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Running Back Brain Dump

A look at topics that will impact your running back drafting like offseason changes, 2016 splits, and schedule notes.

News is rolling in from OTA's and minicamps but it is still the offseason, so most of our thoughts about fantasy are still baking the oven. There's a lot swirling around Bloom's head these days, but I'll attempt to dump it all out so you can see what is going into my under construction rankings and draft strategy as we head into June.

SPLITS OR "YOu get shown the light if you look at it right"

  • Jerick McKinnon had eight catches in six games under offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He had 35 in nine games under current offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and 28 in the last five games. There should be an abundance of receiving opportunities for McKinnon and/or Dalvin Cook in Shurmur's offense.
  • Jay Ajayi was a mid-low PPR RB1 on average after the Dolphins committed to him in Week 6. This despite having only four games with more than one catch and one with more than three catches during that span.
  • The Patriots backfield accounted for six top 12 running back weeks in PPR leagues before Dion Lewis returned to the field, one after. They did have five RB13-RB24 weeks in the six weeks after Lewis came back.
  • Cincinnati running backs accounted for 2.5 catches per game when both Tyler Eifert and AJ Green were healthy and 5.1 when one or both was limited or out.
  • Twenty-three of Duke Johnson Jr’s 53 receptions came when the Browns were down by nine or more points compared to only 11 of Isaiah Crowell’s 40.
  • Lamar Miller had a significantly higher yards per carry (4.3 vs 3.5) yards per catch (7.5 vs 4.3) more total touchdowns (5 vs 1) in the Texans eight wins that he played in than in the six losses.
  • Spencer Ware before his Week 8 concussion: 5 yards per carry, 18.4 yards per catch
  • Spencer Ware after his Week 8 concussion: 3.7 yards per carry, 8.4 yards per catch
  • In the four games Le’Veon Bell missed, DeAngelo Williams was RB1, RB3, RB38, and RB8 in PPR leagues.
  • Devonta Freeman was RB16 in PPR leagues at 15.1 points per game for the three games that Tevin Coleman missed in 2016, well below his season ranking of RB7 and average of 17.9.
  • There were seven games that Ty Montgomery played more than 15 snaps on offense and the other running backs on Green Bay’s roster combined for at least ten touches. He had ten or more PPR points in only two of them.
  • In Jacquizz Rodgers’ five starts for the Bucs, he finished as PPR RB14, RB15, RB16, RB18, and RB38. In Doug Martin’s seven starts that he finished for the Bucs, he was RB18, RB16, RB20, RB25, RB18, RB13, and RB56.

EITHER/OR - Backfields where at least one back is likely to exceed ADP

LeSean McCoy or Jonathan Williams, BUF

Mike Gillislee vultured nine total touchdowns from McCoy last year while compiling an ultra-efficient 5.7 yards per carry. Williams is poised to take over the backup role in his second year. If he is less effective than Gillislee, Williams could leave a few more scores and carries on the table for McCoy, which would enhance his first-round value. If McCoy is ready for a breakdown in his age 29 season, Williams will take over one of the best running games in the league.

Frank Gore or Marlon Mack or Robert Turbin, IND

Gore was a solid mid RB2 in PPR leagues last year despite Andrew Luck playing hurt all year and Robert Turbin vulturing eight total touchdowns. He will go into the season as the #1 running back for the Colts again, but his ADP is around RB30, which seems to indicate that the fantasy football world doesn’t buy Gore repeating his modest 2016 production. If that’s the case, it would probably be due to the 34-year-old playing like the clock is striking midnight on his career, which would open the door for the competent but unexciting Turbin, or exciting, but unproven rookie Mack taking over the backfield.

DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry, TEN

Murray outproduced Jordan Howard and Devonta Freeman in 2016, and both are going ahead of him in drafts. If he reproduces his 2016 campaign, Murray will return first-round value on a second-round pick. If Murray falls short of his 2016 numbers, chances are it will be due to injury or more work for his backup, Henry, who is available in your draft after you fill out the core of your starting lineup. Henry is one of players available outside of the top fifty that could make your draft.

Samaje Perine or Rob Kelley, WAS

Because of Washington’s dedicated use of Chris Thompson in the passing game, their starting running back is at best a matchup RB2 and every week flex. That’s still a good return on the mid-round ADP for Perine, or late-round ADP for Kelley. The team has said they will go with a hot hand at running back, which means running back by committee on early downs is unlikely. Either Kelley will hold off the rookie and reprise his lead role from last year, or Perine will overtake Kelley with his superior power and burst. One of these two backs will be a good secondary piece for fantsay teams this year.

Adrian Peterson or Mark Ingram II or Alvin Kamara, NO

The Saints used Mark Ingram II and Tim Hightower in a running back by committee for the majority of 2016, and Travaris Cadet mixed in as a passing down back, which should mimic the use of Ingram, future hall of famer Adrian Peterson and second-round pick Alvin Kamara this year. You might be surprised to learn that despite the two or three-way RBBC last year, the Saints backfield still accounted for 11 top 10 running back games in PPR leagues. Since Peterson was signed, Ingram’s ADP has fallen to a reasonable mid-round price, Peterson is going a round or two later, and Kamara at least a round or two after that. All of these backs will have flex value with a high weekly ceiling, and if any get hurt, the remaining healthy backs will be even surer plays with higher ceilings.

BOTH/ALL?

Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers, TB

If you buy the offseason reports of Martin looking better than ever, then he is a slam dunk at ADP. Absorb the first three games without Martin while he is serving his suspension and get a low RB1/strong RB2 at a bench back price, then profit. To absorb those three weeks, you might find it beneficial to take Rodgers late in your draft. He could give your lineup cheap RB2 weeks against the porous run defenses of Miami and Chicago in Weeks 1 and 2. If you don’t believe Martin will improve from his 2016 form, taking Rodgers is imperative - he’s clearly in line as the backup and the coaches trust him.

CJ Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker, DEN

Sometimes the fantasy community gives mixed signals with its actions. CJ Anderson’s ADP has fallen significantly since Jamaal Charles was signed, sometimes into the sixth round of early drafts. Charles ADP has also fallen, sometimes into the 14th-15th round. It appears that drafters think Charles will cut into Anderson’s value enough to take him to the fringe of RB2 range, but not enough for Charles to have standalone value. Something is off here. The good news that with both of their ADPs dropping, you can take them both and see what goes down. Devontae Booker could figure into this and benefit from a scheme change and offensive line improvement too, so he is your early waiver wire pickup if Charles shows he has nothing left in early games.

RBBC ALERT

Baltimore - Danny Woodhead can be a solid PPR RB2 when he’s sharing with a between the tackles back, and that will be the case for the first four weeks, when Kenneth Dixon is suspended. After that, all bets are off, as Dixon’s skillset overlaps with both Woodhead and heavier back Terrance West. This wasn’t a strong running game to begin with, and they lost top right tackle Ricky Wagner to free agency. Woodhead or Dixon would be a consistent PPR play if the other were to go down. That makes Woodhead fit in an RB2BC in PPR leagues as he’ll get the pass catching role to himself for the first four weeks, but have a Plan B once Dixon comes back.

Kansas City - Spencer Ware was in the RB1 discussion before his concussion last year. The Chiefs traded up to get Kareem Hunt in the third round. Ware isn’t going to be vanquished, but Hunt is a much larger threat to Ware’s touches than Charcandrick West. Hunt could be not ready for prime time as a rookie and make Ware the value pick here, or he could be sensational enough to make Ware an unreliable weekly start and still not be consistent enough to justify his ADP. This one makes the brain hurt.

Cincinnati - Joe Mixon might not be named the starter because of the public relations angle, but he should get the largest share of this backfield. He could even be a value at ADP if the Bengals summarily move on from Jeremy Hill, relegating him to the bench. The other variable is Giovani Bernard, who is coming back from an ACL tear. This has the look of a committee on the surface, but Mixon could clarify it with his play, and Bernard has a much more formidable opponent to maintain his large role from years past.

Philadelphia - Darren Sproles and LeGarrette Blount are a classic thunder and lightning duo, and the Eagles will mix in Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey is truly a Sproles clone minus a few pounds and could be very interesting if Sproles goes down and Blount will be a good play when we think the Eagles can control a game with their run offense, but it will be hard to find consistent and predictable scoring here while all four backs are healthy.

Green Bay - Ty Montgomery should get the opportunity to lead this backfield, but he is still new to some of the tasks of the running back position and the team drafted three rookie running backs who might be better suited for some of those tasks. Montgomery will be given a chance to take control of this backfield, but with lesser backs last year, the Packers were still inclined at times to employ a committee, including fullback Aaron Ripkowski.

Detroit - Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were both Top 10 PPR running backs in the one week they played a full game together. The injury to Taylor Decker is a huge blow to this offensive line, but if Abdullah can assert control of the backfield and relegate Riddick to complementary role, he can flirt with RB1 numbers in PPR leagues. If they have closer to equal roles, the weekly ceiling for both backs will suffer, at least until Decker is back and his old self. Abdullah is more likely to outproduce ADP if both backs stay healthy.

Minnesota - Dalvin Cook was clearly valued as a first-round level talent by the Vikings, as they traded up for him. They also signed Latavius Murray to a deal that pays him like a starter and still have Jerick McKinnon, who was starting to really find his way as a receiving back in the Pat Shurmur offense after Norv Turner left midseason last year. The offensive line will be improved, but it is still probably mediocre at best. It’s hard to see a clear weekly play emerging from this group and situation unless the Vikings decide that the guaranteed money to Murray is a sunk cost and giving him touches over better backs isn’t going to recoup that money spent. Keep McKinnon on your waiver wire speed dial if injuries strike here.

On the Way Up

Todd Gurley, Lance Dunbar, LAR - Sean McVay will make this offense competent and both Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan represent upgrades on the offensive line. It still might not be enough to make Gurley worth a second-round pick unless Jared Goff takes a huge step forward.

Doug Martin, TB - Martin seems to have won back the organization after his late season suspension and he’s reportedly in the best shape and form of his career - as much as that can be gleaned from offseason practices.

Ty Montgomery, GB - Montgomery has been a full-time running back for the first time in his career this offseason and the Packers only brought in three third-day rookies to compete with him for touches.

Paul Perkins, NYG - The Giants seem to think Perkins is the answer to their backfield, potentially as an everydown back despite the presence of Shane Vereen. They didn’t take a back until the third day (Wayne Gallman a sneaky good fit in a shotgun offense) despite the strong class this year.

Isaiah Crowell, CLE - Crowell has an improved offensive line with the addition of Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter and the quarterback situation can’t get worse than last year. If the Browns are more competitive in 2017, he’ll be the main beneficiary.

Lamar Miller, HOU - The Texans added D’Onta Foreman as an upgrade from Alfred Blue and Tyler Ervin could play a larger role in his second year. Miller made very little out of his huge opportunity last year, but it shouldn’t be diminished too much and will yield a lot more if Tom Savage or Deshaun Watson quickly exorcise the memory of the Brock Osweiler era.

Bilal Powell, NYJ - Powell finished the year with a flurry of RB1 weeks in PPR leagues. He’ll split with Matt Forte to open the season, but Forte wore down last year and the team could be more inclined to play younger players as this rebuilding season goes on.

Jay Ajayi, MIA - Ajayi should have a larger role in the passing game this year, and his play at Boise State shows he can probably handle it. Lack of PPR punch kept Ajayi from being a strong RB1 last year, but it could allow him to outproduce a second-round ADP this year.

Mike Gillislee, NE - Gillislee’s initial burst, efficient running style and compact profile made him one of the most productive backs in the league on a per touch basis last year. Now he is in an offense that creates more scoring opportunities for running backs than any other in the league. We might find out very quickly that there was a lot more there in the Patriots running game than LeGarrette Blount found last year, and that Gillislee can do more with it on fewer touches

On the Way Down

Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, CIN - Hello Joe Mixon! Mixon should be clearly better than Hill has been between the tackles and he can show his passing game prowess while Bernard is being brought along slowly as he returned from a torn ACL. Mixon has a chance to be the most productive rookie running back because of his skillset and the productivity of the backfield in Cincinnati - although the poor quality of the offensive line could be an obstacle. Even if Mixon doesn’t surge to everyweek fantasy starter status, you can feel certain that Hill and Bernard will not unless he gets hurt.

Carlos Hyde, SF - We might look back at the negative cloud around Hyde as an example of offseason buzz that amounts to nothing, but it is difficult to ignore the signs that the new regime is looking elsewhere in their long term plans. Hyde was outstanding last year, but he has a history of missing time and his rookie contract is up in 2018. Fourth-round pick Joe Williams is the classic hand-picked Shanahan back and it’s fair to wonderful how productive this running game will be on the worst teams in the league. The negativity has been absorbed into Hyde’s ADP and he might end up being a value if he’s mostly healthy, the 49ers don’t end up using Williams or Tim Hightower as more than a backup, and Kyle Shanahan’s running game is as successful as Chip Kelly’s despite a poor win/loss outlook.

Jonathan Stewart, CAR - Stewart was surprisingly productive again last year despite having a goal line vulture quarterback (who was used less as a runner after his concussion), but the addition of Christian McCaffrey will surely cut into his opportunity. Like Hyde, Stewart’s ADP might have swung too far to the downside, often lasting well into the second half of drafts, but the stark reality that he won’t be a reliable weekly fantasy option is accurate. Stewart will have some good weeks this year and he might still be a viable matchup flex/RB2, but McCaffrey could also be impressive enough to reduce Stewart’s role to the point that we don’t trust the veteran in any given week.

LeGarrette Blount, PHI - The Eagles running game produced a few huge weeks for Ryan Mathews last year, but it is fair to wonder if Blount is actually a downgrade from a healthy Mathews. The majority of his value came from touchdowns last year, and the Eagles won’t be nearly as prolific as the Patriots in that category. The Eagles offensive gameplan was variable when it came to bread and butter running last year, and Blount’s “effectiveness” was really tied to game script more than his inherent quality when he was in New England. Blount’s value is dropping outside of Foxboro, but we can’t say how far until we get a good sample of games, and that’s not an attractive proposition in drafts when the upside isn’t that exciting.

Schedule Notes

 

fast start?

  • Jonathan Stewart is available for a song in early drafts, but he could help teams get off to a hot start as a flex against the atrocious 49ers and Bills run defenses to open the season. Alternatively, if Christian McCaffrey has a good summer and the Panthers feature him early, he could be an early season sensation.
  • The Todd Gurley revival is more likely to get underway when the season begins with Indianapolis, Washington, and the 49ers on tap in Weeks 1-3. After that, the schedule looks a lot rougher, with only the Saints standing out as a matchup to target, and tough to brutal matchups starting in Week 4 with a run of Dallas, Seattle, Jacksonville, Arizona, the Giants and Houston. File away Week 4 as a possible sell high moment.
  • Adrian Peterson’s first game away from the Vikings will come against… the Vikings. His first game playing on another team than Minnesota will come in… Minnesota. Get your popcorn ready. We know Peterson is an emotional player with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder. That matchup could have his RPMs very high and get him out of the gate hot in what should be a fluid Saints backfield.
  • Jacquizz Rodgers’ three starts to open the season while Doug Martin is suspended include two against bottom-dwelling run defenses - Miami and Chicago. Consider him a strong flex play and early lineup booster that you can get in the very late rounds and then churn for a hot waiver wire pickup when Martin returns.
  • Demarco Murray could wear down as the season goes on, but he could start the season shot out of a cannon with Oakland, Jacksonville, Houston and Miami in four of the first five weeks. He was excellent against the tough Texans and Jaguars run defenses the first time around last year, and hung 100-yard games on Miami and Oakland in the first half of 2016. Weeks 6 and 7 bring Indianapolis and Cleveland. Murray profiles as a back that can help you jump out to a lead in the standings and provide profit as a mid-season sell high.

slow start?

  • Week 3 might present a buy low opportunity in the trade market for LeSean McCoy after he opens with the tough Jets and Panthers run defenses.
  • Don’t judge Joe Mixon by his first three games against the stiff Ravens run defense, solid Texans run defense with JJ Watt back, and solid Packers run defense. Cleveland, Buffalo and Indianapolis will be soft opponents coming up in the three of the next four weeks after that opening tough trio.
  • The football world will be excited to see Leonard Fournette on an NFL field, but his opening quartet of opponents is Houston, Tennessee, Baltimore, and the Jets. The quality of run defenses range from good to stifling, and the Jaguars were nowhere near getting their running game to click last year. Don’t expect Fournette to carry fantasy teams early in the season. Even the good Colts, 49ers, and Browns matchups are spaced out throughout the schedule, which could keep Fournette from gaining momentum.

  • Jordan Howard stomped on defenses last year despite playing on a poor team, but an opening schedule of Atlanta, at Tampa, Pittsburgh, at Green Bay, Minnesota, at Baltimore, and Carolina could give him a run of unfavorable game scripts in losses and also usher in the Mitchell Trubisky era. Like Todd Gurley, Howard defied his situation in 2016, but the 2017 schedule could be a rude awakening.

  • Carlos Hyde is likely to stumble out of the gate against the ferocious Carolina and Seattle run defenses. That could present a buy low opportunity, or it could open the door to more chances for Joe Williams (or even Matt Breida). The 49ers also have a run of negative run matchups (Dallas, at Philadelphia, Arizona, New York Giants) leading up to their Week 11 bye. If Hyde is stuck in neutral during those games and the 49ers are out of contention, that could also lead to more looks for younger backs as the team takes inventory of what they have for life after Hyde’s rookie contract is up.

Fast Finish?

  • Baltimore gets Cleveland and Indianapolis in Weeks 15 and 16, two of the most positive run matchups in the league. If there’s clarity in the backfield by then and a top option to lean on, that could be a big plus for playoff teams that draft and hang onto the right Ravens back.
  • The second half schedule for the Patriots lines up very well for Mike Gillislee, with a run of Denver, Oakland, Miami, Buffalo, Miami, Pittsburgh and Buffalo from Weeks 10-16. Buffalo, Denver, and Oakland were collapsable run defense at times last year, and Miami and Pittsburgh were middling at best.