Often times the running back position is the most volatile when we enter the preseason as NFL head coaches have begun to compliment their rosters with a deeper stable of running backs, ultimately leading to ugly fantasy committees.
While we do our best to read the tea leaves early in the preseason, ultimately there are several surprises that pop up as we enter the games that matter.
Washington Redskins – Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine
What started as one of the trendiest picks of the off-season, the hype surrounding Perine has cooled off considerably after a roller coaster of a preseason. At times he was dominant, but at others he was lethargic and failed to hit the holes. It seems for a time that Rob Kelley is back in the driver seat in the Washington backfield. If you’re an owner of either of these backs, though, I’d compel you to pay close attention to how Kelley plays early because the leash will likely be short.
Carolina Panthers – Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey
There is certainly going to be a division of responsibility in this backfield but what seemed early on to be McCaffrey’s backfield to lose has become a bit of a committee after a rather impressive preseason by incumbent starter Stewart. At his current ADP Stewart is the far more valuable back as he’ll be in line for the bulk of the goal line carries and a good amount of inside the 20 runs, but McCaffrey certainly offers a lot of upside especially in PPR leagues. Be cautious at his current value, though, as Stewart is all but guaranteed to get a good portion of the split.
Cleveland Browns – Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.
While I personally think that Crowell will get the bulk of meaningful carries in this offense, the truth is that the fantasy community is divided over the value of the 24 year old back. With Johnson in the fray, third downs and passing situations are going to be his, so Crowell’s value caps at roughly a RB2 but both backs could be in line for a lot of work as the passing game took a bit of a step back with the loss of Terrelle Prior. It should be interesting to see if Crowell can be more consistent this year, because he has a chance to really reward drafters during the season.
Green Bay Packers – Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams
I’m not sure if I’m in the minority on this one, but I find it hard to believe that the Green Bay drafted Williams this year without the intentions of starting him at his natural position. Montgomery is a fantastic passing option out of the backfield but he struggles in pass protection and he hasn’t nearly shown the consistency necessary to be considered a top 25 back, yet here we are. I’d argue that Williams will be the starter before season end and in the first few weeks the time share in the backfield will skew heavily in his favor.
New England Patriots – Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead
A mainstay on these committee lists, New England went out and procured two new running backs in the off season and fantasy players were left scratching their heads at how all of these backs could possibly be used. As the season inches closer we still don’t know. The truth is that Gillislee is the most talented back on the roster in terms of running the football. After his success in Buffalo, New England sought out a back they could give the ball to 15 times a game and he should be the guy. Burkhead was a trendy pick after a few really solid practices and preseason performances, but I’d caution that James White is the true pass catching back in this offense leaving little more than scraps for Burkhead to work with.
New Orleans Saints – Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson
It seems disingenuous to your 27 year old former Heisman trophy winner to go out and sign a 32 year old Adrian Peterson to compete for touches, but that’s exactly what the Saints did. Are they worried about Ingram’s injury history? Possibly, but I think that they saw a possibly stud that could help the team and said to hell with the consequences in terms of fantasy. For me, I’m not touching this backfield because both backs are capable number ones and there’s little reason for the Saints to favor one over the other. This is a straight up 50/50 committee and unless you think one or the other is going to get hurt, this is a backfield to avoid (especially that both backs are being drafted in the top 30-35 of the position!)
New York Jets – Bilal Powell and Matt Forte
One wonders if Matt Forte has anything left in the tank. After a surprisingly effective start to the year, Forte slowed significantly, opening running room for Powell who managed 750 or so yards on only 131 carries. Even if Forte starts the season at the top of the depth chart, Powell figures to be the third down pack, and is in line for 50-60 receptions on top of whatever yards he manages on the ground. Neither back is going to be a big factor in terms of touchdowns leaving Powell with the only back with value on the roster as Forte is likely to see his touches and yards decline.
Seattle Seahawks – Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise
I could have included Carson’s name in there as well, but the competition really features a who’s who of injury report players and ineffective cast offs. Lacy was once an early fantasy pick after two monster years in Green Bay but now he finds himself running behind a porous offensive line with younger, more talented backs breathing down his neck. With Thomas Rawls, his only question is his health, as he is mightily effective when he DOES play. Will he play? Who knows, as he’s alreaddy dealing with some bumps and bruises. For my money, pass catcher C.J. Prosises is the best pick in the backfield. It’s not unrealistic to think he’ll lead the ground game too, but he’ll be in line for 40+ catches and at his current draft spot (later and later) he’ll return your investment in spades if you flex him right.
The NFC South has produced two Superbowl teams in the last two years, and looks to be a competative division again with four strong football teams. As usual, the South should be strong in the fantasy representation as well, with high flying offenses and high ranking individuals.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Julio Jones (WR2), Matt Ryan (QB4), Devonta Freeman (RB5), Austin Hooper (TE20), Tevin Coleman (RB22), Taylor Gabriel (WR64), Mohamed Sanu (WR75)
Synopsis – Some may be concerned with where this team is mentally after blowing a monster lead in the Superbowl, but I’d argue that the talent trumps any kind of hangover. The offense is led by the triumverate of elite players in Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, and Devonta Freeman, and they all look to offer early round values. Coleman and Sanu are likely to carve out minor fantasy roles with Austin Hooper being the likely breakout candidate following Jacob Tamme’s departure. Expect fireworks in Atlanta again this year.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Greg Olsen (TE3), Cam Newton (QB10), Christian McCaffrey (RB16), Kevlin Benjamin (WR31), Jonathan Stewart (RB34), Devin Funchess (WR72)
Synopsis – Cam Newton suffered a litany of minor injuries and his stats suffered as a result. His expectations have been adjusted but with the addition of Christian McCaffrey, fans are hopeful we’ll see more plays from the pocket and less vicious hits at the end of short runs. A healthy Kelvin Benjamin looks to rebound, and Jonathan Stewart returns to his role as underdog, and figures to excel despite the precipitous drop in the rankings. Ole reliable Greg Olsen returns as my TE3, and could quietly finish as the top TE considering his role in this offense.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Fantasy Stars: Drew Brees (QB3), Michael Thomas (WR8), Mark Ingram (RB18), Willie Snead (WR36), Adrian Peterson (RB40), Ted Ginn (WR56), Coby Fleener (TE14)
Synopsis – It was an interesting offseason by the Saints as they traded former first round WR Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, and signed 32 year old Adrian Peterson to fill out what they hope to be a more balanced offensive attack. Mark Ingram may suffer slightly if AP is more than advertised, but considering the lower number of touches last year, one can expect a RB2 finish regardless. Michael Thomas slides into the WR1 spot but Willie Sneed and Coby Fleener should be the big winner as their targets should rise significantly as Brees is still likely to throw the ball 600 times.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Fantasy Stars: Mike Evans (WR3), Jameis Winston (QB6) ,O.J. Howard (TE17), Cameron Brate (TE22), Doug Martin (RB33), Charles Sims (RB57), DeSean Jackson (WR30)
Synopsis – The Bucs are a tough team to get a handle on, but Mike Evans and Jameis Winston no longer qualify as both guys should finish in the top ten at their positions. Doug Martin and Charles Sims should split time (again) with the Muscle Hamster tackling the early downs and Sims cleaning up the passing situations. Beyond Evans, the Bucs have two young TE’s (OJ Howard is likely the most valuable in a fantasy sense) that should be heavy in the passing game, and DeSean Jackson seems to find his way onto the fantasy radar despite his WR3 ranking.
With the excitement and surprise of the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft in the rearview, it’s finally time to start looking into the impact and fallout of the skill position players taken early in the draft.
As I say every year around this time; be mindful when drafting rookies… for every Ezekiel Elliot there’s two or three Bishop Sankeys torpedoing your squad. Do your research and don’t committ to the rookie class too heavily (a mistake I’ve made myself).
Impact listings are in order of their draft position
1. Mitchell Trubisky – QB, Chicago Bears: If the Bears are smart (and there’s been precious little in past seasons to suggest that they are) Trubisky will be nothing more than a first round clipboard holder for a year or two. With Mike Glennon on the roster and lowered expectations, there’s no scenario that Trubisky starts or plays meaningful football this year. Don’t Draft
2. Leonard Fournette – RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Following the failed Yeldon/Ivory experiment (they combined for 4 TD’s and 904 yards) the Jaguars got aggressive and selected the first RB off the board. Touted as an Adrian Peterson clone, his size and speed make him and intriguing pick for a team looking to get more balanced. If you believe he played hurt last year and has more to offer even than he did, this could be a day one fantasy asset, assuming you don’t have to draft him too early. Draft: Middle Rounds
3. Corey Davis – WR, Tennessee Titans: This team was in drastic need of a top end wideout to pair with Marcus Mariota, and they think they got him at the 5th spot in the draft in Davis. A sizable reciever at 6’3″ and 210 lbs I expect Mariota to look his way early and often. If he can improve on his drops (16 across his college career), his route running ability and verticle speed should make him a decent NFL player. Draft: Late Rounds
4. Mike Williams – WR, Los Angeles Chargers: Arguably the top receiver in the draft, Williams is now the new face of the LA Chargers as they make the move from San Diego. While he’ll be battling Travis Benjamin and Keenan Allen for snaps, it’s only a matter of time before he sits atop the depth chart. Temper early season expectations, but don’t be surprised if he’s looking like a fantasy stud sooner rather than later. Draft: Middle Rounds
5. Christian McCaffrey – RB, Carolina Panthers: A Jack of all trades, McCaffrey is a perfect fit for a Carolina Panthers team desperate for some spark other than from the helmet to helmet shots Cam Newton takes when he runs the football. McCaffrey provides that being a fantastic options to line up in the slot or next to Newton as a flexible starter who can run the ball and catch it out of the backfield. If your league awards points for return yards he’ll be even more helpful. Draft: Late Rounds
6. John Ross – WR, Cincinnati Bengals: While laking the size of his contemporaries, the speedy Ross will line up opposite A.J. Green and should be in line for plenty of looks thanks to doubleteams and defensive schemes that will be forced to focus elsewhere. His production will likely be boom or bust in year one, so he’s probably more of a matchups play. Serious risk of being a bust if drafted too early though as the Bengals offense can become one dimensional at times when A.J. Green is right. Draft: Late Rounds
7. Patrick Mahomes – QB, Kansas City Chiefs: The same argument made against drafting Trubisky should be in play here as well; Alex Smith is still the starter of this playoff caliber team. The advantage is I believe Mahomes tracks to have a better NFL career than Trubisky, and his destination with the Chiefs is more enviable in the long run. Still, he’s no more than a dynasty stash. Don’t Draft
8. DeShaun Watson – QB, Houston Texans: If any of the three first round QB’s have a chance to play meaningful minutes this year, it’s Watson. Bill O’Brien has some work to do in rehabilitating his image with young quarter backs, but this Texans team will expect to win this year, and if Savage and Wheedon (Assuming both are on the roster by pre-season) there’s a reasonable chance Watson will find himself under center before long. Draft: Last round flyer
9 O.J. Howard – TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: One of the best TE in the draft, Howard will likely be the best pass catching TE on a team who often times trots two of them on the field together. With another year under his belt, Winston could be looking Howards way often, and with Mike Evans the only other real red zone threat, Howard could find a nice number of TD’s be years end. Draft: Late Rounds
10. Evan Engram – TE, NY Giants: The Giants have a lot of pass catchers after adding Brandon Marshall in the offseason, but Engram is by far the best TE on the roster. He’ll find immediate playing time but will likely have to be evaluated week to week based on matchups. I predict plenty of 100 yard, 2 TD weeks followed by 5 yards on 1 target. Draft: Late Rounds
11. David Njoku – TE, Cleveland Browns: The biggest knock against Njoku is that he’ll be playing for the Cleveland Browns. Maybe it’s not fair to expect a rough start for the athletic TE, but without consistency at the QB position, it’s a crap shoot to expect more than below-average fantasy statistics. IF the Browns add a QB via trade (Kirk Cousins for example) then I’d bump Njoku up on my board, but as of right now, he’s a dynasty/keeper pick but not in redrafts. Draft: Late Rounds (Keeper/Dynasty only).