By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
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Joe Mixon, Bengals (ADP RB16 / My Ranking RB12)
Mixon is one of the few players poised to be an every-down back this season. He also trimmed down from 230 to 218 pounds, emulating Le’Veon Bell after his rookie year, which should make Mixon more elusive and explosive, as we saw in his first preseason game when he took a reception for a 24-yard touchdown, making two Bears defenders miss on his way for the score.
Jay Ajayi, Eagles (ADP RB20 / My Ranking RB16)
Ajayi took on a significant workload at the end of last season with LeGarrette Blount still on board, but now Blount has driven off to Detroit and Ajayi should be the lead back, while Corey Clement and Darren Sproles back him up and work as the receiving backs. Ajayi can catch the ball well enough not to be a hindrance in that area, but his numbers won’t compare to the other top fantasy backs. He also gets a strong offensive line and overall good offense to get him near the goal line.
Royce Freeman, Broncos (ADP RB25 / My Ranking RB18)
Much has been said about Devontae Booker as the starting back in Denver, but he has yet to prove he has that ability, while Freeman has already put some nice runs on film in their first preseason game. His best run started with a nasty cutback at the line of scrimmage and then the speed to outrun the defense into the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown run. The only thing that could keep Booker ahead of Freeman is pass protection, and I don’t see that happening with such a disparity in talent.
Lamar Miller, Texans (ADP RB22 / My Ranking RB19)
Miller hasn’t done much of anything to get us excited about his fantasy prospects in Houston, but he did see a bump in receiving and touchdown production with DeShaun Watson under center, and despite a lackluster season overall, he finished as the 16th best fantasy running back. I expect a full season with Watson gives Miller a top-15 finish without much trouble, with a shot at more.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots (ADP RB31 / My Ranking RB21)
Burkhead finished last season as the Patriots’ main goal-line back, and from Weeks 7 through 15, he posted the 12th-most fantasy points for running backs. If you take his 10 games played and extrapolated those to a full season, he’d have finished as the 12th-best PPR running back in the league despite only seeing double-digit carries three times. Sony Michel via the 2018 NFL Draft replaced Dion Lewis, and even if the touches played out like last season, Burkhead would be in line for a top-15 PPR season.
Dion Lewis, Titans (ADP RB27 / My Ranking RB23)
Lewis showed he could be a lead back with a strong season with the Patriots last year, and ended up in Tennessee for 2018. That move put him once again in a committee situation, this time with Derrick Henry. It appears that Henry will take the lead as the early-down back, but his limited ability as a receiver will keep Lewis heavily involved in passing downs. Lewis is the more dynamic runner, while Henry is a beast, but in today’s NFL offenses, at least good offenses, need running backs on the field who can run, catch, and block, and the Titans new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will be hard pressed to keep Lewis off the field. I think both players can be a top-20 fantasy running backs, but I’m putting more stock in Lewis’ varied abilities.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (ADP RB29 / My Ranking RB25)
Lynch looked good last season and is getting paid $6 million to be the Raiders’ starting running back this year, but can they rebuild him into the stud who carried the Seahawks to a Super Bowl? The answer is likely no, but Oakland has a good offensive line and an old-school coach who will give Lynch his chances. Last season, Jack Del Rio held him back to just an average of just under 11 touches a game in the first half, as he averaged 10.3 rushing attempts for 38 yards and .57 receptions for 5.4 yards and .29 touchdowns. On the flip side, Lynch averaged 16.9 rushing attempts for 78.1 yards and two receptions for 14.3 yards and .62 touchdowns per game in the last eight. If you extrapolate those previous eight games into 16 games, Lynch would have rushed for 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 32 passes for 228 more yards. Doug Martin could be a problem, but his last two season were awful by anyone’s standards, and if Lynch can stay healthy, I don’t see him not at least getting his 16 carries a game that he saw in the second half of 2017.
Isaiah Crowell, Jets (ADP RB34 / My Ranking RB27)
Crowell has shown ability in bursts, but never enough to feel great about him as a fantasy prospect due to Duke Johnson and a poor offense in Cleveland, but this year, he is in line for the bulk of the work in New York, as the Jets don’t seem to like Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire is hurt. I can’t say Crowell is my favorite pick, but I see him getting the work to outpace his ADP.
Jamaal Williams, Packers (ADP37 / My Rankings RB29)
Williams’ ADP has been hurt by the presence of Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery, and for good reason, but he’s someone who seems to have the fundamentals down and can do everything the Packers want as a starting running back. Add in the fact that Jones has been hurt most of training camp and will miss the first two games of the season, and I think we can safely say that Williams will get plenty of time to prove himself as the lead back. He will lose receiving work to Montgomery, but we have seen Williams put up good numbers as a receiver, including a beautiful catch-and-run for a touchdown just this preseason. His pass blocking and ability to catch the ball along with a sturdy frame for between-the-tackles work should keep him on the field enough to beat his ADP.
Chris Carson, Seahawks (ADP RB42 / My Ranking RB32)
The Seattle backfield is a clown car on roller coaster rails, so no matter who I pick out of this group, there is plenty of risk involved, but Carson continues to prove himself in practice as the starter. I still believe Rashaad Penny is the better back and will see time, but I’m starting to think the Seahawks will keep Carson as the lead back while Penny gets better in pass protection. Penny also broke his finger and will likely be out until Week 1, which almost assures Carson will get the nod Week 1. If he can push the pile and get those extra yards “Lynch-ian” style, he’ll hold onto snaps.
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