By: Fred Schell @Fred_Schell
Fantasy Football Outlook – 2nd Year Running Backs (2018)
The 2017 Draft Class was jam packed with talent at the RB position. From a fantasy perspective, there were several rookies that made significant impacts. Here’s a look at the returning sophomores to see What Happened, What Changed, and What you should expect in terms of their respective Fantasy Football Outlook.
Kamara flourished in New Orleans last season after the departure of Adrian Peterson allowed him to split carries with Mark Ingram. His Rookie of the Year campaign was highlighted by almost 2,000 all purpose yards. With future Hall of Famer quarterback Drew Brees running the huddle, Kamara was one of the leagues premier pass-catching running backs.
The Saints have not made any drastic changes from last year, however there is one key difference heading into the season. Mark Ingram has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Until his return there are a lot of extra carries up for grabs.
What to Expect—
This is going to be a rough year for anyone who drafts Kamara in the first round. His rookie season was highlighted by an unreal 6.1 YPC. That kind of production is ridiculous to expect for a consecutive year. While I feel that Kamara will be a valuable asset in PPR leagues, his currently Average Draft Position of 1.06 is just too rich for my blood. Also, as a side note, I don’t believe his extra workload with Ingram out will do much. Kamara was a productive returner last year and I think the extra production will be cancelled out by the lack of return points.
Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs
Rushing: 1327 Yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: 53 Rec, 455 Yds, 3 TDs
Return: 220 Yds
Kareem Hunt started off red hot in a win against the Patriots that led to a 5-game win streak and a commanding lead in the AFC West. His season was riddled with inconsistencies that was not entirely his fault as the Chiefs lost 6 of their next 7. When it was all said and done, Hunt ended the season as the rushing leader but was snuffed in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race by Alvin Kamara.
Hunt is dealing with one of the most significant changes of any sophomore running back. The Chiefs are rolling into this season with a new Offensive Coordinator (Matt Nagy left to coach in Chicago) and they moved on from veteran Alex Smith to the Cannon-Armed Patrick Mahomes. (Or PattyCakes as Travis Kelce refers to him) Veteran Spencer Ware is also returning from injury.
What to Expect—
I have more bad news for you. Kareem Hunt won’t be a repeat either. The Alex Smith/Matt Nagy combo significantly contributed to the rookie’s success both on the ground and in the air. The inconsistency at the QB position is going to plague this offense and stifle Hunt’s productivity. While his highlight reel is impressive, I don’t believe that he is going to be a productive producer.
Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars
Rushing: 1040 Yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: 36 Rec, 302 Yds, 1 TD
Fournette was the highest rated RB in this rookie draft class getting taken at 4th overall by Jacksonville. Despite injuring his ankle and missing three games, Fournette racked up an impressive total of rushing yards with an aggressive between-the-tackles running style. When the Jags offense rolled through Fournette, the Jags went from a bottom tier NFL squad to the AFC title game. Although his Yards Per Carry was a little low at 3.9, that should be taken with a grain of salt considering he was facing stacked boxes on most downs. (Turns out, defenses are more scared of Fournette then they are Bortles)
Fournette has been working this off season to become a more versatile running back. He has slimmed down and been working on his pass catching. He aims to help the Jags take that next step to the Superbowl with a more versatile offense. They also lost Chris Ivory to Free Agency.
What to Expect—
If Fournette can become a more productive factor in the passing game, he could finish as a top 5 PPR RB. I expect Fournette to match, if not slightly outproduce his totals from last year in a Jags offense that runs through him. As long as he can stay healthy, he will be a dominant force.
Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
Rushing: 435 Yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: 80 Rec, 651 Yds, 5 TDs
Return: 220 Yds
McCaffrey came into the season as the hyped ‘3rd down back of the draft. While his performance on the ground was lack-luster, partially due to splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart, he did manage to make a significant impact in the passing game.
Jonathan Stewart is no longer on the roster, but CJ Anderson will be filling out the power role. The Panthers also added some threats at receiver and have star TE Greg Olsen returning.
What to expect—
Although it does look as though McCaffrey has been working to improve his all-around game, I don’t think McCaffrey is worth the look outside of PPR leagues. (At least not at his current ADP) I think there are too many mouths to feed in the Carolina offense for anyone to be successful in fantasy other than Cam and Olsen.
Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
Rushing: 625 Yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: 30 Rec, 287 Yds
Mixon had a slow start last season due to some poor offensive line play, a stagnant offense, and being buried at RB-3 in the depth chart. Once he was given some extra touches at the end of the year after OC Bill Lazor took over midseason, we started to see improvement. His initial draft position was later than his talent suggested due to some off the field issues.
This is Joe Mixon’s offense now. With Jeremy Hill gone and Giovanni Bernard settling into more of a backup role, Mixon is going to get the majority or carries behind a still shaky, but at least mildly improved offensive line. Mixon has also been improving his pass catching.
What to Expect—
This is going to be a breakout year for Mixon. He went into the draft last year being arguably the most talented RB in the class, but his character issues were a concern to most teams. As long as he can keep his head on straight, he will be a solid RB-2 option, or even a passable RB-1 if you start off picking back-to-back WRs. His ceiling is limited from being elite from poor offensive line play.
Rushing: 354 Yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: 11 Rec, 90 Yds
Cook was the savior of my fantasy season last year. Due to his skill set and his situation, I went against my better judgement and drafted a rookie. (Typically I think they are drafted too high to be worth it) Cook did not disappoint either. Cook was on a tear towards ROY and even a possible rookie title. Ironic phrasing because it was followed by an ACL tear that ended his rookie season. So why was he my fantasy savior? The week before he got hurt I traded him for Lesean McCoy.
Oh you haven’t heard? The Vikings just signed Cousins for 347 Trillion dollars. I don’t care how Minnesota fans feel about Case Keenum, I know he’s a great guy, but Cousins is an upgrade at QB. Also Jerrick McKinnon was shipped off in free agency to SF.
What to Expect—
I would love to say that Cook has the comeback of the year, but honestly its really hard to play the RB position following an ACL Tear. The case for him and against him is the same point, he’s young. We don’t know how he bounces back at this level, however typically younger players heal better than older ones. With that being said, there has only been one RB that ever continued his dominance after an ACL tear…. And he was from Minnesota…
Rushing: 208 Yds
Receiving: 8 Rec, 59 Yds, 1 TD
Carson’s rookie campaign started off flashing some potential behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. It was cut short however by a severe leg/ankle injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
The Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny early in the draft, typically a player drafted that early is going to be expected to contribute right away. Injuries plague the rest of the offense and the defense has all been disassembled.
What to Expect—
This is a tough one. Carson was slated to start week 1, and that was before Penny had to get finger surgery. While I have no doubts that Carson will be the starter (unless Penny really shines right away) I do believe that he is a huge fantasy risk for owners. His fantasy ceiling is high, as if all things go right he could get a Devonta Freeman level of touches. Here is the issue however, an unproven runner coming off a recent lower body injury behind a horrible o-line is not somebody I will be drafting very high. He could be a decent late round value just based on upside.
Other Notable Names:
Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
Competing for the starting job in a crowded Colts backfield and will head into week 1 not 100%.
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers
Williams has a clear path to carries, but not a clear path of being the workhorse due to Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery.
D’Onta Foreman – Houston Texans
Sits firmly behind Lamar Miller in the Houston backfield but is beginning to find his place in the lineup. Keep an eye on him after he is back to full health.
Samaje Perine – Washington Redskins
Injured, should be ready to play early in the regular season. His role in the offense will be minimal behind Rob Kelley and free agent pickup Adrian Peterson.
Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
Jones has been dealing with a hamstring injury and a suspension. He looks like he might be a decent pickup in weeks 3-4 depending on the workload.
Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears
Cohen is a popular late round pick in PPR leagues this year. Despite Jordan Howard being the primary back, after seeing Matt Nagy’s style offense I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be a reasonable flex player. Don’t reach but could be a late round flier.