Year 2 is one of the biggest years for any NFL player. With the rookie jitters now gone and the adjustments to the speed of the NFL seemingly behind them, players look to step up and contribute more than they did year 1. Some of these players are already established for fantasy and are currently at the forefront of the minds of fantasy owners. So honorable mentions to the year 2 players that are already well established that I will not be mentioning here. They are Saquon Barkely, Nick Chubb, Phillip Lindsay, and Sony Michel. All of these players are talked about regularly and I want to shine a spotlight on some players that are not talked about as much or have seen their stock drop a bit. Without further ado, lets dive into the year 2 RBs that can take a step forward.
Kerryon Johnson Detroit Lions RB33 in 2018
Some are very down on Kerryon for 2019 and there are a multitude of reasons. The Lions offense took a step back in 2018 and Kerryon missed the last 6 games of the season with a knee issue. He shared time with former RB LeGarrette Blount last year and the signing of C.J. Anderson seems to have backed some drafters off of Johnson for 2019. However, Johnson did become the touch leader in Detroit through his last few games played and he will go into 2019 as the starter. While he may lose some touches to Anderson and some pass down work to veteran Theo Riddick, the Lions have stated that he will be used on third downs and will still be a target for them. Lions HC Matt Patricia did have a close relationship to Blount so with him now gone the Lions could very well give Johnson more touches and have him split time less as the starter. If he can finish the season healthy then Johnson can easily finish as an RB2 for fantasy in 2019 and has a good chance to finish higher than his draft position as the 22nd RB off the board.
Royce Freeman Denver Broncos RB47 in 2018
Royce Freeman was drafted to be the starter in 2018, but was beaten out by undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay and lost his starting job near the halfway point after going down with an injury. When he came back he was a rotational back and started to chip away slowly at Lindsay’s carry count before he went down near seasons end. The Broncos have and entirely new coaching staff in 2019 and Lindsay is still recovering from wrist surgery as the Broncos head into training camp. This gives Freeman the chance to prove that he deserves touches heading into 2019 and has a slight chance to become the starter in 2019. Lindsay will get the first crack, but Freeman’s draft capital will get him touches enough to where he will be a flex option in good matchups. If Lindsay goes down at any point or does not get off to a hot start, then there is a chance Freeman can take back the reigns of the backfield or at least make it into a timeshare backfield. If he can stay healthy than he should easily beat his RB47 finish from last season and has upside going as the RB 38 off the board in drafts.
Rashaad Penny Seattle Seahawks RB64 in 2018
Penny was taken in the first round last season and was as hyped as any rookie RB not name Saquan Barkley in 2018. The hype never materialized into fantasy value however, as he never beat out Chris Carson and struggled with weight issues to start the season. He started to work in more from week 10, but did miss a couple of games in weeks 15 and 16. He will look to start 2019 by taking some of the load off of Carson who was a workhorse for he run heavy Seahawks in 2018. The Seahawks high rushing numbers will keep Penny in the flex conversation to start and he will work in as a rotational back and pass catcher at worst while maintaining the chance to take over the backfield if Carson’s play regresses or Penny shows massive improvement. He should very easily beat his RB64 finish and is currently being taken as the RB35 in drafts. This could be the perfect price for him and while it may be hard to see him as an RB2 for fantasy he is an RB3 with RB2 upside in 2019.
Ronald Jones Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB95 in 2018
Jones is one of the most controversial fantasy players in 2019. He never really clicked in 2018 and has could not beat out mediocre back Payton Barber at any point in 2018. Since HC Bruce Arians was hired however, the Jones hype train went back on the rails as he stated that he was the most impressive player at camp. This has lead to most thinking that he will get the starting opportunity in 2019 especially since the Bucs have not added anyone of note during the offseason to compete. Many also think this is just coach speak and that Barber will once again get the call to start. Whatever side of the fence you land on here, Jones should get much more work than he got in 2018 and that alone means he will be taking a step forward. As long as the Bucs don’t add someone late then Jones will at worst be a rotational back on a good offense and has handcuff and flex appeal. At best, Jones will be the starter and has a high end RB3 floor and RB2 upside. He is currently going as the RB 52 in drafts, but he has risen 3 rounds in the past few weeks and will continue to do so. You will know how high he will go by draft time, but you can safely take him around the 8th or 9th round around guys like LeSean McCoy, Royce Freeman, Carlos Hyde, Adrian Peterson, and Austin Ekeler.
Derrius Guice Washington Redskins
Guice missed all of his rookie season due to an ACL tear, but is due back to be the starter as he has progressed well in his recovery. The Redskins could manage his workload to start the season, but he could very well become the full time starter as the year progresses and should work all 3 downs by himself. On an offense devoid of talent Guice could very well become the focal point of the offense by mid season or earlier and the workload should make him an RB2 at the very least. RB1 upside may be a bit to much to ask out of a player who is essentially a rookie on a bad offense, but that upside is there at the very least. He is currently being taken in the 5th round as the RB 26 a value that he should easily return on.
Jaylen Samuels Pittsburgh Steelers RB57 in 2018
I have spoken about Samuels in the past and made the case that there is a very slim chance he could end up as the starter in Pittsburgh. While that is a stretch I wanted to bring that up as a possibility to let you know how well he performed in James Conners absence last season. Samuels is a converted TE and did a lot of damage as a pass catching back in 2018. The Steelers seemed to think the same as even when Conner came back Samuels found his way onto the field mixing in as a pass catcher and rotated in minimally in the run game. Samuels could break the Steelers mold and come in more often to relieve Conner and have a solid pass game presence in 2019. This gives him flex appeal at the very least and could comp to Austin Ekeler in LA. He is a weapon the Steelers want on the field and he will be the number 2 back in Pittsburgh and a top handcuff at the bare minimum. He will easily beat out his RB57 finish from a year ago and should finish higher than his current draft position as the 46th RB off the board.
Kalen Ballage Miami Dolphins RB87 in 2018
Ballage has a very wide range of outcomes in 2019. He could be nothing more than a handcuff and rotational back who has little value week to week. He could also be the 2 down back for the Dolphins who will mix in with Kenyan Drake for passing downs work. Then again, this could be a 50/50 timeshare for the Dolphins. Any way you slice it Ballage is a player that needs to be considered late in drafts. The Dolphins are a rebuilding team with a whole new coaching staff. Players will be looking to prove they deserve to be in future plans and this bodes well for Ballage in fantasy. He will be a name to watch in camp if he impresses the coaching staff and finds his way to the starting role. I tend to lean the way of his upside and think he will be the leader in carries while Drake leads the way in the passing game. He has RB3 upside and could be taken as a flex option especially as the season progresses. At worst he is a great handcuff to Drake if he goes down. He is going as one of the last RB’s off the board and is a great value pick especially in best ball leagues.
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By Ryan Larrison, Contributor, Fantasy Football for the People