Welcome to our first quick pass at 2018 Dynasty Rookie Running Back Rankings. Fantasy football enthusiasts in dynasty leagues have been looking forward to this year’s draft for years. After all, it looked to be full of great running backs who had the potential to re-shape dynasty rosters. When a draft full of running back talent like this comes around, the coveted rookie draft picks tend to lose value right after the picks are all made as many running backs fall into less than desirable locations. Fortunately for us this year, that simply didn’t happen. In fact, you can make a case we’re likely to have no fewer than eight new starters on opening day in September. We’ve been running this site for a decade and I can tell you this is unprecedented and very exciting.
The challenge with ranking the rookie running backs this year is simple – the step down from Saquon Barkley is steep and unquestioned but the group behind him is proving to be very large with the difference between all of them conceived as razor thin.
We’re busy putting all our 2018 Dynasty Rookie Running Back Rankings together now, including the running backs and should have those done here soon. In the meantime, I’m going to share with you how I see things at the moment in terms of ranking and tiers. Keep in mind these consist of only my own opinion and this early post is essentially created to start a great conversation within our community.
Without any further delay, here are my knee-jerk tiers and rankings for the running backs:
This tier consists of only one player and as good as the players are underneath him, none really hold a candle to his overall ability. There’s really no debate here.
1.) Saquon Barkley, RB NYG
This is going to be the only player on this list who will be undisputed. There may be an owner who goes away from him at 1.01 but that would just be because they’re likely either a Dallas fan who can’t stomach it or someone who had an inner need to be the “I told you so guy” as they hope someone else on this list somehow outperforms him. Barkley is the unquestioned bellcow for New York and should be a top ten pick in startup drafts based on his Adrian Peterson-like potential as well. If you don’t trade the 1.01, there’s really no choice here.
I’ve gone round and round in my mind on this and fully expected this tier to consist only of Derrius Guice post-draft. Unfortunately, his off the field concerns dropped him all the way down to pick #59 in the draft and that represented the seventh running back off the board. While his talent is unquestioned, that kind of a drop represents more risk than expected and in my mind drops him back down into a tier with four other running backs.
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2.) Derrius Guice, RB WAS
Despite the fall in the draft, I still have Guice at the top of this tier. Yes, there’s significant risk in taking him but we’re only a year removed from the same draft community overreacting about Dalvin Cook and his perceived lack of talent. That proved to be ridiculous and I’m willing to gamble the transgressions of Guice aren’t enough to stop him from being a true workhorse for the Redskins. He has elite level talent and it’s not like any of the trouble with him is criminal in nature. There will be many leagues where he’s taken a few spots down from 1.02 but none of them will be mine if I have the selection.
3.) Rashaad Penny, RB SEA
To me, ranking the running backs in this tier gets really interesting after Guice. Penny is an ultra-productive back who has next to nobody in front of him to battle for carries. He’s going to enter the season as the Seahawks’ true featured runner and while the players taken after him may have more talent, few landed in a better spot for guaranteed touches. The problem with Penny is obvious – the Seahawks have one of the worst offensive lines in football and have done nothing but get their running backs hurt the past few years. If they can improve and Seattle gets back to running the football consistently, Penny has the three down skill set to thrive and carries true and rare RB1 potential.
4.) Nick Chubb, RB CLE
Anyone who has played in dynasty leagues for any amount of time should know how historically terrible the Browns have been in terms of running back production over the better part of the last decade. However, it’s fair to wonder if they’ve ever had a running back as talented as Chubb. He’ll have to battle Carlos Hyde for carries early on (I firmly believe Hyde will likely be one and done in Cleveland) and Duke Johnson is also going to take some of his appeal away because of his ability to catch passes and relegate Chubb to first and second downs. Still, even though Cleveland has been historically awful, I’d have no problem using a top four pick in this year’s rookie draft on Chubb because only Barkley may have more true talent and ability. I’m not at all concerned about his knee, either.
5.) Sony Michel, RB NE
There may be no bigger boom or bust prospect in this draft than Sony Michel. I could easily see Michel emerge as a truly explosive three down player in New England who takes the fantasy world by storm, similar to Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara last year. I could also see him be a player who becomes part of what has been traditionally the most frustrating location to rely on for running backs. At best, he’s Corey Dillon. At worst, he’s a more explosive Dion Lewis. His landing spot, the fact he’s never been more than a committee back and the concern over the bone on bone condition in his knee gives me pause and has him currently in fifth spot. However, if you’re a risk taker, this is clearly your guy.
6.) Ronald Jones II, RB TB
You could easily argue Jones went to the best spot for a running back. Tampa Bay is an emerging young team and they clearly view Jones as a difference maker after taking him with the 38th pick in the draft. He may not be able to help much on third down and doesn’t have the complete skill set of the players ranked above him here but it’s not going to be unusual to see him taken in the top four regularly. This was really the dream scenario for Jones and added one extra player to the tier.
To me, there’s a clear drop off after Jones and this tier includes two players who aren’t guaranteed starters on their new teams. However, I fully expect both to break though and become just that for their respective teams.
7.) Royce Freeman, RB DEN
Freeman landed in the perfect spot as the Broncos snagged him at the top of round three. This could prove to be a bargain pick as he likely has more talent than Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson. There’s a chance he’s more of a committee back at the beginning of his career and there are concerns about the massive workload he endured at Oregon but I’m betting Freeman becomes the starter in the Mile High City sooner rather than later.
8.) Kerryon Johnson, RB DET
The Lions have been in need of a lead runner for about as many years as the Browns and Johnson will represent their latest attempt to address the position. He lands on a mess of a depth chart but I’m guessing either Ameer Abdullah or LeGarrette Blount isn’t long for the road in Detroit. Johnson is an angry back who comes off a very productive career running players over in the SEC. He’ll clearly get his shot in Detroit, especially after the Lions traded up to get him in round two.
After Johnson and Freeman, we reach the “cross your fingers and hope” level that consists of two players for me.
9.) Kalen Ballage, RB MIA
Ballage is all potential with little production. However, his skill set is unquestioned and he landed in a spot that’s pretty desirable. It’s fair to wonder if Kenyan Drake can truly be the guy for the Dolphins and Frank Gore can’t possibly last too much longer. To me, Ballage is a boom or bust prospect but one I’d like to have on my roster, just in case he hits.
10.) Mark Walton, RB CIN
I had high hopes for Walton coming into the weekend as he represented one of my favorite dynasty draft sleepers. Unfortunately, he was taken by Cincinnati, who invested heavily in Joe Mixon just one year ago. Still, Mixon hasn’t exactly dazzled anyone and Walton at least has a chance to make some noise – that alone is enough to keep him in tier four and my top ten.
Let me know what you think and how you have them ranked in the comments below…
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