The 2017 NFL running back draft class was highlighted by names like Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, and Christian McCaffrey. With so many big names already from this class its hard to imagine even more 2017 rookie running backs breaking out in 2018. Below are some names to watch and keep in mind in your 2018 fantasy football drafts.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals Running Back

Joe Mixon had a underwhelming performance for his rookie season in 2017. He didn’t earn a lot of playing time right away. He finished with 626 yards on 178 carries and four touchdowns. He also added 30 receptions through the air for 287 yards. Mixon was both a better runner and pass catcher in college, and in 2018 he should show he still has it.

Head coach Marvin Lewis has a history of not giving rookies a lot of playing time regardless how well they preform. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill both experienced this during their rookie seasons even though they both proved to be the better runner over their incumbents. Bernard is still on the team and will likely resume his role as a change of pace pass catching back, but Hill has left the team in free agency. The Bengals didn’t bring in any other real competition besides fourth-round pick Mark Walton who profiles more as a Bernard type back instead of a bell cow like Mixon.

From Week 11 on when Mixon started getting playing time like the lead back on the team, he ran at 4.29 yards per carry which is very good considering the struggle of the offense. The Bengals also had one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2017. They addressed the offensive line heavily in the offseason by trading for Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafting center Billy Price in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The struggles of the offensive line was a big part of the struggles of the entire Bengals offense in 2017 and the team went out to try and fix it for 2018

Mixon should be the lead back to start the season on a team that has produced quality fantasy running back seasons over the past few years. He also has reportedly slimmed down which is usually a good sign for a running back of his style. Mixon is currently going in the back of the second-round, but if he falls to the third he becomes a big value. He also might not be too hard to steal away from a frustrated dynasty owner that spent a high draft pick on him. He will only be 22 years old when the season starts and has a bright future ahead of him.

Corey Clement, Philadelphia Eagles Running Back

Corey Clement was a question to even make the Eagles team in 2017 as an undrafted free agent with LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendall Smallwood, and 2017 fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey already on the roster. After Sproles, Smallwood, and Pumphrey all got banged up with injuries Clement was forced to play a larger role in the offense and proved he could be a reliable back. The Eagles even brought in Jay Ajayi through a mid season trade, but Clement still only got better as the season went on.

Clement made a name for himself in the Super Bowl where he had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, but the Eagles were using him more and more as a goal line back and pass catcher long before that. Jay Ajayi will likely still be the lead back, but he has never been much of a pass catcher. Sproles is back, but he is now 35 and coming off of a torn ACL so there is a question to how effective he can still be. The Eagles will likely not want Sproles to have as a large of a workload that he’s had in the past.

Clement is currently being drafted in the ninth or 10th round depending on your league format, and he could easily out perform that draft value. He should get about 30 percent of the team’s carries with how the Eagles rotate their backs and also should see a couple of targets a game. Not to mention he also will be the team’s primary goal line back leading to high TD potential on a high powered offense.

Joe Williams, 49ers Running Back

Joe Williams missed his entire rookie season due to an ankle injury suffered in the preseason which led to him being placed on IR. In 2018, he has to prove his worth to the 49ers, but there are some signs he could be a deep sleeper heading for a breakout season.

The Niners took Williams in the fourth-round of the 2017 NFL draft after head coach Kyle Shanahan reported pounded on the table about wanting him on his team. His final year at Utah he ran for 1407 yards on 210 carries for a 6.7 yards per carry. Shanahan clearly saw his high efficiency in college translating to the NFL and wanted that on his team.

Carlos Hyde left the 49ers in free agency, but they brought in Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon is expected to be the lead back on the team this year based on the money the Niners paid him to come play on their team, but he has never been a three down back. Shanahan has always produced two fantasy stars at the running back position dating back to his time in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The only other competition is undrafted free agent Matt Breida who impressed in 2017 backing up Carlos Hyde. However, Breida isn’t nearly as talented a runner as Williams and with a strong training camp and preseason Williams could find himself earning a good amount of playing time in 2018 spelling McKinnon in a good offense.

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