2018 Fantasy Football - Rookie Running Backs
This is a very interesting running back class. There is a clear-cut, top back in Saquon Barkley, but after that, it's anyone's guess who will be the next best fantasy producer. The talent is there for several of them to be very good for years to come, but the question becomes, will they get the opportunity to show off their ability in year one? It will be interesting to see, so let's dig into each situation and break it down together. I have the running backs below ranked in the order I would select them in redraft leagues in 2018. Let me know if you agree with me, disagree, or just want to curse at me for no particular reason. It's all fair game!
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Saquon Barkley, NY Giants
If you're even a casual fan of football, you've now probably heard of Saquon Barkley. He was the second player taken off the board by the New York Giants and is being touted as the NFL's next great running back. Let's start by saying he's a physical specimen. He's 5'11" and weighs 230 pounds, yet can run a 4.40, 40 yard dash. He's extremely strong as he put up 29 reps on the bench press at the combine. He can break tackles as he broke 35 tackles on 200 carries last season and averaged 3.4 yards per carry after contact. He can turn any run into a big play at any moment, and oh, did I mention that he's an elite receiver as well? While some may debate that the Giants should have taken their quarterback of the future with the second overall pick, there is no denying that Barkley should be a fantastic running back for years to come.
The Giants offensive line struggled in 2017 due to a plethora of injuries and poor performance, but there is reason for optimism in 2018. While injuries are never easy to predict, they added Nate Solder to play left tackle, who performed at a very high level for the Patriots last season, and drafted mauling guard, Will Hernandez with the second pick in the second round of the draft. Now healthy with new weapons, I expect their offensive line to be much improved. With 31 year old, Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman as his main competition, I expect Barkley to get as many touches as he can handle. Feel free to draft Barkley in the second half of the first round of fantasy drafts this season.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots
While I have fallen victim to Bill Belichick's running back shenanigans in years past, I have a feeling that Sony Michel will be a steady force in the Patriots offense in year one. One thing that can't be denied is that Belichick is an offensive genius and I don't think that he would draft Michel in the first round of the draft with an intent on making him a part-time player. When the Pats added Corey Dillion back in 2004, they gave him 345 rushing attempts, and while I don't expect that kind of volume, Michel could be the most talented running back New England has had since Dillon. With an aging Tom Brady, injury prone Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, and Brandin Cooks now in LA, I can see the Pats relying heavily on Michel in 2018.
Michel is 5'11", 215 pounds and with sharing the load in college with Nick Chubb, doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on him. He has good straight line speed and was used much more in the passing game than Chubb while at Georgia. According to Pro Football Focus and their ratings, he was fourth in the nation as far as breakaway ability and sixth in their elusive rating. While I think Burkhead and James White will still see some work, I can see Michel getting 200 carries with the potential for 40 receptions and being a very nice fantasy asset, particularly in PPR leagues.
Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Entitled. Diva. Jackass. You can use a lot of different words to describe Derrius Guice, but you also should include "talented" to that list as well. Guice is a 220 pound thumper who knows how to find the hole (get your minds out of the gutter) and can be a very good early down back in the NFL. The rumor is that he fell in the draft due to his personality and perceived lack of dedication to the game, but on talent alone, he could be one of the top three or four running backs in this class.
Chris Thompson had a career year last year, but he is best suited for passing down situations, and I don't think the Redskins are sold on the talents of Samaje Perine or Robert Kelley. I wouldn't be surprised to see Guice flirt with 250 rushing attempts this upcoming season and hopefully he plays with a chip on his shoulder to try and prove he should have been drafted earlier.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After releasing Doug Martin this offseason, Tampa Bay had a glaring need at the running position that they are hoping they filled when they took Ronald Jones with the 38th overall pick in the second round of the draft. Jones is 6'0" and 200 pounds and had a very good 2017 season at USC. He averaged 5.9 per carry on 261 rushing attempts, finished second in this draft class in forcing missed tackles (58), and scored 19 rushing touchdowns. He's not much of a threat in the receiving game as he only had 14 targets in 2017 and 40 over his three year career, but he should see plenty of early down work.
Reports are that he will initially split carries with Peyton Barber, but I'm not as high on Barber as others. He only averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 108 attempts last season and when you watch him play, he's nothing special. I think Jones has every opportunity to steal a majority of the early down work from day one. Charles Sims should still be the primary back on third/passing downs, but I think we could see well over 200 carries for the rookie in 2018.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks looked to improve their rushing attack as they selected Rashaad Penny as the second running back off the board at the end of the first round. Penny led the nation in rushing yards last season (2,248) and has 4.46 speed in his 220 pound frame. As mentioned earlier, Pro Football Focus rates a number of different abilities and Penny was seventh in the nation in their breakaway rating, second in their elusive rating, and is very good at breaking tackles.
While he definitely has talent, I do have my concerns with Penny. First, the offensive line has been a mess in Seattle for the last few seasons. They finished as PFF's 27th best (or should I say worst) offensive line last year and they did virtually nothing to address it this offseason. He also hasn't had much of a role in the passing game and has struggled in pass protection. CJ Prosise hasn't been able to stay healthy, but I don't know if Penny will automatically assume a three down role in his first year. Finally, Penny has been a monster at San Diego State, but he will be taking a huge step up in competition in the NFL. He was a star at the Senior Bowl, but I will be watching him closely in training camp and preseason games to see how he performs against higher level competition. I think he has a shot at 200 carries, but there are some red flags which keep me from putting him higher on this list.
Best of the Rest
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns. I would have Nick Chubb much higher on this list if he didn't have to compete for touches with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. While I think he will be a very good running back in the future, I think his touches will be limited this season.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis. With Andrew Luck and his health in question, the Colts could try to lean heavily on their run game in 2018. Hines was a fourth round pick and doesn't have a ton of competition for carries. They spent their first two picks in the draft on offensive lineman and with an improved line and a potential focus on the running game, Hines could be a nice sleeper in 2018.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos. The Broncos used a third round pick on Royce Freeman to replace the Carolina-bound, CJ Anderson. Freeman is a big back at 238 pounds, whose best season was back in 2015. He will compete for touches with Devontae Booker and De'Angelo Henderson in year one.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions. Kerryon Johnson was added in the second round by the Lions, but they also added LeGarrette Blount in free agency and have Ameer Abdullah on their roster, as well as receiving back Theo Riddick. I smell a running back by committee situation in Detroit.