2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Rookie running back stock watch highlights sleepers, busts
Chris Towers checks in on the much-hyped rookie class after the second round of preseason action to see who should be moving up draft boards.
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There's a lot to keep up with in the preseason. We're here to help. As we head into the all-important third week of preseason games, roles are starting to shake out. You don't want to take much from performance, especially in limited roles, but we can learn quite a bit about roles in the first two preseason games, especially for rookies battling for playing time.
Here's where the Fantasy-relevant rookie running backs stand after (almost) all of the Preseason Week 2 action is in the books.
Barkley isn't fully healthy right now, but unless it starts to look like that injury will linger into the regular season – and it doesn't seem like it will – there's no reason to be too concerned. Soft tissue injuries are, of course, nothing to ignore, but there's nothing short of an injury that could cost him playing time in New York. Which is to say, he's no riskier than any running back at this point.
Penny was trending down even before his injury, as Chris Carson was by all accounts outperforming him in camp. Now, with Penny recovering from finger surgery, he's even more behind. It sounds like the team does expect Penny to be available by the start of the season, and he was practicing with a splint on his finger Friday, so that seems possible. However, Penny will now have to overcome a couple of stumbling blocks to get onto the field in a significant role. It doesn't seem to have affected Penny's Fantasy stock much, however, as he is still being taken 66th overall, on average, in drafts since Thursday morning on MFL10s.com. He's too big a risk at that price for me.
Michel, like Penny, is recovering from an injury, though in Michel's case it was to his knee. He had fluid drained from his knee and is expected to be back in time for the start of the season. Of course, Michel does have a history if issues with his left knee as SportsLine.com's Brandon Bowers, PT, DPT, noted this week, having suffered an ACL tear in high school, along with a knee sprain in college. The bigger issue here might just be that Michel, like Penny, seemed to be behind in the hierarchy even before the injury, and will have to make up for lost time. The good news is, Rex Burkhead is dealing with a knee issue of his own, which could open an opportunity for Michel if he can get back on the field. It still looks like his best-case scenario for Week 1 is a limited role, with the hope he can overtake Burkhead once the season starts.
I was tempted to say Chubb's stock was going down, but it really shouldn't be a surprise that Carlos Hyde got the bulk of the work with the first-team offense. He's the starter, and Chubb also has to battle Duke Johnson for playing time. This was expected, and nobody has really been drafting Chubb as if anything different was happening; his ADP in CBSSports.com leagues is 125th overall. He's a fine bench stash at that cost, though .
Well, at least he's healthy? An injury is just about the only way Jones' training camp and preseason could have gone worse so far. He has failed to overtake Peyton Barber – an undrafted free agent coming off a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry – for the starting job in training camp and has been largely ineffective in preseason work. He had just four carries for 2 yards in Saturday's preseason contest, and Barber continued to play ahead of him. Jones even ceded some work to Jacquizz Rodgers in the passing game, an area where Jones has apparently needed some real improvement. There's potential here, and it won't take much for Jones to overcome Barber. That he hasn't done so yet is a concern. He's looking like a wasted pick at his current fifth-round ADP.
The Lions did something unexpected in their second preseason game Friday: They started Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah has been largely left for dead by the Fantasy community, and he didn't do anything to change that Friday. Johnson was the second running back into the game, after doing much of his damage in the first preseason game against backups. He wasn't as impressive, rushing four times for 9 yards, but the fact that he is getting in work with the starters obviously bodes well. There is competition here, from Abdullah and LeGarrette Blount, but if Johnson continues to push, it's not hard to see him becoming the primary back in Detroit. He may already be; we'll find out for sure in Preseason Week 3. His ADP doesn't reflect his value; he's worth taking in the fourth or fifth round.
Freeman wasn't quite as impressive in Preseason Week 2 as in his debut, but there were still promising signs. He split work in the first-team offense with Devontae Booker, but had seven touches to Booker's five, including a goal-line touchdown. He's been trending up all of training camp, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all if he was the starter as soon as next week. He has a huge opportunity in front of him, and Jamey Eisenberg even before this week. If you can get him in the fourth round, it could be a steal.
The Colts took two running backs in the draft, but it's the latter of the two Fantasy owners need to know about. Nyheim Hines, the Colts' fourth-round pick, has been working as a passing downs specialist and return man, leaving fifth-rounder Jordan Wilkins as the primary competition for the starting job. And it hasn't been much of a competition lately, with Marlon Mack dealing with a hamstring injury. The Colts have given Robert Turbin sometime in the first-team offense, as well as journeyman Christine Michael. Michael isn't a terrible late-round sleeper, and Mack could run away with the job if his hamstring heals, but we should see plenty of Wilkins when the Colts take on the Ravens Monday night. If he shines, don't be surprised to see Wilkins shooting up draft boards. Right now, I'd take him around the 10th round and see if lightning strikes.
So what sleepers should you snatch in your Fantasy Football draft? And which huge running backs do you need to jump all over? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.
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