2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Derrius Guice injury upends rookie RB rankingsAugust 10, 2018
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There is absolutely no doubt that the NFL is experiencing a running back renaissance. In 2017, ball carriers set a four-year high in rush attempts and an all-time high in targets. As a whole, they’re taking work away from wide receivers and becoming larger parts of almost every team’s game plan.
You can thank a large influx of young talent entering the NFL for this. Running backs from the 2015 draft class and later made up eight of the top-15 non-PPR Fantasy rushers in 2017.
Youth is truly being served — and the trend will continue in 2018. This year’s rookie crop might be the deepest the league has seen since … well, last year. A number of starting jobs figure to land into these players’ hands and thus help Fantasy owners on a weekly basis.
As a smart Fantasy owner, you need to be up on everyone in the class who matters. Here are the rookie running backs worth drafting in all leagues this fall.
Truly an elite prospect, Barkley averaged 132.6 total yards per game for three years at Penn State, scoring 51 times in 38 games. Clearly capable of handling a large workload, Barkley should shine in a Pat Shurmur offense that running backs have flourished in before. It only helps that Eli Manning has thrown at least 100 passes to his running backs in each of his last four seasons and the Giants offensive line got a makeover this offseason.
2018 projection: 270 carries, 1,238 rush yards, nine touchdowns; 55 receptions, 462 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns
Draft him: Eighth overall or later in all leagues
Jones is a very good running back in a very, very good situation. Want consistency? Jones totaled over 1,000 yards in each of three college seasons, scored at least once in 19 of his last 20 games and had at least 100 rush yards in 13 of his 19 starts with the Trojans. Easily the best running back on the Buccaneers’ roster, Jones is in position to hog carries and targets in an offense with an improved O-line and an improved defense. Dirk Koetter’s offense ranked in the top-10 in rush attempts in two of the past three seasons and should become more stable and efficient with Jones.
2018 projection: 245 carries, 1,065 rush yards, six touchdowns; 32 receptions, 207 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown
Draft him: Between 45th-55th overall in non-PPR, closer to 55th overall in PPR
Freeman got off to an impressive start in training camp and doesn’t have much competition for the starting job in Denver. What he might end up seeing is his role diminished by a number of other runners who will also see work the Denver offense. A four-year starter with the Ducks, Freeman burrowed his way to 5.9 yard rushing and 10.3 yard receiving averages with 60 touchdowns in 51 games. He got there by averaging 20.1 touches per game, a number he’ll have to get close to in order to return big stats in the pros. Freeman is set to share the job but might own the short-yardage/goal-line touches on top of landing close to 15 carries per game. That would make him the Broncos’ best runner, but not your Fantasy team’s best runner.
2018 projection: 210 carries, 865 rush yards, six touchdowns; 27 receptions, 188 receiving yards
Draft him: Between 50th-60th overall in non-PPR, closer to 65th overall in PPR
In 2017, Penny led the FBS in rush yards (2,248) and had over 100 rush yards in 11 of 13 games (including over 200 yards in each of his final five). His immense production was thanks to a power-run scheme at San Diego State that’s produced big rushing stats every year dating back to Ronnie Hillman in 2010. The Seahawks have been dying to bring back their physical rush attack, but it hasn’t been Penny leading the charge. In the early days of training camp, second-year back Chris Carson has impressed with the starters and Penny working into a complementary role. If this keeps up, Penny will see his draft stock slide. That would also make him a decent Fantasy value pick since he has three-down skills and would theoretically be available closer to pick No. 100 and would be just behind Carson for a lot of work. For now, he’s still getting taken several rounds ahead of Carson.
2018 projection: 160 carries, 706 rush yards, five touchdowns; 25 receptions, 205 receiving yards
Draft him: Between 65th-75th overall in non-PPR, closer to 75th overall in PPR
Johnson is a physical grinder with the patience and balance of a seasoned pro. But just how many carries will he get on a team loaded with good-enough-to-play runners like LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and even Ameer Abdullah? Matt Patricia learned plenty with the Patriots and seems content with adopting their running back-by-committee approach. Blount figures to hog the goal-line carries, Riddick can take third downs, Abdullah will do who-knows-what and Johnson, if he earns it, will get the rest. That could include being the lead back, albeit with an uneven amount of work each week. It’s also worrisome that Johnson averaged 25.8 touches per game last year while coping with rib, shoulder and hamstring injuries.
2018 projection: 215 carries, 855 rush yards, four touchdowns; 18 receptions, 122 receiving yards
Draft him: Between 80th-90th overall in all leagues
You might swear off taking a New England running back in Fantasy Football, but there hasn’t been a running back as explosive as Michel on the Patriots roster in years. Not only did he manage a 6.2 rushing average over four seasons at Georgia, but Michel also was good for 9.7 yards per catch on 64 career grabs. Michel also scored in 12 of his last 16 games with the Bulldogs including eight from 20 yards or farther. His short-term draft stock is hurt by a knee injury in training camp that forced a minor procedure and cost him valuable practice time. It could further limit his reps into the season, but once the coaching staff trusts him with a big workload, watch out. Defenses won’t be able to easily slow him down when they’re already worried about Tom Brady’s arm. We might have to rule Michel out of being a regular at the goal line but he’s underrated as a receiver and already has good pass blocking chops. He should eventually pick up the workload left behind by Dion Lewis. Patience is a must if you take him.
2018 projection: 120 carries, 551 rush yards, four touchdowns; 21 receptions, 180 receiving yards, one touchdown
Draft him: Between 80th-90th in non-PPR, closer to 90th overall in PPR
Browns | 5-foot-10 7/8, 227 pounds | Georgia
Chubb was one of the best early-down running backs in the draft, pummeling defenses for 6.3 yards per run with 44 rushing scores in 47 games. In time, he’ll be the lead running back for the Browns, but this year he’ll be fighting for reps behind Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. We’ve seen Hyde miss playing time before, so when it happens Chubb will be ready to roll. He’s a low-risk, medium-reward running back — Fantasy owners just have to decide whether or not they’re willing to be patient with him. The outlook should be much better in 2019.
2018 projection: 155 carries, 643 rush yards, four touchdowns; seven receptions, 80 receiving yards
Draft him: Between 105th-115th overall in all leagues
Colts | 5-foot-8 3/8, 198 pounds | N.C. State
Is Hines the next Darren Sproles or Tarik Cohen? That could be the design for him in Indianapolis, where Hines can use his little size and big speed to juke defenders. He was more accomplished as a rusher than as a receiver with the Wolfpack, nailing down 12 touchdowns and 1,112 yards over 197 carries last season with just 152 yards on 26 catches. Through the start of training camp, Hines has been used all over the formation as a pass-catching mismatch. That’s probably as good of a role as he’ll get as a rookie.
2018 projection: 50 carries, 220 rush yards, one touchdown; 40 receptions, 230 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns
Draft him: Round 10 or later
Colts | 6-foot-0 5/8, 216 pounds | Ole Miss
Wilkins has a better chance to be the top back for the Colts than fellow rookie Hines, but it’s a job he has to earn and hang on to. The Colts figure to mix and match their running backs from game to game and situation to situation. While it helps Hines that he has a defined role in passing situations, Wilkins will have to contend with Marlon Mack and a couple of veterans for playing time. Wilkins totaled over 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns last year at Ole Miss on just over 180 touches and is a longshot to come anywhere near those numbers in 2018.
2018 projection: 70 carries, 285 rush yards, three touchdowns; 10 receptions, 58 receiving yards
Draft him: Round 10 or later
Derrius Guice tore his ACL in Washington’s first preseason game and won’t play in 2018. It’s an absolute crusher for Fantasy owners and the Redskins, given how aggressive and explosive a runner he was in college. The Redskins have nothing close to Guice’s talent in their backfield. The hope is he heals up over the next year or so and comes back strong in 2019.
Draft him: Round 10 in long-term keeper leagues and dynasty start-ups; between 10th and 15th overall in rookie-only drafts
Five next-best rookie running backs
So what sleepers should you snatch in your Fantasy Football draft? And which huge running backs do you need to jump all over? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara’s huge breakout last season and find out.