Part 2 of the Year in Review series focuses on the state of fantasy running backs in 2017. With the amount of 1000 yard rushers dwindling from last season to this season (12 in 2016 to 9 in 2017), dual-threat running backs are at even more of a premium and we saw a couple emerge from the rookie ranks in Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt. Christian McCaffrey was an excellent rookie option who primarily caught the ball and Leonard Fournette was a workhorse for Jacksonville who was working on his receiving skills to become a more complete back, so the rookies really emerged in 2017 more than any year in recent memory. But don’t count out the old heads like LeSean McCoy and Mark Ingram either… let’s take a look a some notable backs in 2017.

Todd Gurley – 279 car., 1305 yds., 13 TD; 64 rec., 788 yds., 6 TD (RB#1)

The maturation and guidance from noted offensive guru, head coach and coach of the year Sean McVay to former #1 overall pick Jared Goff paid dividends in 2017, not only for himself, but for one of the most talented running backs in the NFL, Todd Gurley. After a dismal 2016 in which he averaged 3.2 YPC and notched only 885 yards on the ground, Gurley ran roughshod over opposing defenses, with 1305 rushing yards and 2093 yards from scrimmage. The 2017 Offensive Player of the Year was the number one scoring player in fantasy football, posting almost 36 more points than the next highest player, Seattle QB Russell Wilson. After this complete breakout, the sky is the limit and should be in the mix for being selected with the first overall pick in fantasy drafts in 2018, provided Goff’s 2017 was not an aberration.

Alvin Kamara – 120 car., 728 yds., 8 TD; 81 rec., 826 yds., 5 TD (RB #3)

Alvin Kamara was supposed to play 3rd fiddle to Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson, receiving spot carries and possibly get into 3rd down situations… but Kamara took hold of consistent work starting in Week 4, rendering Peterson so obsolete that he was cut after that week. Alvin started receiving more consistent carries and was a dynamic part of the new Saints offense which featured the run much more than the pass for the first time in a long time, certainly since Sean Payton has been the head coach. Kamara scored 13 total touchdowns and ranked up over 1500 yards from scrimmage, leading to him winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017.

Embed from Getty Images

Kareem Hunt – 272 car., 1327 yds., 8 TD; 53 rec., 455 yds., 3 TD (RB #4)

The aforementioned Kareem Hunt got his starting opportunity after Spencer Ware tore his PCL in the preseason. Instead of giving retreads like Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller the carries, head coach Andy Reid gave the rock to Hunt and let him run with it (pardon the pun!). The U. of Toledo product burst onto the scene in a gigantic way, totaling 246 yards from scrimmage (148 rushing, 98 receiving) and 3 touchdowns in a shocking upset of the AFC champion New England Patriots. After 3 weeks, Hunt had already notched 6 touchdowns and 401 yards. From Week 4 until 12, Hunt had hit the proverbial “rookie wall”, rushing for 100 yards only twice and not scoring a single touchdown. Kareem ended his 2017 season in the same way he began it, with 5 touchdowns in the final 4 contests, en route to a rushing title in his rookie season. For Hunt, it looks like with big time usage, he produces, but there were several games where he didn’t even seem like part of the gameplan. Reid normally will give his starting running back the bulk of the carries, so I can see this being just an aberration to keep him fresh for the playoff run. For me, I can see Hunt easily in the middle of the first round, after the elite options are off the board. He can get there with usage and up his receiving totals as he is very adept at catching the football and running after the catch.

Devonta Freeman – 196 car., 865 yds., 7 TD; 36 rec., 317 yds., TD (RB #14)

Trending downward since his sophomore season as a Falcon, Devonta Freeman’s carries have gone down each of the last 3 years, ending with just shy of 200 carries in 2017, which was his first full season as the starting running back where he didn’t get to 1000 yards rushing. Tevin Coleman ate up 156 carries but really wasn’t nearly as effective Freeman. While Freeman did notch 8 touchdowns in 2017, he only eclipsed the 100 yard mark twice. As somebody who was drafted as an RB1 in 2017, Freeman was a big time disappointment for fantasy owners, and now the expectations have been tempered for him. To me, he’d slot in as a borderline top end RB2, but the floor is quite high for him for at least giving you mid-level RB2 production. Coleman has always been a thorn in the side of Devonta Freeman’s potential, as has the passing game for Atlanta, but Freeman is a solid buy if you don’t expect the world from him.

Embed from Getty Images

Derrick Henry – 176 car., 744 yds., 5 TD; 11 rec., 136 yds., TD (RB #37)

Derrick Henry certainly the more productive Titans running back in 2017, outgaining DeMarco Murray on the ground in less carries. When Henry got the carries because of the always lingering injuries of Murray, Henry delivered, rushing for almost 4.25 YPC. Henry has been a hot commodity in fantasy for a couple seasons now, with owners waiting to cash in on that lottery ticket to a starting gig and seeing what he can do with a job. By the looks of things in 2018, DeMarco Murray is a candidate to be cut, so we may see that come to fruition in 2018. With a starting job and no threat to fend off for carries, Henry’s ceiling is extremely high, but tempering expectations puts him in the middle of the RB2 pack with plenty of room to move up a tier. There is a LOT to like with Derrick Henry going forward.

VERY EARLY PPR Top 24 Running Backs for 2018

  1. Todd Gurley, LAR
  2. Le’Veon Bell, PIT
  3. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
  4. David Johnson, ARI
  5. Kareem Hunt, KC
  6. Alvin Kamara, NO
  7. Leonard Fournette, JAX
  8. Mark Ingram, NO
  9. Melvin Gordon, LAC
  10. LeSean McCoy, BUF
  11. Dalvin Cook, MIN
  12. Christian McCaffrey, CAR
  13. Devonta Freeman, ATL
  14. Jordan Howard, CHI
  15. Jay Ajayi, PHI
  16. Carlos Hyde, SF
  17. Lamar Miller, HOU
  18. Derrick Henry, TEN
  19. Isaiah Crowell. CLE
  20. Joe Mixon, CIN

Keep checking in to Pack to the Fantasy as we continue the Year in Review series with Wide Receivers next!