Not Too Early Top 10 Running Backs for 2018 Fantasy Football
Last week I began my weekly Top-10 positional series by touching on my current Top-10 fantasy quarterbacks. This week I will shift the focus to the Top 10 running backs. The NFL has plenty of dynamic, dual-threat running backs. The players on this list are almost sure to be selected in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts, and with good reason.
The days of a running back carrying the ball 400 times in a season are over, but the impact of the running back position in standard Fantrax fantasy leagues cannot and should not be understated. Keep in mind that there may be some minor shifts in these rankings as we get closer to training camp, but for now, here are the top 10 running backs on my board in standard fantasy leagues. Please feel free to discuss or debate your choices with me in the comment section below.
Top 10 Running Backs for 2018 Fantasy Football
1. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Not only did Todd Gurley lead all running backs in fantasy scoring last season, he did so by an incredibly wide (62.7) margin. Gurley finished 2017 with a league-high 13 touchdown runs and ended the year ranking second in total rushing yards.
Gurley has always been a capable runner but really thrived as a receiver last season in Sean McVay’s offensive system, vaulting Gurley to another level. After posting 515 receiving yards with nary a touchdown catch over his first two seasons, Gurley totaled 788 receiving yards and six touchdown catches a season ago. His receiving numbers alone would have made him a WR2 last year, which speaks to his all-around dominance.
Owners worried of Gurley regressing toward his 2016 numbers should rest easy. The Rams led the NFL in scoring last year and their offense should once again hit on all cylinders as they return their entire starting offensive line. I expect Todd Gurley to approach and perhaps surpass 300 fantasy points again in 2018.
2. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
I know, I know – no Le’veon Bell. I must be crazy. I would argue those two things are not mutually exclusive, but I digress. I just touched on how proficient Todd Gurley was last season when he scored a total of 319.30 fantasy points. Well, in 2016, David Johnson scored 327.80 points. Yes, he was that good, and I expect more of the same given a clean bill of health this season.
New head coach Steve Wilks values a run-first offense, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has always utilized his best talents wisely. Arizona’s offensive line may need a little time to gel, but the talent is there, as four of the five projected starters are former first-round picks. New OL coach Ray Brown has been credited with the rise to prominence of Andrew Norwell among others, and he should be able to get the unit to function cohesively.
All of this is good news for Johnson, who has fresh legs as he enters a contract year. Last year at this time, Johnson was considered a potential 1,000/1,000 (rushing yards/receiving yards) threat, and I think those numbers are within reach this season. Johnson totaled 879 receiving yards in 2016 and Arizona lacks a proven receiving threat behind Larry Fitzgerald.
Johnson has averaged 19.48 fantasy points per start during his career and I expect a similar output this year. David Johnson may very well reclaim the throne as fantasy’s top running back.
3. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Perhaps no player in all of fantasy football sports the bankable volume that Le’Veon Bell possesses. Bell has averaged an incredible 27.5 touches over the last two years. During that span, he’s averaged an other-worldly 141.9 yards from scrimmage per game.
Bell also has the second-most rushing yards of any back, and his 160 receptions are tied for the 12th most in all of football for any player. His 406 touches last season are the second-most of any player this decade. That type of workload is a rarity these days and makes Bell a premium commodity in fantasy leagues.
If we’re picking nits, Bell’s rushing efficiency dropped quite a bit last season. After averaging 4.80 yards per rush from 2014-2016, Bell averaged just 4.02 yards last year. Perhaps defenses have adapted a bit to Bell’s unorthodox stop-and-start running style. I suppose it is also possible that his tremendous workload will come to haunt him at some point. Still, I would not let these minor issues deter me from drafting Le’Veon Bell with a high first-round fantasy draft pick.
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott has paced all running backs in rushing yards per game in each of his two seasons in the league. He has averaged 104.56 rushing yards per game since 2016 and an impressive 18.82 fantasy points per game during that time.
Elliott will once again be asked to carry the mail for the Dallas Cowboys. He may not offer the receiving upside that some of his peers possess, but Elliott’s 22 career rushing touchdowns in just 25 games raises his floor to a very comfortable level.
Elliott is as safe a bet as any to lead the league in rushing, and with that should come a ton of fantasy points. I think that anyone worrying that the loss of wideout Dez Bryant will have an adverse effect on Elliott is reading too much into the situation. Yes, the lack of a consistent outside threat may allow defenses to stack the line of scrimmage in certain situations, but Elliott is an elite runner, and the Cowboys still sport a solid offensive line. I would feel very confident drafting Ezekiel Elliott in the middle of the first round.
Embed from Getty Images
5. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing last year in his rookie season, a feat that had not been seen in the NFL since… the year before, when Ezekiel Elliott did it. Still, Hunt’s accomplishment was impressive nonetheless. Hunt also had an excellent fantasy season, finishing the 2017 season third among running backs in total fantasy points.
Hunt proved himself to be an efficient runner, averaging 4.88 yards per carry. He was also a highly-skilled pass catcher as well, with 455 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. The passing game is both a strength of Hunt’s and an area where he and coach Andy Reid believe there can be room for improvement, both positives for Hunt’s 2018 outlook.
Hunt is running a lot more routes during OTAs thus far, and a slight boost in passing game production can propel Hunt to even higher heights in 2018. Hunt has a very intriguing floor/ceiling combination, making him an ideal selection toward the end of the first round in fantasy drafts.
6. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Saqoun Barkley made a name for himself at Penn State by showcasing highlight-reel plays with a frequency rarely seen at the college level. He has unmatched athleticism and is a perfect fit for today’s style of NFL running back.
Barkley should have every opportunity to become a three-down back in New York, and his presence makes the New York Giants’ offense a potentially dangerous one heading into 2018. Over the last two years, we have seen five rookie running backs post top-eight finishes at the position. I have great confidence in Barkley to enjoy a similar level of success in his rookie year. Drafters should have no qualms about selecting Barkley as one of the Top 10 running backs off the board.
Where exactly he fits in is up for debate. Personally, I am currently slotting him at six among running backs, though it certainly would not shock me for him to outperform any of the players above him on this list.
Because Barkley is the only rookie among this group, there seems to be a bit of a “boom or bust” feeling surrounding him, but the risk is definitely worth the reward in my opinion. Barkley should have little difficulty adjusting to the NFL game and should be an elite fantasy running back from Day One.
7. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon has never averaged as much as 4.0 yards per rush in any season, which is usually seen as the benchmark for a starting NFL running back. Gordon does not possess the “flash” of an Alvin Kamara or the overwhelming volume of a Le’Veon Bell. All Gordon does is produce on a consistent basis week in and week out.
He has eclipsed 75 total yards in 24 of his last 28 games and is one of three running backs (Bell and LeSean McCoy being the others) who has posted consecutive Top-7 fantasy seasons in the last two years. I believe Gordon can post a similar fantasy finish in 2018.
Gordon’s contributions in the Chargers’ passing game have already been trending upward in each season, and I expect that to continue this year. Following the season-ending torn ACL suffered by tight end Hunter Henry in OTAs, Gordon should be leaned on a bit more in the short passing game and perhaps in the red zone. Melvin Gordon is not a sexy first-round fantasy selection, but he provides solid weekly production, which is the benchmark for a starting fantasy running back.
8. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara set the fantasy world ablaze last season. The rookie running back was a late-round flier in most leagues, as he was selected on average as the 59th running back off the board. Kamara ended up finishing fourth among running backs in fantasy points, winning his owners many a fantasy championship in the process.
Kamara figures to be a key cog in the Saints’ offensive machine once again in 2018. The four-game suspension of backfield mate Mark Ingram figures to enhance Kamara’s outlook, but I do not think it guarantees Kamara another top-five finish. Yes, Kamara is a dynamic playmaker and a home-run threat every time he touches the football, but he failed to eclipse twelve carries in any game last year.
Early speculation is that Kamara is likely to receive around 15 carries per game in Ingram’s absence. He proved that he does not need a monster workload to put up monster numbers, but if I am taking a running back in the top half of the first round, I want someone who is likely to get 20-plus touches per game. Alvin Kamara is certainly one of the most exciting players in football, and I would not bellyache about having him on my roster. However, I just do not know if I am willing to pay the premium it will likely cost to acquire him on draft day.
We are 100 days away from Saints vs Bucs. To get everyone excited for football, we will be doing #100DaysOfHighlights.
— AllSaintsConsidered.com (@AllSaintsBlog) June 1, 2018
9. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette scored double-digit fantasy points in 11 of 13 games during his impressive rookie campaign, parlaying that to an overall RB8 fantasy finish.
Fournette averaged over 23 touches per game last season and figures to be in line for a similar weekly workload this year.
There are a couple of red flags to consider. Similar to Gordon, Fournette was not the most efficient runner in 2017. He failed to average more than four yards per carry in 10 of 13 contests last year. Fournette also does not offer a ton in the receiving game. He caught just one touchdown pass and exceeded 25 receiving yards in just two games.
Of course, there is also Fournette’s injury history to consider. Lower body injuries are tough to ignore when it comes to running backs, and likely led to some of Fournette’s lackluster performances, as he often played at less than 100 percent. Leonard Fournette provides a relatively safe weekly floor, but I think he lacks the top-end potential that you want in a first-round fantasy draft pick.
10. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman’s place in the Top 10 running backs is somewhat contingent on his ongoing recovery from a late-season knee injury. Freeman opted not to have surgery and is participating in OTAs, which is a good sign.
Freeman’s overall fantasy finishes have trended in the wrong direction in recent years (1-5-13), but I still consider him an RB1 if fully healthy. He’s scored 35 touchdowns in his last 45 games and averaged 96.8 total yards during that timeframe.
The Atlanta Falcons continue to boast an extremely efficient offense, and another season in Steve Sarkisian’s system should only benefit Freeman and company.
There is talk that Tevin Coleman could see a larger role in the passing game, but Freeman is hardly a liability in that aspect. He has averaged a very respectable 30.2 receiving yards per game over the last three seasons. I like Devonta Freeman a lot as a potential value in that range and I would not at all be surprised if he returns first-round value this season.
Are you onboard with my Top 10 running backs for 2018? Check back next week as we turn our focus to the pass-catchers.