5 High-Floor Running Backs (2018 Fantasy Football)
As anyone who drafted David Johnson last year (or Derrius Guice last week) will attest to, there’s no such thing as a no-risk draft selection. Especially not at running back, a brutal, hard-hitting position with a short shelf life.
Because of injuries, every NFL player technically has a basement floor. Because of the position’s volatility, any rusher with enough volume and reliability to truly deserve a high-floor label gets taken in the first round or two. We all know Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott are safe bets when on the field. That’s why they cost top-five picks.
The deeper we go down the draft board, the more difficult it is to locate a dependable running back. Some may also have different qualifications for a high-floor option. Take Jordan Howard, the last of the trustworthy top-tier backs at his No. 21 overall consensus ADP. He finished three games with fewer than 19 yards but has nevertheless delivered sturdy annual production through two seasons.
This examination looks at the overall picture rather than game-by-game reliability. Cost is also a vital factor. For the following five running backs, drafters are mitigating downside by paying for the reasonable floor. Maybe that 10th-round pick won’t win the league, but he need only offer flex appeal to offer a positive return on investment.
Volume is often vital. In the later rounds, that means finding a multi-purpose back (even in non-PPR leagues) who can quietly chug his way to value without eye-popping stat lines.
Lamar Miller (HOU)
Here are Lamar Miller’s standard RB finishes over the past four seasons: 9, 6, 18, and 14. His consensus ADP this summer? RB22.
He has tallied 573 touches in two seasons with the Texans. While that workload diminished his heightened efficiency in a lesser role with the Dolphins, it has also allowed him to easily eclipse 1,000 total yards with six touchdowns in each season. Elliott and Todd Gurley are the only backs who garnered more carries in both 2016 and 2017.
To be fair, there are valid reasons for his draft slide. At the end of a season in which he mustered a career-low 3.7 yards per carry, Miller ceded snaps to Alfred Blue over the final three games. Yet the odds of Houston permanently sidelining Miller for a career understudy with 3.6 yards per run are slim. D’Onta Foreman previously looked poised to challenge for the lead role, scoring two touchdowns in Week 11 before rupturing his Achilles tendon. He’s uncertain to be ready for Week 1, so that’s more of a problem for dynasty investors.
Miller, who trimmed down during the offseason, gets to play in an explosive offense bolstered by a returning Deshaun Watson. He’ll easily pay off a fifth-round price by maintaining his typical role, and the 27-year-old also wields legitimate upside for another top-10 campaign.
Tevin Coleman (ATL)
Tevin Coleman seems like an odd high-floor choice by all accounts. A second-string running back yet to log a 16-game season isn’t exactly safe. He’ll still, however, outperform his RB28 ADP by sustaining his productivity inside the 20s.
Despite averaging 11.9 touches per game during the past two seasons, Devonta Freeman‘s understudy has recorded RB22 and 17 campaigns with the help of 19 touchdowns scored in 28 contests. It’s easy to cry “fluke,” but the Falcons gave him 21 red-zone rushes in each of those seasons.
Coleman’s upside all hinges on a Freeman injury. Let’s hope he doesn’t reach his ceiling, because that would mean more trouble for a teammate who suffered two concussions last year. Continuing to serve an active backup role should keep the 25-year-old in the flex conversation, which is a perfectly fine outcome for a sixth-round running back. You’re probably not winning your league by snagging Coleman, but you’re not losing it either.
Isaiah Crowell (NYJ)
Isaiah Crowell, drafted at an RB35 ADP, has finished RB30 or better in each of the last four seasons. And yes, that’s a misleading nugget when presented without context. Only once (RB15 in 2016) did he land inside the top 25.
His floor, of course, depends entirely on how the Jets deploy him. Will Gang Green match the 208 touches he averaged with the Browns? Bilal Powell deserves a larger role, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get it. Say what you will about Crowell, but he’s a bit better rusher than Matt Forte by the time he arrived in New Jersey on the wrong end of 30. Forte averaging 17.7 touches per game in 2016 bodes well for Crowell, who has not missed a game during his NFL career.
Make sure that’s not in line to change. He announced his arrival with a touchdown in their preseason opener but sustained a concussion in the process. Monitor his status throughout August, as a lengthy recovery would boost Powell’s stock while Elijah McGuire nurses a foot injury. While I’m not eager to grab him in the seventh or eighth round, a healthy Crowell would make a safer depth choice than a Marlon Mack or Nick Chubb. His stock may now dip deeper.
Duke Johnson (CLE)
Most of the major pass-catching backs qualify, but Duke Johnson has typically provided the best mix of volume and affordability. Following an RB11 PPR campaign, he’s the 34th RB off the board in the tailor-made format.
Expecting some regression from his 74-catch campaign in light of Cleveland acquiring Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, and Chubb? Fair enough. Dubious of his seven touchdowns after scoring three in the previous two seasons combined? You should be. But considering he salvaged an RB30 finish with 53 receptions and one touchdown in 2016, an anticipated decline is baked into his price. As for the extra end-zone visits, he was given a career-best 11 carries (and five targets) inside the 20.
Recent developments have also reapplied a sounder foundation to his floor. Cleveland traded Corey Coleman to Buffalo days before Antonio Callaway cited for marijuana possession. Josh Gordon has not yet reported to camp. The 24-year-old is too good to vanish completely, especially since a better offense will stay on the field longer and run more plays. The team’s three running backs each have an ADP (standard and PPR) in the 30s, and it’s nearly impossible for all three to meet that price. Yet Johnson is most likely to maintain a steady role while Hyde and Chubb compete in a zero-sum game for relevancy. He’s a fine flex pick since drafters are paying for his floor right after witnessing his ceiling.
Giovani Bernard (CIN)
Joe Mixon undoubtedly flaunts a higher ceiling than Bengals teammate Giovani Bernard. Yet drafters must pay a late-second, early-third price for that promise despite an underwhelming 913-yard, 3.5-YPC rookie season. Bernard, on the other hand, carries an RB52 ADP (47 PPR) despite finishing 36th (27th in PPR) last year.
That may be his ceiling if Mixon takes a sophomore leap and stays healthy. But don’t underestimate the 26-year-old’s abilities when given the opportunity. He compiled 173 yards and a touchdown in a pair of games without Mixon before amassing 168 yards during the rookie’s Week 16 return.
There was also an abysmal five-game stretch where he mounted just 92 yards in 23 touches. Hopefully, his late-season surge gave the Bengals a wake-up call. They would be remiss to again shun Bernard, who has averaged 4.2 YPC with strong blocking and a 74.9 catch percentage through five strong seasons. He’s a boring but productive PPR bench pick that would immediately become a weekly starter if anything happened to Mixon.