2019 Fantasy Football: Running Back Depth Chart Breakdown – NFC North

By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
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Chicago Bears
For 2019, Bears running backs ranked sixth in rushing attempts, 21st in rushing yards, 12th in rushing touchdowns while ranking 10th in targets, eighth in receptions, third in receiving yards and seventh in receiving touchdowns. Overall, Chicago ranked fifth in total running back looks.

Bears running backs put up good fantasy numbers last year, with Tarik Cohen as the 11th back in PPR leagues and Jordan Howard as the 20th. In standard leagues, Cohen ranked 17th while Howard was 18th. Howard was allowed to leave in free agency, but Chicago picked David Montgomery in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft to replace Howard as the lead back. The Bears went as far as to trade two picks and a fourth rounder for next season to get Montgomery, which means they likely are all-in on the rookie from Iowa State. Last season, Cohen led the way as the team’s receiving back, but unlike Howard, Montgomery can catch the ball, which is a big reason Howard was allowed to walk. Cohen is too good to be relegated to backup status, but he could lose receiving work with Montgomery out there.

Mike Davis will back Montgomery up and has the skill set to have value if Montgomery misses any games. Right now, Taquan Mizzell would likely be Cohen’s backup, but Montgomery’s ability as a receiver would likely mean a Cohen injury would push the rookie into more receiving work, while Mike Davis could see more reps as well.

This situation isn’t great for huge fantasy numbers, but Montgomery has a shot at taking over on a team that will throw to its running backs. His upside is higher than Cohen’s for sure, but Cohen will remain a strong PPR player, although not quite as strong as last season.

Detroit Lions
In 2019, Lions running backs ranked sixth in rushing attempts, 15th in rushing yards, 17th in rushing touchdowns while ranking third in targets, fourth in receptions, 12th in receiving yards and 25th in receiving touchdowns. Overall, Detroit ranked fourth in total running back looks.

Lions head coach Matt Patricia wants to run the ball and run it a lot. That happened last season with the sixth-most rushing attempts, but didn’t show up well statistically with actual yards and points. The Lions also threw to their running backs the third most in the league, but again had trouble turning those targets into yardage and points. The biggest black hole in the offense was LeGarrette Blount, who was given 154 rushing attempts despite averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. That abomination of NFL football was offset by rookie Kerryon Johnson, who rushed the ball 118 times for 641 yards and three touchdowns and a 5.4 yards-per-carry mark while also hauling in 32-of-39 targets for 213 yards and another touchdown. He suffered an injury in Week 10, and with the team out of the hunt, he wasn’t brought back.

Thankfully, Blount isn’t with the Lions anymore, but they did pick up C.J. Anderson, who showed he still has some gas in the tank with the Rams last season. Theo Riddick also remains and will continue to be used as a receiving back. The hope is that Johnson is rightfully considered the every-down back because he is obviously the best running back on the field and can catch the ball. The bad news is that Anderson or even Zach Zenner will be able to run for north of three yards per carry, which means Patricia could give either one a decent chunk of work as a backup. The good news is that once Johnson started getting the majority of the touches in Weeks 3 through 10 last season, he averaged 16 touches a game, which would have set him up for 258 total touches, 1,502 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers would have landed him in the top 10 in fantasy despite not getting a huge workload, but I also think that’s around his ceiling.

Green Bay Packers
Last season, Packers running backs ranked 32nd in rushing attempts, 28th in rushing yards, 12th in rushing touchdowns while ranking 18th in targets, 24th in receptions, 22nd in receiving yards and 25th in receiving touchdowns. Overall, Green Bay ranked 31st in total running back looks.

The Packers brought in a new head coach and offensive coordinator with Matt LaFleur and Nate Hackett, but there’s no doubt this is LeFleur’s offense, which is much more varied and allows players on offense to find mismatches. His offense also will likely get the ball in the running backs’ hands more often, as it did with the Rams and the Titans. But LeFleur also has the best quarterback he has ever coached with Aaron Rodgers, so the Packers will not be run-first, but they also won’t be last in rushing attempts like last season.

The main beneficiary to more running back looks will be Aaron Jones. Jones showed last season that he is by far the superior runner to Jamaal Williams, averaging 5.5 yards per carry to Williams’ 3.8. Unfortunately, Jones has had trouble staying healthy, but I don’t think that will have much impact on his touches.

Last year, Aaron Jones didn’t see over 12 touches until Week 5, but from then until Week 11, he averaged 17 touches a game for 99.6 yards and 1.1 touchdowns, which would have given him 272 touches for 1,593 yards and 16 touchdowns for 16 full games. At this point, I feel confident that he’ll get his 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns if he can just stay healthy this season.

The Packers did draft a good prospect in Dexter Williams, and I expect him to compete for a backup position with Jamaal Williams. Jamaal Williams is a sound pass-blocker and receiver, so it won’t be easy, but I believe Dexter Williams has the ability to put up good numbers if Jones were to miss time.

Minnesota Vikings
Last year, Vikings running backs ranked 29th in rushing attempts, 27th in rushing yards, 23rd in rushing touchdowns while ranking 23rd in targets, 20th in receptions, 24th in receiving yards and 21st in receiving touchdowns. Overall, Minnesota ranked 28th in total running back looks.

The Vikings went all out with the pass last season after acquiring Kirk Cousins to throw to their two studs, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The plan worked for a while, but eventually the lack of a running game and the eventual decline of Cousins hurt the offense. The running game took a big hit due to Dalvin Cook’s balky hamstring and Latavius Murray’s narrow abilities, but there’s no doubt the passing game was the focus. This season, the pendulum should start shifting a bit toward the running game because the Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak as an advisor, who will revamp the offense toward a more running back-friendly scheme.

Murray has moved on to the Saints, so Minnesota drafted Alexander Mattison. Mattison isn’t someone who will push Cook, but with Cook’s injury history, Mattison could see opportunities in an offense more suited for running back fantasy points. Cook’s ability as a receiver is strong, and if he’s healthy, a huge year is in the works with Mattison as his only competition and an offense that will target him in the passing game often and set up a proven zone-blocking scheme. Many will be scared off by his injuries, which makes sense, but as long as you can get an injury discount on draft day, go for it.

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