We keep hearing how NFL teams are “deemphasizing”
the running back position. Fantasy owners must do the same thing.
Face it, it’s a passing league, not a running league. League
management has made it easier for teams to pass the ball and they
would be foolish not to take advantage.
Over the last three years of this week’s analysis (2015-17),
the league averaged 18,027 passing attempts for 121,117 yards
and 789 TDs, while the first three (2002-04) averaged 16,713 attempts
for 106,362 yards and just 624 TDs.
If you look at the graph below, you will clearly see that the
average fantasy points for top running backs has decreased over
the years. This is across the board. It’s not just the top-5 running
backs. It’s not just the top-12 running backs. Even the top-24
running backs average has fallen over the past 16 seasons. And
that’s every one of your 12-team league’s starting running backs.
In 2002, the top-five running backs (Priest Holmes, Ricky Williams,
LaDainian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis and Deuce McAllister) averaged
333.2 rushing attempts. Last season, the top-five consisting of
Hunt, Kamara and Melvin
Gordon averaged 255.2 attempts. Even if we remove outlier
Kamara (just 120 attempts) and add No. 6 Mark
Ingram’s 230 attempts, the average is only 277.2. That’s 56
less carries per back per season!
Still, every fantasy team must start two running backs each week,
so let’s see which ones we can trust to produce big fantasy
totals for 2018.
It’s going to be easy to trust the “big three”
from last season – Gurley, Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, so
we will skip to some of the guys you might be questioning. As
with quarterbacks, no rookies are on the list since they are
inherently risky, even Saquon Barkley.
Johnson, Arizona – I trust Johnson. It wasn’t his legs
that left him sidelined for 15 games, it was a wrist injury. With
it likely that he’ll be playing behind a rookie quarterback (after
the inevitable Sam Bradford injury), Johnson should be both a
workhorse running back and a primary safety value for a young
Kamara, New Orleans – Everyone is assuming Kamara will
get a larger workload in 2018 and that may be true for the first
four games when the Saints will be without Ingram (four-game suspension),
but I think he’ll see a similar workload to 2017. So the question
is whether he will be as explosive in 2018 as last season when
he scored five receiving touchdowns and one kickoff return. I
trust Kamara will be solid, but not sure he’ll put together another
Hunt, Kansas City – When Hunt was good, the Chiefs
won games (105.2 ypg in 10 wins) and in the middle of the season
when they got away from him, the team suffered (45.8 ypg in six
losses). Add an inexperienced second-year quarterback and Andy
Reid will get Hunt the ball early and often. I trust Hunt.
Cook, Minnesota – We only saw him for four games before
his season came to an end, but Cook looked like he was a fantasy
star in the making. Despite the presence of Latavius Murray, Cook
will be the No. 1 rushing option and with Jerick McKinnon headed
west, he is also the best pass receiving back. New quarterback
Kirk Cousins is adept at throwing to backs. I trust Cook to have
a good season.
Mixon, Cincinnati – Fantasy owners expected more from
Mixon in 2017, but he performed like a typical rookie - some good
games and a lot of not-so-good games. He averaged just 3.5 ypc.
The OL is still not good after the free agent losses of Andrew
Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler a season ago. Rookie center Billy
Price will help, but with the usual suspects still involved in
the offense, I don’t trust Mixon to make a huge step forward.
McKinnon, San Francisco – The move to the 49ers appears
to help McKinnon’s fantasy value, but he’s not a workhorse back
and the team will realize that soon enough. He’s only cracked
200 rushing attempts one time in his career … at Georgia Southern.
He reminds me more of a Kevin Faulk-type than Marshall Faulk.
I do not trust McKinnon, though he should be viable in PPR leagues.
Ajayi, Philadelphia – Ajayi is a really good running
back, but I don’t trust his knees. I also don’t trust his workload
as HC Doug Pederson will try to protect those chronic knees.
McCaffrey, Carolina – I trust McCaffrey in PPR leagues
and was set to go “all-in” on the Stanford alum until the team
Anderson, who topped 1,000 yards last season, to the roster.
Henry, Tennessee – As with McCaffrey, I was set to
push Henry far up the projection chart until the team signed talented
former Patriots RB Dion
Lewis. This is going to be a shared situation which means,
barring injury, they will each be low-end RB2 backs.
Miller, Houston – I do not trust Miller. In fact, I
think there is a good chance a healthy D’Onta Foreman (Achilles)
steals the starting job. Last season Miller produced just 3.7
ypc, the worst of his career, while the rookie Foreman averaged
4.2 ypc. Miller’s large contract makes him vulnerable.
Mack, Indianapolis – Mack is the current starter, but
that’s not a huge pat on the back considering the competition.
He’s more of a third-down back than a workhorse and his 3.8 ypc
tell you he’s not ready for your fantasy lineup. He’s not a very
good blocker either and considering Andrew Luck needs to stay
healthy for this team to compete, it’s impossible to trust Mack.
Drake, Miami – I like Drake and he finished the 2017
season strong, but the Dolphins backfield also includes off-season
signee veteran Frank Gore and rookie Kalen Ballage. There are
too many questions involving this offense to trust anyone on the
Steve Schwarz served as the fantasy sports editor of The Sports Network and is the 2014 FSWA Football Writer of the Year.