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NFL Fantasy Love, Hate, and Sleepers: Running Back Edition

NFL Fantasy Football – Running Backs…Who Do You Looooove?

Saquon Barkley by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

NFL Fantasy Love, Hate, and Sleepers: Running Back Edition

Estimated Reading Time: 10 Minutes

Have you joined a fantasy football league yet?! It’s that time of year.

Welcome to Love, Hate, and Sleepers. I will be covering every position (except kickers and defense). Here we will focus on running backs, and I’ll tell you the running backs I love and hate going into this fantasy season (not personally of course!), as well as some sleepers to consider. The Sleepers are players who could significantly exceed their expectations, or surpass their average draft position (ADP). The running backs I love are ones who I think will have a really good fantasy year, and the running backs I hate will be ones who could potentially be busts or who I really would not reach for or go out of my way to draft.

So, let’s start with the Love list, shall we?

Running Backs I Love

Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara: The Big Three

These three guys are who I call the Big Three. If you are picking in a fantasy draft, and you’re picking somewhere between picks 1 through 3, you are taking one of these guys.

I repeat…you…are…taking…one of these guys. Do it, because you really can’t go wrong. I expect all three of these guys to have big fantasy years.

A lot of people are picking Saquon Barkley first overall, and I don’t blame them. I would probably do the same thing. Not only did he rush for 1,307 yards and 11 TDs, but he also had 91 receptions for 721 yards and 4 TDs.

The Ultimate PPR Machines

While Christian McCaffrey didn’t have as many rushing yards or TDs as Barkley, he caught 107 passes for 867 yards and 6 TDs in addition to his 1,098 rushing yards and 7 rush TDs. Kamara rushed for just 883 yards, but had 14 rushing TDs to go with 81 receptions for 709 yards and 4 TDs. These three are the ultimate PPR machines.

Keep it Simple

If you’re picking first, don’t overthink this. Just take Barkley and say thank you for flying Jet Blue. And if you’re picking second, McCaffrey or Kamara are both fine choices. And if you’re picking third, you don’t even have to think, just take the one who is left of the three. Picking third in the first round of a fantasy draft is actually probably the easiest thing you’ll do that day. Seriously.

James Conner

If Conner plays all 16 games last season, he’s a 1,000+ yard rusher. Bell went out, Conner came in, and he more than exceeded expectations. Conner rushed for 973 yards and scored 12 TDs, only trailing Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley for the most rushing TDs last season. Conner made it easy for Steelers fans to forget about Le’Veon Bell.

Conner also had 55 receptions for 497 yards last season, and I think with Brown gone you can expect Conner to become even more involved in the passing game. I think he could reach at least 70 receptions and 650 receiving yards. Not to mention, he’s behind arguably one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

I am high on James Conner this year, and if you picked him 4th overall, I wouldn’t knock you for it.

Nick Chubb

Chubb just fell short of being a 1,000+ yard rusher last season (996) but this year I think he’ll hit the mark.

I don’t normally make trades in fantasy football, but I made one last year in one of my leagues. I traded Julian Edelman for Nick Chubb.


Leonard Fournette went down with an injury and it was around week 6 when I made a trade for Chubb. After that trade happened, Chubb exploded:

Week 7 through 16: 823 rushing yards, 6 rushing TDs, 20 receptions, 149 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs.

Fournette eventually came back later in the season and my three RBs at that time were Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, and Nick Chubb. Yeah, absolutely dynamite.

I expect Chubb to have a big year this season. The Browns traded Duke Johnson Jr., and Kareem Hunt is suspended for the first 8 games of the season; which means Chubb will be the man in the backfield for an explosive Cleveland offense. (Jeez never thought I’d ever say that).

David Johnson

The Cardinals were an absolute dumpster fire last season, and Johnson was still 10th among RBs in fantasy points. He has a new offensive-minded coach, new quarterback, and an overall new look on offense. I think it’s possible Johnson will remain a top-10 RB this year in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.

Joe Mixon

Mixon just seems to be getting better and better as his career progresses in the league. He ran for 1,168 yards for 8 TDs and also caught 43 passes for nearly 300 yards last season. And just like the Cardinals, the Bengals were a mess and Mixon was still 9th among RBs in fantasy points.

Mixon averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season and let’s not forget, the kid is only 22 years old. Mixon is becoming one of the better young backs in the league.

Running Backs I Hate

Le’Veon Bell

First of all, he hasn’t played football in over a year. Dez Bryant didn’t play football for over a year either before he joined the Saints last season, and we all remember how short-lived that was.

Secondly, he takes a major downgrade in offensive line talent. The Jets offensive line is nowhere close to the o-line the Steelers have.

Thirdly, I’m pretty sure his head coach hates him already, and the feeling is probably mutual. By the way, have we ever seen a running back have any success under an Adam Gase offense?

And finally, instead of Big Ben under center to catch passes from, he gets a 22-year old struggling quarterback who’s in his second year in the league.

Yeah I’m not high on Bell this year. Drafter beware.

Philip Lindsay

Becoming a running back behind a Joe Flacco-led offense is like signing a death wish for rushing production. I sense regression for the second-year RB.

Melvin Gordon

I just have no idea what’s going to happen with Gordon this year. Is he going to stay with the Chargers? Is he going to hold out? Or is he going to be traded? I’m confident that Ezekiel Elliott will play this year in a Cowboys uniform. But it seems like Gordon’s near future in the league is completely up in the air.

Regardless of whether Gordon plays or not, I am not too high on him this season anyway. He seems to have a tough time staying healthy, and only rushed for 885 yards last season. He did average 5.1 yards per carry with 10 TDs last season, but the Chargers have not one, but two quality backup RBs in Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson.

Do the Chargers Need Gordon?

In the four games Gordon missed last season, the Chargers were 4-0. This doesn’t give Gordon much leverage, and the Chargers will probably trade Gordon to another team. I would not reach for him in the draft.

Aaron Jones

I never really know who the go-to running back is going to be for the Packers. It’s probably because for the past decade the Green Bay backfield has been a revolving door. Jones has missed four games in each of the past two seasons, and last season he only played 51% of the snaps. He rushed for just 728 yards in 12 games last season and has been pretty limited as a pass-catcher.

I think Jones is just too high in ADP for the amount of production he has had in recent years.

Derrick Henry

Henry rushed for 1,059 yards and 12 TDs last season. But 492 of his total 1,059 rushing yards and 7 of his 12 TDs came from just three games toward the end of the season in Weeks 15-17. Those games were against the Jaguars, Giants, and Redskins. Yeah, that’s against three teams who had a combined 17-31 record. Additionally, Henry has never had more than 15 receptions in a season.

Dalvin Cook

He just hasn’t been able to stay healthy and I think the jury is still out on Cook. In his first two seasons in the league, Cook has only managed to play 13 games. The Vikings offensive line allegedly will be better this season, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Leonard Fournette

He can’t seem to stay healthy, and he averaged 3.3 yards per carry which was the 5th-worst in the league last season. Maybe having a better QB this time will help, but I won’t really count on it.

Running Back Sleepers

Chris Carson

I cannot believe Carson is currently projected to be the 16th-best running back in fantasy this year. He will do waaaaay better than what his ADP is going into the season.

Carson was 5th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,151) behind an atrocious offensive line and scored 9 times in 14 games with the Seahawks last season. He also had 247 carries (7th in the league) and averaged 2.29 yards after contact which was 11th best in the NFL.

Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer recently said that he would like Carson to be targeted at somewhere “up in the 50s” in the passing game. That’s more than double his targets from last season. Sign me up! I’m in on Carson as a big-time sleeper.

Sony Michel

He had 931 rushing yards in just 13 games last season and had the 8th-most touches in the red zone among running backs. Michel was sensational down the stretch last season, and I expect him to pick up where he left off and even possibly be a top-10 RB in fantasy this year.

Marlon Mack

Ok, I’m going to do a little blind resume here:

Player A: In 12 games, rushed for 728 yards for 8 TDs on 133 carries; 26 catches for 206 yards and a TD.

Player B: In 12 games, rushed for 908 yards for 10 TDs on 195 carries; 17 catches for 117 yards and a TD.

Player A is Aaron Jones and Player B is Marlon Mack.

So why is Jones ranked 18th and Mack is ranked 24th among RBs in fantasy according to ESPN? Seems like there isn’t much difference between the two with the exception that Mack was used a lot more in his offense.

Mack and Me

I am all in on Mack to have a big fantasy year. His yards per carry improved from 3.8 to 4.7 from the 2017 season to 2018 as well. And while he still needs to improve as a pass-catcher, I think Mack will be a workhorse and Jacoby Brissett is going to rely on him a lot. Not to mention, he’s behind a fantastic offensive line. Look for Mack to pick up where he left off and become a 1,000+ yard rusher this year even without Luck under center.

Tevin Coleman

Did you know Coleman is one of just five players to have scored 8 or more touchdowns in each of the past three seasons? Crazy right.

I think Coleman has been the “second-fiddle” guy throughout his career thus far…until now. He will find significant success in Shanahan’s offense in San Francisco, and with Jerick McKinnon most likely out for the year again, Coleman will have an even bigger role in the offense than most anticipated.

Running Backs

  • Love Count: 7
  • Hate Count: 7
  • Sleeper Count: 4

Stay tuned for the wide receivers!

Matt lives in Newnan, Georgia but was born and raised in Upstate New York. He is a fan of the New York Yankees, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Boston Celtics. At the collegiate level, he is a Notre Dame and Syracuse fan (yeah he can root for both, and what?!) He must, however, find a soccer team to root for. So him out there. All suggestions are welcome. You can catch Matt on the Turf mostly covering NFL, NBA, MLB, College Football and Basketball, and Horse Racing (that is not a typo, he practically grew up on a racetrack). It's nothing's strictly sports.

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