2018 Rookie Landing Spots: RB Part 2
If you haven’t had a chance to check out Part 1 of this series on Rookie RB landing spots, don’t forget to hop over and read up!
From the Lions’ next attempt to resurrect their running game to a baffling pick by the Bengals, we’re here to break down the landing spots of the next five backs taken in the NFL draft, and how they affect the fantasy landscape of 2018.
Kerryon Johnson to Detroit Lions
Round 2, Pick 11 (43rd overall)
Like a couple of the backs in Part 1, Kerryon Johnson was drafted early to be the apparent head of a murky conglomerate of backs. Detroit’s depth chart includes aged TD-specialist LeGarrette Blount, pass-catching maven Theo Riddick, and explosive disappointment Ameer Abdullah.
Johnson was extremely productive in his junior year at Auburn in 2017, racking up 1,391 yards and 18 TDs on 285 carries, adding 24 receptions for 194 yards and two scores, and winning SEC offensive player of the year. He is one of the most well-rounded traditional backs in this class. Johnson has great patience behind the line, strong initial burst for his size, and finishes runs with a ton of physicality, making him a red zone weapon. The downside to his aggressive running style is an elevated risk of wear and injury, especially considering his somewhat thin frame and upright running form.
Johnson essentially takes the individual strengths of the Lions’ other backs and boils them down into one package. The hope would be that Detroit capitalizes on this versatility and keeps him on the field, rather than doling out all the goal line work to Blount, all the passing-down work to Riddick, etc. If he can accumulate 250+ touches and stay healthy, Johnson has RB2 potential immediately. But for a franchise that’s only had one 1,000-yard rusher since 2004, that’s a pretty big “if.” He likely belongs closer to a low-end RB3 in redraft, and should sneak into the first round of rookie drafts.
Derrius Guice to Washington Redskins
Round 2, Pick 27 (59th overall)
Guice’s fall to pick 59 was one of the more surprising storylines of the entire 2018 NFL draft. Guice was the No. 2 RB on most people’s boards heading into the draft, and was largely labeled as a first-round talent.Rumors swirled about character issues, immaturity, and poor team interviews, but eventually the Redskins nabbed themselves a steal late in Round 2.
The successor to Leonard Fournette at LSU, Guice is actually fairly similar to Fournette in a lot of ways. While he is not as big or as strong, Guice runs with the same devastating violence and has surprising long speed for his size. He is difficult to tackle, wears defenses down over the course of a game, and has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch, whom he idolizes. Guice has dealt with injury issues and his extremely physical game brings those concerns to the NFL-level.
As for his usage in the offense, Coach Jay Gruden affirmed that “our role for him is quite easy to see. It’s first, second down. We have a third-down back.” That back, Chris Thompson, will set a massive limitation on Guice as an all-around fantasy asset, and his stock in PPR leagues will be considerably lower.
Still, Washington may look to be more of a run-first team with Alex Smith in 2018, and Guice will likely benefit as a rookie. He will still hover around the first few picks of rookie drafts and should be considered a solid RB3 in standard redraft leagues, worth a gander in the early-middle rounds.
Royce Freeman to Denver Broncos
Round 3, Pick 7 (71st overall)
Purely from an opportunity standpoint, Royce Freeman may have snagged the best landing spot in the class after Saquon Barkley. His only close competition for touches is Devontae Booker, who went to Denver in the fourth round in 2016 and has yet to prove himself as an NFL starter. If Freeman can beat Booker to the top of the depth chart, there will be little standing between him and a 300-touch season.
Freeman’s production profile is off the charts. He racked up 6,435 total scrimmage yards in four years at Oregon, snagging 79 receptions and totaling 64 touchdowns. While the offense and specifically O-line at Oregon certainly helped pad Freeman’s stats, he looks great on tape as well, flashing good vision and agility for his big size. He protects the ball, runs downhill, and uses his sturdy build to stay upright, fall forward through contact, and leave dents in the defense. His pass protection leaves a little to be desired, and he was mostly used on screens as a receiver, so there is room to improve in the passing game. But unlike Guice in Washington, Freeman does not have a proven third-down guy nipping at his heels.
If you’re looking for a comparison, something like Jordan Howard — or, per PlayerProfiler, Steven Jackson — might fit the bill. Freeman isn’t the most exciting back in this class, and will likely need a lot of carries and solid blocking to dominate in fantasy. But he has one of the clearest paths to bell-cow status and will play for a sneaky-good Broncos offense with Case Keenum at the helm. I think he’ll be one of the better value picks in the late-first round of rookie drafts and the middle rounds in redraft leagues.
Nyheim Hines to Indianapolis Colts
Round 4, Pick 8 (104th overall)
Nyheim Hines brings a new look to this list of rookie backs. He is clearly undersized, at 5’8″, 198 lbs, but was also the fastest back at the 2018 combine, clocking a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. He was a track star and wide receiver in college, and had more catches as an RB in his sophomore year (43) than Guice (32), Rashaad Penny (42), Nick Chubb (31), and Ronald Jones II (32) had in their entire collegiate careers.
Hines has drawn several poor-man’s Alvin Kamara comps, and likens himself to Christian McCaffrey and even Tyreek Hill. He obviously brings a boatload of versatility and speed to an offense, and has boundless raw talent with room to improve. While he’ll never be a prototypical lead back in the NFL, the shape of the game is clearly moving in Hines’ direction and he could quickly become a top-tier weapon in the right offense.
Speaking of which, his landing spot with the Colts is superb. Indy came into the draft sporting an essentially headless backfield of Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin, and Christine Michael, and their WR corps is not much better. If new, offensively-minded head coach Frank Reich (formerly of the Darren Sproles Eagles and Danny Woodhead Chargers) can scheme Hines to his full potential, you could be looking at a PPR fantasy force out of the gate. Hines will likely be a second-round rookie pick and a late-round redraft flier, but if you play with any level of points per reception, highlight his name as a great late value.
Mark Walton to Cincinnati Bengals
Round 4, Pick 16 (112th overall)
This was certainly one of the more baffling picks of the draft, as the Bengals just invested in Joe Mixon and have a high-end pass-catching/change-of-pace back in Giovani Bernard. In all likelihood, Walton was drafted for depth, or as a successor to Bernard, should the Bengals want to move on from him after his contract ends in 2019.
Walton is more quickness than speed (he ran a 4.6 at the Combine), has good vision, runs smooth, and is very tough for his size (5’9″, 202 lbs). He is a dancer in the backfield and will make his own opportunities if necessary, thriving in the red zone to the tune of rushing 28 TDs in only 31 college games. On the flip side of that coin, he often fails to take the yards presented and shows below average vision and decisiveness.
While he has some long-term dynasty value, Walton is by far the least viable RB for redraft purposes on this list. He’s not worth drafting unless you have 53-man rosters, and even in dynasty, he’ll likely be waiver fodder until something changes in Cincinnati.