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2016 RB Rankings Analysis & Drafting Tips
by Michael Nazarek/John Holler
Editor's Note: Below you will find a portion of our Fantasy Football Runningback Rankings Analysis & Drafting Tips for 2016. If you'd like to read all RB rankings analysis, please click HERE to order our 2016 Pre-Season Draft Guide.
OVERVIEW: - Every year the question arises as whether fantasy
owners should invest in running backs on the first round of their
drafts or bid high in auction settings. There was a time when running
backs dominated the first three rounds of drafts because there were
25 teams that had a featured back and owners needed to have two in
order to consistently be a winner. Now, those numbers have dwindled
badly. Many leagues don’t even require more than one running back
in a lineup and the value has seemingly diminished. Yet, at the same
time, the value of elite running backs has gone up, so it won’t be
a surprise at all to see running backs still dominate the first round
– more out of necessity than luxury.
The biggest issue is that the perceived top backs are all either very young or have an injury history that is troubling. David Johnson is only a half-year starter, yet he is being projected as the No. 1 fantasy back in PPR formats. Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles are coming off injury. Todd Gurley has less than one season under his belt and Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t taken a pro snap yet. Veteran guys like Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Shady McCoy and DeMarco Murray have all taken a hit to their draft stock, so it’s going to be an interesting selection process for running backs because so many of the young players are being ranked based on potential and the older guys are being devalued out of fears that they may be approaching the brick wall of mediocrity. There is a changing of the guard underway. The question now is what side of the fence are fantasy owners going to fall on – youth or experience?
RB Draft Tips - Found exclusively in the Guide.
MASTERMIND'S BEST BET: Found exclusively in the Guide.
The following rankings are based upon PPR (point-per-reception) leagues!
TIER (ELITE STUD RBs)
1) David Johnson, ARZ ® – Some might think this is a little aggressive, but any time you have a young three-down back on a big-play, high-scoring offense who is effectively being not only handed the starting job, but also being given the opportunity to be a three-down back – a rarity these days – you have to stop and take notice. His numbers as a rookie were pretty modest, aside from scoring 12 touchdowns. He ran just 125 times for 581 yards and caught 36 passes for 457 yards, but it wasn’t until late in the season when the Cardinals needed a boost to get over the top and knock Seattle off its perch atop the NFC West that Johnson truly shined. Prior to December, he never had more than eight carries in a game and had more than 25 rushing yards just once. But, in the final five games of the season, he rushed 90 times for 442 yards and four touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 216 yards and another TD. Projected out over 16 games, that would translate to 1,400 rushing yards, 54 receptions for almost 700 yards and 16 touchdowns. He may not be at the top of everybody’s list, but he is a three-down back with such high upside that, by season’s end, he may be a fantasy MVP at a position where specialization is king. STAT FACT: Most young players seem to have their best games at home in the friendly confines of his own stadium. Not Johnson. In his only two road starts, he had his top two rushing games of his rookie season (187 and 99 yards) and in the eight road games he played, he scored eight touchdowns.
2) LeVeon Bell, PIT – Huge things were expected from Bell last year after he blew up in his second season in 2014, rushing for 1,361 yards, catching 83 passes for 854 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. In a Steelers offense that was heavy with talent, nobody shined like Bell. In many leagues, he was the first overall pick, but his 2015 season ended just five-plus game in when he suffered a season-ending injury. In his first five games, he was averaging more than 20 carries and 100 yards a game and was catching more than four passes a game. He was primed to put up giant numbers – the proof was in the pudding when DeAngelo Williams suddenly became a stud after Bell went down. While some may have some hesitation about snagging him this early coming off a significant injury, Bell is one of the few backs that can realistically be expected to run the ball 20 times and catch five or more passes on any given Sunday. Those who drafted him last year may be a little gun shy, but, if he checks out as being healthy, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him coming off the board first in just about any fantasy draft. STAT FACT: While Bell is a big running threat, his spiked value is due to his ability as a receiver. Prior to the game he got injured, Bell caught four or more passes in 17 of his previous 21 games and had six or more receptions in 10 of those.
2ND TIER (VERY CLOSE TO ELITE STUD RB STATUS)
3) Todd Gurley, LA – Gurley will likely be the No. 1 running back in a lot of PPR leagues and was a gift for those who got him as a rookie because his draft stock suffered because he missed his first three games due to injury and some speculated that he wouldn’t play until October or November. He not only proved those skeptics wrong, he exploded on the scene in an offense that struggled to consistently move the ball through the air, which is typically death for running backs. Gurley ran just 229 times, but gained 1,106 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game, catching just 21 passes for 186 yard and no TDs – but with a rookie quarterback (Jared Goff) who is going to have a learning curve, you can bet that Jeff Fisher is going to lean heavily on Gurley and he could end up with the type of year not only former Fisher disciple Eddie George used to have, but the kind of workhorse appeal Steven Jackson had during his heyday with the Rams. He won’t be a sleeper this year and, depending on your scoring format, he could be the first player off the board in many scoring formats. STAT FACT: It didn’t take Gurley long to make a significant impact. In his first four starts, he had rushing days of 146, 159, 128 and 133 yards, but it didn’t end there. In his final 10 games, he scored 10 touchdowns, scoring at least one TD in eight of those 10 games – including four TDs during the fantasy playoff period in Weeks 14-16.
4) Ezekiel Elliott, DAL ® – The Cowboys had a workhorse running back in DeMarco Murray and that ability to dominate games at the point of attack and string together long drives because of effective running and the threat of the run made the Dallas offense almost lethal two years ago. But, when the Cowboys refused to give Murray the huge contract he was looking for, the running game wasn’t nearly as dominant last year with Darren McFadden as the bell cow. Dallas made its intentions clear by taking Elliott with the fourth overall pick, riding on the crest of the pre-draft buzz that Elliott may be the most talented running back to come out of the college game since Adrian Peterson nine years earlier. The Cowboys still have McFadden and former Redskin Alfred Morris, but Jerry Jones has visions of Emmitt Smith running through his head and, while he may start of the season with 10-15 carries the first few weeks, don’t be shocked if he consistently starts piling up 20-plus carry games and 100-yard rushing days more often than not once October rolls around. With what is almost universally regarded as the best offensive line in the NFL, the sky is the limit for Elliott and, given the high investment the Cowboys made to land him, pushing him out on the field will be a priority and a risk that will more than likely be well rewarded.
3RD TIER (SOLID #1 FANTASY RBs)
5) Adrian Peterson, MIN – It’s hard to imagine Peterson being available at this spot. After all, after turning 30, when most running backs are seeing a huge decline in production, Peterson led the NFL in rushing. He’s climbing up the all-time list for running backs and the numbers speak for themselves. In the seven seasons in which he has played more than 12 games, he has never rushed for less than 1,200 yards and in one of the other two seasons, he had 970 rushing yards through 12 games and was well on his way to topping 1,200 yards again. He isn’t much in the way of a receiver. Despite all his talent, his role in the passing game is as a check-down receiver – over his last three full seasons, he has caught 99 passes, but they have covered just 610 yards and two touchdowns. The big concern is his age and, if you look at his numbers from late in the season last year, his rushing average dipped considerably when Minnesota needed him the most. He has been doubted before and has always answered the bell. Nobody works as hard to keep his body in shape as Peterson does and he believes he can play six or seven more productive seasons. He’s never been short on confidence, but it isn’t being delusional or cocky when you back it up and Peterson does that year after year after year. STAT FACT: Peterson is an old-school running back and his fantasy numbers show that. Back in the day before PPR leagues, Peterson was a stud and has remained so. Aside from the 2014 season when he was suspended for 15 games, Peterson has never had less than 10 touchdowns in any season – posting seasonal totals of 13, 10, 18, 13, 13, 13, 11 and 11 TDs. It’s hard to fight consistent production like that.
6) Mark Ingram, NO – For years, Sean Payton felt that running back was an interchangeable position where players with different skill sets could excel in short bursts. Part of the reason for that was that he didn’t have a full-time workhorse and even when Ingram showed up, he was pigeon-holed as a two-down back who wasn’t used extensively in the passing game. When the Saints were throwing, Darren Sproles was the man. In his first three seasons, Ingram caught just 23 passes and was only a spot starter. That changed in 2014, when he got the chance to shine and ran 226 times for 964 yards and caught 29 passes. Last year, in 12 games, he rushed 166 times for 769 yards, but the big difference was that he caught 50 passes for 405 yards. The biggest concern for anyone drafting Ingram is his injury history. In five years, he has missed 18 games due to injury and has just one season in which he has played in all 16 games and that was back in 2012. If he can ever put together a 16-game season with the kind of workload he’s now asked to take on, his numbers could be huge. But, there will be a lot of owners who see the missed game numbers and question whether he’s worth a first-round pick. However, if he can stay healthy, he could be huge. He’s a risk-reward pick, but the reward could be gigantic. STAT FACT: While Ingram has become much more of a passing threat, of his 103 career receptions, none of them have yet to produce a single touchdown.
7) Lamar Miller, HOU – Miller has proved he has the talent to be a difference-maker, but was never allowed to have a full workload in Miami, always seemingly being pushed by somebody else and keeping his production in check. In his four seasons with Miami, his high water mark for rushes was 216 – and average of just 13.5 carries a game. Those aren’t the kind of numbers that would get fantasy owners drooling, but, over the last two seasons, he has become a more productive receiver and has scored 19 touchdowns in that span. When Houston stepped up to make him the replacement for Arian Foster, they not only paid him big money to jump to the Texans, but it clearly came with the promise and expectation of being a 20-carry-a-game type of player. He has proved to be relatively durable – he has missed just three games in four years and all of those came in his rookie season – and was more a victim of his own coaching staff and its unwillingness to make him a bell cow running back. Houston’s history is that of allowing the primary back to get 15-20 carries a game consistently and Miller could be on the receiving end of a lot of touches and, if he stays healthy – and there’s no reason to think he won’t given his history – he could easily shatter all of his career marks. STAT FACT: There is plenty of tread left on the tire for a guy four years into career (three as a full-time starter). In 61 career games, including 48 starts, he has rushed more than 20 times just once in his career – and that was 36 starts ago. To put that in perspective, when Foster played 13 games in 2014, he had 20 or more carries nine times.
8) Jamaal Charles, KC – Few players offer the dynamic abilities that Charles does. Initially viewed as too small to be an every-down back, Charles has proved his skeptics wrong. The initial beef against Charles was that, while he makes big plays, he didn’t score enough touchdowns. In his first five seasons, he never scored more than eight touchdowns, despite having three seasons with 1,100 or more rushing yards – including years with 1,467 and 1,509 yards. However, that all changed in 2013. Charles set a career high with 70 receptions for 693 yards, rushed 259 times for 1,287 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. He followed that up with 1,033 rushing yards 40 receptions and 14 touchdowns. He was on pace for another big seasons, having 364 rushing yards, 21 receptions and five touchdowns in five games during the 2015 season – a pace that would have seen him rush for 1,155 yards, catch 67 passes and score 16 touchdowns before a knee injury ended his season. There is little questioning Charles’ ability, but his injury history is become a concern. He has played in all 16 games just once in the last five years and has had two of the last five years almost completely wiped out due to injury. When healthy, there are few better, but his injury history will drop him down the draft chart. STAT FACT: No running back in the NFL has been as consistently explosive as Charles. For his career, he has averaged 5.5 yards a carry and has never averaged less than five yards per rushing attempt in any of his eight NFL seasons.
9) Doug Martin, TB – As a rookie in 2012, Martin burst on the scene by starting all 16 games, rushing for 1,454 yards, catching 49 passes for 472 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns, earning the nickname the Muscle Hamster and vaulting himself to the top of the fantasy draft rankings. Over the next two years, however, Martin was nothing short of a bust. He missed 15 games in that span and, of the 17 he played, he didn’t do much. He ran 271 times for 950 yards, caught just 25 passes for 130 yards and scored three touchdowns. His stock was about as low as it could get. But, former coach Lovie Smith believed in Martin and was rewarded. As Jameis Winston was learning his craft, the Bucs leaned heavily on Martin, who ran 288 times for 1,402 yards, catching 33 passes for 271 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. The Bucs signed Martin to a five-year, $36 million deal to make his the focal point of the offense again. He has proved that, when healthy, he can be a dominating running back, but not everyone will be as quick to jump on the Muscle Hamster bandwagon as other, even though his history is that when he’s healthy he puts up big numbers. STAT FACT: If you were looking for touchdowns out of Martin last year, there was a pretty simple formula – play him at home. Of his seven touchdowns in 2015, all of them came at Raymond James Stadium.
If you'd like to read all QB rankings analysis, please click HERE to order our 2016 Pre-Season Draft Guide.