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Early 2019 Breakout Candidates - Running Back


The NFL might be a pass-first, quarterback-driven league, but running backs still rule the roost in fantasy football.

Finding the right running back to hang your helmet on in fantasy leagues is crapshoot. This is why it is NEVER too early to pinpoint the players you want to go after in your next fantasy football draft, even when baseball, hockey and hoops are what most fantasy players are concentrating on these days. Figuring out which running backs are going to break out in 2019 is paramount to fantasy success.

Here are the early breakout candidates in fantasy football at the running back position for 2019!

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Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

2018 Stats:  419 rushing yards, 75 receiving yards, 2 TD

Penny only showed flashes of brilliance and glimpses of being a future fantasy force during his rookie campaign this year. His major roadblock was not opposing defenses but being third on Seattle’s running back depth chart behind 1,000-yard rusher Chris Carson and pass-catching specialist Mike Davis. Penny averaged more yards per rush and reception than Carson and Davis did, though, and proved to Seahawks head honcho Pete Carroll that he can be trusted with the ball.

Penny will undoubtedly have a larger role in Seattle’s offense in 2019 since he is too skilled to settle for single-digit touches each week. Carson is a workhorse but also someone who gets banged-up a bit because of his bruising running style. Davis is taking his talents to Chicago, so he will not be in Penny’s way anymore. With Seattle boasting one of the best offensive lines in the business, Penny is primed for a breakout season if Carson stubs his toe (literally or figuratively) and Penny becomes the No. 1 tailback in Starbucksville.

 

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

2018 Stats:  535 rushing yards, 477 receiving yards, 9 TD

2018 was a frustrating season for Drake and the fantasy players who owned him in standard leagues or used him in DFS leagues. One week he would flash the playmaking ability of Barry Sanders and singlehandedly defeat the New England Patriots on the play of the year in the NFL, and the next week he would watch from the sidelines as 110-year-old Frank Gore would get all the touches in the backfield. While Drake’s 53 receptions for 477 yards and his nine total touchdowns were helpful for fantasy players, his 535 rushing yards and inconsistent weekly workloads probably hurt fantasy players a lot more in the grand scheme of things.

Now that Adam Gase has taken his head coaching cap and failed offensive game plans to the division rival New York Jets, Drake’s role is as up in the air as my dinner plans are for three weeks from now. That could be a good thing, though. Drake’s usage was never predictable before. Hopefully now new offensive coordinator Brian O’ Shea will utilize Drake’s skill set to its best ability. If Miami does not sign or draft a decent running back this offseason, Drake could be a 1,000-yard runner who adds 500 receiving yards and scores 10 touchdowns, especially since Gore signed with the Buffalo Bills and will not be a factor.

 

Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2018 Stats:  44 rushing yards, 33 receiving yards, 1 TD

Jones was the fifth running back taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. He should have been able to easily overtake average-at-best plugger Peyton Barber as Tampa Bay’s top tailback at some point of the season, yet due to preseason struggles, injury issues (hamstring), and falling out of favor with Tampa Bay’s coaching staff, Jones went from college hero to fantasy zero. He ended the season with just 44 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards --- the equivalent of what L.A.’s Todd Gurley did in the first half of many games. Fantasy owners who chose Jones instead of Denver’s Royce Freeman still probably have sleepless nights when they think of what might have been if they drafted differently.

If Jones gets his act together in the offseason and preseason both on the field and off of it, however, he could quickly become the Bucs' starting running back. Barber is no Jim Brown. He only averaged 3.7 yards per rush and 4.6 yards per catch while just scoring six times on 254 touches. Barber is better off as a workmanlike backup. Jones does not offer much in the pass-catching department, but he can be explosive in the running game and get into the end zone when handed the ball in the red zone. New head coach Bruce Arians knows some things about offense and running backs. Expect him to shuffle around the running back rotation, and that could lead Jones to a breakout year.

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