Every year there is significant turnover amongst Fantasy’s top 10 Running Backs, and drafters spend numerous hours pouring over data and stats to find the next guy who’ll slot in where others have failed.
It’s a grueling process, but when a gut pick is right, the feeling of success is second to none. The Running back position is especially volatile due to the injurious nature of the position.
There’s a reason why Backs tend to retire young.
So who can you target outside of the first 10-20 picks that may return first round value?
Least Risk: Lamar Miller, RB – HOU
While it sure feels like Miller has been in the league a long time, the fact is that when the season starts he’ll still only be 26 years old. Houston may not have improved much in terms of the QB situation, but Miller still managed to average over 11 points per week in standard formats, and his 160 points were good for 17th amongst RB despite only playing 14 games and often being limited due to injury. Miller is being drafted currently at 22nd over all (3rd round) as the 13th back off the board, but his ceiling is firmly in the top 10 and possibly as a top 5 back.
A little Risk: Carlos Hyde, RB – SF
Workload has never been an issue for running backs in San Fransisco, but the prevailing question about who’s lining up around him continues to be a cause for concern. In 13 games last year Carlos Hyde average 12.7 points per game (standard scoring) which was good for 10th amongst RBs. But it’s a look at his game log that reminds one just how consistent he is. Over the season Hyde averaged 70 or more yards on the ground 8 out of 13 weeks, while sprinkling in at least one TD in more than half of the games he started. In the 3rd round, Hyde provides a monster ceiling as the only real weapon in San Fran’s offense.
Most Risk: Isaiah Crowell, RB – CLE
The Crow, as he’s affectionately referred to by fans, has the dubious distinction of being the best offensive player on a pretty awful offensive team. This is the main reason his numbers last year were so wildly inconsistent. Despite averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Crowell finished 7 weeks with less than 40 yards on the ground. This is a testament to how ineffective the offense was last year. If the offense around him can improve even slightly, there’s reason to believe Crowell can crack the top 10 and push even further.
NFL.com published a story HERE examining the quarter back competition in Cleveland. When the Browns traded for Osweiler many (myself included) excpeted the underwhelming and overpaid QB to be cut and toil on waivers. Between then and now, though, Osweiler has impressed enough in camp to be kept around.
Is he still there to promote a healthy compeition? It’d be hard not to reach that conclusion after Cleveland drafted Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer to be the corner stone while keeping Kessler on the roster to start until he was ready.
Now, I’m not so sure.
Now, as always, I temper my expectations for any and all Cleveland Browns quarter backs; drafting one usually ends up in an inauspicious roster dump, but with the needle pointing up, this could be a great jumping off point for the young QB.
There are plenty of teams in the NFL that could use a QB now, and several more that will be looking for one in the future. Could Osweiler and his big arm be a fit for the David Johnson led Arizona Cardinals in a post-Carson Palmer world? Or would he fit better in Buffalo or Miami, two AFC East teams short on franchise QB’s and a history of handing the reigns to unproven talent?
The most likely place for Osweiler is… on the Cleveland Bench. It’s unlikely that he starts in week 1 over Kessler, but I’d bet that before long he’s given the chance to prove himself. He sounds motivated to put last year behind him, and a few good starts could change the NFL’s opinion of him.
After looking at the middle round gems for QB’s, we turn our attention to the muddled mess that is the middle to late round “committee” backs. While studs like David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot will dominate the backfield touches for their respective teams, there are plenty of potential stars slogging through the expanded depth charts of “RB by Committee” coaches.
New England Patriots: There’s little doubt to the risk one assumes when drafting a NE running back. Gillislee projects to man the bulk of the running downs, but White is my early pick for passing downs (Lewis and Burkhead will likely battle for the last roster spot). Back to draft: Mike Gillislee
Cincinatti Bengals: Despite the addition of Joe Mixon at the draft, the Bengals have bucked conventional wisdom and rolled with a mostly effective committee over the last two years. With Bernard and Hill still on the roster, none of the three can be counted on to have an early fantasy impact. Back to Draft: Joe Mixon
Cleveland Browns: While the jury was out prior to last season on whether Duke Johnson could steam meaningful touches from the Crow, the biggest question mark this year is do they remain in a nearly 50/50 split? Crowell is likely to man the bulk of the rushes but Johnson is more than effective with the rock (4.9 ypc and 55 receptions for 500 yards). Your leagues format should dictate who you draft – Standard Scoring, Crowell – PPR, Johnson Jr.
Philadelphia Eagles: If the waters were muddled enough last year with both RBs often on the sidelines with injuries, the Eagles have added short yardage specialist LeGarrett Blount to the fold. Don’t expect 300 carries from the plodding back either, but he should syphon the bulk of the goal line carries effectively ending Ryan Mathews as a fringe RB1/RB2. Sproles will still garner some attention in PPR leagues, but even then he’ll cede some 3rd down touches to Dalton Pumphrey. Back to Draft: LeGarrett Blount
Seattle Seahawks: While things look a bit more stable with the addition of former stud Eddie Lacy, the talent of Rawls and Prosise behind him on the depth chart mean that Seattle will offer a short leash on Lacy’s tenure as the lead back. If he struggles early, Prosise will likely get the first shot at the lead role but his health could impact as well. Back to Draft: Eddie Lacy
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags drafted Yeldon and added Ivory in an attempt to add both a dynamic between the 20’s RB and a head down goal line back. The addition of Fournette could make both obsolete as the massive rookie has both the speed and size to play three downs. Still, if the rookie finds a lack of footing in the NFL, Yeldon could still steal a chunk of carries.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos seem to make things interesting every year. First it was Montee Ball and whatever other bum he was fighting for time with, then it was he and Anderson, then Anderson and Booker. To make matters worse, the Broncos took a flier on the ultra talented (and oft-injured) Jamaal Charles. By all reports he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but it’ll take a rough patch early for Anderson to really lose out on touches.
Detroit Lions: Abdullah missed all of last season to injury but the Lions front office is saying they expect the young back to return at the top of the depth chart. He has the goods, but with Riddick eating away at the passing downs, there is a risk of a true two headed committee in Detroit.
Minnesota Vikings: When AP finally left town, the Vikings shelled out 15 million to land the athletically gifted Latavius Murray out of Oakland. Then, to make us all wonder aloud what the heck is going on, they trade up to select potential superstar RB Dalvin Cook in the draft. I would expect that the supremely talented Cook shows up atop the depth chart early, but with Murray waiting in the wings it could be a while before he really sees meaningful fantasy touches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Any committee list isn’t complete until you discuss whether or not the Muscle Hamster can retain his tenuous hold on the starts role in Tampa Bay. Charles Sims (like Theo Riddick) is an obvious bet to see a lot of third down work, so Martin will have to have a monster year again to remain relevant as a RB1/RB2.
The frustration is real as fantasy owner when a player you invest heavily in doesn’t return that investment. We see it every year, and subsiquently that players value drops, leaving him falling on draft day. Are you an owner who likes to grab a previously touted player in hopes that he’ll bounce back and pay off in spades in the later rounds? If you are, and I’d gamble most of us are, then keep reading for a list of bounce back candidates.
QB – Robert Griffin III : Injuries that derailed his electric rookie seaon can be pointed to as the cause for the mental issues that have since plauged the outlandishly athletic Griffin in seasons since. It’s gotten so bad that at the conclusion of this last season, Jay Gruden alluded to the fact that he no longer believed in his QB and speculation that he’d be dealt or demoted ran rampant. Fast forward to the post-draft news and we see that RG3 is back again in the drivers seat for the QB job in Washington, and I’m confident that a new Griffin will be taking the field this year. Time to adjust to the game and to his injury history should allow Griffin to return to a semblance of the player we saw his rookie year: a rocket arm, good decision making, and the ability to make something out of nothing. Although he won’t finish as a top 10 QB, I expect him to bounce back as a solid QB2 worth a late round pick if you’re in need.
QB – Sam Bradford : Another highly touted prospect coming out of college, Bradford has shown glimses in his brief career, but a hefty injury history has left him on the scrap heap come draft day as owners have grown weary of the letdown. Shifting from St. Louis to Philadelphia should work wonders for Bradford on the field. He finally has weapons around him and a running game to keep defenses honest. He may be an in vogue pick come draft day, but if he starts the year healthy (and this is always an if with Bradford) I expect a much better year than he’s given in the past.
RB – Doug Martin : A lot of owners watched their ships go down in flames when they invested a top 5 pick in Martin a few years ago. Last year, Tampa Bay was the worst team in the league, securing the #1 overall pick and finally shoring up a QB position that features Mike Glennon as the top guy. I’d argue it’s tough to find running room when your team can’t complete more than 10 passes in a game. Still the top option in Tampa Bay, Martin should find more success after finding himself under 100 fantasy points last year. He could likely be had as a 4th RB, and should far outperform this ranking.
RB – LeSean McCoy : McCoy had 175-180 points in PPR formats last year, but was disappointing in terms of consistency. He touched the ball more than 300 times but struggled to return the top 3 pick spent on him. He’ll likely still be drafted early but has the pedigree and the situation to replicate the 1500-2000 total yard years that we’d become accostumed to out of McCoy.
WR – Larry Fitzgerald : For some, this was just the writing on the wall as Fitzgerald found himself scoring at or under 10 points per week for the first time in his career. The problem was that after Carson Palmer went down, John Skelton and company couldn’t keep the offense clicking, and Fitzgerald suffered. A Healthy Palmer creates more opportunities for Fitzy and inside the 20’s he’s the go to guy, and I expect him to crack to finish inside the top 25 WR’s this year.
WR – Dwayne Bowe : A supremely talented wideout, Bowe has never had a great QB throwing him the football, and that won’t change this coming year. But being a number 1 on an offense that managed to coax good to great seasons out of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Andrew Hawkins will help Bowe regain some of that swagger he had before Alex Smith got to KC. He won’t challenge for the top spot, but Bowe is an afterthought in leagues but should provide some scoring punch from the bench, for byes and in case of injuries.
TE – Vernon Davis : A freak of nature, Davis has the skills at the TE position to dominate his competition. This wasn’t the case this year as Kaepernick struggled to find consistency. If offseason reports of improved pocket pressence and throwing motion are true, Kaep could bounce back and this would impact Davis the most. Expect the consistency to continue to frustrate, but he’ll jump back in to the top 15 TE’s.
TE – Kyle Rudolph : He may have all the tools to be the best TE in football, but he’s rarely put it all together. Another year of Teddy Bridgewater and the return of AP makes this Minnesotta offense formidible for the first time in a long time. Without a proven #1 wide receiver, a healthy Rudolph could be asked to do more than he has. I think this is the year we finally see Rudolph ascend to an elite TE.
Face it, we all look at our favorite storied franchise with rose colored glasses. Open any local team news resource and it’ll be spelled out plainly through the biased coverage. “Our team rules, your team drools!” But only one team can win the big one, and only so many teams even compete. There’s always a team sliding backwards, so lets examine who’s moving in which direction with this weeks Turnover on Downs.
Oakland Raiders – We’ve been here before, and this team seems to make “positive” strides every year. But for every step forward, there seems to be a Jamarcus Russell sized step backwards. This year feels different. Adding a difference maker to each side of the ball in wideout Amari Cooper and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. will go a long way towards stabalizing overall balance. More importantly this team cut fat by parting ways with mecurial RB Darren McFadden and moving forward with Latavius Murray. As Derek Carr enters his second year under center, the Raiders look poised to leap frog some of the teams they’ve long been behind.
Buffalo Bills – Another team known for its smoke and mirrors, Buffalo has teased us before, but never to the extent that we’ve seen this offseason. An already elite defense gets a great defensive coach in Rex Ryan, a slight upgrade with Matt Cassell at QB, and a premier RB in LeSean McCoy to be the focal point of a run first team. This team has shades of the Rex Ryan coached Jets teams that made it to the AFC Championship in spite of Mark Sanchez’s obvious short comings. They still play in a division with the Patriots, so in the end it may be a moot point, but this team on paper has improved significantly.
Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater should keep pace with his second year counterpart in Oakland thanks to the probably return of Adrian Peterson and an upgraded WR corps that sees Mike Wallace enter a young and exciting receiving group. On defense, youth and talent will be injected through the draft and free agency, the only obstical now is the same as above; a tough division to play in.
Indianapolis Colts – Deflated footballs aside, this team felt the sting of defeat in a lopsided AFC Championship game and decided they were going to load up. Adding Andre Johnson and Frank Gore during free agency and drafting speedy WR Phillip Dorsett makes them the premier offense in the AFC. Bolstering defensive depth through both the draft and free agency will be the biggest question mark going into the year, but Andrew Luck and company should be able to outscore anyone on any given night.
New York Jets – While everyone in the division got a little better, the Jets did very little in the offseason to correct it’s biggest deficiencies. Sure, there formidable front 7 on defense got better with the addition of Leonard Williams, but until they have someone other than Geno Smith or the newly acquired journey man Ryan Fitzpatrick, this team won’t be able to keep up with the Patriots or Dolphins offensively, and Sexy Rexy has a better version of the blueprint in New York. With aging WR’s and no playmakers in the backfield, this could be another long season for the J – E – T – S Jets.
New Orleans Saints – After losing Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, this once formidable Saints offense will have to rely on RB Mark Ingram more than ever, and I’d argue that’s a terrifying prospect. Sure, he had a good season last year, but we’ve seen this story before, and I’m not convinced that Josh Hill or Marquese Colston are good enough to step into the shoes vacated by Graham and Stills.
Cleveland Browns – Defensively, this team falls middle of the pack, but they did not make strides on either side of the ball in free agency or the draft to fill the voids that caused them to stumble last year. Quarterback in Orange and Brown is a black hole as the team added 36 year old Josh McCown and sent Johnny Manziel to rehab. Josh Gordon is being replaced at WR1 by Dwayne Bowe, who had a solid season in KC but could’t break the plane in the endzone. Coupled with a few “Meh” receivers and an uncertain log jam at RB, this team could be looking at a top 5 pick.
St. Louis Rams – Nick Foles is still an unknown quantity, but my opinion is that he’s not good enough to carry a team in the NFL. He’ll face a new challenge in St. Louis as the talent around him dips as well. Todd Gurley will be a great player, but he’ll be slowed this season by an ACL injury, and Kenny Britt cannot be counted on to be a number one. This team will probably flirt with .500 early, but they’re trending down until they find a QB that makes sense.
As the NFL’s dog days settle in, we long for the hooplah that surrounded the draft. We pray to the football gods that a wacky Chip Kelley roster move falls in our laps. We ask that we never have to hear the words “deflated football” again in our lives. Instead we’re left reading reports of how every disappointing player is wowing in whatever camp is being participated in or how backup quarterbacks everywhere are competing to take the starting gig.
So, inspite of my fears that this is far to early to look at the NFL’s fantasy landscap, I’ll begin breaking down the pieces each NFL franchise may showcase come your very own Fantasy draft day. We’ll examine each teams skill positions and rank them from 32 to 1.
Without further adue… drum roll please!
32. Cleveland Browns
No other franchise in the NFL has swung and missed on a QB more than the Cleveland Browns. The most important position on the field, QB is the one position every NFL team focuses on, but Cleveland has a depth chart that has 35 year old journey man Josh McCown on top of their failed experiment of Johnny “football” Manziel. On top of that, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline were brought in to bolster a dismal WR corps, but achieved nothing but making them more mediocre. Despite having a solid stable of RB’s on the roster, this offense is so disfunctional I’d be surprised if they had room to run. Worth Drafting: Dwayne Bowe is a risky pick, but at least he’s his teams #1 option. Isaiah Crowell should be a top 20 back unless Duke Johnson impresses early. I wouldn’t waste a pick in the first 5 rounds on this team.
31. New York Jets
In a similar fashion to Cleveland, the Jets experimented with Geno Smith, and decided that Ryan Fitzpatrick would give them the best chance to win. No fantasy owner would agree. Brandon Marshall is a marquee name, and Fitzpatrick didn’t kill Andre Johnson’s value in Hou, so he may still be worth a pick, but beyond him Decker and Kerley should prove to be inconsistent. Chris Ivory is a steady back but with the addition of Ridley and Zac Stacy, who knows which guy will lead the team. Worth Drafting: I’m sure someone in your league will draft Ryan Fitzpatrick; don’t be that guy. Marshall is an intriguing pick as the Jets haven’t had a goal line guy for a while and they may lean heavily on him, not a WR1 but could have value if he falls. Ivory quietly put together a decent season last year, so I’d think he’ll come out of the gates on top, but I wouldn’t waste and early pick. Ridley and Stacy are both risky, and may only be valuable as a handcuff if it becomes more clear before the season starts who is the #2.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is a team on the rise, but will still suffer short term as Blake Bortles and his young WR’s become aclimated to the league. Bortles has the tools to be a good NFL quarterback, but as young as this offense is, he’ll struggle with consistency. TJ Yeldon will likely carry the torch at RB, and should be worth a middle round pick, especially in keeper formats. At WR things are a little murky. There won’t be a huge number of passes to go around, so a big week followed by a zero could have fantasy owners screaming. Julius Thomas should still be a top 10 TE even in this offense. Worth Drafting: Bortles is a project and should be drafted with this in mind. Yeldon has a chance to come out and put up good fantasy numbers, watch carefully as the team may announce him starting over Gerhart before the season starts. Marquise Lee has the most upside of the WR corps but it’s Julius Thomas as a saftey blanket for the young QB who warrants the highest value.
29. St. Louis Rams
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think Nick Foles is going to be able to handle the lack of protection that St. Louis has been famous for. He won’t have Chip Kelly’s schemes to protect him either, so I have very little faith that Foles will return to a top 15 QB. Todd Gurley looks to be a generational talent, but inuries should limit him in year one, and Tre Mason is a solid but unspectacular RB for fantasy purposes. WR is a soft spot here with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt being marginal at best atop the depth charts. Jared Cook could be the one fantasy expection with nearly 700 yards last year. At a shallow TE position, he could be worth a pick. Worth Drafting: Foles was average in Philadelphia’s offense, so I expect him to be worth a late round QB2 or bench spot pick. Todd Gurley should be drafted with the understanding he won’t contribute early, and likely valued too high in keeper leagues. Kenny Britt as a depth WR or Tavon Austin as a hold your breath flier would be later rounds and Jared Cook could be cheap points at the TE position.
28. Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota has some great tools, but he’s still a bit raw when it comes to the NFL game. I don’t expect him to have much fantasy impact early. Bishop Sankey disappointed his NFL owners along with the fantasy world, so they went out and got David Cobb in the draft. Cobb should eat into Sankey’s carries early, but there’s no garuntee that either will see much success. A ton of talent at WR, it’s a crap shoot with who to pick. Kendall Wright should put up solid numbers but with a rookie QB inconsistency could hurt his value, but I’m a firm believer in Delanie Walker and expect him to repeat with a top 10 TE season. Worth Drafting: Mariota should be drafted as a bench QB only. Walker is a safe bet to put up good numbers, and Dorial Green-Beckham as a flier pick could reap huge rewards with his freakish athleticism. Delanie Walker has a lot of value in the red zone, and should be counted on as a top TE in a shallow field.
27. Buffalo Bills
Matt Cassell is a slight upgrade on paper over E.J. Manuel, but he’s not good enough to elevate the offense into the middle of the pack. The biggest question in this offense is LeSean McCoy. He had a ton of touches last year for Philadelphia and could’t put together a season worthy of being a top pick last year. Now he’s wearing a bills logo and things should only be tougher for him. Sammy Watkins is a stud, but opposing teams will be focused on the talented wideout even more now. I’m intrigued by Charles Clay as well. The converted back has tools to make him a mismatch, but Cassell can’t be counted on to keep his numbers up either. Worth Drafting: I’d stay away from either QB unless in a 2QB format league. LeSean McCoy should be counted on to touch the ball 15-20 times a game, but is a huge risk at his current ADP. Sammy Watkins is a no brainer, but Charles Clay is the toughest to put your finger on. In the later rounds sure, if overvalued due to his success in Miami last year, I’d look elsewhere.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is a fine talent, but he’s young and he’s taking over for a team that allowed 52 sacks last season. Mike Evans was a revelation and Vincent Jackson is still a deep threat, but Doug Martin is still a question mark. If the team can’t use him to spell Winston, there could be some growing pains early. I’m not convinced that Austin Sefarian-Jenkins failure to turn into a fantasy option was a result of a terrible passing game. Winston may help revive his prospects. Worth Drafting: Mike Evans will be an early pick based on his athletisism and high ceiling. Vincent Jackson is going to regress eventually, but he’s still worth a WR3. Winston should outperform Mariota in terms of fantasy, but he’s a project that may not reach his hype. Sefarian Jenkins could fall to late in the draft and I’d say he’s a steal there.
25. Washington Redskins
What a mess this organization has become as Dan Snyder wants nothing more than to torment the fans of his storied franchise. Robert Griffin may not have the backing of his Head Coach but ownership has ensure he’ll get the first crack at the job this year. His talent is undeniable, his mental toughness is. If he’s playing his game, defenses can’t defend all of the areas he can attack, adding value to their small but quick recievers. Garcon is a valuable volume reciever when the football is in the air, and DeSean Jackson can still torch a secondary. Two talented TE’s in Jordan Reed and Paul Niles provide nice targets for Griffin but damage each others value significantly if both are healthy. Worth Drafting: Despite not passing the eyeball test, Griffin had a few solid performances down the stretch that show he might be able to turn this thing around. He may be worth a flier if you think so to. Alfred Morris is as boring a pick as they come, but he’s a safe bet to touch the ball 15 times a game. Garcon may have more value in PPR leagues, but DeSean Jackson has shown he can be a difference maker regardless of who is throwing the ball. Injuries derailed Reed’s season and allowed Niles Paul to showcase his skills, but Reed is the more complete fantasy player and warrants a TE2 pick.
24. Houston Texans
Sure, they have Arian Foster who when healthy is among the best at his position. But they lost Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins is being asked to step into his shoes. Last year he was a stud, compiling WR1 numbers with an anemic passing offense. Adding Brian Hoyer may give them a better chance to win, but he’s not going to light up the score board, and this could hurt the WR’s. Jaelen Strong could be a sneaky pick if teams take Hopkins out of games as Cecil Shorts is really only there to stretch the feild. Worth Drafting: Arian Foster should still be considered one of the best in the game, but age and injury concerns could hamstring a fantasy team. DeAndre Hopkins is buzzing now that he occupies the number one spot, but I’m not sure that he’s ready to be the man yet. Jaelen Strong as a rookie has the tools to outperform a flier pick if your filling out your bench.