Justice Hill: Fantasy Football League-Winner In 2019
Every single year, fantasy football leagues are swung by rookie running backs. Saquon Barkley was drafted as a superstar but Phillip Lindsay was a UDFA in 2018. Nick Chubb exploded in the second half of the season after Carlos Hyde was traded. Even Sony Michel returned value after his return from injury after being drafted in the first round. In 2017, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Matt Brieda, and Christian McCaffrey took the league by storm. Ezekiel Elliot, Rob Kelley, and Derrick Henry lead the 2016 class. The list of rookie running backs to contribute in the second half of their first seasons in NFL history is too long to list. Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill is ready to add his name to that list. The nature of the running back position is so attritional that it is certain that several starting running backs will suffer an injury and their back ups are likely to perform at a similar level. Justice Hill landed in maybe the most perfect spot for a dynamic, pass-catching running back in all of the NFL Draft. The Ravens signed the 30-year old Mark Ingram coming off a PED suspension to be their lead rusher for the next few years which is the only reason Hill is cheap at all in drafts.
Justice Hill: An Elite Fantasy Football Prospect
Before the NFL Draft, I had Justice Hill ranked as one of the five best running backs in the class. Hill was a three-year start at Oklahoma State and actually pushed future NFL running back Chris Carson to a complementary role, despite Carson starting the year before. The fact that Hill was starting for a Power Five college football team as an 18-year-old is flat out impressive and notable for projecting performance at the next level. Hill racked up 3,539 rushing yards in three seasons at Oklahoma State with 49 receptions and 31 total touchdowns. Before getting to the combine, Justice Hill was already a prospect that the NFL should have found desirable. He averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in every season at Oklahoma State and lead the Big 12 in rushing in 2017. Previous Big 12 leading rushers include Dont’a Foreman and Wendall Smallwood.
Access premium NFL coverage 365 days a year with the RotoExperts. Season Long Draft Kits. Fantasy Football Projections. Best Ball Coverage. Dynasty Rankings. NFL Draft Coverage. Expert Chat. Betting and much more. Save 10% when you use the promo AMICO at checkout. Learn More HERE.
However, the NFL Combine is where Hill entrenched himself as a true NFL-caliber running back. He will be starting his rookie season at 21 which is a hugely positive indicator. He ran one of the fastest 40 times of any skill position player at 4.4 flat. His Speed and Burst Scores from PlayerProfiler indicate above-average NFL athleticism as well. If you were going to build the perfect running back to be drafted on Day Two of the NFL Draft, it would be Justice Hill. Young, workhorse college experience, pass-catching ability, above-average speed but a few questions about size (Hill is 5’10, 198 pounds). It is easy to see why the Baltimore Ravens wanted to draft Hill. Mark Ingram is still a good runner but not particularly explosive and Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon are clear replacement level NFL players.
Why Justice Hill Is A Fantasy Football League Winner
The first thing that you will realize when projecting the Baltimore Ravens is that they are going to run A LOT. Between Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, we have these three projected for over 550 carries. That is without including other running backs getting some spell work and a few wide receivers carries. Last years Ravens team ran a league-leading 547 times but that includes half of a season where they were one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league with Joe Flacco. Under Lamar Jackson, the team had 316 carries in only seven regular season games. That equates to around 45 rush attempts per game. The Lamar Jackson-led Ravens were the most run-heavy team the NFL has seen since the 1970’s. Since 2015, there have only been 11 instances of a team running more than 47 times in a game and four of those were Baltimore last season. No other team has done it more than one time in the same timespan. It is just not logical to assume that Lamar and Ingram are going to take the brunt of all those carries themselves. Jackson set the record for most rushing attempts by a quarterback in a single season last year, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Two other Ravens had over 114 carries and four running backs saw more than 40 carries for the Ravens in 2018. Javorius Allen and Alex Collins are no longer on the Ravens roster. Kenneth Dixon is likely to not be on the team when the season starts, per the Baltimore Ravens official website. That leaves Edwards, who had only TWO TARGETS to 137 carries, Justice Hill and Mark Ingram.
The first important note is that Mark Ingram is 30 years old. While he is not over the hill, per se, he is also not entering his prime. The older an NFL running back gets, the more likely it is that their best days are past them. The Ravens paid Ingram real money and expect him to play a significant role but that doesn’t rule out decreased effectiveness. Players that mirrored Ingram’s age-29 season (more than 640 rushing yards, less than five yards per rush attempt, less than 30 targets, less than 900 yards from scrimmage) are Jonathan Stewart, Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and LeGarrette Blount. Mathews was done after his age-29 season, Blount had one more great year, Doug Martin is now a career-backup, and Stewart had his two worst seasons after age-29 and is now retired.
None of this is to say that Ingram is done, because it doesn’t appear he is. His 2018 was cut short due to a PED suspension (though there is some evidence that players returning from PED suspension have reduced performance in the future). This point was made to illustrate why the chances are higher for a Justice Hill breakout than for example, a Tony Pollard breakout. If you were to design a fragile running back scenario, you would point to a free agent running back changing teams at age 3o. The backup to a 30-year old running back in a run-heavy offense inherently has value.
It is entirely possible, however, for Mark Ingram to play a healthy 16 game season and for Hill to still offer some pretty significant upside. As previously mentioned, the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens ran an absurd 45 times per game in the regular season last year. There is room for Ingram to carry the ball 15+ times per game and for Justice Hill to still average over 10 interactions per contest given the lack of another pass-catching running back on the roster. The Ravens have 88 running back targets unaccounted from last season assuming that Kenneth Dixon doesn’t make the final roster.
Our projections have Hill for a shade over 100 carries and over 35 targets; by themselves, not eye-popping numbers. However, less than 1.5 fantasy points per game separate him from players like Jerick McKinnon, Kalen Ballage, Jaylen Samuels and Ronald Jones. You aren’t drafting Hill for his ability to deliver you between 5 and 8 fantasy points per week, however. His median outcome probably falls in that range but he has one of the best ceilings of any player being drafted after round 10. If Mark Ingram gets injured, he is automatically a 15+ touch per week player with upside for more. The team itself seems to be excited about their explosive young rookie but the most important note is this: both Hill and the Ravens coaching staff expect him to be active in the passing game.
Given Lamar Jackson’s pretty horrible accuracy on throws down the field (Lamar had a deep accuracy of only 38% per Pro Football Focus, 33rd in the NFL), it makes intuitive sense that the team would try to pass often to their running backs. Ingram was a fine pass-catcher in New Orleans but it is not his strong suit. The upside case for Justice Hill is very clear: he becomes the primary pass-catching back on an offense that will run the ball so much he still has a chance at 8+ rushes per game with 4+ targets. Mark Ingram could suffer an injury or decrease in efficacy that makes it wiser for Hill to be the lead back in an offense that projects to lead the league in rushing.
If you take anything away from reading RotoExperts this year make it this: Justice Hill can win you your fantasy football league.