Every year, there are players who bounce back or break out to have tremendous seasons. We already looked at quarterbacks who could have great seasons, so let’s look at some running backs that will have a stellar 2018 campaign.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
Despite never eclipsing 600 rushing yards in a season, Jerick McKinnon was able to earn a 4 year/$30 million contract from the 49ers. He’s going to be expected to produce, and he should with the 49ers. It’s a perfect fit, as McKinnon will get plenty of playing time in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. Shanahan’s scheme is built around outside zone runs, meaning running backs need to be able to use their breakaway speed to get a big chunk of yardage on an outside run. McKinnon has elite speed, as he ran a 4.41 combine at the combine, and also has elite breakaway ability. The 2016 Atlanta Falcons running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, combined for 2482 yards out of the backfield under Shanahan. Similar to Freeman and Coleman, McKinnon is a dual threat, as he had 421 receiving yards a season ago. Expect McKinnon to set career highs in both rushing and receiving yards this season, as for the first time of his career he’ll have an offensive coordinator who can maximize his talent while.
Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
Like McKinnon, Jordan Howard has never had an offensive coordinator who has been able to maximize his talent. That’s no longer the case, as the Bears hired Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as their head coach. Nagy is known for getting a lot of production from his running backs, as rookie Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing a year ago. Howard also hasn’t been given the chance to be a three-down back, hurting his overall production. However, that will change this year. “Jordan can play all three downs. We’re going to do that”, said Nagy to the Chicago Tribune. It’s clear than Nagy is focused on building the offense around Howard, who will be a workhorse this season for Chicago. Nagy also builds his offense around a lot of short passes to running backs, so Howard should easily break his career high in receiving yards (298). Expect Howard to be a more complete running back, and thus his production should skyrocket this year.
Derrick Henry, Tennesee Titans
Despite averaging 4.4 yards per carry a year ago, Derrick Henry only had 744 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s because he had to share carries with Demarco Murray, who was released this offseason. That means that Henry should get the bulk of the carries this season, so his production should be much better. Now, the Titans did sign running back Dion Lewis this offseason, but he’s more of a third-down receiving back who will only come in on passing downs. New offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur confirmed that Henry is the lead guy, and “will get more carries” according to Jim Wyatt of the team’s website. LeFleur was the offensive coordinator for the Rams when Todd Gurley had over 2000 combined last year. Even though head coach Sean McVay called the plays, LeFleur still played a major role in creating that unstoppable scheme, and will likely carry some of that over to Tennesee this season. Henry can finally be the workhorse under a capable offensive coordinator, and therefore should have a career year.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Drafted in the second round last year, Joe Mixon underwhelmed with just 626 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carrying. He’s taken it into his own hands to make sure he has a much better sophomore season, as he’s lost 12 pounds. He apparently did it working out in Oklahoma in a difficult climate. “I was working in that heat,” said Mixon “I feel like that’s where I play my best. I was trying to get low last year but I wasn’t able to make it. I feel real good. My body feels real good. I feel like I’m in really good shape.” Mixon’s offensive line is also a lot better, as the Bengals traded for left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafted center Billy Price out of Ohio State in the first round. With a better offensive line, more comfort in the Bengal’s offensive scheme, and in better shape, Mixon should have a much better season in 2018.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots
Drafted with the 31st pick in the NFL Draft out of Georgia, Michel is a very versatile running back who fits perfectly with the Patriots. He had eight combined yards per attempt out of the backfield and had 1227 rushing yards in his final season at Georgia. He can run inside and outside, a quality the Patriots haven’t had in a while. Quarterback Tom Brady will be 41 years old this season so it can be expected for them to continue to transition into a run-first offense, as the ranked #11 in rush attempts a season ago. Although they are planning to have a running back by committee, Michel’s versatility and potential as a franchise-changing back should get him the most carries out of the Patriots backfield. If that happens, he’ll be right up there with Saquon Barkley for offensive rookie of the year.