Fantasy football rookie preview: Running backs

Fantasy football rookie preview: Running backs

Rookie Analysis

Fantasy football rookie preview: Running backs

Now that we have had some time to digest the NFL draft and its aftermath, us fantasy footballers are excitedly waiting to add some of the rookies to our fake teams. Deciding which players have fantasy worth in 2018 comes down to assessing the likelihood of playing time. The following players are ranked in order of anticipated opportunity and corresponding value.

Rookie previews: QB | WR | TE

(Catalina Fragoso, USA TODAY Sports)

Saquon Barkley | New York Giants | 6-0, 233 | Penn State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
PSU
182
1076
5.9
56
7
20
161
8.1
32
1
2016
PSU
272
1496
5.5
81
18
28
402
14.4
44
4
2017
PSU
199
1134
5.7
80
16
47
594
12.6
85
3

Teams don’t draft running backs No. 2 overall without the full commitment to pounding them into the dirt from the onset. Barkley is a three-down talent and should contribution immediately for fantasy purposes. The only substantive question is how many touches will he lose to Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman. Will J-Stew be worked in for pass-protection purposes and as the occasional spell? Will he be resigned strictly to the bench as a reserve? Did Gallman do enough in 2017 to earn more reps with a new coaching staff? Would those touches come on third downs? As you can see, several paths could lead to Barkley’s overall workload being depressed in relation to his draft placement.

All of that out of the way, Barkley is explosive enough to enter RB1 territory with somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 total touches. Draft the highly regarded rookie in the second half of Round 1 in both standard and PPR formats. He has the highest ceiling and floor of all rookies in 2018 fantasy drafts.

Derrius Guice | Washington Redskins | 5-10, 224 | LSU

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
LSU
51
436
8.5
50
3
5
20
4.0
10
0
2016
LSU
183
1387
7.6
96
15
9
106
11.8
29
1
2017
LSU
216
1153
5.3
59
11
15
100
6.7
18
0

Rob Kelley is just a dude. Samaje Perine couldn’t get the job done last year, albeit through difficult circumstances. Chris Thompson played admirably before a season-ending injury, but he’s a purely a third-down back in an ideal situation. Guice is a first-round talent — easily the second-best back in this draft class — but needs to be managed off the field. Immaturity could become an issue if Guice faces considerable adversity. Or can’t wake up on time. You know, the weighty stuff in life.

At any rate, provided he starts, for which he’s the odds-on favorite, the LSU standout is a viable RB2 in fantasy. Since he is likely to come off of the turf on third downs, Guice’s best value is found in standard formats. The offense will focus on controlling the clock and pounding the ball, so opportunities shouldn’t be hard to find for yardage generation and possibly even double-digit touchdown figures.

(Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports)

Sony Michel | New England Patriots | 5-11, 214 | Georgia

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
UGA
64
410
6.4
75
5
7
106
15.1
33
1
2015
UGA
219
1161
5.3
66
8
26
270
10.4
48
3
2016
UGA
152
840
5.5
42
4
22
149
6.8
33
1
2017
UGA
131
948
7.2
74
13
5
55
11.0
32
0

No stranger to a time-sharing backfield, Michel will fit in just fine in New England. He’s a much better receiver than the statistics suggest, yet New England is likely to keep James White in the primary pass-catching role. Rex Burkhead also will be worked in for aerial work and the occasional series on the ground. The primary replacement for Dion Lewis, Michel should thrive if the blocking does its end of the bargain.

Uncertainty of when to start him could be problematic, and in many situations, gamers may be compelled to insert Michel into the lineup while hoping for the best. To Michel’s credit, he is a first-round selection and — in theory, since this is the Pats — will be given every chance to shine. His draft worth is somewhere in the flex or weak RB2 neighborhood, depending on depth and league structure.

Royce Freeman | Denver Broncos | 5-11, 229 | Oregon

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
ORE
252
1365
5.4
38
18
16
158
9.9
30
1
2015
ORE
283
1836
6.5
64
17
26
348
13.4
36
2
2016
ORE
168
945
5.6
85
9
23
144
6.3
24
1
2017
ORE
244
1475
6.0
59
16
14
164
11.7
50
0

This backfield is wide open, and Freeman might already be the front-runner for the starting spot. Running backs Devontae Booker, De’Angelo Henderson and seventh-round rookie David Williams will have something to say about it in the summer. Freeman profiles more as a bell cow — the same cannot confidently be said of the others. Denver’s line is stronger, and presuming QB Case Keenum is a stabilizing force, the Broncos should be able to lean on the ground attack.

Freeman could be the sneakiest bet for big-time production from this year’s rookie RB class. Fantasy owners should watch how this battle unfolds and act accordingly. The early view is favorable, and Freeman has upside to play like an RB2 at the cost of a third or even fourth, depending on your league’s level of competition.

Rashaad Penny | Seattle Seahawks | 5-11, 220 | San Diego State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
SDSU
2
22
11.0
21
0
0
0
0
0
0
2015
SDSU
61
368
6.0
55
4
8
120
15.0
33
1
2016
SDSU
135
1005
7.4
73
11
15
224
14.9
41
3
2017
SDSU
275
2027
7.4
95
19
18
142
7.9
33
2

This situation is somewhat frustrating for fantasy gamers. Penny, the nation’s leading rusher in 2017, enters what looks like a great scenario on the hoof. He is virtually unchallenged for the starting job and was what many would consider to be a surprise first-round pick. Seattle is all in, really. The negative side of this situation: The offensive line isn’t particularly adept at doing its job, and the defense has been reworked so much this offseason that one has to wonder if it can allow the ‘Hawks to commit to rushing the rock. Doubts about Penny’s ability to promptly pick up a playbook have a surfaced.

Chris Carson is most likely the chief competition for touches, but these backs are similar enough to suggest J.D. McKissic is the real threat to playing time for the rookie. McKissic’s style is radically different from that of Penny, which could endear him for work on third downs. Penny is closer to an inconsistent RB2/flex play each week than a fringe No. 1 or even top-flight RB2, despite what should be a hefty workload.

(Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

Ronald Jones II | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 6-0, 200 | USC

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
USC
153
987
6.5
74
8
7
39
5.6
15
1
2016
USC
177
1082
6.1
66
12
11
76
6.9
16
1
2017
USC
242
1486
6.1
86
18
14
187
13.4
56
1

The former Trojan is another rookie running back entering a fine situation with scant proven competition. Explosive and lean, Jones is closer to a change-up back than a full-timer, yet he may see a healthy dosage of touches in 2018. Tampa Bay sports Peyton Barber, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers. Sims is best suited as a third-down receiver, and Rodgers has flashed a handful of times in his career. Barber appears to be the biggest threat to Jones.

Working on the belief this will be Jones’ job to lose, he’s a flex consideration in fantasy with the occasional spell of Barber and probable loss of third-down action to Sims. Consistency could be erratic, and his touchdown count may be capped by system restraints.

Kerryon Johnson | Detroit Lions | 5-11, 213 | Auburn

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
AUB
52
208
4.0
19
3
14
159
11.4
37
0
2016
AUB
182
895
4.9
47
11
17
125
7.4
37
0
2017
AUB
263
1320
5.0
60
17
23
188
8.2
55
2

What. A. Mess. Johnson basically was a one-year wonder at Auburn, but he’s capable of doing just about anything asked of him. The muddled backfield grouping of underachiever Ameer Abdullah and well-seasoned veteran LeGarrette Blount are augmented by the dynamic pass-receiving ways of Theo Riddick. While Johnson is an able three-down back, Riddick has that gig on lockdown. The short-yardage and goal line tasks figure to be owned by Blount. The early-down handles could be divided between Abdullah and Johnson, but in what way is anyone’s guess. There’s no guarantee Abdullah even makes the final roster at this point.

Expect more clarity as the summer progresses, all while being prepared to make a draft-day decision not fully knowing what you’re getting into with this lot. Detroit doesn’t run the ball enough to make Johnson better than a routine flex option, regardless of his role.

Nyheim Hines | Indianapolis Colts | 5-9, 197 | North Carolina State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
NCST
48
243
5.1
38
1
20
256
12.8
58
1
2016
NCST
13
44
3.4
14
0
43
525
12.2
56
0
2017
NCST
181
1040
5.7
83
9
25
124
5.0
15
0

Hines is capable of a little bit of everything, and he’s a fine change of pace to Marlon Mack’s slashing brand of football. The latter is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, which elevates Hines’ stock should something go wrong. Make no mistake, this will be a committee approach in any scenario.

Point-per-reception owners should be keen on Hines, although he has a sliver of upside in non-PPR setups. Scoring probably won’t be his thing, but a questionable cast of receivers could provide Hines a chance to work in space. He’s in the conversation of a weekly flex but is more safely a No. 4 draft target.

(Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports)

Nick Chubb | Cleveland Browns | 5-10, 220 | Georgia

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
UGA
219
1547
7.1
83
14
18
213
11.8
27
2
2015
UGA
92
747
8.1
83
7
4
32
8.0
24
1
2016
UGA
224
1130
5.0
55
8
5
86
17.2
49
1
2017
UGA
191
1175
6.2
55
13
3
31
10.3
11
0

Cleveland signed running back Carlos Hyde to a three-year pact that can be voided after 2018 with little effect to the future salary cap. The former 49er is fragile and should share touches to remain on the field. Chubb is a similar back in terms of being capable between the 20s and around the goal line. Hyde is a more effective receiver, though Duke Johnson should replace either back on third downs more often than not.

Look for a mixture of both Hyde and Chubb on early downs and in the red zone, cannibalizing both backs’ fantasy worth. This could create a “hot-hand” situation from week to week, series to series. Chubb’s future is much brighter than his present. Treat him as a handcuff to Hyde and an RB4 otherwise.

Chase Edmonds | Arizona Cardinals | 5-9, 205 | Fordham

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
FORDM
294
1838
6.3
91
23
19
121
6.4
36
1
2015
FORDM
251
1648
6.6
75
20
31
383
12.4
87
5
2016
FORDM
257
1799
7.0
77
19
25
272
10.9
38
1
2017
FORDM
136
577
4.2
65
5
11
129
11.7
46
0

Edmonds has a legitimate chance to unseat Elijhaa Penny as David Johnson’s immediate backup. The fourth-round pick played in only seven contests in 2017, due to leg injuries, and the team’s run blocking was miserable when Edmonds was on the field. He is explosive but lacks high-level skills to be a full-time guy in the NFL. If nothing else, he could make for a rewarding change-up to Johnson if sprinkled in throughout the season. Edmonds is a decent fantasy flier and a handcuff if a few breaks go his way.

(Joe Camporeale, USA TODAY Sports)

Kalen Ballage | Miami Dolphins | 6-2, 228 | Arizona State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
ASU
42
126
3.0
12
3
6
64
10.7
38
1
2015
ASU
125
653
5.2
65
4
12
60
5.0
16
0
2016
ASU
126
536
4.3
75
14
44
469
10.7
71
1
2017
ASU
153
657
4.3
35
6
19
81
4.3
9
0

Ugh. Can we leave it right there? Ballage, at this stage, is a wiser option for Miami than the geriatric Frank Gore. However, politics could get in the way. Say Ballage clearly outplays Gore in the offseason, there is little doubt Adam Gase will favor the rookie. Should it be close, the hometown hero — at least in the early going — figures to get the touches to contrast Kenyan Drake’s playing style. At running back, younger legs tend to win out, even against a future Hall of Famer. Take a wait-and-see approach where you can, but Ballage is a fine gamble in the nascent portion of the second half of drafts.

Ito Smith | Atlanta Falcons | 5-10, 202 | Southern Miss

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
USM
136
536
3.9
38
2
8
76
9.5
27
0
2015
USM
171
1128
6.6
75
10
49
515
10.5
49
3
2016
USM
265
1459
5.5
86
17
43
459
10.7
54
2
2017
USM
232
1321
5.7
89
13
36
370
10.3
84
2

Smith’s selection was of the forward-facing variety. After giving Devonta Freeman a lucrative extension last August, Atlanta probably cannot afford to keep Tevin Coleman, who is entering a contract year. Smith could prove to be a sound complement to Freeman. If all works well, there is a chance Smith becomes the guy in ’19 with the Falcons having an easier out of Freeman’s deal. Smith is a late-round gamble or insurance plan for either Atlanta backs.

Jaylen Samuels | Pittsburgh Steelers | 5-11, 223 | North Carolina State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
NCST
15
143
9.5
28
1
6
96
16.0
42
1
2015
NCST
56
368
6.6
66
9
65
597
9.2
64
7
2016
NCST
33
189
5.7
24
6
55
565
10.3
55
7
2017
NCST
71
383
5.4
40
11
69
551
8.0
79
4

Samuels is more of a hybrid running back who can line up all over the field. The Steelers could opt to mix him in for receiving work to limit Le’Veon Bell’s workload a tad. Fantasy players in PPR formats may want to give him a sniff if the offseason workouts show promise. Without a defined role, knowing when to play Samuels could be treacherous.

Jordan Wilkins | Indianapolis Colts | 6-1, 216 | Mississippi

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
MISS
52
361
6.9
73
1
1
6
6.0
6
0
2015
MISS
72
379
5.3
38
4
5
75
15.0
45
0
2017
MISS
155
1011
6.5
64
9
26
241
9.3
25
1

Wilkins was the second running back chosen by the Colts in April’s draft, going in the fifth after Nyheim Hines went a rounder earlier. Marlon Mack is recovering from offseason should surgery and could use a helping hand. Perhaps even two pairs of them. Wilkins is in an opportunistic position to sneak onto the fantasy radar as a late-round gamble. Monitor the situation into the preseason.

(Jim Brown, USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Jackson | Los Angeles Chargers | 6-0, 199 | Northwestern

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
NW
245
1187
4.8
68
10
22
201
9.1
35
1
2015
NW
312
1418
4.5
62
5
21
162
7.7
28
0
2016
NW
298
1524
5.1
68
15
35
219
6.3
37
0
2017
NW
255
1154
4.5
79
9
43
266
6.2
24
0

Austin Ekeler was productive in limited action last year, and Melvin Gordon is no stranger to injuries. Jackson comes with a lean frame and reminds some of RB Taiwan Jones. The rookie will compete for touches and could carve out a niche role as a receiving option, if he holds up in pass pro. Stay tuned….

Boston Scott | New Orleans Saints | 5-7, 195 | Louisiana Tech

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
LT
1
3
3.0
3
0
0
0
0
0
0
2015
LT
34
275
8.1
77
0
1
1
1.0
1
0
2016
LT
70
515
7.4
71
6
11
125
11.4
22
0
2017
LT
163
937
5.7
45
8
20
181
9.1
32
1

Look for Scott to be worked in as a gadget player to get him into open space. He has above-average hands and is elusive, featuring a damaging jump-cut. He is merely a name to watch, though, as picking up the scraps from Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram won’t fill a belly.

Bo Scarbrough | Dallas Cowboys | 6-2, 228 | Alabama

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
ALA
18
104
5.8
24
1
0
0
0
0
0
2016
ALA
125
812
6.5
85
11
4
22
5.5
9
0
2017
ALA
108
549
5.1
44
8
14
92
6.6
13
0

Scarbrough will enter a backfield behind at least Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. Tavon Austin is expected to serve as a pass-catching running back. At best, the former Crimson Tide could work into the role of being Zeke’s primary backup, which amounts to being little more than a fantasy handcuff.

Trenton Cannon | New York Jets | 5-11, 185 | Virginia State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
VA ST
174
1,183
6.8
9
9
182
20.2
2
2016
VA ST
168
1,214
7.2
18
18
203
11.3
2
2017
VA ST
212
1,638
7.7
17
21
225
10.7
3

Cannon was highly productive for Virginia State and may get a shot at contributing, assuming he makes the roster. The Jets hardly boast a wealth of talent at the position, featuring Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Thomas Rawls and Elijah McGuire also will vie for roster spots. As it stands, Cannon is likely roster fodder.

David Williams | Denver Broncos | 6-1, 229 | Arkansas

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
SC
45
256
5.7
37
2
7
99
14.1
59
0
2015
SC
86
299
3.5
18
0
11
93
8.5
21
0
2016
SC
56
239
4.3
33
3
9
72
8.0
16
0
2017
ARK
117
656
5.6
33
8
10
171
17.1
37
2

A seventh-round pick, Williams will fight for a roster spot. He enters what may be a wide-open backfield battle, one including third-rounder Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson all presumably ahead of Williams. Look elsewhere, barring a miracle.

Mark Walton | Cincinnati Bengals | 5-10, 202 | Miami (Fla.)

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
MIAMI
129
450
3.5
27
9
22
293
13.3
41
1
2016
MIAMI
209
1117
5.3
80
14
27
240
8.9
30
1
2017
MIAMI
56
428
7.6
82
3
7
91
13.0
39
0

An injury-shorted 2017 season can be overlooked to get a truer representation of Walton. He’s a plus-receiver whose game kind of reminds of Giovani Bernard. There is a lot needed to work in Walton’s favor before he becomes a fantasy-worthy consideration in 2018.

John Kelly | Los Angeles Rams | 5-10, 216 | Tennessee

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2015
TENN
40
165
4.1
22
1
0
0
0
0
0
2016
TENN
98
630
6.4
73
5
6
51
8.5
17
0
2017
TENN
189
778
4.1
38
9
37
299
8.1
52
0

Kelly is a mildly intriguing rookie in a bad situation for fantasy purposes. Without an injury to Todd Gurley, Kelly is completely useless for fake football. Malcolm Brown likely retains the top backup chores, as well.

Nick Bawden | Detroit Lions | 6-2, 245 | San Diego State

YEAR
TEAM
ATT
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
REC
YDS
AVG
LNG
TD
2014
SDSU
11
43
3.9
15
0
0
0
0
0
0
2015
SDSU
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2016
SDSU
1
4
4.0
7
0
15
137
9.1
20
0
2017
SDSU
0
0
0
0
0
15
103
6.9
‘–
1

Bawden came to SDSU as a quarterback in 2014, but after an awful showing, he was convinced to move to fullback. In 2016 and ’17, he paved the way for the nation’s leading rushers. He has no fantasy value but should improve Detroit’s running game as a lead blocker.

THE LATEST

More Huddle
Home