While every player has their price in fantasy football where they offer potential value, most drafts will center around 40-50 target players and key avoid players on an owner's draft board. These strong takes for the upcoming season based on average draft position (ADP) sculpt a draft plan. Here is the early draft plan for the running back position by myfantasyleague.com ADP through late May on Footballguys.com.
running backS TO TARGET
mark ingram, RB11
Over the past two seasons, Ingram has morphed from a two-down grinder within New Orleans' backfield to a true pass-catching maven. Despite missing four games in 2015, Ingram still hit 60 targets. C.J. Spiller has looked like a shell of himself since joining the Saints and losing some of his peak physical juice. Ingram projects as one of the few three-down options around NFL backfields with his question mark being on the health side, missing 12 games over the past three seasons. The Footballguys projection has Mark Ingram at RB8.
Ryan mathews, Rb31
Mathews was one of the notable running backs to avoid a serious rookie threat added in the NFL Draft in 2016. Wendell Smallwood has some upside as a change-of-pace or space option, but is not projected as a higher volume interior back in the NFL. Mathews' main concern, like Mark Ingram, has been health - playing more than 14 games just once in his six-year NFL career. Mathews has overt physical talent, however, sporting a career 4.5 yards-per-carry average and catching and averaging more than two receptions per game over his career. While missing a few games projects as a likely scenario for Ryan Mathews this season, he is an unquestioned starter when healthy and comes at a mid-RB3 price in early ADP.
danny woodhead, rb35
Melvin Gordon's microfracture surgery this offseason (plus his pedestrian-at-best rookie performance) point to Danny Woodhead once again as an overlooked fantasy option in 2016. The Chargers opted for defense at the top of the draft over aid on the offensive line, one of the worst units in the NFL last season. Philip Rivers excels at taking what the defense gives him and allowing his playmakers to work underneath. Woodhead has caught 76 and 81 passes his last two healthy seasons in San Diego and gets critical looks in the red zone and hurry-up offensive sets. Woodhead in the RB3/4 range of ADP provides a high-floor and valuable depth.
keith marshall, rb48
Matt Jones was a running back in the crosshairs during the NFL Draft awaiting added competition. While Washington waited until late on Day 3 to bolster their backfield, Keith Marshall was one of the better pure talents at the position in the 2016 draft class. Marshall has prototypical size and a feature back skillset. Plus, his +49% Athleticism score was the highest of the 2016 running back class (best since Jonathan Stewart in 2008 of drafted backs) according to the UTHDynasty.com projection model metrics. Health has been a struggle for Marshall since he sustained production back in his 2012 freshman season, but the talent is obvious. Matt Jones posted some highlights in 2015 as a rookie, but also exited with consistency and fumble question marks. Marshall is the only other high-upside back on Washington's depth chart, making him a worthy bench stash in case of a Jones injury or string of fumbles for a bullpen call.
james starks, rb64
Starks returns to Green Bay in 2016 and projects, yet again, as the primary backup to Eddie Lacy. The reports have oscillated from a slim-and-trim Lacy this offseason to the same question marks of gaining weight and nothing really changing. Either way, Starks has largely outplayed Lacy over the three seasons of being in the same backfield, especially out of the backfield. As Green Bay's offense looks to rebound from a down 2015, Starks is a must-draft back for Eddie Lacy owners and an upside play in the RB6 zone of ADP in case we see more of the 'bad' Eddie Lacy of recent seasons.
running backS TO AVOID
Eddie Lacy, rb9
As mentioned above for James Starks' appeal, Lacy has been an up-and-down back through three NFL seasons. The acumen of the Packers offense has propped up Lacy, in addition to getting every benefit of the doubt to log touches. Lacy at RB9 is going ahead of three-down options like Mark Ingram (RB11) and C.J. Anderson (RB16) available later, plus means passing on wide receivers in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Kelvin Benjamin in a similar draft zone. Lacy is a touchdown-dependent back needing to rebound, propped up by his situation. Footballguys has Lacy projected as RB16.
doug martin, rb10
Martin enjoyed the perfect storm in 2015, his contract year. For the first time since 2012, Martin played more than 11 games and enjoyed a career-high 4.9 yards-per-carry. Charles Sims is the receiving back of choice in Tampa Bay (Martin had more targets than Sims in just a single game in 2015) and Tampa Bay has multiple red zone passing game targets - plus Jameis Winston on the ground - close to the end zone. Martin's 2015 has all the classic signs of a career year and now his price point of RB10 is much closer to his ceiling than floor.
thomas rawls, rb13
Seattle brought in numerous rookie runners this offseason, including Day 2 C.J. Prosise, who at a minimum will be active in the passing game. Rawls himself is recovering from a significant ankle injury with Week 1 in question. Rawls was not much of a receiver (nine catches in 13 games last year) in the NFL or dating back to college. Marshawn Lynch returning - while unlikely - is still possible as well. Combine the injuries, adding a bevy of fresh rookie legs to the backfield, and Rawls' two-down project even if healthy and starting and he is far too costly at RB13 ADP.
melvin gordon, RB17
Gordon had a forgettable rookie season, then microfracture surgery this offseason, and San Diego's offensive line - one of the worst in the NFL - did not get noticeably better from the 2015 unit. Danny Woodhead is Philip Rivers' safety blanket in the backfield and Gordon has a tempered ceiling of usage independent of improving his poor 3.5 yards-per-carry as a rookie. RB17 is close to Gordon's ceiling and the Footballguys projection at RB29 agrees with the sentiment of avoiding Gordon based on early ADP.