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Biggest Breakouts at Running Back - 2017 Year in Review

Breakout players are how you win your league. They are the players that finish the season ranked significantly higher than where you drafted them. Since we also have the Biggest Surprises series, I will do my best to distinguish a breakout from a surprise.

In doing so, I am making a blanket rule at the beginning here: rookies do not qualify for breakout status. I define a breakout player as someone who never had a big season and then suddenly exploded onto the scene. Here are a few RBs the broke out in 2017.

*All finishes are average PPR with a minimum of eight games played to qualify

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2017's Running Back Breakouts

Chris Thompson (WAS) ADP: Undrafted, Finish: RB10

Chris Thompson was one of those guys I would draft in the later rounds every year because I knew he was the best back on the team. Then he wouldn't produce and I'd drop him. Finally, heading into 2017, I admitted defeat. I threw in the towel. It was never going to happen for Thompson. Then, it happened. Thompson scored four touchdowns in his first three games and after multiple injuries to Rob Kelley, was poised to finish the season as the main back albeit primarily in a passing down role. Unfortunately, Thompson's season was cut short due to an injury of his own. But make no mistake about it, Thompson broke out last season and proved that he is a viable fantasy RB. He will be healthy to start 2018 and I fully expect to see him drafted in all leagues.

Duke Johnson (CLE) ADP: RB38, Finish: RB15

Isaiah Crowell had somehow worked his way into the third round by August 2017. I'm not sure how. Many agreed that Crowell was overrated, but did not jump on the Duke Johnson bandwagon, myself included. Despite only seeing double digit carries in a single game all season, Johnson's pass catching prowess propelled him to a career year. He saw at least five targets in 13 games this season and caught 74 passes in total. His rushing and receiving yardage combined to eclipse the 1,000 yard plateau. Johnson established a very reliable ppr floor and has proven to be a viable fantasy commodity. Johnson deserves to have a significant role on this team, but whispers of the Browns possibly drafting Saquon Barkley at fourth overall would quickly turn Duke Johnson into 2007 Chester Taylor.

Rex Burkhead (NE) ADP: RB44, Finish: RB16

For years, Rex Burkhead wasted away buried on the Bengals' depth chart. How front offices and coaches that get paid millions of dollars can look at Burkhead and think that he shouldn't be playing ahead of Jeremy Hill will forever be a mystery. Burkhead got himself out of Cincinnati and over to New England where he was poised for a huge role - that is - until the Patriots also signed Mike Gillislee. It took a few weeks, but Bill Belichick realized the Burkhead is better than Gillislee at literally every aspect of football. Eventually, Gillislee was a healthy scratch and James White was fazed out in favor of a Burkhead-Dion Lewis tandem. Burkhead was on his way to a big time breakout twice this season and both times his hot stretch was derailed by injury. He still managed to finish as a mid RB2 in the games he played though. Burkhead became the goal line back and scored a touchdown in four straight games before his regular season ended due to injury. Burkhead finished the season with eight total touchdowns despite appearing in just 10 games, two of which he left early with an injury. It is impossible to know what the Patriots will do with their backfield in 2018, but Burkhead has proven that he is a very capable player worthy of a significant role in an offense.

Alex Collins (BAL) ADP: Undrafted, Finish: RB24

Even his RB24 finish doesn't do Alex Collins justice. That average factors in games where he was active but still behind Terrance West and Buck Allen. Collins played in 15 games, but didn't really matter until Baltimore's Thursday night blowout of the Dolphins. That was Collins' breakout game and he just snowballed from there. While Collins only had two 100 yard rushing games, he six touchdowns over his final eight games including a stretch of at least one touchdown in four straight. He also caught at least two passes in each of his final seven games after not catching any for his first six. Collins eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and receiving on the season and, at least for now, is the favorite to be the Ravens' starter entering 2018.


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