Deciding which running back to choose in fantasy football can be a difficult task. In 2017, Alvin Kamara exploded onto the NFL scene, finishing as the third highest scoring fantasy running back in full point per reception leagues, or PPR. With the suspension of fellow New Orleans Saint running back Mark Ingram, Kamara’s value continues to rise, as many expect him to see an uptick in touches in 2018
Melvin Gordon, the fifth-highest scoring fantasy running back last season, is being selected on average three draft spots after Kamara, which creates the question, which running back is the best to target in fantasy football in 2018. In this article, The volume, efficiency and red-zone opportunity of each back will be analyzed, which will help further understand which player better fits this fantasy format or personal draft strategy.
Melvin Gordon’s volume is undeniable. Finishing with the third most carries in the NFL last season, Gordon has emerged as one of the league’s premier workhorses. In 2016, Gordon was on pace to see over 330 carries before going down with an injury in week 14, which would have led the NFL. Also, his receiving output has increased every season, as he saw a career-high 83 targets in 2017. The Los Angeles Chargers’ feature back should see close to 300 carries and upwards of 80 targets, bringing his total volume of touches to about 350.
Alvin Kamara’s volume is also undeniable, but also less defined. The 23-year-old finished 38th in carries in 2017, seeing just 120. With Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season, many expect Kamara to receive the bulk of excess carries, although according to Joel A. Erickson of The New Orleans Advocate, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton claims that…
“The mistake would be that Alvin gets 15 more carries”, while the Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas stated, “I think it would be a disservice to him” when referring to Kamara seeing an increased work lead.
Although Kamara will presumably see close to, if not over 100 targets, his volume on the ground doesn’t seem to be changing drastically. Kamara should max out at 160 carries and 100 targets, bringing his total volume of touches to about 240.
In 2017, Gordon had a total of 342 touches, whereas Kamara had just 201, so how did Kamara finish as a higher scorer in fantasy football? Kamara’s efficiency in 2017 was outlandish, as he led the NFL in yards per rush attempt at 6.1, which is something football fans haven’t seen since Jamaal Charles in 2010, who averaged 6.4 yards per attempt on 230 carries. Chances of Kamara averaging over six yards per rush are slim-to-none, although chances he leads the league in yards per rush attempt is legitimate.
Also, as one of only three running backs to average over 10 yards per reception, along with Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman, Kamara cannot be expected to outperform the yardage totals he amassed in 2017.
Kamara will be atop both lists of average yards per rush and reception, although he will not outperform his production from last season. The 2017 Pro Bowler should have 1,600 total yards, making him an elite fantasy asset well worth a first-round pick.
On the opposite spectrum, Melvin Gordon has struggled with efficiency, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry in both 2016 and 2017, although due to his volume and anticipated improved offensive line play, this does not worry me.
Since we have already addressed volume, let’s analyze the improvements on the offensive line. Despite ranking as the 23rd offensive line according to pro football focus, things are looking up for the Chargers. They have signed three-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and will also be getting back 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp, who missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, which vastly improves their interior line. Pro Football Focus’s Michael Renner also stated that…
“Kenny Wiggins (Chargers Left Guard) allowed the most pressures of any guard in the league last year (41) while Spencer Pulley (Chargers Center) allowed the most of any center (38). Simply getting those two out of the lineup has to be worth something.”
Even if the offensive line improvements do not pan out, and Gordon does not see an increase in efficiency, he will remain a top-5 fantasy running back due to volume alone. The 25-year-old should compound over 1,600 total yards, with about 1,200 coming on the ground.
Red Zone Touches
Alvin Kamara scored 13 total touchdowns in 2017, with five of his eight rushing touchdowns coming inside the ten-yard line, although his 13 attempts within the ten-yard line rank outside of the top-30 among running backs. Mark Ingram finished with 19 rushes and eight touchdowns inside the ten-yard line, which rank tenth and second respectively among running backs. In terms of targets out of the backfield, Kamara and Ingram share the workload, as they had 17 and 12 targets respectively inside the 20-yard line, showing that once Ingram returns, the red-zone and goal-line work will be a timeshare.
Despite Ingram’s suspension, Kamara will likely still see under 50% of red zone carries, making it difficult for him to surpass his rushing touchdown total of eight from a year ago. He will match or surpass his receiving touchdown total, as he was the highest targeted running back in the red zone in 2017, which seems very repeatable.
In 2017, Melvin Gordon finished third in the following categories; carries inside the 20-yard line (49), the 10-yard line (27) and the 5-yard line (14). Aside from Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Todd Gurley, Gordon’s red-zone opportunity is as good as any back in the league. It can be argued that there will be positive regression in terms of his yardage inside the five-yard line, as in 2017, he had 14 attempts for just two yards and five touchdowns.
In terms of targets, Gordon was the more heavily targeted running back between the twenties and in the red zone. Gordon will score double digit touchdowns on the ground and a handful of touchdowns in the air in 2018, making him well worth a first-round fantasy draft selection.
Standard Scoring: 234
Half PPR: 274
Standard Scoring: 252
Half PPR: 282
I’ve given you some information and my predictions, now it is time for you to decide. Will you go with the explosive and efficient Alvin Kamara, or one of the league’s premier work horses, Melvin Gordon?