Denver, and while Ekeler will take some of those touches, Kelley could see a good portion as well. He might even help replace Gordon as the touchdown leader for the Chargers, and Gordon has scored at least nine total touchdowns in four years in a row. I'm buying plenty of stock in Kelley at his current ADP on CBS as the No. 55 running back off the board.
Even with Derrius Guice now off the team, I'm still putting Gibson third behind Peterson and either Peyton Barber or Bryce Love. But keep an eye on Love because he's a good stash candidate. For Gibson, he is expected to be a factor on passing downs, but Guice getting released could allow Gibson more rushing chances, especially since Peterson is 35. There's a path to a big role for Gibson, who new head coach Ron Rivera has compared to Christian McCaffrey from his days in Carolina. Washington's receiving corps is a mess, and Gibson could play a prominent role in the passing game right away as a converted receiver from Memphis. He's likely better in PPR than non-PPR leagues, but Gibson is worth drafting with a Round 8 pick in all formats.
Harris could find himself first on the depth chart for the Patriots before the start of the season given the health of Sony Michel (foot), who opened training camp on the active/PUP list. James White is also listed ahead of Harris on the depth chart given his role in the passing game, and you can argue that Rex Burkhead is ahead of Harris as well. But I'm drafting Harris ahead of Burkhead, and hopefully the second-year running back from Alabama gets his chance to showcase his skills this season. As a rookie last year, Harris only had four carries for 12 yards and was active for just two games. But if he's thrust into a starting role -- and Michel had 247 carries and 259 total touches last year -- then Harris could be a steal with a late-round pick.
Hines might not be a league-winner in the mold of Kamara, Chubb or Mostert, but he could be a lesser version of guys like Ekeler, White and Tarik Cohen. And that's not a bad target with a late-round pick, especially in PPR. Hines is behind Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor for the Colts, but he should be the primary option on passing downs. I expect new Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers to lean on Hines, and Rivers has a lengthy track record of throwing to running backs. LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, Danny Woodhead, Gordon and Ekeler each had at least one season with 75-plus targets playing alongside Rivers in the Chargers' backfield. In 2019, Rivers connected with Gordon and Ekeler for 134 catches for 1,289 yards and nine touchdowns on 163 targets. In two seasons in the NFL, Hines has averaged 54 catches, 372 yards and one touchdown on 70 targets. This could be a tremendous marriage of Rivers and Hines in 2020.
Vaughn was expected to be the No. 2 running back for Tampa Bay to open the season, but the Buccaneers signing LeSean McCoy pushed Vaughn down the depth chart behind Ronald Jones as well. I'm still hopeful Jones will be the best running back for the Buccaneers, but Vaughn could have a role at some point this season. Remember, McCoy is 32 and struggled with the Chiefs last year. And Jones has struggled to be a consistent producer in two seasons. Dare Ogunbowale should be in the mix for touches as well, but Vaughn could emerge as the best running back for Bruce Arians. He's a good stash candidate with a late-round pick.
I'm curious to see what the Chiefs plan to do with their backup running backs behind rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire now that Damien Williams has opted out over concerns related to COVID-19. The depth chart has Darwin Thompson as the No. 2 running back, but Washington and Darrel Williams will also be in the mix. I'm drafting Washington given his experience, and he played with Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech. And last year with the Raiders, Washington was exceptional in three starts for Josh Jacobs, scoring at least 18 PPR points in each of those outings. I don't want to see Edwards-Helaire miss any time, but Washington has shown he can be successful in a featured role when given the opportunity.
Armstead is listed as third on the depth chart behind Leonard Fournette and Chris Thompson, but Armstead is the backup to Fournette given Thompson's role in the passing game. And I'm curious to see how the Jaguars plan to use Fournette this season after trying to trade him in the offseason. Armstead didn't do much as a fifth-round rookie in 2019, but he did perform well in a spot start in Week 17 against the Colts with 19 PPR points. It would likely take an injury to Fournette for Armstead to see a big role, unless the Jaguars just get frustrated with Fournette and want a change. Thompson is expected to be the lead option on passing downs, but don't be surprised if Armstead helps Fantasy managers in a big way if Fournette misses any time.
As stated above, Ourlads has Brown listed as the starter, which is somewhat justifiable since he's the veteran of this Rams trio with Henderson and Akers. But most Fantasy players, myself included, are counting on Akers or Henderson to lead this backfield. Still, Sean McVay has said many times this offseason that the Rams will use a committee to replace Todd Gurley, and Brown could have a prominent role. He's a good late-round flier, especially in deeper leagues, and he played ahead of Henderson last year as the No. 2 running back behind Gurley. Now, Akers and Henderson profile as better talents, but McVay might want the veteran presence of Brown more often than not in his backfield, which gives Brown more value than expected this year.
The Steelers have James Conner and Benny Snell as the top two running backs on the depth chart, but McFarland could be an option to work in tandem with Conner. Now, that would be a change from what we usually see from the Steelers, who like to feature one guy. But you also have to consider Conner's health. He's healthy heading into the season, but Conner has already missed nine games over the past two years due to injury. McFarland could be the lead rusher for the Steelers if Conner were to miss any time again in 2020, although we'll see what happens with Snell. McFarland is a good late-round running back to stash on your bench as a lottery ticket.
It seems like McKinnon is healthy after missing the past two seasons with knee injuries. He should be third on the depth chart behind Mostert and Coleman, but Jeff Wilson could also be in the mix. However, if you look at San Francisco's backfield, McKinnon profiles as the best one on passing downs. And that could help set him apart from Mostert and Coleman. I would only take a flier on McKinnon in deeper leagues, and hopefully he makes it through training camp. But since the 49ers have stuck with McKinnon through his injuries, maybe there's a chance Kyle Shanahan has a bigger role for him than we expect. He could, finally, be a usable Fantasy option in 2020.
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