Quest For The Best: The Four Horsemen

Quest For The Best – The Four Horsemen

Drafting deep is a huge step into starting down the yellow brick road towards a fantasy football championship, but what you do early could be just as critical, if not more-so, as what you do at the end of your draft. You need your top picks to contribute and post the numbers all the experts out there are predicting, otherwise you automatically start behind the 8-ball and will have ground to make up early and often. When it comes to drafting in round one having the top pick is as exciting as it is nerve-racking. You have to sit for days or longer waiting on the draft to start and keep going back-and-forth between players in your head trying to make the perfect decision. Can you mess it up? Yes, it’s possible, but really only making a bonehead move. If you stick to the top-tier players you won’t go wrong!

When it comes to having the top pick in your 2019 draft there are four guys to truly consider as your pick, or ‘The Four Horsemen’ as I like to call them this year. There are four running backs who deserve to make their cases to you as to why they deserve to be the first guy coming off the board in your draft. They can all do it all, they are all workhorses, and they all will be able to help you win a championship. So, let’s break down these four names, what they can bring to the table for you this season, and rank them from one to four and see who should really be the top choice in your 2019 fantasy football drafts!

*Note: these names are in alphabetical order, see the conclusion section for who I think is the ultimate top choice for 2019!*

ALVIN KAMARA

Alvin-Kamara-epic-1024x683
*Photo Credit: Rocky Top Insider*

When it comes to ultimate productivity in every phase of the game, Kamara is the first name that comes to my mind! He has been an absolute monster his first two years in the league. Kamara became just the 2nd player in NFL history to have at least 725 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns to go along with at least 80 grabs, 700 receiving yards, and 4 receiving scores in two or more consecutive seasons; only Marshall Faulk also accomplished this task and he only did it in 2000 & 2001 so if Kamara can reach those numbers again he will stand alone as the only player to EVER do that! And I believe he will do it.

Kamara has finished 3rd and 4th among running backs in each of the last two seasons; Kamara was one of four backs to finish in the top 10 backs in both 2017 & 2018 (Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and Christian McCaffrey) and only Kamara and Gurley have both finished as top 4 backs in each of the last two seasons. Check out what Kamara has posted in his first two NFL seasons:

Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Targets Recs Rec Yards Rec TDs Fantasy Points
2017 728 8 101 82 826 5 313
2018 883 14 105 81 709 4 348

Kamara was just one of four players to surpass 300 fantasy points in each of the last two years, joining Todd Gurley, Antonio Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins; and I know what you’re thinking, at least one quarterback had to make that list … ummm, no. Russell Wilson was the only one who was close at 343 points in 2017 and 299 in 2018.

Now Kamara is set to be the main man in the Saints backfield with Mark Ingram gone to Baltimore this year. Ingram out touched Kamara in 2017 288 to 208 with Mark seeing 110 more rushing attempts. Ingram missed the first four games of 2018, so Kamara bested him in the touch department with his 275 versus the 159 given to Ingram. I think that was to show New Orleans that Kamara could handle a full work load and I imagine him getting even more touches this year without Ingram in town; yes, Latavius Murray will be “the new Ingram” but he is not as explosive as Mark so he will be a guy to basically give Alvin a few breathers throughout a game.

How about Kamara’s usage in the red zone? Well, it was ridiculous! He had 29 targets inside the 20, most among running backs and more than Zach Ertz (28), DeAndre Hopkins (28), Eric Ebron (22), Antonio Brown (21), George Kittle (21), and Julio Jones (17) to name a few. Kamara hauled in 22 of those 29 targets, those 22 grabs equaled the most targets by a back not named Alvin Kamara last year; that was James White who had exactly 22 looks. But I know what you’re thinking, there is no way Kamara was used in the running game in the red zone, that had to be Mark Ingram territory. Wrong! Kamara had 49 rushing attempts in the red zone, 3rd most among back being only Todd Gurley (64) and Saquon Barkley (50). Kamara scored 11 touchdowns on those red zone rushes giving him a touchdown rate of 22% on those rushes.

Kamara plays on one of the leagues best offenses, in an ideal situation not having to play much in crappy, winter weather, will dominate touches, and is a young workhorse. What else could you want from a top overall pick?!

CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY

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*Photo Credit: ABC11*

Run CMC, run … and catch … and DO IT ALL! My lord, McCaffrey is a beast! When it comes to doing it all McCaffrey is neck-and-neck with Kamara in terms of the most complete backs in the league right now. Last year 9 backs rushed for over 1,000 yards with McCaffrey’s 1,098 ranking 6th. McCaffrey became just the 10th back in NFL history and 4th since 2000 to rush for better than 1,050 yards on 220 or fewer carries in one of his first to NFL seasons. He was one of two backs to have more than 200 rushing attempts and end the year with at least 5 yards per carry; he and Saquon Barkley (more on him in a minute) both finished with 5.01YPC.

Last year 8 backs gained better than 500 yards through the air and McCaffrey’s 867 was 1st. He was one of six backs to average at least 7 yards per reception while catching at least 70 passes, but even more impressive is the fact that McCaffrey was the only back to catch at least 100 passes last year and average at least 8YPR. He was 1 of 11 players to catch at least 100 balls and average better than 8 yard per grab joining an elite group of pass-catchers; Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Stefon Diggs, Zach Ertz, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Travis Kelce, Juju Smith-Schuster, Adam Thielen, and Michael Thomas. Want to get it to the next level? McCaffrey’s 107 receptions last year were more than Antonio Brown (104), Travis Kelce (103), Stefon Diggs (102), Keenan Allen (97), Mike Evans (86), T.Y. Hilton (76), and Julian Edelman (74).  McCafreey’s 107 receptions were the most in a singe season for a running back as just four backs have ever hit 100 grabs in a year; Larry Centers (101 in 1995), LaDainian Tomlinson (100 in 2003), and Matt Forte (102 in 2014).

In the passing and rushing game, McCaffrey was just one of two backs to post over 1,000 on the ground and at least 580 in the air; Todd Gurley was the other. Breaking it down even further, McCaffrey became just one of three backs in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards and catch at least 100 passes in the same season joining LaDainian Tomlinson (2003) and Matt Forte (2014). The reason McCaffrey was able to post such beast mode numbers is because the dude never came off the field. The Panthers had 1,011 offensive plays last year and McCaffrey was on the field for 965 of them, a whopping 96% of his teams plays!

In the end we want fantasy points out of our players and McCaffrey can score them by the boatload. In the last two years, McCaffrey had averaged at least 14PPG both years, only six backs have accomplished that feat (playing at least 10 games in both years):

PLAYER 2017 PPG 2018 PPG TOTAL GMS PLAYED AVG PPG
Christian McCaffrey 14.3 23.7 32 15.0
Ezekiel Elliott 20.3 21.8 25 21.2
Melvin Gordon 17.9 22.6 28 18.7
Todd Gurley 25.6 26.2 29 26.5
Kareem Hunt 18.5 20.9 27 19.3
Alvin Kamara 19.6 23.2 31 20.3

While McCaffrey has the lowest average among those six backs, he also is the only one to play all 32 games and his rookie season he was second banana to Jonathan Stewart in the backfield. CMC had 117 carries while Stewart was given 198, only Alvin Kamara had a bigger gap of carries between him and another back (Ingram had 230 vs the 120 for Kamara), while every other back had over 240 carries and none of their back ups had more than 65 rushing attempts.

McCaffrey will have a healthy Cam Newton this year, not to mention he will dominate touches in the backfield and for the Panthers overall. Who else can be trusted in the Carolina offense? Greg Olsen? D.J. Moore? I’m sorry, no one in this offense scares me outside of McCaffrey and that’s why CMC is in the conversation as the first player off 2019 draft boards!

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT

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*Photo Credit: Getty Images*

Elliott has something going for him no other player on this list does, and that is his rushing ability. While all four men on this list can run the ball, no one has the god-given talent in the rushing department that Zeke does. Elliott has led the NFL in rushing twice in three seasons, as his 1,631 yards topped all backs his rookie season in 2016 and his 1,435 yards were most in the league last year. In 2017 he missed 6 games due to suspension but he still churned out 983 yards in 10 games, and if we extrapolate that over a full 16 game slate he would have run for 1,572 yards, or 245 more than the 1,327 yards that led backs that year by Kareem Hunt.

With his uncanny ability to explode through openings and rip off chunks of yards at a time, Elliott has been the best on the ground over the last three seasons. Only five backs have rushed for at least 800 yards each of the last three seasons, let’s see how they stack up against Zeke:

PLAYER TOTAL RUSH YARDS BEST SEASON WORST SEASON TOTAL RUSH TDS GMS PLAYED YPG PPG
Ezekiel Elliott 4,048 1,631 983 28 40 101.2 21.4
Todd Gurley 3,441 1,305 885 36 45 76.4666666666667 21.1
Jordan Howard 3,370 1,313 935 24 47 71.7021276595745 13.0
Melvin Gordon 2,987 1,105 885 28 41 72.8536585365854 19.7
Lamar Miller 2,934 1,073 888 13 44 66.6818181818182 12.7

Not only is Zeke one of five backs with at least 800 yards each of the last three years, but only he and Jordan Howard have rushed for 900+ in all three years and only Zeke has rushed for 950 or more in each of those seasons.

Not only is Zeke the best rusher over the last three seasons in the NFL, but he is one of the best of all-time when it comes to the start of a career. In NFL history only 12 backs, and only 3 in the last 10 years, have rushed for over 4,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns in their first three seasons. Elliott joined these elite backs in the list of 12: Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Jamaal Lewis, Chris Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Clinton, Portis, Terrell Davis, Ottis Anderson, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith. That’s 6 Hall of Fame backs (and will be 7 once AP gets in), two others who had 2,000-yard seasons, that’s some prestigious company to be in. While Elliott’s 4,048 yards rank him 12th on that list, he played the fewest games at 40; no other back played less than 44 and 9 of the other 11 played at least 46. Elliott’s 4.66YPC ranked 8th and his 101.2YPG ranked him 3rd (behind Dickerson and Campbell). ZEKE CAN RUN!!

What about Elliott’s ability to help in the passing game? He has been making strides as his NFL years progress, and big strides at that. As a rookie Zeke averaged 2.6 targets per game and 2.1 catches per contest. Year two those numbers jumped to 3.8 looks and 2.6 catches per games, and last year Elliott was seeing 6.3 targets per contest while reeling in 5.1 of those looks each game! Zeke said before last season he was studying tape of Marshall Faulk and modeling his game off of him, and Faulk was one of the best all-around backs to every step on the field, so excellent choice if you’re basing your game off someone.

Elliott is a phenomenal rusher and now he’s adding in the hands which makes him a duel threat in every aspect of the word. He is entering his 4th NFL season and will be just 24 when the year begins, so he is at that perfect NFL age to mix his youth and experience for optimal fantasy performance!

SAQUON BARKLEY

saquon-barkley-hurdle
*Photo Credit: Pro Football Network*

When we are looking at most complete backs in the league we have to put Saquon Barkley in that conversation. He might be enter just his 2nd NFL season but the dude burst onto the scene as a rookie in a monstrous way in 2018! The Giants offense was mediocre-at-best last year as they finished 16th in total points, 17th in total offensive yards, and 25th in plays run. Despite all that, the aging of Eli Manning, and one of the worst offensive lines in the league, Barkley was one of the most dynamic playmakers and fantasy players in 2018.

Saquon was able to use his abilities to run and catch and end the year as the best fantasy running back as he racked up 383 points, becoming just the 5th back in the last 10 seasons to produce 380+ points in a season; Chris Johnson (390 in 2009), Arian Foster (390 in 2010), David Johnson (405 in 2016), and Todd Gurley (383 in 2017). The 24PPG Barkley averaged last year made him just one of three players to play at least 14 games and average 24+ points per game; Todd Gurley (26.2PPG) and Patrick Mahomes (25.9) were the other two. Those are some very, very impressive numbers for any player, let alone a running back, let alone a rookie rusher! Just how impressive was Barkley’s rookie year among all running backs in NFL history? Check this out:

PLAYER (YR) RUSH YARDS REC REC YARDS SCRIMMAGE YARDS TOTAL TDS FANTASY POINTS
Ottis Anderson (79) 1605 41 308 1913 10 292.3
Billy Sims (1980) 1303 51 621 1924 16 339.4
Eric Dickerson (83) 1808 51 404 2212 20 392.2
Edgerrin James (99) 1553 62 586 2139 17 377.9
Clinton Portis (02) 1508 33 364 1872 17 322.2
Doug Martin (12) 1454 49 472 1926 12 313.6
Ezekiel Elliott (16) 1631 32 363 1994 16 327.4
Saquon Barkley (18) 1307 91 721 2028 15 383.8

The list above includes all running backs as rookie who racked up at least 1,850 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns in their first NFL season. Barkley absolutely destroyed his competition in the receiving department as his 91 grabs were 29 more than the second best, his 721 yards were not all 100 more than the 2nd most on this list, and Barkley was just one of 5 running backs to hit better than 720 receiving yards as a rookie. He also finished second with just 9 fewer fantasy points as a rookie than Eric Dickerson.

For Barkley, the Giants made upgrade on the offensive line which is the biggest thing they could have done for him, and the offense in general. While Odell Beckham Jr. is gone to Cleveland, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram are a trio that will still force defenses to stay honest and keep Barkley opened up for rushing as well as receiving his fantasy-friendly dump-off passes; Saquon’s 75% reception rate was better than that of David Johnson (65%), James White (70%), and Todd Gurley (72%) arguably three of the top pass-catching backs in the NFL.

Just like the first three names on this list, the fourth, being Barkley, showed as a rookie he can hang with the big dogs and has the same tricks, if not a few extra, up his sleeve. The Giants might not be the best, or most exciting offense to watch in the NFL this year, but if there is a reason to tune in when they are on the tube it’s to see how silly number 26 is making opposing defenses look!

CONCLUSION

In the end can you really going wrong with selecting any of these four monsters with the top overall pick? No, not at all. You’ve seen valid arguments for why each one of the four horsemen should be taken with the first pick in your 2019 draft, but a decision must be made so here are my final rankings for these studs: Zeke, Kamara, McCaffrey, and Saquon.

I think Zeke is the most complete back as his receiving numbers keep moving up and he already has the natural rushing ability. Kamara is the best pass-catcher of the group and the fact he should be freed up for more touches without Mark Ingram around brings his already high value up even more. McCaffrey is going to be on the field all day, the rest of the offense is the question mark around him and if Cam’s shoulder is back to 100% like we are hearing, than CMC should be in line to be even more dangerous. Saquon showed as a rookie he was one of the best to post fantasy points in his first season and it should be another big year with the upgrades at offensive line and even if rookie Daniel Jones comes in at QB, rookie quarterbacks like to dump off to backs and Barkley is no stranger to breaking off big plays in that respect.

If you have a top four pick this year than you are guaranteed to grab one of these all-around, bell-cow, fantasy-point-scoring juggernauts and in the end that’s what you need out of your top draft pick!

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