2019 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

2019 Fantasy Football Three-Down Running Backs: Versatility is the Key


The perception of the workhorse, three-down running backs in Fantasy Football in 2019, is that they are a dying breed.

Most people seem to think that there are just a few three-down running backs left.

I beg to differ, depending on your definition of three-down running backs.

I will concede that the days with a plethora of three-down running backs getting 300+ touches are gone.

There were 19 running backs that had over 300 touches in 2000. Last season there were just eight guys with that mark.

My definition of three-down running backs is more literal. Which players stay on the field in any type of situation?

Teams are too smart to leave their guys on the field the entire game now, but with three-down running backs, I need a guy that gets a solid amount of carries as well as targets.

Definition of 2019 Fantasy Football Three-Down Running Backs

The best way to define three-down running backs is with carry/target minimums. I felt that three-down running backs should have at least ten carries per game and four targets a week.

There were eight running backs who reached 160 carries as well as 64 targets last season. Three other players missed out due to injury but had the averages there.

Surprisingly, 2018 had the third most three-down running backs to reach those totals since 2003.

So while the “workhorse” back might be dying, the versatility of three-down running backs is thriving.

So let’s see which players will fit this qualification of three-down running backs in 2019.

Some are guaranteed, while some are complete coin flips.

All data is from Fantasy Pros as of August 15th.

2019 Fantasy Football Three-Down Running Backs

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Barring injury, these guys are your workhorses.
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Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara and David Johnson

There’s not much more to say about these guys. All five are locks to be workhorse running backs. Only Kamara didn’t have 300 touches last season. Now with Mark Ingram gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches that mark this year.

You take one of these five in the top half of Round One and you move on. No questions asked.

The Unknowns

Between contract holdouts, injuries and bad coaching, these guys are workhorse types with question marks.

Melvin Gordon, Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley

If any one of these three guys is healthy and on the field, then they are three-down running backs. However, we have Melvin Gordon still holding out of training camp for a new contract.

Todd Gurley still has arthritis and workload concerns in Los Angeles. While he will still get a decent workload, this could affect if he is on the field catching the ball on third down.

Le’Veon Bell is a different case. Adam Gase is the head coach of Bell with the Jets. The only year that Adam Gase has engineered an offense that wasn’t in the bottom ten of running back receptions was when Peyton Manning threw for 55 touchdowns. The guy dropped Matt Forte’s reception totals even. It might be tough for Bell to reach target totals putting him in the three-down backs category.

The Questionable

These are the guys that are contenders but nowhere near guarantees. You hit right on a couple of these guys and the league is yours. All projected totals come from Fantasy Pros.

James Conner (231.2 projected carries, 54.1 projected receptions)

I have already made my thoughts and rank of James Conner well known. With Jaylen Samuels showing his prowess last season and the Steelers drafting Benny Snell, I don’t see Conner as a three-down back.

Samuels had 22 catches on just 23 targets in Weeks 11-16 last season. He also had three receiving touchdowns to Conner’s lone score with about half the targets.

Snell averaged over five yards per carry in the SEC with over 700 carries in college. These two backs will eat into Conner’s overall workload.

Joe Mixon (247.3 carries, 46.4 receptions)

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Mixon was actually a litter more involved in the passing game last year than widely thought. He had 55 targets and 43 receptions in just 14 games. He was basically on pace to qualify as one of the three-down backs.

However, he did amass more than five targets a game while Giovani Bernard was injured. Mixon averaged less than four targets a game in games with Bernard on the field. He is definitely going to get all of the early-down work for Cincy, but I still think Bernard will need to miss time for Mixon to become a true receiving threat.

Dalvin Cook (238.2 carries, 58.6 receptions)

This is all about injury with Cook. In games that Cook has started and finished, he averages almost five targets, almost four receptions and just over 14 carries per game. The problem is that Cook has missed 17 of 32 games in his two seasons.

Should Cook stay healthy for 14+ games, then he will be one of the three-down backs. If he deals with nagging injuries, you could end up starting a player with bust potential for the week.

Nick Chubb (246.5 carries, 32.2 receptions)

With the trade of Duke Johnson, the running back targets are open for Chubb. That is until Week 10 when Kareem Hunt comes back from suspension. Hunt was 14th of all backs in yards per route run last season.

Chubb had just one game last season with more than three targets. He never crossed 50 yards receiving in a week. While I love Chubb this season, I don’t think he will be a serious threat receiving-wise. I do think he is a great bet to lead the league in rushing.

Kerryon Johnson (217.8 carries, 52.3 receptions)

Kerryon is my guy this year. His averages were right at 12 carries/4 targets a game last season before getting hurt. However, pass-catching extraordinaire Theo Riddick is no longer in town. Neither is carry-vulturing LeGarrette Blount.

I think Johnson blows past both of these projections. He finished last season with the 9th-highest receiving grade for running backs per Pro Football Focus. He is my lead candidate to break-out into the elite tier of running backs.

Damien Williams (164.9 carries, 51.1 receptions)

Whoever is starting at running back for Andy Reid is a three-down running back. The problem with Damien Williams: will he be starting all season?

Reid’s offense has been producing three-down running backs since Duce Staley with the Eagles. Three different backs got run last year, all three showed versatility. There is just a high amount of uncertainty that the 27-year old Williams can suddenly put it all together for a full season.

Devonta Freeman (206.5 carries, 45.1 receptions)

It seems far away, but just a few years ago Freeman was number-one overall scorer among running backs. Then Tevin Coleman increased his workload dramatically and injuries hampered Freeman.

Heading into 2019, Coleman is in San Francisco and Freeman is healthier than he’s been in a couple of years. Since Freeman’s rookie season, he averages 15 carries and nearly five targets a game. With Coleman gone, I think we all might be sleeping on Freeman a bit (current ADP of 34.3, RB18).

Aaron Jones (185.5 carries, 37.1 receptions)

How many three-down running backs has Aaron Rodgers had in his career (by our defined criteria)? That answer: zero. No running backs have reached the 160 carry/64 target plateau. Only Eddie Lacy even crossed 50 targets and 160 carries.

So what does that mean? It means it’s even more unlikely that Aaron Jones reaches those marks. The Fantasy Industry as a whole has been #FreeAaronjones for two years. I will still have to see it to believe it.

Josh Jacobs (211.2 carries, 41.0 receptions)

Jacobs had 48 receptions and 251 carries for Alabama. In his career. Even in his last season in college, he did not cross double-digit carries per game or even two catches a game.

There is a lot of hype around the Raiders’ rookie, but I think there is just too much uncertainty. Give me Chris Carson over a round later with a floor that is exponentially higher.

Chris Carson (239.7 carries, 27.5 receptions)

Speaking of Mr. Carson, my other “guy” this year, there are reports that he is getting more involved in the passing game. Carson had five different games last season with zero targets.

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But, Mike Davis is out of town. The receiving core is full of rookies. Russell Wilson could be dumping it down a ton to his backs. Either way, he will provide value on his 5th-round price tag with just his rushing numbers.

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About Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin is an ESPY-nominated, former college football player who stays associated with the game through Fantasy Sports. He has been writing his personal blog, Dirkland.blogspot.com, for three years and it focuses on Fantasy Sports, as well as handicapping. He was born and raised in the DFW Metroplex, and he follows all of the Dallas teams, along with Texas Tech athletics and Manchester City F.C.

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