Value Plays: Running Backs

The Footballguys staff finds value at the running back position

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look through the top 150 players and identify players that should outperform their draft position.

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Players Receiving 4 Votes

Jay Ajayi, Miami

Bloom: The main argument in Ajayi's favor is touches by default, but a closer look reveals a very exciting situation with a very exciting talent. New Dolphins head coach Adam Gase oversaw a run heavy attack in Chicago last year despite their being a losing team, and CJ Anderson was a stud in 2014 once he took over. By all outward indications, Ajayi will have a chance to seize an Anderson-esque role, and he has the forceful style to deliver. Ajayi was a second round talent who fell to the fifth because of knee cartilage worries that don't seem to have slowed him down after a terrific offseason that saw him take control of the Dolphins backfield. The upside more than justifies a pick in the fifth.

Howe: No one seems to know what to do with Jay Ajayi. His ADP has fluctuated wildly over an offseason that saw Miami jettison last year's lead back and anoint Ajayi the starter, then draft Kenyan Drake and purportedly sniff around Arian Foster. But it's June, and Ajayi seems to have a leg and a half up on the battle. Drake is a passing down project, Damien Williams is short on dynamism, and a camp addition will have an uphill climb in Adam Gase's new offense. Ajayi boasts the athleticism and awesome production resume to project high-end RB2 numbers, yet the uncertainty has him drafted at the RB22.

Ingel: This time next year Ajayi will be going off the board in the first two rounds. Expect to see Jay Ajayi as the teams' unquestioned workhorse back, especially if he can refine his route running before camp opens. Ajayi does have good hands though, going 50/535/4 through the air in his final year of college. As fantasy analyst Chris Raybon mentioned in a recent column, HC Adam Gase offenses have ranked between 6th and 11th in rushing attempts in each of his three seasons as a play-caller and one back has handled 20 touches in 50% of Gase's career games. There is a lot of buzz about rookie Kenyan Drake stealing all third down work, but I'm not buying it. Noted Rotoworld draft analyst, Josh Norris, recently stated that Drake was "the worst pass protector" he had ever seen. "Ever. Ever."

Simpkins: Owners may be hesitant to pull the trigger on this "unproven" option, even if he only currently costs a mid-to-late fifth-round pick. That's especially true when the team has explored adding other runners in the offseason. Yes, Miami spent the offseason sniffing around free agent running backs. Yes, they tried to acquire C.J. Anderson and failed. Yes, they drafted the pass-catching back Kenyan Drake in the fourth round of the Draft. However, the dust has settled and Jay Ajayi is atop the depth chart. We did not get to see much of Ajayi last year because he was behind Miller and because of the upheaval in Miami. However, in the moments we did watch him play, he looked good between the tackles. We've seen examples of Adam Gase's offense in both Denver and Chicago that suggest the running back in Miami will be a valuable fantasy commodity.

Matt Forte, NY Jets

Feery: The New York Jets signing of Mat Forte was met with some sighs of indifference, and that's being reflected in his current draft position. Forte is being viewed as a Top 15 RB, but Top 10 production is certainly well within his reach. His receiving stats took a big dip in 2015, but he also missed three games and was handcuffed in a run-oriented John Fox offense in Chicago. He joins a Jets team that has perpetually unanswered questions at the quarterback position, and it's a pretty safe bet that Forte will jump into a huge role as the safety net for projected starter Geno Smith. If Ryan Fitzpatrick ends up re-signing, that will bode even better for Forte's chances at a productive 2016 season. Fitzpatrick displayed a ton of chemistry with both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker last season, and the Jets offense could take another step forward this season with him at the helm. Add it all up, and Forte just may be a steal at his current draft position.

Hicks: Matt Forte has been one of the most consistent and durable of running backs over his 8-year career. He excels out of the backfield with 488 career catches making him the active leader in receptions for a running back. He needs only 28 catches to make the top 10 all time here. For that reason alone Forte has value this season. As a runner he will probably be limited to a maximum of 200 carries in this offense, but the Jets, with inferior players had over 90 receptions from their backs last year. With this player, in this offense there will be lots of work, especially as a receiver.

Waldman: Leaving the Bears for the Jets and and missing three games last year are reasons some are cautious about Forte remaining a good RB1 in fantasy leagues in 2016. I think the underlying reason for his fall is age. Forte is 30 and when it comes to RBs and age, fantasy owners are like fearful sailors in the time before Christopher Columbus who tell fearsome stories about monsters that dwell at the edge of the earth. Forte is one of the most versatile and talented backs of the past decade. He's two years removed from a 100-catch, 1800-yard season from scrimmage and Chan Gailey is known for successfully tailoring his scheme to his personnel. The Jets line is good enough to support Forte, even if the starting QB is Geno Smith. The former Bear is also durable, stays in great shape, and should at least have one more year of elite skill in the tank. Look for Forte to thrive like a RB1 for another year. Sail on my friends, the world is round and dragons don't appear for backs after age 29.

Wood: Matt Forte is 30 years old. Matt Forte has changed teams. Matt Forte is coming off his worst season in five years. None of that is enough to explain his current ADP. He finished 8th last season at the position in spite of missing three games. He's healthy. The Jets made him a priority and are sure to be a run-heavy, defensive-laden team. They let Chris Ivory move on in free agency guaranteeing a massive role for Forte both as a runner and receiver. Unless the quarterback situation completely derails the offense, Forte is a sure bet for another RB1 season.

Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia

Kuczynski: Last year Mathews was a victim of poor usage by a coach whose offensive scheme clearly wasn't working for the Eagles. DeMarco Murray was one of the big splash free agent signings, so he was forced fed the ball despite Mathews having more yards per carry and the offense in general being more effective with him in the backfield. He still had 700 yards and 7 TDs despite being a change of pace back and dealing with some injuries. Now he will have the opportunity to be the starter with little competition behind him, and new coach Doug Pederson comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree that features a balanced offense and running backs getting involved in the pass game.

Magaw: Mathews decisively outplayed DeMarco Murray last season, and with the latter's trade to Tennessee, the former has a clear, unimpeded path to starting. While he has an admittedly checkered medical history, being selected #12 overall in 2010 gives him among the highest pedigree for a RB in the past decade, and he also flashed imposing athleticism at the combine, clocking a 4.45 40 with a 36" VJ at 6'0", 220 lbs. When healthy, Mathews has top 10-type talent at his position. In 14 games of his 2011 second season, he had 222/1,091/6 rushing and 50/455 receiving, and two years later in 2013 he had a career high 285/1,255/6 rushing and 26/189/1 receiving. New HC Doug Pederson used Jamaal Charles liberally as offensive coordinator in KC.

Parsons: At RB26 in ADP, Mathews is a dirt-cheap clear Week 1 starter. Mathews has been a relative disappointment in his career. He was a high fantasy pick even as a rookie, earmarked for strong volume in San Diego immediately. However, Mathews is in the Jonathan Stewart-type zone of his career where his unfulfilled expectations create value. There is no viable interior runner competition to Mathews on the Eagles depth chart and, while Mathews has missed multiple games in 5-of-6 career seasons, he has been one of the more talented runners in the NFL. Only 2012 saw Mathews with a seasonal yards-per-carry below 4.3 – a respectable mark for any NFL back. The bigger question for Mathews is "How many games will he give a fantasy owner?", but as an RB3/4 on a roster, there is more upside than downside.

Wimer: DeMarco Murray and Chip Kelly are gone from Philadelphia, while Mathews remains as the clear starting running back entering 2016. Some are worried that Wendell Smallwood might be a threat to Mathews during 2016, but I am not one of those. Mathews has top-ten upside and can be had at #3 running back pricing - he's a screaming bargain at that draft position.

Danny Woodhead, San Diego

Hester: Some might say that a bet on Woodhead is a bet against Melvin Gordon III and that the team will look to get their 2015 first-round pick involved much more in 2016. However, a quick glance at Woodhead's recent past shows that he doesn't need a plethora of snaps or carries to be an effective PPR fantasy asset. Woodhead's worst healthy season was in 2012, when he played for New England – a team with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen also sharing backfield duties that played from ahead for much of the year – and wasn't a known commodity yet. Since joining San Diego, he has been used in a clearly-defined role for a team that has been pass-heavy. That offensive philosophy should continue into this season as the team's running game is still the less potent and proven piece of the offense.

Tefertiller: Woodhead finished the 2015 campaign as an RB1 in PPR leagues. He was RB10 in points per game and had some monster outings buoyed by great receiving skills. Woodhead is now drafted as RB25 with pick 66 overall. He makes a great fantasy option for teams eschewing the position the first five rounds of the draft.

Wimer: Melvin Gordon III had microfracture knee surgery in January, and his rehab hasn't been speedy. Woodhead should continue to be an integral part of the Chargers' offense this year, and he may well be the starting running back if Gordon suffers a setback. Woodhead should easily surpass his current ADP of RB #25.

Wood: Danny Woodhead is coming off the board 25th at the position and 66th overall. That's indefensible. HE WAS THE 11TH RANKED PPR RB LAST SEASON. In his last two healthy seasons, he's been a top 20 running back. The guy is a stone cold lock for 75-80 receptions. Melvin Gordon III was terrible last year and banking on him rounding into form is a sucker's bet given his propensity for injury. While Woodhead may not give you 1,000+ yards rushing or 10+ rushing touchdowns, his role as the de facto, go-to slot receiver all but guarantees a role in any game script. Bank Woodhead as your 3rd RB off the board and know you're securing no worse than RB2 value.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

C.J. Anderson, Denver

Fahey: Bizarrely, Peyton Manning's departure from Denver will make C.J. Anderson better. Anderson will be the featured back in a Gary Kubiak scheme that has an improved offensive line over last season. Anderson struggled early last year but proved his quality over the second half of the season. His ranking at this point is an overreaction to being let down last year when he was going in the first round.

Holloway: Much has been expected for Anderson over the past two seasons and although he has averaged 4.7 YPC and caught about 2 passes per game, he has generally disappointed because he has just not gotten enough carries. A year ago, he had only 152 carries in 15 games. However, the Broncos matched his free agent offer from the Dolphins and he returns with a four-year, $18 million contract. The Broncos should be running the ball early and often and Anderson should get his best chance to meet fantasy expectations.

Pasquino: There are so many signs out there that tell you that C.J. Anderson is going to be a huge part of the Denver offense this season. First, his contract this past offseason contained a $5M bonus to return to the Broncos. As my good friend Cecil Lammey put it, "the language of the NFL is money," and when money talks, I listen. Forget that Denver drafted Devontae Booker (handcuff as the future) and brought back Ronnie Hillman (who could not sign anywhere else) – Anderson is the top Denver back this year, and will push for 1,500 total yards if not more. Denver will be all about the run and defense this year as either Mark Sanchez or rookie Paxton Lynch guide the team and try not to turn the ball over in the passing game. Drafting a RB1 after 15 backs are gone in your draft is exactly the value you seek, and that is what you get with Anderson as RB16.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

Hicks: The concern surrounding Doug Martin is if we see the guy in year 1 and 4 or the inferior version we saw in years 2 and 3. Those are real concerns, as is the lack of touchdowns we have seen since that rookie year. Outside Adrian Peterson though, Martin is in the most stable of situations and not coming off injury or a rookie year. While Jameis Winston is still learning his trade, the Bucs are expected to lean on Martin heavily. It is healthy to be a little sceptical of Martin, but the lack of sure things mean Martin has to be considered early.

Holloway: Martin has had two outstanding seasons out of his first four. He signed a five-year $35.7 million contract to return to the Buccaneers and should see continued opportunity there. A year ago, he averaged 18 rushes per game and 4.9 YPC, including six games with over 20 carries. Although spelled often in passing situations for Charles Sims, Martin caught 33 passes.

Waldman: There are two common arguments against Martin repeating this top-five production in 2016. The first is Charles Sims seeing an increased workload. Sims had the PPR production of a fantasy starter and it leads to the idea that Sims will cut into Martin's production. This is an age-old argument that beat reporters and fantasy owners often make about talented reserves who perform well. But when the starter on this team is a versatile franchise back still in his athletic prime, the "Sims poised for more work" statement becomes conjecture when the season begins. Martin is a better runner between the tackles than Sims and the Buccaneers gave him a new deal with starter money. Sims' involvement is a "nice to have" but not a "must". Don't worry about the projected improvement of Jameis Winston hurting Martin. In 2015, Winston completed 58 percent of his passes, threw 15 interceptions, and was sacked 27 times. These are efficiency metrics that won't cut into Martin's production significantly if Winston improves on them. Look for Martin to repeat as a fantasy RB1.

Players Receiving 2 Votes

Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati

Haseley: It's possible that Giovani Bernard could reach 180 carries in addition to catching 50 passes. Usually, when a running back reaches those numbers, they finish in the Top 20. Bernard's worst PPR finish is RB19. At his current ADP of RB27, you can select him as a borderline RB3, or late RB2. The Bengals new offensive coordinator is Ken Zampese, who was a key piece to the Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that made Marshall Faulk a fantasy running back and wide receiver all in one. I like Bernard's chances of an improvement in 2016, rather than a decline.

Holloway: Bernard has been a committee back in all three of his NFL seasons with the Bengals, averaging 11 carries per game and only having two games in three seasons with at least 20 carries. However, he has caught 148 passes and should be featured even more in the passing game this year for the Bengals. They lost both Marvin Jones Jr and Mohamed Sanu (98 catches combined) in free agency and may play a few games at the beginning of the season without Tyler Eifert.

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

Hester: It's hard to call a player being drafted as high as RB8 a value play, but when picks in the first few rounds are so important that a slot or two in your rankings can make a big difference. The "Round 1 receiver" movement is strong this year. Having a player like Charles around in the mid-to-late second makes it easier to grab that preferred wideout in Round 1. Sure, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware emerged last season and could keep Charles' workload low. But this is a player who has performed well on limited touches before. In fact, in his low-touches seasons (2014 and 2010), he was efficient enough to finish in the same neighborhood as a high-volume season like 2012. 2013 was other-worldly due to his career-high 70 catches and 19 touchdowns. If I'm on the clock with Charles, Lamar Miller, and Devonta Freeman all available, I'm taking Charles.

Wimer: Charles' AC tear has many concerned, and we may not see him on the field until regular season opens as he continues his long rehab. However, this guy is a featured running back on a run-oriented team, and he should be one of those rare, three-down backs again during 2016. I think he is a modest value at the eighth running back off the board as his upside is firmly among the top five fantasy running backs.

Justin Forsett, Baltimore

Hester: Forsett was a borderline top-20 overall pick just last season. The case for him was based mostly on two things: the lack of talent, depth, and clarity in the receiving corps and the presence of Marc Trestman as Offensive Coordinator. Both of those things are still big pieces to Forsett's 2016 outlook. Steve Smith is "football ancient" and attempting to recover from an injury that almost no one ever has; Breshad Perriman got injured again already this preseason and is still a huge question mark even if healthy; and Mike Wallace looked flat-out bad last season as a one-trick pony deep threat who may have lost his speed. Trestman still loves throwing passes to his running backs, and Forsett may be a top-two receiving option on this team despite playing in the backfield. His main competition is a so-so talent in Javorius Allen and a fourth-round rookie in Kenneth Dixon. A bet on Forsett is a bet against those guys, but at this price, it's a small bet worth making. He's being drafted after backup and/or one-down players like Charles Sims, Karlos Williams, and Theo Riddick. He's just ahead of Derrick Henry – a rookie, who's a backup…on a bad team. Forsett is way too low.

Pasquino: Baltimore is going to be a run-first team this year according to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, and that means good things for Justin Forsett again this year. The Ravens were a mess last season with injuries to Forsett, Joe Flacco and Steve Smith, but all three are expected back in time for training camp if not sooner. Forsett is 100% ready to go right now, and he was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year before his broken arm in November. Rookie Kenneth Dixon will be his backup and spell him from time to time, but Forsett should get the bulk of the workload and push for RB2 value, making him a steal after 30-35 backs are gone in your draft.

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

Ingel: Hill killed teams as a second round pick last year, so I get why people are down on him, but in the 6th round this year, he's a serious value play and a major bounce back candidate. Some reasons for optimism: 1) He scored 12 TDs last season and converted 9 of his 16 goal line carries into touchdowns, which is the best ratio among any running back with 10 or more goal-line carries in 2015. 2) Hue Jackson liked to run him out of the shotgun last season, which clearly didn't suite his play. Hue Jackson is now gone. 3) The Bengals have been in the top four in red zone rushing percentage the past two seasons. 4) Marvin Jones Jr and Mohammed Sanu are both gone and Tyler Eifert is injured and may miss some of the season so the Bengals should focus more on the run than last season when Hue Jackson opened up the offense.

Magaw: Hill didn't look like the same player in a 2015 soph slump season after a spectacular rookie debut, with his yard per carry average plummeting a full yard and a half (from 5.1 to 3.6). Hill recently noted an early lingering knee injury, and did flash some of his dangerous rookie form later in the season, giving potential cause for optimism in 2016. The Bengals and new OC Ken Zampese could lean on both Hill and newly re-signed Giovani Bernard in the run game, with the free agency departures of WRs Marvin Jones Jr and Mohamed Sanu, as well as an off-season injury to TE Tyler Eifert. He leads the NFL in combined rushing TDs since his rookie 2014 season, and if he runs more consistently like he did in 2014 compared to 2015, a further scoring uptick is possible.

Duke Johnson Jr, Cleveland

Bonnema: We can't put a lot of stock in the fact that Amari Cooper was the only rookie to catch more passes than Duke Johnson Jr in 2015, but it does illustrate Johnson's skillsets transferring to the pros. He didn't have the sexiest year by any means, finishing as RB24 in PPR scoring. But some of that can be blamed on the brutal schedule he faced, the fact that he scored zero rushing touchdowns, and the lack of talent surrounding him. Regardless, he finished fifth in receiving yards and fourth in receptions among running backs, and has little competition for carries in 2016. He is currently being drafted at his floor, while bust candidates like Jay Ajayi, Matt Jones and Jeremy Langford are going ahead of him.

Haseley: Duke Johnson Jr had 61 receptions as a rookie and now he inherits a head coach in Hue Jackson that employs a run-dominant offense. I see Isaiah Crowell as a big contributor, but I also like Johnson's ability to be a compliment to the ground game, much like Giovani Bernard did with the Bengals under Jackson's coaching watch. Like Bernard, Johnson has the skills to be an effective versatile weapon on offense. I would even argue that Johnson's frame and athletic build is more suitable to a three-down role than Bernard's. Both Browns backs have me intrigued this year. Owning both would not be a bad idea, especially if an injury opens up more involvement.

Dion Lewis, New England

Kuczynski: Knowing Bill Belichick, its hard to read what he will do week to week with the running back position, but last year the Patriots seemed to find a great receiver out of the backfield that made them think "Shane Vereen who?" With LeGarrette Blount having no involvement in the passing game, and there being a strong shift toward short yardage passes as an extension of the run game, Dion Lewis should be one of the highest volume PPR running backs in the league. If you were to extrapolate his stats from 7 games last year, he'd have over 70 catches, 1400 all purpose yards and 8 touchdowns. The injury might be a concern, but I these number are not out of the realm of possibility considering the Patriots now know how he fits into their offensive scheme.

Simpkins: Season-ending injuries often cause fantasy owners to devalue a player the following year. New England also has a reputation of not using the same running back from game to game. Those are the likely reasons Dion Lewis' value is depressed so that he's currently going off the board in the mid-to-late fourth round. ACL tears are much easier to rehab these days and Lewis projects to be cleared for contact in time for training camp. Owners should also be reminded that Lewis was getting two-thirds of the touches in the backfield as well as receiving work prior to injury. He was signed to a two-year extension in October and the Patriots' only movement at running back in the offseason was to re-sign LeGarrette Blount on a one-year deal. We can presume that when healthy, Lewis will slide back into the same role and be a value for owners, especially in PPR formats.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Ameer Abdullah, Detroit

Waldman: Abdullah flashed but didn't sustain consistent production early. When his yards per carry jumped from less than four per attempt to nearly five, the rookie's volume wasn't large enough to warrant fantasy consideration. Abdullah's uneven season was as much a product of his team as it was his responsibility. The Lions were predictable with Abdullah during the first half of the season, giving him a steady diet of toss plays, sweeps, and draw plays. The rookie thrived once the offense gave him more carries between the tackles on run-oriented downs. This counters the surface-level analysis that Abdullah isn't big enough to be an every-down back. Where Abdullah struggled the most last year was ball security. If his NFL career follows a similar trajectory as his career at Nebraska, he'll dramatically improve his ball security which will also lead to more yards after contact. Despite the receiving talents of Theo Riddick, look for Abdullah to make a jump that puts him solidly into RB2 territory.

Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland

Haseley: All of the offseason talk in Cleveland is about the potential of second-year back Duke Johnson Jr and for good measure, but I'm a believer that Isaiah Crowell will be the team's leading ball carrier in 2016 or at least a hefty share of it. Crowell can provide some fantasy value of his own, with much greater value. At RB40, you can select Crowell as an RB4 or higher with reduced risk. Head Coach Hue Jackson is a proponent of a strong running game and that firmly represents Crowell. He may not end the year with more fantasy points than the dynamic Johnson, but he'll hold his own and provide good value with the potential for more if an injury elevates his involvement.

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta

Howe: Freeman isn't an elite athlete, nor are his rushing numbers very dynamic. As a result, early fantasy drafters aren't valuing him on the top rung of the RB ladder. That looks like a mistake. Freeman's 2015 was a volume revelation, with a sheer stranglehold on all three downs and goal line work. Only David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell have that track record and 2016 projection, so Freeman needs to be taken ahead of anyone else. His floor of 1,400 total yards, 60 receptions and 8-10 touchdowns is elite.

Frank Gore, Indianapolis

Bloom: Gore in the third was too aggressive last year, but Gore in the seventh or eighth is too pessimistic when the Colts did little to upgrade the depth behind him and Andrew Luck will be back to revive a morose offense that still allowed Gore to finish as a mid-low RB2. A mid-low RB2 is a fine return at the current price, and unless Gore implodes, he'll get there. If he doesn't, he could deliver as good as low RB1 numbers and help checkmate the rest of the league for teams that start wide receiver heavy.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee

Hindery: Henry is one of the more controversial running back prospects to enter the NFL in recent years. His unique build makes it difficult to compare him to any other back in recent classes and draft analysts were very split on him. Henry also landed in a relatively poor situation in Tennessee (slow-paced offense and the presence of DeMarco Murray). However, in the mid-rounds, it makes sense to bet on talent and Henry could be a special runner. He has generated plenty of buzz in camp and should quickly supplant Murray as the top runner in Tennessee. He has been especially impressive as a pass catcher in camp, which is key to his fantasy upside. Of all the later round running backs, Henry has the best chance to emerge down the stretch as a major fantasy weapon and he could be the 2016-version of David Johnson.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

Simpkins: Owners would be wise not to underestimate what Hyde can do in the Chip Kelly system. Not only does he fit the scheme, he will get lots of snaps due to the up-tempo nature of that offense. Remember, the Eagles under Kelly finished first and second in offensive snaps the last two years. That trend will continue with San Francisco and Hyde will have a lot of opportunity to do damage on the ground. Hyde is currently going in the fourth round or later in 12-team formats. He can provide your team RB2 production with upside.

David Johnson, Arizona

Bonnema: It probably seems ridiculous to plug Johnson as an undervalued guy considering he's going near the middle of the first round per early ADP ranks. The problem is that he is being selected as the third running back instead of the first one. There are three players I'd take ahead of Johnson and they're all wide receivers. He was dynamite in his rookie season once given the opportunity. In fact, only Gayle Sayers and Herschel Walker scored more fantasy points per touch in their rookie seasons than Johnson did in his. The Cardinals have an offense that breads fantasy production, and he is in line to not only lead the team in carries, but also be third in team targets.

Jeremy Langford, Chicago

Magaw: Langford was a late bloomer, but his two year 40 TD total obliterated the previous Michigan State record by 10 (previously held by Pro Bowler Le'Veon Bell), streak of multiple TDs in his last 7 games led the FBS and 15 straight regular season conference 100+ yard rushing games comprised the longest FBS streak in nearly two decades. The fastest RB at the combine with a 4.42 40, he only played RB two seasons in college, and should have upside with pro coaching once he learns positional nuances. With the departure of long time Chicago institution Matt Forte, no dramatic upgrades at RB from either free agency or the draft and conservative HC John Fox, Langford is poised for a breakout season.

Lamar Miller, Houston

Fahey: Lamar Miller is one of the best running backs in the NFL. Joe Philbin refused to rely on him, or even use him to an adequate degree, but that's more about Philbin's incompetence than anything. Bill O'Brien will feed Miller to mitigate the pressure on Brock Osweiler. The Texans ranked fifth in attempts per game last season and that was without Arian Foster on the field who was relied on as a focal point of the offense with this coaching staff in previous seasons.

DeMarco Murray, Tennessee

Hicks: Do we see the league leading rusher of 2014 or the square peg in a round hole Demarco Murray from 2015? Even in such a terrible system and below average year for him Murray still ranked 18th as a fantasy option. Now with Tennessee, Murray has a 2nd round rookie in Derrick Henry to contend with and is on a bottom 5 rushing team from 2015. Both Murray and Henry however will take the pressure off 2nd year QB Marcus Mariota this year and all indications are that Murray will be the dominant back. We'll watch news from training camp and preseason, but for now Murray presents as a high caliber back on an improving team.

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota

Hicks: The year off seems to have done Adrian Peterson the world of good. Now at age 31 it would appear that Peterson should be slowing down, but the Vikings have kept their faith in him and the Norv Turner offense will still run through the running back. Obviously no running back is without issues, but Peterson is a proven elite back, in a proven elite system with stability on offense. In the competition for number 1 ranking, he isn't coming off an injury like Le'Veon Bell or Jamaal Charles, which Peterson has proven resilient to in the past. He isn't a rookie like Ezekiel Elliot and he has more than 1 season of proven form unlike Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Devonta Freeman. He isn't on a new team like Matt Forte or Lamar Miller either. Peterson may not end the season at number 1, but he is the safest choice if you want a running back early.

Bilal Powell, NY Jets

Alexander: Powell is being drafted behind quite a few running backs with uncertain workloads but it seems clear he's a significant part of the Jets game plan, even with the signing of Matt Forte. Most fantasy owners remember Powell's top-5 PPR stretch run performance after Week 10 last year, but his involvement at the start of last season goes overlooked. Powell 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. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has favored a two-back system since his days as head coach in Buffalo and it's clear he believes in Powell, who brings a lot of the same skills Forte does to the Jets offense. In PPR formats, Powell is something more than just Forte's handcuff.

Thomas Rawls, Seattle

Fahey: There is some concern about Rawls being on the field for the beginning of the season but all indications suggest he will only miss a game or two at worst. Once Rawls is available, he should be the bell-cow back for the Seahawks. Rawls was outstanding as a rookie and even though the Seahawks drafted three running backs this year his quality was such that only C.J. Prosise should take from his production. Prosise will need to prove that he can hold up in the NFL after transitioning from wide receiver in college and getting injured so soon after becoming the primary back for Notre Dame.

James Starks, Green Bay

Kuczynski: It didn't take long for the Green Bay to turn away from a struggling Eddie Lacy and give James Starks more opportunities in the run game to try to jump start the Packer's offense. It even got to the point where Starks was getting a bigger share of the carries than Lacy. The return of Nelson should improve the offense as a whole, but besides that, the run game stays very similar to how it was last season. The two running backs play very different styles: Starks is a threat to score every time he gets his hands on the ball and could provide a great flex option especially if Lacy continues with business as usual from a season ago.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina

Pasquino: A few years ago, no one wanted to draft Jonathan Stewart early because he was in a timeshare with DeAngelo Williams when both were in Carolina. Then came the other fear for drafting Stewart – losing touchdowns to quarterback Cam Newton. Well, I think we all saw that there is plenty of offense to go around last year for both, as Newton had a career year as a passer while also adding 10 rushing scores – but Stewart still was able to top 1,000 total yards and find the end zone seven times in 13 games before resting for the playoffs. Stewart will still be yielding some scores to Newton on the ground, but the top tailback in Carolina will be on pace for nearly 100 yards a week and a score every other again this year – a Top 20 value in my book. Drafting Stewart after 25+ backs go off your league's draft board is an excellent value.

Shane Vereen, NY Giants

Wood: The Giants running back situation is a mess. Rashad Jennings is an oft injured, but reasonably talented veteran. Paul Perkins is a rookie with promise, but hardly a proven commodity. Andre Williams is still on the roster, somehow. So I understand why Shane Vereen wouldn't be on some fantasy owners' radar screens. However, let's remember that Shane Vereen fills a specific role in Ben McAdoo's offense – he's the pass-catching back. And he's VERY good in that role. Last year he only ran for 260 yards yet he caught 59 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns. He finished as the 37th best fantasy running back and I see his role as no worse than stable. That equates to an undervalued player at his current ADP (RB50).

DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh

Bloom: Williams was already a league winner last year. Le'Veon Bell is no sure thing for Week 1 and history has shown that he is no sure thing for Week 16. He was the #1 fantasy running back when Bell was out in 2015, and a 10th round pick is an easy trade for the chance at the #1 back again in 2016. Even if Bell plays 16 games, Williams should see a larger role after he showed what he was still capable of in 2015.

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