Draft an RB2 with RB1 Upside
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
When drafting running backs you’re either positioned in the top 6 able to grab a bell cow type player or looking a back that can outperform their draft position. Currently being drafted outside the top 2 rounds (12 team PPR) are three players with a lot of buzz that may or may not have immense upside from their 2018 seasons. Marlon Mack (ranked RB15, ADP 33), Aaron Jones (RB16, ADP 37), and Kerryon Johnson (RB18, ADP 42) are those three players. We’ll look at the various team dynamics and metrics from 2018 to determine who should be the player to draft in 2019.
The Colts did not select a running back in the 2019 draft but did pick up Spencer Ware as an additional free agent in 2019. While Ware has shown himself to be able to carry the load for his previous teams, there isn't any evidence that he’s any more than a depth add. The Colts start the 2019 season with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines as their one-two on the depth chart. This bodes well for Mack as Hines is mostly used as the receiving or 3rd down option.
The Packers on the other hand drafted Dexter Williams in the 6th round of the 2019 draft. Aaron Jones was able to flash instances of brilliance in 2018. With Jamaal Williams (hopefully) complimenting Jones, Dexter Williams should serve more as a reserve than a threat. The unknown in Green Bay is how the new coaching staff is going to treat the opportunities given to Jones and Williams. Something that plagued fantasy players everywhere in 2018. Aaron Jones’ wildcard is the ability of Aaron Rodgers to set the team up for scoring opportunities, something we’ll discuss a bit later. Jones just needs to be on the field when it happens.
Detroit also drafted a running back in the 6th round in 2019. Again this move is more of a depth add rather than a threat as a starter. Detroit’s big focus of the 2019 draft was T.J. Hockenson in round 1 - someone with big time blocking ability. The biggest unknown for Detroit is the addition of C.J. Anderson. A veteran player who averaged 6.01 yards per attempt in 2018. He’s a stark contrast to Kerryon Johnson but a threat to touches none-the-less. Especially considering Matt Patricia’s insistence on committee backfields (enter LeGarrette Blount’s 2.71 yards per attempt).
Winner of the off season team changes: Marlon Mack
Runner up: Aaron Jones
Marlon Mack played 12 games in 2018. He finished as the RB20 in total fantasy points at 176.1 (PPR), RB12 in fantasy points per game (14.68), RB15 in total attempts at 195 carries, and RB25 in yards per attempt at 4.66. Stats that may be most telling about Mack are his touchdowns per game (0.75), his red zone usage (RB9 in attempts inside the 20 with 18, RB7 inside the 10 with 21, and RB7 inside the 5 with 7) and receiving targets per game (RB52 with 25 targets for the season). When the Colts are in the red zone they’re comfortable handing the ball to Mack, but Nyheim Hines (RB7 with 81 targets in 16 games) is their preferred passing option. Mack’s coaching staff has stated that they believe he can be a workhorse back in 2019. Extrapolating his rushing touches from 2018 over 16 games he’d be at 260 total, RB3 in 2018 (behind Elliot and Barkley). His 16 game total fantasy points projection for 2018 is 234.8 which would have been the RB12.
Aaron Jones played 13 games in 2018. He finished as the RB25 in total fantasy points (167.4) and RB17 in fantasy points per game (12.88). Over 16 games that would have been 206.03 points, enough to finish as the RB14. A lot of the hype surrounding Jones (aside from playing on an Aaron Rodgers led offense) is his yards per attempt in 2018 (5.47, RB2). The hidden story for Jones’ 2018 campaign is his red zone usage. Jones was RB34 attempts inside the 20 yard line with 18 (80% of all rushing attempts on the team), tied for RB33 for attempts inside the 10 with 8 (71%), and tied for RB35 for attempts inside the 5 with 4 (28%). Under McCarthy, when the Packers were in the red zone Jones was given the share of opportunities amongst his peers to score. The downside for Jones is that those opportunities were far less than other backs in the league.
Kerryon Johnson's season was cut short, only playing 11 games in 2018. He ended the season as the RB35 in total fantasy points (137.4) but was the RB19 in fantasy points per game (12.49). Over 16 games Kerryon would have ended as the RB14 with 214.4 total points. When Kerryon had the ball he showed flashes of greatness, but he still finished as the RB41 in attempts (118), over 16 games that would be good for the RB23. He trailed only Aaron Jones in yards per attempt (5.43). HIs red zone usage mirrors that of Jones, RB36 attempts inside the 20 yard line with 17 (70% of all rushing attempts on the team) tied for RB33 for attempts inside the 10 with 8 (73%), and tied for RB52 for attempts inside the 5 with 2 (13%). Detroit’s coaching staff should continue to bring in heavier (i.e. C.J. Anderson) running backs when close to the goal line in 2019. Given Johnson’s injury history nobody would be surprised if Detroit commanded a three headed RBBC with Johnson, Anderson, and Theo Riddick.
Best of the usage metrics: Marlon Mack
Runner up: Aaron Jones
Summary: Mack, Jones, and Johnson are being drafted at the end of the 3rd or into the 4th round of 12 team drafts. Most folks will be looking for their RB2 in this territory. Marlon Mack has the opportunity and ability to flirt with RB1 status in 2019. Jones and Johnson look to have an RB2 ceiling in 2019, but a safe RB2 play none-the-less.
Disclaimer: All fantasy stats using PPR scoring. Comparisons are with players playing at least 10 games in 2018. All data pulled from Fanatiq app.