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Must-Own Breakout Running Backs with Late ADP


As fantasy football drafts get later and later, it gets more and more difficult to figure out who you should pick. Some people respond to this by saying "ehh, I'll just do whatever and figure things out on the waiver wire." And, well...yes, you're going to need to figure things out on the waiver wire at some point if you plan on winning a fantasy football championship, but you can get a head start on things by identifying promising players late in your draft.

Today, let's look at some breakout running backs who you need to own this season. These are guys who might start a little slow as they work their way up depth charts, but who have the potential to be incredibly important players.

Using Fantasy Football Calculator's PPR ADP tool, these are all guys who are going in the 10th round or later in 12-team leagues, as well as a guy who'll go undrafted but should be on your watch list.

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Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens

Current ADP: 11.12

Last year, the Ravens run game was unlocked once Lamar Jackson took over as quarterback, with Gus Edwards rushing for 654 yards and a pair of touchdowns over the final seven games.

Edwards was highly productive over that stretch, but there's a reason he finds himself virtually locked out of the discussion in the Ravens backfield this year: his production was much more about Jackson and the team's offensive scheme than it was about Edwards.

Baltimore's added two backs to the mix this year. Veteran Mark Ingram is likely to fill the role Edwards held as the pure runner. During that whole stretch where Edwards was running for a lot of yards, he was also a non-factor in the passing game, catching just one pass for 13 yards. The Ravens essentially ran an offense where Jackson and Edwards both served as running backs for a good chunk of the time, with Jackson's speed making the defense have to shift the way they defended the run. That worked fine until the playoffs, when the Chargers brought played a quarter defense that got more speed on the field, which helped negate Jackson's rushing advantage and allowed the front of the defense to shut down Edwards, who had eight carries for 23 yards.

Enter Ingram, who is by all accounts a far superior back to Edwards and can make defenses pay for using this defensive back heavy defensive scheme. Ingram will be able to bully teams inside better than Edwards could, which will help the Ravens move the ball down the field.

But wait! This is supposed to be about rookie Justice Hill!

Exactly.

With Ingram forcing defenses to really account for the running back up the middle, room opens up for Hill to be the team's change-of-pace back. Last year, Jackson wasn't quite where he needed to be as a passer to make use of a receiving back, though we saw Kenneth Dixon start to fill that void at the end of the year. But this year, you get the more versatile Hill to fill that role, plus Hill's able to sub in for Ingram on rushing downs too, getting more speed on the field. I'm not saying Ingram/Hill looks like Ingram/Kamara did in New Orleans, because Lamar Jackson will take up a few too many of the carries for Hill to come close to a Kamara-style breakout, but what Hill will do is provide a springy option beside Jackson. Hill can catch passes out of the backfield and can be useful in read option plays with Jackson.

And if the offense they ran last year that was predicated on having that big inside back doesn't work and they need to run something that features a more agile runner, it'll be Hill who steps into that role.

 

Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

Current ADP: 12.10

Buffalo's backfield is a mess. LeSean McCoy. Frank Gore. T.J. Yeldon. Devin Singletary. How will you ever figure out who'll be the best of them?

Well, training camp can be a partial guide for us. Singletary has been getting reps with the first-team offense already, which suggests that he's ahead of where he was expected to be. Frank Gore is nothing but a possible goal-line vulture. T.J. Yeldon is a third-down back. LeSean McCoy has been rumored to be on his way out of Buffalo for months now and I wouldn't be surprised to see him not make the final roster.

That puts us in a spot where Singletary has a pretty decent shot at earning early-down work in Buffalo. Yes, the Bills suffer from a similar issue to the Ravens, which is that some of the available carries wind up going to the quarterback, but Singletary still has a chance to see double-digit touches per game.

I've had my eye on Singletary for a few years because he was so productive at FAU, where he rushed for 66 touchdowns in three seasons, including 32 of them in 2017. Singletary wasn't really use as a receiver, but he has a proven college track record of racking up yards and scores on the ground. A poor NFL Combine showing decreased his value for awhile, but everything we're hearing out of Buffalo is encouraging. Even if McCoy is on the final roster, we have a couple of seasons of him declining that we can look at as evidence that he won't have a firm grip on the bulk of the carries. Singletary's going to lead this backfield at some point in 2019.

 

Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

Current ADP: 13.01

I do expect this ADP to rise significantly as we get closer and closer to draft season since Ballage has been practicing with the starters in Miami, but I believe Kenyan Drake is still going to start the year as the starter. Once that becomes clear, Ballage's ADP will probably stabilize somewhere around the 10th round, probably?

I still like Ballage at that point, because I believe he's definitely going to make an impact on this team. Even if we don't get a full-on committee between Ballage and Drake, we're going to get significant snaps for the second-year back.

The biggest reason? Because look, we've all collectively bought into some Kenyan Drake hype that doesn't need to exist. He's a fine back, but there were weeks last year where Frank Gore was getting triple the carries. He didn't have 50 rushing yards in any game after October. He was involved in the passing game, but Ballage had more rushing attempts than him in two of the three December games where Ballage was playing significant snaps. Ballage looks primed to be a 10-12 carry guy this year for the Dolphins and against the Vikings he showed that he has the ability to break off long carries.

I'm also interested in the fact that Drake started getting used as a kick returner at the end of the year. The Dolphins have a new coaching staff, but that doesn't necessarily mean Drake won't be used on special teams. He's been a returner off and on in the NFL and in college, and if he winds up in that role, there's going to be more early-down work for Ballage to take.

 

Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers

Current ADP: N/A

Here's where things start to get more speculative. The path for Snell to be the top back in Pittsburgh is blocked by James Conner. Barring injury, Snell ain't getting there.

But everyone seems to be sold on the idea of Jaylen Samuels having an unassailable grip on the backup job. But why? Are we basing everything off one game from his rookie year, when he had 19 carries for 142 yards against the Patriots? Samuels was only 142nd among running backs in yards created per carry. He's not really able to create much more than his offensive line creates for him.

Snell, meanwhile, showed himself to be a patient, strong runner at Kentucky. He's slower than Samuels, but he can be an effective piece in the red zone. Snell is built more for an early-down role than Samuels is, which would come in handy if anything happens to Conner.

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