I’ve put together a list of Rookie Running Backs that I think have a good chance of making an impact on Fantasy Football in 2018. Not sure if one of these guys is going to be the next Alvin Kamara, but these are RBs I will be reading extra about in the summer and keeping an eye on during the preseason. Putting together a successful Fantasy Football roster is ALL ABOUT VALUE- getting those guys in rounds 10+ that become weekly starters for you. Sometimes it’s on purpose and you target players, other times its by luck through a FA pickup early in the season or auto-draft. But you know how it goes- sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
First let me start by saying that I have purposely not included Saquan Barkley of the New York Giants, the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft, to this list of players to watch because Barkley is clearly a top 10 fantasy pick. There isn’t a RB on the Giants’ current roster to compete with him for touches, he’s in a very friendly RB system with new HC Pat Shurmur, and he has great hands that allow him to be a receiving threat on 3rd down. Quan is gonna get the rock and has a limitless ceiling as long as you are willing to pay the price- he will have a great ROI.
Ronald Jones | Tampa Bay Buccaneers (38th Overall Pick) | University of Southern California
- Ronald Jones had a good college career at USC, improving his rushing total each of his three years from Freshman to Junior year. Some say Jones runs too high and opens himself up to too many hits, but I personally like Jones running style of upright and stiff. Jones posses excellent agility and lateral quickness which allows him to juke defenders in the hole or open field. His elite speed burst and ability to get to top speed in a hurry reminds me of Jamal Charles, although his hands are not his strength, in college Jones had some big plays in the passing game.
- RoJo lands in TB where all that stands in his way of 200+ touches is Peyton Barber, Quiz Rogers and Charles Sims. But if the Bucs felt so good about the aforementioned group, they wouldn’t have spent a 2nd round pick on Jones. Tampa’s O-line was in pretty bad shape in 2017. The signing of former Baltimore Ravens center Ryan Jensen and drafting guard Alex Cappa in the 3rd round this year gives TB an interior line that may allow Jones to run wild. Last but not least, with Jameis Winston slinging it to Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, Cam Brate and OJ Howard, defenses will find it near impossible to stack the box. I Like Jones to take a hold of that job and run with it, pun intended!
Kalen Bellage | Miami Dolphins (131st Overall Pick) | Arizona State University
- This is an interesting one because his opportunity isn’t quite there like Id hope, being buried on the Dolphins depth chart behind Kenyan Drake & newly acquired Frank Gore. But Bellage has a skill set perfect for the NFL with power, speed, hands and his versatility as a route runner. He runs hard and with good balance and is NOT afraid of contact. As a receiver KB has natural hands, the ability to line up in the slot, and the aptitude to adjust to poorly thrown balls.
- Although Bellage needs to work on his pass protection a little bit more, his 6’2, 228-pound frame still allows him to be effective. Again, he needs some help in order to see some significant playing time, but Bellage is a 4th round RB that could surprise many and be a late season gem. Bellage is low key one of my favorite rookie running backs this year and is certainly someone to watch.
Royce Freeman | Denver Broncos (71st Overall Pick) | University of Oregon
- A very productive 4-year player at the University of Oregon, Royce Freeman topped 1,300 yards all 4 years. Although, with 4 years of college football comes 46 starts at the RB position which is the most for a rookie entering the NFL in over 10 years. One might say “That’s a lot of miles on a rookie” but Id say “He’s just getting warmed up”.
- Now that Denver released CJ Anderson, it leaves Devontae Booker, a 2nd year RB in De’Angelo Henderson, and fellow rookie David Williams as Freeman’s competition. Booker was unimpressive in his 2 year in Denver and Henderson has 9 NFL touches in his career which left the Broncos looking for more from the position- spending a 2018 3rd round draft choice on Freeman.
- Freeman is a big back at 230 pounds- displaying power and patience. In his career at Oregon, Freeman was asked to learn many schemes and different offenses and he consistently showed the ability to adapt. Whether it was catching the ball out of the backfield or grinding it out between the tackles, Freeman’s skill set and opportunity should be able to get him on the field early and often in Denver with hopes of contending for OROY.
Nick Chubb | Cleveland Browns (35th Overall Pick) | University of Georgia
- Gosh I wish Cleveland didn’t go out and sign former 49er RB Carlos Hyde because a backfield of Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb would be a fantasy delight! Chubb finds himself in a crowded backfield joined by Hyde and Duke Johnson which could make it difficult to see early season touches. It’s not going to be easy considering Duke Johnson and Hyde were two of PPR’s top 20 FPG finishers in 2017, but the cream rises to the top and Chubb IS the best all around back on this roster. Not to mention Hyde has only played all 16 games ONCE in his 4-year NFL career and Duke is mainly the receiving threat of the bunch, so Chubb should be able to carve out a role sooner than later.
- Chubb is a physical stud. He’s a downhill, violent runner with great vision and is surprisingly light on his feet for a RB who is 228 pounds. He doesn’t have the best hands and is an average blocker, but that certainly shouldn’t keep him off the field. The Browns come into 2018 with a “rebuilt offense” making big changes to the offensive line, WR corps, and of course the QB position with Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. Chubb will have to fight his way onto the field so keep an eye on him, but don’t wait too long before getting him on your roster because he could be THE ONE!
Derrius Guice | Washington Redskins (59th Overall Pick) | Louisiana State University
- Boy were the Washington Redskins ecstatic when LSU RB Derrius Guice fell to them in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Guice slipped in the draft and had been overlooked because of some “off-field concerns” but Washington felt at pick 59 they couldn’t pass on “Beastmode 2.0”. Like Lynch, Guice’s running style is based on power and he says similar to Marshawn “I get stronger as the game goes on”. Guice is an angry runner and rarely goes down on 1st contact and has also shown big play/home run potential.
- Derrius is no stranger to competition, at LSU back in 2016 he not only battled Leonard Fournette for time as feature back- he out rushed Fournette too. In Washington Guice is immediately the best RB on the roster, and the plan may be for Guice to heed way to Chris Thompson on 3rd downs- but Thompson is recovering from a broken leg in 2017 and may not be rushed back in the lineup. DG should hit the ground running in camp.
- The presence of Alex Smith will certainly help Guice ease into the game. RBs behind Alex Smith, dating back to Frank Gore in San Francisco, have been productive. Let’s not overlook Guice like the rest of the NFL did or you may be sorry. #HTTR
Sony Michel | New England Patriots (31st Overall Pick) | University of Georgia
- Sony Michel is the first RB the New England Patriots have selected in the 1st round of the NFL draft since Laurence Maroney in 2006, and this time around you better believe Bill Belichick is going to get his money’s worth.
- But in order to do so there may be a price to pay. Last year when rookie Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram tore up the league, it came out of Drew Brees’ stats. In 2017, Brees threw for the lowest amount of yards in a single season since 2005. Well worth it considering New Orleans was a wild Stefon Diggs play away from being in the NFC Championship game, but with that said I’m not sure the Pats with Tom Brady are willing to go that far to implement the run game. However, if OC Josh McDaniels does decide to commit to Michel and give him the rock, it could change the balance of the Patriots play calling for 2018. Three things here:
- NE has a good strength of schedule for the run and you can bet Belichick will exploit those matchups using Michel.
- Even though his name is Tom Brady, he still is a 40-year-old QB and it may be wise for NE to take a little off TB12.
- You have to figure NE will consistently be protecting a lead and that will be enough volume for Michel to eat.
- Michel is not the biggest of backs at 5’10, 215 pounds but he runs north/south with very good power and speed. He clocked in at 4.5 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine this April and has the ability to turn the corner and get up field with his quickness. He has decent hands which allow him to help NE on 3rd downs and he’s considered one of this draft class best pass blockers. In theory, Michel will benefit from Dion Lewis leaving NE for the Tennessee Titans and his vacated 150+ targets. Don’t let Michel fall too much past his ADP or another fantasy owner may be reaping the rewards.
Michael Picarelli is The Wrightway Network’s Fantasy Football Guru and has been a regular on “The Wrightway” Podcast for years. You can follow him on Twitter @MikePic and check him out as a regular guest and commentator for The Wrightway Network’s weekly columnists and podcasts.