Three unheralded running backs poised to pay big dividends in Week 9

Scheme and personnel go hand-in-hand whenever a player has success on a given play. Explosive plays tend to happen more frequently when a player’s skill set matches the scheme they’re in. When it comes to the running back position, some running backs do better in a zone blocking scheme compared to a gap scheme. There are other running backs who benefit from wider rushing lanes because of who their quarterback is.

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Running backs paired with a mobile quarterback tend to have wider rushing lanes compared to running backs who are paired with pure pocket passers. While scheme and personnel play a massive role in a running back’s success, the way the opposition chooses to matchup is just as important. Matchups tend to tells us whether the run game, passing game, or both will come up big in the next game.

Based on next week’s matchups, there are three unheralded running backs who should have big Week 9 performances.

Kenyan Drake, BAL, RB

Thanks to Lamar Jackson’s transcendent footwork with the ball in his hands, defenders have to keep the backside gate closed. Defensive ends must honor Jackson as a threat to generate explosive plays with his legs after pulling the ball from the running back’s stomach on zone read calls. Since Jackson calls for a defender’s undivided attention in the run game, that means there’s one less player focused on the Ravens running backs.

The current beneficiary of wider running lanes as a result of Jackson’s rushing prowess is Kenyan Drake. Drake is very capable of creating at the line of scrimmage but, as of late, he’s been given a runway directly into the second level of defenses, which has only enhanced his effectiveness. Drake is unlike any running back the Ravens have had since Lamar Jackson has taken over as QB1, and it’s a move I’ve long been clamoring for.

Drake still has breakaway speed and is well adept at making defenders miss in the open field. He also has loads of potential in the check-down game and on wheel routes out of the backfield. In Week 9, the Ravens will face a New Orleans Saints’ defense that, before shutting out Las Vegas, had been trending down. The Saints defense is giving up 4.5 yards per carry this season and it isn’t that the defensive line isn’t doing its job. Unfortunately, the linebacker’s run fits have not been sound. In instances where they do fit the run well, the tackling has been less than ideal, especially when a mobile quarterback is involved. Look for Drake to have similar production compared to the 92 yards Eno Benjamin posted during the Arizona Cardinals 42-34 victory over the Saints in Week 7.

D’Onta Foreman, CAR, RB

Every time D’Onta Foreman is brought up, the first thing I think of is his size-speed ratio. At 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, Foreman ran 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. Despite an Achilles injury in 2017, he seemingly has not lost a step. As a matter of fact, he looks to have more of an initial burst than he did before the injury. On just 133 attempts last season in Tennessee, he put up 566 yards and three touchdowns. Foreman’s brief stint with the Titans allowed him to prove to the NFL as a whole that he is in fact a very capable RB1.

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So far this season, he’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry and has already scored three touchdowns, which matches his touchdown total for last season. Oddly enough, Foreman reminds me a lot of former Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, and they’d be wise to continue to set the table by featuring him in the run game. Against the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers gave the ball to Foreman a whopping 26 times. He finished the game with 118 yards and three touchdowns.

I don’t anticipate Foreman receiving the same workload against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9, but he’ll definitely get his fair share of carries. As it stands, it looks like the Bengals could be without defensive tackle D.J. Reader, defensive tackle Josh Tupou, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Even if they do get one or two of those players back prior to this week’s game, the Panthers offensive line is doing an amazing job climbing into the second level of defenses and walling off linebackers.

Improved line play combined with Foreman’s ability to find cutback lanes will pay huge dividends against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Raheem Mostert, MIA, RB

The Dolphins brought in a little more help by acquiring Jeff Wilson Jr. on Tuesday before the trade deadline. However, Wilson won’t eat into Mostert’s carries as much as many of you may think, especially if Mostert remains healthy. Mostert may be the fastest running back in the NFL and as long as he has a path to the second level of the defense, he’s capable of outrunning most defensive backs to the end zone. He boasts a time of 10.28 in the 100-meter dash, which is extremely rare for a running back, and Miami should give him every opportunity to showcase his elite burst.

Miami will likely continue to mix up the run game between gap and zone schemes, but his biggest plays will occur off of GT counter and split zone with Alec Ingold blocking across the formation. If executed properly, those plays give him the best chance to enter into the second level untouched. With the Chicago Bears trading Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens and Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears no longer have a player capable of making impact plays in the backfield.

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Look for the Dolphins to play a little bully ball by consistently moving the Bears’ defensive front off the ball. If they’re able to take advantage of Chicago’s noticeable dearth of talent up front, Mostert could have his best day yet as a member of the Miami Dolphins.

(Top photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)

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