Rookie RB Tiers
With the NFL Draft in rearview we can now look at rookie running backs that landed in favorable positions when it comes to the upcoming fantasy football season. I will be breaking down four tiers for nine rookies that have an opportunity to make an impact.
Tier One: Fantasy Starter
Tier Two: Fantasy Backup (can draft and stash on bench)
Tier Three: Handcuffs (If you draft the team’s starter)
Tier Four: Keep an eye on the waiver wire (or dart-throw late picks in best ball)
**NOTE** These are my top nine fantasy rookie RBs for this year who have the upside and strongest opportunity to see the field and contribute in fantasy. Bryce Love (Redskins), Justice Hill (Ravens), Qadree Ollison (Falcons) and even 7th-round pick Myles Gaskin (Dolphins) are guys I like for dynasty leagues but they have lesser odds of making an impact this season.
Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
The only rookie RB who should have close to a guarantee (barring injury) to make a fantasy impact. Jacobs was the first rusher selected in the draft and while he did not accumulate gaudy numbers in the passing game (20 rec/247 yds/3 TDs in 2018) at Alabama he has shown good hands and can grow into a strong pass protector at the next level. Derek Carr showed an affinity for throwing to running backs last season, as Jalen Richard’s 81 targets were tied for seventh at the position with Nyheim Hines.
While Richard may still see the majority of targets in this offense, at least early on, Jacobs should receive the majority of rush attempts per game. Isaiah Crowell was signed this offseason but he tore his achilles on May 1. Deandre Washington and Chris Warren should make the team, but as backups. Jacobs is a solid RB2 with his stock elevating after the recent Crowell injury.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Jordan Howard is now in Philadelphia so besides Tarik Cohen, the Bears lack depth at the RB position, opening up immediate opportunity for the rookie out of Iowa State. The Bears chose rushing plays the sixth-most in the NFL last year and the 5-feet-6-inch, 179-pound Cohen probably isn’t getting 25+ carries a game. Mike Davis is probably more of a threat to steal carries after he was signed to a two-year, $6 million contract. However, If Montgomery is able to translate his solid success at the college level in the passing game (71 catches in three seasons) to the NFL he should immediately make an impact in both the run and pass game.
The Bears would like to exploit defenses by lining up Montgomery split from the formation and motioning him out of the backfield to help quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Head coach Matt Nagy and OC Mark Helfrich are the kind of guys you want aiding in your development and Montgomery should immediately fall into RB3/FLEX territory.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
There are too many “cooks in the kitchen” in the Philadelphia backfield, but when the Eagles are the second team to take a running back in the draft, one has to believe Sanders and his skillset will be utilized in some capacity rather quickly. The Eagles traded for Howard and still have mainstays Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood, along with last year’s team-leading rusher Josh Adams. We’ll see who actually makes the roster come Week 1, but Sanders is too well-rounded and talented to stay on the sideline for very long. He’s someone to strongly consider late in your drafts.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams apparently doubt Todd Gurley is fully recovered from his knee injury, drafting the Memphis product in the third round. Malcolm Brown is back after breaking his clavicle late last season so Henderson might not even be the next man up if Gurley’s knee acts up again or he goes down with another injury. Where he should be valuable as a late round pick/handcuff is in the passing game or leagues that take into account kick return yards.
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook has played fewer than half of 32 regular season games for the Vikings over the last two seasons due to injury, and the Boise State product should step right into the RB2 role on this team. Mattison would immediately jump to RB2 status in fantasy if Cook were to go down again this year as he has the ability to be a workhorse back in the NFL even if he does not excel in one particular area. Latavius Murray is gone and while Michael Boone, Ameer Abdullah and Roc Thomas will fight to make the roster, none of them should be a threat to Mattison’s backup role.
Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette has missed 11 games over the past two seasons due to injury, a suspension for getting into a fight and violating team rules. With T.J. Yeldon now in Buffalo and Carlos Hyde with the Chiefs (boy was that trade for him last year pointless), Armstead steps right into the backup role in Jacksonviller. If you’re drafting Fournette this year it is imperative that you grab the Temple product late in drafts especially in bestball formats.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Only three teams ran the ball more than the Bills in 2018, but with Frank Gore and Yeldon now in the mix for carries behind LeSean McCoy, there is just too much competition to consider rostering Singletary in fantasy. The FAU product is a very talented RB who can play all three downs and was ranked No. 2 among 24 rookie RBs in Matt Manocherian’s 2019 SIS Football Rookie handbook, so at some point the Bills will showcase his skillset, just not soon enough for him to be relevant this year.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
The RB stable in New England is strong but Harris should still see a role at some point this season. Bill Belichick likes to mix and match his running backs at times during the regular season (remember Jonas Gray?) so he can have the group fresh for the postseason. Harris should immediately see the field on special teams and if there is an injury to Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead, he can immediately step in and run between the tackles or spell James White in the short passing game.
Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers may have invested a fourth-round pick in the the Kentucky Wildcat but Jaylen Samuels proved last season he can handle a workload if James Conner gets hurt (19 carries, 142 yards vs. New England in December). Snell’s value could be more on special teams which doesn’t help fantasy much, so he can be left off redraft fantasy league rosters for now.