There are very few instances in today’s game of football where we see a running back that holds the “three-down” title. Elite options such as Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliot aren’t available past the second round in most drafts, but like we saw with Alvin Kamara’s big play ability in 2017 and LeGarrette Blount’s TD production in 2016, there can be value in committee backs.
The trick is to find the promising situation where the options around the player are able to bring out the most they can.
Running backs to own in committees
*New Orleans not included due to both players being pro bowlers and both warranting a roster spot.
For the first time in a long time, the Cleveland Browns have multiple viable fantasy options across a variety of positions, including running back. With the free agent signing of Carlos Hyde, the resigning of Duke Johnson Jr. and the selection of Nick Chubb in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Browns now have an abundance of options in their backfield.
In his last two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Hyde was a top-15 running back with limited quarterback play aside from Jimmy Garoppolo for five games. With the transition to the Browns and newly-acquired Tyrod Taylor under center to go along with deadly weapons on the outside, Hyde should have more opportunities for open holes with defenses forced to respect the passing game.
Although the Browns selected Chubb with their second pick, I don’t see him making an immediate impact. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Chubb, who I felt lacked the burst and speed to get to the inside to be a successful back in the league, at least not right away. That leaves Duke Johnson Jr., a change of pace receiving specialist who finished No. 11 in PPR scoring last year for backs while still splitting the workload with Isaiah Crowell. Although this is a different team than last year, Johnson’s role seems to be carved out and reserved for him for the time being.
Verdict: Carlos Hyde (RB2/Flex) if PPR also Duke Johnson Jr (RB2/Flex)
With the departure of C.J. Anderson to the Carolina Panthers, the Broncos will go into the 2018 season without their leading rusher from a season ago .The 245 carries that Anderson left will be divvied up between rookie Royce Freeman and third-year Devontae Booker.
What used to be a weakness on this offense, the line, has the potential to be a stable force that allows this unit to be productive this year.
With just six starts in the last two seasons, Booker has looked shaky in the preseason with nine rushes for 34 yards, but he has also been given the starting nod for each game.
Freeman, on the other hand, has looked really strong out of the gate after being drafted in the third round. The rookie out of Oregon has 15 rushes for 84 yards and three touchdowns thus far.
Given the current state of Freeman’s performances and Booker’s proven inability to really produce – a career 3.6 yards per carry average – makes the former my pick for this backfield.
Verdict: Royce Freeman (RB2)
The franchise that is known for being the first team to go winless in an entire season has shown that its running game might be even more embarrassing. Aside from a 1,006-yard campaign by Reggie Bush in 2013, no other Lions player has rushed for over 1,000 yards since 2004 and in eight of those years, they failed to have someone rush for over 700 yards.
Now, the Lions have brought in reinforcements to head what seems to be a four-back committee in Detroit. The signing of Hall of Fame touchdown scorer from the one-yard line, LeGarrette Blount, as well as the drafting of Kerryon Johnson in the second round to go along with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, could end up being one of the deepest groups in the league.
Although there are a lot of mouths to feed, Blount is more of a special situation runner for short yardage or at the goal line and Abdullah and Riddick don’t seem to have the stature to carry a big-time workload like Johnson, who has performed well in the preseason.
I see Riddick staying with his role of a pass catching back (53 catches, 84 carries) and Abdullah (five career games with 15 or more carries) being more of a change of pace back (if he even makes the roster) which should lead to Johnson getting the bulk of the early down work this season. Watch out for him to be a value pick at his current ADP of 98.9 according to ESPN, which would be the 34th back taken.
Verdict: Kerryon Johnson (RB2/Flex)
I know, I’ve been against the Seahawks offense this season, but if they have a surplus of quality players in one position it’s at running back.
Despite the fact that the group produced one rushing touchdown last season, the 2018 season should be a different story. With the selection of Rashaad Penny (REACH) in the first round and Chris Carson looking fully recovered from an ankle injury that ended his season last year, this group has the potential to be dangerous on a team that lacks perimeter playmakers and a good offensive line.
Penny was very productive in college as he averaged 7.49 yards per carry on his way to 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior season at San Diego State. One of the knocks on him coming out of college was his catching and pass blocking ability, which makes me wary of him for this season.
On the other side, although Carson is pretty much a rookie (four games played in 2017), he showed serious promise with his hard-nose running style that has been missed since Marshawn Lynch.
Carson also showed the ability to be a factor out of the backfield with seven catches last season. Plus, with the mess of an offensive line that Seattle has, I see the back that can be an extra blocker as well as a reliable quick option out of the backfield that still warrants the respect in the ground game to be the better fantasy option this season for the Seahawks.
Verdict: Chris Carson (RB2)
After finishing No. 15 in rushing yards in 2017, the Tennessee Titans are now under a new head coach and swapped out aging Demarco Murray for scatback Dion Lewis in the offseason.
This sets the table for Derrick Henry to compete with Dion Lewis for carries, and while it’s not ideal to have to split carries, both of these guys are effective in ways the other isn’t which will end up being a benefit to them and the Titans.
In his three seasons in New England, Lewis was productive when he was given the chance (no season lower than 4.4 yards per carry as well as a 77 percent catch rate average) and working with a bruiser like the 6-foot-3, 238-pound Henry should make them one of the most compatible duos in the league.
Although Lewis’ fantasy value isn’t low by any standards when it comes to PPR scoring, Henry’s ability to handle a heavy workload as well as goal line duties makes him the better option when it comes to priority in fantasy. When it comes to Lewis, he should be looked at as a low-end RB2/flex on a weekly basis at this point
Verdict: Derrick Henry (RB2)
Oakland: Doug Martin over Marshawn Lynch
Tampa Bay: Peyton Barber short term, Ronald Jones later in season
New York Jets: Isaiah Crowell over Bilal Powell
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