It happens every year. A certain group of rookie running backs take the league by storm and lead the way for a new generation of half backs. This year is no exception; several rookie backs have already made names for themselves through the first five weeks of the 2018 season. With that being the case, how should you view some of these rookies from a fantasy perspective in the short- and long-term picture?
We’ll start with the most obvious name first: Saquon Barkley. There was a reason he was highly-touted coming out of Penn State in the 2018 Draft. There’s a reason why the Giants took him second overall, despite the lamentations of the analysts and fans that screamed for Sam Darnold. There’s also a reason that Barkley was consistently drafted in the first round for fantasy. So far, he’s lived up to that billing.
He’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 17.6 fantasy points per game so far and he’s had at least one touchdown in four out of the five games. He’s a weapon in both the running and passing game. Barkley has seen upward of 18 rushes and 14 receptions, so his versatility is well-stated. All in all, Barkley was a no-brainer and should be on every starting fantasy lineup and dynasty roster. He’s still the cream of the crop for this rookie batch of RBs.
The other two first-round running backs, Rashaad Penny for the Seahawks and Sony Michel for the Patriots, are worth mentioning. The latter saw a breakout performance when the Patriots obliterated the Dolphins in Week 4. Michel continued to impress with 98 rushing yards last Thursday against the Colts. He’s now a plug-and-play after finally getting over the hump and with Rex Burkhead being placed on I.R. Michel is a season-long play for regular fantasy leagues as long as he’s healthy, but I’d think twice about him being a long-term player to build around in dynasty.
Penny, on the other hand, is a strange player to judge right now. He’s gotten touches (not this past Sunday, though, against the Rams), but he’s also fending off Chris Carson and Mike Davis. It’s hard to tell what role he’ll play for any given week. There are too many red flags for me to have an encouraging stance on Penny. I wouldn’t play him the rest of this season knowing he went an entire game without any touches. As for dynasty leagues, the aforementioned red flags discourage me from holding on to him for any long-term payoff. Penny was ultimately drafted too high by a team that has consistently overvalued certain draft prospects. I’m staying away from him.
Nick Chubb is a good long-term name. He’ll eventually become the feature back in Cleveland, but the question is when? He had a breakout game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 4, with 105 yards and two touchdowns but has failed to consistently produce in any other games. Granted, his touches are minimal–so far, he’s only seen either 2 or 3 carries in a game– so it becomes difficult to get a week-to-week scope of what he can do. I’d tuck Chubb away in dynasties and hold on to him in regular leagues for the time being.
The Denver Broncos’ running back committee of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman is an interesting situation. Lindsay exploded unto the scene as an undrafted free agent and after Freeman was drafted in the third round. It was an unexpected development, but Lindsay, who was heralded as a 6th- or 7th-round pick, is currently leading the duo in touches with 57 to Freeman’s 49. Lindsay has a 5.8 YPC and Freeman has 5.1. The numbers suggest that Lindsay is a better play right now, but we’re still in the window where it’s a coin toss. Lindsay would’ve been the better short-term play for the first few weeks, but Freeman will eventually become the guy. He’s shown enough to be a starting caliber. Lindsay has produced in a small sample size, but the odds are stacked against him to become a perenially relevant fantasy or dynasty player. Full steam ahead for Royce Freeman moving forward.
Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw his first game in Week 4 against the Bears. He had 10 carries for 29 yards, which isn’t great, but it was his first taste of NFL action. This one could go either way. He was drafted high enough that he’ll be force-fed touches because of that status, but I’m not so sure if he can work his way up the depth chart past Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber. I would pick him up in regular leagues with the intention of stashing him until he proves that he’s starter-worthy or a bust, just to be safe, but there are far better options in both regular and dynasty leagues.
Kerryon Johnson is a great option in both types of leagues. He’s getting the carries already and should continue to see them moving forward. He injured his ankle in the game against the Packers, but he’s headed into a bye and should have enough time to get back up to speed. He’s had 50 carries so far with a 5.7 YPC. He’s’ the feature back even though he’s almost evenly split carries with LeGarrette Blount, who has 47. Blount is the short-gain specialist, so Johnson is still the man for regular leagues and also in dynasty because he’s slowly becoming the best running back the Lions have had in years.
The Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines combo is another interesting situation. They’re both seeing a lot of touches and targets, but they’re also different players with different roles. They both benefitted from the Marlon Mack injury while he returns to form. Once, Mack is healthy, he’ll return to the starting role, so where does the leave the two rookies when that happens? I think Wilkins will be the odd man out since Hines will be more readily used in the passing game. Hines and Wilkins have a ratio of 33 to 44 carries and 9 to 29 receptions. Hine can eventually carve out a role similar to the Bears’ Tarik Cohen, but he’s not feature-back material. Neither Wilkins or Hines are dynasty plays, but for regular fantasy, I would roll the dice for either on any given Sunday until Mack has returned.
That sums up the significant rookie running backs, but to complete my due diligence, here are some house-cleaning notes to consider for dynasty leagues.
John Kelly for the Rams is good. He obviously won’t see many significant snaps because of Todd Gurley, but if for any reason Gurley is injured or cannot play for an extended period of time, then I’m all for Kelly.
Kalen Ballage might be a good eventual pick-up for dynasty leagues if he’s not already on a roster. He won’t see much activity behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, but Gore can’t play forever (probably).
Ito Smith, Mark Walton and Chase Edmonds are almost non-factors and are buried on their respective depth charts. I’d only consider them if something major for their team changes, like an injury to Joe Mixon, Devonta Freeman again or David Johnson.
Derrius Guice will be the guy for the Redskins when he returns in 2019. I would have him in dynasty leagues.
Stat credits-Pro Football Reference
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