SportsGuyRy’s 2018 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Running Back Edition (1-10)
*Photo provided by The Game Haus*
Welcome! My name is Ryan aka “SportsGuyRy” and this is SportsGuyRy’s Fantasy Corner. I’m an avid sports fan and especially fond of football. I grew up loving the game, watching it tirelessly. As I got older and a better understanding of how things worked – my friends and I started our first fantasy football league back in the early 2000s. Since then, I’ve been obsessed, usually participating in multiple leagues each year.
Recently, I have approached the Climbing the Pocket team about becoming a contributor. I feel I could provide value in talking about sports, specifically Vikings football, but I also realized there was a gap in their team – fantasy sports. I’ve written some small pieces around fantasy sports in the past but nothing to this magnitude. My hope is all of you can find value in my opinions.
Let’s enjoy the ride together and please, please, please point out my idiotic tendencies here as there will be quite a few. That’s what makes fantasy sports fun – the intricacies of “homer” bias, misjudgment, “my guys” that can be completely wrong, etc.
Let’s Get To It:
In my first post with Climbing the Pocket, I will analyze running backs. In this piece, I will cover my top 10 rankings. My plan will be to get through the top 30 throughout the rest of fantasy prep season. This year – we have an interesting situation for the running back class of 2018. I feel this class is very top heavy with a huge cliff once you get past the top 20 or so. Whereas, other groups, such as wide receivers, have less “elite” talent – however depth can be found throughout most of the draft.
*Please note – my rankings are based on standard scoring leagues. PPR rankings would be much different than what you’re about to see below*
- Todd Gurley – Los Angeles Rams – #1 ranked RB to end 2017 with 303 points (20.20 per game)
*Photo provided by SportingNews*
Ranking the first RB in this years’ class is a tough one. You have two legitimate contenders for the top spot, but given Le’Veon Bells contract situation and the way Gurley finished last season – we are going with Gurley here. This pains me to my core as he knocked me out of 3 fantasy leagues last year……
Gurley really showed what he could do under a competent head coach who could properly utilize his skills to the fullest extent while remaining healthy. Gurley is the total package, with the ability to run and hit the holes, create extra yards with an aggressive running style and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Sean McVay really was able to enhance Gurley with his unique style of offense.
I believe with the addition of Cooks opening up the pass game a bit more coupled with another year for this offensive line to gel – it can really open things up even further for Gurley. His 1300 rushing yard is very repeatable however his 788 receiving yards will be tough to match again. He scored a total of 19 touchdowns last year which will be another tough repeat however given the team around him and coach at the helm – I still anticipate Gurley to be a force going forward as long as he remains healthy.
- Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers – #2 ranked RB to end 2017 with 240 points (16 per game)
*Photo provided by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette*
Bell is intriguing here. When Bell is playing 16 games – he can be the most dominant RB in football. The problem with that is he hasn’t often done that in his career. Actually, Bell has only finished all 16 games once in his 5 year career. Whether is injury, suspension (STAY OFF THE WEED) or a potential hold-out.
What you cannot deny is his abilities on the field. Let’s look at 2016 for example. Bell missed four games that year, but what he did on the field in those 12 games was average 4.86 yards per carry on his way to 1268 rushing yards and added in another 616 yards receiving. That’s almost 1900 total yards in 12 games and throwing in 9 touchdowns – made him a top 5 fantasy back averaging 18.75 points per game only being bested by an other-worldly David Johnson campaign.
Especially if Bell can stay on the field and not go through with the hold-out, he’s firmly in the 1-2 conversation. Hopefully by the time your draft rolls around, you’ll have a better idea of his intentions.
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals – #113 ranked RB to end 2017 with 6 points (6 per game)
*Photo provided by Cards Wire – USA Today*
Man oh man – what a heartache David Johnson was to his fantasy owners in 2017. Coming off a campaign where he scored 311 fantasy points (19.43 points per game), which is best of any non-QB at least in the last 5 years, to say hopes were high is a massive understatement. So for him to get injured in game one of the season was not only disappointing for his fantasy owners – but for football enthusiasts as a whole.
What Johnson brings to the game is a true double threat. In his career, he’s put up 1403 receiving yards in 33 career games (22 of which he started) and he averages about 4 catches a game. Throw in his uncanny ability to create something out of nothing that his offensive line often gives him in the run game – he’s a superstar.
Rebounding off the injury coupled with his less than stellar offensive line gives people reserve but given his immense talent, he could easily return back to being a top 1-3 running back again in 2018.
*Note – Johnson’s injury was a wrist injury that took longer than expected to heal. There should be less worry about this injury vs. a knee, foot, achilles or groin injury.*
- Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys – #10 ranked RB to end 2017 with 159 points (15.9 per game)
*Photo provided by SportingNews*
What’s there to be said about Elliott that hasn’t already been said? Elliott is a great talent behind arguably the most dominant offensive line in football with a QB that is always a threat to run. He’s in a perfect situation… or is he?
Elliott is going to produce – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The only reason he won’t is if he gets hurt or suspended (which is always a possibility given his boneheaded nature). My only question here is what’s his ceiling?
Elliott in 2016 averaged over 5 yards per carry on his way to a 276 fantasy point season. This was his rookie season coupled with Dak’s remarkable rookie season. He took a step back as a sophomore. I understand he was suspended but let’s take a look at the averages. His yards per carry fell by one full yard at just a hair over 4 yards per carry. His total points went from 17.25 per game in 2016 down to 15.90 per game in 2017. Maybe he had added stress from the court’s decision. Maybe defenses started figuring him out.
What I do know is this team’s offense did not get any better this offseason. They lost Jason Witten, cut Dez Bryant and added marginal talent at receiver. Can he overcome this to put out a great campaign similar to 2016?
- Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints – #4 ranked RB to end 2017 with 218 points (13.63 per game)
*Photo provided by Sports Illustrated*
The rookie that took the league by storm! Kamara was a national sensation once the Saints were smart enough to sit Adrian Peterson down (and subsequently trade him). The two headed monster of Kamara and Ingram had defenses on their heels all season.
Now Kamara is entering the year as the lead guy, at least for the first four games while Ingram serves his suspension. Kamara last year put up 1554 yards despite barely playing the first few weeks. 826 of those were receiving yards in Brees high octane offense. I don’t foresee things changing for the Saints this year.
So why is he not ranked higher? Could I put him over Elliott? Sure, I could. I do have my concerns with Kamara as much as I see his upside. Can he handle a full rushing load for 4 weeks without Ingram? He will be asked to run between tackles more in this absence. He can do it – no doubt about it, but I don’t believe he’s ever done that full-time in his career. Will teams figure him out similar to how they did with Elliott last year? The Vikings bottled him up really well in the divisional round. Can other teams repeat that success?
All I know is I’m done doubting Kamara. I wasn’t a believer of him in the draft and I don’t plan on making that mistake again. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me – can’t get fooled again.”
- Saquon Barkley – New York Giants – Not ranked last year
*Photo provided by New York Post*
As we finish talking about last year’s rookie that took the league by storm – let’s move into this years’ rookie who’s expected to take the league by storm. Barkley is projected to be a generational talent. The first time I saw him play a couple years ago, I told my buddy – “this guy is going to tear the league up.” Let’s see if I’m right.
Barkley’s ability to find the hole, make people miss and breakaway speed are unmatched in this rookie class and really, probably the best tape I’ve seen in college since Adrian Peterson from that perspective. Oh, and he can catch the ball well too. Putting him in an offense that features Beckham Jr, Shepard and Engram in the passing game that’s being run by one of my favorites Pat Shurmur, he’s bound to have success.
His limitations could be the pour offensive line, although they improved with the additions of Solder and Hernandez, but similar to David Johnson, his skills can push him through coupled with the legitimate passing game.
- Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings – #60 ranked RB to end 2017 with 45 points
*Photo provided by Last Word on Pro Football*
Speaking of running backs who’ve worked with one of my favorites in Pat Shurmur, we have Dalvin Cook who was off to a blazing fast start to his NFL career, averaging 94 yards per game in his first three full games in the NFL only to be cut short by an ACL. Luckily for Cook and the Vikings, the injury happened early and they will have a fresh, young and talented running back joining an already stacked team.
What Cook brings to the table is similar to many above which makes him an elite fantasy option. He’s fast, he’s strong, he can break tackles and he can make people miss. He can catch the ball as well. He produced 45 fantasy points in 3.25 games. He was averaging 4.78 yards per carry before the injury and caught 11 balls for 90 yards as well. I feel he will continue dominance post ACL injury.
Couple his abilities to a very well-rounded team that features Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins and an offensive guru in John DeFillipo, I’ll bet on Cook being a top 5-7 back this year.
- Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars – #8 ranked RB to end 2017 with 179 points (13.77 per game)
*Photo provided by SportingNews*
Leonard Fournette is a beast. I think that’s really the only way to truly describe him. He’s a wrecking ball that once the ball is in his hands, he’s tough to bring down. He’s faster than he looks and can catch a bit better than we thought.
After playing in 13 games his rookie year, he ran for 1040 yards, adding an additional 302 receiving and 10 total touchdowns coming in just shy of a 200 point fantasy season. He ran behind an average offensive line that got much better with the addition of Andrew Norwell. Things look to be on the up and up for Fournette going into his second season.
One still concerns me is his supporting cast. Bortles is still the QB. They lost Robinson and Hurns in free agency leaving Westbrook, Lee, Moncrief and Cole to pick up the pieces. Plus, he did miss three games last year to foot injuries. If Bortles can take a step forward and Westbrook ascends into the greatness I know he will (Sooner homer here…), we could see a very productive Fournette for years to come.
- Melvin Gordon – Los Angeles Chargers – #5 ranked RB to end 2017 with 214 points (13.38 per game)
*Photo provided by SportingNews*
“I’m really excited for Melvin Gordon this year.” I’ve said that each year he’s been in the league and don’t plan on giving that up now. After a disappointing rookie season, he bounced back in a big way these last two seasons, getting better each year. Last year was his first year fully healthy, starting all 16 games and although his yards per carry leaves something to be desired (3.89), he put up almost 1600 all-purpose yards with 12 total touchdowns last season – leading to a top 5 fantasy finish for running backs.
Some things going in his favor is his offensive line gains Mike Pouncey and Forrest Lamp this year which is positive for his outlook. He also is getting a hopeful jump in productivity in the passing game from his receivers not named Keenan Allen. His concerns have always been injuries since he’s been in the league and his low yard per carry. However, with this offensive line getting healthy and better by acquisition, both those concerns should be less than what they were last year.
- Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs – #3 ranked RB to end 2017 with 225 points (14.06 per game)
*Photo provided by SportingNews*
Kareem Hunt shot out of a cannon last year, destroying the world champs and giving them an L on their home turf. It was an entrance into the league that was going to be hard to follow up on and fortunately for Chiefs fans – he kept the train rolling with three 20+ fantasy point weeks to start the season and seven straight 10+ fantasy performances to start the season.
Unfortunately from there, he hit his rookie wall. Over the next 5 games, he averaged 5 fantasy points per game before ending with a bang (19, 32, 16). Some of that was ineffectiveness with the carries he received, some of it was mismanagement of carries by the coaching staff. What I do know is he has the stuff to be productive. He can catch, he can run, he can break tackles better than anyone not named Marshawn Lynch. However, with a new QB at the helm and teams figuring him out a bit mid-season – he’s my ultimate wild card as he tries to lead the league in rushing two years in a row.