David Johnson (DK – $8,800/FD – $8,600): As great as Todd Gurley was in 2017, Johnson was better in 2016. He finished with 2,118 combined yards with 20 TDs and 80 catches while averaging 23.3 touches per game. (Note: Gurley only played 15 last year.) David missed last season due to a left wrist injury, which won’t be a strike on his 2018 Fantasy value. In 2015 with Johnson as a part-time RB, the Cardinals had the top offense in the league while averaging 31.1 points per game. The loss of Johnson and weaker QB play led to only 18.4 points per game last year. In 2017, Washington finished 28th in the NFL defending RBs (2,428 combined yards with 16 TDs and 79 catches) with two disaster games (NO - 253 combined yards, two TDs, and nine catches and DEN - 229 combined yards with one TD and 15 catches). A favorable matchup with the TD firepower to post a winning score at this price point.
Alvin Kamara (DK – $8,500/FD – $8,700): Hands down Kamara was the best back in the NFL in 2017. He gained 7.7 yards per touch with 14 TDs. His season started as the third wheel in the Saints’ RB rotation with Adrian Peterson on the roster for the first three games. In the end, New Orleans gave him 201 touches for 1,554 combined yards. Alvin only had one game with over 100 yards rushing (106) plus another game with over 100 yards receiving (101). He runs with power with high upside as a pass receiver. Overall, he averaged 1.59 Fantasy points per touch, which would have worked out to 545 Fantasy points in PPR league if he had the same touches (343) as Todd Gurley. The Saints will use two backs again in 2018 even with Mark Ingram suspended for four games. Last year New Orleans’ RB gained 3,114 combined yards with 28 TDs and 144 catches or 39.0 Fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. In his two games vs. Tampa in 2017, Alvin had 280 combined yards with three TDs and 12 catches. The Buccaneers ranked 27th in the NFL last year defending RBs with four teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points. A great matchup with explosive upside in all areas.
Kareem Hunt (DK – $6,900/FD – $8,000): The Chiefs will be making a change at QB in 2018. Patrick Mahones comes with high pedigree, and he’s expected to add more value to the deep passing game. His ability to challenge defenses over all parts of the field can only help Hunt find freedom at the second level of the defense. In his rookie season, Kareem gained 1,882 combined yards with 11 TDs and 53 catches. He averaged 20.3 touches per game with 12 rushes over 20 yards and three runs over 40 yards. Kansas City has a stud TE plus an extremely quick and talented Tyreek Hill. The addition of Sammy Watkins will force the defense to pay attention to the deep passing game. This whole equation points to a much better situation than Ezekiel Elliott, but Hunt may lose the touch battle to Elliott by 20 percent or more. Kareem has pass-catching ability, and his overall opportunity should rise in 2018. The key is the success and the development of Mahomes. Last year Hunt had a monster game vs. the Chargers on the road (183 combined yards with one TD and one catch) with even more follow through at home (206 combined yards with two TDs and seven catches). LA gave up 4.9 yards per rush with over 2,500 combined yards with 12 TDs and 89 catches to RBs in 2017. The Chargers have a weakness at linebacker with strength at CB, which points to the RB and TE being active for Kansas City. Game score should be the key. I expect a very good game from Hunt in Week 1, which will be helped by Los Angeles putting up a fight on the scoreboard.
Alex Collins (DK – $5,600/FD – $6.700): As a late addition to the Ravens roster in September after being cut by Seattle, Collins blossomed into the top RB option for Baltimore. Alex flashed upside in Week 2 (9/82) and Week 3 (9/82), which eventually led to him earning the starting job. Over the last nine games with starting snaps (19.2 per game), Collins gained 785 combined yards with six TDs and 23 catches while averaging 18.2 touches per game. He finished with three strong games (143 combined yards with two catches, 98 combined yards with two TDs and two catches, and 146 combined yards with a TD and two catches). His value is limited while offering some risk in pass protection. In 2017, the Ravens’ RBs gained 1,805 yards and 12 TDs on 431 carries. This season Alex will be the lead runner on early downs for Baltimore plus catch a reasonable number of passes. Last year the Bills were the worst team in the league defending RBs with six teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points. Baltimore is going to play from the lead in this matchup, which bolds well for Collins to have a high volume of touches. Excellent play at this salary level with multi TD upside as long the Ravens don’t get cute at the goal with Lamar Jackson.
Royce Freeman (DK – $4,500/FD – $6,000): In his four seasons at Oregon, Freeman rushed for 5,621 yards with 60 TDs while adding 79 catches for 814 yards and four TDs. He runs with vision and enough lateral quickness to create winning plays over any part of the line of scrimmage. Freeman runs with power and follow through at the second level of the defense. His speed (4.54) is about NFL average while lacking home run ability. In 2017, the Broncos’ RB rushed for 1,631 yards on 407 carries with only six rushing TDs. Their RBs caught 87 of 112 targets for 699 yards and two TDs. Freeman is going to be the early-down back in this offense with a chance to 300+ touches for 1,400+ yards. I expect about 25 catches in the passing game with a team-high in rushing TDs. He projects as a better version of C.J. Anderson who finished 273 touches in 2017 for 1,231 yards with four TDs and 28 catches. His style and opportunity have similarities to Jordan Howard while playing for a team that has a chance to play from the lead in many more games. Last Seattle ranked 5th in the league defending RBs with only one bad game (LAR – 269 combined yards with four TDs and three catches). The Seahawks did allow 17 TDs to RBs, and their defense won’t be better in 2018. Freeman is gaining steam in Fantasy drafts. I expect him to be a popular play at this level.
MATCHUP RISK/AGAINST THE GRAIN
Saquon Barkley (DK – $6,700/FD – $7,600): Over his last two seasons at Penn State, Saquon had 3,801 combined yards with 43 TDs and 82 catches. He projects as a three-down back with high value in scoring ability. Giants’ fans have to be excited by the addition of Barkley. He’ll threaten the second level of the defense with his speed if he gets a free run through the line of scrimmage while offering a dig step to set up linebackers and safeties for big plays. His vision is exceptional with the hands and route running to be a true three-down threat. If he had the Cowboys’ offensive line, Saquon would no doubt be a top three Fantasy draft pick in 2018. Last year the Giants’ RBs rushed for 1,511 yards on 378 carries with only five rushing TDs. Their backs caught 105 of 139 targets for 608 yards and one TD. Eli will look to dump off many passes to the RB position when the pass blocking breaks down, which is going to happen a lot again this season. Barkley will command a top tier RB opportunity even with a veteran RB on the roster. The Jaguars have a top defense in the NFL, but they can get beat at times at the RB position. Three times last year, the RBs scored big points against Jacksonville (NYJ - 321 combined yards with two TDs and six catches, LAC - 192 combined yards with four TDs and 11 catches, and SF - 231 combined yards with three TDs and nine catches). Bet the talent here, not the defense. Barkley will be a low percentage own in his first NFL game while owning the talent and opportunity to pay off. I don’t expect his summer hamstring issue to limit him in this matchup.
LeSean McCoy (DK – $6,000/FD – $7,300): McCoy can't help be the focal point of the Bills' offense in Week 1, but Buffalo will struggle to move the ball on the road with a rookie QB behind center. His three-down ability and the huge volume of touches will set a high floor, but he can post a winning score without a TD. Last year LeSean scored two of his eight TDs on the road. Baltimore ranked 18th defending RBs last year with four teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points. I'm not a fan of McCoy in Week 1.
Kenyan Drake (DK – $5,900/FD – $6,600): Fantasy owners will be intrigued by the finished of Drake in 2017 after Miami traded Jay Ajayi to the Eagles. Over five starts, Kenyan posted 594 combinedyards with two TDs and 17 catches on 108 combined touches. He averaged 21.6 touches per game as a starter with about 119 yards per game. His best value came in Week 13 vs. the Patriots (193 combined yards with five catches). Miami did bring in Frank Gore to compete for some playing time, which will lead to Drake falling to the 3/4 turn in most 12-team PPR leagues in the season-long games. Miami's coaching staff mention in August that Gore is going to be active in the game plan, which will limit the touches by Drake. He does have upside in the passing game while still trying to find his way in TDs. Last year the Titans ranked 14th defending RBs in Fantasy points in PPR leagues, but they allowed only 3.6 yards per rush with five rushing TDs. Not the best matchup when considering his drop back in chances.
Jerick McKinnon (DK – $5,800/FD – $7,200): After a relatively quiet start to his career (1,911 combined yards with seven TDs and 91 catches), McKinnon broke through with his best year in the NFL in 2017. He gained 991 combined yards with five TDs and 51 catches while working in a split role with Latavius Murray in Minnesota after the injury to Dalvin Cook. The Vikings gave him 13.7 rushes over seven games midseason, but Jerick gained only 3.8 yards per carry leading to Murray gaining momentum on early downs. McKinnon didn’t have a rushing TDs over his last eight games. He shined in two games as a receiver (6/72 and 7/114). Kyle Shanahan will use two RBs in his offense, and he did rotate two backs in his successful season with Falcons. I only see about ten rushes per game with a chance to catch about four balls each week. Jerick suffered a calf issue in August, which puts his Week 1 status in doubt. The Vikings were one of the better teams in the league defending RBs in the passing game in 2017 (76/489/1). Too much failure risk for my blood...avoid.
TOUGH MATCHUP WITH LIMITED UPSIDE
Ronald Jones (DK – $4,900/FD – $5,600): Over three seasons at USC, Jones gained 4,242 combined yards with 42 TDs and 32 catches. His best success came in his junior season in 2017 when he gained 1,737 yards with 20 TDs and 14 catches on 275 touches. Ronald added more bulk in 2017, and it helped his explosiveness in the trenches. He runs with patience and quickness, but his move to the second level of the defense can be explosive when he able to get full strides with his legs. Jones offers subtle cuts and shoulder fakes to create separation in the open field. His appears to stall in short areas when he doesn’t have the space to open up his stride. I like his vision, and his ability to hit the gas when he sees daylight. He showed hands catching ability, which gives him a chance to be much better than in the passing games at the next level. His ability to pass protect will help him on third downs. As much as like his upside, I have to take in the weakness of the Bucs’ offensive line. Jones will be the top RB on Tampa in 2018, but he will struggle in games vs. defense with strength against the run and a plus defensive line. Over the summer, Jones has lost the battle for the lead role for Tampa at RB in Week 1 while showing concern in pass protection. At this point, he has no playable value in the daily games.
Marlon Mack (DK – $4,800/FD – $6,000): In his rookie season, Mack gained 583 combined yards with four TDs and 21 catches. He missed two games early in the year with a shoulder injury. After the season, Marlon had surgery to repair a torn labrum. His best game of the season came in Week 5 (93 combined yards with one TD and one catch). Mack has what the Colts’ offense lacks at the running back position – explosiveness. He scored six TDs over 40 yards in 2016 in college, but he doesn't look healthy heading into Week 1. I expect him to sit out vs. the Bengals with a hamstring issue. If Marlon somehow crawls on the field, I don't expect him to be the lead runner out of the gate. Passing catching back with some scoring ability while being an avoid on the opening card.
Rashaad Penny (DK – $4,800/FD – $6,300): In 2016, Penny gained 1,242 combined yards with 14 TDs and 15 catches while receiving 141 combined touches. San Diego State worked him hard in his senior year leading to 308 touches for 2,383 combined yards with 25 TDs and 19 catches. Even more impressive in his college career was his eight kicks returned for TDs. Rashaad average 30.2 yards over his 81 kickoffs leading to 2,449 yards and seven TDs while also returning one of his two career punt returns for a TD. His success was greatly helped by poor defensive play at the second and third levels of defenses in his conference, which won’t be the case in the NFL. Penny follows his blockers well while running with patience. He has an uncanny feel to hit the gas at the right time to create big windows in the run game. His experience in the passing game is limited, but Rashaad is going to be a tough cover for linebackers. Most of his highlight came from explosive plays. Penny still has to have vision and acceleration to finish his opportunities. There’s a lot to like here even with much smaller lanes to run through in Seattle. Rashaad broke a finger in August, but he still has a chance to play in Week 1. He came into camp out of shape while losing ground to Chris Carson. Not ready for prime time just yet.
Chris Carson (DK – $4,500/FD – $5,900): In Week 2 in 2017, Carson emerged as the lead back for Seattle after gaining 100 combined yards with one catch on 21 touches. He followed that game with boring results over the next two weeks (52 combined yards with two catches on 13 touches and 66 combined yards with three catches on 15 touches) before an ankle injury ended his season. As a backup RB at Oklahoma State in 2015 and 2016, Chris gained 1,319 combined yards with 14 TDs and 30 catches on 243 touches. Seattle likes his game, and Carson is expected to start in Week 1 with Rashaad Penny coming off a finger issue. Last year Denver held RBs to 3.3 yards per rush, but they did allow 14 TDs. Tough matchup with minimal value in the passing game.
PLAYING TIME CONCERN
Dalvin Cook (DK – $6,200/FD – $7,300): In 2017, Cook blew out his ACL in his left knee. I’m never a fan of a player coming off an injury as too much could go wrong in his recovery. Last season the Vikings’ RBs finished with 457 rushes for 1,803 yards and 14 TDs plus 84 catches for another 681 yards and two more TDs. With repeated success, Minnesota will once again have a special run game, but their offensive line will rank at the backend of the league. Of all the backs on the Vikings in 2017, Cook was by far the most dynamic with three down value. In his four games, he had 95 touches for 444 yards with two TDs and 11 catches. Dalvin expects to be a full go in Week 1, but the coach-speak in Minnesota suggests that he'll be a split role out of the gate to help him get his sea legs. Fade for me until he gets the lion's share of RB touches.
Chris Thompson (DK – $4,700/FD – $6,200): Thompson played well in 2016 (705 combined yards with 49 catches and five TDs) while being on a higher path last year (704 combined yards with 39 catches and six TDs). A broken leg in Week 11 led to six missed games. Chris doesn’t have the skill to be an early down back, but he can hit on a long run while being electric in the passing game. His best success in the passing game in 2017 came in Week 3 (6/150/1), Week 6 (4/105), and Week 8 (8/76) with each game coming at home. He even hit on a long run in Week 2 vs. the Rams, which led to 106 combined yards with two TDs and three catches. The Redskins’ RBs caught 86 passes for 885 yards and six TDs on 111 targets in 2017. The last report out of Washington gives him a chance at a good chance at playing in Week 1 despite sitting out the whole preseason. Last year RBs caught 95 passes for 764 yards and three TDs vs. the Cardinals. Washington’s RBs tend to offer more value at home, but a Fantasy owner is betting on the come based on his injury path.
Matt Breida (DK – $4,600/FD – $5,000): Matt gained 645 combined yards in his rookie season with three TDs and 21 catches on 126 combined touches. His biggest weakness came in pass protection, which is an area that Jerick McKinnon excelled in 2017. Even with pass catching ability, Breida may work better as a change of pass runner on early downs where his speed can create big plays. The 49ers backfield will be in flux until there's a better update on their top two backs health for Week 1. If McKinnon can't go, Breida will get a nice bump in touches with pass catching value. Only a flier for now with a tough matchup.
Nick Chubb (DK – $4,100/FD – $5,500): Over four seasons at Georgia, Chubb rushed for 4,769 yards with 44 TDs on 758 rushes. He gained 361 yards receiving in his career with 31 catches and four TDs. As a freshman, Nick appeared to offer more value/upside as a pass catcher (18/213/2). Chubb runs with patients while waiting to hit second gear through an opening at the line of scrimmage. His power and acceleration work well at the second level of the defense and at the goal line. Nick will start the year behind Carlos Hyde on the depth chart, but he may emerge as the top early down runner by the end of the year. He has no playable Fantasy value out of the gate in the daily games.
Le’Veon Bell (DK – $9,400/FD – $8,900): For the second straight season, Bell sat out during training camp and the preseason. He wants a long-term deal while expected to make $14.5 million in 2018 and about $19 million in 2019 if the Steelers franchise him. Last year he played the Browns on the road in Cleveland in Week 1, which led to his lowest game of the year (45 combined yards with three catches on 13 touches). There is no doubt Bell will out touch Todd Gurley if he plays a full season, but he may not offer the upside in yards per touch (4.8 in 2017 and 5.6 in 2016 compared to 6.1 by Gurley in 2017) or elite TD production. Over 62 games in his career, Le’Veon has 42 TDs while never scoring more than 11 TDs in any season. Bell is a great NFL back who can do it all. In his NFL career, he’s averaged 24.9 touches and 129 combined yards per game setting a high floor each week. He just needs more TDs to become the elite of elites at the RB position. Last year the Browns ranked 13th in the league defending RBs with three teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points in PPR leagues. The Browns held RBs to 3.4 yards per rush in 2017 while allowing 14 rushing TDs. Bell missed the second game vs. Cleveland in December at home. High-volume back, but Pittsburgh will be smart with him in Week 1. The Browns will be improved offensively, which gives this game a chance to be a shootout. Coin flip due to his high salary.
Ezekiel Elliott (DK – $7,700/FD – $8,300): Ezekiel finished with 1,252 combined yards with nine TDs and 26 catches in 2017 while missing six games. He saw a decline in his yards per carry (5.1 in 2016 and 4.1 in 2017) while losing his big-play ability (five runs over 20 yards compared to 14 in 2016). He averaged 125 yards and 26.8 touches per game. As great as he looks while remaining the focal point the Cowboys' offense, his offensive line isn't healthy with multiple players battling injuries. When you add in that defense want to stack the box, Elliott is going to be a rougher ride this year even with elite touches. Carolina had a top three defense in 2017 vs. the RB position with only one really bad game (NO - 254 combined yards with three TDs and 11 catches). I expect the Panthers to have regression on defense this year, but it won't be enough for me to ride Ezekiel in Week 1. Keep this shining star in your pocket for another day.
Leonard Fournette (DK – $7,100/FD – $8,000): Despite missing three games in 2017, Fournette was the 9th highest scoring RB in PPR leagues. He finished with 304 touches for 1,342 yards with 11 TDs and 36 catches. His success projected over 16 games would have led to 1,652 combined yards with 13.5 TDs and 44 catches while averaging 23.4 touches per game. Most Fantasy owners were surprised with his value in the passing game. Leonard has three down value with the overall skill set to match the top RBs in the game. His opportunity in the passing game is well below the elite RBs in the game, but he can beat many of them with his scoring ability. Fournette runs with power with enough speed to make a long scoring TD. The Jaguars have a top defense with an offensive that is built to run a power rushing offense. Their offensive line has a chance to be improved in multiple areas this year. New York finished 23rd in the NFL defending RBs in 2017 (2,438 combined yards with 11 TDs and 85 catches). The Giants will be improved on defense this year. Overall, Fournette is more viable at this salary especially if he truly used more in the passing game.
Melvin Gordon (DK – $6,800/FD – $8,100): For the first time in his career, Gordon played 16 games in 2017. He finished with a career-high 344 touches for 1,560 combined yards with 12 TDs and 58 catches. As great as his season looked, the Chargers gave a piece of his pie to Austin Ekeler mid-season leading to some lost TDs (5) and catches (27). In the end, Melvin may have lost about ten percent of his potential opportunity to Ekeler. With the same RB structure in LA, Gordon will again have a slight thorn in his side thus creating a step back in draft value. Melvin has the talent to be an elite three-down back, and he did play through some injuries last year. Gordon needs the Chargers’ offensive line to be much better in run blocking (3.8 yards per rush in 2017). Last year Melvin had 248 combined yards with two TDs and six catches in two games against the Chiefs highlighted by his game on the road (169 combined yards with a TD and six catches). Kansas City has talent at linebacker with a strong option at safety, which tends to limit the upside in the passing game to the RB position. Overall, Kansas City ranked 15th vs. the RB position last year with three teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points. In the secondary mix at the top end of the RB position.
Christian McCaffrey (DK – $6,400/FD – $7,500): In his first year in the NFL, McCaffery finished third in RB catches (80) and fifth in RB receiving yards (651). When adding in his seven TDs, Christian has a floor of 200 Fantasy points in PPR leagues without even considering his value as a runner. Last year the Panthers’ RB had 349 rushes for 1,350 yards and nine TDs, but McCaffrey had fewer than 33 percent of the early down action (117/435/2). With Jonathan Stewart no longer on the roster, Christian can’t help but gain a much better portion of the run game. Carolina added C.J. Anderson in the offseason to fill the void created on early downs in the run game. Cam Newton runs the ball a ton at QB, which limits the overall chances on the ground for the Panthers’ RB. At the very least, McCaffery will see a bump to 50 percent of the RB carries. With 175 rushes, Christian should gain at least 700 yards. He’ll catch between 80 and 100 balls leading to another 700 yards at a minimum. His ability to catch the ball gives him a nice consistency factor from week-to-week while adding big game ability when the Panthers are forced to chase on the scoreboard. McCaffrey played well over his first three preseason games (224 combined yards with two TDs and eight catches on 29 touches). Dallas finished 8th in the NFL defending RBs in 2017 with three teams scoring over 35 Fantasy points in PPR leagues. Interesting player for sure and his preseason usage points to a run at 20+ touches in Week 1. Not the best matchup, but his floor remain high due to his pass catching ability.
Joe Mixon (DK - $6,100/FD – $6,900): In his first season in the NFL at age 20, Mixon gained 913 combined yards with four TDs and 30 catches while receiving 218 touches. He only had one game with more than 15 Fantasy points in a PPR league (Week 12 vs. CLE – 165 combined yards with one TD and three catches). The Bengals gave him staring carries in Week 11 (20), Week 12 (23), and Week 17 (18). Over his last five games played, Joe gained 385 combined yards with a TD and nine catches. In 2017, Cinci’s RB rushed the ball 339 times for 1,267 yards and six TDs while receiving 79 catches for 728 yards and two more TDs on 100 targets. Mixon has three-down ability, but he did struggle in his assignments in pass protection in his rookie season. Last year Indy allowed 4.0 yards per rush with RB scoring 15 TDs plus 72 catches for 735 yards and two TDs. Mixon is an attractive breakout player in 2018, but he is going to be in a split role with Giovani Bernard. Overpriced for his expected opportunity.
Derrick Henry (DK – $5,400/FD – $6,800): After chasing Henry around as the upside RB over the last two seasons, Fantasy owners now have an opportunity to ride this exciting RB to a winning season. Despite expecting a huge bump in touches with high value in TDs, many Fantasy owners may have trust issues with the 2018 Fantasy value for Derrick with Dion Lewis added to the Titans’ roster. In 2017, Henry had 187 touches for 880 yards with six TDs and 11 catches. He finished two games with over 100 yards rushing (19/131/1 and 11/109/1). In his only game with the whole show at RB in Week 17, Derrick delivered 117 combined yards with a TD and one catch while receiving 29 touches. Last year the Titans’ RBs had 383 rushes for 1,521 yards and 13 TDs plus 50 catches for 402 yards and two TDs on 66 targets. Last year RBs had 2,259 combined yards with 14 TDs and 98 catches vs. the Dolphins. Miami lost their top interior defensive lineman in the offseason, which is plus for Derrick in the matchup. I like Henry a lot in 2018, but he is going to split playing time. I’d prefer a passing catching back vs. the Dolphins, which tells me to pass on Henry in this matchup even with explosive talent and upside.
Lamar Miller (DK – $5,200/FD – $6,500): Over the last four seasons, Miller saw his yards per rush fall from 5.1 to 4.5 to 4.0 to 3.7. His slide in this area with Houston falls on the poor play by their offensive line. Last year Lamar only had one run over 20 yards after having 23 combined runs over that number from 2014 to 2016. He has over 30 catches in each of his last four seasons with growth his yards per catch (9.1) in 2017. Over five seasons in the NFL, Miller missed only two games. Last season he averaged 17.2 touches per game, but he failed to gain over 75 yards rushing in any game. In 2017, the Texans’ RBs ran the 402 times for 1,531 yards and six TDs while securing 67 catches for 605 yards and three TDs on 86 targets in the passing game. With D’Onta Foreman expected to start the year on the physically unable to perform last, Lamar will have an easier path to touches. Last year he had 63 combined yards with one catch on 15 touches against the Patriots. New England is league average defending RBs (2,413 combined yards with nine TDs and 88 catches). Miller is a top two option in the Texans’ offense, which gives him a chance to pay off in this matchup. Deshaun Watson will move the ball, and New England will do their best to take away DeAndre Hopkins, which favors Lamar.
Dion Lewis (DK – $4,900/FD – $6,200): The Patriots turned to Lewis over the second half of the season as their lead back. He finished with 212 touches for 1,104 yards with nine TDs and 32 catches while starting eight games. Over the last six games of 2018, Lewis had three games with over 100 combined yards (15/112, 153 combined yards with two TDs and five catches, and 133 combined yards with two TDs and six catches) while receiving 61 touches over the last two starts of the season. Dion projects as the pass-catching back with change of pace value on early downs. May surprise, but his touches will be less than a desired play for the daily games out of the gate.
Duke Johnson (DK – $4,700/FD – $5,800): In his third year in the NFL, Johnson posted his best season (1,041 combined yards with seven TDs and 74 catches). He finished as the 12th highest scoring RB in PPR leagues. Over his career in the NFL, Duke has 188 catches for 1,741 yards and five TDs, which sets a floor of 8.17 Fantasy points without his early down action. Last year the Browns’ RBs caught 109 passes for 932 yards and three TDs on 145 targets. The addition of possession WR Jarvis Landry does put his opportunity at risk. In his two contests vs. the Steeler in 2017, Duke has one game of value (95 combined yards with six catches and one TD). With Cleveland expected to have a third way split in touches, Johnson will have the most value in a chaser game. I like the Browns' offense in this game, but I can't pay for Duke's failure risk.
Carlos Hyde (DK – $4,500/FD – $5,900): In 2017, Hyde had the best season of his career (1,288 combined yards with eight TDs and 59 catches) while setting a career high in touches (299). As great as he may look, Carlos gained only 3.9 yards per rush and 5.9 yards per catch. His opportunity was almost by default. Last year Hyde only had one game with over 100 yards rushing (15/124) and two other strong games (94 combined yards with two TDs and three catches and 98 combined yards with two TDs and two catches). Last year the Browns’ RBs had 296 carries for 1,224 yards and five TDs. His opportunity in the passing game is pretty much dead in the water with Duke Johnson owing the third down and passing opportunity. I’d also be concerned that incoming rookie Nick Chubb will steal his role at some point of the year. On the positive side, Hyde did run the ball well in the preseason (17/108/1). Grinder type back who may not get all the goal line carries.
Rex Burkhead (DK – $4,200/FD – $6,300): Over ten games in 2017, Burkhead has 518 combined yards with 30 catches and eight TDs. His overall skill set in the passing game isn’t as high as James White, but he can be a mismatch problem vs. some linebackers. Over a four-game stretch from Week 12 to Week 15, Rex scored five rushing TDs with only one game of value in yards (103 combined yards with three catches on 15 touches). Twice last season Burkhead missed time with injuries (ribs and knee). In 2017, Rex scored eight TDs with 30 catches over ten games, which is enough to give a chance to pay off at this level. Burkhead has been battling a knee injury that looks to be one hit away from ending his season. Sony Michel returned to practice on August 27th, but he should miss Week 1. I can't trust Rex or his health out of the gate.
Peyton Barber (DK – $4,100/FD – $5,600): Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Barber rushed 646 yards on 163 carriers with four TDs. He gained 4.0 yards per rush, which supports his boring message in college. Peyton has 21 catches 142 yards in his career, which is another of limited upside. Last year Barber flashed in Week 13 (143 combined yards with four catches on 27 touches). Over the last four games of the season, Peyton gained 275 combined yards with eight catches and one TD while averaging almost 16 touches per game. His lack of explosiveness (two runs over 20 yards on 163 carries) does limit his long-term value. The Bucs will lean on Barber in Week 1 after outplaying Jones over the summer. The Saints finished 11th in the NFL vs. RBs in 2017 (4.4 yards per carry with 14 TDs). His pass catching opportunity should be better than expected early in the year with Charles Sims out for the season. Enough talent and opportunity to surprise at this level.
James White (DK – $4,000/FD – $5,500): With Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis on the roster in 2017, White had a tougher time getting snaps. In 2016, the Patriots had him on the field for 427 plays while that number dropped to 384 last year. James will have low chances on early downs (2016 – 39/166 and 2017 – 43/171) while battling Burkhead for targets in the passing game. The Patriots are one of the top teams in the league throwing to RBs. White has 116 combined catches for 980 yards and eight TDs on 158 targets over the last two seasons. Game score dictates his opportunity, which leads to him becoming a nice value at times. The Patriots did showcase him in their second preseason game (92 combined yards with six catches and one TD), which paints an exciting picture if Rex Burkhead can't play in Week 1.
Jordan Wilkins (DK – $3,700/FD – $5,100): In his senior season at Mississippi, Wilkins gained 1,192 yards with ten TDs and 26 catches while pushing his yards per rush to 6.5 yards. Jordan runs with a smoothness to his game when given daylight through the defensive line. He has vision with open field ability, but Wilkins doesn’t run with power or tackle breaking ability. His value in pass protection in a huge concern. Based on the early down options on the Colts in 2018, Jordan appears to be the top player for early down action. He needs to add more strength and more fire to his game when engaging oncoming tackles. With Marlon Mack expected to miss some games early in the year, Wilkins will see plenty of early down action. Tough to trust with questions about his value in the passing game.