Fantasy Football Under the Radar – RB – 2020
James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers
The rise of James Conner’s fantasy gold status was as quick as the fall from grace with the fantasy gods. Conner came onto the scene in 2018 after inheriting the starting role with Le’Veon Bell playing hold out games. Conner had 973 rushing yards, 497 receiving yards and 13 total TD’s. Not bad for a guy who was likely a double-digit draft round selection or waiver wire pickup. The Steelers scheme played to his strengths and as he demonstrated good speed and quickness but not game changing talent. Last season Conner had absolutely no room to run. Rudolph and Hodges presented very little in the passing game. Conner was bottled up with 8- and 9-man fronts on most attempts. I don’t care if you’re Franco Harris, that’s a disaster in the making.
With Roethlisberger under center, Conner is heavily involved in the run and pass game. Ben will look down field quickly and if nothing is there, he’ll find Conner planted in the middle about five yards down the field with room to run. If the 2018 and 2019 season showed us anything, the departure of Bell was far less impactful than the loss of Roethlisberger. Conner is under the radar and you can be sure whoever in your league spent a first rounder on him last year is a solid pass. Monitor Roethlisberger and if he looks like a go, then Conner should bounce back. It doesn’t even matter if Roethlisberger returns to 2018 form, just having him in the lineup is enough to boost Conner back to #2 running back status.
Don’t forget to check out our other Fantasy Football Under the Radar Players!
Matt Breida – Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins added Matt Breida to the running back room for a 5th round pick, a steal in my mind. Breida has done nothing but execute in a running back by committee format since entering the league three years ago. He is sneaky quick and elusive when negotiating the congestion between tackles. If you saw the Monday night game last season, where he reached a speed of 22.3 miles per hour on an 83-yard TD run, breakaway ability shouldn’t be questioned.
The last two seasons he’s average over 5 yards per carry. If there is a back coming out of Miami that should be a late round fantasy pick, it’s Breida. Howard isn’t going to last the entire season and Breida’s skill set (ability to run for his life), with a questionable offensive line and rookie quarterback, is your best bet for fantasy success.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City made one thing clear with the running back position this draft; they’re not satisfied with what’s already in the stable. The selection of Edwards-Helaire in the 1st round opens the door for another rookie running back breakout. Andy Reid got extremely excited with the Brian Westbrook comparison and they pulled the trigger. A luxury for the Super Bowl winners with few roster holes.
Edwards-Helaire has extremely quick feet, side to side shifts on a dime and a spin move that makes defenders look foolish. Throw in a hesitation move followed up with a burst of speed that leaves everyone in his dust. He is small in stature at 5’7” but has a solid base and runs with something to prove. The Chiefs don’t use the running back much in the passing game. Last year Damien Williams and LeSean McKoy combined for only 58 receptions and 294 receiving yards. Edwards-Helaire value will have to come in the running game. He should be the clear starter with Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season.
Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
Mack has been a nice surprise since joining the league three years ago, capping off last season with over 1,000 rushing yards and 8 scores. At 6’0” 210 pounds, Mack is a tough inside runner, patient as he waits for holes to materialize and exhibits good speed as he breaks to the outside. When given a flicker of daylight, Mack can take it the house with breakaway speed.
The Colts offensive line thrives on running the football and there’s no reason to believe that will change with Rivers under center. In fact, the selection of Jonathan Taylor confirms the Colts plans to continue to feature the running game. The question now is who the featured back will be? Or will split carries ruin both backs in the fantasy world?
In 2020, as in most rookie situations, the veteran will take the early lead. Mack will need to thrive in the first month of the season to thwart off the rookie push. Neither offer much in the passing game so that’s another gap. The Colts stick to a strict rushing running back vs pass catching running back program. Nyheim Hines tallied 58 targets last season vs only 17 for Mack. Mack is also inconsistent. While averaging almost 12 fantasy points a week in 2019, Mack posted less than 10 fantasy points in half of his 14 games played. Mack is a mid-round steal but be careful not to reach. Much hype has already been given to the hope Rivers can restore order and rejuvenate the passing game but I’m a seller on this idea.
Latavius Murray – New Orleans Saints
The Saints are in a unique position in that the team is so good, they attract talent in secondary roles who could be feature players on worse teams. Murray is a perfect example of a player who could start on several NFL teams but has decided part time duties and a very good chance at a Super Bowl run is more important. Murray isn’t a backup as much as an every third series, with a full workload, kind of back.
He had 146 carries (over 9 per game). At 4.4 yards per carry, he is still pounding the rock as good or better than most. And if you thought he disappears in the passing game, think again. Even with a high-powered passing attack, Murray hauled in 34 receptions and a score (6 total TD’s for the season). He can carry the load if Alvin Kamara has an extended absence as well as a plug and play bye week starter.
Cam Akers – Los Angeles Rams
One would guess with long time backup Malcolm Brown waiting in the wings for five years behind Todd Gurley, that now is the time for him to assume the feature roll. Brown is a smaller, stockier version of Todd Gurley and plays a bruising style that punishes tacklers for his own enjoyment. The sample size is small for Brown. In five seasons Brown has never had more than 70 carries or 300 yards rushing in one season. To top it off, he has little to no involvement in the passing game. The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson Jr with the expectation he’d take over as the primary backup in 2019. The jury is still out Henderson Jr but spending a 2nd round pick on Cam Akers speaks volumes.
Akers stands at 5’10 217 pounds and could be one of a handful of rookie running backs to make an impact this season. What’s noticeable immediately is his excellent vision. His patience to allow the play to develop and follow his blockers is impressive for a young back. When defenders finally get their hands on him, he shoves arm tackles aside and fights for extra yards. His impact in the receiving game will be evident quickly as well. Brown and Henderson had zero involvement in the passing game, but Akers is a natural receiver and should take over that role day one. The transition from college to pro is a crap shoot but Cam Akers has the perfect environment to thrive. He’s worth the risk for your third running back drafted with hopes of a #2 bye week replacement or weekly flex play by mid-season.
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers
Williams is as solid a backup as there is but just so there is no confusion, he is strictly a backup. There is no split carries situation coming this season. Adam Jones is a dominant runner and TD machine. Williams is good downhill runner with a nice mix of size and speed. The first three years of his career have been very consistent. He’s averaged 127 carries and almost 500 yards rushing each season.
He was more involved in the passing game last season but receiving yardage totals remained at career averages. The 5 receiving TD’s did provide a boost but don’t expect a repeat this season. Running backs who score receiving TD’s are a bit of a fluke and more than a couple a year should not be expected. Williams has starter capability which is why he’s a handcuff pick if you select Aaron Jones.
Boston Scott – Philadelphia Eagles
Scott burst on the scene late in the year and lit up the waiver wire after a 20-point fantasy game in week 14. The fantasy managers who snagged him first were rewarded with 6.5 and 1.9 fantasy point totals in the last two weeks of the fantasy playoffs. Just to rub salt on the wound, he finished the regular season with 138 total yards and 3 TD’s in week 17, which helps no one.
The comparisons to Darren Sproles are undeniable. He’s the quickest guy on the field and with his small stature, is hard to find as he dodges and weaves through traffic. One additional item worth noting is both of Scott’s meaningful games were against the New York Giants. The Eagles running back room is as young as it gets and Scott is the clear single backup. In the last four games, games that were meaningful in the Eagles playoff push, Scott received 16, 13, 9 and 23 touches.