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In Good Company-When History Meets Hype: Running Backs 1-6

The continuation of this series does just that. It gives us historical context, in the form of past fantasy greats statistical seasons, by which to give us a potential mirror image of what the top players are projected for this season.

By Jared Clifton

Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, “The more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.” While Teddy had no inclination that this may apply to fantasy football, being that professional football wasn’t introduced until a year after his death, his words have merit in the context of the game we love to play each September through February.

The continuation of this series does just that.  It gives us historical context, in the form of past fantasy greats statistical seasons, by which to give us a potential mirror image of what the top players are projected for this season.

As we get into our next grouping of History Meets Hype players, I want to invite those that haven’t read the opening article of this series, to go back and read it (, to get a sense of what we’re trying to accomplish by providing a tangible comparison season to what is expected from this season.

Who is the next LaDainian Tomlinson or Calvin Johnson or are there hidden gems from names we haven’t thought of since Lamar Jackson and DJ Moore were in short pants?

Now on to our running back comps 6-1!

Running Backs 6-1

RB6: Derrick Henry (2019 Rank #5)

Player Profiler Comparison: Zangief

2020 Consensus Projections:

Henry was probably the easiest and hardest comp in this entire series, because his game translates to the greats of yesteryear.  Marshawn Lynch. Shaun Alexander. Ricky Williams.  That prototypical bell cow back that does one thing well and that’s run the damn ball.

He’s never been much of a pass catcher, but if he does get a full head of steam in the open, watch out.  Coming off his breakout in 2018, he crushed opposing defenses in 2019, especially after Tannehill took the reins and defenses had to ease up on the stacked boxes. From the point Tannehill took over, Henry averaged a whopping 124.8 yards per game and 1.33 TD’s per game.  That’s a full season pace of 1997 yards and 21 TD’s.  

There’s no one in the game today like him.  His real life peer comparison is so tricky to nail down, that PlayerProfiler has Street Fighter’s Zangief as his nearest contemporary. Sure, we’d love to see what he could do if he were more integrated in the pass game, but I think any of us will be happy enough to see what a full season with a functional QB will offer. 

History Meets Hype Comparison: Adrian Peterson (2015–finished as RB2)

For the first 9 of AD’s now 13 year career, only ACL tears and badly misguided corporal punishment kept him from being the top guy year in and year out.  His running style was violent and getting him to the ground was a group effort.

Once he finally hangs up his cleats, he will no doubt be spoken of as one of the greatest to play the game. His final full season in Minnesota and his last first round type effort, came in 2015 as he amassed over 1700 yards from scrimmage and his eight season with double digit touchdowns.

He became the first back since Barry Sanders in 1996, to lead the league in rushing for a third time and was named to his fourth 1st team All-Pro squad.  His prime was among the best we’ve seen in the modern fantasy era and now we hopefully get to enjoy the prime of another rushing beast in Henry.

RB5: Dalvin Cook (2019 Rank #6)

Player Profiler Comparison: Tevin Coleman

2020 Consensus Projections:

With Dalvin Cook in camp and the threat of hold out over, we should see along the same stat line pace as we did in 2019.  If he’s healthy and can add the 2-½ games he missed last season, his numbers will be elite and he has the potential to unseat McCaffrey as the best back in fantasy.

Cooks’ targets have gone up each season and the experts think that will continue in 2020.  That could put him in pretty rarified air in terms of total touches.  Even with the capable Mattison behind him, the offense runs through him and that should be even more pronounced with Diggs off to Buffalo.

Gary Kubiak takes over the reins as the OC in Minnesota and much lesser running backs than Cook have excelled in his famed zone blocking scheme. We could be in store for a special season, which is exactly what we got from one of those lesser running backs in 2013. 

History Meets Hype Comparison: Knowshon Moreno (2013–finished as RB4)

Moreno is one of those backs that we look back on wonder what he might have been, if not riddled with injuries his entire career. For one season and one season only, we got the full Knowshon treatment and it was exactly as we had hoped, after his 12th overall selection out of Georgia in 2009.

With six games of 20+ points and thirteen with double digits, he was as safe a back as there was in 2013. As the first Bronco to eclipse both 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a season, he helped lead Denver to their first Super Bowl since now GM John Elway was quarterbacking the team in 1998.

It was his full season in the NFL and although his career is more known for what might have been, his excellent 2013 campaign paints a vivid portrait of what we hopefully get to see from a healthy comp.

RB4: Alvin Kamara (2019 Rank #9)

Player Profiler Comparison: Marshawn Lynch

2020 Consensus Projections:

By far the most difficult comp to find, Kamara’s uniqueness in statistics is only preceded by his uniqueness in nose jewelry. There just aren’t many backs that do what he does.  LT and Priest Holmes both come to mind for their receiving prowess, but were also much more involved in their teams rushing attack.  Latavius Murray and Mark Ingram before him, have always capped that portion of his game.

Projections show that to be the case against in 2020, as he has the second lowest projected rushing yards total in our top 12.  What he lacks in rushing opportunity, he typically makes up for in TD efficiency and high volume in the passing game. Even with a disappointing TD total in 2019, he has averaged over 12 TD’s over his three year career. 

Couple that with three straight seasons of exactly 81 catches and he provides one of the more high level floors in the game today.  If he can beat his projection of 11.5 TD’s this year, he can certainly be in the top 2 conversation and provide week winning games on a consistent basis.  

History Meets Hype Comparison: Kevin Jones (2006–finished as RB15)

Kevin Jones holds a few distinctions in football lore, having the best Lions RB season since Barry Sanders prematurely left and being the first college player to use a prop to announce his college choice on national TV.  Other than that, he’s an afterthought in the context of fantasy football, as the former first rounder out of Virginia Tech was only relevant for about two seasons

However, for ¾ of the 2006 season, he was a dynamite dual threat that was on pace for 918 rushing yards/8 TD rushing and 693 receiving yards/3 TD receiving and…wait for it… the magic Kamara number of 81 receptions!  A foot injury sidelined him for the final four games and was the beginning of the end to his abbreviated four season career. 

He was a fun option to roster for that short time and we can only hope that with Kamara, we can see a full season at Jone’s pace.  That’d make for one hell of a fantasy asset.

RB3: Ezekiel Elliott (2019 Rank #3)

Player Profiler Comparison: Matt Forte

2020 Consensus Projections:

With three of the past four seasons topping 300 carries (only played 10 games in 2017 due to suspension), Elliott is one of just a few true bell cow backs in the NFL today.  He’s also averaged 65.5 catches per year, after starting his career as a minimally used pass catcher.  

Those two factors put him at the tail end of the top tier of RB’s and in this potentially dynamic Dallas offense, this year should be another high octane dual threat season. This is still an offense that runs through Zeke and the offensive line, but with a myriad of receiving options and Dak improving, we could see less carries than usual, while still improving Zeke’s efficiency and possibly pass game boost.

History Meets Hype Comparison: Brian Westbrook (2008–finished as RB8)

The 2008 season was the final fantasy relevant season for the diminutive Westbrook, but it was another fantastic one.  Despite missing two games, he finished 8th in scoring and finished with the hugest TD total of his career at 14.

Westbrook was certainly the catalyst for an otherwise pedestrian Eagles offense and helped guide them to a Wild Card berth in the NFC and a surprise playoff run to the NFC Championship.  

While Elliott is definitely not the singular focus of the Dallas offense, it runs largely through him and a pretty good vantage point of what that can look can be found in Westbrook’s 19.3 ppg 2008 fantasy season.

RB2:  Saquon Barkley (2019 Rank #10)

Player Profiler Comparison: David Johnson

2020 Consensus Projections:

An early injury, kept Barkley from realizing the full potential that he may have carried as the #1 overall fantasy pick in 2019, but it was still a pretty spectacular campaign. His expectations this season are a bit depressed from what we saw his rookie season, but he is one of a select few RB’s that could possibly be the RB1 by season end. 

A true three down weapon, Daniel Jones in his second season will likely be more efficient, which should only catapult Saquon into a McCaffrey-like usage scenario.  It’s rare for backs to see the amount of targets he does and still be relied so heavily on the ground.

If the Giants take a step forward, he could be in rarified air and potentially reclaim his spot as the top pick in 2021.  Still young and with plenty of tread left on the tires, we’re looking at a multi season continuation of a near lock for top 3 overall, much like his HMH comp enjoyed in his extended prime.

History Meets Hype Comparison: Lesean McCoy (2010–finished as RB2)

Many top tier RB’s came through in the early to mid 2010’s, but none had the staying power that McCoy did for 8 straight seasons, with both the Eagles and the Bills. While backs like Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew and Jamaal Charles would often top him from season to season, there was not a more consistent early round RB than McCoy in his tenure.

After the Eagles released star Brian Westbrook in the offseason prior to the 2010 season, it was McCoy’s backfield to dominate and dominate he did on his way to a 2nd overall finish in his first season as starter. His 5.2 ypc was near the top of the NFL and he added 78 catches on an impressive 86% catch rate.

Despite missing a game with a broken rib, his numbers showed what he could be in Andy Reid’s system.  He even won the ESPN Next Level Award for best RB against a loaded box, so he wasn’t just a receiving type back.  It was certainly a fun stretch for McCoy and gives a glimpse at the kind of player Barkley can be over an extended period of time.

Running Backs

RB1: Christian McCaffrey (2019 Rank #1)

Player Profiler Comparison: Aaron Jones

2020 Consensus Projections:

If we were comparing last year’s actual stats to a historical season, only LaDainian Tomlinson’s magical 2006 season would barely beat it.  Even on a pretty poor offense, with back up and back ups’ back ups for QB’s, McCaffrey was otherworldly.  

While the projected stats are still a fantasy manager’s dreams, they are brought back down to earth and probably on the conservative side for where he’ll end up. With a new coaching staff and a (possibly) better QB, there is some uncertainty on if they will have to rely on him as much or if he’ll really lose around 50 touches.

It really shouldn’t matter, as he is a near lock for top 3 in the RB category and always a threat to be the number one overall non-QB scorer.  The consensus number one pick this year; it wasn’t terribly long ago that another consensus number one pick, was in the same boat.

History Meets Hype Comparison: Le’Veon Bell (2014–finished as RB1)

If Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, in 2014, Le’Veon of Groveport won a thousand ‘ships.  It’s true that just four years later, he sank just as many ‘ships, but that’s for another day.  Following a slightly abbreviated ,but fantastic rookie campaign, Bell set the world on fire with a show on the ground and through the air.

He was fantastic with a floor that most RB ceilings would be happy at and his late week numbers of 30.2, 39.4, 47.5 and 28.9 were certain to have won teams their leagues. 

His true fantasy dominance really only lasted three seasons, but 2014 was the crown jewel for that “it” back that we all wanted on our team.

Jared Clifton – Dynasty/Editor
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