Davis Mattek’s 2018 Running Back Class Dynasty Fantasy Football Value Rankings
One of the biggest changes we are bringing to you as part of our NFL365 coverage will be the addition of Dynasty Fantasy Football content. For those unfamiliar, a dynasty league is the most extreme form of a keeper league where you can draft players as rookies and hold their rights indefinitely.
A key part of Dynasty leagues is re-evaluating players rankings in the overall hierarchy constantly and their ranking inside their own position. There is the most year over year churn at running back and finding a starter at that position who will hold that job for multiple years is a fairly sizable edge. The 2018 running back draft class was deep and talented, providing us with a minimum of 10 Fantasy starters at points during the 2018 season. There were also two highly drafted runners who barely got to play for their NFL teams in Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny.
Here we will rank the 2018 running back draft class in order for Dynasty leagues moving forward while providing some Fantasy insights.
1. Saquon Barkley: Nothing needs to be said to justify Barkley’s position here. He might end up being the number one overall play in all of Dynasty Fantasy Football. The Giants are likely to be terrible on offense again in 2019 but it will not matter to Saquon. Barkley had 261 rush attempts and 121 targets on offense and will likely to build on both of those numbers as the Giants organization feels the pressure to justify his draft slot. I would not trade for Barkley in Dynasty, however, as running backs are generally a depreciating asset.
2. Nick Chubb: Chubb is ahead of Sony Michel and Phillip Lindsay on this list despite not being as good as them for Fantasy in 2018. The Cleveland Browns now have two incredible offensive minds designing the offense around the future superstar Baker Mayfield, which is a massive plus for Chubb. Running backs are rarely ever able to be better than their situation and Chubb is both a very talented player (5.2 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns on a team that scored only 44) and in an elite situation. Unlike Barkley, I would actually try and actively trade for Chubb, as he doesn’t have much competition on the roster and is an elite spot for the next few seasons.
3. Sony Michel: Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Sony Michel is that while he played well in games where the Patriots were running downhill, he was not used as a receiver. He was essentially plugged into the LaGarrette Blount/grinder role in the Patriots offense despite catching 64 passes in four collegiate seasons. One of Michel’s closest physical comps is Marlon Mack and they are both in really comparable situations; not being used as a pass catcher, tied to game scripts with elite quarterbacks. If Michel is used more like a receiver in 2019, he can definitely overtake Chubb on this list.
4. Phillip Lindsay: Lindsay was one of the best Fantasy surprises of the 2018 season. The undrafted free agent actually took over the lead running back reins from third round draft pick Royce Freeman. Lindsay had a massive dominator rating, accounting for over 90% of Colorado University’s non-quarterback rushing production in his final season of college. Lindsay carried the ball 192 times and received 47 targets. There is some concern with Freeman still on the roster that he could ease back to the bad side of the timeshare and he still lost passing down work to Devontae Booker.
5. Kerryon Johnson: If I had any hope that Detroit would resemble a real NFL offense by the time that Kerryon’s rookie contract expired, he might get as high as second on this list. A big part of being a good Dynasty Fantasy Football owner is weighing talent vs. situation and while Johnson is massively talented, he plays in a terrible offense. The Lions finished bottom seven in total points scored and yards per play, which limits the ceiling for the team’s primary running back. If the Lions replace the vacancy left behind by Jim Bob Cooter with a real visionary, then Johnson is likely undervalued.
6. Nyheim Hines: After Johnson, we get into relatively speculative territory. Each of the previous five runners will be Fantasy starters for certain in the 2019 NFL Fantasy Football season but, the rest of this list is not guaranteed. Hines was actually third on the Colts in receptions in 2018 but barely played in the postseason, including only nine snaps against the Houston Texans. While I like Hines’ game and talent, if he really is only playing around 20% of the snaps even in a pass-heavy offense, he won’t be dependable.
7. Ito Smith: The contract situation of Tevin Coleman and the health of Devonta Freeman will really determine Smith’s value going forward. If Coleman leaves the team to play elsewhere on a larger contract after this season, Smith has a decent chance of being in a 60/40 timeshare with Devonta Freeman in a high-powered offense that scores plenty of points. If Coleman stays in Atlanta, Smith will drop down on this list.
8. Jaylen Samuels: Le’Veon Bell is gone from Pittsburgh, we know that. James Conner will be the lead back in 2019, it appears but after how well Samuels played to end the year, I think he will see the field next season. The Steelers actually hired Samuels’ college tight ends coach and offensive coordinator to be on their offensive staff, which is a huge signal boost for Samuels. Samuels’ ability to play multiple positions should guarantee him a role in 2019.
9. Gus Edwards: Now we are in truly “who knows what the future holds for these players” territory. Edwards was the Ravens’ lead running back during a time where they were running the ball over 45 times per game and earning a home playoff matchup. However, he has Kenneth Dixon, Javorius Allen and Ty Montgomery on the roster to contend with. It would not surprise if any of Dixon, Edwards, Allen or a 2019 rookie lead the Ravens in running back carries in 2019.
10. Royce Freeman: I am probably a little low on Freeman compared to consensus, but the signs from his rookie year are not great. He did get on the field. which Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny cannot say. He was very clearly outplayed by a undrafted free agent but had only 20 targets and 10 of those targets were in Week 17, when the Broncos rolled over vs. a playoff-bound Chargers team. Freeman is a pretty intriguing buy low option if the Broncos solve their QB problem
11. Ronald Jones: The rookie season for the USC product was not pretty. He was a healthy scratch on several occasions and had only 23 carries and nine targets. That sort of production profile for a rookie running back is not promising. What is looking up for Jones is that the other Tampa Bay running backs are well below replacement level and the rest of the offense is quite as talented, so it is an overall positive situation. If Jones does get some buzz in the offseason and plays well in the preseason, he could be a Fantasy starter in 2019, but he has a long road to trek in order to get there.
12. Rashaad Penny: Penny not only fell behind Chris Carson on the Seahawks depth chart but was also losing snaps and carries to Mike Davis. The team also is still holding on to C.J. Prosise in the event that he is ever healthy enough to play. There is definitely some value in the fact that Penny was a first round pick, but as we have seen several times in the past, the Seahawks generally go with the players who are playing the best, not the guys with the most capital invested in them. I don’t have Penny on any Dynasty teams but if I did, I would consider him waiver wire fodder.
13. Jordan Wilkins: Wilkins is essentially a pure handcuff for Marlon Mack at this point. During the offseason when Mack was injured, Nyheim Hines was playing horribly and Christine Michael was suspended, there was an off chance that Wilkins might be the Week One starting running back for the Colts. He actually had 24 carries in their first two games but when Mack returned, he went back to the bench as the third string running back.
14. Trenton Cannon: Cannon is a bit of a pet project for me, as his otherworldly athleticism and college production drew me to him as an undrafted free agent. The offensive situation is not great with Adam Gase calling one of the slowest offenses in football and Sam Darnold is still not massively proven. If Cannon is able to beat out the oft-injured Elijah Mcguire for passing down work, I actually think he can just become the Jets primary running back given how average Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell are.
15. Kalen Ballage: Despite not really playing until the final quarter of the Dolphins season, there is some upside with Ballage. There is a new coaching staff in place in Miami, Frank Gore is another year old and the organization has never chosen to believe in Kenyan Drake. Ballage had a really interesting college rushing profile as he never led his own team in rushing but did score touchdowns in boatloads. He was fairly impressive in his audition late in the season and caught at least one pass in each of those games. There is something to monitor with Ballage.