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Biggest Breakouts of 2018 - Running Back

As volatile as running backs are on the real-life gridiron, they’re equally as volatile for us fantasy owners. Injuries, suspensions, and contract holdouts have recently plagued some of the bigger names in the NFL, allowing lesser-known entities to step into the limelight. These “breakout” players are what makes fantasy so rewarding because these are the types of players that win you championships.

In most cases, these breakouts weren’t high on your radar come draft day. One way or the other, we're talking about them after the season ends. 

Just for substance, we’ll be going over those players who may not have been on everyone’s radar entering the season (i.e. not Saquon Barkley). The following three backs burst onto the scene for one reason or another this year and will continue to be big names to look at in 2019.

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Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

2018 ADP: N/A

It’s hard not to label Lindsay as fantasy football's biggest breakout at the running back position. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Colorado, the 24-year-old finished his rookie campaign with 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, he was solid, catching 35 of 47 passes for 241 yards and another touchdown.

As the season began, many expected Royce Freeman to be the main guy in a likely committee approach by the Broncos. Then Week 1 came around, and Lindsay and Freeman had an even split with 15 carries apiece. It was this way until Week 7 when Freeman went down with an injury, so Lindsay assumed the starting duties the following week.

Over the final eight games of the season when he was the key back, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, rushing for 601 yards and eight touchdowns. Of course, Lindsay injured his wrist in Week 14 against the Raiders, eventually leading him to miss the final two weeks of the season once the team shut him down. Combine the end-of-season numbers and the undrafted free agent status, Lindsay was easily the biggest surprise of any running back in the NFL.


James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

2018 ADP: 154

The second-year back out of Pittsburgh was arguably the most publicized breakout this season, mainly due to the Le'Veon Bell situation. It was clear that the Steelers saw a lot in him, drafting him in the third round in 2017, but when Bell threatened (eventually following through) to hold out the whole season, the organization was confident in Conner.

He went through to the tune of 972 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, while also hauling 55 of 71 targets for 497 yards and a score. Conner would have surely toppled the 1,000-yard mark had he not gone down with an ankle injury in Week 13. Regardless, he made for a weekly plug-and-play option at running back. 

The 23-year-old offered a perfect balance for the Steelers, proving he could perform as a three-down back, and more importantly showed that behind an offensive line as good as the Steeler's possessed, that a player of Bell's type isn't a necessity in today's game. Proof you ask? Nine of Conner's 12 touchdowns came inside the 10-yard line, and all but two of his 13 total scores came inside the red zone. In the wake of his injury, rookie Jaylen Samuels also emerged as a weapon for the Steelers; however, barring some miracle with the Bell situation, this is Conner's backfield in 2019.


Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

2018 ADP: 60

In the era of pass-heavy attacks, Pete Carroll keeps the Seattle Seahawks engrained in the ground-and-pound play style. This allows bruisers like Chris Carson to become a fantasy star. The second-year back out of Oklahoma State stepped into the big stage in 2018 for a playoff Seahawks team.

Carson rushed for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns on 247 carries, for an average of 4.6 yards per attempt and 82.2 yards per game. This landed the 24-year-old inside the top 10 of every major rushing category, and even in the top five of several stats.

The bruiser had one of the strongest finishes of any running back in recent memory, making him a huge part of some fantasy league championship lineups. Over his final our games, Carson took 90 carries for 447 yards and five touchdowns, leading Seattle to the playoffs and helping his fantasy owners win big in the playoffs.

While he doesn’t offer much in the passing game, it doesn’t matter when he’s the top back on a run-heavy team. Carson is young and seems primed to thrive beyond 2018, making him an intriguing back to target come draft season.


Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

2018 ADP: 111

The rookie out of Georgia wasn’t named the Browns’ starting back until Week 7 when Cleveland traded Carlos Hyde. From that point on, the rookie took the league by storm, helping to bring the Browns back to mere relevancy. He finished the season with 996 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. 823 of those yards and six touchdowns came after he was made the starter. Chubb and his quarterback Baker Mayfield may very well be the duo that turns the Browns into a playoff team, so don’t be surprised if it’s in 2019.


Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

2018 ADP: 84

Few, if any, knew what to expect out of the Indianapolis Colts this season. Andrew Luck was returning after missing all of 2017, but that hardly meant they were primed for big things. This meant a lot of people were expecting Mack to shoulder some of Luck's workload (pun intended). The second-year South Florida product rushed for 908 yards and nine touchdowns over just 12 games. If he can stay healthy in 2019, he should continue to trend upward along with his Colts team.

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