As I joked about in my quarterback rankings, these will likely be irrelevant in a matter of weeks. Thankfully, the news about Mark Ingram and his four-game suspension was released this week. It will no doubt impact his draft stock and the usage of every player on the Saints’ offense through the first four games. So, let’s get right into running back rankings for 2018.
Running Back Rankings: 1-10
1. Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
No offense is going to rely more on their running back than the Dallas Cowboys. The losses of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten means that the rest of their skill positions are unproven commodities and to this point, Dak Prescott isn’t capable of elevating those players. Ezekiel Elliott, as a result, is going to play a much larger role in the passing game. While he’s not as fluid a receiver as some other elite backs, the added touches will give Elliott the weekly upside of players like Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell. Not to mention, he’ll enter the season with fresh legs and a monster chip on his shoulder. An angry Ezekiel Elliott has me excited about his fantasy prospects in 2018.
2. Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams
I’m on record saying this entire offense is going to take a step back. Now, I think Todd Gurley’s production will be the least impacted by the regression. His volume in this offense is too great to keep him out of the top three spots. His involvement in the passing game, particularly in the screen game, would likely make him the number one overall pick in most PPR leagues. However, Sean McVay’s system will not take any coordinator by surprise and one injury to this offensive line would severely limit his production.
3. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell is scaring the hell out of me at the number three spot. He once again will not be reporting to camp and won’t be working with the team until the first week of regular season practice. It took two games before we saw the kind of production we’re used to from Bell, then he exploded against Baltimore. Apart from sitting out training camp, Bell has a history of missing games for injury and suspension, and always seems to be feuding with management. Despite all of those potential negatives, he’s too talented and in too great of a system to be lower than the number three spot.
4. Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette is in a similar role to Ezekiel Elliot. Fournette is the going to be the focus of a run-first offense and will be receive a tremendous amount of volume. However, there are a few negatives Elliott does not have. Fournette’s role in the passing game is not as substantial, his offensive line is not as good and he missed multiple games in his rookie season. What separates Fournette from a the other players in the top ten is his consistent volume, and his team’s unquestioned commitment to the running the ball.
5. Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs
As a Kareem Hunt fan, it was absolutely egregious that he was not named the offensive rookie of the year in 2017. Alvin Kamara was great, but he didn’t lead the NFL, or even his own team in rushing yards. Rant aside, Kareem Hunt is in a great position entering 2018. The only person who can stand in his way is Andy Reid. As a season-long owner of Kareem Hunt last year, Reid would randomly not give the ball to Hunt for more multiple games in a row. Now that Patrick Mahomes is the starter, one can surmise that Hunt will receive a larger volume of touches as a result. Also, starting running backs in Andy Reid’s system are always viable fantasy options.
6. Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
Saquon Barkley will likely be over drafted come August. He’s a great player in a good situation. He’s the unquestioned starter and playing with an upgraded offensive line, an elite perimeter player and a capable quarterback. The only problem is that his popularity and camp reports will inflate his value to the point where he is going over players like Hunt and Fournette, which I struggle to agree with. If you want Barkley, you might have to take him with a top-five pick by mid-August.
7. Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints
Given my Kareem Hunt analysis, you might think I don’t like him. That could not be farther from the truth. I drafted him in all my redraft leagues when he was slated as the third running back on the depth chart. The only problem I have with Kamara is that he doesn’t appear to be a running back capable of handling 20 carries and 3-5 catches a game, on top of his kick return duties. What made him so great was Sean Payton’s ability to match him up with linebackers in coverage, and give him carries in unconventional running situations. Even with Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension, his volume will not that of an Elliott, Gurley or Bell. The Saints will more than likely ask Drew Brees and company to shoulder more of the load during their stretch without Ingram.
8. David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals
David Jonson’s slide to the eighth spot is the result of a few things. He’s playing in a new offensive system. During Mike McCoy’s tenure as a head coach or offensive coordinator, his offenses on average ranked 14th in attempts. When Melvin Gordon was his starting running back, his team ranked 22nd in rushing attempts both seasons. Gordon and Johnson are similar in terms of volume and involvement in the passing game, with the overall edge going to Johnson. However, the quarterback play will likely be sub-par because Sam Bradford will get injured and McCoy’s playbooks are notoriously difficult to absorb. Johnson will be a productive fantasy running back, but he should not be viewed as the same number one overall pick he was touted as last season.
9. Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman’s production, like everyone on the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, dipped. I do think he and the offense as a whole will improve with another year under Steve Sarkisian. But, there were some concerns towards the end of last season. Seemingly out of nowhere, Freeman got the football equivalent of the yipps and could not score on the goal line. In fairness, he was dealing with an injury late in the season, but it will be telling if the Falcons decide to use Tevin Coleman out of shotgun in short yardage, as opposed to pounding the ball inside with Freeman.
10. Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers
It seems like the Chargers are the most underrated team in terms of fantasy production when you consider that consistent producers like Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen are all on same offense. Every year Gordon is a good starter and is a heavy volume player. The only thing keeping Gordon from being higher on this list is that he doesn’t produce explosive plays like Kamara or Hunt.
Running Back Rankings: 11-20
11. Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings are shaping up to be a dangerous team. They are incredibly well-balanced on offense which bodes well for Dalvin Cook, especially since he’s coming off an injury. Kirk Cousins and his perimeter weapons will help open up running lanes for Cook. Even if the upgrade at the quarterback position takes away from Cook’s volume, he no longer has to compete with Jerick McKinnon for third down touches. Don’t expect Cook’s overall production, or in draft stock.
12. Jerick McKinnon – San Francisco 49ers
I am so excited about the prospects of Jerrick McKinnon in San Francisco. For those who doubt McKinnon’s role as a full-time starter, show me the last running back who was paid $36 million and didn’t see the majority of the touches in the backfield. This is going to sound crazy, but Jerrick McKinnon is Alvin Kamara in terms of ability. McKinnon actually is faster, more explosive, just as capable as a receiver, and only smaller by one inch and four pounds. While I don’t think he can handle a full workload, I absolutely think his production is going to skyrocket with an increased role in San Francisco.
13. Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
Now that Derrick Henry is finally rid of Demarco Murray, he is going to see a Leonard Fournette type of volume. Henry’s knock is that he lacks explosiveness and benefited from splitting time with Murray, which is accurate but may not apply moving forward. It will be interesting to see in the first four weeks whether or not he can keep his yards per carry up while seeing the increased volume.
14. Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears
Last year Jordan Howard disappointed fantasy owners, especially those who took him in the second round. Howard was no longer sneaking up on defenses and was actually the primary focus given the team’s rookie quarterback. Thankfully, the Tarik Cohen fad faded as the season progressed, but Benny Cunningham is a classic third-down back who will still take away touches in the passing game from Howard in 2018.
15. Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon could explode in productivity this year. The Bengals upgraded their left tackle position and spent a first-round pick on interior defensive linemen, Billy Price. Mixon asserted himself as the best player in this backfield and will see the majority of the touches from week one. Giovani Bernard is still there, so he will likely assume the third-down role. However, Mixon is absolutely the starter and could end up being a value on draft day.
16. Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns
Much of my Jerick McKinnon excitement can be applied to Carlos Hyde in Cleveland. Hyde is a complete back and no longer has to convince Kyle Shanahan to give him the ball over Matt Breida. Hyde should be drafted as a fourth-round pick though because of the presence of Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb. Johnson will be the primary third down back, and Nick Chubb could threaten Hyde’s share of the carries.
17. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills
This could be the final season for LeSean McCoy in terms of fantasy relevance. While he’s still dynamic, there are too many new variables that can hamper his success. McCoy has to deal with a new starting quarterback, new starting left tackle and a new starting guard. He will no longer get the benefit of the Tyrod Taylor and running the read option. We also have to keep in mind that McCoy will be 30 years old this July.
18. Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos
Royce Freeman is going to be the week one starter if the Broncos don’t sign a veteran player at the position. The Broncos are so confident in Freeman’s ability that they did not retain C.J. Anderson. Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charless and De’Angelo Henderson were all on the roster last year and none of them could assert themselves as the dominant back. It also doesn’t hurt that Pro Football Focus has Freeman slated as the starter. I will be aggressively targeting Freeman in redrafts and rookie drafts.
19. Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey was higher in my rankings until the C.J. Anderson acquisition. I believe McCaffrey will be the starter and dominate all the touches between the 20’s. However, Anderson could turn into a goal-line vulture, especially knowing that the Panthers like to bring on big personnel in short yardage for Cam Newton or the former, Jonathan Stewart. I can still see them using McCaffrey in red zone passing situations to exploit matchups, but it’s possible the Anderson steals multiple touchdowns from McCaffrey this season.
20. Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram is going to be, or I hope will be, a great value on draft day. Picking Ingram is going to come down to which round I can draft him in. If you told me right now that I could get Ingram in the fifth round, I would jump at that opportunity. If I only get 75 percent of his production last season, since he’s missing the first four games, that means I would be getting 173 carries, 843 yards, and 9 touchdowns. I’ll take that all day in the fifth round.
Running Back Rankings: 21-30
21. Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins
I’m not too high on Derrius Guice. He will certainly have every opportunity to start, but, this team had no interest in running the ball last season. They ranked 24th in rushing attempts in 2017. Also, Chris Thompson will return as the unquestioned third down and pass catching back.
22. Lamar Miller – Houston Texans
Lamar Miller is another player I’ll be aggressively targeting. Every year no one wants Lamar Miller, and every year he finishes top 15 in points (average finish of 11.25 in points the last four seasons). He’s going to play in a potentially dynamic offense based on what we saw last season. And, he’s going to be the beneficiary of seven men boxes because of their explosive perimeter players.
23. Alex Collins – Baltimore Ravens
While the Ravens are trying to transform their wide receivers and potentially their quarterback, they are committed to running the ball. The Ravens upgraded their offensive line, and, did not draft a running back in this year’s draft. Alex Collins should be a starter in all leagues and will likely be picked in the fourth or fifth round.
24. Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
The entire team hinges on Andrew Luck, including Marlon Mack. Mack will likely be the starter week one, but will not have the upside of a starter in fantasy if Luck is not under center.
25. Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins
Kenyan Drake came on strong for the Dolphins last season. He showed the ability to be an all-around running back. However, the Dolphins have shipped a lot of their talent elsewhere, and aside from Josh Sitton, their interior linemen are sub par.
26. Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles
I love Jay Ajayi and he’s in a system, but the Eagles just signed Matt Jones this week and brought back Darren Sproles. How in the hell is he going to get enough touches to be productive? Just do yourself a favor and shy away from anyone on the Eagles.
27. Rex Burkhead – New England Patriots
I approach the Patriots the same way I approach the Eagles, just don’t (unless there’s an injury). Rex Burkhead will likely get the goal line carries and be used to exploit some receiving mismatches, but at a much smaller rate than James White.
28. Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones will probably be the starter. Just as a result of that, he will accumulate production worthy of being drafted. I’m not sure what his upside will be behind that offensive line and in a system that wants to primarily throw the ball to a multitude of targets.
29. Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders
Marshawn Lynch is projected to start week one. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if he retires before the start of the season. It’s very possible that he and Jon Gruden will clash, and as a result, he hands up his cleats again. It’s also a crowded backfield with Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, and DeAndre Washington.
30. Sony Michel – New England Patriots
My best guess is that Sony Michel will assume the Dion Lewis role for the Patriots. He’s substantially more talented than Lewis, but he cannot overcome the Patriots’ system. Unless there’s an injury, don’t count on Michel for production.
Featured Image Courtesy of SI.com