If 2017 proved anything to Fantasy owners, it’s that having a zero-running back strategy is now a horrible idea. If you failed to learn this lesson last season then you are in for a world of hurt in 2018 Fantasy drafts. Running backs are very likely to take up 60 percent of the first round this year, so it will pay dividends to be prepared. The format and scoring in your league will dramatically change the value of certain backs, I’m looking at you Theo Riddick! Today we will take a first look at 2018 running back rankings for both standard and PPR formats.
The running back position is as important as ever and requires an early investment if you are to compete for a championship. Fortunately, the position is also deeper than it’s been for the past five years.
Less than 20 teams use one primary running back, while the rest of the league leans on a running back committee made up of different role players. These teams still typically have a “main guy” that is the primary workhorse, but they also make use of a “change-of-pace” or “third-down” back. These players add depth to the position, especially in PPR where you can take advantage of pass-catching backs who do not get many carries.
It is important to remember that even though the position is deep, the gap between elite and non-elite options at running back is stark. This gap is made more apparent in standard formats where pass-catching backs do not receive a bonus. Let’s put it this way, you will want to draft a running back in the first two rounds. By the time the draft is halfway over you should have picked up at least three, if not four, backs.
So, who should you target in this year’s draft? Let’s take a look at the first iteration of our running back rankings for 2018 Fantasy Football.
The Cream of the Crop
Todd Gurley, Le’veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley
These players serve as elite options regardless of format. They will be selected in the first or second round in every draft. Draft these running backs with confidence.
Breakouts and Sleepers: Undervalued targets
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
McKinnon could not have landed in a better spot to break out in 2018. He will be the featured running back in coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense after the Niners let Carlos Hyde go in free agency. Shanahan, known for his offensive schemes, has had a Top-10 PPR running back in each of his last three seasons as a coach or offensive coordinator. McKinnon should be in line for a breakout season behind Jimmy Garrapollo
Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles
Jay Ajayi is just two years removed from being the 11th ranked running back overall. In 2017 he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles to join a crowded backfield with LeGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement. The good news this season? LeGarrette Blount is gone and Ajayi is left as the primary back on a team with a fantastic offensive line and MVP candidate at quarterback.
Ajayi averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season with the Dolphins and 5.8 with the Eagles. As the man who will handle first down and goal line work for the defending Super Bowl champions, Ajayi is lined up for a fine 2018 season.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) June 20, 2018
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens
Alex Collins did a fantastic job in Baltimore after Danny Woodhead went down with an injury. The Ravens showed a lot of faith in Collins this offseason, as they refrained from adding a running back after Danny Woodhead announced his retirement. Kenneth Dixon and Javorius “Buck” Allen remain in the backfield and should leech some opportunities, but Alex Collins is the guy and should be considered in the RB2 and high-end RB3 conversation.
For more rankings and great fantasy football analysis check out all of our 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep.
RB Busts: Avoid these guys if you can
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
McCoy turns 30 before the 2018 season begins. Red Flag number one. The Bills’ three best run-blockers: Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, and Cordy Glenn, all left the team this offseason. Red flag number two. Buffalo brought in two new quarterbacks who will be throwing to one of the NFL’s worst wide receiver corps. Red flag three.
McCoy led Buffalo in targets and receptions last season, which is elite for PPR formats. However, McCoy will not have that advantage in standard leagues.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
He is coming off his best year in the NFL but will be suspended for the first four games of the 2018 regular season. I do not see Ingram maintaining the same level of involvement in 2018, and the Saints post-bye schedule is a nightmare. Ingram will get to take on the Vikings, Rams, Eagles, Ravens, and Panthers. This may open up the passing game for players like Kamara, but it will certainly put a damper on the running ability of a player like Ingram.
Make no mistake, the Saints are Alvin Kamara’s team now. Ingram’s early season absence should catapult Kamara to be possibly the best running back in fantasy early on, especially in PPR formats The bottom line is that Mark Ingram will need a lot of touchdowns to retain fantasy value this season. Fantasy owners will be better off looking elsewhere.
Mark Ingram's PED suspension comes after a year in which he had a career high in rushing yards, a career high in receiving yards and a career high in touchdowns. How would we react to a baseball player getting a PED suspension right after putting up career-best stats?
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) May 9, 2018
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
He has scored 17 total touchdowns over the last two seasons and posted back-to-back Top-15 finishes among Fantasy Football running backs. He has finished each of the last two seasons with over 1,100 total yards and at least eight touchdowns. However, Hyde will share touches in Cleveland with Duke Johnson, who’s flourished into a reliable pass-catching back. Rookie Nick Chubb also has to figure in this equation somewhere.
Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings
Murray, who has scored 20 TDs over the last two seasons, will share carries with second-year running back Dalvin Cook. Cook is returning from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 4, but was looking like a breakout stud prior to the injury. Expect Cook to run away with the job, and most of the carries.
For more great Fantasy Football analysis, check out Full 60 Fantasy Football with Joe Pisapia, Scott Bogman, and The Welsh.
PPR Specialists: These players get a boost in value in PPR
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Last year, Kamara was the number four Fantasy running back in non-PPR leagues. He also held down one of the most efficient seasons in NFL history. Kamara had 120 carries for 728 yards (6.1 yards per carry) with eight touchdowns. He also managed to catch 81 passes for 826 yards and five touchdowns. This guy is a beast.
The good news? Kamara is likely looking at an even larger workload in 2018. Expect the Saints star to get north of 250 touches this season and take another step forward to the top.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
McCaffrey led all running backs in targets with 106 and was third in receptions with 80. The Panthers traded wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo last season and Greg Olsen is a huge question mark coming into 2018. Who does that leave as a legitimate threat? McCaffrey makes a sneaky pick with tremendous upside in PPR formats. Plus he is an awesome dude, check this out:
— Shelby Heary (@shelby_heary) June 28, 2018
Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
Johnson posted career-highs in targets, catches, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2017. Unfortunately, his touchdown total is likely to take a hit this season with the Browns’ addition of Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb. Either way, Duke Johnson’s value gets a significant boost in PPR formats. The Cleveland running back is a solid bet to catch over 50 passes while coming close to 1,000 yards of total offense.
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
Chris Thompson was having an excellent 2018 season before breaking his fibula in November. Thompson was on pace for 102 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns on the ground last season. The Redskins’ back was also on pace to catch 62 passes for 816 yards and six touchdowns. That’s pretty good folks. Derrius Guice is sure to cut into Thompson’s carries this season, but in PPR he should continue to hold flex value as a pass-catching back.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
Tarik Cohen showed flashes of elite speed and versatility last season. He comes into 2018 with a new head coach and looks like a perfect fit in Matt Nagy’s system. Nagy admitted that he sees a lot of Tyreek Hill in Cohen. Sounds good to me. Cohen caught just one touchdown on 53 receptions, while the league average for running backs is a touchdown for every 25.4 receptions. Basically, this tells me that we should see some positive regression in the upcoming season. Hopefully, this leads to a few more trips to the end zone. Expect Cohen to catch upwards of 60 passes in 2018, just don’t expect much in the way of carries.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
All Theo Riddick does is catch the football. I don’t mean that in a good way or a bad way. I just mean his only value is catching the football. He has plenty of competition for a role in Detroit with Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, and Ameer Abdulah as well. All you need to know is that Riddick finished as the 26th ranked running back in PPR last year. That is relevant enough for me to keep an eye on him.
Running Back Rankings for Fantasy Football 2018
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