Now that the NFL Draft has concluded, it’s time to look forward to the 2018 season. There will be more free agents to sign like Dez Bryant and C.J. Anderson, but for the most part, rosters are set heading into training camp at the end of July.
Names like Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny and Sony Michel will be all selected in the first half of upcoming fantasy drafts this August. However, all great fantasy players and NFL teams know that the money rounds are later in the draft.
The more value you can obtain in the later rounds of fantasy drafts with lesser known names, the better your overall fantasy roster will be for the upcoming season. Let’s look at a few running backs picked from Rounds 4-7 that could have an impact in redraft leagues in 2018.
Kalen Ballage – Miami Dolphins (Round 4, Pick 31)
Ballage was extremely productive in 2016 scoring 14 rushing touchdowns in 2016 even though he was splitting carries with Demario Richard. For his size (6’2”, 228 pounds) Ballage has some impressive straight ahead speed, running a 4.46 at the combine in Indianapolis. His rare combination of speed and size should produce fantasy points if the Dolphins coaching staff can get him into space.
Ballage was also very productive in the receiving game in college totaling 64 receptions in his last two seasons are Arizona State. He will be behind both Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake to start the season, but Gore’s rushing efficiency has waned during his last few seasons, and Drake will have to prove himself in the receiving game (Pro Football Focus’ number 88 RB in 2017) for him to lock down full-time work. Ballage has the chance to make a difference in 2018 if he’s able to get on the field due to his passing game skill set.
Justin Jackson – Los Angeles Chargers (Round 7, Pick 33)
One of the most productive running backs of the last four college football seasons, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson heads to the Chargers with a fairly bare depth chart ahead of him besides Melvin Gordon. Gordon will no doubt handle the majority of the work in LA, but only UDFA Austin Ekeler stands in Jackson’s way of at least 10-15 snaps per game. He profiles as the prototypical change of pace back with 4.52 speed and very strong scores in the vertical jump (38.5 in) and broad jump (122 in) to make a few explosive plays per game.
Jackson was a do-it-all back (take a look at his college stats courtesy of Sports Reference) for Northwestern with at least 287 carries in his last three seasons. Jackson also caught 79 passes in his last two seasons, making him able to spell Gordon in both the run and pass game if need be.
He is slight of build at only 6’0” and 199 pounds but is exceptionally durable for being on the smaller side. Jackson may not be a true handcuff to Melvin Gordon but should be able to carve out a role for the Chargers in 2018.
Chase Edmonds – Arizona Cardinals (Round 4, Pick 34)
The collective fantasy community was disappointed, to say the least when David Johnson missed nearly all of 2017 with a broken wrist. Johnson should be back to full health for 2018, but with questions marks behind him. Elijhaa Penny seems to be the bigger bodied back behind Johnson without much impact in the passing game. Edmonds, on the other hand, was an ultra-productive player albeit at the FCS level.
Though he’s smaller in stature (5’9”), he’s thick in the legs at 205 pounds. Unfortunately, his senior season was cut short due to leg injuries, but Edmonds can play both in the run and passing game. It’s not every day where a team can draft a running back that scored 74 touchdowns in college. If he’s able to pick up the pass blocking concepts that need to be part of the repertoire of all NFL backs, he can find his way back on the field as the change-of-pace back in Arizona to start the season and even more if David Johnson were to be out for any period of time.
Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins – Indianapolis Colts (Round 4, Pick 4) (Round 5, Pick 32)
Hines can be the prototypical space player in the NFL; he’s got speed for days (4.38 40 yard dash) and can be dangerous in space. Surprisingly Hines is also impressive in pass pro at the number five college back according to Pro Football Focus in that area. That should allow Hines on the field early as Andrew Luck’s health will be the most important aspect of the Colts overall success shortly.
Hines is small in stature at just 5’9” and 197 pounds, but averaged 3.8 yards after contact in 2017 demonstrating his will to be successful even against bigger opponents. It will be hard to see him as a full time back in Indy, but he should be a better version of what the Colts have now with Marlon Mack. Expect him to have some PPR upside early in the season with the potential for a more regular role if he can grasp the playbook early in the season.
Jordan Wilkins has a more prototypical build for every down runner (6’1”, 216 pounds) and played in the SEC where he finished second in the conference in yards per carry (6.5). Wilkins was very efficient on his 155 carries, scoring nine times in 2017. Wilkins isn’t the most physical runner but is elusive grading out at PFFs number eight back this past season in Elusive Rating (78.5) which helped lead to his 47.7% breakaway run percentage.
Wilkins will have to deal with the likes of Christine Michael and Robert Turbin for the early down work in Indianapolis, but if Wilkins can manage to pick up pass protections at the next level, there is plenty of opportunity as Andrew Luck’s caddy for 2018.
Fantasy owners should certainly stay tuned to any and all new as we draw closer to training camp and start to see just how depth charts will be built out. These rookies have nearly clear paths to fantasy production in 2018 and should not be left too far behind in upcoming drafts from early picks in the 2018 NFL Draft like Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, Royce Freeman among others.
Thanks for reading. You can find me on Twitter @TheRealHalupka . Let me know who you are targeting at running back late in your rookie drafts.