They tell you that NFL Running Backs last only a couple of years, that after 30 they fall off the proverbial cliff. While I subscribe to that notion in general, it’s clear that every few years we’re presented with an “exception to the rule” and it’s our job as drafters to identify who can be trusted and who should be thrown in the “Do Not Draft” category.
This year, there are several starting NFL running backs that fall under that umbrella, and a few more still that figure to take up a large chunk of their offenses plays from the backfield. So who should you draft and who should you skip?
- Marshawn Lynch – 31 Years Old: Beast Mode is back, and the expectation in Oakland is that following Latavius Murray’s exit it will be Lynch in the backfield for all three downs. The situation is perfect for a renaissance, as the odometer on Lynch is still relatively low for a career starter in his 30’s. Expect a solid year with fantastic upside in the high powered Oakland offense.
- Danny Woodhead – 32 Years Old: Woodhead may fall into the “over 30” club but his tires have very little wear on them compared to backs who’ve started their whole careers. As a pass catching specialist in an offense that historically targets their backs, Woodhead’s only real danger is on the injury front. When he’s on the field, he’s dynamic and his age can be ignored.
- Frank Gore – 34 Years Old: Long ago I gave up on trying to figure out when Gore was going to slow down. A back who relies on vision and scheme to be effective, Gore continues to impress even as the he nears the end of a storied career. Indianapolis is going to pass first, which only helps to keep the defense from committing to stoping Gore. Expect another 1,000 yards and 4 YPC from the ageless one.
- Adrian Peterson – 32 Years Old: It’s clear that he won’t be the top dog in New Orleans but the Saints seem to favor a general split to keep Ingram healthy so you can expect a reasonably large workload for a back being drafted later in drafts than he should be. All reports point towards Peterson running with a chip on his shoulder, so the potential for him to steal 200+ carries exists, but there’s no telling how effective he’ll be following a lost season.
- Matt Forte – 31 Years Old: Forte has shown all the tell-tale signs of slowing down over the last few years and one expects that even if he gets off to a quick start that age will drag him down again. After a slow finish last year, the consensus was that Bilal Powell may take over for the bulk of the carries, but New York insists that Forte is their guy. So for the time being, he’ll have the lion’s share of touches, but be aware that drafting Forte is likely committing a pick for a guy who’s effectiveness has pretty clearly been proven to drop off after a few weeks.
- Jamaal Charles – 30 Years Old: I have faith that Charles has plenty left in the tank, but the fact remains that after being the 3 down horse in Kansas City for so long, there is serious concern that Charles can return to form. Denver can use him even if he’s primarily a pass catching back but the landing spot won’t do him any favors if he’s slowed down any. With Paxton Lynch or Trevor Semein as your starting QB, he’s likely to face plenty of stacked boxes. As a late round flier he’s worth a look but he may just be done as a fantasy option
- Jonathan Stewart – 30 Years Old: It’s not fair to Jonathan Stewart that he’s never been given the reigns to the Carolina offense, but even when his backfield competition left and he played well in an expanded role, the Panthers brought in other backs to take over. Queue the McCaffrey pick and you can see why Stewart is at the bottom of my list. Expect the rookie to dominate touches early, and with Cam Newton calling his own number more than most QB’s the writing is on the wall for the aging vet. Drafting Stewart is a crap shoot that’s likely to blow up in your face.
For those trying a PPR league for the first time, it’s important to remember that standard scoring rankings need to be adjusted when looking at certain positions. When you league awards a point (or some percentage of one) per reception, players you never thought to target become valuable tools in your quest to become champion.
Running Back Targets
Drafting a PPR running back can be a nerve racking thing; with the exception of a few standouts, pass-catching running backs have a more volatile NFL existence and predicting th usage is difficult. David Johnson (RB1) and Le’Veon Bell (RB2) led all backs with 120 and 94 targets respectively. Here’s the next 5:
- James White, NE (RB51) – 86 targets
- Bilal Powell, NYJ (RB29) – 75 targets
- Duke Johnson, CLE (RB44) – 74 targets
- Darren Sproles, PHI (RB55) – 71 targets
- T.J. Yeldon, JAC (RB74) – 68 targets
A veritable who’s who of middle to late round picks. All of those players finished with 50 or more receptions, and in a 1 point PPR league that’s the equivilant of 500 rushing or receiving yards. Don’t expect all 5 of these players to finish in the top 10 in targets this year though, as turnover in the NFL is expected. Here are five PPR targets for 2017.
- Theo Riddick, DET (RB37)
- Duke Johnson, CLE (RB44)
- Chris Thompson, WAS(RB61)
- Danny Woodhead, BAL (RB32)
- Wendall Smallwood, PHI (RB65)
All five of these players should approach 50-75 targets, providing ample PPR scoring from the later rounds.
Wide Receiver Targets
Things get a little more… muddled when you start looking at middle and late round PPR targets. The top 20 receivers on the board in all formats are likely to be targeted the most, which makes WR’s that much more valuable in general. But there’s always a steal to be had in the late rounds. Here’s five PPR targets for 2017.
- Jeremy Kerley, SF (WR80)
- Quincy Enunwa, NYJ (WR62)
- Willie Snead, NO (WR36)
- Cole Beasley, DAL (WR71)
- Marqise Lee, JAC (WR66)
Sure, the list is a veritable who’s who of undervalued slot receivers, but all are a safe bet to finish in the top 35 of WR targets, and should likely far outproduce their draft values. It’s safe to assume that none of these guys are likely to finish in the top 20 overall, but as leagues continue to value receptions, these are like extra rounds in the chamber.
As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Danny Woodhead – Baltimore Ravens | ADP 75 – RB28 | The running back situation in Baltimore has been in flux since the release of Ray Rice, and Woodhead looks to fill a void. While he can’t be relied upon for 250 rushes, the likelihood of 100 rushes and 75 receptions makes him an intriguing option, especially in PPR leagues. Prediction: 350 Rushing Yards, 750 Receiving yards, 6 total TDs
Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP 105 – RB 36 | Reports out of Tampa regarding Martin are encouraging as he’s been seen in better shape and exhibiting better burst and speed in OTAs. While most take these reports with a grain of salt, Martin tends to be on the wrong side of the pre-season buzz, and he’s still the breadwinner in that backfield. Prediction: 1,000 Rushing Yards, 250 Receiving Yards, 8 Total TDs
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers | ADP N/A – RB59 | This is a deep cut considering Williams isn’t being drafted enough in ESPN mock’s to show up in their ADP data, but Green Bay’s converted RB Ty Montgomery occupies a very specific slice of the offense leaving plenty of room for rookie RB Jamaal Williams to exist. While he’s unlikely to make a major impact early in the season, for dynasty and keeper leagues he’s worth a late round look. Prediction: 700 Total Yards, 6 Total TDs
Honorable Mention: Jamaal Charles, Den (ADP 116), Latavius Murray, Min (ADP 122), Chris Thompson, Was (ADP 170+)