The 2017 RB class was one for the ages. Four rookie RB’s finished as top 10 fantasy RB’s and it could have been five had Dalvin Cook not gotten injured. Considering that six 2nd year RB’s are projected to be drafted in the first 3 rounds of PPR fantasy drafts this summer, the future of the RB position in fantasy football looks extremely bright. Let’s dig a little deeper and analyze each 2nd year RB’s 2018 projections and expectations.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars – Fournette started his rookie campaign on an absolute tear. In his first 6 games, he averaged 99 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD per game. In the 4th quarter of the Jaguars Week 6 game vs. the Rams, Fournette sprained his right ankle and would subsequently end up missing Weeks 7 and 9 with the injured right ankle (the Jaguars had their bye in Week 8). From Week 10 to the end of the season, Fournette was underwhelming. He went over 70 rushing yards in just three of the final 7 games he played in. However, he still managed to finish as the 8th best fantasy RB in PPR leagues. I believe that injured ankle had a direct impact on his performance. If you extrapolate his first 6 games to a full 16 game season, Fournette would have finished with 1,589 rushing yards and 16 TD’s. While that TD number is likely his ceiling, I can definitely see Fournette going over 1,500+ rushing yards in 2018. As I mentioned, the Jaguars want to play the ground n’ pound game with Fournette leading the way. He’ll be well worth his admission price of a late 1st/early 2nd round pick this summer.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs – Speaking of starting his rookie season on a hot streak, Kareem Hunt also had a heck of a start to his rookie season. In his first 5 games, Hunt tallied a whopping 609 rushing yards, 4 rushing TD’s, 16 receptions, 166 receiving yards. The injury to Spencer Ware in the preseason paved the way for Hunt to take over the Kansas City backfield and he did just that. The cynics will say that after Week 5 Hunt went over 100 rushing yards just twice and did not have a rushing TD from Week 6 to Week 13. To me, I see a talented RB with a defined role on an explosive offense. The transition from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes may take some time to bear fruit, but I still believe Hunt is in line for the same workhorse RB workload that resulted in him finishing as the 4th best PPR RB in 2017. He’ll be locked in as a 1st round draft pick in drafts this year, which to me is exactly where he should be going.
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers – McCaffrey finished the 2017 season as the 10th best PPR fantasy RB. His 80 receptions were 3rd most among RB’s behind LeVeon Bell and Alvin Kamara and his 651 receiving yards were 5th among all RB’s. McCaffrey takes a big step down in standard leagues, but does anyone really play in standard leagues anymore? McCaffrey was a force catching passes out of the backfield in his rookie season and I fully expect him to build on that success going forward. He is Cam Newton’s check down receiving option and will no doubt continue to put up solid PPR numbers on a weekly basis in 2018. He had at least 10 PPR points in 13 of the 16 games he played in 2017. While he’ll never have over 200 carries in a season, I do think it’s plausible to expect a slight increase in his rushing attempts in 2018. McCaffrey averaged 3.7 YPC on 117 rushing attempts in 2017. An increase to 160 rushing attempts is certainly in the cards in my opinion. If he can up his average YPC to 4.0 in 2018, you’re looking at a projected stat line of 640 rushing yards, 3-4 rushing TD’s and a boat load of receptions, receiving yards, receiving TD’s. Bottom line, McCaffrey is a stud that will continue to evolve as a RB this upcoming season.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints – Man, this group really is so talented. Alvin Kamara exploded onto the fantasy football scene in dramatic fashion in 2017. He was 2nd among RB’s with 81 receptions, led all RB’s with 826 receiving yards and finished as the 3rd best PPR fantasy RB last season. On top of that, he managed to score 8 rushing TD’s. While I think that number is his ceiling and some regression is expected in that department, I can see Kamara improving on his 728 rushing yards and going over the 1,000-yard mark in 2018. Why? Because I think Kamara will see closer to 200 carries, compared to the 126 carries he had last season. Kamara had at least 20 PPR fantasy points in 8 of the 16 games he played last season. I’m not buying the notion that Kamara won’t see an increased workload with Mark Ingram suspended for the first 4 games of the 2018 season. I believe Kamara will be the focal point of the running game for the first four weeks and put up a bountiful amount of fantasy points in that timeframe. While Kamara’s current price tag is pretty steep, I think he is well worth the price of admission and I fully expect Kamara to finish as a top 10 PPR fantasy RB again in 2018.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings – Dalvin Cook played in just 4 games in his rookie season before tearing his ACL. Cook averaged 88.5 rushing yards in those 4 games and was a top 10 fantasy RB at the time of his injury. He looked good, really good. He was well on his way to a top 10 RB finish last season. Fast forward to June of 2018. The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a huge contract and he will now be their starting QB. Cousins is a huge upgrade to what the Vikings have had at QB the past few seasons. Cousins’ presence will open up all kinds of running lanes for Cook this season. Defenses will have to respect the pass and will not be able to solely focus on Cook. On top of that, Jerick McKinnon has left town, signing a contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Excuse me if I believe Latavius Murray is not that good of an RB. Bottom line, Cook is THE guy in the Vikings backfield and will receive a hefty workload this season which will equate to a bundle of fantasy points on a week to week basis. Cook will be locked in as a mid to late 2nd round pick in your 2018 fantasy football draft.
D’Onta Foreman, Houston Texans – D’Onta Foreman was having a respectable rookie season as Lamar Miller’s backup in Houston. Before tearing his Achilles in Week 10, Foreman was used primarily in a back-up role, but managed to average 4.2 YPC on 78 rushing attempts. Foreman is a bruiser at 6’3”, 230 Lbs. and is fully capable of handling 1st and 2nd down carries on a weekly basis, in my opinion. The problem is, how healthy is that Achilles? That type of injury can certainly take a good amount of time to heal, so I wonder just how effective he’ll be early on in the season. For arguments sake, let’s play a “best case scenario” game. Let’s say Foreman is 100% healthy to start the season. If Lamar Miller falters early on and is not effective, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that Bill O’Brien will bench Miller for the younger, more energetic Foreman. He is a sneaky late round pick this season and is as good of a lottery ticket RB as there is out there. All of that said, let’s go back to the Achilles for a second. If Foreman does not progress how we hope he will, it could be a long, mediocre, back-up type of season once again for Foreman. Time will tell how this situation plays out.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals – I have mixed feelings about Joe Mixon heading into 2018. First though, let’s take a quick look at how he did in his rookie season last year. Mixon had at least 15 carries in 6 of the 14 games he played in last season. In those 6 games, Mixon averaged just 3.7 YPC on 108 rushing attempts. That doesn’t exactly scream “success.” While it was a struggle at times for Mixon in 2017, I do believe he has the talent to bounce back in 2018. However, I’m just not convinced that Marvin Lewis will allow Mixon to become the every down back we all want him to be. Giovani Bernard is still there to steal carries and spell Mixon in passing down situations. I think Mixon will be too inconsistent for my liking this season. If he were guaranteed to have at least 15 rushing attempts and at least 4 targets per game, I’d feel a lot different about him. For those reasons, I’m likely passing on him at his current 3rd round price tag.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts – The Indianapolis Colts have underwhelmed the past two seasons. After going 8-8 in 2016, the Colts, without Andrew Luck, finished a meager 4-12 in 2017. As I’ve mentioned many times before, Andrew Luck hasn’t thrown a football in a long, long time. That in an of itself is concerning. But anyway, let’s get to Marlon Mack. Mack’s rookie season saw him rush for 358 yards and have 225 receiving yards. His usage in the passing game cannot be ignored. While it wasn’t what Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey accomplished, Mack’s 21 receptions for 225 yards tells me that Mack can be used as both a between the tackles runner and as a pass catcher out of the backfield. With Frank Gore off to Miami, the Colts lead RB role is ripe for the taking. Mack will have to compete with rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, as well as journeyman Robert Turbin. Honestly, I think Mack is going to emerge as the go-to RB out of that group. He is currently being drafted in the 8th round of MFL10 drafts, although I believe that his ADP will start to rise as the summer rolls on. Mack is a low risk, high reward type of RB heading into the 2018 season.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers – In my opinion, Aaron Jones will have the best fantasy season of any Green Bay Packers RB in 2018. The Packers backfield is crowded right now. With Aaron Jones, fellow 2nd year RB Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery, it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the primary ball carrier. I believe that player will be Aaron Jones. Jones carried the ball 81 times for 448 rushing yards in his rookie season, which was good for a whopping 5.5 YPC mark. Simply put, I think he is the most talented RB out of the three and I’m putting my money on Jones taking the reigns early on in the 2018 season and rolling with it. He’s a solid RB3/RB4 to have on your team this season.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears – If there was ever a waiver wire wonder, Tarik Cohen was exactly that last season. Cohen was highly coveted for his superb play in the early weeks of last season. In the first 4 weeks of his rookie season, Cohen accumulated 181 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 150 receiving yards. His fantasy stock was on the rise. What happened next, you ask? Well, let’s just say that Cohen was a complete bust after that. For reasons I’ll never understand (cough, John Fox), Cohen had just 5 receptions in the teams following 5 games and was rarely used in the running game. Personally, I believe Cohen’s true value lies in his pass catching ability out of the backfield. He is electric in space and can create separation just as good as the best in the business in my opinion. As for 2018, the jury is out on Cohen’s 2018 fate. With John Fox gone and Matt Nagy in, the hope is that Nagy will make it a priority to put Cohen in the best possible position to succeed and be a complimentary back to Jordan Howard. He’s well worth the mid to late round pick in your fantasy draft, as I believe there’s legitimate upside in Cohen this season.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants – Wayne Gallman rushed for 476 yards on 111 attempts in his rookie season in 2017. He also chipped in 34 receptions for 193 receiving yards and had 1 receiving TD. Unfortunately for Gallman, the New York Giants drafted the highly touted RB prospect out of Penn State, Saquon Barkley, and signed veteran RB Jonathan Stewart this offseason. I don’t see Gallman having any fantasy value heading into 2018, barring an injury to Saquon Barkley. He is strictly a handcuff at this point and I wouldn’t even bother drafting him unless you drafted Saquon Barkley AND your league has a deep bench.
Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins – Here’s another RB who’s fallen victim to his team drafting a stud RB prospect in the NFL draft. The Redskins drafted Derrius Guice in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft and all signs points to Guice taking over the lead back duties in Washington in 2018. Samaje Perine toted the rock 175 times in his rookie season, which was higher than what most expected. Unfortunately, he did not do much with those carries, as he averaged a mere 3.4 YPC on those 175 rushing attempts. On top of rookie Derrius Guice arriving in Washington, Chris Thompson and Robert Kelley are still there as well and will certainly see their fair share of carries and looks out of the backfield. Don’t expect much out of Perine in 2018. He should only be drafted in the deepest of leagues.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks – Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Chris Carson. He was a target of mine in all of my 2017 fantasy drafts after his impressive showing in a few preseason games. Carson would go on to play in just 4 regular season games before getting injured and missing the rest of the 2017 season. The Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the NFL draft and rumors are that Penny, not Carson, is going to take over as the primary ball carrier in 2018. That said, I’m still taking a flyer on Carson this season. He showed enough in limited action in 2017 to warrant being drafted (solely as a lottery ticket) in 2018. Should Rashaad Penny not live up to the hype, the door will open for Carson to take over. My expectations are low, just so I’m clear, but there is a slimmer of hope for Carson in my opinion. Time will tell how this one plays out.
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers – As I mentioned with Aaron Jones, one of three RB’s is going to emerge as the go-to RB in the Green Bay Packers offense in 2018. Could it be Jamaal Williams? It sure could. From Week 10 to Week 17, when Williams was the primary ball carrier, he averaged 3.6 YPC on 142 rushing attempts. That number isn’t exactly an inspiring one, but it showed that Williams can handle a full workload. I’ve already said that my gut is telling me that Aaron Jones is the RB you want on the Packers, but I realize it absolutely could be Jamaal Williams who wins the job. At his current price tag of a late round pick, Williams is worth a draft pick as a lottery ticket RB on a high-powered offense.
Corey Clement, Philadelphia Eagles - LeGarrette Blount is now a member of the Detroit Lions, which means 173 rushing attempts are up for grabs in the Philadelphia Eagles offense. While I suspect most will go to Jay Ajayi, I also believe that Clement is in for an increased workload this season. Clement carried the ball just 74 times for 321 rushing yards in his rookie season. I can see that number jumping up to around 130-140 carries with the potential for some goal line work as well. As of now, Clement is nothing but a handcuff to Jay Ajayi, but I believe he’s an important handcuff. Should something happen to Jay Ajayi, Clement becomes a must start RB every week. He’s worth a look in the late rounds of your fantasy draft this summer.
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