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Road to #1 Running Back - AFC South


Each year, elite running backs are a necessity for fantasy football rosters. With guaranteed touches each game, these consensus top-tier running backs are some of the first names off of draft boards and consistently perform well throughout the season.

However, there is also a good amount of unpredictability at the position, with breakout players appearing from out of nowhere year-in and year-out. Whether they dominate for stretches over the year or end up as top-level talents themselves, unproven or underrated running backs represent a very good opportunity for fantasy owners entering drafts due to their lower draft capital and high production premiums.

In this series, we will go through each NFL division and point out one running back on each team in that division that is currently ranked outside of the top-12 at the position who could finish among the league's best when all is said and done. Today, let's look at the AFC South and see who could be that next elite fantasy ballcarrier.

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Running Backs - AFC South

T.J. Yeldon, JAX

Yeldon has a lot of work to do if he wants to become fantasy relevant once again. The running back from Alabama has been a backup for the majority of his NFL career, whether it be for Chris Ivory or Leonard Fournette. With Fournette the likely workhorse in this team's offense, Yeldon will be forced to play a complementary role that may result in a substantial limit to his touches throughout the season. Nevertheless, Fournette does have some injury concerns, meaning that there is a world in which Yeldon becomes a premier back in the absence of his backfield mate. If Yeldon is able to become the team's workhorse, he would inherit a run-first offense that is catered to using a running back on all three downs. This makes Yeldon a valuable handcuff to have and a potential RB1 should Fournette miss any time in 2018.

Derrick Henry, TEN

After playing second fiddle to running back DeMarco Murray for his first two professional seasons, Derrick Henry is finally ready to take the reins as the team's lead running back in 2018. Although the Titans did sign Dion Lewis to a sizable contract in the offseason, Henry should still shoulder the majority of the carries out of the team's backfield and has the chance to cross the 200 carry threshold for the first time in his career. In 2016, Henry rushed the ball for just under 500 yards and scored five times. 2017 saw an improvement in Henry's game, with more attempts, all-purpose yards (880), and touchdowns (six).

However, it was last season's playoffs where Henry truly dominated - 184 rushing yards on 35 attempts as well as a rushing touchdown over the course of two games. Entering 2018, Henry is expected to be the team's primary first and second down back, with Lewis taking over on third downs and spelling Henry when he is tired. Henry has shown that he has the ability to be a workhorse back at the next level and should finally take over the team's offense this season. At his third-round asking price, you are looking at an RB2 with legitimate RB1 upside if he is able to live up to his play over the course of the first two seasons and consolidate the majority of the team's backfield touches.

Marlon Mack, IND

After being selected by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Mack played the majority of the season behind veterans Frank Gore and Robert Turbin. However, he was able to make the most of his playing time, with 583 yards from scrimmage and four rushing/receiving touchdowns. Mack demonstrated some of his explosive ability in 2017 and has received praise from the team's coaching staff throughout the offseason. Entering the team's 2018 season, Mack is competing with rookie running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins as well as the returning Robert Turbin. A workhorse back at USF, Mack has what it takes to be a heavy-volume running back for the Colts and should benefit from his catching ability with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck. Mack is a versatile weapon that is the team's starting running back, making him well worth the 6th round ADP that fantasy owners will have to spend to acquire his services. If he lives up to the hype, the stage is set for Mack to become the next great Colts running back.

Lamar Miller, HOU

Since arriving at the Houston Texans in 2016, Lamar Miller has lost the ability to bust open a big play that he so-often demonstrated throughout his career with the Miami Dolphins. Miller's longest run in 2016 was 45 yards, while his longest in 2017 was a disappointing 21 yards. Although he crossed the 1,000 rushing yards barrier in 2016 and also had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2017, you could tell that Miller was rather disappointed with his performances and that of the team. Despite scoring six touchdowns in each of his seasons with the Houston Texans, Miller wants more. With the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, Miller has the supporting cast that he needs to return to his old self - a big-play threat that doesn't need 20 carries to dominate a game. Currently being drafted in the fifth round of half-PPR drafts, Miller is a genuine threat to become an RB1 due to the lack of competition in the running back room and the high-powered offense that the Texans demonstrated can be successful last season. If fantasy owners select Miller with one of their mid-round picks, they can have a safe option who has vowed to increase his big-play ability entering the 2018 season, making him a valuable fantasy asset this year.

 

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