The NBA and NHL playoffs are over, as is the Triple Crown season of thoroughbred horse racing. What are we supposed to do, just watch baseball for three months and pretend everything’s OK? No.
- Todd Gurley II, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley was last year’s top fantasy back and there’s no reason to believe he can’t repeat that feat. Along with rising star Jared Goff and receivers Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks, Gurley is the centerpiece in the most exciting offenses in football. While it is rare for running backs to repeat as the number one fantasy scorer at their position, I’m not going to dock Gurley for that.
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Perhaps no running back not named Le’Veon Bell can boast of a heavier workload than Zeke. When he was on the field last season, he averaged nearly 27 touches per game. When he wasn’t, it was painfully evident how much the Cowboys missed his presence. I’m expecting the Cowboys, having bolstered their offensive line by selecting Connor Williams (a darling of Armchair’s own draft guru, Rob Paul) in April’s NFL Draft, to have a bounce-back year. Expect Elliott to be a big part of that.
- Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
As I just mentioned, Bell had the heaviest workload in the NFL last year, averaging over 27 touches per game. While his efficiency (4.0 yards per carry) and scoring numbers (11 total touchdowns on 406 touches) didn’t quite meet expectations in 2017, Bell was still one of the most valuable fantasy backs out there. I’m not a huge fan of the “playing for a big contract” mystique, but it’s worth noting that Bell is heading into his third consecutive contract year. If I were him, I’d be getting frustrated enough to go off for 2,000 yards and 20 scores just to prove a point.
- David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
One of the greatest heartbreaks of my fantasy sports career came when I landed the first pick in my most competitive league last season and proudly selected Johnson, only to lose him for the season after less than a full game. I’m particularly excited about Johnson again this year for a few reasons. Mainly, I think Josh Rosen is ready to play now (at least once Sam Bradford goes on IR), and having competent quarterback play will be a huge lift to Johnson’s fantasy value. Secondly, he’s had basically a full year off due to an injury (wrist) that’s not at all invasive to a running back’s style of play. A fresh DJ with a proper quarterback is an exciting prospect.
- Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Hunt’s career got off to one of the more remarkable starts in recent memory, as he eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards in just seven games. His performance waned down the stretch before he finished the season strong. Hunt should be one of the bigger workhorses in the league again, but the development to watch will be the ability of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes to command the offense.
- Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Few players fit the identity of their offense better than Fournette does. While his rookie campaign was plagued by nagging injuries at times, Fournette still managed more than 100 scrimmage yards per game along with 10 total touchdowns in 13 contests. As long as Blake Bortles is at the helm, the Jaguars will be a smash-mouth running team, and Fournette is the perfect player to run their offense through. Those are the kind of guys you want as a backbone to your fantasy roster.
- Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
In a remarkable year for rookie running backs, Kamara was perhaps the biggest and best surprise of them all. Touching the ball just 201 times (well behind teammate Mark Ingram’s 288 totes), Kamara totaled over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns on his way to the number three fantasy season among running backs last season. Can you think of the last time someone had such a season while not even being the most used running back on his own team? I can’t, and I’m certainly not looking it up. If you really want to know, someone else on the Internet has the answer. This season, Kamara’s unicorn-esque numbers are bound to regress to the mean, but don’t think he’s not still a stud. Mark Ingram is suspended for the first four games of 2018, so we’ll get to see Kamara as a feature back for the first time. I have my concerns about his ability to hold up to the workload and face loaded fronts regularly, but he’s just too talented for that to turn me off.
- Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Perhaps the most hyped rookie running back since Adrian Peterson, Barkley has that star quality that makes him a perfect fit for the big city. The Giants weak offensive line and Eli Manning’s age are both causes for concern, but Barkley is just too talented to flop. The Giants passed up on marquee prospects at more premium positions to add Barkley to their offense, so they certainly have a plan for him.
- Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Gordon was rock-solid again in 2017, despite continuing to post lackluster efficiency numbers (3.9 yards per carry). Most importantly, he played in all 16 games as the workhorse for the Chargers. As long as he can stay healthy, Gordon is a safe bet for 1,500 yards and double-digit scores again.
- Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
Howard is one of my favorite values at running back in 2018. I like the team the Bears are building around Mitchell Trubisky, as they added pass-catchers Trey Burton and Allen Robinson this offseason. They’ve also got a solid young offensive line anchored by Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair, which is all good news for Howard. Expect him to crack double digits in touchdowns for the first time in his career, and also look for the Bears to potentially sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard team this season.
- Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Last year’s Falcons looked completely different than the 2016 squad that scored 540 points, and not in a good way. Still, they nearly returned to the NFC Championship in 2017, although it was plain to see that the absence of offensive whiz kid Kyle Shanahan made a difference. This, along with some nagging injuries, led to Freeman posting his weakest season as a starter. In my opinion, he’s still a stud, and I expect Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense to find their rhythm in year two under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
- Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
As good as 2017 was for rookie running backs, it could have been even better if Cook had not torn his ACL in October. Cook was on his way to a top-12 fantasy finish before his season ended prematurely. He’s young enough and the injury occurred early enough in the season that we shouldn’t be overly concerned about his ability to bounce back. However, because he’s a guy who has had injury problems dating back to college, his health will certainly be something to monitor throughout training camp.
- Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
This is a bold placement, but McKinnon showed flashes as a feature back last season and I’m sky-high on Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers this season. GM John Lynch shelled out $30M this offseason to bring in McKinnon, which offers hope that Shanahan thinks he has his new Devonta Freeman.
- Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens
It’s only fitting that the Seahawks, who had the worst running back situation in the NFL last season, let Collins slip right through their fingers. The Ravens are surely happy to have Collins, a violent and bruising runner, as their number one backfield option.
- Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
Drake is another player who took advantage of an unexpected opportunity to serve as a feature back last season. While Frank Gore may eat into his carries, Drake will still be the clear-cut top option in Miami’s backfield.
- Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Henry’s situation is among the most attractive in the NFL, as he finds himself free of Demarco Murray’s shadow. Tennessee also boasts one of the strongest offensive lines in the league. My main issue with Henry is that I don’t think he’s actually very good. He’s a one-dimensional, straightforward runner without much burst or wiggle. I hope the former Heisman winner proves my concerns wrong.
- Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
As I previously mentioned, Ingram will serve a four-game suspension to start the 2018 season. I don’t think he’ll lose his job entirely to Alvin Kamara during this time because Sean Payton realizes how well the two complement each other. While Ingram can be infuriating to a roster on a week-to-week basis due to Payton’s mood swings, there are few players who match his big-game potential.
- Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Guice has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch from Armchair’s Rob Paul, who had him ranked as the 13th best prospect in the loaded 2018 class. He ended up going in the second round to Washington. While it’s puzzling that Guice went after less-regarded prospects like Rashad Penny and Kerryon Johnson, I think he’s a good fit for Jay Gruden’s offense. As long as he can fend off the plodding Samaje Perine, he should be the favorite for most early-down work for the ‘skins.
- LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
It’s better to be a year early than a year late when attempting to predict when a running back will fall off a cliff. I thought last year would break Shady, but he actually played in all 16 games and put up decent totals (over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns). This year, he’ll be 30 years old and have over 2,600 career touches on his odometer. Oh, and A.J. McCarron and Josh Allen will be competing for the starting quarerback job. No thanks. Shady is one of the best of his generation and I feel bad for ranking him this low, but his time has come.
- Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
It feels like Lamar Miller has never not been disappointing, but he’s still the Texans number one running back. If Deshaun Watson can play a full season, there’s no telling what Houston’s offense will do in 2018.
- Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll and John Schneider once built a near-dynasty through homegrown draft talent, so it’s always perplexing when they reach for players in the first round. Penny was an obscenely productive college player (2,248 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns last season at San Diego State) and has the build of an NFL workhorse.
- Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
It’s difficult for me to get past the fact that McCaffrey is a slot receiver miscast as a running back, and his level of usage last year doesn’t entirely justify this ranking. But, what the heck, he was the eighth overall pick a year ago and the Panthers must have bigger plans for him.
- Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ backfield got slightly less infuriating with LeGarrette Blount’s departure for Detroit, but it’s still overcrowded, with Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood all in the picture.
- Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones is one of my favorite rookie backs this year as his explosive running style has drawn comparisons to that of a young Jamaal Charles. I think he landed in the perfect spot, as Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard will stretch defenses thin and provide the shifty Jones with plenty of of opportunities to run against depleted boxes.
The Flex plays
- Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
- Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
- Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
- Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
- Sony Michel, New England Patriots
- Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
- C.J. Anderson, Carolina Panthers
- Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
- Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
- Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets
- Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
- Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
- Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
- Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
- Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
- Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
- D’Onta Foreman, Houston Texans
- Doug Martin, Oakland Raiders
- Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
- LeGarrette Blount, Detroit Lions
- Frank Gore, Miami Dolphins
- Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins
- Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
- Bilal Powell, New York Jets