2018 Rookie Landing Spots: RB Part 1

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The proverbial fat lady has sung and the 2018 NFL draft is in the books! As expected, the quarterbacks made a splash, with five teams taking their signal-callers of the future in the first round alone. But the biggest moves — at least from a fantasy perspective — came at the running back position.

From the obvious barnburner of Barkley at No. 2 to an unexpected run of guys at the first-to-second round turn, we’re here to break down the landing spots of the top backs, and how they affect the fantasy landscape of 2018.

Saquon Barkley to New York Giants

Round 1, Pick 2 (2nd overall)
College Production:

2018 Competition:
None.

Analysis:
The fact that Barkley was drafted higher than any RB since Reggie Bush should tell you something about his potential in the NFL. Whether or not it was the right move for the Giants, Barkley scouts out as one of the closest things to a generational talent we’ve seen in awhile.

Production? Spectacular. Over 5,000 scrimmage yards and 51 TDs in college, including an elite 102 catches. Measurables? Inhuman. At 6’0″, 233 lbs., Barkley ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and completed a monstrous 29 reps on the bench press. From what we’ve seen, he also has excellent character and competitiveness.

Barkley’s two minor weaknesses are a lack of “run-you-over” physicality for his size and a proclivity to take negative plays while trying to work miracles out of the backfield. He’s already a lock for top-end three-down production, but if he can mature in these aspects as a runner, Barkley’s ceiling is sky-high.

The landing spot in New York is a bit of a question mark. They’ve been an extremely poor rushing team and struggled behind an awful offensive line in recent years. But they also paid up big for the best tackle in free agency, Nate Solder from New England. Meanwhile, they have the talent to heavily feature the pass, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram forming a formidable air attack. But Eli Manning is also 37 years old, and the Giants may look to shift the burden from his shoulders to Barkley’s as soon as possible.

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With essentially zero realistic competition and a proven track record as a pass-catcher, Barkley should easily top 300 touches in 2018. He is the unquestioned 1.01 in dynasty leagues, and should even challenge for late first-round value in redraft leagues. I would not be surprised to see the kid finish as a top five back in fantasy this year.

Rashaad Penny to Seattle Seahawks

Round 1, Pick 27 (27th overall)
College Production:

2018 Competition:
1) Chris Carson
2) Mike Davis
3) C.J. Prosise/J.D. McKissic

The Seahawks’ pick of Rashaad Penny at the end of Round 1 was one of the more shocking— and in my opinion, misguided — of the draft. Seattle is rife with holes on both sides of the ball after losing most of the Legion of Boom and multiple pass-catchers, while still sporting one of the worst O-lines in football.

Regardless, they spent big for Penny and will expect him to do a whole lot out of the gate. Head coach Pete Carroll called him a three-down back and lauded his value on special teams (he had eight return TDs in college). The competition in Seattle is questionable, with Chris Carson — impressive but injured as a rookie last year — posing a minor threat to early-down work and Prosise/McKissic likely working in on third downs. Penny will have to prove himself in the passing game and resoundingly outperform Carson to become a feature back, both of which I’m more pessimistic on than some.

Penny is a big-play threat who will make one-cut to the hole and then break off a big run in a flash. He ran a 4.46 at the combine and his return touchdowns are excellent evidence of his open-field ability. While he doesn’t shy away from contact on tape, he’s no Marshawn Lynch and didn’t seem to break tackles too effectively. He’s often knocked for playing second-fiddle to Donnell Pumphrey in 2016 but shredded the (lower-tier) competition last year for over 3,000 all-purpose yards at San Diego State.

The fantasy value here is a bit murky. Penny’s style is suited to a strong offensive line that can open game-breaking holes — something Seattle is sorely missing. And while he’s likely the best RB on the depth chart, it is a crowded group with pieces that could keep from him a workhorse role. Still, the first-round draft capital is a big deal. Look for Penny in the middle rounds of standard drafts and towards the latter half of the first in dynasty, and hope for a low-end RB2 with upside.

Sony Michel to New England Patriots

Round 1, Pick 31 (31st overall)
College Production:

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2018 Competition:
1) Rex Burkhead
2) James White
3) Jeremy Hill/Mike Gillislee

Analysis:
With the departure of Dion Lewis, the Patriots were in the market for a new lead back. They surprised by spending first-round capital on Georgia back Sony Michel, after doing so only once before in the Belichick era (Laurence Maroney in 2006).

Like Penny, Michel enters a somewhat crowded backfield. Rex Burkhead will siphon enough touches to keep Michel from workhorse status, but he’s also used on special teams and simply does not have Michel’s pedigree. James White is a Patriot staple and will accrue 30+ receptions, but Michel is a capable receiver and could easily match that number (as Lewis did last year). Neither of the “plodders” (Hill and Gillislee) poses much threat unless one of them blossoms into a goal-line revelation.

As for Michel himself, many considered him the second-best prospect in the class behind Barkley. He has excellent patience and vision, thrives in pass protection, and sports a decisive one-cut running style with excellent burst. He also finishes runs with impressive physicality, maximizing the impact of his 5’11”, 214 lb. frame. Michel’s biggest knock is probably his fumble rate — one every 54.6 touches, among the worst of the class and especially dangerous on a Belichick roster.

The range of outcomes for Michel is possibly the widest on this list. If he has ball-security issues or simply fails to outplay the others for snaps, he could quickly become unstartable in fantasy. On the flip side, if he validates his first-round price tag and manages 15-20 touches per game, Michel has the upside in the New England offense to finish as an RB1 in 2018. Look for him right around Penny in all formats — I’d personally take Michel higher, but there’s plenty of room for debate.

Nick Chubb to Cleveland Browns

Round 2, Pick 3 (35th overall)

2018 Competition:
1) Carlos Hyde
2) Duke Johnson Jr.

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Analysis:
Surprise! It’s another Georgia Bulldog! The thunder to Sony Michel’s lightning, Nick Chubb was one of the top prospects in the nation before a horrific knee injury nearly ended his career in 2015. While Chubb did return to post a pair of workhorse years as a junior and senior, he did not quite reach the brilliance of his 1,760-yards, 16-TD freshman season, somewhat dampening his draft stock.

Still, Chubb was a clear candidate for feature-work coming into the draft. He is an extremely strong, downhill runner who breaks arm tackles with ease and will consistently churn extra yards after contact. He lacks the open-field agility and eye-popping moves of some of these other backs but is a reliable ball-carrier who could handle the bulk of a team’s carries and the entirety of the short-yardage work. Think a young Jonathan Stewart (if you were alive to see such a thing). Had he landed somewhere like Tampa Bay or Denver, we might be talking about Chubb as a strong RB2 candidate with tons of TD-upside.

While the TD-upside does exist in Cleveland — if Hue Jackson taps Chubb for the goal line work — he will be competing with Carlos Hyde for the early down role and will see little to no work in the passing game considering his inferiority to Duke Johnson in that phase. Of the depth charts covered in this group, Cleveland’s is by far the most talented and could be the hardest in which to earn a heavy workload.

Unless Hyde goes down with an injury (something he’s been prone to do), Chubb is going to have a tough time earning a carry-count worth of your fantasy lineup. He’s essentially a later-round flier in redraft and an early-first-round pick in dynasty in the hopes that he overtakes Hyde sooner rather than later.

Ronald Jones II to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Round 2, Pick 6 (38th overall)
College Production:

2018 Competition:
1) Peyton Barber
2) Charles Sims

Analysis:
Outside of Barkley, Ronald Jones II clearly found the best spot in this group in terms of opportunity. Neither UDFA Peyton Barber or third-down specialist Charles Sims poses any real threat to Jones, and the Buccanneers have been desperate for a reliable back since watching Doug Martin implode. Jones will immediately step into a starting role and has a clearer path to bell-cow status than the other backs after Barkley.

Partially thanks to his lean frame, dreadlocked hairstyle, and jersey number, Jones is often compared to Jamaal Charles. As it happens, the comparison does hold up on tape — to a degree. Jones is smooth, electric, and can create in the run game with his light feet and elite acceleration. While he was not asked to do much in the passing game, Jones is capable in that aspect and could certainly develop into a three-down back.

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There are concerns with Jones’ size, and some question whether he can carry a full workload in the NFL. While these concerns are valid — Jamaal Charles for one, has never been the picture of perfect health — injuries are a concern for all running backs and I’m not putting too much negative stock in that aspect.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line is a bit of a work in progress, so that could hamper Jones’ efficiency. But he is also the type of runner that can create his own opportunities when needed. Especially if the Bucs lean on Jones as a key cog in their offense, he could push 275-300 touches and — as long he stays healthy — leapfrog every RB on this list after Barkley. I’d slot Jones into the early first round in dynasty and around the low-end RB2’s in a redraft.