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2018 RUNNING BACKS - Rookies & Redshirts

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Rookie and 2nd year running backs to consider for your NFL Fantasy Team
Round 1, Pick 4, 4th overall (NY Giants): Saquon Barkley, RB, Pennsylvania State University
38 games played
RUSHING: 671 attempts, 3843 yards, 5.7 yards per carry (ypc), 43TD
RECEIVING: 102 receptions, 1195 yards, 11.7 yards per reception, 8TD

Oh my quad!  He's the quad of thunder!  Barkley is, without a doubt, the best and most complete running back prospect in this year's draft.  He'll take handoffs, grab pitches, catch passes, then run, jump, hurdle, and juke his way to the end zone.  Some scouts have claimed he's an upgraded Ezekiel Elliot, and that's saying a lot.  There's already tremendous pressure being placed upon the second overall pick of the 2018 draft to produce at rookie of the year levels.  Barkley has all of the tools to be a star for the Giants at the position, and the additions of Nate Solder and rookie 2nd rounder Will Hernandez should begin to help solidify things up front.  Sure, he'll need to deal with the likes of Ryan Kerrigan, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, and the vaunted Eagles defense.  Nevertheless, Barkley should be the immediate starter and is worth at least a 2nd round pick in most drafts.  New head coach Pat Shurmur should enjoy using his new offensive weapon after using the 1-2 combo of Murray and McKinnon in Minnesota last year.

Round 1, Pick 27, 27th overall (Seattle Seahawks): Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State University
51 games played
RUSHING: 488, attempts, 3656 yards, 7.5 yards per carry (ypc), 38TD
RECEIVING: 42 receptions, 479 yards, 11.4 yards per reception, 6TD

The Seahawks offensive backfield has been a carrousel since Beast Mode left in 2016.  This could be the reason they took Rashaad Penny so high in the draft.  Penny is a dynamic runner, receiver, and return man who can immediately make an impact on special teams.  At 5'11", 220lbs, he has the typical size and build of an NFL starter at his position, but his running style is something special.  He has a great combination of size and speed.  He's shifty, powerful, runs tough when he needs to, and uses his jump cuts to seemingly teleport when he needs to make guys miss.  It's not all fun and games though.  Seattle had one of the worst offensive lines in 2017 and they haven't done much to address the situation this off-season.  The Seahawks' backfield situation is also similar to the Patriots' in that there's not a definitive feature back.  The lead role is up for the taking, but Pete Carroll could just roll with the hot hand.  Penny is a risky proposition in any league, but he should he a flier if he does well in training camp and lands the job of lead back.  

***UPDATE: Penny had surgery for a broken finger the morning of Wednesday, August 15.  He's expected to miss three to four weeks but could be back by week 1.  

Round 1, Pick 31, 31th overall (New England Patriots): Sony Michel, RB, University of Georgia
47 games played
RUSHING: 590 attempts, 3613 yards, 6.1 yards per carry (ypc), 33TD
RECEIVING: 64 receptions, 621 yards, 9.7  yards per reception, 6TD

At 5'11", 220lbs, Sony Michel will drop his shoulder and truck someone if he needs to.  His tape against Mizzou showed exactly that.  When he's in the open field, he'd prefer to make defenders miss, but the word "elusive" would not describe his running style.  He can make cuts and evade tackles, but he won't stop and go on a dime or use jump cuts to break ankles.  Michel is definitely a stout power runner who breaks tackles and is tough to bring down.  He was also targeted in the passing game on dump offs and wheel routes and showed versatility when he was thrown to.  He was also a returner which means he can contribute on special teams as well.  Michel can step in and be an immediate starter like he did when fellow Bulldog Nick Chubb went down.  Unfortunately, he was drafted into a timeshare known as the Patriots' backfield.  Belichick likes to roll with the hot hand which means Michel could get a lot of touches or not.  Michel could get stuck behind Rex Burkhead and James White, making him a late round flier who may or may not hit.  Buyer beware: Michel hasn't practiced since the beginning of August.  He had surgery in December, 2017 to address an issue with his meniscus.  There's no telling when he'll be ready to go.

Round 2, Pick 2, 35th overall (Cleveland Browns): Nick Chubb, RB, University of Alabama
47 games played
RUSHING: 758, attempts, 4769 yards, 6.3 yards per carry (ypc), 44TD
RECEIVING: 31 receptions, 361 yards, 11.6 yards per reception, 4TD

In 2014, Chubb and some other guy named Todd Gurley formed the 2-headed monster of a dynamic Bulldog rushing attack.  Then Chubb went down due to a nasty knee injury during his 2015 campaign.  While a lot of reports say that he's not as explosive or dynamic after this injury, it's important to remember that the 5'10", 225lb back is still a viable backfield playmaker.  In fact, one could argue that he looked every bit as good as Saquon Barkley prior to his injury.  He can still make the jump cuts and run between the tackles, and will excel as a bellcow if used properly.  If he can become the definitive starter for Cleveland's offensive backfield, he could be a nice value find as soon as the third round in the deepest leagues.  Unfortunately, he's better off as a flier since the situation could quickly deteriorate into a timeshare with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson also getting touches.

Round 2, Pick 6, 38th overall (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Ronald Jones, RB, University of Southern California
40 games played
RUSHING: 591, attempts, 3619 yards, 6.1 yards per carry (ypc), 39TD
RECEIVING: 32 receptions, 309 yards, 9.4 yards per reception, 3TD

If Ronald Jones had to be described in one word, it'd be explosive.  Don't be fooled by his 4.65 40 yard dash at the combine.  This guy will turn and burn.  It literally takes him 2 steps to get to his top speed.  He'll get skinny, find gaps, and turn on the jets.  He can also cut left, then right, then cut it back to make guys miss.  If his cuts and burst weren't already enough to get chunk yards, he falls forward to get extra yardage and add a couple more to his run.  The primary concern is his durability.  He's been criticized for having a "slender" frame and scouts question if he can hold up to the rigors of being a bellcow in the big leagues.  Everyone's bigger, faster, stronger in the pros.  Jones also suffered a hamstring injury at the combine.  At 5'11", 205lbs, he has the size-strength-speed combination to make good things happen for the Bucs' backfield.  He's already been compared to Barry Sanders and should get the start over Rodgers and Barber.  He's easily worth a 3rd round pick in 10 player leagues.  Buyer beware, he does play in one of the toughest defensive divisions in the league.  Nevertheless, he should easily win the job as the featured back and get his shot as an immediate difference maker.

Round 2, Pick 11, 43rd overall (Detroit Lions): Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn University
36 games played
RUSHING: 519, attempts, 2494 yards, 4.8 yards per carry (ypc), 32TD
RECEIVING: 55 receptions, 478 yards, 8.7 yards per reception, 2TD

It seems like a guy named Kerryon was destined to become a running back.  Sure he doesn't have the gaudy numbers to match other down hill power backs.  Then again, it's important to remember that this one-cut, hard-charging, down hill runner hails from arguably the toughest defensive football conference in the NCAA.  At 6"0', 213lbs, this Legarrette Blount-type player can become one of the best finishers at the next level if he can pack on more muscle.  The Lions running backs have struggled in recent seasons.  Johnson will battle veteran LeGarrette Blount for the starting position.  Johnson might sit behind Blount heading into training camp, but this situation may turn into a timeshare.  The Lions play some relatively weak teams that struggle against the run.  Fellow rookie Frank Ragnow should help solidify the offensive line.  Keep an eye on training camp and the depth chart.  It's tough to value Johnson because the situation is so dynamic.  

Round 2, Pick 30, 59th overall (Washington Redskins): Derrius Guice RB, Louisiana State University
35 games played
RUSHING: 471, attempts, 3074 yards, 6.5 yards per carry (ypc), 29TD
RECEIVING: 32 receptions, 250 yards, 7.8 yards per reception, 3 TD

Talk about a crowded backfield!  Guice joins Robert Kelley, Samaje Perine, and Chris Thompson among others, and any of them could grab the starting job.  However, something odd has been happening in Washington's backfield in the past few seasons.  In 2015, Alfred Morris struggled, and was replaced by Matt Jones.  In 2016, Jones struggled and was replaced by Robert Kelley.  In 2017 Kelley struggled and was replaced by Samaje Perine.  Chris Thompson has been the only consistent member of the Redskins' backfield through it all.  Whether it's the offensive line or the running back or a combination of the 2, hopefully Guice can help Washington's ground game get going.  Guice is just a tough, down hill basher who runs through defenders instead of running around them.  He initiates the contact and doesn't shy away from it, making his running style more Derrick Henry or Leonard Fournette than Tarik Cohen.  He might be a bit undersized for this role, but this allows him to get under the pads of bigger defenders.  His lateral quickness and ability to make cuts makes also helps him make up for his smaller size and helps him evade tackles.  At 5'10", 212lbs, he's a good combination of size and speed.  He's also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.  He could carve out a nice dual-threat role for himself and steal the jobs of both Kelley and Thompson.  Reports out of training camp say Guice looks good, but he may have to wrestle the starting job away from Robert Kelley.  Fantasy rankings place him in the late 1st all the way to the mid 2nd round, depending on the format and teams in the league, but he'll be a better value in the early middle rounds.

***UPDATE: Guice tore his ACL during training camp and is out for the 2018 season.

Round 3, Pick 7, 71 overall (Denver Broncos): Royce Freeman, RB, University of Oregon
51 games played
RUSHING: 947 attempts, 5621 yards, 5.9 yards per carry (ypc), 60TD
RECEIVING: 79 receptions, 814 yards, 10.3 yards per reception, 4TD

The Broncos have been a mixed bag with C.J. Anderson splitting time in the backfield with Ronnie Hillman, Devontae Booker, Capri Bibbs, and others.  Anderson didn't hit 1,000 yards in a season until 2017, and even then he rushed for just 3 touchdowns.  They're looking for better consistency with third round draft pick and former All Pac-12 offensive rookie of the year Royce Freeman.  He'll battle third year back Devontae Booker for the role of lead back.  Freeman doesn't dazzle.  A leg injury during his junior year may or may not have slowed him down a bit, but he's still a more than serviceable back.  At 6'0", 229lbs, this big banger is tough to bring down.  The thing about Freeman is that he needs to pick a running style.  He has the body to lean forward into tackles and plow down defenders, but seems like he runs a little too upright at times, not bringing all of his weight and momentum to bear.  The Broncos didn't do their starting back, whoever that may be, any favors up front either.  Denver's offensive line struggled mightily last season, which meant their running game and quarterback play struggled.  There's not a lot to be said about Freeman or his team.  While he has some good physical traits, he may also share the load with Booker and he'll face some tough defensive teams as well.  These factors combine to make him a late round flier.  If he's relegated to a backup, he'll be a deep league handcuff.

Round 4, Pick 4, 104 overall (Indianapolis Colts): Nyheim Hines, RB, North Carolina State
38 games played
RUSHING: 258, attempts, 1400 yards, 5.4 yards per carry (ypc), 13TD
RECEIVING: 89 receptions, 933 yards, 10.5 yards per reception, 1TD

The departure of Frank Gore presumably presents an opportunity for second year back Marlon Mack.  However, Mack is not a lock for the starting job.  He didn't get many chances to show off his chops, but he looked good when he did.  The Colts weren't sure what they'd do at the position, so they picked up 5'8", 198lb Nyheim Hines in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL draft.  Hines won't set the world on fire, but he does have some nice moves.  He can find the edge and get around it, or run between the tackles.  He can also catch it out of the backfield, which is a good thing for the Colts considering their offensive line and quarterback situation.  He may have fallen to the 4th round because he didn't match the stat lines of some of his fellow rookies, but he looks good when his number gets called.  Unfortunately there are a couple of factors that may affect how often Hines' number will get called this season.  He'll put up a good fight for the starting job, but there may not be a definitive starter.  New head coach Frank Reich used a stable of backs as the Eagles' Offensive Coordinator which means Hines may see just a change of pace role.  Moreover, Hines' ability to be the bellcow at the pro level is TBD considering his relatively small size and he only started one year.  Hines is a late round flier and Mack's handcuff.  If Hines gets the backfield to himself, he's an immediate PPR starter.  Buyer beware: if last year is any indication of how Frank Reich likes to use his running backs, this backfield could quickly deteriorate into a timeshare between Mack, Hines, Michael, and Turbin.

Round 4, Pick 12, 112 overall (Cincinnati Bengals): Mark Walton, RB, University of Miami (Florida)
31 games played
RUSHING: 395, attempts, 2006 yards, 5.1 yards per carry (ypc), 26TD
RECEIVING: 56 receptions, 624 yards, 11.1 yards per reception, 2TD

Joe Mixon was supposed to be the savior of the Bengals' backfield.  Unfortunately, the 2nd rounder got caught up in a hodgepodge of runners that also included Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill.  Cincinnati spent their 4th round draft pick on Mark Walton from the University of Miami.  It's too early to label Mixon a bust because of how high he was drafted.  Nevertheless, Walton will enter the same, convoluted situation that Mixon entered.  Walton is a 5'10" 202lb combo back that doesn't do one thing particularly well.  Instead, he does a lot of things decently.  He does have a good size-speed combo, can get skinny, and has great burst.  He doesn't have breakaway speed (his 40 clocked in at 4.6 seconds), but he can catch the ball and make plays by getting creative, cutting it back, and finding room to run.  While his playing style might be gimmicky at times, he's strong enough to challenge Gio Bernard for third down throws and change of pace work.  Unless Mixon and Bernard both get hurt, Walton's stats will be capped by his snap count.  A timeshare or handcuff could be looming on the horizon for Walton.  Draft him as such.

Round 4, Pick 26, 126th overall (Atlanta Falcons): Ito Smith, RB, University of Southern Mississippi
41 games played
RUSHING: 820 attempts, 4538 yards, 5.5 yards per carry (ypc), 42TD
RECEIVING: 140 receptions, 1446 yards, 10.3 yards per reception, 7TD

At first glance, Smith measures in at 5'9, 195lbs making him a bit undersized compared to most of his fellow rookies.  His tape says he'll be a one-cut down hill power back that follows his blockers between the tackles and he's not particularly shifty or elusive, which doesn't usually favor backs his size.  He appears to hesitate at times and doesn't always run as hard or gain as many yards as he can.  The good news is that he's a tough runner when he decides to commit and he can be difficult to bring down once he gets into the defensive backfield.  He also catch the ball which makes him a dual threat.  He can line up in just about any formation which makes it difficult for defenses to read plays.  Long story short, his fantasy potential will depend on the offensive system and how many opportunities he'll get.  He's similar in size and stature to teammate Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons, but is also buried behind both Freeman and Coleman on the Falcons' depth chart.  

Round 4, Pick 31, 131th overall (Miami Dolphins): Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State University
46 games played
RUSHING: 450, attempts, 1984 yards, 4.4 yards per carry (ypc), 27TD
RECEIVING: 82 receptions, 684 yards, 8.3 yards per reception, 2TD

Mike Mayock called Kalen Ballage "size-speed freak."  The 6'2", 228lb former Sun Devil displayed that impressive combination by posting a 4.46 40 at this year's Combine.  While he doesn't have the gaudy numbers of some of his contemporaries, he certainly proved he can do it all.  He's an excellent runner, receiver, and returner.  He can also hurdle over defenders or drop his shoulder and absolutely truck them.  He runs with decent patience, he's not afraid of contact, and he's tough to bring down.  It only takes him a couple of steps to get to his top speed and he glides across the field.  His crowning achievement is an 8, yes EIGHT touchdown (7 rushing, 1 receiving) game against Texas Tech that opened the eyes of scouts across the country.  Frank Gore is a question mark and Kenyan Drake has an injury history.  The Dolphins starting job is there for the taking and Ballage could win the top spot if he makes a splash in training camp.  He could post David Johnson-like numbers if he gets the opportunity, and could be this year's fantasy sleeper.  The talent is there, so Ballage just needs a chance to use it.  He's a late round flier, but could reward owners who take a chance on him.  If Gore and Drake go down, Ballage should be picked up immediately.

Round 4, Pick 34, 134th overall (Arizona Cardinals): Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham University
44 games played
RUSHING: 938 attempts, 5862 yards, 6.3 yards per carry (ypc), 67TD
RECEIVING: 86 receptions, 905 yards, 10.5 yards per reception, 7TD

The Cardinals are looking to surround their shiny new first round quarterback with as many offensive weapons as they can.  They're taking a chance on Chase Edmonds, a versatile player who can just about do it all.  Edmonds is an elusive ball carrier who runs with loose hips and good burst.  He can catch the ball or take the handoff and he's a playmaker whenever his number gets called.  While he lacks breakaway speed, he might be a decent change of pace back behind David Johnson and Andre Ellington.  He could be the next Doug Martin under certain conditions.  Unfortunately a running back is more than just offensive weapon. They must be willing and able to protect their fellow rookie QB when needed.  His quarterback will constantly be under duress as the Cardinals' offense faces some elite defenses this year.  Edmonds has been criticized for his lack of experience in protection.  He's also buried on the depth chart behind David Johnson and Andre Ellington.  Edmonds probably won't see the field much unless catastrophic event wipes out the Cardinals' backfield.  He can be left on the board in most drafts.

Round 5, Pick 28, 165th overall (Pittsburgh Steelers): Jaylen Samuels, RB, North Carolina State University
47 games played
RUSHING: 758, attempts, 4769 yards, 6.3 yards per carry (ypc), 44TD
RECEIVING: 31 receptions, 361 yards, 11.6 yards per reception, 4TD

The Steelers lack depth in their offensive backfield, so they drafted someone they hope is able to do some of the things Le'veon Bell is able to do.  While he may not be Lev Bell 2.0, Jaylen Samuels is a true do-it-all threat at 6'0", 225lbs.  He's small enough to be a stout running back and large enough to be a tough, physical receiving threat.  He's shown he can catch the ball out of the backfield in addition to taking handoffs, and he's a proven playmaker.  Here's the tricky thing: Samuels has enough ability to make the Steelers line him up at tight end, a position that's been a question mark since Heath Miller retired.  Sure, he runs with tight hips, he's not the most elusive, and some would argue he's already put on a lot of miles.  That's actually part of the beauty of being a fifth round pick.  Expectations aren't sky-high.  The Steelers can leave him on the bench, let him learn the offense, and he can step in to occasionally spell Bell.  James Connor was the home town, feel-good story, and Stevan Ridley hasn't had significant playing time since his days with the Patriots.  The job as Bell's backup is wide open at the moment.  If Samuels can prove himself during training camp, he could rise to the top and find fantasy relevance.  For now, he's a flier who should be picked up in only the deepest of leagues.  

Round 6, Pick 2, 176th overall (Los Angeles Rams): John Kelly, RB, University of Tennessee
29 games played
RUSHING: 327, attempts, 1573 yards, 4.8 yards per carry (ypc), 15TD
RECEIVING: 43 receptions, 350 yards, 8.1 yards per reception, 0TD

A description of John Kelly's running style makes him look god-like.  He's elusive, well-balanced, runs with loose hips, and has jump cuts for days.  Oh, he also has a great stiff-arm, runs tough, and is difficult to bring down when he makes contact.  He's also a phenomenal athlete considering he does all of this at 5'11, 216 lbs.  In addition, he's comes from the same running back program as Alvin Kamara, and everyone knows how Kamara turned out.  Unfortunately, Kelly didn't have many opportunities to shine since he was Kamara's backup and lived in the shadows of some of his teammates.  Kelly is an underrated player the Rams stole in the 6th round.  Even though Todd Gurley is firmly entrenched in the starting spot, Kelly can come in late in games to give Gurley a rest.  The Rams' offensive line is among the 10 best in the league, so Kelly shouldn't have a problem finding running room.  In addition, they have a lot of offensive weapons scattered around the field to spread out defenses and open things up underneath.  Nevertheless, Kelly is only as good as a handcuff.  His production will depend on Gurley's health, the Rams' record, and how coach McVay chooses to use him.  In addition, the Rams could deploy Kelly late in the season, during weeks 15-17, if the Rams are firmly in control of the division with home field advantage, and want to rest Gurley.  Until then, roster Kelly as a Gurley handcuff.

REDSHIRTS: While everyone knows Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt are worth picking up, here are some other second-year players worth looking at.

DALVIN COOK, Minnesota Vikings:
Cook went down with an injury just 4 weeks into his 2017 campaign.  He's expected to make a full recovery and take on the starting role this year.  He's still a viable playmaker who can get it done on the ground and through the air.  The Vikings' offensive line will be dominant once again, so Cook should get plenty of blocking up front and room to work.  Cook is worth a 1st round draft pick.

CHRISTIAN MCCAFFERY, Carolina Panthers
McCaffery's production last year was capped because he shared touches with fellow running back Jonathan Stewart.  Now that Stewart is out of the picture and Carolina's backup is C.J. Anderson, look for a spike in McCaffery's volume, which he'll use to showcase his full capability.  McCaffery's worth taking in the 1st or 2nd round, especially in PPR leagues.

JOE MIXON, Cincinnati Bengals
Mixon is still a bit of an anomaly.  While he has all of the physical attributes to be the best back of his draft class, some say he lacks the motor.  Then there's the issue of his offensive line.  He doesn't get much help up front which could limit his productivity.  Change of pace and receiving back Gio Bernard is still a thorn in the side of Mixon's fantasy owners because Gio takes away touches.  Mixon is worth a third round pick in 10-team leagues. 

JAMAAL WILLIAMS, Green Bay Packers
Williams and Aaron Jones are the only 2 true running backs on this roster.  There's a slight chance Montgomery could slide back to wideout with the departure of Jordy Nelson, and Ripkowski is a full back.  Williams looked good when he stepped in after Montgomery's injury, and found the endzone 6 times in the last 9 games of the season. Buyer beware, he only reached the century mark on the ground just once during that time.  The Packers leaned more heavily on the run with Hundley at the helm, but they could lean on Rogers' arm if their starting QB returns healthy.  Williams could see his volume drop, making him a PPR maven worth a second round pick, but only if he ends up on top of the depth chart. Otherwise he's no better than a handcuff. 

MARLON MACK, Indianapolis Colts
The departure of Frank Gore leaves the door wide open for Mack to take over the starting role.  Gore and Mack were in a bit of a timeshare, with Gore taking the majority of the handoffs while Mack came in as a change of pace back.  Things could change drastically.  New head coach Frank Reich could try to protect Luck's shoulder or minimize Brissett's mistake the same way: leaning on the run.  He could also try to complete more high percentage passes by dumping the ball off to Mack.  Either way, Mack should see an uptick in his workload.  The young playmaker is worth picking up as high as the third round of most leagues, especially PPR formats.  Buyer beware, Mack's production could be capped if last year's muddled usage of the Eagles' backfield is any indication of how Reich will use Mack, Hines, Turbin, and Michael. 

TARIK COHEN, Chicago Bears
Cohen seemed to be one and done last year.  He racked up 107 total yards and a touchdown, on 5 rushing attempts and 8 catches in week 1.  He followed that up with 8 catches for 55 yards and another 13 yards on 7 carries, but failed to find the endzone.  Then he was a ghost for the rest of the season in Dowell Loggains' conservative offense.  The Matt Nagy era is about to begin, and Kareem Hunt was a gem, especially in PPR leagues when Nagy was calling the plays.  The trouble is there are currently too many receiving options in Chicago at this point.  Cohen is an undersized PPR playmaker who looks the most like Darren Sproles, but could have trouble getting touches unless Taylor Gabriel or Jordan Howard go down.  At this point, Cohen should be rostered in deep PPR leagues or by Jordan Howard owners.

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