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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Running Backs
Which RBs will fall from the fantasy top ten in 2018?

It’s a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of league and we’re the legion of optimistic amnesiacs who eat, drink, and sleep it. One would think we’d be better at forgetting the immediate past and focusing instead on what lies ahead. As I document every summer, though, many of the guys we were raving about last December are the same guys we’re buzzing about now are the same guys we’ll ultimately bemoan come this December. Did I say many? I meant most. In the seven years I’ve been writing this article, 57% of Top 10 performers have failed to retain Top 10 status the following season. Let’s take a look at who disappointed last year, why, and who we should maybe be wary of in 2018.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard scoring.

  Top 10 Running Backs - 2016
Rank Player
1 David Johnson
2 Ezekiel Elliott
3 LeSean McCoy
4 Le’Veon Bell
5 DeMarco Murray
6 Devonta Freeman
7 LeGarrette Blount
8 Melvin Gordon
9 Jordan Howard
10 Mark Ingram
  Top 10 Running Backs - 2017
Rank Player
1 Todd Gurley
2 Le'Veon Bell
3 Kareem Hunt
4 Alvin Kamara
5 Melvin Gordon
6 Mark Ingram
7 LeSean McCoy
8 Leonard Fournette
9 Ezekiel Elliott
10 Jordan Howard

Who Missed the Cut in 2017 (4/10): David Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Devonta Freeman, & LeGarrette Blount

Since 2011, when I first started writing this piece, no fewer than half of Top 10 rushers have failed to maintain that status the following season. It appears, then, the fantasy gods were unusually merciful this past season, claiming only the four victims mentioned above. Sadly for those who were lucky enough to land the No.1 overall pick in last summer’s drafts, one of those victims just happened to be the consensus best overall fantasy asset, David Johnson. The Cardinals’ do-everything meal ticket lasted barely a half in the opener against Indy and, despite persistent rumors of a return, never saw the field again in 2017.

DeMarco Murray, alternatively, saw the field plenty last season, missing only a single contest (Week 17 against the Rams), but will almost LITERALLY never see the field again unless he decides to go into coaching. The former Cowboy, Eagle, and then Titan abruptly retired after six fairly productive seasons and one otherworldly campaign (2014). LeGarrette Blount (GO DUCKS!) can’t be too far away from the easy chair at age 32 and will be playing for his fifth NFL team this fall. He’s essentially a short-yardage mercenary at this point in his career, anyway, so 2016 is likely the last time he’ll appear in the fantasy Top 10.

Devonta Freeman was easily the closest of these four to reclaiming his Top 10 status in 2017, but missed two full games and most of another, leaving him only about 12 fantasy points short of the mark. On a per game basis (11.9), he ranked 11th overall and stands a really good chance of breaking back into the club this season if he does that again over more games.

Kareem Hunt

The mountain of options at Andy Reid's disposal could lead to decline in numbers for Kareem Hunt.

Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:

Kareem Hunt, KC: Spencer Ware’s preseason PCL tear thrust Hunt into a starting role as a rookie last September, a role he’d likely have relinquished after a single NFL carry had he been playing for the famously intolerant Bill Belichick. It’s easy to forget in hindsight, but Hunt actually fumbled his first carry as a Chief. Had Andy Reid not given him a second chance, the kid couldn’t have reeled off a rookie record 246 yards from scrimmage that night, setting the fantasy world on fire in the process.
Hunt continued to ignite fantasy passions for several weeks (25.5 points per his first four games), but his 2Q and 3Q splits (Weeks 5-13) cooled them right down. During that stretch, the former Toledo Rocket averaged a pedestrian 8 points/game, a full 68% decrease from those earlier, loftier heights. Had he not recovered with a stellar final four games (19.6 pts/game), we might not even be talking about him in this spot.

So which version of KC’s rookie sensation will we get in 2018, the guy who turned the fantasy world on its ear early and late, or the guy who looked every bit the greenhorn during that long middle stretch? I’m not certain it matters if the guy he Wally Pipp’d in 2017, the aforementioned Ware, is back in peak form for 2018. Andy Reid didn’t get to be the second most experienced coach in the league by underutilizing his best assets. Ware is a battering ram who can catch the rock and would make for an intriguing tag-team partner to the explosive Hunt. I’m excited to see what Coach Reid does with all these toys he’s accumulated even if it adversely affects the bottom line for one of last year’s most exciting performers. Be leery of Hunt this year.

LeSean McCoy, BUF: Mark Ingram has already been suspended four games for a PED violation, meaning he can now be appropriately valued heading into August drafts. The same cannot be said of McCoy, who’s currently being investigated for his potential involvement in the home invasion/assault of a former girlfriend. McCoy is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but we all know the NFL has a different standard when it comes to personal conduct. Put another way, if they’ll suspend Zeke Elliott, they’ll sure as heck suspend Shady McCoy.

Aside from the nebulous legal issues hanging over McCoy’s head, there are some very un-nebulous, football-related red flags heading into 2018. For starters, he’s hit that ripe old running back age of 30, when performance tends to fall off the table. It’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, and McCoy is more collision avoider than collision seeker, but NFL RBs still absorb lots of punishment, especially ones that have played for almost a decade, as McCoy has. It’s even more difficult to avoid that punishment when you’re running behind what could be one of the worst run-blocking lines in the league. The Bills are replacing two former Pro Bowlers in 2018 (Richie Incognito and Eric Wood).

Making matters tougher for all involved is the fact the Bills will be desperately inexperienced at the game’s most crucial position, quarterback. Whether A.J. McCarron, finally set free by the Bengals, or first rounder Josh Allen lines up under center, it’s safe to say opposing defenses will dare Buffalo to throw the football to an underwhelming cast of receivers by stacking the box on McCoy, the only proven offensive threat.

OK, quick recap here: potential legal issues/possible suspension + advancing age + crummy offensive line + crummier quarterback = not Top 10 for 2018.

Jordan Howard, CHI: The Bears almost have to be more interesting on offense this season with Matt Nagy at the helm. Frankly, they couldn’t be any less interesting than they became during the John Fox regime. Fox seemed almost to treat offensive downs as a necessary evil until he could get his defense back on the field last year. In Weeks 6 and 7, the Bears attempted a TOTAL of 23 passes. The crazy part? They won both games, though few others. This last fact finally got Fox and friends fired.

Enter Coach Nagy, who helped guide the Chiefs to a top 5 total offense finish (375.4 yards and 25.9 points/game). KC actually became MORE productive in December when Andy Reid ceded play-calling duties to his offensive coordinator (28.6 points/game and a 4-1 record) and, maybe not coincidentally, this is also when the aforementioned Kareem Hunt started to become the focal point of the Chiefs’ offense again. This would seem to bode well for Nagy’s new meal ticket, but….

Howard is a bit of a throwback and not the multi-dimensional playmaker Kareem Hunt is. In two professional seasons, he’s only tallied 53 receptions, or fewer than every one of the top 7 backs caught in 2017 alone. In fact, the former Hoosier was only the 52nd most targeted RB last season. That’s alarming in today’s day and age and would seem to put a cap on how productive Howard can be week in and week out. No doubt Coach Nagy is also dreaming up ways to deploy the more explosive/elusive Tarik Cohen, something John Fox et al. seemed to abandon. Add in some major upgrades in the passing game (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton) and one starts to doubt how much Howard’s market share can grow in 2018.

Next: Wide Receivers

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