Every year at this time, one of my favorite duties as a dynasty owner is to stash away players who could sprout growth in 2018 to fill up roster spots I had been using for depth. This is especially cathartic when I’m refreshing the roster of a team that just missed or got eliminated from the playoffs. Let’s look at running backs, who are facing a market that seems to devalue their services more every year.
Elijah McGuire, NYJ - The current coaching regime doesn’t seem to love Bilal Powell and Matt Forte’s knee is a manifestation of Father Time catching up with him. The team could and should draft a back, but McGuire has shown good enough receiving skills, burst, and moves to be at least a part of a committee for this team next year.
James Conner, PIT - Will the Steelers keep Le'Veon Bell by tagging him or signing him long term in the offseason? Their usage seems to suggest that they are getting as much out of him as they can right now. Conner has shown increased burst from his senior film at Pitt and could be at least adequate as a replacement if they decide to let Bell move on.
Jonathan Williams, NO - Williams is reunited with his college position coach in New Orleans in a move that could be auspicious for his future. Mark Ingram II has been excellent this year, but he is due four million next year and the running back business is cutthroat. At worst, Williams could project as a high value backup to Ingram in maybe the best running back situation in the league.
Wayne Gallman, NYG - Gallman hasn’t blown away the competition in the Giants backfield, but he has the most well-rounded skillset, and he has more to offer in the future than painfully average Orleans Darkwa. This team is going to start from square one next year, and Gallman should get a chance to stake a claim to part of this backfield long term.
Devontae Booker, DEN - Booker has been lost in the shuffle in a three-way backfield, and his season was set back by a late start due to a wrist fracture. CJ Anderson and Jamaal Charles are almost surely not returning to Denver, so Booker will compete with De’Angelo Henderson and maybe another draft back or veteran for the work at running back in Denver. He hasn’t flashed yet, but we haven’t gotten to see him get extended time in the power running game that is better suited to his strengths.
Austin Ekeler, LAC - Ekeler should be owned for his redraft value alone, but just in case, you want to make sure he is a roster this offseason. He has a Danny Woodhead-esque skillset and the team should make an effort to carve out a fitting and larger role for him this offseason. He fits well in a league that is starting to blur the lines between running backs and receivers.
Peyton Barber, TB - Barber was better than Doug Martin was at any point this season in his one start. The team may frustrate us by going back to Martin now, but Barber should be rid of Martin next year, and he could be the incumbent if things break right. He had a third or fourth-round physical profile when he came out of Auburn, but he came out early to help his homeless mom, so he went undrafted.
TJ Yeldon, JAX - Yeldon still has one more left on his rookie deal, but he has grown into a good receiving back, and he could still project as a three-down back when he’s not a team that has Leonard Fournette on the roster. Chris Ivory is due 5.5 million next year, so at worst Yeldon may have the backup job to himself.
DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, OAK - The Raiders will have to pay Marshawn Lynch a total of six million dollars next year. He has looked worth that (or close) this year, but considering the turnover at the position, they could decide to part ways with him this offseason. That would leave Richard and Washington to split the work. While neither would be an every week starter, both have had their moments during their first two years in the league.
De'Angelo Henderson, DEN - Henderson is probably behind Booker in the minds of the Denver brass, but there’s time for that to change in the offseason and preseason next year. He’s in a backfield with opportunity down the line.
Spencer Ware, KC - Kareem Hunt could be back to the complementary role we expected this year if Ware can come all the way back from his knee surgery. It’s easy to forget he looked like a solid starting back before his concussion in 2015, and his best football could still be ahead of him. I’m seeing Ware on a lot of waiver wires considering what he has proven on NFL fields.
Matt Breida, SF - Carlos Hyde is a free agent next year, and he could mess up the situation for at least one back on this list. It could be Breida, who has been Hyde’s backup this year, but if it’s not, Breida could compete to start in a Kyle Shanahan offense. His burst and versatility have translated, although he hasn’t exactly popped like a future starter. He does still have time to grow.
Matthew Dayes, CLE - Isaiah Crowell is a free agent next year, so Dayes could be in line for more work. He’s not built like a three-down back, but neither is Duke Johnson Jr. Dayes could be an interesting scatback in a vertical passing offense and he’s the type to get the most out of his limited physical tools.
Elijah Hood, OAK - Hood is the big bruiser who could get goal line looks and roughly have the Latavius Murray 2015 role in Oakland if Marshawn Lynch isn’t back. He looked as good at North Carolina as some backs that got drafted while he went undrafted.
Malcolm Brown, LAR - Brown was showing growth in the passing game before his knee injury, and we already know that he can handle himself between the tackles. For now, he could carry the value of a three-down backup to Todd Gurley in a good offense next year, but his rookie contract is up in 2019 and he might draw interest to do more on his second team.
Jeremy McNichols, SF - McNichols was a surprise cut from Tampa, at least in part because of how much they liked Peyton Barber. He caught on in San Francisco on their practice squad, and now he’s on the active roster. He has the speed and receiving ability to a Tevin Coleman to a yet-to-be-found Devonta Freeman if Shanahan wants to recreate the 2016 Falcons backfield.