Never-Too-Early 2018 Running Back Rankings

Never-Too-Early 2018 Running Back Rankings

By John Paulsen (Director of Forecasting), last update Apr 12, 2018

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, and has finished in the Top 6 in seven of the last eight years. Cumulatively, John has been the most accurate expert from 2010-17 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John Paulsen on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Below you'll find my second stab at 2018 rankings for the running back position. 

The rankings are based on PPR scoring systems. I’ve included 2017 points per game and two-year points per game (where applicable). I’ve also included the difference (DIFF) between my rank and the player’s current average draft position (ADP) of 12-team PPR best ball drafts at DRAFT. A positive number means that I'm relatively high on the player while a negative number means – you guessed it – that I'm relatively low on the player.

Below the rankings you'll find some discussion about a few players that jump out as particularly good or poor values heading into the spring.


Other Positions: QB | WR | TE


The position looks top-heavy heading into the 2018 season. The top 18 players (through Joe Mixon) look pretty dependable and then things get a little dicey in terms of guaranteed workload/role. 

Never-Too-Early RB Rankings (2018)
Rank Name Team 2017 PPG 2-YR PPG DIFF
1 Todd Gurley LAR 25.6 18.8 0
2 LeVeon Bell PIT 22.8 24.3 0
3 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 20.3 21.1 0
4 Alvin Kamara NO 19.6 - 0
5 David Johnson ARI 13.1 24.6 0
6 Kareem Hunt KC 18.5 - 0
7 Melvin Gordon LAC 18.0 18.6 1
8 Leonard Fournette JAX 17.7 - -1
9 LeSean McCoy BUF 16.5 18.1 0
10 Mark Ingram NO 17.4 16.1 1
11 Dalvin Cook MIN 16.4 - -1
12 Devonta Freeman ATL 14.3 16.1 0
13 Kenyan Drake MIA 8.8 5.7 3
14 Jerick McKinnon SF 11.0 10.4 19
15 Christian McCaffrey CAR 14.3 - -2
16 Saquon Barkley ? - - -
17 Jordan Howard CHI 12.5 13.9 -2
18 Joe Mixon CIN 10.1 - -1
19 Jay Ajayi PHI 9.7 12.1 1
20 Rex Burkhead NE 13.0 7.9 9
21 Dion Lewis TEN 12.3 10.9 -2
22 Lamar Miller HOU 12.1 12.8 0
23 Chris Thompson WAS 15.1 11.5 2
24 Alex Collins BAL 11.4 8.0 -3
25 Carlos Hyde CLE 14.6 14.6 -7
26 Duke Johnson CLE 13.5 11.3 -3
27 Derrick Henry TEN 8.4 7.8 -13
28 Tevin Coleman ATL 11.2 12.8 -4
29 Theo Riddick DET 9.6 12.1 12
30 Tarik Cohen CHI 9.0 - 2
31 C.J. Anderson DEN 10.8 12.0 -4
32 Marlon Mack IND 7.4 - -4
33 Marshawn Lynch OAK 11.0 - 3
34 Chris Carson SEA 9.9 - -4
35 Jamaal Williams GB 10.2 - -9
36 Aaron Jones GB 6.7 - -2
37 Donta Foreman HOU 5.7 - 0
38 Matt Breida SF 6.5 - 7
39 Bilal Powell NYJ 9.7 11.0 -8
40 Devontae Booker DEN 7.0 8.1 4
41 Isaiah Crowell NYJ 8.8 10.8 -6
42 Wayne Gallman NYG 8.1 - 1
43 Ty Montgomery GB 11.5 10.1 -4
44 Samaje Perine WAS 7.2 - -6
45 Doug Martin OAK 6.7 8.4 4
46 Peyton Barber TB 5.4 3.9 1
47 Latavius Murray MIN 9.8 12.2 -7
48 Giovani Bernard CIN 9.5 10.5 -6
49 LeGarrette Blount DET 6.6 10.6 7
50 James White NE 9.6 9.9 -4
51 Corey Clement PHI 5.7 - 1
52 Spencer Ware KC - - 6
53 Austin Ekeler LAC 6.7 - -2
54 Rod Smith DAL 6.6 5.5 16
55 Frank Gore MIA 10.9 12.1 -7
56 Jonathan Stewart NYG 7.8 9.4 -2
57 DeMarco Murray FA 11.4 15.0 -
58 Darren Sproles FA 6.1 10.1 -
59 Ameer Abdullah DET 8.9 9.5 -9
60 James Conner PIT 1.0 - -1
61 T.J. Yeldon JAX 8.8 9.0 2
62 Kenneth Dixon BAL - - -5
63 Mike Gillislee NE 7.6 8.1 2
64 Malcolm Brown LAR 4.1 2.0 8
65 Jeremy Hill NE 2.5 8.8 2
66 Orleans Darkwa FA 9.0 6.5 -
67 DeAndre Washington OAK 5.7 5.9 6
68 Elijah McGuire NYJ 4.6 - -13
69 Elijhaa Penny ARI 2.1 - -
70 Javorius Allen BAL 10.4 7.3 -6
71 Jalen Richard OAK 5.4 6.3 -18
72 Mike Davis SEA 8.7 4.8 -10
73 Cameron Artis-Payne CAR 1.3 2.8 -
74 C.J. Prosise SEA 3.4 7.1 -8
75 Chris Ivory BUF 6.1 7.2 -7
76 Jacquizz Rodgers TB 2.9 5.3 -

A Few Notable Players:

  • Looking through the rankings, Kenyan Drake seems to be the first player that I’m a few spots high on relative to early ADP. Did Drake do enough to be the every-down back heading into 2018? After the Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi away, Drake split time with Damien Williams, but once Williams was shut down due to injury in Week 12, Drake averaged 21.6 touches for 119 total yards and 0.40 touchdowns per game in the final five games. Williams is a free agent, so Drake seems to be headed for feature back touches, though free agency and the NFL Draft could change his outlook.
  • Jerick McKinnon couldn't have landed in a better spot. Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers preferred him to Carlos Hyde, who signed with the Browns for significantly less money. McKinnon is a ridiculous athlete whose best comparable at Player Profiler is LaDainian Tomlinson. In his first two seasons he averaged 4.90 yards per carry, but that average has dipped to a concerning 3.59 yards per carry over the last two seasons. The good news: he graded well in the running game at Pro Football Focus in 2017 and, more importantly, as Shanahan's hand-picked running back, he'll get every chance to succeed as the 49ers primary runner. NBC’s Matt Maiocco believes that McKinnon “is expected to take [Devonta] Freeman’s role” in the offense. In 24 games from 2015-16 (with Shanahan running the offense) with both Freeman and Tevin Coleman healthy and available, Freeman averaged 15.0 rushing attempts and 4.3 receptions per game. If McKinnon gets that sort of workload, he’s a fantasy RB1. This signing is in the vein of Michael Turner (to the Falcons), LaMont Jordan (to the Raiders), Chester Taylor (to the Vikings), or Darren Sproles (to the Saints) – quality backups who finally got their chance for a big role with a new team.
  • Chris Thompson is recovering from a broken leg, but should be fine by the time camp rolls around. In 10 games he averaged 10.3 touches (3.9 receptions) for 80 yards and 0.60 touchdowns and was easily the best running back in Washington for most of the year. Pass-catching backs tend to stay undervalued until they start posting consistent starter-caliber numbers (i.e. Darren Sproles) on an annual basis. It looks like early drafters aren’t confident that Thompson will be able to repeat.
  • The Patriots let Dion Lewis walk and then re-signed Rex Burkhead, who turned 64 carries and 30 receptions into 518 total yards and eight touchdowns in just 10 games. Lewis’s departure opens up 212 touches, and while Mike Gillislee figures to get another chance to take over a sizable role in the backfield, Burkhead should be first in line for touches. From Week 10 to Week 14, he averaged 12.4 touches (including 3.4 receptions) for 62 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Those are top seven numbers in PPR formats, and Burkhead averaged more receptions in that span than did James White (2.2 per game), which is a sign that he was eating into White’s receiving role as well. Burkhead’s touchdown rate probably isn't sustainable (even in the Patriots' potent offense), so if we cut it in half, he still averaged top 12 RB numbers in PPR leagues in that five-game span. New England running backs are always dicey, but Burkhead holds a ton of potential as a middle round pick. This is a backfield to monitor closely this summer, especially with Jeremy Hill joining the team.
  • In my view, Derrick Henry's stock took a big hit when the Titans signed Dion Lewis. I don't see Henry in a bell cow role with Lewis in the fold, and Lewis is the superior receiver.
  • As Frank Gore leaves for Miami, Marlon Mack may find himself in an every down role for the Colts. He didn’t wow statistically, but he outgained Gore on a per carry basis and caught 21 passes for 225 yards in a backup role. The Colts are a good bet to draft a running back early, so I wouldn't invest too much in Mack at this point.
  • As you can probably tell, I have no idea what to make of the Packer backfield, which is suddenly deep in talent and upside. (Nice work, Ted Thompson.) I think Aaron Jones has the most upside of the trio, but Jamal Williams looked the part late in the year. Ty Montgomery certainly looked the part in 2017. We’ll have to see how the depth chart shakes out this summer.
  • With Doug Martin out of the way, Peyton Barber seems to be the closest thing to an every-down back in Tampa at this point. The Bucs are likely to add a back or two in the draft.
  • At this point, I don’t like ranking rookies, but Saquon Barkley seems to have the best chance to be the first running back off the board in the NFL Draft. He’s currently going in the seventh round and will very likely go to a RB-needy team. For context, Leonard Fournette was going with the No. 30 pick in 2017 MFL10s prior to the Draft, and went No. 23 after he landed with the Jaguars. Dalvin Cook (No. 39/No. 45) and Joe Mixon (No. 64/No. 36) ended up going about a round later. Cook’s stock was hurt by his landing spot while Mixon’s stock got a boost after he landed in Cincinnati and enjoyed positive offseason buzz. 

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