Over the past few seasons, we have started to see running back renaissance throughout the league. The past few drafts have had tons of depth of depth at the position, and teams are finding creative ways to use backs even if they aren’t getting 20 plus touches a game. This year, the breakout player pool is limited. Plenty emerged as rookies last season, and aside from Alex Collins, nobody came out of nowhere to really breakout. Despite that, these players could all make a big impression in 2018.
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers: McCaffrey showed off his receiving chops last year, but wasn’t given a heavy workload in the running game. Even with C.J. Anderson replacing Jonathan Stewart, McCaffrey should see his total touches increase. The Panthers coaching staff has even mentioned this throughout the preseason.
A better runner between the tackles than given credit for, McCaffrey has the potential for a 1,000 yard rushing season while also hauling in 75 passes. In a league that’s consistently becoming more about matchups, that type of versatility will be extremely valuable for the Panther offense.
Joe Mixon, Bengals: Mixon’s rookie season didn’t wow from a numbers perspective, but it’s worth putting into context. He was part of a running black platoon with Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, and the offensive line had plenty of struggles. Heading into 2018, the Bengals made an effort to address the offensive line and Hill is out of the picture. Mixon had concerns leading up to the 2017 draft, but none of them involved talent. While Bernard figures to be more of the passing game target, Mixon can contribute there as well. The Bengals aren’t getting much buzz, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re in playoff contention come December. A big year from Mixon certainly helps the cause.
James White, Patriots: For Bill Belichick, the running back position often times has come down to trust. As we’ve seen, it’s not always the flashiest option for the Patriots who makes a difference but the reliable players. White to this point has a history of coming up large when the lights are shining the brightest. With Dion Lewis off to Tennessee, White could be a vital weapon in the regular season as well. Despite drafting Sony Michel in the first round, he’s been out almost all of camp due to a knee procedure. White in that span has shown the traits that could make him valuable. He can lineup as a receiver, catch out of the backfield, and handle a few carries when called upon. That doesn’t amount to a Pro Bowl season, but it makes for a valuable cog in the Patriot offense.