Another season, another headache of figuring out the running back position for fantasy football. The landscape has changed over the last few years regarding the running back position and how it is used in the NFL game. As NFL teams start to draft running backs in the first round again, it results in us trying to figure it all out for fantasy football. More and more teams are using the running backs more frequently, but the problem is, they are using multiple players at the position with each game. Whether it’s to keep these guys fresh and prolong their careers, or making it more difficult to game plan for them, nevertheless it creates a tough situation in the fantasy community. Sure, there are more players that can help your team because of this, but there are also less players that can really feel comfortable putting in your lineup. Here, we break down the running backs that are expected to get the volume as opposed to the players that could share their work with someone else.
*These are not in any particular order and DO NOT reflect draft rankings*
We won’t waste too much time explaining the first three. Ezekiel Elliot, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson should be the 1st three picks in every draft. Not only are they the best running backs in football, but neither of them have anything to worry about regarding getting the ball. With the occasional series or play off for rest, these three players will be on the field for all the downs.
Things aren’t as clear cut after that. Here are the rest of the heavy volume running backs you should target.
Jordan Howard- On the surface it might look like the Chicago backfield is a bit crowded with Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and draftee, Tarik Cohen in the fold. Langford and Carey aren’t anything special and Cohen should only see the field in some passing situations. For that reason, I have last year’s 8th best fantasy running back inside my top 5 for 2017.
Melvin Gordon- Remember when I ranted and raved about Gordon heading into his rookie year, saying how much more I liked him over Gurley, only to for him to make me look like a fool? Or how about heading into last year when it was the complete opposite? Well..I do. And now I’m back on the Gordon bandwagon. Kind of. I do think his numbers were inflated because of all the goal-line touchdowns he had early in the year. I know. Those are all good for fantasy football. And they are. However, he also looked pretty bad at times. Gordon was only one of two running backs to amass over 250 carries and fail to reach 1,000 on the ground (Todd Gurley the other one) His sub-4.0 YPA is a concern but he was more involved in the passing game and that’s where he could be dangerous. Let’s face it though, Brandon Oliver and Ronnie Hillman aren’t taking the ball out his hands. He will once again get the ball over 250 times and that’s what I want out my running backs.
Leonard Fournette- The rookie running back was drafted with the 4th overall pick and it wasn’t so he could split carries with someone. As of now both TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory are under contract for the Jags, but I envision Ivory looking for a new home, and Yeldon being involved on some third downs. While he may not get to the 300 plus carries that Ezekiel Elliot had a year ago, he’s a good bet to carry the rock 250 times, which is something only 10 players did a year ago.
Todd Gurley- Just because he wasn’t very good last season doesn’t mean that he isn’t a volume running back . He had the 4th most carries in 2016 but it definitely didn’t feel like it. His 3.2 YPA were the lowest among players with at least 200 carries. There isn’t much behind him to worry about and there shouldn’t be. Lance Dunbar and Benny Cunningham are nice players and will battle each other for passing down situations and Kenjon Barner and Malcolm Brown will battle for a roster spot. Gurley is an electrifying talent that should be given the ball, and I think he rebounds in 2017. Let’s just hope we don’t have another Trent Richardson situation on our hands.
Jay Ajayi- Ajayi helped win fantasy leagues last season most likely from the waiver wire. He totaled 260 carries and it wasn’t even until week 6 when he started getting a full workload. No doubt there is some durability concerns with is bone-on-bone knee issue. However, he hasn’t had any issues with it recently and we have to go based on that. Once the Dolphins started using a TE on the line, in essence having 6 men on the line of scrimmage, Ajayi and the running game was almost unstoppable. With only Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake behind him, look for Ajayi to once again be a top running back in the carries department.
Volume Yes….But Not So Fast?
You’re probably thinking that I made a mistake and LeSean McCoy should be with the previous group of running backs. Perhaps, but I feel a little differently. Yes, he should be drafted ahead of guys such as Jay Ajayi and Melvin Gordon, but that’s because he’s an exceptional player that can make things happen at any moment. He didn’t hit the 250 mark last season, but that didn’t stop him from being the 4th highest fantasy producer (ppr) among the position. He’s getting to a point in his career where you have to wonder how much he has left in those legs, and he’s already had a history of nagging injuries that have kept him out for series’, halfs, or games here and there. Even though Jonathan Williams wasn’t drafted by this regime, he is a talented player that can eat in to McCoy’s workload little by little. McCoy should sit around the 230 carries he received last season, but we would be asking a lot for him to repeat his numbers with that type of workload.
Lamar Miller- Lamar Miller was actually better than you might think (268│1,073│4.0│5 ). The problem is we were expecting more given his abilities and assuming the Texans would employ him correctly. He was the featured back as we knew he would be, but his usage in the passing game was underwhelming. The Texans used a 3rd round pick to bring in D’Onta Foreman, so they must’ve felt the running game needed a little something. The addition of Foreman most likely will not impact Miller early in the season, but I wouldn’t rule out Foreman having a much larger role as the season goes on.
DeMarco Murray- Why do I have some concerns about the 5th best fantasy running back that had close to 300 carries? His workload dipped a bit after week 8 and he scored only 1 of his 12 total TD’s after week 12. Murray is a beast and maybe the heavy workload in his career won’t hurt his production. Or maybe it will. Derrick Henry wasn’t much of a factor in his rookie season, but I look for him to be more involved in his sophomore year as they “limit” Murray to an extent. Make no mistake about it, Murray is top running back in the league and should be drafted as such. I just don’t believe he’ll have the same amount of work in 2017.
Isaiah Crowell- I actually like Crowell this year because the Browns haven’t yet added a significant running back to the Crowell/ Duke Johnson mix. Johnson won’t get the carries, and Crowell won’t get the volume he should, only because the Browns will be playing from behind often, but he is someone I wouldn’t mid owning because of the lack of competition behind him.
Frank Gore- Gore is about 75 years old, so you wonder how much he has left. Despite him being an AARP member, Gore rushed over 250 times and surpassed 1,000 yards for the 9th time in his solid 12 year career. I can’t see the same happening in 2017. The Colts already had Robert Turbin on their roster and they also drafted Marlon Mack in this year’s draft. Both of those players will see more run in the offense as long as they can block in the passing game. Something Gore does exceptionally well.
Volume in Question: Running Back By Committee ?
The remaining players/teams are, or could be involved in a committee backfield. Here is a brief synopsis of each in no particular order.
Devonta Freeman & Tevin Coleman:
Freeman is the starter and lead back, but when healthy Coleman has a role. Both players have stand-alone fantasy value so this isn’t as much of a headache as others. However they limit what each other can potentially do if they were each a featured back.
Kenneth Dixon, Danny Woodhead, Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro
Kenneth Dixon will begin the season on a 4 game suspension, so I like West to get the early down work with Woodhead the 3rd down back. However, this isn’t exactly a situation I would be looking to draft.
Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker
Christian McCaffrey is the back you want to own in Carolina, Jonathan Stewart is still there and may open the season as the early down back. I really like McCaffrey as a player, but I may not be as high on him as most in his rookie season to warrant the draft pick he’s currently going.
Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard.
Mixon is the most talented on the roster but as long as all three are on the team on opening day, this is a situation that could require the maximum strength pain reliever you have.
C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, De’Angelo Henderson:
Broncos have already said that they will employ a committee approach this season. Anderson was decent before getting hurt in week 7, and Booker failed to impress when given the job. They drafted De’Angelo Henderson and then signed Jamaal Charles. I like Anderson but I may have had enough of him on my fantasy team, and I really want to believe in Jamaal Charles again. I’ll probably avoid this situation altogether but if I do draft one of these players, it would be Charles…If the price is right.
Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington:
If healthy, Abdullah and Riddick will each have stand alone and should be drafted. As fantasy owners however, we need to lower our expectations for both.
Green Bay Packers
Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Aaron Ripkowski:
You probably won’t see Ty Montgomery on any of my teams. Even though he did a nice job when inserted into the lineup as the starting running back, I’m not a believer that he can last in that role. The Packers flirted with some free agent running backs and drafted 3 of them for a reason.
Kansas City Chiefs-
Spencer Ware, Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, C.J. Spiller:
Spencer Ware didn’t live up to his hype following his emergence in 2015. While this may not be a typical RBBC, this is a situation where we have a changing of the guard at some point during the season. Most likely sooner than later. Kareem Hunt is the guy I want to own from the Chiefs backfield.
Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon:
Make no mistake about it. I’m drafting Dalvin Cook whenever I could. I’m just not sure as to when he becomes the featured back, so it could be a little while before you reap the rewards.
New England Patriots–
Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, D.J Foster:
New Orleans Saints–
Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Travaris Cadet, Daniel Lasco:
This situation is a disaster at the moment, but it should work itself out. Ingram could get traded (I think he will) and Adrian Peterson is someone I am not drafting. Alvin Kamara is the guy I want from the Saints and he will lead this team in rushing by season’s end.
New York Giants-
Paul Perkins, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Shaun Draughn, Bobby Rainey, Orleans Darkwa:
Perkins will start and Gallman should be the #2 behind him. I wouldn’t rule out Shaun Draughn beating out Shane Vereen for the pass catching specialist on this team. This isn’t as much of a RBBC as it is just a bunch of mediocre players that don’t get me excited.
New York Jets-
Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, Elijah McGuire:
Powell is the guy I would want for 2017. McGuire the guy in keeper and dynasty leagues. All three guys are similar types of players and will all be more valuable in ppr leagues.
Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Jamize Olawale:
Not a RBBC in Oakland as Lynch is the starter. I just couldn’t put him as a volume running back. Too many question marks for my liking. If someone wants to take Beast Mode as early as his ADP suggests, I’m letting them have him.
Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Darren Sproles:
If Mark Ingram is traded here, I’ll be intrigued. Otherwise I’ll pass.
San Francisco 49ers-
Carlos Hyde, Joe Williams, Tim Hightower, Kyle Juszcyk, Kapri Bibbs:
They want to trade Hyde so perhaps Philadelphia or Cleveland would be interested. They draft Joe Williams, trade for Bibbs and sign Hightower. I’m interested to see what they do, but for now, this isn’t a situation I want any part of.
Eddie Lacy, C.J. Prosise, Thomas Rawls, Alex Collins:
I won’t be fooled by Eddie Lacy ANYMORE! Prosise is the only running back I want from Seattle, and only on ppr formats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers–
Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jeremy McNichols, Jacquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber:
See New England Patriots
Robert Kelley, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, Keith Marshall:
The team claims that Robert Kelley will open the season as the starting running back. He might get the first offensive rep of the season, but Samaje Perine will be the lead back in short time. He’s just better than Kelley and it’s as simple as that. Chris Thompson is a nice late round target in ppr leagues.