Running back is perhaps the most volatile position in football, as we see significant shakeups in the fantasy landscape each year. Free agency helped settle a few depth charts but several starters should still be looking over their shoulders with the 2019 NFL Draft coming in late April.
The following three rushers are projected to start this year, but each of them enters the campaign with some level of doubt about their ability to be the lead back.
Lamar Miller, Texans
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Current competition: D'Onta ForemanProspect workouts: Darrell Henderson, Trayveon Williams
Texans general manager Brian Gaine said in February that he believed Miller was the team's starter heading into next season, but don't use a permanent marker to fill out their 2019 lineup. The Ravens made similar statements about Gus Edwards before ultimately signing Mark Ingram to be their new lead back.
Miller left Miami for Houston in 2016 with hopes to prove himself as a workhorse. However, while he's experienced an increase in volume, the numbers are very similar to his days with the Dolphins.
The 27-year-old failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year in 2018, as he ran for only 97 yards over his final three games and missed two contests during the season. He's also never scored more than six touchdowns since joining the Texans, which has capped his fantasy ceiling as an RB2.
Foreman, who was once viewed as the next in line, continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles he suffered near the end of his rookie year. He sat out almost all of 2018 because of it and, despite saying and doing all the right things, there are no guarantees he'll be able to recapture his once-promising form.
That means the Texans would be wise to look to the draft for a potential difference-maker at the position - someone they can pair with Deshaun Watson to alleviate the burden on their young star quarterback.
Prediction: The Texans spend an early pick or two on much-needed upgrades to the offensive line before using a middle-round pick on a running back. Miller will begin the year as the starter but will lose the role to Foreman or the rookie as the season progresses.
Peyton Barber, Buccaneers
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Current competition: Ronald JonesProspect workouts: Henderson, Miles Sanders, Devin Singletary, Alex Barnes
Barber quietly accumulated the ninth-most carries in the NFL last season, and though he remained outside the top-30 fantasy backs, his performance was better than expected. New head coach Bruce Arians even went as far to say Barber was the player he was "most shocked about" when he sat down to watch tape of his team.
"I love him," Arians said. "When you watch him on tape you don't see his 230 (lbs), you would think he's a 205-pound running back because he's got great feet. Not every back's going to be a home run hitter, but if he gets those 10-to 15-yard runs, breaking tackles, power runner, punishing runner, that's kind of how I like to start. When we're building something, that's the kind I like to build around."
Tampa Bay is near the bottom of the league in available cap space, so perhaps it's not shocking that the team elected to pass on running backs in free agency. The draft will offer another chance to address the position and acquire a ball carrier on a very cheap deal, as long as general manager Jason Licht isn't gun-shy after using a second-round pick on Jones a year ago.
Jones flopped in his first year as a pro, as he was able to get on the field for just 18 snaps in the second half of the season. The change in coaching staff may give him another chance to earn a role in the offense, but nothing Jones has done so far suggests he deserves more touches.
Prediction: The Bucs have shown interest in a slew of top running back prospects, which may mean they are seriously considering selecting someone to challenge Barber. While it's tough to wade through the "coach speak" this time of year, Arians' praise of Barber seems genuine, and what actually makes the most sense is that the team brings in a rookie back who can serve as a change-of-pace option. Jones is a longshot to produce at this point.
Jordan Howard, Bears
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Current competition: Tarik Cohen, Mike DavisProspect workouts: Sanders, Singletary, Williams, Ryquell Armstead
Bears head coach Matt Nagy didn't exactly shoot down reports that Howard was on the trade block. Instead, he said Howard had a role in the offense but that the team is also open to offers; not the glowing endorsement a starting running back usually gets, though credit to Nagy for being honest.
Howard's lack of job security shouldn't come as a surprise since his production has declined in each of the last two seasons after he broke into the league with over 1,500 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. His yards per carry fell from 5.2 in 2016, to 4.1 in 2017, to a pedestrian 3.7 this past year.
The presence of Cohen as a dynamic weapon out of the backfield has limited Howard's fantasy numbers, and the arrival of Davis as an overqualified backup and possible replacement will exacerbate the issue.
Chicago's offense is on the rise and helped fuel some of Howard's better performances late in the season. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem he'll be around much longer to benefit from it.
Prediction: Howard was unable to lift the Bears' rushing attack on his own, and with a long list of prospect workouts, you can be sure the team is aiming to find an upgrade in the draft. After the improvements this offense showed in its first year under Nagy, whichever running back ends up getting their name called by Chicago will be worth consideration in fantasy. Howard's best chance at this point might be a trade to a team like the Eagles or Raiders, who could offer him the volume he needs to produce.
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