On Second Thought: Running Backs

A discussion of how my early preseason expectations have changed as we near the start of the regular season

It's hard to believe that we're just a week away from the start of the NFL regular season. For many fans, they're just now starting to pay attention. But for fantasy owners, for FOOTBALLGUYS, we're already many months into our preparation. As one of the contributors to the site's projections, I have had the entire league modeled and projected since late April. Needless to say, a LOT of things happen between then and the beginning of September. I, along with the other staff, tweak our projections and expectations as we go along. But it occurs to me that very little is ever said about the way our opinions change. This article, and others like it, will highlight in a qualitative manner the assumptions that went into my initial projections that have since changed considerably. Enjoy.

On Second Thought...

Devonta Freeman (ATL) and Tevin Coleman (ATL) are a committee

Devonta Freeman was the #1 fantasy back last year in many scoring systems, so it stands to reason the Falcons wouldn’t shy away from featuring him again in 2016. Yet, he faded down the stretch and Tevin Coleman was getting major work before an early season injury. This preseason both backs have been used liberally and while Freeman remains a fantasy RB1, his volume is going to take a hit from Coleman in every game script.

Kenneth Dixon (BAL) will not be the breakout starter in Baltimore

I love Dixon and targeted him in every dynasty league. I think he’ll be an above average starter in Baltimore for years to come. Unfortunately, he has a torn MCL and will miss the start of the regular season. That leaves him way behind a handful of veterans including Justin Forsett, Terrance West and Javorius Allen.

Karlos Williams (BUF) is not the handcuff

Williams looked like a star at times last year but a 4-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy and fitness issues cast a pall on the young runner. He was released and Buffalo is set to use a combination of Reggie Bush, Mike Gillislee, and Jonathan Williams as McCoy’s backups.

Duke Johnson Jr (CLE) won’t be a fringe RB1

I expected Duke Johnson Jr to run away with the running back competition in Browns camp, but it never transpired. Johnson has talent, but durability is a real concern as is Isaiah Crowell’s impressive work in August as an inside power runner.

Alfred Morris (DAL) is Ezekiel Elliott’s handcuff

Darren McFadden’s incumbency meant very little after missing the preseason, and Morris took the opportunity to establish dominance. He’s looked terrific playing with the first team while Elliott rehabbed a mild hamstring issue and should be one of the top handcuffs in deeper leagues. Morris can be a fantasy RB1 if Elliott gets hurt.

Devontae Booker (DEN) is C.J. Anderon’s handcuff

Booker didn’t have a big hurdle in front of him because Ronnie Hillman’s hold on the backup job was tenuous, at best. I did think the veteran defending Super Bowl champions would lean toward Hillman though because of his experience. Booker answered the call by not only showing off his obvious running skills, but by impressing the coaches with his blocking; which is often the gating factor for rookie running backs.

Frank Gore (IND) isn’t an RB2, and Josh Ferguson (IND) is undraftable

Expecting a resurgent Colts offense, I was initially on board for Gore to improve on his 2015 totals and push for high end RB2 numbers. I also thought Josh Ferguson was one of the rookie runners to target because he could be a 3-down contributor if Gore got hurt. I’ve retrenched on both counts. Ferguson has looked awful throughout the preseason and is getting lapped by Robert Turbin of all people. Gore hasn’t done anything wrong per se, but the Colts offense has become a concern thanks to troubles on the offensive line.

Spencer Ware (KC) is Jamaal Charles’ backup

Both Ware and Charcandrick West showed well in Charles’ absence last year, and both re-signed for similar contracts this offseason. I expected West to earn the #2 job in my initial projections, but it’s become evident through training camp that Ware is higher on the totem pole.

Jay Ajayi (MIA) is threatened by Arian Foster

When the Dolphins signed Arian Foster, I told everyone that it was good news for Ajayi because fantasy owners would overvalue Foster and drop Ajayi to a point where he offered tremendous value. Unfortunately, Ajayi had a quiet offseason and Foster was given a ton of first team reps. It now looks like the team favors a committee at best, or Foster as the main option at worst. I still like Ajayi’s potential later in the season, but it’s a higher risk, more nebulous situation than expected.

…BOTH James White (NE) and LeGarrette Blount (NE) have value

I was never a Dion Lewis guy so his injury didn’t really alter my views on his draft value, but losing Lewis opens the door for White and Blount. White, in particular, goes from someone not worth drafting to a potential RB2 in PPR formats. He was on pace for nearly 90 receptions once Lewis went down last year. Blount should be the 1st and 2nd down hammer and clear goal line back.

Rashad Jennings (NYG) is going to get a shot at being a workhorse

I’m still skeptical Jennings can handle a workhorse role, but the Giants are clearly going to give him that opportunity after seeing him thrive in a featured role late in the 2015 season. Paul Perkins remains my favorite backup to target in New York, but he’s going to start the season as the RB4.

Matt Forte (NYJ) is a RB2 versus a RB1

Matt Forte is not going to lose relevance because of Bilal Powell – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. However, Forte is going to be used more judiciously than we’re used to seeing in Chicago which means he’s better suited to be a fantasy RB2 versus an RB1.

Melvin Gordon III (SD) may be a viable fantasy commodity

I was very down on Gordon after his rookie season. Among rookie running backs with 150+ carries, Gordon ranks 4th worst in NFL HISTORY in fantasy points per touch. A study of the 50 worst rookies in that category was not encouraging for a rebound in Year Two. That said, statistics don’t trump our own eyes and Gordon has been healthy and a full participant in a rigorous camp. He’s also been explosive in preseason games playing against first team defenses. I still wouldn’t bet on Gordon living up to his unrealistic rookie expectations, but he could be in line for 240+ carries and end up a solid RB2 if things fall into place.

Christine Michael (SEA) is like a Phoenix rising from the ashes

Michael was an afterthought in my first set of projections, but slowly worked his way up the depth chart. Post-draft darlings C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins gave way to Michael. The once and current Seahawk looked dominant at times playing with the first team while Thomas Rawls recovered from offseason surgery.

...Robert Kelley (WAS) Is The Rookie To Watch, Not Keith Marshall 

I was excited by the prospects of Keith Marshall coming into the season. Marshall has talent, but was star-crossed in college with injuries. Given my distaste for Matt Jones and my belief that Chris Thompson can't be an every down back, I thought Marshall could shock the world and emerge as a starter later this year. Unfortunately Marshall was placed on Injured Reserve. Meanwhile, Kelley has been a consistent performer throughout the preseason and likely enters the season as Jones' principal backup. 

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