It’s never too early to start looking to the future.

So with the fantasy football season barely in the rear view, I’m already thinking about the draft strategy for the 2018 season. And much like what you should do, I’m taking a hard look at value-based running backs.

Running backs will take on more popularity for the 2018 season. Some experts were touting wide receivers as the “it” thing heading into the 2016 and 2017 seasons. That notion is completely gone, so running backs will dominate the first two rounds in the 2018 fantasy football draft.

If you don’t strike gold in those picks, adding depth with running backs who can contribute at least RB2 numbers will be important for your roster. Here’s three running backs who are off-the-radar at the end of the 2017 season who should get your attention by the beginning of the 2018 fantasy football draft.

Matt Breida, RB, San Francisco 49ers

By season’s end, Breida was the best running back for the 49ers. And with Carlos Hyde entering free agency, there’s little doubt that the running back depth chart will be a little lighter heading into 2018.

The biggest question mark is if San Francisco will add a starting running back or will give Breida an opportunity at starter’s work. San Francisco should be one of the most improved teams in 2018, especially on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. What does Garoppolo and that offense need? I would say more help at the receiver position and possibly bolstering the offensive line before looking at the running back position.

Kyle Shanahan is known to make offenses work better, so that’s an encouraging sign if Breida gets more work. He finished the season with 146 yards rushing in the final two games of the season, but his work was limited during the season. Breida got better as the season progressed, so even if he enters 2018 in a fair running back competition (meaning that the 49ers didn’t invest in a top-tier running back), then Breida should get some attention in the fantasy football draft.

The 49ers will be much improved on offense, so touchdown opportunities will be more plentiful in 2018 for the starting San Francisco running back. And Breida should have a solid opportunity at manning that role in 2018.

Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts

It’s doubtful that Frank Gore will be back on the Colts roster in 2018. His career may not be over, but with Mack’s development in 2017, it wouldn’t seem like a smart move to bring the aging running back.

So that should mean Mack, who is more dynamic in the passing game, will have an opportunity in the backfield with Andrew Luck. That should make Mack more than capable of filling in as an RB2.

One the issues that Mack and the rest of the offense will have to overcome is one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. However, with Luck returning, that should automatically offer more opportunities to the Indianapolis running back. Also, he’s not bad out of the backfield as a pass-catching option, so he could be a sleeper as a three-down back. As long as the Colts don’t re-sign Gore and don’t draft a running back high in the draft, Mack would be a major value pick in the 2018 fantasy football draft.

Elijah McGuire, RB, New York Jets

What positions should the Jets upgrade in the offseason? If you’re screaming the running back position, then you obviously don’t know bad the personnel is in New York.

It was a miracle how good the Jets were for a portion of the 2017 season. Todd Bowles should get a raise instead of finding himself close to the hot seat.

That roster is horrendous. The Jets need to attack it from several different angles in the offseason, so running back, which is a position not necessarily linked to winning football games, should be the last priority for the Jets. Bilal Powell will return, along with McGuire, who added some decent value in 2017.

Matt Forte likely won’t be back, so that eliminates one of the many mouths who were fed in 2017. McGuire will have to compete for playing time, but if he continues to develop, he should be the main option for the majority of 2018 for a Jets team that has to have a better roster in 2018. It’s almost impossible for that roster to be worse.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor for the Clinton Herald. During his free time, he blogs about fantasy sports and handicaps games. Check out more at Against The Chalk. 

Scott Levine can be reached at scottlevine@clintonherald.com or on Twitter @ScottLevineCH

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