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Dynasty Stock Watch - Running Back Risers


If you play in dynasty leagues, you know how volatile things can be on a year-to-year basis. One year, you're winning a title, and the next year, your players are getting benched for rookies, injuries are tearing your team apart, and you're heading to the bottom of the league.

To stay ahead, you've got to be able to look forward and figure out which of your players are trending up and which are trending down so you can plan your moves accordingly. Today, let's look at running back dynasty risers for 2019.

Stay tuned for the second part of this column, which will look at running backs whose dynasty stock is falling ahead of the 2019 season.

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Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Do people like rookie Alexander Mattison, who the Vikings brought in during the NFL Draft? Sure. But Mattison isn't a threat to Dalvin Cook at this point, and the Vikings letting Latavius Murray leave for New Orleans is proof that they plan to firmly establish Cook as the lead back barring another injury that sets him back.

Cook played in just 10 games last year, finishing second on the Vikings in carries and rushing touchdowns, but first in rushing yards. Cook wasn't necessarily that efficient on a per-play basis, ranking just 26th among qualified players in yards per carry, but that still beat out Murray, who was 34th.

A big part of why I like Cook is that he's effective as a runner and receiver. He was sixth among running backs in catch rate last season at 81.6 percent, and over a full season, his ability to make receptions out of the backfield gives him a big boost in PPR leagues. Cook has an explosiveness to him that Murray didn't have and that his new backup, Mattison, doesn't have either. Mattison could see short yardage opportunities open up, but on most of the field, Cook will be a three-down back.

 

Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

Heading into last season, it didn't seem like Marlon Mack's time at the head of the Colts backfield was going to last. Indianapolis added a pair of rookies -- Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins -- to the mix, and it looked like we were heading toward a major committee situation.

Instead, Mack had more carries in 12 games than the rookies had combined in 16 games, and he was on the field for over 60 percent of the team's offensive snaps in each of the final three games. Instead of a committee, Mack took control of the backfield as the season went along and he enters this season atop the depth chart.

Among all running backs, Mack had the ninth-most goal-line carries, a good indicator that he'll be Indianapolis' guy in the red zone. He also was 14th in total carries of 15 or more yards despite missing four games. That Mack is both capable of breaking off big chunk plays and also being a short yardage weapon down near the goal line is a good sign for his ability to stay in front of the other players on this depth chart, and he's just now entering his third NFL season, so he's got plenty of time ahead of him to continue making a key impact.

 

Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

I've been a believer in Damien Williams since he was on the Dolphins bench, and that belief finally paid off when he became the Chiefs' starting running back last year after they let Kareem Hunt go. Williams was impressive once he took over, carrying the ball 47 times for 255 yards over the last four games of the year while also catching 20 passes for 142 yards. He rushed for four touchdowns and added another two on receptions.

The Chiefs brought in Carlos Hyde this offseason, but at this point, Hyde is basically just an insurance policy for teams. He had just 189 rushing yards in the eight games he played with the Jaguars, and between Cleveland and Jacksonville, he had just 10 total catches all of last season.

The Chiefs bringing in Hyde doesn't worry me. Neither does them spending a sixth-round pick on Darwin Thompson, a small back who showed an ability to explode for big plays at Utah State and can be a good receiver, but whose stature is likely going to prevent him from being used the same way he was in college.

Factor in that Williams runs a 4.45 40-yard dash and that he was 11th among all running backs last year in fantasy points per opportunity, and Williams is trending upwards ahead of the 2019 season.

 

Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

*deep sigh*

Okay, so compared to where he was exactly one year ago, when Jones was sliding high in re-draft boards and all that, Jones is undoubtedly not a riser, but compared to where he was at at the end of the season? Maybe!

Here's the thing with the Buccaneers backfield: it looks a lot like it did last year, with Peyton Barber helming it and Jones there as the number-two guy. The team drafted no running backs, instead opting to bring in UDFA Bruce Anderson and to sign Andre Ellington, who I am not falling for ever again, since I've spent years getting burned by thinking "hmm, maybe Ellington will be good again!"

New coaching staffs usually mean a lot of shake up, but the Buccaneers want to get a look at their backs. Barber's fine, but let's not forget why we all collectively became obsessed with the idea of Ronald Jones last year: he was a fast back for USC who was capable of breaking off chunk plays, getting involved in the passing game, and finding the end zone. He'll have more opportunities this year to prove that his rookie year failings weren't the real Jones (and to make me feel less bad about the mid-season trade I made to get him last year that ended up looking really bad in retrospect!).

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