What an interesting year for running backs in both in fantasy football and in NFL in general. Seemingly from the moment the New York Giants decided to make Saquon Barkley the #2 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, a debate began to bubble: Do running backs matter? The argument is more based in terms of the real-life NFL, not the fantasy game. Should you draft an RB early when late round guys can step in and do the same, if not a better job? Speaking in terms of NFL roster construction, the jury is still out. But in terms of fantasy football, the stud RB is still a thing of beauty. Of the top 12 fantasy RBs drafted this season, 8 finished the season as an RB1 and the top 7 RBs in the league outscored the next 7 guys by about 6 fantasy points per game. For this list, I dug into some interesting stats for each of the top 12 RBs, a few of the ADP busts, and a few fun things from the rest of the league.
Thanks to our editor, Kyle Borgognoni, for his contribution to this list.
1. Ezekiel Elliott was the lone 300-carry RB in this season. Elliott was the definition of a workhorse, also reeling in 77 receptions. That reception total is more than his first 2 years in the NFL combined.
2. Zeke was also the man on 3rd down. He had both the most 3rd down carries and the most 3rd down receptions of any RB in the NFL this year.
3. Todd Gurley led all RBs from a fantasy point-per-game standpoint in 2018. His 26.6 points-per-game in full PPR were the 10th most in NFL history
4. Gurley also owned the red zone this season. No RB had more carries inside the 20-yard line or in “goal-to-go” situations. All 17 of Gurley’s rushing TDs were scored from inside the 20.
6. No RB1 caught fewer than 26 balls this season. Peterson and Howard each caught 20.
7. Christian McCaffrey caught 107 balls. That was 8th most in the NFL this year, regardless of position. It’s also the most catches by an RB in the history of the NFL.
8. So much for those who scoffed at Christian McCaffrey‘s ability to handle the big workload. He ended the year with 326 touches and only missed 30 total snaps all season. McCaffrey was the RB3 in .5 PPR scoring.
9. Jordan Howard, though drafted in the 2nd round as the RB12, turned his 250 carries into only 935 yards and an RB20 finish.
11. Barkley did not fumble a ball his entire rookie season (261 carries). Tarik Cohen led the league with 7 fumbles on 99 carries.
12. Besides leading the league in fumbles, Tarik Cohen did finish as the RB13 despite only getting those 99 carries. This was in large part to his 71 catches and 5 receiving TDs.
13. Alvin Kamara scored 313.7 points in 2018, his sophomore season. Combine that with his rookie total of 273.9 points and you have the 3rd most points ever for a 2nd year RB…behind only Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James.
14. Melvin Gordon was 4th in the league with 14 total TDs. Over the last 3 years, only Todd Gurley has scored more TDs than Gordon. Gurley has 46 while Gordon has 38.
15. James Conner took over for Le’Veon Bell and was the catalyst of the “RBs don’t matter” movement. Conner, a 3rd round pick by the Steelers in 2017, finished as the RB6 in only 13 games played. He averaged 1 TD per game played this year.
16. Despite only playing in 11 games, Kareem Hunt still led the league in receiving TDs by an RB and finished as the RB11.
17. No RB has more targets over the last 3 seasons than James White. He was 2nd the league in 2018 with 123 targets and has 281 over the last 3 years. It should be noted that Christian McCaffrey has 237 in only 2 seasons.
18. Joe Mixon finished as the RB9 but had 1168 yards in only 14 games. That is good enough for the 3rd most rushing yards per game in 2018, behind only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott.
19. While technically a bust based on ADP (RB3), David Johnson still finished with 221 fantasy points and as the RB10. He was tied for 10th most TDs scored by an RB with 10 total TDs.
20. For those who say not to draft RBs early in the NFL draft, Phillip Lindsay was Exhibit A in their case. Denver’s undrafted rookie free agent finished as the RB12, with over 1000 rushing yards and 10 total TDs.
21. Leonard Fournette regressed terribly from his rookie season. After scoring 212 fantasy points and finishing as the RB8 in 2017, Fournette barely finished 8 games in 2018 and ended as the RB40 with 109 fantasy points. Fournette was the RB13 on a fantasy ppg basis, so he could rebound in 2019.
22. Dalvin Cook was drafted as the last RB1 in fantasy drafts last summer (RB12 overall). He did not rebound from injury so gracefully, only playing in 11 games and ending the year as the RB29. He did start to find his groove of the last 5 games of the season though. Cook scored 71% of his fantasy points from Week 13-17. He was the RB6 over that span.
23. The Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers both had 2 backs finish in the overall top 24. Meanwhile, 6 teams didn’t even have an RB finish in the top 30, including the: New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, and Baltimore Ravens.
24. In Week 14, the legend of Derrick Henry began as he had the most points by a back for the season with 47.8. In fact, over the last 5 years, this was the 2nd most points in a game by any RB. In 2016, Le’Veon Bell scored 49.8 points in a single game vs Buffalo.
25. That week made up 24% of Henry’s entire 2018 fantasy total. He finished as the RB14.