On Second Thought: Running Back Edition - Footballguys

How my perspective on the running position has changed throughout the summer.

It’s hard to believe we’re a week away from the NFL regular season. After spending more than four months focusing on every bit of minutiae, every tidbit, every coach’s quote, and adjusting our rankings and projections, accordingly, a lot can change from our original expectations. Here’s a quick look at some of the most important changes from my initial rankings back in early May.

On Second Thought...

David Johnson (ARI) will not be a top-4 fantasy running back this year

The biggest and boldest change as it veers from near-universal consensus. Johnson is talented, and he remains a first-round choice. However, the state of the Cardinals offensive line, new coaching staff and offensive system, and uncertainties at every other offensive position make Johnson a risky bet to pick up where he left off in 2016.

Alex Collins (BAL) is a perfect RB2 on draft day

Collins' path to relevance had its ebbs and flows, but the Ravens treated him like a workhorse last year once he got his shot. The team did nothing in free agency or the draft to challenge Collins' playing time, and have treated him with kid gloves in the preseason.

LeSean McCoy (BUF) was overvalued before the allegations; he's untouchable now

I wasn't high on McCoy before his ex-girlfriend's horrifying domestic abuse allegations surfaced. Even though his legal status won't hamper his availability for Week 1, we have no idea if it'll be a factor later in the season. Meanwhile, the Bills are bereft of talent and lost three linemen during the offseason.

Christian McCaffrey (CAR) is going to exceed even the loftiest of expectations

A few months ago many found it laughable to have McCaffrey ranked as highly as I did, but I saw a player with the skills, size, and pedigree to handle a full workload. The preseason has awakened many to that reality, but he's still being drafted as a second rounder in standard leagues; he should be a first rounder.

Jordan Howard (CHI) remains a compelling fantasy value

When Matt Nagy took over, fantasy analysts quickly soured on Howard for two reasons. One, he's not a good receiver. Two, Tarik Cohen is dynamic and theoretically fits into the Tyreek Hill role that Nagy coveted as the Chiefs offensive coordinator. The preseason has painted a different picture, with Nagy and his assistants insisting at every turn Howard will be a three-down workhorse.

Carlos Hyde (CLE) is a value at his ADP

I was down on Hyde at the start of last preseason and worked my way into liking him. The same is true this preseason as neither Nick Chubb nor Duke Johnson Jr has done anything to supplant Hyde's role as the centerpiece of Todd Haley's rushing attack.

Royce Freeman (DEN) will be the (second) most productive rookie running back

I'm not crazy, Saquon Barkley is going to be the most productive rookie running back. But Freeman vaults into the No. 2 spot thanks to a confluence of factors: Derrius Guice's ACL tear, Sony Michel's knee injury, Ronald Jones' inability to block and catch, and Nick Chubb's waiting his turn while Carlos Hyde does his thing. Freeman has been impressive in the preseason and will be the Broncos engine.

Kerryon Johnson (DET) is worth stashing, but you (and he) need to be patient

I'm a fan of Johnson and was higher on him than most entering the summer. However, the Lions appear set to keep LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, and Ameer Abdullah. That's a lot of NFL experience to displace, and it'll take a few games, at a minimum, for Johnson's star to shine.

Green Bay's (GB) situation is a mess

Good luck figuring out the Packers running back situation, because I can't. Jamaal Williams is getting love from his position coach but got banged up in his first real preseason work. Aaron Jones' college tape entices but he too gets nicked up and is facing a 2-game suspension. And Ty Montgomery is the fallback plan that excited no one, Mike McCarthy included.

Indianapolis' (IND) situation is an even bigger mess

What's worse than having three middling running backs to sort through? How about four? The Colts have Marlon Mack (average at best last year, and hurt now), Jordan Wilkins (looked like a plodder in his first-team snaps), Nyheim Hines (not built for more than a third-down role), and Robert Turbin (suspension looms). If you decipher this puzzle, clue me in.

Kenyan Drake (MIA) will be a borderline fantasy RB1 as long as Gase is rational

Our buddy Sigmund Bloom often talks about the 'assumption of rational coaching.' If Dolphins coach Adam Gase is rational, he'll give Drake as many touches as he can handle. If he's irrational, he'll insist on getting a 35-year old free agent worked into the committee.

Dalvin Cook (MIN) is a tad overvalued as a first-rounder

I'm still a Dalvin Cook fan, but I -- and the industry -- were too optimistic for most of the summer. The Vikings line is a massive problem, and there aren't any easy fixes. And Latavius Murray is going to have a role, particularly in the red zone. Cook is still worth an early second-round pick, so I'm not entirely abandoning ship.

Rex Burkhead (NE) will be a value, or no one in New England will

Burkhead is the only running back other than Corey Dillon to average RB2 fantasy value on a per game basis under Bill Belichick. However, it's off a small sample size, and Burkhead has a concerning injury history. Sony Michel is my favorite rookie running back -- based on talent --, but history has not been kind to young runners on the Patriots roster.

Mark Ingram II (NO) is a screaming value, thanks to the suspension

Ingram's four-game suspension has turned him from a potential top-10 running back (as he was last year) to an RB3 most drafters take begrudgingly, only because they're desperate. That's a huge mistake. Ingram was a top-10 back last season in 12 games because the first month was a mess as the team mixed in Adrian Peterson. He's healthy, and the Saints have given no indication his job is at risk upon his return.

Wayne Gallman (NYG) is Saquon Barkley's handcuff

If you're into handcuffing, make sure Wayne Gallman is the choice over Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has a history with offensive coordinator Mike Shula, but Gallman has been demonstrably better in every phase of the game this summer.

Jerick McKinnon (SF) is riskier than he seemed at the start of training camp

I was all-in on McKinnon thanks to the 49ers aggressive pursuit of him in free agency, and head coach Kyle Shanahan's RB-friendly system. However, McKinnon's injury calls into question his ability to handle a heavy workload. He never convinced the Vikings coaches he was anything more than a complementary asset, and maybe they were right.

Rashaad Penny (SEA) is the best running back on the roster, but it's going to take a month or two to prove me right

I came into the preseason expecting Rashaad Penny's ADP to skyrocket as the fantasy community saw him dominate in practice and the preseason. That hasn't happened. He's overweight, banged up, and Chris Carson has been a pillar of consistency. I still firmly believe Penny is capable of elite fantasy production once he's healthy, but he's put himself into a hole that will take a month or two to dig out from.

Peyton Barber (TB) is an intriguing value play

I had labeled Peyton Barber "just a guy" earlier in the preseason, but he's done a lot to disprove my viewpoint. He's run with the first team all summer and looked good in the process. Meanwhile, Ronald Jones has failed every test -- he can't block, he can't catch, and he hasn't flashed in practice.

Adrian Peterson (WAS) is back in the league

I'm not saying Adrian Peterson is a fantasy commodity, but he does seem the most likely to lead Washington in carries and yards.

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