Throughout the season, the Rookie Report Card has covered some of the biggest rookies and not only looked at their performance to date – but also their long term upside. Now that the regular season has wrapped up and fantasy owners are looking towards the future, we have an opportunity to take one last look at the 2018 season and assess the rookies – A final report card if you will.
We covered 34 rookies throughout the season, including 13 running backs. Let’s put a bow on the season by taking one more look at those ball carrier’s first season, as well as a quick glimpse into their futures.
Saquon Barkley, RB NYG
Season Stats: 261 carries, 1,307 yards, 11 touchdowns, 91 receptions, 721 receiving yards, four touchdown receptions
Rookie Report Card: Week 11
Barkley finished his rookie season as a top-five scorer no matter your league’s settings. Showing everything we loved about him coming out of Penn State, he displayed great vision, an incredible burst, the ability to cut back in a blink and tackle breaking that rivals anybody to enter the league over the last 20 years. What’s most impressive about his performance is probably that he did it behind a bottom-five offensive line (according to Football Outsiders).
There’s no question that Barkley belongs as one of the top players to own in dynasty. He’s nearly untradeable due to his elite upside and age (soon to turn 22.) If New York is able to make an improvement across its offensive line and the team continues the progress it made in the second half of the season, 2018 could prove to be only a preview of what Barkley could produce for fantasy owners going forward.
Kalen Ballage, RB MIA
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Season Stats: 36 carries, 191 yards, 1 touchdown, nine receptions, 56 receiving yards
Rookie Report Card: Week 15
Ballage didn’t get a chance to make an impact until late in his rookie year but his 123-yard effort which included a 75-yard touchdown against the Vikings in week 15 was enough to get dynasty owners’ attention. Unfortunately for those owners however, outside of that big run in Minnesota, he did nothing to show he could be anything more than a part-time runner at this level.
Averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on all carries in his rookie season, Ballage missed cutback lanes on multiple occasions late in the year and failed to add a spark to a Miami offense that desperately needed it despite being fresh late in the year.
Appearing to be nothing more than a replacement-level running back, it’s difficult to be excited about Ballage’s upside. Even with the fresh start coming from a coaching change and a running back depth chart that is all but settled, it’d be surprising if he’d be anything more than depth tailback on Miami’s roster going into 2019, and even that’s no guarantee.
Nick Chubb, RB CLE
Season Stats: 192 carries, 996 yards, 8 touchdowns, 20 receptions, 149 receiving yards, two touchdown receptions
Rookie Report Card: Week 4
Despite spending the first six weeks of 2018 as Carlos Hyde’s understudy, Chubb carried the football nearly 200 times and fell just four yards short of 1,000 rushing yards. His production after taking over as the feature back translated to RB1 numbers in the second half of the season as he piled up 97.2 yards from scrimmage per game, eight touchdowns and 20 catches over ten games.
While helping dynasty owners everywhere make a run at championships, Chubb dispelled concerns that he wouldn’t be able to contribute as a pass catcher and catapulted himself into the top-15 of dynasty ADP.
Already valued in the top eight at his position, dynasty owners should expect RB1 production going forward out of Chubb especially considering the Browns retained Freddie Kitchens – who was calling plays during his emergence – to be their head coach. It shouldn’t be surprising to anybody if he creeps into the top-five in running back ranks by the start of 2019.
Chase Edmonds, RB ARI
Season Stats: 60 carries, 208 yards, 2 touchdowns, 20 receptions, 103 receiving yards
Rookie Report Card: Week 13
Only handling the ball ten times in a game once as a rookie, we didn’t get much of an opportunity to see how Edmonds fit in as a pro but in his limited chances, he flashed good explosiveness and nice cutback ability to prove he belongs in the league. Playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, he constantly dealt with defenders in his face in the backfield but managed 3.5 yards per carry, nearly equaling David Johnson’s 3.6 yard average on the year.
Despite that low yards per carry average and being blocked from meaningful playing time by Johnson, Edmonds should be seen as an end of bench stash for dynasty owners and with the upside to make an impact down the road. In the meantime, dynasty owners should hope the Cardinals make an effort to improve their offensive line which could go a long way towards making Edmonds a quality handcuff as soon as 2019.
Royce Freeman, RB DEN
Season Stats: 130 carries, 521 yards, five touchdowns, 14 receptions, 72 receiving yards
Rookie Report Card: Week 17
Having covered Freeman only a couple weeks ago, I won’t get into too much detail here but if you read that report, you know I’m not overly optimistic that Freeman can reach the high expectations dynasty owners had for him when they drafted him in the first round last summer.
There’s no doubt that fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay far and away outplayed Freeman in their rookie seasons. Compared to Lindsay’s explosive play throughout the year, Freeman appeared slow and un-athletic. He plodded for much of his yardage, didn’t appear to have a burst even when running downhill between the tackles and struggled to make any impact on the perimeter.
With a new coaching staff in place in Denver, Freeman will get a fresh start to carve out a role, but if he enters 2019 looking like the same version of himself from the last six months it’s going to be very unlikely he takes any of Lindsay’s share of the backfield work.
Derrius Guice, RB WAS
Season Stats: N/A
No news would have been good news when it came to Guice since his ACL injury in the preseason but reports of an infection in that knee was enough to worry dynasty owners in December.
Assuming that infection doesn’t slow his rehab down too much and he’s healthy by the start of training camp, the RB15 ADP that Guice carries seems reasonable for a running back with a violent running style to go along with good speed and footwork.
Profiling as a workhorse back in the mold of Marshawn Lynch during draft season, dynasty owners should be cautiously optimistic about Guice’s fringe RB1 upside when healthy. But any player coming off an injury like his and with an injury history like his should not be depended on until he’s seen playing at a high level.
Nyheim Hines, RB IND
Season Stats: 85 carries, 314 yards, two touchdowns, 63 receptions, 425 receiving yards, two touchdown receptions
Rookie Report Card: Week 4
The scouting report on Hines coming out of North Carolina State was that he was a versatile player that could shine as both a runner and receiver and that’s exactly how he was used as a rookie. Although he had more than six carries just three times in 2018, he averaged four catches per game and had four games with at least seven grabs.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners that usage didn’t translate into anything useful in 2018, as Hines posted a top-24 performance in PPR leagues just four times and was incredibly inconsistent, fantasy-wise, as a rookie.
While Hines is a fun player to watch and is obviously a good football player, he appears to be a specialist that’s unlikely to see enough touches on a regular basis to be as good in fantasy as he is in real life. He’s a player I’d be looking to trade in the off-season if I could find somebody that believes he’s more than an extremely poor man’s Tarik Cohen.
Justin Jackson, RB LAC
Season Stats: 50 carries, 206 yards, two touchdowns, 15 receptions, 135 receiving yards
Rookie Report Card: Week 15
A good Big Ten tailback for four years, Justin Jackson entered the league as a seventh round draft pick to the Chargers and with very few expectations from dynasty owners. When Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler both missed time towards the end of the year though, Jackson showed some burst as a downhill runner and put up flex-worthy numbers which landed him on dynasty owners’ radars and starting lineups.
While nobody will confuse Jackson with Gordon and it’s unlikely Jackson will ever have a backfield to himself outside of as an injury replacement, he showed enough as both a runner and receiver in the final six weeks to prove he should be seen as the primary handcuff to Gordon which – unless the Chargers bring in another tailback in the offseason – makes him worthy of a roster spot throughout the off-season.
Check back next week for the rest of the running backs.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
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