Fantasy Football

Way Too Early 2018 Running Back Rankings

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There is no better time than now to start getting ready for the 2018 Fantasy Football Season. So why not go ahead and start with the way to early running back rankings?

This article will detail my projected RB1s, top-12 running backs, as well as subsequent categories including:

  • Bust of the group.
  • Who could make their way into the group.
  • Who could make their way out of the group.
  • This year’s Todd Gurley.

A lot can happen from this point until the start of the season, but these guys seem as good as any to remain at the top of the running back leader-boards for 2018.

Way Too Early 2018 Running Back Rankings

No. 1: Todd Gurley II, Los Angeles Rams

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Gurley was Fantasy’s leading scorer among all positions last year and averaged a monster 24 PPR points per game. With only one game of less than 13 PPR fantasy points last year, Gurley belongs at the top of this list.

No. 2: Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Bell has been the best Fantasy running back over the last few years, but is there some risk associated with him? Find out below.

No. 3: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

After getting hurt in the 2017 season opener, Johnson missed the remainder of the season. But, only two years removed from finishing as Fantasy’s overall RB1, Johnson will return to elite Fantasy running back status.

No. 4: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

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After a season filled with drama, the Zeke scandal is finally presumably over. Zeke managed to finish as an RB1 and averaged the most rushing yards per game (98.3), even while serving a six-game suspension in the middle of the season. If Elliott can stay out of trouble, he belongs in the elite tier of Fantasy running backs.

No. 5: Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

Fournette finished as a top-10 running back last year while playing as a rookie on a bum ankle that was never fully healthy and caused him to miss three full games. He also faced a stacked box (8+ defenders) on nearly 50% of his carries, more than any running back with 200 or more carries. Fournette will have an off-season to get healthy and with a year under his belt on a team that leans on their rushing attack, Fournette will find himself in the top-10 for a second straight year.

No. 6: LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

McCoy had another solid year in 2017 and even became more of a focal point in the passing game. The biggest take away from a year ago was the fact that McCoy did not miss a single game. Future owners beware though, McCoy has significant injury history and is approaching 30 years of age. A dip in his usual production isn’t unforeseeable.

No. 7: Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

With back to back RB1 finishes, Gordon continues to be a workhorse both in the rushing and passing game. His injury and knee concerns and his lack of efficiency in the rushing game keep him from climbing into the next tier.

No. 8: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

The 2017 offensive rookie of the year averaged 20 Fantasy points per game and did it with limited carries, relying on super efficiency in both the passing and rushing game. The duo of Kamara and Ingram was historic last season and that kind of production out of running backs of the same team is unlikely to be so prolific again, thus limiting Kamara’s potential. If Kamara becomes the work horse, he could climb in to the elite tier. If that doesn’t convince you, watch this.

No. 9: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Cook was on track to compete with Alvin Kamara for offensive rookie of the year before tearing his ACL in Week 4. Cook was averaging roughly 16 Fantasy PPG and was the workhorse back in a prolific Vikings’ rushing attack. Questions and concerns about how he will return from his injury will limit expectations, but the sky is the limit.

No. 10: Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

Hunt shot out of a cannon his rookie year before slowing down midway through the season. He still managed to lead the league in rushing. His success will depend on Andy Reid’s dedication to the run game and Patrick Mahomes performance as a starter.

No. 11: Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

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After his elite Fantasy performance in 2015, Freeman has subsequently been disrespected by his ADP in the last two Fantasy drafts. I feel as if I am disrespecting him too and what he has done by putting him at 10, as he as been an RB1 when on the field over the last three years. The problem is he has suffered multiple concussions over the past few seasons and is a concussion away from serious health issues. Plus, the Falcons like Tevin Coleman, a lot.

No. 12: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

The Titans’ offense was not great last year which seriously restricted their rushing attack. But, in his third year, the fact that the Titans parted ways with Murray making Henry the workhorse, and assuming Mariota and the Titans’ offense gets back on track, Henry should provide solid RB1 numbers as he has proven to do so by averaging double-digit Fantasy points in games where he has received 10 or more carries.

Bust of the group

Leonard Fournette

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A bust is a player that will greatly underperform in relation to his ADP. They will still also be available week in and week out causing owners to frustratingly start him more often than not but will be disappointed in their return on investment. Think Todd Gurley 2016 who was drafted as a top-5 Fantasy player but only averaged close to eight Fantasy points per game.

Fournette could easily be the bust of 2018. He only managed to average a meager 3.9 yards per carry in his rookie season which was tied for third worst of all running backs with over 200 carries. If Blake Bortles and the passing game can’t get some pressure of the rushing attack, Fournette will continue to see stacked boxes on close to 50 percent of his rushing attempts.

He also has a tendency to play with lingering ankle issues which can cause inefficiencies and missed time mid-game but isn’t enough to keep him from playing week-to-week. If defenses can continue to sell out for the run and Fournette doesn’t get over his ankle issues, he could make his way to the bust list of 2018.

Who could jump into this group?

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey could be in line for more touches with Jonathan Stewart out of the mix this coming season. McCaffrey managed to finish as an RB1 last season and only saw 10 or more carries in three games. His ability in the passing game greatly raises both his floor and ceiling, and if he is afforded more work in the rushing game, McCaffrey can easily be one of the better RB1s in Fantasy.

Saquon Barkley, Rookie

There are many unknowns surrounding Saquon Barkley, preventing him from automatic RB1 consideration. Barkley certainly has the talent to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. He rushed for over 1000 yards in each of his seasons at Penn State, he averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in every season, rushed for 18 touchdowns in each of his last two season, and he can get it done in the passing game with 54 receptions this past year.

At 6-foot and 233-pounds Barkley impressed at the combine with an elusive 4.40 40-yard dash and showed his strength with 29 bench reps. What team drafts him will have a great impact on his Fantasy value but expect this guy to be an NFL stud and climb his way into RB1 territory sooner rather than later.

Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

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Jordan Howard regressed somewhat from his rookie year, finishing as the 15th best running back in Fantasy in 2017. He still managed to produce even though he faced stacked boxes just about as much as Fournette did.

The Bears offense should improve this year with Mitch Trubisky going into his second year and the Bears looking to surround him with viable targets. This should provide better running lanes for Howard, but he will need to fend off Tarik Cohen from cutting too much into his workload to remain a viable RB1.

Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

As I mentioned with Kamara, what he and Ingram did as a running back duo was almost unprecedented. That type of efficiency in the run game will likely regress.

If Ingram loses a substantial amount of work to Kamara, he will likely not be an RB1 again this year. But if he can maintain similar volume and efficiency, then there is no reason he shouldn’t creep back into the RB1 mix as a member of a prolific Saints’ offense.

Joe Mixon, Cincinatti Bengals

Joe Mixon did not live up to his preseason hype in 2017 and it took a Jeremy Hill injury to become relevant in the Bengals’ backfield. Hill will likely no longer be with the Bengals this upcoming season meaning Mixon should see plenty of work in both the rushing and passing game.

The Bengals offensive line will need to drastically improve, as they are one of the league’s worst, and the offense will need to start clicking, but if the Bengals get it together, Mixon could be one of the better Fantasy running backs due to his talent and well-rounded skill set.

Who could fall out of the group?

Le’Veon Bell

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The Steelers Franchise Tagged the best running back in the NFL again. This means Bell could potentially hold out for part of the season. Though it is unlikely, and Bell says he will not, future owners should be cognizant of the possibility. When he plays, he will no doubt be an RB1 on a per game basis.

Ezekiel Elliott

Elliott has a trail of off the field issues. Anymore could lead to more suspensions or stricter disciplinary actions. Buyers beware.

Alvin Kamara

Alvin Kamara is crazy talented, but as mentioned above, Kamara was extremely efficient on a more modest workload as he shared the backfield with Mark Ingram. In fact, Kamara never received more than 12 carries and received fewer than 10 carries in all but four games. His contributions in the pass game raise his floor, but expect some Fantasy regression if his workload does not increase.

LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon

McCoy, Freeman, and Gordon all have injury question marks that could cause them to miss games pushing them out of the top-12.

Who, outside top-7, could be the number 1 overall RB in 2018 i.e this year’s Todd Gurley.

Alvin Kamara

On the other end of the spectrum imagine what Kamara is capable of if the Saints decide to increase his workload. Fantasy Football’s number one running back certainly is not out of the question.

Dalvin Cook

Cook was averaging over 16 Fantasy points per game before getting injured in Week 4. Even more encouraging is the fact that he was averaging 20 carries a game if you exclude Week 4 in which he suffered his injury. A full year could lead to big things for Cook and the Vikings.

Derrick Henry

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Henry has shared the workload as the backup running back in Tennessee for the past two years. Yet he has still managed to average double-digit fantasy points in games in which he received ten or more carries.

As the lead back in Tennessee (Week 17 and the playoffs of 2017) Henry was great. He had 18.7 Fantasy points in Week 17. He also averaged 120 total yards per game in the playoffs, 92 rushing YPG and had a role in the passing game with nearly 30 receiving YPG. Think 2016 DeMarco Murray who finished as the overall RB5 while sharing the workload with Henry. With Murray gone, the sky is the limit for Henry.


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About Alex Hamrick

Alex is an avid fantasy football enthusiast and writer for Fantasy Six Pack. With a background in quantitative methods and analysis, Alex enjoys using statistics and data analytics to develop detailed fantasy football analysis. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @AlexBHamrick

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