Recently, we’ve been discussing some 2017 fantasy heavyweights—QBs,
stand a reasonably good chance of frustrating expectations this
coming season. Now it’s time to discuss those up-and-comers
who could conceivably replace them and become the fantasy heavyweights
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
A quick reminder of the Top 10 fantasy RBs from last season...
Barkley, NYG: Loyal readers know I’m a contrarian at
heart. When everyone’s zigging, I’m usually zagging. It would be
just like me to go against the grain on Barkley, the sixth RB drafted
with a top two pick in the past 30 years and only the third this
millennium (Ronnie Brown and Reggie Bush). Why gamble a top-of-the-draft
selection, I might say, on a guy who plays the NFL’s most dangerous
position, a guy who’s a couple nasty licks away from mere serviceability
and a couple more away from oblivion? I might say that, but I’m
not going to. Barkley is worth the risk, especially playing a position
of scarcity, and could conceivably be a Top 5 performer in his rookie
The thing that jumps out about the former Nittany Lion, aside from
his redwood-esque thighs, is…well, just about everything.
He possesses an uncommonly broad skill set and athletic profile
for an NFL player, let alone a brand new one. He has prototypical
size and can run inside, outside, or anywhere in between. He can
run through contact, make people miss, or run away from them altogether.
He can score on any play or you can give him the rock to extend
a drive in short-yardage situations. He’s an excellent receiver
who runs great routes and has soft hands. Oh, and he can also pass
protect. Simply put, Barkley checks every single box.
This wouldn’t necessarily be obvious had he ended up with
an undertalented bottom-feeder, but Barkley had the good fortune
of landing in Gotham, where the Giants are only two years removed
from an 11-5 finish and a playoff appearance. Adding him to an offense
already featuring a HOF-bound QB, the game’s best WR, and
an emerging young TE should quickly return the G-Men to relevance.
McCaffrey, CAR: McCaffrey, my 2017 rookie RB crush, appeared
in this very same space last summer. Though he didn’t end up making
me look like a genius, he was a lot closer than most people think
(16th overall) and he did it in wildly unorthodox fashion. It’s
not often a guy finishes as a top-end RB2, after all, while carrying
the ball more than a HUNDRED fewer times—rather inefficiently, I
might add—than all but one of the Top 10 rushers and even fewer
than two of his own teammates. So how did the kid pull off such
a respectable final ranking?
With guys like McCaffrey and his more celebrated rookie classmate,
Alvin Kamara, it’s all about usage in the passing game. Though
the Saints’ sensation snagged two more total passes, it was
actually McCaffrey who led the position in targets with 113. That
would have been good enough to place him in the top 20 at the wide
receiver position and the top 3 at tight end. Can you imagine how
valuable Travis Kelce would have been had he also run the ball 100+
times? When you invest in McCaffrey, you’re essentially following
the advice of any financial planner worth his or her salt: You’re
spreading around your risk. He won’t always provide stellar
numbers as a traditional runner, but his floor is so much higher
since he almost always contributes as a receiver.
Speaking of McCaffrey the runner, there’s reason to believe
he’ll see a modest, and possibly even significant, increase
in opportunities this coming season. The Panthers moved on from
Jonathan Stewart finally and added Norv Turner, an OC who knows
a thing or two about multi-dimensional running backs. I’m
not saying Christian McCaffrey’s the second coming of L.T.,
mind you, but…he’ll be more valuable in 2018.
Rex Burkhead: The stars are aligning for
this versatile New England running back.
Burkhead, NE: I warned you I’m a contrarian, right? Somewhere,
my league mates are LOL’ing (it’s a really long story) and I’ll
be the first to admit Burkhead is unlikely to appear on any projected
Top 10 lists this summer. He’s a 28-year old plugger playing for
a team that just spent a first round pick on a RB despite demonstrating
no apparent interest in featuring one of them for at least the last
decade or so. And yet...
There are so many things working in the versatile Burkhead’s
favor as the real games draw nearer. First, that RB the Pats drafted
in the first round of April’s draft, Sony Michel, has already
missed a sizeable chunk of training camp and isn’t guaranteed
to play a single down this preseason. Second, the guy Michel was
drafted to ostensibly replace, Dion Lewis, now plays for the Tennessee
Titans. Third, the Pats are for sure going to be without their most
productive wideout to start the season, Julian Edelman, who will
be serving a four-game suspension. All of which suddenly leaves
Burkhead, a sneaky runner and gifted receiver, as a key cog in the
league’s most prolific offensive machine.
This wouldn’t mean anything, of course, if the former Husker
performed like a bum, but that’s precisely the opposite of
what he did last season. Only three other Top 50 RBs scored more
fantasy points than they had touches (Alvin Kamara, Chris Thompson,
and Austin Ekeler) and none of those guys stands to increase his
workload as much as Burkhead does. Six more games of similar production
(he only played 10) would have put Burkhead firmly in the Top 15
last year. Add some more production due to an increased role/less
competition and…well, Rexy could be downright sexy in 2018.