10 Running Backs to Target in Your Fantasy Draft 2018
By far and away the most critical position in fantasy football, hitting at the running back position can be notoriously hard to do year in and year out. Productive/reliable backs are few and far between and they are always in high demand each week on the waiver wire. Thus, drafting well at running back should be a priority when filling out your initial roster whilst being careful not reaching too far for prospects to the detriment of the rest of your teams' overall depth.
It's all about value people, as well as knowing who to target and where to target them. With that being the case, here are ten running backs worth considering when building your squad based on average draft position and breakout performance potential.
1. Ezekiel Elliot (ADP #4)
I concede Gurly and Bell are easily the top two ranked players in the draft and if I had a top two pick I would probably take either of them ahead of Ezekiel Elliot. Probably. But let's not pretend that Zeke isn't a tier 1 running back with everything it takes to finish as the number one scoring player at the position. Fun fact, Zeke still finished number one in the NFL in rushing yards/game (98.3) in a season where he missed 6 games, played with an injured offensive line, and battled through a then ongoing litigation with the league office.
This season Elliot will be drama free and no doubt will be given one of the biggest workloads in the NFL. Couple that with the fact that the Cowboys have replenished their O-line and you can easily see why Zeke is the Vegas favorite to win the rushing title, maybe even dare I say, flirt with a 2000 yard rushing season. All things considered I believe the Cowboys star presents some really solid value in the pick 3-6 range where he is currently being drafted in most formats.
2. Alvin Kamara (ADP #7)
Kamara was not only the steal of the draft (both in fantasy and reality) but also felt like an evolutionary player for the position as a whole. Possessing a rare combination of explosiveness and efficiency, Kamara's rookie year numbers were seriously gaudy where he hauled in 81 of 100 targets at better than 10 yards per reception for 826 yards and 120 rushes at a league best 6.1 yard per carry average for 728 yards to go along with 13 total touchdowns.
This year Kamara should be even more of a feature player in a potent Saints offense and shoulder much more of the rushing load while Mark Ingram sits out the first quarter of the season with a suspension. If he's still available in the mid-late fist round I believe Kamara is definitely worth picking up.
3. Dalvin Cook (ADP #13)
The rookie phenom that never was. Before his injury Cook looked to have the vision and explosiveness to really challenge for a rushing title. Cook started only 4 games (and got injured in the first half of the fourth game) and in that time he rushed for 354 yards and 2 touchdowns at a 4.8 y/c clip. His 88.5 rushing y/g would have been good for second in the NFL to only Zeke Elliot (98.3) and ahead of ADP #1 Todd Gurly (87.0).
Granted the small sample size, watching Cook run looked as if he was just getting started as he was a rookie adjusting to the speed of the NFL and lathering up as he went. With his good health permitting this year and running behind a very good offensive line in Minnesota, Cook could very well be the steal of the second round where he is being drafted in nearly all formats.
4. Derrick Henry (ADP #35)
In his third year with the Titans Derrick Henry finally has the chance to be the man in the Tennessee backfield. I believe he will take that chance and run rampant with it as he tramples all over NFL defenses this season. I have always been a D-Henry fan in the awe-inspiring, physical phenom sense and I am always left impressed every time I am able to watch him on tape. In his first two seasons--which pretty much add up to a single season's workload--his numbers are very solid:
286 att/ 1,234 yds/ 4.3 avg/ 10 tds. Those are pro bowl caliber rushing totals and his receiving totals aren't shabby either (24rec/273yds/1td). His 12.4 y/c last year were even better than Alvin Kamara's!
Yes the Titans brought in Dion Lewis in the off-season and he certainly will have a featured role in a new Titans' offense spearheaded by former Rams offensive coordinator/wizard Matt LaFleur. However, Henry is simply too big and too good to ignore. His early-down, short-yardage, and goal-line potential should be more than enough for you to warrant drafting him in the late 3rd round or early 4th.
5. Alex Collins (ADP #40)
Alex Collins is nice. That is what I find myself saying all too often when I watch him on tape (pro and college). He explodes through the hole and eats up arm tackles. His vision is extraordinary and his feet are amazing. Seriously this guy is probably the most under-rated all around back in the NFL and showed it last year by rushing for 973 yards and 6 tds while only staring Baltimore's final 7 games. Collins' 4.6 y/c average and 23 catches in that span bode well for a guy who looks like a good bet to hold on to the RB1 position for the Raven's after tendering him for the coming season.
When watching Collins it is very apparent that he is a rhythm runner that gets better and better as his volume increases. It took over half a season for the Ravens to figure that out (or even give him a chance) but when Collins finally got the opportunity, he rewarded the team nicely with a resurgent running game as well as some big plays in the screen game. I believe Collins has showed enough to warrant a full time workload for at least the first few games of the season-- more than enough time to establish himself as the clear feature back for the Ravens. I believe this guy is a steal at his 4th round draft position.
6. Jay Ajayi (ADP #41)
Ajayi was the number 4 pure runner in the league last year as graded by Pro Football Focus. All the more impressive when you realize he achieved this feat despite an abysmal first half last season with the Dolphins where he posted 138 carries for 465 yards and a 3.4 yards y/c in 7 games. Ajayi really only found some of his mojo when he joined a crowded Eagles backfield where he posted an incredible 5.8 y/c average.
This year the backfield is still a bit crowded but with the departure of Lagarrette Blount, Ajayi should receive the lion's share of the early down and goal line work. He is also said to be improving in the passing game where he was no slouch last year either. Ajayi hauled in 10 catches on 14 targets for 91 yards and a touchdown, averaging 9.1 yards per catch with the Eagles during the regular season, and was even more impressive in the postseason posting a line of 6 catches for 70 yards, good for an 11.7 y/c average. Seriously this guy's upside is pretty substantial and presents a pretty solid value pick up in the 4th round where he is currently being drafted.
7. Ronald Jones II (ADP #58)
Let me be clear. Although Jones is the first rookie on this list he is not by a long shot my highest rated rookie. He places firmly below Saquan Barkley and Darius Guice, and probably a hair below Denver's Royce Freeman (more on him in a bit). However Jones does make this list based on his 5th round draft value for a very explosive/big play running back coming off a prolific collegiate campaign out of USC, whom Tampa Bay took in the early second round of the NFL draft.
I'll be the first to admit that Jones is probably the biggest crap shoot on this list due to his frame that may be too slight to be a workhorse back. It also seems like he's being thrusted into a backfield committee alongside Peyton Barber and Charles Simms. However, one must remember that teams don't draft running backs as high as the Bucs took Jones without the intention of featuring him prominently in their offense, and the Bucs have the weapons to be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Like all running backs, Jones' success will be very much volume and health dependent which do not project as solidly as most of the other backs on this list. But his upside alone could be well worth a 5th-6th round flier depending on draft need and appetite for risk/reward.
8. Dion Lewis (ADP #64)
I'm going to go on record and say that the Titans have the second best running back duo in the league behind the Saints; and it's not a distant second either. Last year Lewis was a waiver wire hero finishing with 896 rushing yards (at 5.0 y/c) over 1100 yards from scrimmage and 9 total touchdowns on a notoriously finicky Patriots team that often features a running back of the week approach when it comes to their offensive game plan.
Yes I love Derrick Henry and I believe Henry will very much be the primary runner in Tennessee, but Dion Lewis wasn't brought in on a 4 year/$19.8 million contract ($8.25 million guaranteed) to be a mere back up. No that kind of money means he was brought in to be a major cog in the Titans offense, orchestrated by one of the most innovative minds in football in Matt LeFluer. I believe the Titans offensive will be very impressive this year, and Dion Lewis is a solid 6th round pick up in any draft but especially in PPR and 1/2 PPR formats.
9. Royce Freeman (ADP #78)
Potentially the steal of the draft! Freeman is the total package and the rookie running back I am most excited to watch this season. The former Oregon standout has the size, the vision, the feet, and underrated burst to really make a name for himself this season. Freeman won't be handed the starting job right away but the reports from camp seem to be that he is separating himself from the rest of the running back herd in Denver.
If/when he is handed the keys to the Broncos' running game, Freeman has the polish (he was a 4 year stater at Oregon) and potential to be the Kareem Hunt of this coming season at a substantially lower draft position. Currently he is being drafted in the 8th round, and with that kind of value Freeman will probably be on every single one of my squads this year.
10. Chris Carson (ADP #135)
Homer pick alert, but with a 12th round average draft position, Carson is worth a low risk snag at a potential RB1 for the Seattle Seahawks. Seriously, the noise surrounding this guy is deafening at Hawks training camp and he's been spotted burning All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner on double in 1 on 1 receiving drills. Carson actually had a brief stint as Seattle's No. 1 back last year before getting hurt after a mere 3 starts where he posted a decent 4.2 yards per carry average and 267 scrimmage yards behind a marginal (a generous valuation) offensive line.
This season the Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny with one of the more head-scratching picks of the first round, so logically Penny is the back getting the lion's share of attention and favor among fantasy drafters with a #42 ADP. However, Penny's fourth-round draft position will probably start to free-fall as the Carson hype ratchets up before the start of the season. Seattle's O-line is still going to be sub par this season (diminishing the value of any running back in a Hawks uniform), but again, you could be getting an NFL RB1 in the 10th-12th round. That kind of value is simply too good to potentially pass up on.