Never-Too-Early 2018 Running Back Rankings
Below you'll find my first stab at 2018 rankings for the running back position. I don't generally like to publish rankings prior to free agency and the Draft, but I know that early mocks have already started up, best ball drafts will soon be underway, and 4for4 subscribers may be wondering where I stand on certain players heading into the offseason.
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 drafts at Fantasy Football Calculator. 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.
The position looks top-heavy heading into the 2018 season. The top 14 players (through Christian McCaffrey) look pretty dependable and then things get a little dicey in terms of guaranteed workload/role. Owners who want to lock up one of these 14 backs will have to use a pick in either the first or second round.
|Rank||Name||Team||2017 PPG||2-YR PPG||DIFF|
A Few Notable Players:
- Looking through the rankings, Kenyan Drake seems to be the first player that I’m significantly 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.
- 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.
- Dion Lewis started the season fourth on the depth chart, but assumed a larger role thanks to a Mike Gillislee fumble and a Rex Burkhead injury. In the final 14 games (including the postseason), Lewis averaged 16.8 touches for 87 total yards and 0.60 total touchdowns. His value is largely dependent on his landing spot and resulting role, but the early word out of New England is that his asking price will be too much for the Patriots to pay. If he moves on and the team re-signs Burkhead, Burkhead’s price is going to skyrocket. Gillislee is the sneaky play here since he’s actually under contract for 2018 and could emerge as the early-down back if both Lewis and Burkhead move on.
- Despite carrying the ball just 5.1 times a game, Duke Johnson finished No. 11 in PPR formats last year. Isaiah Crowell is hitting free agency and the Browns could conceivably hand the keys to Johnson, who is a more than capable runner. Head coach Hue Jackson has been reluctant to expand Johnson’s workload, but maybe new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will make that call. We’ll need to pay close attention to the Browns’ moves at the running back position this offseason. It’s certainly possible that they use an early pick on the position.
- Jerick McKinnon heads to free agency and is a top 5 option at his position. His value will depend on where he lands this offseason, but he’s capable of a full-time role or serving as a change-of-pace/third-down back. Either way, he should be ranked in the top 30 in PPR formats.
- As Frank Gore hits free agency, 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.
- I’m currently penciling in Wayne Gallman as the 2018 starter for the Giants, though he could easily find himself in a committee after free agency or the Draft.
- 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.
- It looks like Doug Martin will be a cap casualty, so I’d like to see where he lands before investing any draft picks. He looked good last summer, but that didn’t carry over into the season. Peyton Barber seems to be the closest thing to an every-down back in Tampa at this point.
- 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. Barkley seems like a great value in the seventh round for those owners willing to risk a pick without knowing where he will land.