Campfire Chat: Plant a Flag, RB

Footballguys staff members take a stand on a running back

It's time to take a stand. Make a call on a running back. Who will surprise - either good or bad? Why?

Chad Parsons: Danny Woodhead is set for his strongest workload of his career. Kenneth Dixon is now out for the season and Woodhead joins a Baltimore offense which has fed the running back position as receivers as much as any non-Saints offense in recent seasons. Woodhead's career-high of 107 targets is in danger to be broken this year and he is commonly available in the RB3 zone of drafts. Finishing outside the top-18 in PPR PPG this season would be a surprise for Woodhead considering his passing game and red zone prowess and Baltimore's uncertain depth charts at wide receiver and tight end.

Andy Hicks: I'm going to go with the other Ravens running back who comes much cheaper, is much younger and will get more carries. Obviously, I'm talking about Terrance West. Let's first of all talk about Woodhead. He will definitely be the 3rd down back, but he has only once seen more than 100 carries in a season. That limits his effectiveness to almost purely being a receiver. He has done that in the past, parlaying that into RB2 seasons in 2013 and 2015 with the Chargers. Also hurting him is the fact that he is 32 years old and closer to 33. He has also missed more than 75% of playing time in 2 of the last 3 seasons. His ADP is also almost 3 rounds higher than West.

Now West himself is almost the only decent runner left on the roster. By process of elimination, Kenneth Dixon is out for the year. His main competitor for rushing attempts isn't there. Javorius Allen had 9 carries last year and has been ineffective at this level. Lorenzo Taliaferro only had 1 carry last year and 13 the year before. Bobby Rainey is a career journeyman who probably won't make the final roster.

By default, Terrance West is the only guy left and certain to see 70% of the rushing attempts. He will see 200 carries, even if the Ravens don't become more run orientated and has to be the goal-line back. He is a good enough pass-catching back as well, in case Woodhead's injury history and age catch up with him as well. West is not the answer long-term here, and I think he is an average back, but he will see the field. Having talent riding the pine doesn't get you fantasy points.

Phil Alexander: Keep believing Jeremy Hill will start for Cincinnati all season. Keep believing Giovani Bernard made a miracle recovery from November ACL surgery and will be 100% in Week 1. Keep believing the Bengals running backs will falter behind a shaky offensive line. Keep believing Joe Mixon is being over-drafted at his fourth-round (and falling) ADP.

Keep believing all these things so I can have all the Mixon this year. Here's the thing -- after the top seven(ish) running backs come off the board, the position is a complete crap shoot. In the second and third round of drafts, you're forced to bet on running backs tied to terrible quarterbacks (Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Jordan Howard, Isaiah Crowell) and injury risks (Jay Ajayi, Marshawn Lynch, Lamar Miller). Some of these guys will turn out to be steady RB2s who carry weekly RB1 upside (Gurley, Ajayi, and Howard stand out), but if an RB1 season from your RB2 is the goal, why not wait and take a shot on Mixon, whose fantasy ceiling might be in Le'Veon Bell/David Johnson territory?

As long as Andy Dalton and A.J. Green stay healthy, the Bengals are a virtual lock to finish as a top-10 scoring offense. Hill was average on his goal line opportunities last year and terrible in short-yardage situations in each of the last two years. What is he even good at? Bernard may buck the trend and return to his usual numbers the year following ACL surgery, but he's always been a secondary weapon anyway. Whether it happens in Week 1, Week 4, or Week 6, Mixon is taking control of the Bengals backfield this season and when it happens, I want to be the one whose team he puts over the top with RB1 numbers from my RB2 slot.

Grab Mixon as your RB2 at the top of the fourth round and target a couple of inexpensive starters (Jacquizz Rodgers, Rob Kelley, Terrance West, Darren McFadden) to hold down your RB2 position early in the season, just in case the Bengals are hesitant to commit to the rookie in Week 1. A player Mixon's size should not be able to move like this. He will force the Cincinnati coaching staffs' hands sooner than later. And even if it winds up being later than sooner, there's plenty of time for Mixon to take over before championships are decided.

Jeff Haseley: I've been the staff ambassador for Christian McCaffrey. Perhaps Alex is right there beside me? As a Panthers fan, I am pumped to see this guy make plays and above all, make a difference in the offense. This year is the first year that Cam Newton has truly had game-changing offensive weapons at his disposal. I'm confident in offensive coordinator Mike Shula's ability to craft plays and I have no doubts that McCaffrey will execute them. From a fantasy perspective, I agree with his current ADP in the early fourth or late third round. I believe he has Top 10 potential, especially if Newton can get him the ball in space consistently where he can break tackles and earn easy yards. Most people see McCaffrey as an above average fantasy receiving back, but his rushing ability is vastly underrated and ultimately will be the determining factor of him finishing in the Top 10 vs. the Top 20.

Ryan Hester: I wish I weren't late to the party here because Andy and Phil picked two guys I also like in West and Mixon. Since those guys did so well, I'll choose another player with RB1 upside: Ty Montgomery.

The former wide receiver took over the job out of necessity mid-game in Week 6, as a means of resting Eddie Lacy with James Starks out. In that game, he caught 10 passes and Lacy was injured and lost for the season. In Week 7, with no one else, Montgomery became the starter on a short week and caught 10 more passes in a Thursday night game.

Montgomery's biggest weakness was pass-blocking, often being replaced as the season wore on by fullback Aaron Ripkowski. But what detractors aren't mentioning in anti-Montgomery analysis is that he was learning on the fly last year. It's a cliche for a reason that rookie running backs struggle with pass blocking. And Montgomery wasn't just a first-time running back in the NFL; he was a first-time running back switching from another position with zero camp work to help him make adjustments to his new role.

He's not built for 20 carries per game like an old-school RB1, but there aren't many players who profile that way anymore. Sure, rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones may figure in and get some work. But as long as Montgomery is effective, it will be limited work only to keep Montgomery fresh.

He's a new-school, pass-happy-NFL secret weapon. And his quarterback happens to be really good. I'll take that in PPR leagues every day of the week.

Alex Miglio: I am with Jeff - McCaffrey is going to be a valuable fantasy asset this season, particularly in PPR scoring. I have drafted him as my RB1 on more than one occasion this offseason, usually after starting strong at receiver and tight end. I have confidence that he will put up RB1 numbers in PPR scoring.

Jason Wood: I love the McCaffrey and West choices, for different reasons. McCaffrey is going to cost you a high pick but I believe he's the rookie running back most likely to finish in the Top 12, particularly in PPR formats. West's upside is much lower, but I see a clear path to solid RB2 value, but he's being drafted in the same tier as many bonafide backups.

I'm going to plant my flag on a bust...Ty Montgomery. I have him ranked 31st while his consensus ranking is 16th. I'm not a believer in hybrid players. You're either a receiver or a running back. If the coaches are trying to make you both, it's because you aren't elite in either spot. While it looked like Montgomery would get a shot at a significant role this year based on his usage in the second half of 2016, the narrative is already changing. The Packers used not one but two draft picks on talented running backs; Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Williams has burst onto the scene and is the talk of training camp. He's powerful and, at a minimum, will take away a bulk of the 1st and 2nd down carries from Montgomery. Montgomery is best used as a change-of-pace, trick play option. If Williams can convince the coaches he can handle blitz pickups, I expect Montgomery will be a fringe contributor and Williams will be the bell cow.

Ryan Hester: To be fair, the Green Bay coaches aren't trying to make Montgomery both a wide receiver and a running back. From what I understand, he has been in the running backs meeting room since his conversion last season.

Williams' emergence in camp is concerning, but who's to say it's not coach-speak or a player out-performing fellow back-ups? In the team's first preseason game, Montgomery worked exclusively with the first team while a Williams was clearly with the twos. Montgomery did fumble but was re-inserted back into the game on the next drive.

The biggest red flag on Montgomery since I wrote my original passage on him above is his mysterious soft-tissue injury that has been nagging him since mid-week. He has missed multiple practices and will likely miss the second preseason game. I'm no Dr. Jene Bramel, but I've read plenty about those injuries recurring and being long-term headaches. If healthy, it's still Montgomery's running back job to lose.

Chris Feery: DeMarco Murray will be a Top 5 running back once again in 2017. There are natural concerns that Derrick Henry will see more carries in his second season, but there’s more than enough touches to go around in the Titans offense. The club ran the ball 476 times last year - good enough for third-most in the league - and I’m not seeing anything to suggest that we won’t see similar this season. Marcus Mariota continues to improve, but I’m not completely sold on the Titans pass catchers. There’s certainly plenty of talent there, but I feel like we’ve heard this song before. Murray and Henry will be one of the league’s most powerful one-two punches, and I see Murray’s pass-catching upside as something that will compensate for a small drop in touches.

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