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It's been said before and I'll say it again - rookie running backs can play a very significant role when it comes to fantasy fortunes. Kareem Hunt (2017) and Ezekiel Elliot (2016) are the recent examples, while the Saquon Barkley breakout of 2018 has taken absolutely no one by surprise.

Prior to this season, I highlighted Royce Freeman (miss), Kerryon Johnson (hit), and Sony Michel (hit) as potential rookie running backs set to exceed their average draft slot value. This piece will take a look at the current rookie running back landscape and offer rest-of-season outlooks for each player as we head into the fantasy season playoff push.

All statistics are current as of 11/8 and reflect standard PPR scoring format.

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Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs

Saquon Barkley

RB2, 203.6 points, 25.5 fpts/game

Analysis: Through nine weeks, Barkley has been even better than advertised. Despite being a part of a dumpster fire of an offense, he has amassed 519 rushing yards on 111 carries (4.7 yards/attempt).  He's tied with James Conner in 20+ yard runs (seven), and has notched five rushing touchdowns.  Where Barkley has really made his mark, though, is the passing game.  Benefiting from dump-off king Eli Manning, Barkley has reeled in 58-of-71 targets for 497 yards and two touchdowns. He ranks first among all running backs in receiving yardage and receiving yards/game and comes in as the second most-targeted running back (ninth among RB's and WR's). Barkley is third in the NFL in total scrimmage yards, behind just Todd Gurley and James Conner.  He has tallied nine receptions in each of his last three games - it is clear that his value is elevated to extreme heights in PPR formats. You don't need to be a fantasy expert to realize how productive Barkley has been this season, and he will continue to be featured as the focal point of an offense that is playing from behind almost every week.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: @WSH, TEN, @IND

ROS Outlook: Every-week locked-in RB1 in all leagues

 

Phillip Lindsay

RB16, 108.7 points, 13.6 fpts/game

Analysis: The undrafted rookie running back out of Colorado took the fantasy world by surprise starting in Week 1, snatching the lead back role from highly-touted 3rd-round draft pick Royce Freeman. He has amassed 591 rushing yards on 110 carries, good for a 5.4 yards/attempt average (tied for first among RB's with at least 100 carries). He has tallied three rushing touchdowns.  Additionally, he has caught 18-of-23 targets for 136 yards and one receiving touchdown. Lindsay ranks sixth in total yards among running backs and his only non-double-digit scoring game came in Week 3 when he was ejected from the game early.  He will continue to serve as the featured back in Denver's offense, an offense that strives to pound the rock in order to minimize the amount of Case Keenum passing attempts. Royce Freeman's pending return from injury will put a slight dent in Lindsay's fantasy outlook, as Freeman serves as the goal-line back and Devontae Booker is still (somehow) stealing passing-down snaps. Overall, though, Lindsay has been the best running back on the Broncos and he has a strong opportunity to post top-20 fantasy running back numbers for the rest of the year. He also boasts the most fantasy-friendly schedule among rookie running back.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: @SF, CLE, @OAK

ROS Outlook: RB2 as clear lead back in a timeshare

 

Kerryon Johnson

RB21, 89.4 points, 12.8 fpts/game

Analysis: #FreeKerryon.  Detroit's lead running back has frustratingly had to compete with goal-line plodder LeGarrette Blount and receiving-specialist Theo Riddick all year, but the Lions have featured the rookie second-rounder out of Auburn in a lead role since Week 3 against the Patriots. Making his first start, Johnson carried 16 times for 101 yards (6.3 yards/attempt), catching 2-of-3 targets for nine yards. Since then, he has only had one game where he failed to reach double-digit fantasy points, and it occurred in Week 9 against a stout Vikings defensive front.  Johnson ranks 4th among all running backs at 5.7 yards/attempt (first among rookie running backs), though his usage has remained a slight concern due to Blount and Riddick stealing snaps - he is averaging just 12.6 carries per game since being thrust into the starting role in Week 3. He also ranks just 28th in opportunity share among qualified running backs.  Despite the usage issue and lack of touchdowns (one), Johnson is the clear lead back on the Lions and he has displayed a solid weekly floor with upside (assuming positive touchdown regression).

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: @ARI, @BUF, MIN

ROS Outlook: Low-end RB2 as featured back with upside

 

Sony Michel

RB35, 71.3 points, 11.9 fpts/game

Analysis: Everything broke right for the fantasy outlook of the Patriots first-round pick Sony Michel. The running back depth chart eroded in front of him as Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill were placed on IR early in the season, and the Patriots were left with just Michel and receiving-specialist James White as their only options in the backfield. Michel seized his opportunity and ran with it, quite literally, as he eclipsed 17.1 points and 100 total yards in three straight contests after becoming the starter in Week 4. However, a knee injury forced him out of Week 7’s game against the Bears, and he missed Week 8 and Week 9 as a result. He is likely to return in Week 10 against the Titans and should resume his role as the starting running back for one of the league’s top offenses. He currently ranks 13th in red zone touches (21), and 10th in yards created per carry; both impressive stats reflect Michel’s immense upside in the Patriots offense.  Though he doesn’t see many targets due to James White’s presence (four catches on eight targets for 31 receiving yards), he is 24th in fantasy points per game among running backs - a number that is even more impressive considering that half of his games played he was either not starting (Week 2) or forced out due to injury (Week 1 and 7). Cordarrelle Patterson has performed admirably as the early-down running back in Michel’s absence, but all indications are that a healthy Michel will take his role back over. Owners should have full confidence in deploying Michel as a starting option for the rest of the season.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: @MIA, @PIT, BUF

ROS Outlook: High-end RB2 with low-end RB1 potential

 

Nick Chubb

RB47, 52.8 points, 6.6 fpts/game

Analysis: Nick Chubb’s Week 7 promotion to the lead back in Cleveland’s offense has significantly elevated his fantasy outlook for the rest of the season. The Browns traded the (mostly) ineffective Carlos Hyde following their Week 6 loss to the Chargers, and Chubb has flourished in his new role in Cleveland’s run-heavy attack. In the three weeks since taking over the starting role, Chubb has had 18 or more carries in each game, two total touchdowns, and an average of 13.16 points per game. He had previously flashed his big-play potential back in Week 4 against Oakland, when he had three carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Though Chubb hardly ever sees any work in the passing game (0.3 receptions per game), his big-play potential is evident and the opportunities will continue to be given to the rookie out of Georgia. He ranks third among all running backs in breakaway run rate (% of carries for 15 or more yards), and first in yards created per carry (yards generated after first evaded tackle). His 5.4 yards per carry average ranks eighth among running backs with 70 carries or more. Duke Johnson is Chubb’s only competition for touches, and he has his own specialized role that doesn’t significantly impact Chubb’s opportunity share. The recent coaching upheaval seems to have raised Johnson’s stock, but there’s no indication that it will put a damper on Chubb’s. Fire up Nick Chubb as a top-25 option on a team that loves to run the ball and control the time of possession in order to stay in games.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: CAR, @DEN, CIN

ROS Outlook: RB2/RB3

 

Royce Freeman

RB38, 61 points, 8.7 fpts/game

Analysis: Royce Freeman has burned more than a few fantasy owners as he has failed to live up to his average draft slot by quite a bit. He was drafted by the Broncos in the third round out of Oregon, and the fantasy world collectively assumed he would be taking over the backfield in Denver. However, the emergence of undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay put a damper on his fantasy prospects from the get-go, and he has been relegated to somewhat of a “goal-line back” role for the majority of the season.  Though he has received 13 or more carries in three games this year, he totaled an uninspiring 7.1, 12.8, and 9.7 fantasy points in those contests. He has capitalized on his role, though, with four touchdowns in his seven games played before missing Week 8 and Week 9 with a high-ankle sprain. Though he has a few eye-popping metrics (sixth in juke rate, fifth in yards created per carry), his current secondary role and lack of passing-game work (four receptions) render him a touchdown-dependent flex play in most fantasy leagues. He has an extremely favorable fantasy playoff schedule, so if anything were to happen to Lindsay, Freeman would become a very useful fantasy contributor.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: @SF, CLE, @OAK

ROS Outlook: Touchdown-dependent RB3/FLEX

 

Nyheim Hines

RB18, 94.5 points, 11.8 fpts/game

Analysis: Hines' fantasy value is contingent on the status of lead-back Marlon Mack. Mack has firmly established himself as the top option in the Colts' running back stable, and he will continue to dominate the backfield touches as long as he stays healthy. Hines had a standout game in Week 4 against the Texans (while Mack was still injured), catching 9-of-11 targets for 63 receiving yards and two touchdowns (28.3 fantasy points). Though he will see some passing-down work and snaps during garbage time, his fantasy impact will be minimal unless Mack suffers an injury. Since Mack's return from injury in Week 6, Hines has scored 5.5, 5.2, and 10.5 fantasy points.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: @HOU, DAL, NYG

ROS Outlook: RB4/RB5 - speculative bench stash for playoff stretch

 

Rashaad Penny

RB65, 25.7 points, 3.7 fpts/game

Analysis: Owners who drafted Rashaad Penny have only themselves to blame. All the news out of Seattle OTA’s, training camp, and preseason was extremely negative for Penny, and even Pete Carroll himself stated multiple times that the Seahawks were rolling with Chris Carson as their starting running back. He wasn’t lying. Chris Carson and Mike Davis have been the clear featured backs in Seattle’s offense all season, while Penny has been a distant afterthought. He had seven carries for eight yards and four receptions in Week 1 to hit his season-high 8.3 fantasy points, but hasn’t eclipsed 5.4 points ever since. The Seahawks just simply aren’t giving him anywhere close to enough snaps for him to be fantasy-relevant. An injury to Carson or Davis might force Penny into the “desperation flex play” category, but even then he is not a player to get excited about. Leave Penny on the waiver wire, and don’t think twice about it.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: MIN, @SF, KC

ROS Outlook: RB6/RB7 in 14+ team leagues

 

Ronald Jones II

RB74, 19.6 points, 4.9 fpts/game

Analysis: Similar to Penny, Ronald Jones II had a rough start to his rookie campaign that began in OTA’s and kept spiraling downward from there. Fantasy owners were cautioned by Dirk Koetter that Peyton Barber was the team’s starting running back, and he was true to his word. Jones II was inactive for the first three games of the season and has yet to reach double-digit fantasy points in any game. He also hasn’t reached 30 rushing yards in any game and is averaging a miserable 2.2 yards per carry. To top it all off, Jones II injured his hamstring in Week 8’s game in Cincinnati and is expected to miss the next few weeks. You can feel free to drop him or leave him on the waiver wire as there are infinitely better options available.

Fantasy Playoff Schedule: NO, @BAL, @DAL

ROS Outlook: Waiver-wire material

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