Running back didn’t necessarily lose a ton of fantasy talent to the draft, but there are some new starters with high ceilings. Now that we’ve established who the best-returning backs are, let’s dive into the best next men up at the position.
10. Dexter Williams, Notre Dame
Dexter Williams might not be Josh Adams or C.J. Prosise, but he’s a Notre Dame back all the same. Williams is a taller back at six-foot and has superior speed. In the past three seasons, the Fighting Irish have produced a 900+ yard running back, and Notre Dame’s uncertainty at the quarterback position has only made Williams a more intriguing option. Be wary of playing him Week 1 against Michigan, who boasted the third-ranked defense nationally last season.
9. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
Ke’Shawn Vaugn’s transfer to Vanderbilt caught my attention. Vaughn showed promise in his freshman season at Illinois by rushing for 730 yards before being buried in the depth chart in his sophomore season. Vanderbilt has relied heavily on the run in the past several seasons with spotty quarterback play and the great talent Ralph Webb at running back. The skills are there for Vaughn to succeed at Vanderbilt, but only time will tell if he can live up to that talent.
8. Kam Martin, Auburn
This is just a preseason ranking, and I do acknowledge that Kam Martin could easily be higher on this list. Martin is an all-purpose back out of Texas and has accounted for 881 all-purpose yards in his two seasons at Auburn. The Auburn backfield was dominated by Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, and now both are headed to the NFL. Martin has a great quarterback in Jarrett Stidham and solid players along the outside of the offensive line. This gives him the tools he needs to succeed. It’s up to him now to take advantage.
7. Travon McMillan, Colorado
Travon McMillan’s transfer out of Virginia Tech came as a surprise, but the destination he chose could not have been better. Colorado has been a heavy-rush team for the past several seasons with Phillip Lindsay at the helm, but now Lindsay has graduated and the Buffalo depth at the position is non-existent. McMillan ran for 2,153 yards and 16 touchdowns in his tenure at Virginia Tech but fell into a committee of backs in his senior season. Colorado has a capable quarterback in Steven Montez, and the Buffs will need McMillan to open things up and provide a red-zone presence.
6. Ty Candler, Tennessee
John Kelly was the feature back for the Vols last season, but Ty Chandler definitely gave viewers something to watch when he came on the field. In limited action, Chandler rushed for 305 yards and two touchdowns as the second leading rusher for Tennessee in 2017. Chandler’s ceiling is largely determined by the offensive scheme that Jeremy Pruitt runs, but my guess is that Pruitt will run something along the lines of Georgia and Alabama, meaning that Chandler will get the ball often.
5. Tony Brooks-James, Oregon
I’m a bit skeptical of any Oregon player after the ugly Las Vegas Bowl performance against Boise State. However, Oregon is notorious for having good fantasy production from their running backs, and Justin Herbert is possibly a first-round draft pick when he leaves for the NFL. If Mario Cristobal can remotivate this team and prove that the bowl loss to Oregon was a fluke, then Brooks-James will just be another excellent Oregon back. Brooks-James rushed for 354 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry in 2017.
4. Kennedy McKoy, West Virginia
Kennedy McKoy has actually put up solid numbers in his two seasons behind Justin Crawford, with 1,068 yards and 11 touchdowns to his name. Last season’s 596 yards should have McKoy as a sleeper for most fantasy owners as he finally takes over the starting job with Crawford heading to the NFL. West Virginia is a farm school for fantasy running backs, with Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, and Justin Crawford all making impacts during their college tenure. McKoy is in one of the better passing attacks, so he should have no problem rushing as the passing game opens up the field for him.
3. Stephen Carr, Southern Cal
Carr didn’t see too many carries in 2017 with the monster year that Ronald Jones had ahead of him. With Jones likely going in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft this season, Carr is the next man up. Carr was a five-star prospect coming out of high school in 2017 and rushed for 363 yards and three touchdowns on 65 carries (5.5 YPC). With an increased workload and the reclassification of JT Daniels, Carr will top 1,000 yards this season and will do so with ease.
2. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
It really isn’t hard to see why D’Andre Swift is so high on this list. First off, Georgia is a run-first team and has been a run-first team historically. Secondly, Swift rushed for 618 yards on 85 carries (7.3 YPC) for three touchdowns as the third option at running back in 2017, and now he is the lone wolf with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel gone to the next level. Lastly, Swift has the luxury of Jake Fromm or Justin Fields at quarterback. Whoever starts will open up the ground game with ease. Swift is likely an early-round pick in most drafts, and it won’t be hard to see why come Week 1.
1. Juwan Washington, San Diego State
San Diego State is a well-oiled machine that cranks out top-five fantasy running back talent. Donnel Pumphrey showed his own greatness by setting the NCAA Career Rushing record, passing Ron Dayne. Then Rashaad Penny stepped up last season and not only led the NCAA in rushing yards but broke Pumphrey’s school single-season record for yards. Jawan Washington is the next man up after accounting for 759 yards on the ground under Penny last season. Fish have to swim, birds have to fly, and San Diego State has to produce a 1,200+ yard rusher; it’s what they do.
Also be sure to check out the next men up at Quarterback.