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Plant a Flag: RB

Footballguys staff members make a stand on a running back

Make a call on a running back. Who will surprise - either good or bad? Why?

Andy Hicks: I'll go with Melvin Gordon. There are too many people who write off a first round talent after they struggle in their rookie season. Some of the greatest backs such as in the history of the league struggled early eg Walter Payton. It also cannot be understated what affect the offensive line play in 2015 contributed to the issues in the Chargers offense as a whole. The addition of Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator should be seen as a bonus and Gordon himself should be better with a much improved run blocking unit in front of him this year. Of course there are no guarantees, but at his current draft price he offers solid RB2 production with even a hint of improvement.

Jason Wood: While I respect Andy's opinion, it's important to note that Melvin Gordon didn't just struggle, he was historically bad. I'm actually working on an article right now about rookie running backs who struggle and among all rookie RBs with at least 150 carries in NFL history, Gordon's 0.384 fantasy points per touch rank 4th worst in NFL history. Let that sink in. Of all rookie runners with a major workload, Gordon is 4th worst. Can he improve? Sure. But history is STRONGLY against him.

I'm planting a flag on DeMarco Murray. He's being CRIMINALLY undervalued by my fellow staff members at present. I hear all this talk about Mike Mularkey's offense and Derrick Henry's presence. Yet, as I noted in our Coaching Carousel series, the Titans are in decent shape to run the ball. And for those who think Mike Mularkey is a bad playcaller, you'll be happy to note he's not calling the plays this year; Terry Robiskie is handling those duties. While I respect Derrick Henry's game and think he has a bright NFL future, let's not forget that the Titans traded for DeMarco Murray this offseason and accepted his monstrous contract. There's no way they would have traded for Murray with the intention of handing Henry the job. Murray will be the bellcow until he gets hurt or underperforms the role -- which is to say he'll be the starter all season. He's an easy RB2 with RB1 upside that you can get a round or two later than others in his tier.

Hicks: I absolutely agree with Jason's call on DeMarco Murray and have him ranked the highest among all the staff. He was woefully mismanaged in Philadelphia and still finished as the 18th ranked runner. I don't trust the Titans regime, but if even they can't see how Murray should be used after comparing the notes of his last 2 seasons then they deserve to be fired. Murray is a great call.

Back to Gordon. In my comment on him in the staff rankings I totally acknowledge that he is far from a sure thing and that 3.5 yards a carry in his rookie season is something I would shy away from 9 times out of 10, but....Walter Payton, Le'Veon Bell and Ricky Williams all had a similar rookie seasons in this category. As did Trent Richardson, Lawrence Phillips and Daniel Thomas. Gordon could go either way or somewhere in between. Payton, Bell and Williams had their rookie numbers inflated by touchdowns. Something obviously Gordon didn't even register for, but the Chargers line was decimated and below par to begin with. This year they have improved and if there is a strength in this unit it is their run blocking. Unlike Trent Richardson who the Browns swindled the Colts into handing over a first rounder for and Lawrence Phillips who had a lot of issues, Gordon has the full support of the coaching staff and there is no competition for lead running back. The Chargers are committed to finding out how good or bad Gordon could be. Look at the backs being drafted around him in fantasy drafts this year. They are part timers, 3rd down backs or players with major question marks. There is no doubt Gordon falls into the latter category, but he was a first round talent for a reason and sometimes we need to be a little bit forgiving of rookies struggling straight out of the gate. He is going to get more touches than those drafted around him and therefore will have the opportunity to exceed his draft slot by a significant margin. Or he could fail. The upside is worth it here.

Chris Feery: I agree wholeheartedly on the calls for DeMarco Murray being a strong bounceback candidate in a new environment. Quite simply, he was a poor fit in Philadelphia. He was a huge disappointment last season, but that does not equate to his career being over or him having nothing left in the tank. As Jason noted, he’s moved on to a situation that appears to be set up well to run the ball. Even if Derrick Henry steals a fair amount of carries, Murray can still easily outperform his current draft position and provide outstanding value when all is said and done.

To add another name to the list, the time is right for Latavius Murray to take a leap forward. Offseason concerns about him not being the back of the future in Oakland have died down, and he should be a key cog for what I expect to be an improved team overall. Derek Carr appears to be the real deal at QB, and the Raiders passing game should continue to improve as a result. That will open things up for Murray to have a better than expected 2016 campaign, and he could turn out to be a very pleasant surprise at his current ADP.

Chad Parsons: Charles Sims at RB36 ADP is my favorite running back value for 2016. Even with Doug Martin playing all 16 games and having a career-best efficiency in 2015, Sims was an RB2 in PPR scoring. Sims would be a top-10 (or better) weekly play any week Martin misses and a solid RB2 or flex on receiving production alone with Martin in the lineup. Whether waiting on running back and grabbing Sims as RB2 or getting Sims as RB3, he is an integral part of draft plans for 2016.

Ryan Hester: I'm planting my flag on DeAngelo Williams. This is a little bit unconventional because I'm not looking at Williams' prospects from a season-long lens but rather from a weekly perspective. His elite weeks project to be higher than those of any other running back being selected around him. It's not a stretch to say that Williams will be projected as a top-10 play at the position for each of the first four weeks of the season. I would guess that we'd have to go all the way to low-20s of running back ADP to find a running back who will project that high that often this season.

The rub with Williams is that his owners only have those four shots at top-10 weekly performances. But that's a pretty good ROI for a player who is likely to be drafted in the fifth round or later. With the natural turnover of the running back position, I'll take a "bird in the hand" approach, use Williams for a month, and then play RB2-by-Committee via my bench and waivers once LeVeon Bell returns.

Phil Alexander: I've been beating the drum for Bilal Powell all offseason, and won't stop now while he's still being drafted in the 10th round. Powell is a favorite of the Jets coaching staff and was more heavily involved in New York's offensive game plan last year than most realize. He saw between 14 and 17 total touches in each of the Jets first three games, before groin and ankle injuries more or less forced him out of action until Week 11. When he got back on the field, Powell looked like a different back, averaging five catches and 50 receiving yards per game from Weeks 11-16.

It's also worth noting Powell scored on a carry from the four-yard line in the Jets first preseason game. While Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson both sat out the exhibition, we shouldn't rule out the possibility Powell will be New York's primary option at the goal line. Over the last two seasons, the league average touchdown conversion rate on carries from inside the opponent's five-yard line is 37%. Forte (an underwhelming goal line runner throughout his entire career) has converted only 24% since 2014. Some may argue the Jets signed Robinson to handle goal line duties, but Chan Gailey has favored a two-back system with clearly defined roles since his Buffalo days and Robinson presumably still has to prove he belongs on the team.

In the tenth round of drafts, you'd be hard pressed to find another running back with weekly 12-15 touch potential, who might have the inside track on goal line work in a productive offense. Powell is more than just Matt Forte's handcuff.

John Mamula: C.J. Anderson will scorn those who drafted him in the first round last season by performing up to that standard this season. Anderson is going off the board in the 3rd and often 4th round of current redrafts. That is insane value for a RB who will get the majority of the workload in a Gary Kubiak system! While the Broncos lost Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, and Danny Trevathan to free agency, they matched a four-year, $18 million offer that the Dolphins had made for Anderson. That tells us that they are committed to Anderson and to running the football this season. Anderson has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons. If he can stay healthy this season, look for Anderson to be a Top 5 option at the RB position.