2019 Fantasy Football: Running Back Depth Chart Breakdown – AFC East

By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
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Buffalo Bills
Bills running backs ran the ball 350 times last year, ranking them 14th in the league, but finished 29th in yardage and last in touchdowns on the ground. They ranked 26th in running back targets, 31st in receptions and last in receiving touchdowns with zero. LeSean McCoy played the majority of the snaps in 12 games, but put up one of his worst seasons ever, finishing 39th in PPR with just 3.2 yards per attempt. For this coming season, the Bills have added a slew of running backs, with Frank Gore as the biggest name. Gore has slowed down, but he still has enough to be a beneficial player at his age. They also drafted Devin Singletary and added T.J. Yeldon, both of whom should be able to see time on the field this season.

If you add in Josh Allen’s rushing attempts, the Bills move up to seventh in the league for last season, so there’s a good chance he will continue to run the ball, which hurts the running backs near the goal line, but historically a running quarterback helps running backs see easier fronts due to the focus on multiple rushers. That should have been great news for McCoy when healthy, but he did not see a bump. Chris Ivory was the only other option when McCoy was hurt last season, and he didn’t fare much better, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, although he did put up good numbers on his minimal receiving looks.

I find it hard to believe that the Bills can’t produce more with their running backs, so I do have hope for them, but now we have four backs who could see significant playing time if McCoy again falters or loses time due to injury. I wish I liked Devin Singletary more, but I just don’t see him winning the job and taking off with it. Instead, I see a committee approach if McCoy can’t return to form and T.J. Yeldon taking a big cut into receiving work. For fantasy, this is a situation I can’t recommend to mine. Yes, the team wants to run the ball and there should be good opportunities with Allen taking away defensive pressure, but there also isn’t one back poised to take over the job and run with it. McCoy remains the best bet despite his poor 2018, so if he falls far in drafts, I’m still grabbing him, while Yeldon has some appeal as a late, late flier in PPR leagues.

Miami Dolphins
Dolphins running backs ran the ball 320 times last season, ranking them 24th in the league, but finished 13th in rushing yards and 27th in rushing touchdowns. They ranked 22nd in receiving targets, 22nd in receptions and sixth in receiving touchdowns. You can thank Kenyan Drake for those receiving touchdowns, as he finished fourth in the league with five. Unfortunately, Drake split time with Frank Gore, who had 168 touches to Drake’s 173. Gore wasn’t bad by any means, but his explosiveness has taken a hit, and a full season of Drake would have likely produced more big plays, as seen by Drake’s 1.2 fantasy points per touch compared to Gore’s .61.

The Dolphins are now under new management, and with Gore gone and Kalen Ballage the only true competition for touches, Drake should have the opportunity to show his ability in 2019. There is of course a chance he shares too many touches with Ballage, and that the offense is so weak that touchdowns will be hard to come bay, but Drake is set up as well as he could be for this coming season.

New England Patriots
Patriots running backs ran the ball 389 times last year, ranking them second in the league, and finished secondth in yardage and sixth in touchdowns on the ground. They ranked first in running back targets, first in receptions and second in receiving touchdowns. That’s an offense with plenty of opportunity for running backs, and if Rob Gronkowski can stay away from the game, New England will have more impetus to get its running backs involved.

The Patriots have a nice stable of backs with Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead all capable of playing well. Michel proved himself last season despite never seeing over 50 percent of the snaps in any given game. But injuries did hurt him overall, and James White ended up as the back to have last season, as he finished with 12 touchdowns to Michel’s six.

For 2019, the Patriots should start with a healthy Michel and lean on him as the early-down back like they did to end last season and into the playoffs and Super Bowl. Over three postseason games last season, he ran the ball 71 times for 336 yards and six touchdowns, while White, who has been the playoff hero of late, totaled 178 yards and no touchdowns on 28 touches. Can Michel hold up to the usage? I think we’ll find out, which means he has plenty of value this year. James White should continue to put up good numbers per touch, but if Michel stays healthy, James’ touches will see a big decrease, while rookie Damien Harris could cut into James’ work if he can grasp the offense quickly. Rex Burkhead is the odd man out most likely, but he is so fundamentally sound that I expect New England will keep him around, adding another possible stick in the spokes for fantasy players. In the end, the early-down work will go to Michel and the receiving work to White, but Michel has the highest fantasy ceiling, while the rest will need to hope for injuries to boost their snaps.

New York Jets
Jets running backs ran the ball 355 times last year, ranking them 12th in the league, and finished 19th in yardage and 19th in touchdowns on the ground. They ranked 21st in running back targets, 27th in receptions and 21st in receiving touchdowns. Of course, that was under a different coaching staff and without Le’Veon Bell, who the Jets acquired this offseason. I think we can feel comfortable in saying that those 2018 numbers are irrelevant.

Bell is the every-down back without question going into 2019. Elijah McGuire is his backup at the moment, and Ty Montgomery is in the mix as a receiving back if Bell were to be injured, but there is no upside backup waiting for Bell to miss time. If you are handcuffing Bell, I’d go with a handcuff to a player on a team that could see big usage rather than a likely committee.

Last year, Adam Gase split work between Frank Gore and Kenya Drake fairly evenly, and on a per-touch basis the team backs did well. The good news is that if Gase were to put Bell in a committee, he would be murdered at some point by a Jets fan. New York’s offense is on an upward trajectory with Sam Darnold, Bell, Robby Anderson and Chris Herndon, so there is plenty of room for Bell to return to his Steelers numbers this year. A year off will likely be tough on Bell at the start of the season, but if he can stay healthy, he has the ability and likely the usage to return top-five fantasy numbers again. Bell is riskier than he was in Pittsburgh, as there are plenty of reasons to not be all-in on the Jets, but his ADP isn’t No. 1 or 2 this season either. At his slight discount this season, I’m on board.

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