With the 2019 NFL Draft fast approaching, now is a good time to take a look at some of the best rookie running backs from 2018 and project what year two in the NFL might bring for these rising stars. Stud backs like Saquon Barkley and Sony Michel headline the list. Let’s take a look at the second-year running backs who project to play big roles for their perspective teams in 2019. [Stats found at Pro Football Reference].
Saquon Barkley Headlines Top Sophomore Running Backs Headed Into 2019
Barkley took the league by storm in his rookie season. He locked down the lead-back role in New York and showed he could be a true workhorse back in 2018. In 2018, Saquon started all 16 games for the New York Giants compiling 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on 261 carries. Plus, he added 91 receptions, 721 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns.
This season Barkley is almost guaranteed a similar, if not even larger, workload to what he was given last year. With the departure of Odell Beckham, Barkley is now the undisputed centerpiece of the Giants offense. One negative impact of Beckham leaving on Barkley could be the spacing he will have to work with. It’s unlikely that guys like Sterling Shepard will draw the kind of attention that Odell did. This may allow defenses to focus a little more effort on stopping Saquon. However, Barkley’s elite usage in both the running game and passing game should afford him plenty of opportunities to put up gaudy stats once again in 2019.
Michel had an up and down rookie season derailed by injuries in the early stages. However, when he finally took the field healthy, Michel quickly became the primary ball-carrier for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Michel was a beast in the playoffs last season scoring as many touchdowns (six) as he had all through the regular season. He also showed that he could handle a big workload during the playoffs while receiving 24, 29, and 18 carries in the Patriots three playoff games.
While it remains to be seen whether Michel can handle the wear and tear of a featured running back role for a full NFL season, his talent and potential are undeniable. Michel hasn’t shown the kind of receiving chops that some of the elite fantasy running backs have, however, he could be a valuable fantasy asset in 2019 due to the sizable role that he is projected to play with a typically high scoring Patriots offense.
Phillip Lindsay had a steep slope to climb in his rookie season to get to the top running back spot on the Denver Broncos. Not only did Lindsay start out as an undrafted free agent but the Broncos drafted running back Royce Freeman in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Originally it was Freeman who was believed to be the top running back in Denver but that quickly changed when Lindsay proved what he could do with a football in his hands. After wracking up 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on 192 carries and 35 catches, 241 yards and one touchdown on 47 targets in 15 games, there is little doubt who will be the featured back in Denver in 2019.
Though lacking in size, Lindsay proved to be rather durable in 2018, less the wrist injury he suffered in Week 16. His usage in both the running game and passing game places him the conversation as a top-ten fantasy running back in 2019. Two things to watch for with Lindsay leading up to the 2019 season are his recovery from his wrist surgery and what kind of offensive line the Broncos put together. Both will be determining factors in where Lindsay gets selected in fantasy drafts this year.
Nick Chubb’s rookie season got off to a slow start after then-Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson decided to start out the season with veteran running back Carlos Hyde as his lead-back. That left Chubb waiting in the wings until a mid-season trade of Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars thrust him into the top running back spot in Cleveland. After that, all Chubb did was compile 996 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 192 carries or 5.2 yards per carry. Chubb was also effective in the passing game when called upon, he had 20 receptions, 149 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns on 29 targets in 2018.
Chubb’s 2019 outlook is murky with the addition of Kareem Hunt in Cleveland. However, Hunt is set to serve a lengthy suspension to start the season. This should give Chubb plenty of time to rack up some stats and stake his claim to the lead-back job for the Browns. There is some risk with picking Chubb in fantasy football this season but if he is somehow able to secure the top running back job in Cleveland long-term, he could be a valuable acquisition for your squad given his current ADP of around 20th overall. I suspect that Chubb will be one of the players that ends up being drafted in many different rounds in many different drafts. Know who you are drafting against and whether they are risk takers or not. If the people in your league tend to be more conservative and risk-averse, then Chubb might go later than 20th. If you play with a bunch of degenerate gamblers or risky people, then Chubb might go sooner in that league’s draft. [Adp’s found at Fantasy Football Calculator].
The Detroit Lions brought Kerryon Johnson along slowly in his rookie season. He split carries with LeGarrette Blount to begin the season but ultimately, he earned his way into a more prominent role as the season wore on. By week 10 he was averaging a combined 18.4 touches, between carries and targets. Unfortunately, week 10 is where Johnson’s 2018 season would end, after he suffered an MCL injury and was shut down for the rest of the season. In 2018, Johnson had 641 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries. He also brought in 32 receptions, 213 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown on 39 targets.
K.J. should enter the 2019 season as the unquestioned starting running back for the Lions, and although he may have to share some of the workload with other backs on the roster, Johnson should average close to his end of season average of 18.4 touches per game. That puts him among the upper echelon of fantasy running back prospects for 2019. Look for Johnson to be drafted somewhere between rounds four and five in fantasy drafts this summer.
Last Word on Second Year Running Backs in Fantasy Football
One more back that I feel deserves mentioning is Derrius Guice. Guice’s rookie season was over before it ever started. Unfortunately, the Washington Redskins 2018 second round pick tore his ACL in training camp causing him to be placed on IR for the season. Like most of the other running backs in this article, Guice was highly touted coming out of college and drew rave reviews in training camp last season. Sadly, we didn’t get to see Guice play in 2018 and after a major injury, with a lengthy recovery timeline, its hard to trust in him heading into 2019. Guice currently projects as a risk/reward pick in the later rounds of 2019 fantasy drafts. A lot will depend on how much he can do in OTAs and training camp.
As for the rest of the players in this article, all offer tremendous upside heading into their sophomore seasons. The future looks bright for the running back position and for fantasy football in 2019 and beyond. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of teams will be built around these players in 2019 and it is still to be determined what these players true outlook will be, so stay tuned.