News & Analysis

Devy Spotlight: The 2019 running back draft class

By Curtis Patrick
May 19, 2018

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Nov 4, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) runs the ball during the second quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen a tidal wave of running back talent crash the thirsty shores of NFL depth charts. The influx of runners has contributed to what could end up being a renaissance of the importance of the backfield skill position after years of devaluation. A healthy complement of two-down bangers, pass-catching specialists, and even a handful of every down workhorses have found their way to fantasy relevance especially over the past two seasons. In 2019, we are going to see that well start to dry up. The class has a few intriguing names, but the players outside the top few names could struggle to find meaningful roles because of all the young talent that has recently entered the league. From a devy perspective, I view the 2019 class as very similar to the 2015 class, which was headlined by Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon at the time but lacked pop further down. It wasn’t until landing spots shook out that a few players selected later in the draft earned fantasy-significant opportunities (David Johnson, Jay Ajayi, Duke Johnson).

(Player profile information includes bowl game stats.)

Tier 1

David Montgomery, Iowa State

(Height: 5-11, Weight: 225)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 FR RB 12 109 563 5.2 2 13 129 9.9 0
2017 SO RB 13 258 1146 4.4 11 36 296 8.2 0
Career 367 1709 4.7 13 49 425 8.7 0

Montgomery was a dual-threat quarterback in high school who didn’t receive much attention from Power-5 schools. That has proven to be their mistake, as Montgomery burst on to the scene almost immediately as a freshman. He took over as the primary rusher in 2017 and was one of the more dynamic, well-rounded players in the country. Montgomery has the size and thickness NFL teams like to see and he is also an above-average receiver. He has the best shot of anyone in this class of becoming a three-down player at the next level and is the lone player I am currently ranking as a Tier 1 talent.

Tier 2

Bryce Love, Stanford

(Height: 5-9, Weight: 200)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2015 FR RB 14 29 225 7.8 2 15 250 16.7 1
2016 SO RB 12 111 783 7.1 3 8 83 10.4 1
2017 JR RB 13 263 2118 8.1 19 6 33 5.5 0
Career 403 3126 7.8 24 29 366 12.6 2

Love was draft-eligible following his stellar 2017 season but opted to return to school for his senior year. He has been a highly efficient back from his few carries, posting over seven yards per carry in each of his three seasons despite significant increases in usage on an annual basis. Stanford hasn’t given Love much opportunity to display any receiving skills he might possess, and I’d like to see that change in 2018.

Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma

(Height: 6-2, Weight: 218)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2015 FR RB 2 1 5 5 0 0 0 0
2017 SO RB 13 188 1161 6.2 13 17 281 16.5 5
Career 189 1166 6.2 13 17 281 16.5 5

Anderson has suffered multiple season-ending injuries already in his career, including a broken fibula and a fractured C5 vertebrae. While these injuries are unfortunate, since they aren’t of the soft tissue variety they don’t worry me too much going forward. Anderson has also had to compete with other NFL-caliber talents for attention in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. He made the most of his first major opportunity in 2017 as Mixon and Perine were finally gone, posting 18 touchdowns and showing a little in the receiving game as well. Another injury-free season and continued statistical dominance could continue to elevate Anderson’s profile.

Damarea Crockett, MIssouri

(Height: 5-11, Weight: 225)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 FR RB 11 153 1062 6.9 10 5 14 2.8 0
2017 SO RB 6 80 481 6 2 4 35 8.8 1
Career 233 1543 6.6 12 9 49 5.4 1

Crockett had the earliest breakout of any of the Power-5 talents in tiers 1 and 2, turning in over 1,000 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns as a freshman. His 2017 season ended prematurely due to a shoulder injury that caused him to miss over half of the season. He has the size NFL teams look for and has as much fantasy upside of any of the players in this tier. I am excited to see what a full, healthy season will bring in 2018.

Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic

(Height: 5-9, Weight: 200)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 FR RB 12 152 1021 6.7 12 26 163 6.3 0
2017 SO RB 14 301 1918 6.4 32 19 198 10.4 1
Career 453 2939 6.5 44 45 361 8 1

Singletary isn’t a household name yet, but he will be by the end of 2018. Back-to-back stellar seasons to open his college career have him on every preseason awards list for 2018 and he was already a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award in 2017. Singletary is an excellent creator in space and has displayed requisite receiving ability as well. He is a true threat for 2,000 rushing yards in 2018, a feat that helped Rashaad Penny become a dynasty rookie draft darling this year.

Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M

(Height: 5-9, Weight: 200)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 FR RB 13 156 1057 6.8 8 19 91 4.8 0
2017 SO RB 12 173 798 4.6 8 20 192 9.6 0
Career 329 1855 5.6 16 39 283 7.3 0

Williams had as a strong a freshman campaign as any back on this list, but he followed it with a much less efficient sophomore season. Incoming head coach Jimbo Fisher has consistently put his top runners in a position to dominate statistically. Williams is one of only three players on this list with multiple seasons of 19 or more receptions and I also expect that number to climb in 2018. I think he will flourish in Fisher’s pro-style system and should move up many devy rankers’ lists over the course of the 2018 season.

Damien Harris, Alabama

(Height: 5-11, Weight: 214)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2015 FR RB 10 46 157 3.4 1 4 13 3.3 0
2016 SO RB 15 146 1037 7.1 2 14 99 7.1 2
2017 JR RB 14 135 1000 7.4 11 12 91 7.6 0
Career 327 2194 6.7 14 30 203 6.8 2

Harris will return to Alabama for his senior season to earn his degree. He has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and will likely be featured again in 2018, although Alabama has some other players deserving of touches as well. Harris is already firmly on the radar of NFL scouts at this point and probably can’t do much to improve his draft stock via his play on the field at this point. Avoiding injury is priority one.

Tier 3

Benny Snell, Kentucky

(Height: 5-11, Weight: 220)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 FR RB 13 186 1091 5.9 13 2 39 19.5 0
2017 SO RB 13 262 1333 5.1 19 10 72 7.2 0
Career 448 2424 5.4 32 12 111 9.3 0

Snell is the focal point of the run-heavy Kentucky offense. He already has four games with over 175 yards rushing against Power-5 opponents through his first two seasons. Snell is probably a two-down player in the NFL, so keep that in mind for fantasy purposes, but he does have the look of a capable committee back who could score a lot of touchdowns.

Justice Hill, Oklahoma State

(Height: 5-10, Weight: 180)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 FR RB 13 206 1142 5.5 6 5 46 9.2 0
2017 SO RB 13 268 1467 5.5 15 31 190 6.1 1
Career 474 2609 5.5 21 36 236 6.6 1

If it weren’t for Hill’s size he could be much higher on this list. To be fair, he’s been able to carry a very heavy workload for the Cowboys, but at just 180 pounds this type of touch burden isn’t within the range of possible outcomes for NFL usage. He is a capable receiver and looks like a change of pace back in the NFL. In the right offense, he could become a PPR star, but landing spot will be critical.

Myles Gaskin, Washington

(Height: 5-9, Weight: 195)

Rushing Receiving
Year Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
2015 FR RB 13 227 1302 5.7 14 6 19 3.2 0
2016 SO RB 14 237 1373 5.8 10 19 137 7.2 1
2017 JR RB 13 222 1380 6.2 21 19 232 12.2 3
Career 686 4055 5.9 45 44 388 8.8 4

Gaskin will be looked at as 2019’s Royce Freeman, a player who was a four-year compiler but isn’t looked at as having any elite or differentiating skills. He can do everything at a requisite level for fantasy purposes. Gaskin will easily have the most tread burned off his tires out of this group when he enters the league with somewhere between 900 and 1,000 college touches to his name by the end of a healthy 2018 season. To his credit, he’s been remarkably consistent from an efficiency perspective, averaging between 5.7 and 6.2 yards per carry in each of his seasons to go with over 200 carries and 1,300 rushing yards each year as well.

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