Top 5 fantasy running backs of 2019: Middle rounds of drafts provide crazy value

Mo Castillo

Whereas 2018’s list of the top five running backs was chock-full of fantasy first-round talents, 2019’s list proves that incredible value for the most important position in fantasy can be found in the middle rounds of a draft as well. It also provides further proof that the first round of 2019 fantasy drafts was very difficult to maneuver.

Nonetheless, if you had any of these running backs — especially the first one on the list — in your fantasy roster, then you probably had a successful season, if not a championship one.

Here is the top five list of running backs from this past fantasy football season:

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers — 413.20 fantasy points

What Christian McCaffrey did this past season cannot be understated. The third-year runner put up a truly MVP-caliber campaign, completely obliterating his previous career highs in rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards and rushing touchdowns en route to a 1000-1000-yard season — just the third player in NFL history to accomplish the feat.

But take away all the numbers — what truly stuck out about McCaffrey’s season is that he was the rare runner who never left the field. In an NFL age of creative play-calling and satellite-back implementation, true workhorses who do both rushing and receiving are few and far between. Run-CMC lived up to that title, and then some. Tough defenses, mediocre quarterback play, negative game-script — it didn’t matter; CMC was always on the field and always producing.

Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey put together a legendary 2019 fantasy season. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

McCaffrey’s finest game of the season? Oh, just a 19-rush, 176-yard, six-catch, 61-yard, three total touchdown performance. Games like that are why McCaffrey had probably the safest floor of any player in 2019, and why his final fantasy-point total looks like a quarterback’s (only Lamar Jackson scored more fantasy points than CMC). Over 20% of fantasy teams with McCaffrey as their starting running back won their league’s championship. He will undoubtedly be the favorite for 2020’s top draft pick.

Not bad for a guy some analysts thought couldn’t handle a full RB workload.

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers — 290.30 fantasy points

With an ADP of 29.6, Aaron Jones was drafted in the third round of most Yahoo fantasy drafts — a far cry from McCaffrey’s third overall ADP. Yet, here Jones is, the No. 2 fantasy back of 2019. What makes his season even more impressive is, for a while, it looked like Jones would be stuck in a timeshare with Jamaal Williams out of the Green Bay backfield. Once Williams began to deal with injury, however, Jones’ workload increased — and so did his chances at scoring touchdowns.

2019 Top-5 Series

Oh, and did he score touchdowns. Jones tied with Derrick Henry (more on him shortly) for the most rushing touchdowns in 2019, scoring another three times through the air. His best fantasy game of the season came in Week 5, when he scored a whopping four times (!!!!) and added 182 combined yards. That explosive ability and passing-game usage helped mask the fact that Jones received 20+ carries just twice all season.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans — 285.60 fantasy points

I would like to submit here and now that I do not blame nor do I shame defenders for getting embarrassed by Derrick Henry. How many defenders are experienced in fighting off a running back with the size and strength of an offensive lineman? A stiff-arm into oblivion is the least of their worries.

It seems unreal now that Henry has been in the league for four seasons, yet 2018 was the first time he was trusted with a starting runner’s workload (and most of that workload still came late in the season). 2019, however, is when Henry was truly unleashed, as the behemoth runner deliver career-highs in rushing yards, touchdowns, and receiving yards. Incredibly though, Henry was rarely used as a receiver, and yet if you run down this top five, you’ll find RBs who excel in the pass-game.

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Every other back on this top-five list had over 400 yards receiving in 2019; Henry only had 206 (his previous career-high was a measly 137). But that just goes to show Henry’s unreal prowess at running the football; he received 19+ carries seven times in 2019, and even when he didn’t get the big workload, Henry still produced, running for over 100 yards twice with less than 20 carries (he would run for over 100 yards five times during the season). His best game of the season came against the Kansas City Chiefs when he ran all over them 23 times for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Henry’s 102.7 rushing yards per game led the NFL, and so did his 1540 total rushing yards. And to think, he had an August ADP of 35!

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys — 284.70 fantasy points

The only other first-rounder on this list (4th overall), Ezekiel Elliott’s season was actually in danger as late as Week 1, thanks to a prolonged contract holdout. Ultimately, Jerry Jones paid his running back, and it paid off for fantasy managers brave enough to invest in Elliott back in August. Zeke delivered another 1000-yard, double-digit touchdown season, but he actually saw a reduced role in the passing game (77 catches, 567 yards in 2018; 54 catches, 420 yards in 2019). His greatest performance in 2019 came at a good time in the fantasy season (Week 15), when he fired off 24-117-2 and 3-43 lines on the ground and through the air.

New Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy has promised to get Elliott the football, so could fantasy managers expect a career year from him in 2020?

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings — 265.90 fantasy points

It looked like Dalvin Cook was going to run away with the rushing title early in the 2019 season. The third-year runner — returning from a nagging hamstring injury and to a new offensive system — delivered three consecutive 100+ rushing yard games to start the season. Cook’s explosiveness and Gary Kubiak’s stretch-run system seemed like a match made in heaven. His best game of the season showed off his full skillset, as he rushed 26 times for 97 yards and a touchdown and caught all seven of his targets for 86 yards.

It was only due to a lingering shoulder issue (and some complaints about the Vikings passing game, perhaps?) down the stretch of the season that saw Cook’s production reduce. Nonetheless, 2019 showed us what a healthy Cook is capable of. The secret is out, so we can expect his 2019 second-round ADP to catapult in 2020.

Which running back carried your team this fantasy season? Who let you down? Who are you targeting in 2020? Let us know in the comments below, and hit us up @YahooFantasy!