I live by the philosophy that the backbone of any fantasy team is built by the running backs you pick to be on your roster.
When it comes to fantasy football, besides running back, the other positions are more easily replaceable on a week-to-week basis. There are going to be weeks where an available wide receiver catches five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, while only four running backs in 2017 averaged more than 20 carries a game.
It’s how the game works, there aren’t enough carries to go around and it’s hard for individuals to match the production that warrants the “workhorse” load.
The NFL draft presents the opportunity for players to be selected to the right situation (like Ezekiel Elliot) to come in and produce immediately. While veterans could find the pieces needed to push them to the next level like DeMarco Murray did in 2014 after the selection of now perennial pro bowl guard Zack Martin.
Although not every player is going to be getting the “big boy” carry numbers, the selections in the NFL draft are poised to have a serious effect on the outlook for this upcoming season.
Which running backs’ stock went up or down?
Post draft stock report: UP
2017 Stats (16 GP): 570 rush yards, 3 TD, 51 catches, 421 receiving yards, 2 TD
Since being drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, Jerick McKinnon has been utilized as a secondary running back that specializes in the passing game or as a change of pace runner. With the expiration of his rookie deal, McKinnon was able to look for opportunities to display his vast skill set and the San Francisco 49ers were one of the best situations he could’ve wound up with.
Carlos Hyde, the 49ers running back in 2017, is known for not having the best pass-catching abilities and he had 88 targets to go along with 59 receptions in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Put McKinnon in his place and both of those numbers, definitely in the case of receptions, should increase.
In a backup role for much of last year, McKinnon’s 75 percent catch percentage ranked eighth in the NFL for running backs with more than 50 receptions. With the upgrade at quarterback of Jimmy Garoppolo and fewer mouths to feed on the 49ers’ offense, McKinnon’s numbers are likely to go up.
The 49ers also went out and bolstered the best friends to a running back, the offensive line, with the selection of offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey.
The Notre Dame product’s superb run blocking ability was on full display this past season as a key component on an offensive line that paved the way for the Fighting Irish to record 3349 yards on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry, eighth and third in the FBS, respectively. Pairing McGlinchey at the right tackle position, his more natural spot, with veteran Joe Staley, the edges of this line should be very secure.
McKinnon’s situation poses an interesting dilemma for fantasy owners, with no clear threat to take more than the occasional snap from Jerick, where should he be drafted?
He’s in a great situation with an improving offensive line and a quality quarterback, but their schedule isn’t that favorable when it comes to opposing run defense.
Given the volume he will receive and the offensive wizardry of Kyle Shanahan, Mckinnon is looking like a high-end RB2.
2017 Stats (15 GP): 973 rush yards, 6 TD, 23 catches, 187 receiving yards
In 2017, Alex Collins was the only Baltimore Raven offensive player that should’ve warranted consideration to take up a spot on your fantasy teams in the second half of the season. Despite being on the No. 27 ranked team in total yards per game, Collins was the lone bright spot despite the complete inability for Joe Flacco to complete a pass that traveled more than 10 yards.
The Ravens’ offensive line performed admirably given the extenuating circumstances and lack of continuity in the unit. With the injury to star guard Marshal Yanda, the offensive line was without their veteran leader in a group that experienced 26 different combinations used throughout the season, tied for second-most in the NFL.
Despite all of that, Collins ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per carry for running backs with more than 200 carries last season. To help bolster an offense that ranked No. 27 in yards per game, the Ravens selected two tight ends in the first three rounds, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews.
Both of whom will assist Flacco in the passing game as a reliable check down option that has been lacking due to Dennis Pitta’s inability to stay healthy, which in turn will open up the running lanes for Collins.
They also selected offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the third to help solidify the line. Although he didn’t perform particularly well in the combine, his game film speaks for itself. I believe he will come in with a chip on his shoulder with how low he fell in the draft in retrospect to the talent he possesses.
With a revamped offense that added playmakers in the passing game, big guys up front and a match lit under Joe Flacco with the drafting of Lamar Jackson, Alex Collins should benefit mightily from these additions and be looked at as a mid-high end RB2.
Honorable Mention: Joe Mixon
Post draft stock report: Down
2017 Stats (4 GP): 208 rush yards, 7 catches, 59 receiving yards, 1 TD
I’m going to double-down on the notion I made last week about Russell Wilson’s descending stock after the draft, and add Chris Carson with him. Despite a porous offensive line, Carson led all Seattle Seahawk running backs in yards per carry (4.2) and was second in rush yards amongst the same group despite playing just four games.
I was a fan of Carson last season and even after he went down with a broken ankle that would end his rookie campaign I felt he was someone to look for in the coming years. He offered a hard nose running style that struck some fear in the opposition, a presence the Seahawks has missed since the departure of Marshawn Lynch.
With a promising talent that proved more than capable of handling a steady workload before his injury, I was very surprised to see the Seahawks select Rashaad Penny, a running back from San Diego State, in the first round of the draft.
As well as Seattle having Carson, they also A. had more glaring needs, B. didn’t desperately need Penny and C. In a deep running back class, there was no need to REACH for him.
Along with that, my negative feelings towards Wilson’s potential production in 2018 put Carson in the same boat. The monstrosity along the offensive line makes me hate the idea of selecting any of Seattle’s players in fantasy this season. This group surrendered 209 total pressures in 2017, the third most in the NFL and the best-graded lineman, Duane Brown, is on the back end of his career.
Lining up opposite Brown at right tackle, Germain Ifedi was called for 19 penalties in just 16 games which was the most in the league and allowed at least one pressure in every game while allowing three in 10 of those contests.
I’ll say this again like I did last week with Russell Wilson; the quarterback for the Seahawks, A NON-RUNNING BACK, led the team in rushing.
The second-leading rusher, Mike Davis, was waived by the Seahawks in September before being signed to their practice squad and then being called up in November. Most of Wilson’s carries were due to him having to run for his life and I don’t expect much to change this season as the Seahawks drafted just one lineman this year and it was in the fifth round.
The play of the offensive line can make or break a running back’s a fantasy production. With the mess that the Seahawks have, I see Carson as a bench player/bye week fill-in unless either Penny gets injured or they make moves to improve the offensive line.
2017 Stats:1138 rush yards, 6 TD, 59 catches, 448 receiving yards, 2 TD
It’s felt like LeSean “Shady” McCoy has been snatching defender’s ankles with his lightning cuts forever, but 2018 is a new year and I see him dropping off a cliff this season. Since his rookie season in 2009, McCoy leads all running backs in PPR fantasy scoring by almost 200 points while ranking second in carries with over 2000 totes and that’s not counting his 441 receptions.
As he enters his fourth season in Buffalo, McCoy will also be turning 30. As history has shown us this is the signal for the beginning of the end for running backs in the NFL. Since 1920 there have been just 25 running backs that have broken the millennium mark for rushing yards when they hit the big 3-0 with the last one being LeGarrette Blount (1,161 in 2016) when he played for the New England Patriots.
While there’s no question that McCoy’s talent is worlds apart from Blount, who’s been known as more of a bruiser/goal line back, the team situation has as much if not more to do with production especially during the later stages of their career.
While Blount had future Hall of Famers in Tom Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick coaching, McCoy will have either first-time starter A.J. McCarron or rookie Josh Allen under center with second-year head coach Sean McDermott on the sidelines.
McCoy will also be without one of his premier run blockers up front as Pro Bowl guard Richie Incognito retired and then unretired, citing his refusal to play for the Bills. Incognito was clearly the best player on a group that finished second in pass blocking efficiency and fourth in yards before contact for rushers in 2017.
With the influx of young running backs from the draft and entering their prime, Shady won’t be a high draft pick for me and more of an RB2 unlike the RB1 he’s been accustomed to his entire career.