Last week we looked at
my way too early top 12 at the TE position. The series continues
this week with Running Backs. This is going to be the toughest test
for me yet. With the 2018 draft class projected to be arguably the
best RB class of all time, a lot will change based on where players
end up. There are probably more incumbent starters that could potentially
lose their jobs than ones with security. The 2017 RB renaissance
has the first round looking like a draft straight out of 2003. As
we continue to inch towards the 2018 NFL season, here are my way
too early top 15 RBs, most of which will likely be drafted in the
first 24 picks.
Let's not forget, David Johnson scored
more fantasy points in 2016 than any RB in the last 10 years.
Bell – The top four RBs are essentially going to be
splitting hairs. It’s going to come down to personal preference.
I happen to prefer Bell. He’s been elite since his breakout in
2013 and I’m not worried that he’s going to holdout or retire.
Bell will sit out the preseason like he always does so there’s
no worry about an early injury and then he will do what he does
– touch the ball a million times and score fantasy points.
Gurley – 2017’s top running by a wide margin reminded
everyone why he was a mega prospect in 2015. Freed from the shackles
of Jeff Fisher, Gurley thrived under Sean McVay’s more modern
offense where he was utilized frequently as a receiver out of
the backfield. Gurley’s receiving game prowess elevated his game
to another level and while regression is almost certain, he should
still be amongst the best of the best in 2018.
Johnson – How quickly we forget that David Johnson’s
2016 was substantially better than Todd Gurley’s 2017. DJ is still
the most complete back in the league, but he’s fallen from consensus
No.1 overall pick to No.3. It is not without a sense of irony
that the exact reason DJ over Gurley was so obvious in 2016 is
the reason you should take Gurley over DJ in 2018 – the Rams are
the far better team now. This could all change if Kirk
Cousins or Case
Keenum ends up in Arizona, but for now, just like in 2016,
I’ll take the guy on the better team.
Elliott – While Elliott was far behind Gurley and Bell,
he was clearly the third best fantasy running back. The Cowboys
have a good offense and Elliott is a three-down back with unlimited
scoring potential. He’s the type of player you look for to anchor
your team, but I have him behind the other three backs because
he’s not as adept as a pass catcher.
Fournette – Fournette has a three-down skill set and
is an elite athlete, but he’s not used like the big four. Fournette
cedes passing down work to T.J.
Yeldon and is on a weaker offense. You should feel quite comfortable
with Fournette anchoring your team, though, as he is the goal
line back, but I can certainly see myself dropping him below the
next two as I do not like the direction the Jaguars are headed
after extending Blake
Bortles, who I would not rank in my top 50 real life QBs.
Hunt – Despite leading the league in rushing, Hunt
did not win rookie of the year. That was partially due to his
midseason lull. Hunt proved he is a very good NFL running back,
but wasn’t consistent enough to be elite. There’s also the looming
cloud of Spencer
Ware’s return. I expect Ware to be used as the satellite back
– basically what Hunt was supposed to be last year, which could
be enough to annoy Hunt’s fantasy value, but not put a significant
dent in it.
Kamara – This one makes me extremely nervous. There’s
just no way he can maintain his level of efficiency. Kamara generated
a lot of offense on splash plays and open field receptions. Opposing
defenses are going to stop letting the Saints get Kamara the ball
out in space. He has the talent to continue to produce, but I’d
be surprised if he matched his 2017 performance. Nevertheless,
I think the touches will increase enough to offset the efficiency
regression as Kamara is way better than Mark
Gordon – I still don’t think Melvin Gordon is very
good, but I’m done denying the volume and opportunity. He is going
to touch the ball 300 times and he is going to get all the goal
line work. He may be touchdown dependent, but the touchdowns should
9. Saquon Barkley – It’s exceedingly
difficult to rank a player without a team. Barkley reminds me
a lot of Ezekiel
Elliott – not necessarily in the way they play, but in the
fact that Barkley is a very good prospect that could be elite
if he ends up in the right situation. His ceiling is Elliott’s
2016. His floor is probably Fournette’s 2017. Either way, he’ll
be one of the first 12 RBs off the board.
McCaffrey – The Panthers started to figure out how
to properly use McCaffrey as the season wore on. Cam
Newton’s history of not throwing the RBs meant nothing because
Newton never had anyone like McCaffrey. After touching the ball
200 times in 2017, McCaffrey could see a minor uptick in 2018,
which should be enough to propel him to RB1 status.
Hyde – I don’t know where Hyde will end up, but it
won’t be San Francisco. What Hyde has been able to do on the 49ers
is nothing short of astounding. He is one of the best backs in
the league and no one respects him as such. He proved last year
that he can be a three-down workhorse capable of catching passes.
Assuming he gets ticketed with that role wherever he ends up,
Hyde will be an RB1.
Ingram – Can the Saints really support two RB1s again?
Ingram also makes me nervous, but the Saints were able to do it
last season. They’ve become a run oriented offense and appear
to have enough work for both Ingram and Kamara to thrive.
Freeman – I still think Tevin
Coleman is the better player in the sense that if we could
create two universes – one where Coleman is the 1a to Freeman’s
1b and the current one where Freeman is the 1a to Coleman’s 1b
– Coleman would post better numbers, but the Falcons are not going
to stop pushing Freeman. Even in a down year, Freeman was on the
RB1/2 border. We expected regression from the Falcons in 2017
but the pendulum swung too far. It was so bad that I expect positive
regression in 2018. Freeman is more a floor pick than ceiling,
Henry – If there’s one claim I’m willing to say with
absolute certainty, it’s that DeMarco
Murray will not play for the Titans in 2018. Henry is going
to finally get the backfield to himself and if his playoff performance
is a precursor for what’s to come, it’s fair to get excited. Henry
should also benefit from the new coach and new OC. I could see
him pushing first round value in August.
McCoy – I am not going to draft McCoy in 2018 and I
can definitively say he’s done nothing to warrant that position.
McCoy showed no signs of slowing down and was every bit his agile
and explosive self in 2017, even if his team continued to decrease
his carries out of the shotgun, which is where he is most effective.
Unfortunately, he’s entering his 10th season and will be 30 years
old. I’m fairly certain I’m jumping the gun on ditching McCoy,
but I’d rather be a year early than a year late.