2018 fantasy running back preview: Chris Carson, Derrick Henry set for value leaps

Brad Evans
A healthy <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30362/" data-ylk="slk:Chris Carson">Chris Carson</a> could sprout wings and fly for fantasy purposes in 2018. (AP Photo/James Kenney)
A healthy Chris Carson could sprout wings and fly for fantasy purposes in 2018. (AP Photo/James Kenney)

Whether you’re basking in glory or wallowing in defeat, the 2017 fantasy season is officially in the books. Because owner minds never rest, the Yahoo Fantasy crew looks ahead to what the New Year may hold. Today’s position under the microscope: Running Backs.

Among running backs that finished inside the position’s top-24, who do you believe could experience a decline in 2018?

Brad – MARK INGRAM. Disrespected in August drafts, the undervalued veteran proved to be one of the biggest steals in 2017. Working in tandem with rookie hotshot Alvin Kamara, he found the end zone with remarkable consistency (12 TDs in his final 10 regular season games) and crossed the 100 total-yard threshold five times. And he achieved that production on 52.7 percent of the opportunity share. That’s almost robotic efficiency. However, if he departs the Big Easy this offseason – tabbed an All-Pro and he becomes an unrestricted free agent – his output is sure to dip. Keep in mind the Saints feature arguably the best run-blocking line in the game. Drew Brees’ possible exodus combined with Kamara’s presumed expanded role also dampen his 2018 outlook.

Liz – JORDAN HOWARD. One of the few workhorse backs in the league, Howard’s volume was enviable. But he was far from consistent, producing RB1 numbers just five times all season. Additionally, he was far from a TD machine, notching just four goal line carries. And dude has got to work on his pass-catching skills. Recording six drops, Howard had the second most oopsies among RBs. With John Fox out as the team’s HC, the single RB backfield/run first mentality is likely to be abandoned, which means Howard’s stock is about to plummet.

Scott – So many ways this answer could go. DeMarco Murray isn’t that good. Frank Gore broke in with the leather-helmet era. But I’m going to slightly ding one of my favorite 2017 players, a legitimate league winner: DION LEWIS.

While the danger of Patriots backfield roulette is grossly and conveniently overstated, the fact remains that Lewis is merely 5-8, 195 pounds. He is not built as the type of back who can consistently handle the heavy workload he was given down the stretch. And if everyone is healthy on the New England flow chart, Lewis is also unlikely to be the goal-line back. Enjoy Lewis’s gallop through the playoffs, but expect the Patriots to have a worker-bee approach rebooted for next year. Fantasy sentimentality can get you in trouble.

[Early position previews for 2018: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs]

Conversely, what rusher outside the 2017 RB1/RB2 ranks do you think jumps in value next season?

Liz – DERRICK HENRY. Wishcasting? Maybe. But there’s no denying that DeMarco Murray ended the year on dead legs. Mike Mularkey has the stubbornness of a mule, but his lack of flexibility is largely responsible for the Titans’ losing record. Henry has been far more dynamic, consistently racking up yardage beyond what was blocked (19.1/gm) and breaking off runs over 15 yards (0.5/gm). Perhaps Murray starts another year as Tennessee’s RB1, but Henry is nipping at his heels… and given the tread on the vet’s tires, Murray is ready to be eclipsed.

Brad – CHRIS CARSON. In this age of 24-hour news cycles it’s easy to forget what the rookie achieved, albeit in a condensed timeframe. Running behind a line that would struggle to stand up a group of armless mannequins, Carson totaled 2.61 yards after contact per attempt and tallied an elusive rating on par with Devonta Freeman, Alex Collins and Henry. His Week 2 thrashing of San Francisco, a team in which he compiled 15 evaded tackles and 100 total yards against, was especially memorable. Seattle’s offensive line is a mess, but if upgraded this offseason, it’s likely Carson enters camp atop the depth chart.

Scott – I’ll plus-one on both of the answers above. Mike Mularkey is the last to accept the reality in his backfield, but Henry’s romp in the Wild Card round reestablished what the fantasy public already knows. This is a dam ready to burst. And obviously Carson was Seattle’s only quality back this year.

I’m hoping the next Giants head coach gives WAYNE GALLMAN a fair shot. Gallman consistently averaged better than four yards a pop last year and quietly snagged 22 of 29 targets over his last six games. A nifty debut for someone who was merely a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft. If the Giants get some injury luck with their receivers, this could be a reasonable offense. (If you want a more obvious answer to this question, I’ll sign off on your Kenyan Drake love, and obligatory Seinfield reference. But Gallman is a more-screened candidate, a better value pick.)

Listomania. Scribble down your initial top-12 running back ranks for next season.

Liz – 1) Ezekiel Elliott, 2) Todd Gurley, 3) David Johnson, 4) Alvin Kamara, 5) Le’Veon Bell, 6) Kareem Hunt, 7) Dalvin Cook, 8) Leonard Fournette, 9) LeSean McCoy, 10) Melvin Gordon, 11) Devonta Freeman, 12) Christian McCaffrey

Brad – 1) Zeke Elliott, 2) Todd Gurley, 3) Le’Veon Bell, 4) Alvin Kamara, 5) Kareem Hunt, 6) David Johnson 7) Melvin Gordon, 8) Leonard Fournette, 9) Saquon Barkley, 10) Shady McCoy, 11) Derrick Henry, 12) Jordan Howard

Scott – 1) Todd Gurley, 2) Ezekiel Elliott, 3) Le’Veon Bell, 4) David Johnson, 5) Alvin Kamara, 6) Kareen Hunt, 7) Devonta Freeman, 8) Leonard Fournette, 9) Melvin Gordon, 10) Saquon Barkley, 11) LeSean McCoy, 12) Jordan Howard

Bring the blitz. Follow Brad (@YahooNoise), Liz (@LizLoza_FF) and Scott (@Scott_Pianowski) on Twitter.

More fantasy advice from Yahoo Sports