Fantasy Football RB Leaders: Four-Year Rank Trends

by John Ferguson | @FantasyFerguson | Featured Writer
Jan 15, 2019

Joe Mixon is poised to improve upon his stellar 2018 production even more in 2019

Welcome to the running back edition of the 2018 fantasy football four-year rank trends review. This data was pulled from our “Fantasy Leaders Report” to take a look at the top-25 RBs from the 2018 season. The table below breaks down the overall season rank for each RB over the last four years as well as their fantasy points per game (PPG) using the half PPR scoring format.

This is intended to give us some valuable insight on past versus present performance and what to expect going forward from some of this season’s stars. This will also be a good reference when planning to draft for next season when recency bias takes over an individual player’s hype.

Mock draft in minutes with our free fantasy football Draft Simulator >>

Name

2018 Rank

2017 Rank

2016 Rank

2015 Rank

Last 4 Yrs AVG Rank

2018 PPG

2017 PPG

2016 PPG

2015 PPG

Last 4 Yrs AVG PPG

Todd Gurley (LAR)

1

1

17

7

6.5

24.5

23.4

11

15.2

18.5

Saquon Barkley (NYG)

2

21.3

Christian McCaffrey (CAR)

3

11

7.0

20.8

11.8

16.3

Alvin Kamara (NO)

4

3

3.5

20.9

17.2

19.1

Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)

5

10

2

5.7

19.4

19

20.6

19.7

James Conner (PIT)

6

105

55.5

19.4

1.2

10.3

Melvin Gordon (LAC)

7

5

7

49

17

20.9

16.2

17.7

6.6

15.4

James White (NE)

8

40

28

44

30

14.6

7.6

8.2

8.6

9.75

Joe Mixon (CIN)

9

33

21

15.9

9

12.5

David Johnson (ARI)

10

115

1

9

33.8

13.9

10.1

23

12

14.8

Kareem Hunt (FA)

11

4

7.5

19.7

16.8

18.3

Phillip Lindsay (DEN)

12

13.7

Tarik Cohen (CHI)

13

36

24.5

12.4

7.4

9.9

Derrick Henry (TEN)

14

30

42

28.7

12.1

8.1

7.1

9.1

Chris Carson (SEA)

15

83

49

13.7

9.1

11.4

Nick Chubb (CLE)

16

11.5

Kenyan Drake (MIA)

17

34

74

41.7

11.2

7.9

3

7.4

Adrian Peterson (WAS)

18

56

124

2

50

11.2

7.3

2.5

15.4

9.1

Tevin Coleman (ATL)

19

20

18

77

33.5

11.1

10.3

13.5

3.5

9.6

Jordan Howard (CHI)

20

12

10

14

10.6

11.8

14.4

12.3

Marlon Mack (IND)

21

46

33.5

14.1

6.6

10.4

Lamar Miller (HOU)

22

16

19

5

15.5

11.4

11

12.5

13

12

Aaron Jones (GB)

23

54

38.5

13.2

7.6

10.4

Austin Ekeler (LAC)

24

44

34

10.7

6.7

8.7

Matt Breida (SF)

25

45

35

10.6

5.8

8.2

 
This table really puts into perspective just how volatile the running back position can be. Of the top-25 players this season, only 11 of them have more than two years worth of experience in the league. Of those 11 players, only five of them have managed to average a top-25 rank over the last four years. Here’s a closer look at the top 25 from 2018:

RB1: Todd Gurley (LAR)
What else can we say about Gurley that hasn’t already been said? He is the first running back to manage back-to-back seasons as the overall RB1 in fantasy football (using standard or half PPR scoring) since LaDainian Tomlinson did it back in 2006-2007. Gurley’s RB1 status is even more impressive considering he only played in 14 games this season. Some are quick to point out that Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey did outscore him overall in full-PPR leagues this season, but if you look at average PPG, Gurley was still king. He has now managed top-10 finishes in three of the last four seasons. His averages over that span aren’t as impressive as they could be (thanks, Jeff Fisher), but in this Sean McVay offense, Gurley has been the best back in the league.

RB2: Saquon Barkley (NYG)
We all knew that Barkley would be good, but this was a rookie season for the ages. Barkley broke records for most receptions by a rookie RB in a season (91), most games with over 100 yards from scrimmage (13), and the New York Giants franchise record for most rushing TDs by a rookie (15). Barkley offered an amazing combination of both volume and efficiency in his first year. He led all running backs with 2,028 total yards from scrimmage. What’s more impressive is that Barkley also ranked first amongst all running backs with 114 evaded tackles according to Player Profiler. The sky is the limit for Barkley as he will be in consideration as the overall RB1 in 2019.

RB3: Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
McCaffrey was basically the entire offense for the Carolina Panthers this season. The second-year back led the team in both rushing and receiving. McCaffrey also led all running backs in 2018 with 124 targets, 107 receptions, and 867 receiving yards. He was basically like having a low-end WR1 and RB1 all-in-one as his 107 receptions were more than the likes of Antonio Brown. You won’t find McCaffrey sliding any further than the fifth overall pick in fantasy drafts next season.

RB4: Alvin Kamara (NO)
Kamara continued his dominant play in 2018, showing that his rookie season was no fluke. With Mark Ingram suspended the first four games of the season, Kamara got off to a blistering start averaging 29.7 PPG as the overall RB1 during that span. On the season, we saw him jump 3.7 PPG in 2018 over his already stellar 2017 numbers. Due to the high-scoring nature of 2018, however, Kamara actually fell one spot from RB3 to RB4. He will be in consideration for overall RB1 status in 2019 with Mark Ingram set to be a free agent in the offseason.

RB5: Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)
While Todd Gurley gets all the credit for being the best back in fantasy, Elliott’s numbers actually got pretty close. Over the last four years, Zeke’s average of 19.1 PPG are second to only Le’Veon Bell. Zeke’s average RB rank of 5.7 is also slightly above Gurley’s 6.5 rank over the last four years. Elliot has led the NFL in each of the last three seasons with the most rushing yards per game, averaging 101.2 YPG during that span. He also led the league with 304 rushing attempts and 1,434 rushing yards in 2018.

The biggest surprise of Elliott’s 2018 season was his dramatic increase of usage in the passing game. After averaging just two receptions for 25 yards per game over his first two seasons, he jumped up in 2018 to average five receptions for 37 yards per game. Elliott has held up well to his heavy usage so far and he’ll be a lock as a top-three pick in drafts next season.

RB6: James Conner (PIT)
James Conner took advantage of his opportunity in his first season as a starting running back with Le’Veon Bell a no-show all season. Conner actually tied Ezekiel Elliott with 19.4 PPG but, due to Conner only playing in 13 games, he fell one spot in the rankings. We didn’t quite see the same wiggle out of Conner as we were used to seeing with Bell in the Steelers backfield but, Conner still proved to be extremely productive. Conner also didn’t see as much usage in the passing game as Bell normally did but, Conner showed enough to likely secure himself as the Steelers starting back in 2019.

RB7: Melvin Gordon (LAC)
Gordon actually would have ranked slightly higher this season if he would have been able to play all 16 games. This seems to be a recurring trend as Gordon has only played a full 16-game season once in his career. Gordon’s 20.9 PPG was the highest average he’s totaled so far in his career and tied with Alvin Kamara in 2018. Gordon would have finished out the 2018 season as the overall RB3 if he just would have stayed healthy. With three straight seasons inside the top 10, Gordon should remain a near elite option in 2019.

RB8: James White (NE)
Now this is where things start to get a little interesting. White shocked the fantasy world finishing with his best season to date as the overall RB8. He essentially doubled his PPG totals from 2017 as he found himself as basically the only healthy running back the Patriots had for stretches this season. White is an obvious candidate for some serious regression in 2019 and will likely be overvalued on draft day. If anything, I would see this as a potential landing spot for Sony Michel next season, as long as he can stay healthy. I would be selling high on White in dynasty leagues this offseason as he will likely revert back to being a game-flow dependent passing-down specialist next season.

RB9: Joe Mixon (CIN)
Mixon enjoyed a second-year breakout in the midst of an incredibly disappointing season for the Bengals. Mixon was one of the main highlights on this offense, but even he struggled to stay healthy all season. Despite missing two games this season, Mixon still finished fourth in the league with 1,168 rushing yards while his 83.4 YPG was third in the league behind only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley.

Mixon is an intriguing player for next season. His successful season in 2018 was a fairly quiet one and the Bengals offense really has nowhere to go but up in 2019. Mixon will provide loads of value as a potential top-five back you will probably be able to snag somewhere around the first/second-round turn in drafts next season.

RB10: David Johnson (ARI)
Not even the great David Johnson could survive the poor season the Arizona Cardinals just churned out. He was touted as a candidate for overall RB1 numbers in 2018 by some (myself included), but abysmal coaching completely sunk this team from the start and they never could recover. Johnson’s finish right on the edge of the top 10 is still an encouraging sign for his future value, however. D.J. has now logged a top-10 finish in each of his last three healthy seasons and the Cards offense is another one that can only go up. I’ve been a Johnson truther through-and-through and will likely own him again everywhere next season as he will likely come at a greater discount in drafts in 2019.

RB11: Kareem Hunt (FA)
Hunt was one of the biggest surprises to me when breaking down the top 25 this season. Considering he only played 11 games and still cracked the top 12 is partially a testament to Hunt’s athletic ability but, also a reminder of Andy Reid’s desire to house a workhorse running back. Hunt’s season, of course, fell apart amidst the controversial video TMZ released mid-season. It is yet to be seen if Hunt will ever resurface in the league or if he will become just another cautionary tale. It’s impossible to predict his future value at this point.

RB12: Phillip Lindsay (DEN)
While most people expected to see a Broncos running back finish inside the top 12 at the end of the season, Lindsay wasn’t exactly the man they had in mind. Lindsay managed six games over 100 total yards on the season while running for 1,037 yards with 10 totals TDs. He was second amongst running backs with 5.4 YPA behind only Aaron Jones (minimum 65 carries).

While Lindsay was incredibly impressive in his first season, I would be cautious while looking at his potential value going forward. Standing at only 5′ 8″ and 190 pounds, it’s pretty impressive Lindsay handled 227 touches so well this season. Lindsay isn’t built to be an every down back and I would have a hard time seeing him continue this volume going forward with a new coaching staff. I would expect to see a little bit more of a balanced workload next season with Royce Freeman mixing in on the ground more often. Lindsay’s big-play ability should keep him inside the top 25, but I wouldn’t lock him back into a top-12 spot.

RB13: Tarik Cohen (CHI)
Cohen is another player who took a big step forward in his second year in the league. He jumped 23 spots all the way from RB36 in 2017 to RB13 in 2018 while adding five points per game to his average total. This, of course, is largely thanks to the Bears overhauled coaching staff. Matt Nagy promised more creative usage of Cohen all offseason and stuck to his word.

He worries me slightly looking forward as his build is essentially identical to Darren Sproles at 5’6″ and 181 lbs. It seems like every year there’s a new “the next Darren Sproles” type of player, but Cohen is probably the closest we’ve ever seen to actually fulfilling that legacy. This gives him a shaky weekly floor dependent on heavy passing game usage and breaking that big play. Even in Sproles’ best fantasy season in 2011 he maxed out averaging 14.3 PPG according to FantasyData.com. A similar ceiling could be expected for Cohen.

RB14: Derrick Henry (TEN)
If you would have told me in Week 13 heading into the fantasy playoffs that Henry was going to help you win your championship, I would have laughed right in your face. But my God, what a finish to the season this guy had. Between Weeks 1-13, Henry was ranked as the overall RB37 averaging only 7.5 PPG. He went on to jump 23 spots between Weeks 14-17 averaging 26.1 PPG as the overall RB1 during that span. Henry scored more points in the last four games (104.3) than he had scored all season leading up to that point (89.5). Henry has slowly trended up each of the last three seasons, making him an interesting prospect in 2019 with monster game ability.

RB15: Chris Carson (SEA)
The Seahawks featured one of the heaviest rushing offenses in the league this season and Carson helped lead that march. He ranked fifth in the league with 1,151 rushing yards in 2018 while offering next to nothing in the passing game. This backfield was one of the toughest to predict heading into the season as Carson was semi-successful in 2017 as well, but the team spent a first round draft pick on Rashaad Penny anyways. This will be a backfield to monitor once again heading into 2019 as Penny (4.9 YPA) was just as efficient as Carson (4.7 YPA) in 2018, albeit in a much smaller sample size.

RB16: Nick Chubb (CLE)
If it feels like Chubb deserves to be higher on this ranking list, you’re right. His numbers are slightly skewed due to the fact that he didn’t take over as he lead back until halfway through the season, yet he still gets credited with 16 games played. If you break down Chubb’s numbers from Weeks 7-17, he ranked as the RB8 during that span scoring an average of 15.5 PPG. Extrapolated over 16 games, Chubb would have also finished the season as the RB8. He is a player I could see myself having a lot of shares of next season, especially if he falls to the second round of fantasy drafts.

RB17: Kenyan Drake (MIA)
Based on draft capital, Drake was a bit of a bust in fantasy football in 2018. Expectations of RB1 production never quite materialized as the Dolphins ran one of the slowest and least exciting offenses in the league. Drake still managed to trend up based on his 2017 season totals.

A quick reminder of the ceiling you could get with Drake was between Weeks 13-17 of the 2017 season. He finished as the overall RB6 averaging 16 PPG during that span. With Adam Gase gone, Drake’s value will depend on how the new coaching staff views him. Drake is also heading into a contract year in 2019 at only 25 years old.

RB18: Adrian Peterson (WAS)
Peterson said before the season had started that he was ready to prove his doubters wrong and he did just that. After a down two seasons spending time with three different teams, Peterson found room to run for the Redskins after they lost rookie Derrius Guice for the year. Peterson hadn’t rumbled like this since 2015 when he finished as the overall RB2 in fantasy. Peterson will hit free agency again in the offseason and will likely wait for a starting position to arise if he decides to play again at all. While injury concerns are obvious given Peterson’s history and advanced age, you can’t completely count him out if he lands in a friendly situation again.

RB19: Tevin Coleman (ATL)
While Coleman was given more opportunity to run in a contract year, he didn’t fully take complete advantage of it. Coleman’s 11.1 PPG were a slight improvement over his 2017 numbers, but it still wasn’t quite as good as what we saw from him in 2016 when Kyle Shanahan was calling plays. Nevertheless, Coleman finished inside the top 20 for the third year in a row and will head into free agency in the offseason. Coleman is built well enough to be an every-down back and is still young enough to make an impact heading into his age 26 season. As FantasyPros own Mike Tagliere noted, running backs do appear to hit their prime between the ages of 26 and 28.

RB20: Jordan Howard (CHI)
As Tarik Cohen took a step forward, Howard took another step back. We have seen a steady decline in Howard’s fantasy production each season ever since he broke out as a rookie in 2016. Howard barely made the cut as a top-20 RB this season and this is partially thanks to the half-PPR nature of the scoring format as well. Howard still saw decent volume in 2018, his 250 rushing attempts ranked sixth in the league. Unfortunately, Howard’s efficiency took a dive for the second year in a row as his 3.7 YPA are the worst marks in his short career. Howard will likely only carry moderate flex value in standard or half-PPR leagues next season unless he can buck this trend.

RB21: Marlon Mack (IND)
Mack is another player who enjoyed a nice breakout in his second year in the league. Mack more than doubled his PPG totals from 2017 and his 14.1 PPG  in 2018 would’ve been good enough to rank him as the overall RB9 if he would have played in all 16 games. Unfortunately for Mack, he struggled to get healthy all year even dating back to the preseason. Durability issues are a concern here moving forward but, Mack is trending in the right direction. At this point, the Colts are a favorite to land Le’Veon Bell in the offseason. If they don’t, Mack could be an interesting pick if he heads into 2019 as the starter.

RB22: Lamar Miller (HOU)
Miller fell out of the top-20 ranks this season for the first time in the last four years, although his 11.4 PPG were actually marginally better than his flat 11.0 PPG total in 2017. Miller’s 4.6 YPA in 2018 also marks his best since he broke out with the Dolphins in 2014 with 5.1 YPA. Miller may have benefited slightly with D’Onta Foreman missing essentially the entire season nursing an injury. Miller has been a steady-yet-unspectacular RB2 in fantasy each of the last three seasons. Things could get more interesting for him as he heads into a contract year in 2019 with more backfield competition.

RB23: Aaron Jones (GB)
Much to the chagrin of Mike McCarthy, Aaron Jones had another incredibly productive season with the limited carries he did receive. Jones led all running backs (minimum 65 carries) with 5.5 YPA this season which is identical to his YPA in 2017 as well. Jones is an incredible talent who will now get to work with Matt LaFleur as his head coach. LaFleur, of course, was the offensive coordinator for the Rams in 2017 when Todd Gurley logged an overall RB1 finish. LaFleur wasn’t quite as successful with the Titans running game in 2018, but he did get Derrick Henry going at the end of the season. If Jones can get ahold of an every-down workload and play all 16 games, he could easily flirt with top-10 numbers.

RB24: Austin Ekeler (LAC)
After showing flashes in his rookie year in 2017, Ekeler got more opportunity to run in 2018. Ekeler jumped 20 spots in the fantasy rankings while adding four points to his PPG totals. While Melvin Gordon will continue a workhorse role here in 2019, Ekeler could still mix in for around 10 touches per game just as he did in 2018. Ekeler will be a valuable handcuff, though rookie Justin Jackson did also show the ability to fill in for the often-injured Gordon admirably. I don’t really see his value continuing an upward trend given his limited role, but he could stick around the RB25 mark again in 2019.

RB25: Matt Breida (SF)
Breida’s rise as a second-year player is almost identical to that of Austin Ekeler’s. Breida showed us some big-game ability but also had a hard time holding up to anything that resembled a full workload. With Jerrick McKinnon expected back in the starting role next season, Breida should shift back into the complimentary role that he is best suited for. Breida offers plenty of big-play ability as he ranked seventh amongst all running backs with 13 carries of 15 yards or more, according to Player Profiler. Given Breida’s durability concerns, I wouldn’t expect him to continue his upward trend, but his supreme athleticism should keep him right around the RB25 mark as well.

Honorable Mentions
Below is a list of players worth mentioning who are either normally found in the top 25, but didn’t make it this season or have shown potential to reach it in the near future.

Name

2018 Rank

2017 Rank

2016 Rank

2015 Rank

Last 4 Yrs AVG Rank

2018 PPG

2017 PPG

2016 PPG

2015 PPG

Last 4 Yrs AVG PPG

Leonard Fournette (JAC)

39

8

23.5

13.7

16.3

15

Kerryon Johnson (DET)

33

12.3

Dalvin Cook (MIN)

29

67

48

12

15

13.5

Mark Ingram (NO)

29

6

9

12

14

11

15.6

13.7

14.9

13.8

T.J. Yeldon (JAC)

26

57

39

25

36.8

10.4

7.3

7.5

11.5

9.2

Sony Michel (NE)

28

10.4

Le’Veon Bell (FA)

2

3

47

17.3

19.9

23.3

16.5

19.9

Devonta Freeman (ATL)

105

13

6

1

31.3

5.8

13

16.1

18.7

13.4

LeSean McCoy (BUF)

38

7

4

16

16.3

7.9

14.6

18.3

13.6

13.6

 
Fantasy Football QB Leaders: 4 Year Rank Trends


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | SoundCloud | TuneIn | RSS

John Ferguson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyFerguson.

What's your take? Leave a comment

1Saquon Barkley (NYG)RB
2Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
3Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
4Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
5Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
6Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
7DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
8Davante Adams (GB)WR
9James Conner (PIT)RB
10Le'Veon Bell (NYJ)RB
 View All Rankings 
11Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
12Julio Jones (ATL)WR
13Michael Thomas (NO)WR
14David Johnson (ARI)RB
15Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE)WR
16Travis Kelce (KC)TE
17Nick Chubb (CLE)RB
18Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
19JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT)WR
20Antonio Brown (OAK)WR
21George Kittle (SF)TE
22Zach Ertz (PHI)TE
23Mike Evans (TB)WR
24Tyreek Hill (KC)WR
25A.J. Green (CIN)WR
26T.Y. Hilton (IND)WR
27Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
28Patrick Mahomes (KC)QB
29Aaron Jones (GB)RB
30Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
1Mike Trout (LAA)CF,DH
2Mookie Betts (BOS)CF,RF
3Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
4Christian Yelich (MIL)LF,CF
5Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
6J.D. Martinez (BOS)LF,RF
7Jose Ramirez (CLE)2B,3B
8Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL)LF,CF
9Jacob deGrom (NYM)SP
10Alex Bregman (HOU)3B,SS
 View All Rankings 
11Bryce Harper (PHI)CF,RF
12Manny Machado (SD)3B,SS
13Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
14Trevor Story (COL)SS
15Aaron Judge (NYY)RF,DH
16Justin Verlander (HOU)SP
17Paul Goldschmidt (STL)1B
18Javier Baez (CHC)2B,3B
19Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
20Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B
21Gerrit Cole (HOU)SP
22Blake Snell (TB)SP
23Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,CF
24Anthony Rendon (WSH)3B
25Trevor Bauer (CLE)SP
26Andrew Benintendi (BOS)LF,CF
27Chris Sale (BOS)SP
28Corey Kluber (CLE)SP
29Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B
30Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
1Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
2James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
3Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
4Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
5Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
6LeBron James (LAL)SF,PF
7Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
8Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
9Damian Lillard (POR)PG
10Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
 View All Rankings 
11Victor Oladipo (IND)PG,SG
12Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
13Joel Embiid (PHI)PF,C
14Kawhi Leonard (TOR)SG,SF
15Chris Paul (HOU)PG
16Jimmy Butler (PHI)SG,SF
17Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
18Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
19Ben Simmons (PHI)PG,SF
20Jrue Holiday (NOR)PG,SG
21Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
22Andre Drummond (DET)PF,C
23John Wall (WAS)PG
24Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
25Khris Middleton (MIL)SG,SF
26Donovan Mitchell (UTH)PG,SG
27Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
28Kevin Love (CLE)PF,C
29Draymond Green (GSW)PF,C
30LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS)PF,C
Follow the Pros!

Follow us on Twitter @FantasyPros for exclusive advice and contests