As I write this, I am coming around to the fact that the NFL is now fully in my bloodstream and a big part of my life, and it makes me so happy. Never before at this time of year have I indulged myself so much in to this sport (or anything for that matter);
My podcast is in full swing (plug alert!), talking and meeting new people to talk about their teams, I am doing mock drafts daily (yes it’s May) because, why the hell not?
I listen to probably at least 5 hours a week of NFL podcasts which range to purely fantasy related ones to NFL news centric podcasts and everything in between.
I’ve pulled myself away from the Dallas Cowboys All or Nothing Series for a few hours to write this latest piece. You could say the only letters in the alphabet I like are “N”,”F” and “L” (certainly not GDPR anyway…).
If you are reading this thinking the same, and you want somewhere to post your thoughts or speak your mind, please let me know because I would love to have you post pieces for us or even come on to the podcast. If you are an aspiring writer, a stat geek or a fantasy football die hard, you are qualified enough in my opinion so if you want somewhere to get your stuff out there, please get in touch. We currently have Lee Wakefield doing stuff for us and I am so happy for all the efforts he puts in.
Anyways, enough of that, you’ve clicked this link for rookie running back information, so let’s get to it.
In this article, we’ll take a look at all of the potentially high-end fantasy running backs.
Which running backs have preferable setups? Which running backs have the opportunities to succeed and, can they take it?
We’ll take in to account draft capital invested in these running backs, project their usage and their production, and try and give you an indication at any value to be had in drafts.
Saquon Barkley – New York Giants – 1st Round
20 Running Backs were selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. It goes without saying that Barkley was the most coveted, the most well known and likely the name that is most likely to be remembered in 25 years time.
I am not going to waste too much time here at the top of this list examining Saquon…mainly because the literature is already all out there from the “experts”. All those writers and fantasy royalties within the industry have already exhausted their content on the #2 overall pick so I would suggest that, as I am not a writer, to go read theirs.
That said, it goes without saying Barkley will be selected by someone in your leagues in the first round. If you are in the mid to late slots of the 1st round, you’ll be choosing between Barkley and the likes of Kamara, Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette.
Barkley, branded a “generational talent” by the big wigs in the industry walks into the starting role in New York and no matter whether you think the pick itself was clever by the backroom staff and David Gettleman, you cannot project thigh enough the season(s) he could have in Big Blue. Granted, the offensive line sucks and Nate Solder and draft pick Will Hernandez will have to be supermen to fix it by themselves, but Barkley is bombproof in fantasy due to the passing down work abilities and the workload he will get. Gamescripts are something that shouldn’t affect Barkley because if they are behind, Barkley will get dump offs for cheap 10-20 yard run and catches and if the Giants need to salt the clock, they are handing it off to their new RB.
But before you go and take him 1st overall (I jest, of course), just remember all the other talent on this team. OBJ, injured for a long period last year will return, Sterling Sheperd has another year under his belt, as does Evan Engram and let’s not forget the Giants have not been a great running team for a long time. The aforementioned offensive line additions may take a few weeks to gel and set up the lanes for Barkley to plough through.
All in all, Barkley is someone I would take over Kareem Hunt if you want a barometer in both types of league and is a player I would take over Kamara and Fournette in PPR leagues only.
It’s hard to predict a bucket load of scoring opportunities for the Giants as a whole over the season and there are plenty of mouths to feed and the point per reception will help elevate the floor of Barkley, which is where Hunt and Fournette will take a back seat to Barkley in that respect. He doesn’t have much in the way of competition with Wayne Gallman, who did flash a few moves towards the back end when the season was done. Shane Vereen may be a alternative for the giants on 3rd downs or obvious passing situations to try and save Barkley from burnout but considering that is pretty much it, Barkley is a pretty sure fire selection to have a huge volume of the backfield touches.
Head coach Pat Shurmur said in a press conference after the draft that Barkley will be on the field for the Giants “as long as he can handle it.” It has been a few years since he had a true dual-threat running back in his offense, but Shurmur’s time in Philadelphia shows he meant what he said. LeSean McCoy was second among running backs in total snaps in 2013 with 890 and fourth in 2014 with 790 before being shipped off to Buffalo. One can certainly expect similar snap counts from Barkley as a rookie.
If you are investing a 1st round pick however, you may want a bit more confidence in the Giants offence before selecting Barkley. Giants have averaged 3.9 and 3.5 yards per carry in the last 2 seasons and Eli Manning has been barely average or consistent for the past couple of years. They should be improved on lthe last few years, but that’s not exactly hard when they have been one of the worst.
(Oops, spent a bit too much time there on Saquon…nevermind).
Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins – 2nd Round
Similar to the somewhat questions marks over the Giants offence and the potential production output for 2018, you could probably say the same for Washington.
New Quarterback Alex Smith replaces Kirk Cousins and we all know at how good Alex Smith is at handing the ball off (despite his gunslinging abilities he showed us last year in Kansas City).
On to Guice himself, there was a fear he would slide in the draft due to his character concerns (did you see the recent story about him taking loads of twitter fans to go see a movie? terrible, eh?) but the Redskins came out and claimed that they would’ve been happy taking Guice in the first round.
Guice is a running back that can handle 3 downs and it’s unlikely that they ask him to do that straight off the bat with Chris Thompson in the offence. Injuries slowed Guice down last year at LSU and there is a fair bit of tread on his 36 game college career. His production was eye-popping; 3 games with 250 rushing yards (yes, 250!) and a third of his games saw him surpass 100 yards on the ground. Guice was a backup to Fournette , filling in and more when he went down.
Guice is a hammer, but has the vision and explosiveness to bring a whole host of skills to this backfield. Like Barkley, Guice doesn’t have much in the way of opposition to oust in this team. Samaje Perine. Given multiple chances to take the lead in this backfield, with injuries to Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson at points last year, only averaged 3.4yards per carry on 175 attempts. Guice walks straight in to the RB1 role for this team and certainly has the opportunity.
Granted, the offensive line was one of the worst hit by injuries and rhythm was something Washington were not granted on offence last season. Doubled with that, the Redskins weren’t winning many games or in front for long periods too so running the ball was not always in the gameplan.
Whilst they haven’t done too much in the offseason to address the offensive line, you’d have to think that they cannot get much worse from a production standpoint in 2018. Guice is likely to go in rounds 3 or 4 in drafts come August and I round 3 is certainly too thick for my blood at this point. Chris Thompson is a trusted piece in this offence in the passing downs that I don’t think Guice gets that work in his rookie season to justify picking him in the 3rd round. Added in a slight question mark over durability (he is also a very angry type of runner, similar to Chris Carson/Thomas Rawls type), I’ll pass on Guice until the late 5th Round. He is currently going in the 6th round so that seems about right to me.
Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks – 1st Round
As covered in the podcasts and every media outlet, Seattle selecting Rashaad Penny was on no-ones script, nor was it in anyone’s crystal ball. Pete Carroll supposedly wants to get back to the ground and pound this year…he does know he needs an offensive line to do that, right? Penny in the backfield in Seattle is like a pheasant on a Scottish back road; he’s gonna get absolutely run over by trucks. Seattle have had trouble finding a replacement since Lynch left, however they have had capable players. Thomas Rawls looked great until injury struck him down. Similar comments apply to Chris Carson last year and then add in injury to CJ Prosise and even Russell Wilson, a great running QB, you get a common theme.
I don’t have much confidence in Penny lasting 16 games behind that offensive line and I don’t see the Seahawks recreating previous successes from the last few years. The defence has been obliterated which use to lend itself to running the ball in Seattle and 2 pieces in the passing game have also left. There isn’t much left in Seattle and I start to think that it’s going to be dumped on Rashaad Penny.
Some positives for Penny and Seattle are that Brian Schottenheimer is the new OC in Seattle, who likes a running game and that there is little competition for Penny to beat out (this is a theme with drafted running backs) and Penny is accustomed to a large workload from his time last year at San Diego State.
A lot of these rookie running backs will go in rounds 3, 4 and 5 in draft season, and Penny will have plenty of buyers due to his 3 down abilities and workload. I wont be one of them.
Sony Michel – New England Patriots – 1st Round
Sony Michel is a strange one for fantasy. As covered in previous posts, Sony Michel is the first running back taken by New England in the draft since James White. Now that SHOULD signal the intentions of the Patriots’ with their 1st round draft pick. However, Rex Burkhead got paid in the offseason too, something which Patriots are never to generous to do with running backs (ask Jeremy Hill). So whilst I think Michel will lead the market share in this backfield, it’s difficult to establish a percentage breakdown…it is New England after all. Burkhead is used around the formation when healthy and will probably see a similar role in 2018, whilst White I see as the main loser here and will probably take a backseat of the committee but will definitely have a game or 2 where he scores multiple touchdowns.
The attempts vacated by Dion Lewis last year is something that Michel could come in and take over and this is a high scoring offence, plenty of boxes ticked for a running back for fantasy. There is a fairly wide range of outcomes for Michel in my opinion but I think he will be a middle of the road running back for fantasy. 750 yards, 6 or so touchdowns plus a bit in the passing game too. This would put him in the running back 20 range, or a low end RB2. Doesn’t sound too bad for a what is currently a 6th round pick in fantasy right now, but again, too rich for me in redraft leagues when you have the headache during the season also. Burkhead scares me a little bit but like I said, he will be utilised in his own way in this offence and James White will take 15-20% of the backfield touches. I cant get away from the fact thoughm, that the Patriots spent a first round pick on this guy, so he is one guy I may pull the trigger on in drafts. I certainly prefer him in best ball formats so you don’t have the headache of trying to predict when Michel’s (or Burkhead’s /White’s) good games will be. Let’s just hope he doesn’t pan out like Gillislee (did I mention that Michel fumbled 12 times in college? yeah, Belichick LOVES that too).
Ronald Jones II – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2nd Round
Finally, a running back I am excited about and not overly worried about taking in the 3rd or 4th rounds!
I had a small shock when I put his name in to google to bring up some stats and saw the headline “’Very concerned:’ US Marshals seek Ronald Jones”. Thankfully it was some 38 year old d-bag in Milwaukee on the run.
Ronald Jones has the chance to have it all and at a discounted price in drafts. Ronald Jones isn’t a big name (yet) and all the players discussed prior to Jones, will surely get selected before him in the majority of fantasy leagues.
However, those in Tampa have sky high expectations for their 2nd round pick including Jones himself.
“Definitely coming in and hitting it right off the bat,” Jones said. “Yeah, Rookie of the Year, things like that. Taking the team to the next level. Winning the division. Possibly going deep in the playoffs. Just making that spark.”
The Bucs averaged 3.7 ypc last season with a below par Doug Martin (2.9ypc!), bit part player Jacquizz Rodgers and other young running back Peyton Barber, who looked ok down the stretch last year. Tampa Bay had a disrupted 2017 after Hurricane Irma dictated that they had their “bye” in week 1 and it certainly showed towards the end of the team that the simply did not have the puff to be consistent. A leaky defence meant Tampa were playing from behind often, things didn’t go to plan in the running game. I think there is even a stat out there that Winston only threw 80 passes last season when Tampa had a lead (have to go and check NFL.com situational stats…).
I think this offence will have a step forward from last year, Winston is Winston and you are going to get the good, the bad and the ugly from him. The defence is a hell of a lot better and like I mentioned with Seattle’s previous successes, a good defence helps a run game script. He’s being compared to having a similar impact to Cadillac Williams in 2005 and Warrick Dunn in 1997. Don’t’g forget Doug Martin had a great Rookie year also, so there is history in Tampa of this kind of occurrence.
Before we all board the Jones hype train tough, he isn’t well versed in pass catching and is likely to be a 2 down back to begin with but I fully expect Jones to turn in to a workhorse back towards the end of the season. It’s been documented that the Bucs have already tried to get Jones involved in the passing game and Dirk Koetter has been impressed.
The opportunity is there for Jones in probably one of the least predictable offences for 2018 but if you believe in the Bucs stepping forward, you should believe in Ronald Jones. Out of all the running backs on this list, and considering he will be drafted after the majority of them, I am happy to draft Jones in the 4th or 5th round. He is currently going in the 9th round, but expect that to rise as the season approaches.
Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos – 3rd Round
Royce Freeman could a diamond in the rough at Denver. They’ve revamped their offence; New QB in Case Keenum, cleared out their backfield from the past couple of years and Devontae Booker is the most veteran back in the team. Many people perceive this to be a committee and a training camp battle, but I see it slightly differently.
Devonate Booker would be the starter normally, if he was good enough. He has had a few cracks at the whip but like Perine, is just not good as a primary ball carrier. Freeman I think is already the overwhelming favourite for this job and he only has to beat out DeAngelo Henderson.
1 red flag against Royce Freeman is his tread on the tyres but Elway and Freeman himself has no such worries. Freeman had 947 rushes in college along with 79 catches probably dictates that Freeman doesn’t have the longevity of the others from this draft class but I like Freeman’s chances at production during his time in the NFL. He did turn that volume in to production; 3 years of over 1300 yards, can catch the ball, can pretty much do anything, which makes him a great addition to this offence.
Denver’s offence could also be sneakily good this year. Vance Joseph’s second year should easily be better than his first; Seriously inept last year at QB with Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock lobster, Case Keenum will come in along with Sutton and Hamilton to compete with Thomas and Sanders, this team will surprise most and no-one is talking about them. That could suit Freeman too as the expectation from anyone outside Denver will not be high. Royce Freeman, at the time of writing is going in the 10th round in drafts. I think this will only rise throughout camp and in the preseason, because Booker is not having this job and if he was, he would have had it by now and they would not have selected Freeman in the 3rd round.
Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions – 2nd Round
Kerryon Johnson is a late round flyer according to Fantasyfootballcalculator.com right now and for good reason.
Historically, Detroit have not had a great running game; their Offensive line has been ust that, offensive. Stafford has never really had a good line or running game to help him flourish at quarterback and there has been a massive overhaul in the offseason and it seems that this is the end of the road for Ameer Abdullah. Along with Kerryon, they have bought in Blount, who has won 2 Super Bowl rings in the last 2 years with the Eagles and the Patriots.
Whilst Blount will assume the role of goal line back, Johnson is quietly going about his work and is another to take in the later rounds. He is versatile, has the abilities to be a 3 down back, can handle a heavy workload (did so at Auburn) and he is a tough inside runner. Detroit traded up from 51 to get him at 43 and again, that probably says all you need to know here for Kerryon’s intended usage.
Johnson had great production in college, averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 519 career carries. He has a slight LeVeon Bell about him in that he will wait for the holes before exploding, whilst he isn’t a deep level slasher when running, I think that the Lions run game has all of the sudden got more exciting to draft. He didn’t set anything alight in the combine and his measurables are never going to be in the top of lists, but what he does have is a more complete package to offer the Lions,
I do think that Blount was brought in to nurture Johnson whilst also picking up the slack if and when required. He for me is a steal at the moment and I am happy taking him anyway from round 6 or 7 onwards.
Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns – 2nd Round
Now Chubb is very much a gamble at this point. No-one knows how the backfield story will play out in Cleveland. Duke Johnson I think has a cemented role in the offence, and Hyde will likely start in the Crowell role. Chubb has a very good chance at taking over if Hyde stalls at some point in the season. It wouldn’t even surprise me to see Baker Mayfield take over at QB at the same time as Chubb in the backfield. If they do end up on the 2nd string team, they get to build a chemistry off the field which could help in the long run when it’s time to bench Tyrod and Carlos Hyde. After all, they recently called a truce on their Rose Bowl differences (Chubb’s Georgia Bulldogs beat Mayfield’s Sooners 54-48 in that epic double overtime game) and were made to room together in rookie camp, much to Mayfield’s dismay.
Chubb is lucky to be even walking today after the leg injuries he suffered in college and I think that he is so focused to take the opportunity he may have thought would have never came.
I will definitely put my bottom dollar on a lot of people over-drafting Chubb because of the upside and potential, even in redraft leagues. My advice would be to wait a few weeks in to the season, when Chubb isn’t seeing a lot of action, to go try and trade for him and get him at a very low price. This won’t really work for Dynasty leagues but in redraft leagues, there will be a lot of casual players that will give up on Chubb after a few weeks and will either drop him to waivers or likely accept someone like Rod Smith for him. Nick Chubb is currently RB 43 going in drafts, one spot ahead of Royce Freeman, and that blows my mind.
That said Chubb set records everywhere in his college and high school days and would easily would have been a first rounder had his leg injury not struck him down and perhaps taken the ceiling off of his abilities and possible making him good, but not special for the future. For fantasy, my approach with him will be to wait and see before I draft. The other question mark will be the success he could have in Cleveland. Cleveland have been awful running the ball, scoring points and winning games over the past few seasons so you have to question how much success he can have in fantasy when you are surrounded by mediocre coaches, an average performing offensive line and a negative approach team. I do think that turns this season and Nick Chubb will be a part of that turnaround, but I am not going to invest in him in fantasy (or anyone in Cleveland for that matter) and would rather enjoy watching the Browns turn it around.
Of those on this list, below are where I feel they will end up at the end of the season in terms of fantasy points (12 team league, so RB1 = between 1st and 12th, RB2 = between 13th and 24th), how likely their scores are to be volatile (low floors/high ceilings) and where I would be happy taking them in fantasy drafts.
(* denotes higher in PPR, # denotes lower in PPR).
Draft round: 1
Fantasy Finish: RB1
Role in offence: 3 down back, good catching back
Reason to draft: Workload Reason not to draft: Draft price may not = output (mid to late 1st round)
Draft round: 5
Fantasy Finish: RB2#
Role in offence:1st and 2nd Downs
Reason to draft: Will be day 1 starter Reason not to draft: Little action in the passing game
Draft round: 6
Fantasy Finish: RB2/3*
Role in offence: 3 down back
Reason to draft: Workload Reason not to draft: Injury risk, poor Offensive line
Draft round: 5
Fantasy Finish: RB2
Role in offence: mixture of all 3 downs will have about 60% of carries, 40% of passing share amongst New England RBs
Reason to draft: High scoring offence Reason not to draft: volatility at consistency
Draft round: 6
Fantasy Finish: RB2/3
Role in offence: Early on in season, 1st and 2nd Downs with a view to all 3 downs later on in season
Reason to draft: Workload Reason not to draft: Offence may struggle leading to poor output, potential no passing work.
Draft round: 7
Fantasy Finish: RB3*
Role in offence: 3 down back from the midpoint in the season
Reason to draft: Workload for draft price Reason not to draft: Offence may struggle
Draft round: 8
Fantasy Finish: RB3/4
Role in offence: Early point of season could be a between the 20s back but could end up being a 3 down back if taking well to the NFL
Reason to draft: Draft price could be a steal Reason not to draft: Running game historically bad, competition.
So that does it for the article. Very well done on getting to the end. I didn’t intend on making it this long, but when you have lots to talk about, the words keep on flowing. Appreciate you reading and would love any feedback on where I have screwed up (or if you agree!) and you can do that by emailing me on firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch on social media with the handle @full10 yards on Instagram and Twitter.
Don’t forget to follow us over on social media because when we get to 500 followers we’ll give away an Odell Beckham Jr NFL Jersey.
Don’t forget if you are listening to our #MyTeamMyThoughts series on the podcast and we haven’t covered your team, you could come on the show and talk about them!