At exactly the moment when fantasy managers are souring on the running back position – why take someone from the most injury-prone position when we get guaranteed production from WRs like Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams? – this happens to be an extremely deep RB crop this season.
We have strong plays at the top of Tier 1, starting with Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey, a couple of veterans who make PPR magic happen. Then we have a number of safe picks in Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and Aaron Jones. Even the guys we might be having second thoughts about – Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Alvin Kamara and D’Andre Swift – come with merit and a multitude of reasonable reasons to select them. Then when we look at the upside – youngsters like Breece Hall, Isiah Pacheco, James Cook, Tyler Allgeier, Dameon Pierce, JK Dobbins and others – we have to smile at the positive possibilities. All things considered, I feel like a kid in a candy store.
In the midst of all that, we have an extremely difficult decision to make. Three particular young running backs – Travis Etienne, Rhamondre Stevenson and Kenneth Walker – make very strong cases for themselves. As we sift through our early offseason drafts, it’s been very difficult to select one over the other two. Let’s dive in and make the case for-and-against all three talented young players.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
My case for Etienne: I LOVE taking running backs within fully-balanced offensive attacks. Trevor Lawrence will be one of the safest all-around fantasy quarterbacks this season, coming into his third year in the NFL with the pedigree, overall improvement and impressive supporting cast. WR1 Calvin Ridley joins the Jacksonville fray this season, with plenty of help from WR2 Christian Kirk, WR3 Zay Jones and TE1 Evan Engram. The latter two – Jones and Engram – were major fantasy sleepers in deep leagues this past year. Coming off an embarrassing suspension with a complete change of scenery in Jacksonville, Kirk, Jones and Engram will take some of the pressure off Ridley. All that, in turn, opens things up for Etienne, who is 24 years old, in his prime and poised to explode. It’s similar to the balance Ekeler feasts upon with the Chargers.
My case against Etienne: Since we are picking between the three here, well, there was quite a separation from Stevenson last season. In full-point PPR, Stevenson finished as the RB10 in most leagues, whereas Etienne was the RB18. You could very simply say to me: The proof is in the pudding. You might wanna see Etienne prove it to you once first.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots
My case for Stevenson: Start with the last point I just made. First: Stevenson was the RB10 last season, while Etienne was the RB18 and Walker RB20. At 25 years old, six feet and 229 pounds of (what seems to be all) muscle, young Stevenson has already proven himself as a fantasy stud at the running back position. Personally, in a vacuum, I think he’s one of the most impressive individual players at his position: Strong, mean, versatile and explosive. He’s a surprisingly good pass-catcher for someone who is often seen running defenders over in the red zone. We’ve also seen him take a simple toss very late in the game after quarters of extremely hard work and go all the way to the house for about 90 yards. There’s nothing this kid can’t do at his position, really.
My case against Stevenson: Of the three here, the New England Patriots have the least offensive balance. We all know Mac Jones is a dink-and-dunk passer at this point, and dinosaur Bill Belichick seems to have no qualms running his offense that way. At times, that means stacked defensive boxes against Stevenson and a lot of predictability for the opposing D.
Kenneth Walker III, RB, Seattle Seahawks
My case for Walker: Here’s what makes this whole scenario so difficult: Etienne is the weakest individual player of the three, but he’s in the best overall fantasy situation. Stevenson is the best player of the three but in the worst fantasy situation. That leaves our boy Kenny Walker as the silver medal winner in both categories. My head hurts, splitting hairs between these three studs.
To me, Walker is just barely behind Stevenson in terms of physical skills. When Walker is in a groove and pounding the rock downhill, he looks like Josh Jacobs at his best. Geno Smith seems to have settled in at this stage in his veteran career, and we know we get offensive balance from DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside. Overall, Walker is in a very solid fantasy situation. If you take Kenny over the other two here, I’m not gonna argue with ya.
My case against Walker: What if Geno’s production was a fluke and the Seattle offense completely falls off a cliff this season? It’s not completely outside the realm of possibility, given the pressure of $52 million for a single season of work.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the three. I’ll see ya right back here next week!
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NFL for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football, basketball and baseball.