Tunnel Vision: Week 15

Dominick Petrillo @Envisionff

Tunnel Vision Week 15:

A Baker’s Dozen Running Backs

In the second installment of the Baker’s Dozen series, we are going to be looking at the most polarizing position in fantasy. The running backs. Some players feel like the running backs do not matter and take the zero RB approach while others like to load up on the position as there are less viable weekly starters than the other multiple player positions,the wide receiver

Again, like with the quarterbacks last week, this is simply the Fantasyhotread.com way too early 2019 consensus rankings. I have polled the writers and other owners and based upon the responses I got, these are the players we feel most confident in going into the next season. I decided to do 13 at each position just because I wanted to call it Baker’s dozen and well a baker’s dozen is 13. Simple. The players will be in the order of my ranks followed below by the consensus rankings.

My Ranks:

Saquon Barkley (1) – Although it is kind of like picking between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, my number one is Saquon Barkley. While you can not make a wrong choice between Barkley and Gurley, I decided to go with the younger player who is just as talented in the run game and maybe even more so in the Pass game. With the lack of mass weaponry in New York, Barkley is safe to get a bulk of the receiving work in which he has received this season for the near future and makes him a higher upside player by the slimmest of margins. It is not going to surprise me if Gurley or Barkley are number one and my feeling is, they may swap the position between them for the next four to five seasons in Gurley’s case and even longer for Barkley.

The Eli era in New York is mercifully coming to an end in the next few seasons have been and a new quarterback is going to have to rely on Saquon as well as Beckham for consistency until he gets his footing. Elliott has boded well for the production of both players and especially the running back who I have at number one Finally getting.

Todd Gurley (2) – There is not too much to say about M. Gurley. When he doesn’t have to deal with the anchor which is Jeff Fisher, he is easily one of the best running backs in the NFL so there is no surprise he is ranked number one in our consensus. Heading into his fifth season, he has raised his game to a new level and has taken over the mantle of best running back from the likes of David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. With some young runners making a move for him though, he is not the overwhelming number one he was this season with two of our rankers, myself included, choosing other backs as the number one.

Sean McVay has made the entire offense rise to a new level. It pains me with the hopefully healthy return of Cooper Kupp sometime in 2019, it will only gel and get better. Look for Todd Gurley to continue his massive production for the coming years. And if you have him in dynasty leagues? Congratulations.

Ezekiel Elliott (3) – As an Eagles and Saints fan, it pains me to say this but, Ezekiel Elliott is great. If he stays on the straight and narrow, he will continue to crush the NFC East along with Barkley for years to come. He is the leading rusher in the league so far this season much like he could have been last season if not for the suspension and was in 2016 as a rookie. Finally getting his due in the pass game, Elliott has become an all-around back and is also one of the best pass blocking backs we have seen in many seasons.

Jason Garrett is not going anywhere. SMH. But this means the offense is also not going to grow either. With Amari Cooper providing a needed pass game spark, it opens up the run game even more for Elliott to thrive.

The only reason he is at number three and not higher is simply because of the talent of the two players in front of him on this list. If Gurley was not in the league or stuck with Jeff Fisher still, or if the rookie season of Barkley would not have been as incredible as he has been, Elliott would be a clear number one. As it is, he is a great choice at number three. On this list and in drafts.

Melvin Gordon (4) – Thought of as a bust after his first two seasons, Gordon has made a meteoric rise since. He is a true bell-cow back and is also a great three-down back who is arguably even better in the pass game than he is in the run game. This said he is a great running down back as well. With Philip Rivers still playing at a high level despite his age and Keenan Allen being a top 10 NFL receiver, the pieces are there for Gordon to be great and he has taken the chance and run with it.

The main concern for Gordon will continue to be durability as he is always good for a few missed games a season and this is a concern which is valid. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to take some risk to get the great player and he is the type of player this is true for. He is not as injury prone as say Leonard Fournette and being a better player, he is much lower risk than Fournette as well.

David Johnson (5) – Maybe I hold on to long, but we have seen since the firing of Mike McCoy earlier in the season that David Johnson has not lost it, he was just in a stifling offensive scheme from an offensive dullard. Since Byron Leftwich has taken over, Johnson has looked much better and with a full offseason to implement his own offense 2019 could be a bounce-back season for the offense as a whole but especially Johnson in the desert.

If Leftwich does leave Arizona, and if you read my Week 13 Tunnel Vision you will see I think he does, it will become a matter of who replaces him as coordinator. After the McCoy debacle, expect any replacement to be of a newer innovative mindset and less in the mold of McCoy or the such. Larry Fitzgerald is likely in his last season meaning more emphasis will be placed on getting Johnson involved in 2019 and this could lead to another 20 touchdowns like was seen from him in 2016 before his lost season of 2017.

Alvin Kamara (6) – Other than Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley, Kamara was the only other player to receive a number one ranking in our poll. In an offense like the one in New Orleans, it is not a stretch to think he could finish as the number one running back much like he was before the return of Mark Ingram earlier in the season. Since the return, we have seen how the Saints really want to utilize him and this was the reason, at least, he found himself lower in my rankings and in the consensus.

We know what to expect out of Drew Brees and Sean Payton, we just need to find out what the Saints are going to do in the backfield. Mark Ingram is a free agent and if the team decides to go exclusively with Kamara, he will be much higher in my rankings. If they sign another back to replace Ingram, he is right where he belongs in the rankings, maybe even to high.

Christian McCaffrey (7) – Despite all of the bad play in Carolina lately, one thing we can still count on this season is Christian McCaffrey. Coming into his rookie season in 2017 I was not the biggest fan of McCaffery, but this season has proved me wrong as he has not only been the pass-catching down back we knew he was, but he is also a real running back for the Panthers so much so they actually released C.J. Anderson halfway through the season to get Christian more playing time coming into his rookie season in 2017 I was not the biggest fan of McCaffery, but this season has proved me wrong as he has not only been the pass-catching down back we knew he was, but he is also a real running back for the Panthers so much so they actually released C.J. Anderson halfway through the season to get Christian more playing time.

With the way things have gone lately with the team, it is somewhat likely Ron Rivera will not be back in 2019. This will mean the new head coach and offensive coordinator will institute their own brand of football. One thing they will do is use Christian McCaffery early and often as he is an ascending player and could be counted on much like Le’Veon Bell and James Conner have been in Pittsburgh in recent years. No matter who the new coach is unless it is Jeff Fisher, McCaffery will not take a hit in value and he can be confidently drafted coming into the 2019 season and beyond.

Phillip Lindsay (8) – On the opposite end of the spectrum from the pass-heavy offense in Green Bay is the run-heavy attack employed by Denver. At the start of the season and even after the first quarter of the season, I was hesitant to anoint Lindsey as anything but a flash in the pan. Now that we have seen the extreme limitations of the offense, from Case Keenum at quarterback and a lack of any other running back worth using in Denver, I am also convinced he will be the lead back going forward. With Thomas and Sanders both gone in the passing game, Keenum will be relying heavily on Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick to create an offense.

This means it will be Lindsey who will need to provide the offense as the three young receivers have yet to really prove themselves asmuch as he has already. The offensive line is getting better and has protectedKeenum well and opened up room for Lindsey to average an incredible 6.1 yardsper carry in his rookie season.

I have him much higher in my rankings than the consensus and I would feel more comfortable with him being my running back one than I would with Aaron Jones or even Joe Mixon who are ranked higher in the consensus.

James Conner (9) – Speaking of Pittsburgh running backs, next comes the replacement to Bell in the steel city. Although we did not know what to expect from Conner coming in, the offensive line and wide receiver play for the Steelers has made it an easy transition from Bell to Conner and they will be happy to keep him on a team friendly contract so they can concentrate on filling in holes in other areas until the contracts of both he and JuJu Smith-Shuster come due. By that time hits Ben Roethlisberger will finally actually retire and not just talk about it and Antonio Brown may also be close to retirement meaning those contracts will be off the books allowing for Pittsburgh to sign both Conner and JuJu. 

The key to all running backs, but especially in Pittsburgh is the offensive line and as long as it is in place, the running game is going to be a good one for the Steelers. While Le’Veon Bell will learn this lesson for himself next season, Conner will still have the benefit of a top line in the NFL and he could even finish much higher than his current rank should he keep developing in the offseason the way he has during this season.

Joe Mixon Jr. (10) – When the Bengals were playing well early in the season, so was Mixon. Now the Bengals have fallen off a cliff but Mixon is still playing solid behind a bad offensive line with a backup quarterback and no number one receiver on the team. Put in dire situations, Mixon has performed and hopefully, after this season, Cincinnati will finally move on from Marvin Lewis and bring in a good head coach. As long as they do not choose Hugh Jackson, which could lead to a fan revolt or riot, the offense cannot get worse and this will mean a good 2019 for Mixon and the offense if A.J. green and yes, Andy Dalton come back healthy.

Although Dalton is not the be all, end all at quarterback, he is what the Bengals have at quarterback and is better than any who might be available either in free agency or in the draft. Joe Mixon will therefore, need to be the focal point of the offense for 2019 and if they can finally improve the offensive line, he could be on target to lead the NFL in Rushing next seaso.

Le’Veon Bell (11) – The diva of all divas, we know how talented he is and if he were not such a hot mess, he would be in the top three or four on this list. As it is, he worked himself or sat himself out of Pittsburgh and the ideal place for him to be the best form of himself. Depending on what team ends up with his services, he could easily have a higher ranking as seen in our polling which he has ranked anywhere from as high as four to as low as me at 11.

If Bell ends up on a team like Philadelphia or Kansas City, he will move up my rankings. We, however, know he is all about the money and nothing else. This leads to the realization he will most likely end up with a team like the Jets or Bills which have a ton of cap space to use and this means I would be very comfortable leaving him ranked as low as I have him going into 2019 drafts.

Dalvin Cook (12) – If I trusted he was healthy, I would have him higher. The first year after an ACL injury is the most vulnerable and he showed this in spades in 2018. Hopefully in his second season back he will be better much to the dismay of opposing defenses.

If the Vikings can get anything out of him, they should return to near the top of the NFC and my feeling is he will be much better. Like Carson Wentz and Allen Robinson, it takes a long time to return and until you are fully healthy and confident, you will compensate with your other leg and cause even more issues.

Next season should be light and day better for Cook but I am still not going to risk a first round pick on a lottery ticket. If I grab an Ezekiel Elliott or Melvin Gordon in the first round, I would love coming back with Cook in the second, but if he is my running back one, I would be pretty nervous.

Nick Chubb (13) – Do I hate Nick Chubb? No. But I do think he is a true two down back which makes me nervous to have him in the top 10 rankings at the position. We have seen the volume he is getting in the offense since the trade of Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville, but this is likely to regress after an offseason in which the Browns have a ton of money to spend making it likely they will bring in a player like a Tevin Coleman or T.J. Yeldon to again form a committee back system with Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr. and again muddying the waters in the backfield. If I know he was the only back there, he would be in my top 10 without question but as it is, I can’t give him such a high ranking and thus he, for me, falls just outside my personal top 10.


Todd Gurley

Saquon Barkley

Ezekiel Elliott

Melvin Gordon

Alvin Kamara

Christian McCaffery

David Johnson

Le’Veon Bell

James Conner

Nick Chubb

Joe Mixon

Aaron Jones

Philip Lindsey